Paul Waldman

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.

Friday Music Break

Aaron Neville and John Hiatt

For today's Music Break, we're going down to New Orleans for the Neville Brothers, joined by John Hiatt, doing "Yellow Moon." Do you know something that I don't know?

Wolveriiines!

Our first opportunity to watch Charlie Sheen go totally psycho.

If you were a teenager in the '80s like I was, you had to have a complex relationship to jingoistic entertainment. On one hand, the way Cold War competition was grafted onto things like sports and movies was kind of unsettling, since the fate of the world was actually at stake, and one had to think that amping everybody up into a testosterone-fueled frenzy couldn't be a good thing. On the other hand, you couldn't help but swell with national pride at the Miracle on Ice, or at Rocky knocking out Ivan Drago. (Though to be clear, the ultimate message of "Rocky IV" is one of mutual understanding, and one hears the plaintive cry of a man who knows he is but a pawn of much more powerful forces in Drago's lament, "I must break you." OK, I'll stop.)

There may have been no cultural product that captured that atmosphere quite so perfectly as "Red Dawn," the 1984 movie in which the Commies actually do take over, and it's left to a small band of high schoolers led by Patrick Swayze to use their gumption, creativity, and familiarity with firearms to fight them off and bring freedom back to America. Perhaps because people my age are now in charge of deciding which movies get green-lit, they've made a remake.

Romney's Health Care Dilemma Returns

One of these things is...not like the other?

Mitt Romney has been so busy securing his Republican base that he hasn't had time to court independent voters, the ones who will actually decide this election. But now, probably by accident, he has an opportunity to show them that he's something other than a slave to his party's right wing. Will he take it?

When Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul committed the apparently unpardonable sin of praising the health care law Mitt Romney passed as governor of Massachusetts, was she making a horrible mistake that made everyone in Romney headquarters gasp in horror, or was she just reflecting what her candidate actually believes? The answer to that question would tell us where Romney is going to go from here on health care, and whether he may at long last try to find some issue on which he can convince voters he's something more than a vessel for whatever his party's right wing wants to do to the country.

The Truth about Welfare

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

After absorbing months of attacks on him as an economic royalist, Mitt Romney is hitting back with an ad as dishonest as any you'll ever see, accusing Barack Obama of coddling welfare recipients ("You wouldn't have to work … they just send you your welfare check"). Literally every word after the 8 second mark on this ad is a lie, with the exception of "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message." But the welfare attack is an old Republican standby; if the middle class suspects you're not one of them, remind them that their resentment should be pointed down, not up. The real enemy is poor people, and those who would indulge them.

Lies Are the New Truth

Newt Gingrich explores new frontiers of truthiness.

Being a campaign surrogate isn't easy. You have no say in what the candidate you favor or his campaign decides to say or do, yet you're called upon to defend their words and actions. That can put you in an extremely uncomfortable position, unless you're Newt Gingrich.

Yesterday, Newt went on Anderson Cooper 360 to talk about Mitt Romney's new welfare attack ad, which falsely accuses Obama of ending work requirements in welfare, and what he said was truly remarkable, even for him. Now, let me be absolutely clear about something. I've been paying very, very close attention to political ads for a long time. In my former career as an academic I did a lot of research on political ads. I've watched literally every single presidential general election campaign ad ever aired since the first ones in 1952. I've seen ads that were more inflammatory than this one, and ads that were in various ways more reprehensible than this one (not many, but some). But I cannot recall a single presidential campaign ad in the history of American politics that lied more blatantly than this one...

Dancing with The Mitt That Brung Ya

Afraid? I'm not afraid! What makes you say that? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

In the early days of the 2012 Republican primaries, many thoughtful commentators took the position that it was simply impossible for Mitt Romney to win his party's nomination. Despite all his evident strengths as a candidate–money, the most professionally run campaign in the group, the endorsement of many establishment figures–Romney simply would not find a way to get past the fact that as governor of Massachusetts he had passed a health care plan that became the model for the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans had come to see as the very embodiment of evil in the modern world. The party's base would never abide it.

Yet he did, without all that much trouble. And he didn't deal with the health care issue through some brilliant strategy, either. He made no dramatic mea culpa, and never repudiated Romneycare, at least not directly. Whenever he was asked about it he would give a convoluted and utterly unconvincing argument about how what he did in Massachusetts was great, though of course it shouldn't be applied anywhere else, and even though the ACA is almost exactly the same as Romneycare, the latter was a pragmatic and effective policy solution while the former is an abomination so horrific that putting a copy of the bill in the same room as an American flag could cause said flag to burst into flames and be sucked through a demonic portal to the very pits of hell. Democrats shook their heads at the hypocrisy and smiled at Romney's pain, while Republicans narrowed their eyes and listened skeptically. I feel fairly confident that there was not a single person anywhere who upon hearing Romney try to make these absurd distinctions responded with, "Well that makes sense–I'm convinced."

And amazingly, it almost seems as if Romney thought he could get through the rest of the campaign without this coming up.

What Makes An Ad Harsh

Image from a Priorities USA ad.

Just what do we mean when we call a campaign ad "negative" or "harsh" or even "brutal"? That question is raised by an ad released today by the pro-Obama superPAC Priorities USA, hitting Mitt Romney about a steel plant that Bain Capital closed in Kansas City. In the ad, Joe Soptic, a worker at the plant, tells how when he and his fellow workers lost their jobs, they also lost their health insurance. His wife got sick, but because they had no insurance she didn't see a doctor until it was too late, and she died of cancer three weeks after finally being diagnosed. While he doesn't actually say "Mitt Romney killed my wife," he ends the ad by saying, "I do not think that Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone. And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned." Let's take a look, then we'll break it down:

Support Our Troops By Cynically Using Them As Props In a Dishonest Campaign Ploy

They didn't succeed. (Flickr/Barack Obama)

Let's get this out of the way first: Mitt Romney's smear of Barack Obama over the issue of early voting in Ohio is both shamelessly dishonest and utterly despicable. In case you haven't heard, Ohio voters used to be able to vote early in the three days before election day, then the Republican legislature passed a bill eliminating the early voting for everybody except active-duty military servicemembers. So the Obama campaign sued to restore early voting for everyone, which the Romney campaign rather predictably characterized as an attack on our brave fighting men and women.

So yes, Romney is just lying. But let's put that aside and ask this question: just what kind of special privileges should members of the military be entitled to?

Will We Ever Get to See Romney's 2011 Tax Return?

Flickr/Images of Money

I don't know about you, but this year I filed my taxes just before the April 15 deadline. Most people do. But if you need to, you can file for an extension from the IRS. That's what Mitt Romney did. And if you look around the discussion about his taxes, you'll find that everyone keeps referring to the "two years of tax returns" Romney has agreed to release. But what people don't mention is that Romney hasn't actually released two years of tax returns. He released one year, his 2010 return (and even that was incomplete). But we haven't seen his 2011 return. He keeps saying he'll release it when it's ready, but is it going to be ready before November?

Everybody Hates Mitt

What do you mean you don't find me likeable? (Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)

A new e-book from Glenn Thrush and the folks at Politico contains this interesting tidbit concerning Barack Obama's feelings about Mitt Romney:

"One factor made the 2012 grind bearable and at times even fun for Obama: he began campaign preparations feeling neutral about Romney, but like the former governor's GOP opponents in 2008 and 2012, he quickly developed a genuine disdain for the main. That scorn stoked Obama's competitive fire, got his head in the game, which came as a relief to some Obama aides who had seen his interest flag when he didn't feel motivated to crush the opposition. Obama, a person close to him told me, didn't even feel this strongly about conservative, combative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Hill Republican he disliked the most. At least Cantor stood for something, he'd say.

"When he talked about Romney, aides picked up a level of anger he never had for Clinton or McCain, even after Sarah Palin was picked as his running mate. 'There was a baseline of respect for John McCain. The president always thought he was an honorable man and a war hero,' said a longtime Obama adviser. 'That doesn't hold true for Romney. He was no goddamned war hero.'"

A brief digression: as John McCain taught America, you can be a war hero and also be a jerk; the latter doesn't subtract from the former. But McCain is the one politician who is always defined by the most admirable thing he ever did, even though it happened four decades ago, while most politicians are defined by the worst thing they ever did. In any case, assuming Thrush's reporting is accurate, it's interesting to see the famously cool and detached Barack Obama actually displaying emotions.

It's a reminder that politicians, even presidents, are human beings. If someone was going around the country every day telling anyone who would listen that you sucked at your job, and not only that, you also don't really understand or believe in America, you'd have to be the Dalai Lama not to decide that that person is, down to his very core, an asshole.

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