As Jamelle noted, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll reinforces what other polls have shown, that folks haven't really taken a cotton to Mitt Romney. Most worrying for him is that only 35 percent of independent voters view him favorably. The good news for him is that voters, having already been disappointed with him, won't go through that inevitable period of a presidency in which your unreasonably high hopes are dashed and you turn against the president.
The creation of those unreasonable hopes requires two things: an inspiring individual and an inspiring story. Sometimes "change" is enough of an inspiring story, but without the inspiring individual, change doesn't sound poetic and glorious. And all along, Romney has presented himself primarily as an effective manager, which might be what you need, but it won't make your heart go all aflutter.
The Trayvon Martin case is both an individual tragedy and a symbol of a larger problem, the way some people are treated as "suspicious," as George Zimmerman described Martin, and the myriad consequences that suspicion brings. Lots of conservatives don't really think that larger problem is much of a big deal, and apparently, the way they've decided to make that case is by focusing on this individual incident, namely by trying to convince everyone that Trayvon Martin was a no-good punk who had it coming.
In addition to my column this week about the secular movement (such as it is), I also had a bloggingheads conversation with Sarah Posner, senior editor at Religion Dispatches and frequent TAP contributor on the same topic, which you can enjoy without all the stress and strain of "reading." Give it a look:
The wise Harold Pollack has argued that health care reform is in some ways the best covered social policy story in the history of American journalism. That isn't to say there hasn't been plenty of crappy coverage, but there has never been the same volume of informed and insightful reporting and analysis available in so many places on a pressing policy debate.
And yet it's easy to get depressed about the impact all that good work didn't have...
Picture this scene: A recently elected president announces that he will decline to place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. When people object, he replies that he doesn't believe in God, so it wouldn't make much sense for him to go through the motions of a religious ritual when he does not share that religion's beliefs.
I don't know about you, but every time I read the term "Obamacare," I can't help but hear Michele Bachmann's voice saying it, in that singsongy Minnesota accent. But I guess Team Obama thinks I'm in the minority, because they've decided to go ahead and embrace the term. As David Axelrod wrote in an email to supporters, "Can you imagine if the opposition called Social Security 'Roosevelt Security'? Or if Medicare was 'LBJ-Care'? Seriously, have these guys ever heard of the long view?" Which is fine.
Santorum isn't saying Obama personally kidnapped and murdered this child. But kind of.
It often happens that when campaign negativity reaches a fever pitch, a candidate will take a small step back from the vitriol and say something like, "My opponent is a nice guy—he's just wrong about everything." What they almost never do, however, is say, "My opponent is wrong about a lot of things, and if he gets elected, things won't be good. I'm not saying it'll be a disaster, but it'd be better if you elected me." The imperatives of campaigning lead candidates to spin out the most disastrous scenarios and apocalyptic warnings. And there's no doubt that some people believe them; you wouldn't have to interview too many Republican voters to find a few who sincerely believe that if Barack Obama is re-elected, within a few months freedom will disappear, Christianity will be outlawed, everyone's guns will be confiscated, and so on. But usually, presidential candidates—who know they must appeal to people who retain a grip on reality—try to keep these arguments within limits.
But not all of them. Ladies and gentlemen, Rick Santorum:
Today the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. It's the timid (or maybe wise) pundit who fears making predictions, so I'll go ahead and say this: the Court is going to uphold the ACA, by a vote of 6-3. Chief Justice John Roberts will join the four liberal justices and Anthony Kennedy in the majority, and Roberts will write the decision. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito will offer a vigorous and at times comically overstated dissent, in which they will decry the end of the freedom that universal health coverage will bring.
Even imperial stormtroopers know we're all in it together. (Flickr/kalexanderson)
As the Republican party has moved farther and farther to the right in recent years, I've often felt that practical discussions of the effects of policy have gotten less and less important. The true believers who now dominate the GOP—and the politicians who feel the need to pretend they're true believers—are much more comfortable talking about the role of government than they are talking about how you solve actual problems, so they make practical arguments almost half-heartedly. Listen to a Republican talk about how they'd solve the problem of over 50 million Americans without health insurance, for instance, and you'll hear something like, "Well, we need free market solutions that don't infringe on freedom, because Obamacare represents the most profound expansion of government since Joe Stalin, and big government kills freedom…" Ask them why the free market will work better than government when in this case the opposite has proven true again and again, and they'll quickly move back to the level of philosophy, because as on so many issues, it's much more about values than about the actual effects of policies. I'm sure Republicans aren't actively pleased about the fact that so many of our people have no coverage, but they don't care deeply enough about that practical problem to accept a solution that in any way violates their philosophical principles (or helps their political opponents, of course).
Liberals talk in philosophical terms far less often, in part because our philosophy tends to be less inclined toward rhetorically easy black-and-white constructions. That's why I was pleased to see this, from the Obama campaign:
The cover of Bob Dylan's first album, "Bob Dylan."
This week marks the 50th anniversary (!) of the release of Bob Dylan's first album, so I've chosen "Senor," from Dylan's underrated 1978 album "Street Legal." It's the pregnant pause before the line "I'm ready when you are, Senor" that makes it so great.
Tomorrow, a coalition of non-believers is gathering for a rally on the Mall in Washington, an event that is mercifully not being called the Million Atheist March, but rather the Reason Rally. I predict it will be almost completely ignored by the press. That might be justified if turnout is small, and the secular agenda is pretty vague at this point. The latter point is really the key question for the secular movement, such as it is. While they have a few high-profile spokespeople, the movement is a collection of organizations that are small, underfunded, and, forgive me for saying so, not particularly impactful (sorry for using that awful word, but it gets across my point).
Yesterday, I wrote a post sticking up for Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom on the whole Etch A Sketch thing. But in the 24 hours since, it has only gotten bigger. It isn't, we should be clear, "taking on a life of its own," because saying that is a way of excusing the individual decisions involved in the growth and spread of a meme like this one. The fact is that actual people—Romney's primary opponents, Democrats, and reporters—are making the choice to drop the Etch A Sketch comment, and what it is supposed to represent, into discussions, speeches, news stories, and ads. And at this point it's looking more and more like this is a metaphor that's going to stick around. Why? Let me offer some suggestions.
The economic genius makes a point. (Flickr/Marion Doss)
A few times in recent elections, a debate moderator has said to the candidates, "There's been a lot of negativity in this race. Is there anything nice you can say about your opponent?" To which they usually reply, "He's got a lovely family." But the inability to admit that the other guy ever in his life did anything right just makes you look like a phony, or a jerk, or both. To wit...
Mitt Romney speaking to troops in Afghanistan (Flickr/isafmedia)
No matter who the Republican presidential nominee turns out to be, this will be the first election in pretty much forever in which neither major party candidate served in the military. As a post-boomer, Barack Obama never had to worry too much about this question, since he came of age after the transition to an all-volunteer military. But Mitt Romney was of prime fighting age during Vietnam, a conflict he avoided with deferments for college and missionary work.
Probably not the Etch-a-Sketch they had in mind. (Flickr/Emily Kornblut)
As I've noted before, a substantial amount of the time the media and ordinary people spend talking about a presidential campaign consists of a discussion of charges and counter-charges about something somebody said, usually a candidate but not always. Not a lot really happens during a campaign–what candidates mostly do is talk, so their words take on an elevated importance. Each side tries to assert that the other's off-the-cuff statements hold the power to reveal hidden agendas and fatal weaknesses. It's all pretty silly.
And it isn't just the candidates. Even surrogates and campaign aides' words can be fodder for feigned outrage, as happened yesterday (and Jamelle mentioned) when Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom got asked whether his candidate would have trouble pivoting to the general election when he had spent the primary season pandering so vigorously to the Republican base. "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign, everything changes," Fehrnstrom said. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch, you can kind of shake it up and we start all over again." Predictably, Romney's opponents were all over it, especially Rick Santorum, who expressed his dismay.
I'm going to resist the impulse to shout "Aha!" and suggest that what Fehrstrom said was, from his vantage point, completely fine...