Less likable Wallace Shawn has got some highly original thoughts to share on the debate. Here’s a tease, do stay with me if it makes you giggle:
Understanding why Mitt Romney so decisively won the first presidential debate is as important as the fact that he did. Why? Because once we know the reasons, almost everything about President Barack Obama and this election becomes clear.
First, Obama lost because he, like virtually the entire left, lives in a left-wing bubble.
Come come now, Dennis. You know what they say about people living in glass bubbles, right? Continue reading »
Continue reading »
Yeah, I know, I’ve been gone for quite a few days now. Too much going on IRL I suppose.
I didn’t want to write much about the debate because I felt it was hyper-analyzed as it was, far out of proportion to what it merited. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredibly depressing sight to behold, though. I wasn’t surprised by the over-the-top reactions on both sides–after a month where nothing went right for Mitt Romney, Republicans needed some kind of release, any kind, really. And Democrats who had seen nothing go wrong for quite some time were shocked by this sudden stumble. It wasn’t disqualifying, but Obama’s performance was dangerously inadequate, trying to feel his way around every answer. It had the feel of trying too hard to please too many groups of people.
OTOH, I thought Romney’s performance wasn’t that great outside of the stylistic realm, and the hyperbolic coverage since then has had more to do with how bad Obama was. Romney didn’t really make much of a case for dumping Obama, though he put forward a better version of himself I suppose. I’m not sure it really matters if voters really see Mitt as a warm and cuddly moderate or a standard-issue conservative–as Jonathan Bernstein says, the out-party candidate doesn’t matter all that much. All the bipartisanship stuff seemed silly to me, as every poll in recent times has shown the public seeing Obama as plenty bipartisan, perhaps even excessively so.
Still, it’s hard to deny this is a momentum shift the wrong way, at the worst possible time. I have little doubt Romney will squander it–just wait until that famous Romney sense of humor kicks back in on the campaign trail!–but it’s been lousy for morale to have the president get walked on this way, and perhaps meaningful on its own, too. My feelings toward the current president are, as they have long been, complicated. I deeply respect the man for just being willing to absorb so much abuse, dehumanizing abuse, most of which he can’t do anything about, which he can’t respond to. There have been moments of steely resolve in there, as this guy recounts, and the problem isn’t “toughness” per se. But I find that I have increasingly less respect for the notion that politics is or should be completely civil, intellectual and high-minded, and Obama very much represents that model of politics to this day. It was an appealing model four years ago, but the limitations of it have become achingly clear, and Obama still hasn’t quite managed to figure out what to do when that model doesn’t work out. I don’t know if that’s what happened during the debate, but it’s possible. I get a very Gary Hart-ish vibe from him at times, someone who just doesn’t want to believe that politics are what they are.
In any event, when the dust settles, I suspect the following things will happen. Obama will win by about four points. Romney will have given the right an easy path to arguing the problem was that his failure was due to moving to the center, though that’s a deeply ironic argument. Ryan will have a much different kind of stench to evade when he runs for president in four years. Romney’s original instinct was undoubtedly correct–Obama will only lose if the public believes he is responsible for the economic collapse alone, and they don’t. His debate performance didn’t really make that more likely. It was tactically brilliant, but strategically suspect. After the dust settles, that’s what I expect to see.
TPM’s Senate Scoreboard today shows the Democrats gaining one seat out of this election cycle, though Republicans are trending the wrong way in the two big toss-ups at the moment (i.e. Nevada and Montana) and the one Repub-leaner in Arizona. Still, a net gain this year would be an astonishing outcome for Democrats, a sign of a clear rejection of Republicans’ philosophy around the country. As exemplified, of course, by Mitt Romney, who’s been a major drag on those races.
Keep this in mind when you read about Republicans fretting about whether to stop funding Romney and put the money into Senate races instead. This is putting the cart before the horse–the reason these candidates are failing is because of Mitt Romney’s awful campaign. If that campaign becomes starved for cash and starts to see defections, it will become even more of a drag on these candidates because they won’t be better able to respond to Obama’s campaign. At this point, I’m not sure whether that would be a desirable outcome–if Romney sinks too much, downballot Republicans might just abandon him entirely and do a triangulation sort of thing that could work in holding off losses. Recall, Democrats kept Congress despite McGovern’s loss in 1972 largely by this very strategy.
Which brings us to the debates. I’m torn between rooting for Romney to make a significant/disqualifying mistake, which I think is possible (e.g. losing his composure, attacking too hard, or trying too hard to be likable and coming off creepy), and between rooting for something that can plausibly be spun by Republicans as a victory (or, more likely, a “game-changing historic victory, the first time a president has been outdebated since Jimmy Carter…” and so on) but is actually just bland and unremarkable and accomplishes little. Admittedly, the catharsis of seeing Romney get pasted would be gratifying, but the risk of the party cutting him loose seems more likely under those circumstances. If Romney fights to a limp tie, nothing changes and we’re that much closer. That’s what I’m rooting for tomorrow.
Mitt Romney plans to turn himself into a one-man truth squad during the first presidential debate next week, casting President Barack Obama as someone who can’t be trusted to stick to the facts or keep his promises.Lol.
I’m actually a little more sympathetic to Conor Friersdorf than this (though I am assuredly not a fan). It’s hard for antiwar people to find a home within the two party system we have, and Obama is uniquely susceptible to criticism on foreign and national security issues because those policies are largely his alone. It’s difficult to know exactly how much blame to affix to Obama for certain domestic disappointments or successes because separating his role from that of Congress is tricky–we call it “Obamacare” but it’s equally as much “Reidcare” or “Pelosicare” (and quite possibly more accurate to use those labels, since Reid was almost LBJ-esque getting the bill through the Senate, and Pelosi’s role in passing it was no less impressive). On some domestic bills it’s easier than others, but it’s complicated in most domestic bills while aside from a few Congressional actions on Guantanamo and the loathsome NDAA, Obama owns just about everything his Administration has done in FP/national security areas. His record is pretty lousy to us civil libertarians, no doubt about it, and just about the only argument you can use is the one that he faces political constraints on his actions. Which is true, he does face constraints in this as well as every other area. But my basic take on this is that Obama’s foreign policy was designed to be popular with the public while avoiding the expenditure of any political capital that might be needed on domestic matters. And that it was. He could easily have thrown the civil libertarians a few bones here and there, struck a better balance, but one of the more persistent facts of first term Obama was a consistent refusal to take the morale of his base in pushing the course he thought was politically advantageous (to do so would undoubtedly have been “small” and “petty”), usually in hopes of striking some sort of rare bipartisan comity or settlement. Sometimes he was right about those choices but usually not, it cost him big, and I hope he’s learned his lesson. I think maybe he has.
But just because Obama has been bad on these issues doesn’t mean Romney wouldn’t be substantially worse:
Last December, Mr. Romney was asked about waterboarding at a town-hall meeting in Charleston. He replied that he would “do what is essential to protect the lives of the American people” but would not list “for our enemies around the world” what techniques the United States would use.
Mr. Romney also declared that he would “not authorize torture.” At the news conference afterward, a reporter pressed him to say whether he thought waterboarding was torture, and Mr. Romney replied, “I don’t.”
That comment appeared to align Mr. Romney with a practice by the executive branch, under President Bush, of defining torture narrowly and saying the harsh treatment it inflicted on detainees fell short of that level. By contrast, Mr. Obama has embraced a more expansive conception of the suffering that is off-limits.
“Waterboarding is torture,” Mr. Obama said in November. “It’s contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals. That’s not who we are. That’s not how we operate. We don’t need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. And we did the right thing by ending that practice. If we want to lead around the world, part of our leadership is setting a good example.”
Ending torture was a big early step forward on civil liberties. At this point, it looks as though it might be the last big step forward too, at least in the first term. Given how much Democrats developed their case against Bush on security grounds in 2007/2008, that’s sad. But there is little ambiguity that Romney’s Dan Senor-led national security team wants to undo even that one solitary achievement (incidentally, just imagine reading this in the Times a year from now: “Romney National Security Adviser Dan Senor indicated that a second surge in the Iran conflict has not been ruled out.”). Plus, the article indicates they would probably push even further than Bush did in terms of torture. That’s bad. Doesn’t undo that pretty much every other decision Obama’s made in this particular area has been less than ideal, but losing the only one that’s any good is not a positive, and for a civil libertarian that might be what you’d call a VOTING ISSUE. While the Nader types hate the idea that they’re only helping Republicans with their votes (and make no mistake, despite the difference in ideology, that’s what Friersdorf is), it’s impossible to argue that they’re doing anything else short-term. Yeah, the common arguments about “changing the paradigm” and such might or might not happen in the long term, but to quote Keynes, in the long term we’ll all be dead. And given Mitt Romney’s excellent diplomacy skills, the long term might not be so far off…
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