Paul Waldman

The "Apology Tour" Lives On

Flickr/micagoto
During last night's debate, when Mitt Romney started to go off on his usual "apology tour" line, President Obama got a little smile on his face. Here it comes, I thought—he knew Romney might say this, and he's got a killer response ready. After all, there may be no single falsehood Romney has repeated more often than this one. It's simply a lie, Mitt Romney knows it's a lie, it's been fact-checked to death so every journalist knows it's a lie, and now at last Obama would smack it down and we wouldn't have to hear it anymore. No such luck. Obama's response was to assert that Romney's charge is false ("This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign") without explaining why or finding a way to shame Romney for his shamelessness. And the Romney campaign was so pleased they put out an ad today revisiting the moment: Point out to conservatives that Obama has never apologized for America, and they'll say, "Nuh-uh! What about that time he said...

Mitt Romney, Language Cop

Mitt Romney, saying things.
There were a number of strange moments in last night's debate, the most substantively meaningful of which was almost certainly Mitt Romney's declaration that "when I’m president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out [of Afghanistan] by the end of 2014." For the last year, Romney has been criticizing Barack Obama for having precisely this position, saying that we can't tell the enemy when we're leaving and our departure has to be determined by events on the ground. In the foreign policy version of Moderate Mitt, that apparently is no longer operative. But the oddest thing Romney said had to be this: "I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it." As I've observed before , Romney's critique of Obama on foreign policy has always been primarily linguistic. He takes issue not with what the President has done, but what he has said. He apologizes for America! He didn't use the word "terror"! He...

You Are Me and We Are All Together

I've written often in the past about appeals to tribalism, and the "He's not one of us" argument is something that 1) you almost always hear from Republicans, not Democrats, and 2) you hear much more often in the South than anywhere else. You're much more likely to see an ad saying that a candidate has "South Carolina values" or "Oklahoma values" than one saying a candidate has "Oregon values" or "New York values." Perhaps that will change as people from places dominated by liberals get a more clearly defined tribal identity linked to their geography, but in the past it's been the South where the lines between "us" and "them" are clearest. It's not necessarily racial in the strict sense that whites are part of "us" and blacks are part of "them," but race is almost always implicated. Someone who's a little too Northern in their history or their sympathies is part of "them" in part because they're too solicitous of the interests of blacks. All that notwithstanding, identity is a complex...

The Third Debate: New Topic, Same Empty Taste

(AP Photo/Mario Tama, Pool)
(AP Photo/David Goldman, File) President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney exchange views during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. B arack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet tonight to discuss foreign affairs, and there's one thing I can predict with near-certainty: This discussion will be just as vacuous as the rest of the campaign. Which is too bad, because on foreign policy, the president's own personal interests, beliefs, and biases matter much more than they do on domestic policy. An inordinate amount of time is spent during the campaign trying to pin down who the candidates are deep in their hearts, when in so many areas it doesn't matter at all. In the domestic realm, presidents are constrained by what Congress is willing to do and by their own party's priorities. Mitt Romney will seek to cut taxes, roll back regulations protecting the environment and workers' rights, cut...

White Democrats Disappear from the Deep South

"These are my guns now, and ain't nobody gon' take 'em away."
John Barrow is fighting for his life. The Georgia representative is that most politically endangered of species, a white Democrat in the Deep South. When the state's Republicans redrew the district lines, they not only made his district more Republican, they also made sure his own home was outside his new district, just to stick it to him. Barrow was always conservative— National Journal rates him as the eighth-most conservative Democrat in the House—but in this election, he's got to really turn on the juice if he's going to survive. And what better way than with some belligerent paranoia on guns? After proudly showing off his father's and grandfather's guns (and snapping the bolt back and forth on the latter to provide the very sound of freedom), Barrow says in this ad, "I approved this message because these are my guns now. And ain't nobody gon' take 'em away." Well that's a relief. There are a number of black Southern Democrats in Congress, representing districts that are...

Free Speech Weirdness from Overseas

The Bill of Rights, nothing but trouble.
Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, "has been ordered to undergo 'factual accuracy' training, and to use fact-checkers." Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it's a good reminder that America's particular version of free speech wasn't handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press") are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn't have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking). In other countries where...

Salad Days for the Gun Industry

Time to stock up! (Flickr/ElCapitanBSC)
This week's town hall debate featured only one really surprising question, on gun violence. In any other election one might have expected a question about this topic, but both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been completely silent on the issue, so in all likelihood neither one of them expected it. And they gave answers that should have warmed the heart of any gun advocate. Obama, whose action on guns has consisted of signing two laws expanding gun rights (you can now take your guns into national parks and on Amtrak), said that "what I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally." When his turn came, Romney gave his nod to the standard pro-gun line, "I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns," and went on to say that the real problem is single-parent homes. So if you're a gun advocate, these are really the best of times. On one hand, you have a president who has not and will not do anything to restrict gun rights. Yet on...

And On to the Next Pseudo-Issue We Go

He's ready to deliver. (Flickr/Just a Prarie Boy)
So remember how the question of whether Barack Obama said the right words at the right time about the Benghazi attack was the most important thing happening in the world and a burgeoning scandal that we absolutely had to get to the bottom of lest Americans' faith in our democratic system be destroyed? Eh, not so much : In the post-debate spin room Tuesday night, Romney campaign aides and surrogates tried to make up for a botched exchange on the Libya attacks by promising to aggressively prosecute President Obama's handling of the situation — but 36 hours later, no such prosecution has materialized. Instead, Mitt Romney spent the next day on the stump criticizing the president for his lack of a second-term agenda, and conspicuously avoiding the Libya issue. Asked why the issue was absent from Romney's public remarks, senior adviser Kevin Madden told BuzzFeed the campaign decided to focus their post-debate Virginia swing on exposing Obama's lack of specific proposals, and challenge him...

What Mitt Romney Will Actually Do On Abortion

Flickr/OZinOh
During Tuesday's debate, Mitt Romney did a sneaky little pivot on the issue of contraception coverage that surely went over the head of most of the people watching. What Romney supports is a Republican bill, the Blunt amendment, that would allow any employer to refuse to include coverage for contraception in employees' health insurance. For many women, that would mean they would be shut out of getting contraception through the plans that, we should note, they paid for themselves (insurance coverage isn't a favor your employer does for you, it's part of your compensation that you get in return for your labor, which means you paid for it). But when it came up in the debate, Romney said this: "I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And—and the—and the...

It's All In the Words

Flickr/Pierre Metivier
When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney got into their little back-and-forth over Benghazi last night, I tweeted that it would probably going to get more press attention than anything that happened in the debate, yet of all the topics they addressed, it may be the least relevant to which of these two would make a better president. And here we are. Think about this: the argument isn't about what sort of policy we should be pursuing toward Libya, or how we can address anti-Americanism or terrorism, or what sort of security our embassies and consulates should have. Instead, it's about which words Obama said on which day . Seriously. And you wonder why people are cynical about politics. All along, Republicans have been acting as though within hours of the attack, had Obama said, "This was a terroristic terror attack, full of terrorizing terror," then ... what, exactly? The perpetrators would have turned themselves in? Potential al-Qaeda recruits would have said, "Hold on—this is a terrorist...

No, Candy Crowley Did Not Show Any Favoritism

Candy Crowley questions President Obama during last night's debate
Before last night's debate, both the Obama and Romney camps expressed their concern that moderator Candy Crowley might go rogue and act like something resembling a journalist, not merely keeping time and introducing questioners but interjecting to get clarifications and ask follow-ups. Once the debate was over, it was only conservatives complaining about her. Some found her biased from start to finish, but all criticized her for her intervention on the somewhat absurd question of what words President Obama used and when to describe the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But a close look at what went on in the debate reveals that Crowley was actually judiciously even-handed, and if anything, may have done more favors for Romney. Before we discuss how, here are some of the reactions from the right: "We're done with the second presidential debate, but it was apparent 45 minutes in that between the questions Crowley chose and her handling of who was allowed to speak and when, that...

In Defense of Paul Ryan's Fake Dishwashing

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his wife Janna wash pots at St. Vincent DePaul dining hall, Saturday, October 13, 2012 in Youngstown, Ohio. In case you haven't heard the story, the other day Paul Ryan's team thought it would be a good idea to show his compassionate side, so they had him show up at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio to help out. The only problem was that lunch had already been served, the patrons were all gone, and everything had been cleaned up. Undeterred, Ryan and his wife donned aprons and proceeded to wash pots for the cameras, despite the fact that the pots they were washing appeared to have already been washed . The head of the charity that runs the soup kitchen was a bit perturbed about the whole thing, saying later, "Had they asked for permission, it wouldn't have been granted. … But I certainly wouldn't have let him wash clean pans, and then take a picture." Yes, this came in for plenty of ridicule. But let me...

All Due Respect

Find out what it means to me.
As I was going through old presidential debates in writing this piece , I came across a moment in the 2004 town hall debate in which John Kerry got asked by a woman in the audience what he would tell someone who thought abortion was murder and wanted reassurance that their tax money wouldn't be going to abortion. He began his answer in the way we have come to expect Democratic politicians to: "First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins." He then went on to explain how he was an altar boy, religion is very important to him, but he won't impose his personal beliefs on others. At the end of it, he wrapped up with a discussion of the importance of family planning, and said, "You'll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it." Which got me thinking: When was the last time you heard a Republican express their deep, deep respect for the moral...

Five Fool-Proof Tips for Winning a Town Hall Debate

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/Joe Marquette, File) In this October 15, 1992 file photo, Moderator Carole Simpson, background center, presides over the Presidential debate between, from left, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, Independent candidate Ross Perot, center, and Republican candidate, President George H.W. Bush, at the University of Richmond, Virginia. The every-four-years ritual of a national "town hall" style debate began as a nerve-racking experiment in live television. Simpson was so nervous about turning over the microphone to regular folks and their questions that she spent days mapping out the presidential candidates and their issues on "a zillion 3-by-5 cards," in case she had to take over the questioning herself. T uesday night, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in a "town hall" debate, which doesn't actually much resemble a town hall, but does provide an opportunity for ordinary voters to ask the candidates questions. So does this kind of forum actually give us any...

Time to Try the "Romney Is Lying" Debate Strategy

You're getting sleepy...
One of the triumphs of Mitt Romney's performance in the first debate was that he told an enormous number of outright falsehoods ( see here ) with virtually no response from Obama, or at least no effective response. So one of Obama's challenges tomorrow night—perhaps the key challenge—is how to handle it when Romney says things that aren't true. What he can't do is what he did in the first debate, offer a muttering response filled with details and failing to emphasize his central point. I realize there's at least some chance that the President is too busy to be reading this blog today. But just in case, let me offer a suggestion. What Obama needs is a set of responses that cover the topic at hand, but that all follow a single theme . He needs, to put it bluntly, a single phrase that he will repeat every time he's refuting a Romney falsehood. It could be something slogan-y, like "That's another Romney Reinvention," or could be something simple, like "Once again, Governor Romney thinks...

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