Paul Waldman

Mitt Romney, Sexy Man

Try to contain yourself, ladies.

Prior to 2008, one of the things you could count on in every presidential campaigning was subtle Republican attempts to imply that the Democratic candidate was wimpy, soft, maybe even girly. And if the Democrat was just a little bit light in the loafers then maybe that meant that if you voted for him, you were too.

Then came 2008, when the Republicans were faced with a candidate they couldn't quite make that argument about. Sure, their guy was a war hero, but that was 40 years ago, and now he just seemed like a grumpy old man. The Democrat, on the other hand, was young, black, and famously cool, hanging out with movie stars and almost never caught looking goofy or wearing a silly hat. Women swooned over him (remember "I've Got a Crush On Obama"?). To me, the moment that most exemplified the 2008 campaign was when Obama went to Kuwait to visit the troops, and met a few hundred of them in a gym. Someone brought out a basketball, and Obama, who played on his high school team, walked up to the three-point line and drained it on his first try to the cheers of the crowd. I always pictured the staff in McCain headquarters watching it on TV with pained expressions on their faces, somebody muttering, "Oh for Christ's sake" under his breath.

A lot has happened since then, but the idea that Obama is a cool customer remains endlessly maddening to conservatives, at least judging by the response I've gotten when I've written about this before. Which brings us to a rather remarkable article by Kevin Williamson in the National Review. You think Mitt Romney is an awkward, Ward Cleaver type about whom no one would ever make an "I've Got A Crush On Mitt" video? Au contraire, says Williamson. "What do women want?" he begins by asking. And the answer is, they want them some hot, steaming Mittster...

Barack Obama's Billionaire Problem

Barack Obama working when he ought to be calling donors. (White House/Pete Souza)

One complaint that has been around privately (and occasionally publicly) since the beginning of the Obama administration is that they haven't paid enough attention to "donor maintenance." Most (not all, but most) big donors are egotistical and self-important, and part of the reason that they give money is to feel important,. They want to know that the candidate, in this case the president, knows them and values their input. It does seem that the administration has fallen down on this score, and as Jane Mayer explains, it's partly a result of Obama's staff not doing the things they should, and partly the fault of Obama himself. Apparently, he just can't stand this part of the job, and that led him to do things like not pose for pictures with donors. "It's as easy as falling off a log!" one fundraiser complained. "They just want a picture of themselves with the President that they can hang on the bathroom wall, so that their friends can see it when they take a piss." I think the President's distaste for this kind of thing speaks quite well of him as a human being, but there are some times when you just have to suck it up.

The resulting question is how much of the fact that Obama is trailing Romney so bad in fundraising can be explained by this sort of thing. I think the answer is, probably not much. Don't forget that Obama has in fact raised a spectacular amount of money for his re-election; according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has raised $348 million for his campaign. That's quite a bit! The problem is that Romney is raising even more; for instance, in July Romney raised $100 million and Obama raised $75 million. And Romney's real advantage will come from the superPACs and 501c(4) organizations, who which rich donors can give unlimited sums. Nevertheless, reading the following passage made me think of an old story that illustrates the politician's art...

Todd Akin's Place In History

When something like the Todd Akin "legitimate rape" controversy comes up, it can be hard to look at the case objectively and determine if the crime is worthy of the consequences. As a liberal, I found Akin to be a pretty awful character even before yesterday. And his comments were, by any standard you can come up, both spectacularly stupid and morally vile. This kind of thing is where misogyny and anti-intellectualism converge, though my favorite part of his comment is that he began it by saying, "From what I understand from doctors..." as though he came to this conclusion only after consulting with a number of physicians on the question of the ladypart lasers that are presumably activated to zap unwanted sperm when it arrives in those legitimate rape cases. It's the same thing that you hear from Republicans who say, "My reading of the science is that global warming is a giant hoax," as though they've actually been perusing climate journals. Akin later clarified his doctor consulations in an interview with Sean Hannity, saying, "Well, my only point in that was I had heard from medical reports that rape is such a traumatic type of thing that, um, that it, uh, that there is a reaction." He did admit that "that's wrong," but he didn't say if the problem was that he misread the "medical reports," or if the "medical reports" were themselves erroneous, or if maybe the "medical reports" are figments of his imagination.

In any case, as someone who has written a lot about how stupid "gaffe" coverage usually is and how ridiculous it is when partisans say, "Ignore everything else our opponent ever said—this comment is the one that reveals his twisted soul!", I suppose I should try to give Akin the benefit of the doubt. But it's pretty hard...

Romney Escapes Punishment for Lying, Continues Lying

You can't see from this angle, but his pants are actually aflame.

We may be talking a lot about Medicare, but on the airwaves, Mitt Romney is just not giving up on the welfare attack. As you should know by now, over the last couple of weeks Romney has been airing ads featuring an unusually brazen lie about the Obama administration, claiming that Obama has eliminated work requirements from welfare. It's just false, as every fact-checker has attested and anyone who is not actually in Mitt Romney's employ will tell you. Romney has been repeating this lie on the stump as well. Everybody understands the racial subtext underneath the welfare attack, so we needn't dwell on that at the moment. But what's remarkable is that despite the judgment of journalists, Romney just keeps on telling the lie. Here's the third ad his campaign has produced about it:

Hooray for Hollywood?

Flickr/The City Project

The article of the day is Jon Chait's piece in New York addressing the question of Hollywood's liberalism. To simplify it a bit, Chait argues that conservatives are basically right in their belief that Hollywood liberals are warping our minds with left-wing propaganda, though they seem to have all but stopped bothering to complain about it. I find it hard to disagree with the first part of Chait's premise: Hollywood is, indeed, dominated by liberals. There are a few high-profile conservatives there (Bruce Willis, Tom Selleck, Clint Eastwood), but they're a small minority. It's not hard to figure out why. Any industry that is made up of creative people is going to be dominated by liberals. Most novelists are liberals too. I'm sure most graphic artists are liberals. There's a whole lot of psychological research demonstrating that liberals tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, open to experience, and interested in change than conservatives, while conservatives tend to be more conscientious and drawn to hierarchy and order (Prospect alum Chris Mooney details all this in his book The Republican Brain; there's a short version here). In other words, artists are going to be more liberal. Conservatives may not like it, but that's how it is and how it's probably always going to be.

The next question is what values are communicated by the products those liberals produce, and whether we have a problem with them...

Friday Music Break

Peter Gabriel

For today's music break, we're slowing down the pace a little. This is Peter Gabriel looking oh so young as he does "Here Comes the Flood." YouTube tells me this is from a 1979 Kate Bush Christmas special, which sounds like it must have been both wonderful and profoundly weird.

Takes One to Know One

Just keep smiling. (Flickr/Donkey Hotey)

Ask a political consultant, and she'll tell you that if you're a candidate running for something like the House, there's no point in putting out position papers. Sure, you want to let people know you're substantive and have thought seriously about policy, but putting it down on paper only brings you grief. Nobody will be convinced to vote for you because of something in a position paper, but people may well find therein a reason to vote against you. And your opponent will go through it and find things to take out of context and attack you with.

Presidential campaigns, however, are supposed to be different. A new congressman can coast through a term without anything much resembling an agenda, but a president is supposed to have a whole slate of policies he wants to implement. So presidential campaigns employ people whose job it is to devise and refine plans that can be put into practice in the White House. But now, Mitt Romney and the people who work for him are coming out and saying more explicitly than presidential candidates are supposed to that there's just not much point in telling people in any detail what the man who would be president wants to do...

Does America Get the Campaigns It Deserves?

Undecided voters

I have some bad news. Chances are Mitt Romney doesn't care about you. OK, you knew that, but Barack Obama probably doesn't care about you either. Because if you read the Prospect, you're not an undecided voter, and even if you were an undecided voter, unless you live in one of a handful of states (Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and a few others), they couldn't care less what you think. Today the New York Times has a nice article about that tiny portion of the electorate that the presidential campaigns in all their glory are trying to persuade. Although the piece doesn't address this question, it's good from time to time to step back and acknowledge that the fate of our nation basically rests with some of the least informed among us, and the system is designed to maximize their power. But first...

Medicare Myths, Debunked

(Flickr/Ann Lobb)

At the moment, the hot issue of the 2012 presidential campaign is Medicare, with the Obama and Romney campaigns trading charges and counter-charges over the health-insurance program for the elderly. Since we at the Prospect love clarifying the muddy and making the complex understandable, we thought we'd unpack the arguments the two sides are making and provide some context so we can all grasp this a bit better. We'll start with the campaigns' claims.

 

Does Mitt Romney actually want to "end Medicare as we know it"?

That's the charge Democrats are now making; here's a video the Obama campaign just released:

The Trouble With a Campaign About "Issues"

The subject of a substantive, issue-based discussion from a previous campaign.

In the early stages of every presidential campaign, journalists and pundits start saying, "This is going to be the most negative campaign in history." Then as the campaign proceeds, it turns out to be plenty negative, but not really the worst in history, so they stop saying that. Eventually, however, some back-and-forth of attacks will cause them to lament, "We thought this could be a campaign about issues. But instead it's all personal attacks!" And that's the stage we're at now.

As Buzzfeed's Ben Smith wrote yesterday, "Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan was supposed to transform the 2012 presidential campaign away from what Politico called the "smallest" campaign ever into something grand and honorable." Everyone said so… Three days later, the campaign has reached its ugliest, most fevered moment." But let's not be naïve here. Every campaign gets negative, and every campaign gets personal. Think back on the presidential campaigns you've lived through. Was there a single one about which you'd say, "That was really a substantive, serious campaign about issues"? Of course not. This is American politics. It's trivial, it's misleading, it's demagogic, and it's negative. We can set aside for another day the question of whether the fault for that lies primarily with the politicians or with the voters (I lean toward the latter), but we shouldn't be surprised when the campaign doesn't turn out to sound like a luncheon at the Brookings Institution.

Is the Driverless Car Menace 2012's Sleeper Issue?

A Florida senior just after her brush with death.

As someone who has gone on record in support of driverless cars, I simply must raise my voice in objection to this ad targeting Florida state rep. Jeff Brandes, who is running for state senate. An inconsequential local race, you say? Not when this kind of vicious anti-technological filth is sent out to paralyze our nation's seniors with fear of walking the streets! If you think American politics is no fun, just take a gander:

Mitt Romney's Terrible Laugh

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Some public figures get defined by a single image, or a single statement ("Ask not what your country can do for you"; "I am not a crook"). Others have a characteristic linguistic tic or hand gesture that through repetition come to embody them; think of Ronald Reagan's head shake, George W. Bush's shoulder-shimmy, or that closed-fist-with-thumb-on-top thing Bill Clinton used to do.

For Mitt Romney, it's the laugh. I'm sure that at times Romney laughs with genuine mirth, but you know the laugh I'm talking about. It's the one he delivers when he gets asked a question he doesn't want to answer, or is confronted with a demand to explain a flip-flop or a lie. It's the phoniest laugh in the world, the one New York Times reporter Ashley Parker wrote "sounds like someone stating the sounds of laughter, a staccato 'Ha. Ha. Ha.'" Everything Mitt Romney is as a candidate is distilled within that laugh—his insincerity, his ambition, his awkwardness, and above all his fear. When Mitt laughs that way, he is not amused. He is terrified. Because he knows that what he's saying is utter baloney, and he knows that we know it.

So he pretends to find it hilarious that an interviewer wants him to explain why, say, Romneycare was great for Massachusetts but the nearly identical Obamacare is a Stalinist horror for America. Perhaps it is the pain of enacting this facsimile of delight so many times that has hardened Mitt's heart and allowed him to run what has become a campaign of truly singular dishonesty. But whatever moral calculation underlies the decisions he makes, this is the place we have arrived: There may have never been a more dishonest presidential candidate than Mitt Romney.

I Know You Are But What Am I? Medicare Edition

In the good old days, you could get political speeches on LP.

Republicans' pleasure over Mitt Romney picking Paul Ryan for his running mate is tempered by their nervousness that Democrats will use Ryan's budget to hammer them on Medicare, particularly in Florida. And yes, they will. So how are Republicans going to respond? The answer is that they'll employ the time-honored "I know you are, but what am I?" strategy.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House Republicans' campaign arm, is sending out memos to its members telling them to, in the title of one, "Stay on offense on Medicare." And how do you do it? You say, we're not the ones who want to destroy Medicare, the Democrats are the ones who want to destroy Medicare! We're already hearing it from Romney and Ryan, and it'll be coming from all kinds of other places as well; here's the Heritage Foundation saying "Obamacare ends Medicare as we know it." (How? Because it's all governmenty.)

This kind of muddying of the waters has worked before...

Phony Hawkery

Definitely not Paul Ryan. (Flickr/contemplicity)

This is something that other people have mentioned, and Jamelle brings up in his extremely helpful post about Paul Ryan, but it really needs to be emphasized: Paul Ryan is not a "deficit hawk." No matter how many times the news media tell us, it doesn't make it true. As I've said before, you can't call yourself a deficit hawk if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don't like anyway. Show me someone who's willing to cut programs he favors (Ryan isn't), and would actually take potentially painful measures to balance the budget (Ryan wouldn't), and that's a deficit hawk. Ryan, on the other hand, is a conservative ideologue who couches what Newt Gingrich appropriately called "right-wing social engineering" in a lot of talk about making tough choices. But I've never actually seen Paul Ryan make a "tough" choice, at least one that was tough for him. There's nothing "tough" about a conservative Republican who tells you he wants to slash Medicare and Medicaid, increase defense spending, and cut taxes for the wealthy. That's like Homer Simpson telling you he's making the tough choice to skip the salad and eat three dozen donuts instead.

But oh boy, have the media ever bought into the idea of Ryan as the courageous budget-cutter...

Paul Ryan: The Next President of the United States?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Democrats seem nearly unanimous that Mitt Romney's pick of Paul Ryan to be his running mate is a good thing, since it will make winning substantially more difficult for Romney (Jamelle explains why here). I agree, and I continue to believe that the odds remain substantially in favor of Barack Obama winning re-election. But I thought I'd take the opportunity of an outbreak of hope on the left side of the aisle to offer a little vision of horror. As of Sunday morning, Paul Ryan may indeed be the person most likely to be, in the words of Romney's slip of the tongue, the next president of the United States.

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