Paul Waldman

Mitt Romney: Still Afraid

Mitt Romney is apparently terrified of this guy.

The departure of Ric Grenell from the Romney campaign is something that approximately zero undecided voters know or care anything about, but does it tell us anything interesting or useful about Mitt Romney himself? In case you haven't heard, Grenell is a longtime Republican communications professional who was hired by the Romney campaign to be a spokesperson on foreign policy; then liberals started criticizing Grenell for some nasty tweets he had sent, while social conservatives started criticizing him for being gay. The Romney campaign didn't care much about the liberals' criticism, but was apparently quite unnerved by the conservatives' criticism.

By All Means, Politicize the Bin Laden Killing

Pete Souza/The White House

Imagine that you called a carpenter to come repair your deck, and after looking at the rotted timbers and split rails, he said, "Well, I can fix this deck. But the one thing I'm not going to do is come over here and engage in a bunch of carpentry. That would be wrong."

You'd probably suspect that the carpenter was insane. Yet politicians and their campaign advisers–people for whom politics is a profession no less than carpentry is the carpenter's profession–are constantly complaining that their opponents are engaged in "politics," or are committing the horrible sin of "politicizing" something that shouldn't be political.

So it was when Barack Obama's re-election campaign took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to remind voters who was president when it happened...

"Friends," By Which He Means Not Really Friends

Mitt Romney with some of his friends. Really. (Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)

Via Andrew Sullivan, Fox News' Shepard Smith had some kind of weird brain event and burped out a bit of fascinating honesty upon reading Mitt Romney's statement on Newt Gingrich pulling out of the presidential race. We shouldn't treat Smith like a hero just for saying what a normal person might say upon reading this, although the fact that he works for Fox does make his implicit criticism of the Republican party's nominee a bit brave. Anyhow, let's watch:

What Real Government Waste Looks Like

1,822,600 GSA conferences, in flight.

When it was discovered that the General Services Administration spent nearly a million dollars on a lavish conference in Las Vegas, the outrage thundered through Washington like a roiling tsunami. Congressional hearings were quickly organized, the scandal led the news every night for days, and you couldn't turn on a television or radio without hearing more horrifying details. The public trust was betrayed! Our tax dollars were wasted! Government was out of control! Yeah, maybe. But in the end, the whole thing was about $823,000, or .00004 percent of the federal budget for 2011. You want to talk real government waste? Get a load of the F-35 joint strike fighter...

TV Ads Are Not All There Is to Presidential Campaigns

Egad! Negative advertising!

Every election, commentators can be relied on to predict that this will be the most negative campaign in history. We've already heard such predictions this year, and we'll surely hear more. It almost certainly won't be true, but you can also predict that when one side attacks the other, the side being attacked will respond by saying, "Our opponent is just trying to distract Americans from the real issues/his failed record/that disturbing story about him and a goat." But we should keep things in perspective. It's possible to have a lot of negative ads and still have a relatively positive campaign, believe it or not.

That's because ads are not the only thing a campaign does...

The Wonder of TV Debates

Me, some years ago, sneering at a pompous ass who is sneering right back.

Whenever Paul Krugman goes on television, you can see his discomfort coming off him. Or at least that's what I see; since I've never met him in person, I don't know how much his television manner differs from his ordinary manner. But he always looks as though inside he's shaking his head, saying to himself, "This is such bullshit. I can't wait to get out of here." And it's hard to blame him. The other day, Krugman did a debate on Bloomberg TV with noted economic crank Congressman Ron Paul, and came away utterly disgusted...

Mitt Romney, Not Quite As Tough As Jimmy Carter

Tougher than he looks.

Now that we're fighting over just how great it was that Barack Obama gave the order for Seal Team 6 to go in and get Osama Bin Laden, Mitt Romney has given what is probably the most politically wise answer to the question of whether he would have ordered the raid, "Of course." But then he added, "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." As James Fallows correctly notes, on the substance of the question, Romney's remark is incredibly stupid:

The Opportunity Society

The Romney grandchildren, in no particular need of bootstraps.

Whenever the subject of inequality comes up, conservatives usually say the same thing: Barack Obama wants equality of outcome, while we want equality of opportunity. The first part is ridiculously disingenuous, of course—no one could honestly argue that Obama's major goals, like raising income taxes from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, would bring us to some kind of pure socialistic society where everyone has precisely the same income and no one is wealthier than anyone else. But the second part is, I think, offered sincerely. Conservatives not only seek a world where everyone has the same opportunities, most of them think that's pretty much what we have already, so major changes aren't necessary, except in the area of getting government off your back. After all, this is America, where any kid, no matter where he comes from, can achieve whatever he wants if he's willing to work hard. Right? Which brings me to the story of Tagg Romney.

The Prospect's Crisis

TAP

You may have heard by now that the American Prospect is facing serious financial trouble. There's more information here, but the short version is that without a substantial infusion of funds in a very short time, this extraordinary magazine could cease its operations.

Magazines like this one, especially ones with ambitions to provide serious coverage of policy and politics, do not make money. Advertising and subscriptions cover part of the cost of operations, but only a part. And unfortunately, the Prospect's politics do not endear us to most of the nation's billionaires.

But if you know one who might feel differently, please give them a call.

Paul Ryan and the Cult of Specificity

Paul Ryan, with facts and numbers and such.

You should read Jonathan Chait's entire epic evisceration of the cult of Paul Ryan, which reveals many things. Perhaps the most important is the way Ryan has come to understand how specificity creates the impression of wonkiness, commitment to facts, and seriousness about tackling tough challenges. When a smarmy pol like Eric Cantor tells you he's only concerned about the future of our country, you know he's full of it. But when Ryan tells you the same thing, he throws in a bunch of numbers, and it sounds very different, at least to reporters' ears. The truth, however, is that Ryan is as full of it as anybody. But reporters don't have the time or the inclination to figure out whether he's handing them a steaming pile of crap, so they just go ahead and write stories lionizing this sober, intelligent, and responsible guy who represents the best Republicans have to offer.

Non-Partisans Finally Agree With What Partisans Have Been Saying

Flickr/K P Tripathi

The most talked-about op-ed over the weekend was "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem,", a piece in the Washington Postby DC eminence grises Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. They're both not only deeply respected by known as non-partisan Congress-watchers (Ornstein even works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute), which is why the piece will get more attention. But should that matter? Either they're right or they're wrong, and the fact that they are who they are ought not make any difference. And if you look at their argument, it's nothing that you couldn't have found in magazines like the Prospect and a hundred other places many times over the past two years. I feel like I've written versions of Mann and Ornstein's piece a dozen times myself (see here, or here, or here). Mann and Ornstein's reputations do make it harder for Republicans to dismiss them as just liberal partisans, but that doesn't mean they're going to have some kind of seriously difficult time spinning their way out of questions raised in response to the op-ed. In any case, here's the core of their argument:

Consumer Screwgie of the Day

The scene of the crime.

There are a lot of things companies do to fool consumers, some more meaningful than others. They pack items in large boxes to make them look bigger, they offer questionable claims about their products' effectiveness, they weave absurd tales about how your life will be changed if you buy their thing. Navigating your way through that thicket of baloney is part of being a smart consumer, and to a degree we accept it as part of the price of having free commercial speech. Short of outright fraud or practices that do substantial harm to consumers, we understand that people who are selling things can say almost anything they want, and we accept that being a consumer means that manufacturers and retailers are going to try to fool you. In the immortal words of Morty Seinfeld, "Cheap fabric and dim lighting. That's how you move merchandise."

But there are some kinds of deception that are beyond the pale. It's one thing to sell you something that might not be up to your expectations; perhaps your expectations were just too high. It's something else to fool you into buying one thing, when you actually wanted to buy something else. I give you the modern American gas pump...

Friday Music Break

Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea

For today's edition of Gentle Flowing Tunes Layering Multiple Time Signatures, we have Poi Dog Pondering, with "Thanksgiving." Mmmm...

Cool Kids Versus Squares, Continued

Now that's cool.

Yesterday, I wrote a post looking at an ad aired by GOP uber-super-PAC American Crossroads that went after Barack Obama for being a "celebrity" and doing things like going on Jimmy Fallon's television show. I argued that it looked like once again we are in for a renewal of the old battles that started in the 1960s between the squares and the cool kids (or, depending on the historical moment, the jocks and the hippies). In the course of my post, I talked about Barack Obama's image of "cool," which he certainly works to cultivate. I'm hardly the first person to note this about Obama, and I didn't actually say anything about whether coolness makes one a good president. Nevertheless, Matt Welch at Reason seemed positively outraged, enough to illustrate his post responding to mine with a giant picture of me (great!) and accuse me of arguing something I didn't actually argue (not so great). Here's what he had to say...

The Trouble With Philosophy

Ayn who? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

For the last couple of years, Paul Ryan has been touted by everyone in the Republican party as a star, a smart, telegenic up-and-comer who represents the future of the party. Worship of Ryan probably reached its apogee last May, when Newt Gingrich began his presidential campaign by calling Ryan's budget "right-wing social engineering" (among other things, Ryan's budget slashed benefits for the poor, cut taxes for the rich, and privatized Medicare). The condemnation of Gingrich's words from conservatives was so immediate and so furious that you would have thought Gingrich had spat on a picture of Jesus or insulted Ronald Reagan Himself.

Ryan is, among other things, a longtime fan of Ayn Rand, the philosopher/novelist/quasi-cult leader whose philosophy of radical selfishness and vision of heroic capitalists being held down by the parasitic masses is, one can argue, well reflected in Ryan's work. It wasn't some kind of secret—Ryan has said, "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand." He has recorded videos praising Rand—here's one where he says, "Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism." In 2003 he told the Weekly Standard, "I give out Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it."

Ever since Ryan came to national attention, liberals have been trying to get people to notice Ryan's appreciation for Rand, with only marginal success. But some kind of switch has obviously gone off for Ryan because he's now claiming that his appreciation for Rand is nothing but an "urban legend":

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