The widespread belief on the right that Barack Obama is a Muslim is one of the stranger features of this period in history. There are some of them who know that Obama says he's a Christian, but are sure that's all an act designed to fool people, while he secretly prays to Allah. But there are probably a greater number who haven't given it all that much thought, they just heard somewhere that he's a Muslim, and it made perfect sense to them—after all, he's kinda foreign, if you know what I mean. And rather remarkably, that belief has grown over time; as the latest poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows, fully 30 percent of Republicans, and 34 percent of conservative Republicans, now believe Obama is Muslim. These numbers are about double what they were four years ago.
And you can bet there aren't too many who think there's nothing wrong with it if he were. For many of them, it's just a shorthand for Obama being alien and threatening. So it leads me to ask: Can we say, finally, that no Democratic president has ever been hated by Republicans quite as much as Barack Obama?
For today's edition of Gentle Yet Strangely Uplifting Songs About Truck Driving, we have Little Feat, led by the late Lowell George, with "Willin'." Extra points for any reader who has been to Tucumcari, Tehachapi, or Tonopah. No points for having been to Tuscon.
Mitt Romney delivers his patented fake laugh to NBC's Brian Williams.
Mitt Romney is getting a lot of grief for the not-so-auspicious beginning to first overseas trip as leader of the Republican party. In case you've been trapped in a well for the last two days, when he was asked by Brian Williams how, in his expert, opinion, he thought London was doing in preparing for the start of the Olympics, instead of offering the expected polite banality ("I'm sure it's going to be terrific"), Romney said something a bit more honest, saying that there were "a few things that were disconcerting" about the preparations. The Brits were not amused, and he got very public pushback from both Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson. It's all well and good to enjoy Romney's misfortune on this score. But let's not forget: the real problem with Romney isn't what he blurts out by accident, it's what he says when he has plenty of time to consider his words.
Senator Arthur Vandenberg, misinterpreted yet again.
Mitt Romney is in London—most definitely not to cheer on Rafalca in the dressage competition, mind you, because he barely knows that horse ("I have to tell you. This is Ann's sport. I'm not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it—I will not be watching the event")—but he's making sure that while he's over there, he won't utter a discouraging word about the socialist business-hating foreigner in the Oval Office who is working every day to destroy America. Because that's not how we do things. "Politics stops at the water's edge," we always say. My question is: Why?
I'll be honest: There are a few things about Mitt Romney that I find annoying. One of the biggest has to be that there is probably no sentence he has repeated more often in this campaign than "I know how the economy works," but he never actually explains what he knows that nobody else does or how that hard-won knowledge translates into a unique set of policy moves that only he could bring about and that would pull America from its economic doldrums.
There are really two sets of questions that absolutely must be asked of Romney in the area of economics, given the rationale he offers for his candidacy. The first is, "What specifically did you learn as a businessman that policymakers haven't known up until now?" As far as I know, he has only been asked this question once, and the result wasn't encouraging. (After repeating over and over that he "understands how the economy works," Romney finally allowed that businesses spend money on energy, so if energy were cheaper, they'd have more money. Brilliant, I know.) The second question that Romney needs to be asked is, "What are you proposing to do, and how is that different than what we've done before?"
In one of those now-frequent "I can't believe we're actually going to argue about this" moments, conservatives have now decided that the United States government did not actually have any meaningful role in the creation of the Internet, despite what everyone, including all the people who were there at the time, have always known. Why have they suddenly come to this revelation? All you need to know is that Barack Obama has recently been using the Internet as an example of where government can create conditions that allow private enterprise to flourish, and as Simon Malloy says, if Obama says something, "that, ipso facto, makes it false." Part of what's so crazy about this is that the tale of the Internet's creation and development is actually a story of public/private partnership that both liberals and conservatives ought to be able to celebrate.
We often think of character attacks and issue attacks as being two entirely separate things, with the former being illegitimate and the latter being legitimate. But that's not necessarily true. First, both kinds of attacks can be fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate, relevant or irrelevant. Second, a clever campaign will weave the two together into a coherent whole.
That's what the Obama campaign will be doing in the coming months. The issue attacks tell you the what, and the character attacks tell you the why. They'll be telling voters that Romney wants to cut taxes for rich people and threaten important social programs like Medicare (true, as it happens). But in order for that charge to take hold, they need to also explain to people why Romney would want to do such a thing. That's where stuff like this comes in:
In the last six months I've written a lot about the politics of the gun issue (see here for example), and one of the key data points I keep trying to get people to understand is that gun ownership is actually declining in America and has been for a few decades. Yet there are just as many guns as ever (around 300 million by the best estimates), which means that on average, your typical gun owner now owns more guns than they used to. While no one that I know of has actually figured out the distribution, my guess is that most gun owners still have only one or two guns, while the numbers are being elevated by enthusiasts who think they really haven't guaranteed the safety of their family unless they have enough weaponry to fend off an assault by an entire battalion of the Red Army.
And it's important to understand that the gun lobby (by which I mean the National Rifle Association, similar groups, and the gun manufacturers) are doing everything they can to encourage existing gun owners to buy as many guns as they possibly can. I discuss this in a piece I wrote today for MSNBC's "Lean Forward" blog:
Do not allow these horrifying monsters to dissuade you from watching the Olympics. (image from London 2012)
You may not be following the Twitter feeds of Wenlock and Mandeville, the terrifying claw-handed cylcops Olympic mascots soon to be starring in the night terrors of children the world over, but if you're like me, you're getting excited about the fact that the Games begin this weekend. There are a couple of reasons why I'm a huge Olympics fan. The first is that I enjoy the simplest competitions, the ones that test the limits of the human animal and harken back to the earliest athletic endeavors.
Last week, The New York Times revealed that "quote approval" has become standard practice when reporters deal with both the Obama and Romney campaigns as well as with the Obama administration. The way it works is that a reporter interviews an official, then submits the quotes she intends to use in her stories back to the campaign, which only appear if the campaign approves them. Not only that, the campaign often edits the quotes to make them more to their liking.
Lo and behold, news organizations are now announcing they will no longer submit quotes for approval. The National Journal says it won't. McClatchy says no more. The New York Times is thinking about it. To tell you the truth, I'm a bit surprised. But I guess shame is a powerful thing.
Take that, you insolent peasants! (Flickr/Austen Hufford)
Any time a politician faces pressure to do something he doesn't want to do, there's a calculation involved about the arc of the story and the cumulative effect of the two courses he could take. I can take the slings and arrows of the moment and hold out, in the hopes that the story will go away, or I can succumb and hope that by getting the pain over quickly, the damage will be minimized. The conventional wisdom has become that any time there's damaging information about you, you have to get it all out as soon as possible, and there are certainly plenty of cases in which a politician didn't do so and ended up suffering both from the information itself and his initial stonewalling against releasing it. But that need not always be the case. Mitt Romney may just have bet correctly that he could stand firm against releasing his tax forms from any year before 2010 and get away with it.
Last week, Mitt Romney had some kind of weird brain freeze and accidentally stumbled into agreement with President Obama on the fact that entrepreneurs actually do benefit from the efforts of other people, and even get help from the government. You may have heard about it, as a number of bloggers took note. But there was something else he said that was even more interesting, and I wanted to point it out because we do seem to be having a discussion about the fundamentals of capitalism and government. It sounded extemporaneous, so perhaps Romney didn't think through the full implications of it, but here's what he said:
There are a lot of people in government who help us and allow us to have an economy that works and allow entrepreneurs and business leaders of various kinds to start businesses and create jobs. We all recognize that. That's an important thing. Don't forget, by the way, government doesn't invent those people out of thin air. We pay for those people with our taxes! We're paying for those resources that we receive.
Today we're continuing with the '80s nostalgia, for no particular reason. So for this edition of Songs By Scottish Bands With Titles That Include the Band's Name, we have Big Country, with "In a Big Country." As they say in the song, "Ha!"
When an event like the mass shooting in Colorado happens, it's a fair bet that people on every side will take the opportunity to say, "See? This just reinforces what we've been telling you all along." But that's easier for some than others. I looked around some conservative web sites today to see what their reaction was, and much of it ran to this: Awful liberals are going to use this to push their anti-gun agenda, and they should be ashamed of themselves (see here or here). But is there really anything wrong with taking the events that occur in our country, even horrible ones, and making the connections to our policy and political choices? Isn't that what people who write about politics are supposed to do?
Yesterday, President Obama went to Florida and told seniors that Mitt Romney wants to end Medicare as we know it, and it appears that this argument (and some related ones) will be a central feature of the Obama campaign's message in the coming days. It's entirely possible, as Jonathan Chait has suggested, that all the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's finances and record at Bain Capital are the first stage of a two-stage strategy that culminates with an attack on the Ryan budget. Since we'll be talking about this a lot soon, I thought it might be worthwhile to refresh our memories on what this is all about, particularly with regard to Medicare, and how it relates to the current campaign.
First: Is it fair to tar Mitt Romney with the Ryan plan? No question.