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So Mitt Romney is in deep shit, thanks to his comments on the terrible tragedy unfolding in Egypt and Libya. It seems as though the only people in his corner are Sarah Palin and Jon Kyl, who thought a rape analogy would be just the thing to help Mitt out. (Incidentally, what is it with these people and rape? Going back to Claytie Williams, whose similar comments cost him the Governorship of Texas, and all the way through to Todd Akin, you’d figure this is an area they’d try to avoid.) It’s an epic gaffe and a pretty vile one, so far as these things go. And, at the very least, it’s another two days where he’s playing his weakest piece (i.e. foreign policy) rather than his strongest (i.e. the economy).
Seriously, you’d think that last week’s jobs report would be all that Mitt would want to talk about right now. It was unambiguously bad news for the president. It didn’t immediately harsh the mellow that came after the DNC, but a few more days of discussion–discussion driven by an aggressive Romney campaign, hammering the message home with a much less equivocal catchphrase than, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”–might just have been the ticket to turning the race back to him a bit. I personally think, “Can we afford four more years of this?” would be a better line to take–less familiar, harder to rebut by simply reminding people of what happened exactly four years ago. But that would require a Romney with some intuitive sense of politics and strategy. The jobs report is now lost into the ether, and with it another one of the few remaining opportunities for Romney to turn the tables.
Or maybe it’s not about intuition. Maybe it’s about toughness. You see, the backdrop to the most recent Mitt-failure was several days of aggressive attacks upon Romney’s national security credentials. Obama has a strong advantage in that department, his poll superiority there is based on his actual accomplishments, which is to say that he is genuinely strong there. Romney disagrees–he believes that support is flaccid, movable. Assuming that Romney even believes his own frames, getting hit by Obama so ruthlessly on these issues would be like Jimmy Carter dumping all over Ronald Reagan in 1980. One can easily imagine how pissed off Romney would be by that, and so Romney seized the first available opportunity to respond–and stepped right into a trap. Truth is that these issues are not at the forefront of the electorate’s minds, so Obama probably wasn’t going to be able to move many votes with the attacks. The real reason for attacks like this is to make the other guy make a mistake. Richard Nixon did precisely the same thing to Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam, just kept attacking, attacking, attacking until Johnson went ballistic in response, which allowed Nixon to act the victim. Romney was even easier to provoke than one of the most notoriously insecure men ever to hold the presidency. Think about that.
At this point, though, it really almost doesn’t matter. People say that some sort of foreign policy or economic disaster might shake things up to let Romney win, but the odds of the latter are mitigated by Europe (maybe?) starting to get its act together, and it’s unclear to me that there would be enough time for the president to burn off support from a rally-round the flag moment at this late a stage should something truly awful happen. Romney is clinging to the notion that it’s 1980 all over again, with him as Reagan. And it’s true that Obama is like Carter…except that the economy isn’t tanking, he’s a foreign policy success in the eyes of the public, and he’s the one who is more likable and trusted by the public. And Romney is like Reagan…except that he leads his party in name only, he can’t come up with effective phrases to sell his positions, he’s not tough enough to let irrelevant attacks slide off him, and he’s not enough of an intuitive politician to respond to public opinion, though admittedly I bet he gives about as much of a damn about public suffering as David Koch and his actual indifference to jobs, jobs, jobs is shining through. But asks if we’re better off now and is super-aggressive all the time. So, he’s more like Cartoon Reagan, really.
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This op-ed sets new standards for obtuseness and false equivalence, and is a prime example of what happens when you wade into a subject area you lack clear knowledge about. Take this section:

Did you know that Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steel worker’s wife? Or thatPresident Obama gutted the work requirement for welfare? Do you remember President Obama’s famous “Apology Tour” that kicked off his first term? How about that Gov. Romney outsourced thousands of Massachusetts jobs to India?

It’s amazing what you can learn from ads in this year’s presidential campaign: namely, some of our political leaders and their supporters are lying. Not stretching the truth or spinning the facts (which we expect) but outright lying. While advertising shouldn’t be your main source of education, it also shouldn’t be a source of disinformation.

Even putting apart the fact that Romney’s campaign has, by most any standard, put far more lies out there about Obama from the beginning (remember when he was taking quotes out of context to make it seem like Obama hated America and so on?), and that cherrypicking in this manner can only obscure the magnitude of the difference between the two, these aren’t even equivalent. Romney made the welfare attacks both personally and through his running mate and through an ad campaign paid for out of campaign funds. He’s been talking about this “apology tour” concept for four years, and the name of his campaign book (No Apology) references it. It’s something like a foundational principle to Romney, who has based his entire campaign on reckless hawkery and aggressiveness, the usual cartoon Republicans like to make out of Reagan.

But the two “Obama lies” are hardly equivalent to that. They’re one-off SuperPAC ads, which supposedly are supposed to be arranged independent of the candidate. If you ultimately hold Obama responsible for them, then every AFP or Karl Rove ad has to be fair game to pin to Romney, which would be so off the charts that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable arguing for it to apply to Romney. Part of the problem that comes with Citizens United is that it’s brought a huge amount of chaos to the process and minimized accountability. Candidates have plausible deniability when others launch nasty attacks on their behalf, but might also have to take the blame for attacks they had no part in instigating should there be a backlash. The prior, McCain-Feingold system was hardly ideal, but it made some nods toward accountability that the current system doesn’t make.

This comparison is so deeply wrong:

Imagine Coke and Pepsi running ad campaigns that attack the other brand. And I don’t mean the kinds of entertaining ads that show Pepsi truck drivers surreptitiously trying to order a Coke at a restaurant. I mean attack ads like our presidential candidates and their Super PAC supporters are running. Twisting facts. Accusing the other side of horrible labor practices. Personal attacks on the other brand’s CEO.

Both soft-drink brands would pay a price for that kind of advertising. Consumers would punish them by taking their dollars elsewhere. Our free market would work. The No. 3 soda-maker would make headway. Ice tea sales would go up. Boutique brands like Jones Soda and Izze would reap the benefits.

It’s plainly obvious that Sollisch doesn’t understand what a SuperPAC is. Pre-Citizens United, this metaphor would have held reasonably well. John McCain was Pepsi, Obama was Coke, both ran some positive and some negative ads and had to largely stand by them. But the system isn’t like that any more. At this point, only Coca-Cola and Pepsi are allowed to make ads on their own behalf, and if someone else tried, they’d be sued and they’d lose under trademark protection. Imagine if the Supreme Court said that this was unConstitutional, and that anybody has the right to make such ads. Maybe Pepsi would decide to make pseudo-Coke ads designed to make the competition look bad. Maybe RC Cola would make some about Pepsi. Maybe the iced tea industry would step in to try to take advantage of the confusion, using a front to argue that aspartame causes brain cancer. Who knows? The point is that there isn’t the equivalent of trademark protection in political ads. Really, that’s what stops the outlandish stuff from happening in regular ads.

And, perhaps inevitably, we get some waxing nostalgic for Ross Perot because he represented a “different choice” from the two usual parties. From the great Jonathan Bernstein, a bit of Perot’s “alternative”:

Step one, the American people send me up there, the day after election, I’ll get with congressional–we won’t even wait till inauguration, and I’ll ask the president to help and I’ll ask his staff to help me. And we will start putting together teams to put together–to take all the plans that exist and do something with them. Please understand. There are great plans lying all over Washington nobody ever executes. It’s like having a blueprint for a house you never built. You don’t have anywhere to sleep. Now our challenge is to take these things, do something with them. Step one, we want to put America back to work, clean up the small business problem, have one task force at work on that. The second, you’ve got your big companies that are in trouble, including the defense industries–have another one on that. Have a 3rd task force on new industries of the future to make sure we nail those for our country and they don’t wind up in Europe and Asia. Convert from 19th to 21st century capitalism. See, we have an adversarial relationship between government and business. Our international competitors that are cleaning our plate have an intelligent relationship between government and business, and a supportive relationship. Then have another task force on crime because, next to jobs, our people are concerned about their safety. Health care, schools–one on the debt and deficit. And finally in that 90- day period before the inauguration, put together the framework for the town hall and give the American people a Christmas present. Show them by Christmas the first cut at these plans. By the time Congress comes into session to go to work, have those plans ready to go in front of Congress. Then get off to a flying start in ’93 to execute these plans. Now, there are people in this room and people on this stage who’ve been in meetings when I would sit there and say, “Is this the one we’re going to talk about or do something about?” Well, obviously, my orientation is let’s go do it. Now, put together your plans by Christmas, be ready to go when Congress goes, nail these things. Small business–you’ve got to have capital, you’ve got to credit, and many of them need mentors or coaches. And we can create more jobs there in a hurry than any other place.

Making plans to make plans. No specifics. A debt obsession. Wait, are we sure this isn’t a Romney speech? What an alternative–won’t you join me in putting on a backward baseball cap?

Good news. I find the war on voting to be pretty evil, but also stupid. Is shaving a few votes worth poisoning your own image for decades? And eventually the population trends are going to be completely unavoidable, the restrictive measures will be undone, and then without them it will require a much more dramatic political reinvention for the GOP to stay competitive. Which obviously wouldn’t cause any sort of intramural strife at all. Really, the voting stuff is probably the best single point for the “2012 Or Bust” theory, i.e. that this is the last gasp of unreconstructed Goldwater-Reagan conservatism, and Republicans are putting everything they’ve got into this election cycle. This is such a small advantage temporarily, at potentially a catastrophic long-term cost. I can understand why Romney would drape an arm around Nikki Haley and applaud her efforts on this front–I hear he might be willing to compromise his views to gain power–but it’s pretty strange that seemingly no one else has thought about the implications past 2012, or cares. It would be one thing to take such a big gamble for a Ronald Reagan. But for Mitt Romney? Seriously?
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I must apologize for having been a little unavailable last week, but this week should be less crazy for me. I wanted to share my thoughts on two aspects of the campaign. First, the news that new polling shows Republicans pulling a draw on the Medicare issue. Benen:

Last week, a New York Times poll showed overwhelming opposition to the Romney/Ryan plan, which would effectively privatize Medicare out of existence. Great news for Democrats, right? Wrong — most Americans have no idea what Romney/Ryan has in mind for Medicare, and as a result, a plurality of seniors in Florida and Ohio believe the Republican ticket would do a better job protecting Medicare than Obama/Biden. [...]

When Romney launched his Medicare offensive, it struck me as absurd — people are easily fooled, but there’s no way the American mainstream could be this confused. The notion that voters would want to protect Medicare and then trust the ticket that wants to eliminate Medicare was simply too ridiculous to believe.

And yet, here we are. Candidates lie in ads because people will believe them.

Here’s what I think. Romney/Ryan managed to pull off a reset of sorts, and they timed it well. They got the public (and especially seniors) to believe that their Medicare plans are based around restoring the Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts, while skillfully avoiding discussion of vouchers and what not. Why wouldn’t seniors like that “plan”? And seniors lean Republican and they’re willing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. It was slick, I’ll give them that. But the facts still remain: Ryan (and now the GOP platform) supports Medicare vouchers. What this news shows is that Democrats were at something of a disadvantage, since Romney and Ryan rather deftly used the press attention during the VP rollout to try to defuse the Medicare bomb underneath them. Only it’s still there. Dems need to step up and launch a fresh offensive after the conventions–the GOP won’t likely have another moment like that rollout again, and the original attack should still work if pressed hard enough. What I still wonder about is whether Republicans really would move to implement the Ryan Plan if they win–I’m assuming Romney doesn’t really care about it, just about winning. Running on vouchercare would provide something of a mandate (or a dramatic electoral loss), but trying to implement it without campaigning on it smacks of Bush’s Social Security plan.

And then there’s this article about Romney’s racebaiting:

The main media consultant for the “independent” pro-Romney super PAC Restore Out Future, Edsall notes, is Larry McCarthy, who crafted the most vile Willie Horton ad of 1988.

Edsall sees the Romney campaign using race in two ways. Most overtly, the Romney campaign is accusing President Obama by of gutting welfare reform by dropping the work requirement—a gross distortion of an unexceptional waiver Obama granted several states allowing them to experiment with alternative ways to meet the work requirement. Two of the five governors requesting the waivers were Republicans, and among those who have denounced the workfare accusation as flat-out untrue is the Republican former congressman and current talk-show host Joe Scarborough. The second way Edsall sees the Romney campaign using race is more subtle. According to Edsall, Romney is conveying a racially-charged message in accusing Obama of taking money away from (mainly white recipients of) Medicare to fund (majority non-white recipients of) Obamacare.

Can we all just now admit that Mitt Romney is not a very good person? Fuck the wife and kids, Tony Soprano had those too. I’m well aware that campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, have a lot of grey area. I expect candidates to do whatever they can to win, since after all, there’s a lot invested in them, and they’ll likely never have this chance again. But even in campaigns there should be limits, and pumping deceptive sludge into the electorate simply because it would be too hard to win otherwise has to be considered over the line for anyone who has an interest in maintaining some semblance of civil society. Especially when you compare this to Obama’s conscientiously healing and reconciliation-centric 2008 campaign, it’s so ugly and gauche, and the contrast speaks volumes. Romney, as I have said before, has no limits and an insatiable appetite for power. If he wins the presidency, I can’t imagine any significant portion of Americans will be happy about it in four years.

Don’t make Mormon Jesus cry.

So now Mormon Jesus is Mitt Romney’s new tax return deflection shield:

“Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given,” Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out Sunday. “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.

In response, ABL says it best:

You know what, asshole? If you didn’t intend for your contributions to be known, you shouldn’t have run for president.

And by the way? You can’t send your wife out to talk about how super awesome and honest you are, and have her gush about how you give ten percent of your income to the LDS Church and then two weeks later claim that you want to keep the amount you donate to the church private because of Jesus.

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Don’t make Mormon Jesus cry.

So now Mormon Jesus is Mitt Romney’s new tax return deflection shield:

“Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given,” Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out Sunday. “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.

In response, ABL says it best:

You know what, asshole? If you didn’t intend for your contributions to be known, you shouldn’t have run for president.

And by the way? You can’t send your wife out to talk about how super awesome and honest you are, and have her gush about how you give ten percent of your income to the LDS Church and then two weeks later claim that you want to keep the amount you donate to the church private because of Jesus.

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Don’t make Mormon Jesus cry.

So now Mormon Jesus is Mitt Romney’s new tax return deflection shield:

“Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given,” Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out Sunday. “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.

In response, ABL says it best:

You know what, asshole? If you didn’t intend for your contributions to be known, you shouldn’t have run for president.

And by the way? You can’t send your wife out to talk about how super awesome and honest you are, and have her gush about how you give ten percent of your income to the LDS Church and then two weeks later claim that you want to keep the amount you donate to the church private because of Jesus.

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