The Emperor’s (Or At Least the Villagers’) New Talking Points

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In a post that he admits is “probably not career-enhancing,” Michael Grunwald can’t stop himself from ranting about his journalistic colleagues at Time‘s Swampland blog:

It’s really amazing to see political reporters dutifully … pass along Republican outrage that Obama isn’t cutting Medicare enough, in the same matter-of-fact tone they used during the campaign to pass along Republican outrage that Obama was cutting Medicare.

… I’m old enough to remember when Republicans insisted that anyone who said they wanted to cut Medicare was a demagogue, because I’m more than three weeks old.

The press can’t figure out how to weave those facts into the current narrative without sounding like it’s taking sides, so it simply pretends that yesterday never happened.

… But we’re not supposed to be stenographers. As long as the media let an entire political party invent a new reality every day, it will keep on doing it. Every day.

I wrote back in August that we were nearing a possible climax in the GOP’s genuinely Orwellian quest to make telling the truth an inherently partisan (and hence disreputable act).  This would have happened if the Republicans had added the White House and the Senate to their control of the House — leaving the press as the only significant “opponent” in defining reality.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen.  However, the results from November also let the media continue to sidestep any responsibility for holding the GOP accountable, since they can simply insist that the Democrats (and that guy with the so-called bully pulpit) are able to speak for themselves, and should do so if they don’t think Republicans are being honest.  So I fear Michael Grunwald’s plea for resistance will fall on many, many deaf ears in D.C.

Not only that, I suspect Grunwald is about to find out what actually happened to that little boy who called out the naked emperor in that old fairy tale.  (You didn’t think the courtiers who invested so much effort in fooling the public really just shrugged and let the kid get away with it, did you?)

Late Night: The Unspeakable Truth

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Oh, now you tell us… or, at least Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post does:

After surviving a Supreme Court decision and a presidential election, the Obama administration’s health-care law faces another challenge: a public largely unaware of major changes that will roll out in the coming months.

States are rushing to decide whether to build their own health exchanges and the administration is readying final regulations, but a growing body of research suggests that most low-income Americans who will become eligible for subsidized insurance have no idea what’s coming.

Seventy-eight percent of the uninsured Americans who are likely to qualify for subsidies were unfamiliar with the new coverage options in a survey by Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners. That survey, sponsored by the nonprofit Enroll America, also found that 83 percent of those likely to qualify for the expansion of Medicaid, which is expected to cover 12 million Americans, were unaware of the option.

One of the many justifiable criticisms of how Obamacare was passed was that so little thought was given to creating a political constituency for the bill — a substantial segment of voters who would clearly see how they would benefit from it.  (Thus the suggestions at the time for simply expanding Medicare to everyone, or at least those over 55.)  Now we learn that this wasn’t just a problem in 2009, but in 2012 as well.

Kliff alludes to the GOP trying to gum up the works, mentioning that “Initial White House efforts at outreach caused congressional Republicans to accuse the administration of using taxpayer money for political gain.”  But if nothing else, there’s not much reason President Obama himself can’t launch a personal barnstorming tour to promote the new law’s benefits.

In fact, it should be obvious that he could have done so this year, when he was already criss-crossing the country for, um, other purposes.

But I guess it’s yet another example of Democratic “leaders” being afraid to challenge right-wing messaging.  You see, for all the flak Romney got for calling 47% of Americans dependent on government handouts, that frame is why Team Obama couldn’t brag about easier, more affordable access to health care being on the way.

Instinctively, too many voters would assume that they would never see any of these taxpayer-financed goodies (even if, as in the Kliff articles, they were in fact eligible) — instead, folks would believe the subsidies were going to, you know, “undeserving” beneficiaries. (Hint, hint.)  And Obama didn’t feel brave enough to challenge that assumption.

Perhaps now, with literally nothing to lose, he’ll come around.  Or perhaps not.

Late Night: It’s Gonna Be Alright

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Among the nominees for most schadenfreude-inducing/hilariously over-the-top response to this week’s election results, James Wolcott offers the following, from longtime wingnut blogger Jeff Goldstein:

One other thing, and I’m serious about this:  consider some sort of identification, a kind of marker, that lets others of your kind know who you are and where you stand implicitly.  Get over your aversion to tattoos; a small “live free or die” or “don’t tread on me” somewhere on your person might just one day save you…

Because make no mistake.  They’ll be coming.  They have to.  It’s just a matter of how long it takes before the revolution starts and the country divides into factions.

Which is amusingly paranoid, but not entirely different from this:

… voting third party or even just honestly portraying Obama’s policy architecture is a good way to identify to ourselves and each other who actually has the integrity to not cave to bullying. Then the task starting after the election is to build this network of organized people with intellectual and political integrity into a group who understands how to move the levers of power across industry, government, media and politics. We need to put ourselves into the position to be able to run the government.

After all, if a political revolution came tomorrow, could those who believe in social justice and climate change actually govern?

The latter is from Matt Stoller’s “The Progressive Case Against Obama,” which appeared in Salon a couple weeks ago.  I’d like to think that now, with the election having passed and emotions beginning to cool, that we won’t see much more of this nuclear-winter survivalist tone from either side of the political spectrum.

The Stoller example, although far less extreme, is more pertinent here since this blog (and its comments sections) has seen more than its share of fighting over whether Barack Obama is merely disappointingly centrist or some kind of political Antichrist sent to destroy the progressive movement.  Last week, Stoller referred to those from the left hoping to “hold Obama accountable after working to reelect him” as “loser liberals” — a sentiment at least partially shared by David Dayen here in writing about organized labor’s post-election lobbying efforts.

Now, I’m more of an armchair analyst than an activist, but this doesn’t make sense to me.  Regardless of who did or didn’t vote for him, Obama is the president… and lobbying him (and the equally unreliable Democrats in Congress) is the only game in town when it comes to influencing legislation.

Are Stoller and those who share his beliefs going to stew in a funk of self-pity and stop trying to pressure Obama?  If not, what’s the point in quibbling whether people who are pushing for the same goals as you are sufficiently pure?  A focus on castigating and excommunicating infidels doesn’t seem to me like any way to build a progressive majority, which I presume is the goal, rather than mere hipster-leftist posturing.

What does seem helpful in the long term is what Obama demonstrated through his successful re-election campaign: the existence of, guess what, a durable progressive-friendly majority like that foreseen by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis a decade ago.  Had Romney won, no one would be talking about that, but instead it’s being quickly accepted as an established fact.

Now, you might say, those voters were duped — the president they voted for doesn’t really share their goals, and will betray them in the months to come.  Even so, the goal for 2016 should be clear… namely, to nominate and elect someone who is worthy of progressive support, because it’s a philosophy that can win.  And that should be the case no matter who you voted for this past Tuesday.

Late Night: The Elves Arise

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There are lots of us busy elves working away in Santa’s workshop.

– Ann Coulter to reporter Michael Isikoff in 1997, explaining her inside knowledge of the legal strategy behind Paula Jones’s lawsuit against President Bill Clinton

How do you know it’s the last week before a presidential election?  No, it’s not just the ads (which have been going full blast for awhile), the crowds, or the unveiling of “closing arguments.”  It when you start hearing about things like this:

A small fraction of Ohio voters’ absentee ballot requests may have been mistakenly rejected due to a recently discovered glitch in the transfer of change-of-address records.

Even though the deadline for voters to register or change their address was three weeks ago, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted just this week sent about 33,000 updated registration records to local elections officials.

Or this:

A Clackamas County elections worker is under criminal investigation for tampering with ballots, WW has learned.

The underlying allegation is that the woman, whose name has not been released, filled in blanks on ballots turned into the county for the Nov. 6 general election.

Sources familiar with the incident say their understanding is that the woman filled in a straight Republican ticket on the ballots where preferences had been left blank by voters.

Or this:

On Wednesday, [Catholic bishop Daniel Jenky of Illinois] came within a hair of ordering every priest under his supervision to campaign for Mitt Romney.

In a letter, Jenky told the priests in his diocese “[b]y virtue of your vow of obedience to me as your Bishop, I require that this letter be personally read by each celebrating priest at each Weekend Mass, November 3/4.” The letter leaves little doubt that Jenky wants Obama out of the White House…

Or this:

Mitt Romney’s campaign has been training poll watchers in Wisconsin with highly misleading — and sometimes downright false — information about voters’ rights.

Documents from a recent Romney poll watcher training obtained by ThinkProgress contain several misleading or untrue claims about the rights of Wisconsin voters.

Granted, this stuff has probably been going on forever, but when it paid off in 2000, you can be sure it redoubled the GOP’s determination to leave no dirty trick untried.

But look at the bright side!  By next week, we’ll be able to stop talking about how awful the election has been… and, regardless of who wins, start talking about how awful the next four years are going to be.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Late Night: The Virtues of Procrastination

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Over at the Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris claims the Obama campaign has waited too long to make its best closing argument:

In the first debate, Obama compounded a lethargic performance by again not making a coherent case for how the achievements of his first term laid the groundwork for job growth in the second and what he would do to build on those achievements. He failed to do so again in the second and third debates, despite being far more aggressive in taking on Romney.

Finally, in the last few days, the Obama campaign has put out a booklet that lays out in an organized way the specifics of a second term agenda, and in his speeches he’s kinda-sorta begun explaining how those specific policies relate to what he’s done in the first term.

But I’m not sure the available evidence backs up the premise.  Glastris argues that Obama should have been presenting this case since the Democratic convention, which at this point feels like it may as well have been in 2010.

After all, it was barely more than three weeks ago that Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign was a national laughingstock. And yet here he is now, at worst only a couple of percentage points behind in most polls, with a legitimate chance of (pardon me while I shudder) taking the oath of office in January.

Romney’s comeback has been based on a reinvention (however thoroughly implausible) as an optimistic, politically centrist economic repairman that casual observers like me were saying months earlier was his real chance at winning.  But Team Mitt was probably wise to wait until the first presidential debate to unveil their new product — if anything, it even made a virtue of their previous incompetence, as wingnuts who had previously howled at any signs of moderation by Romney kept their mouths shut, scared into silence by the imminent prospect of a decisive Obama victory.

A more important reason for waiting, though, is that any “new Mitt Romney” persona, almost by definition, couldn’t be durable enough to last very long.  In this case, it began visibly losing steam by the second debate, and was almost entirely exhausted by this week’s final installment.   And that’s not all Romney’s fault; intensive coverage has made White House campaigns increasingly ravenous in terms of needing fresh stories and angles to consume, and the Twitter-ification of the news cycle has amplified that trend even further.

So while Glastris and others accuse Obama of perversely hiding his best argument for re-election in a recent (originally off-the-record) interview with the Des Moines Register, I’d suggest it might be the other way around: the Iowa interview may have been a dress rehearsal for a message that will be pushed more visibly over the next week.

Heck, Team O may even be afraid that if they talk about it too much before Nov. 1st, it’ll be forgotten as old news by Election Day.

Late Night: A Familiar Diagnosis

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It’s a common gibe that anyone running for President has to be a bit mental to want the job in the first place, much less suffer the indignities involved in pursuing it.  Which may be why I find it odd when the candidates start diagnosing one another:

Speaking today in Fairfax, Virginia, President Obama finally came up with a way to describe Mitt Romney’s sudden memory lapse about the positions he’s taken in the six years the former governor of Massachusetts has been running for president….

“… He’s forgetting what his own positions are, and he’s betting that you will too.

I mean he’s changing up so much – backtracking and sidestepping. We’ve gotta name this condition that he’s going through.. I think it’s called “Romnesia.”

Now, I’m not a medical doctor but I do want to go over some of the symptoms with you because I want to make sure nobody else catches it.

If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work, but you keep refusing to say whether or not you’d sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work – you might have Romnesia….

If you say you’ll protect a woman’s right to choose, but you stand up at a primary debate and said that you’d be “delighted” to sign a law outlawing that right to choose in all cases – man, you’ve definitely got Romnesia.

… If you say earlier in the year I’m going to give a tax cut to the top 1 percent, and then in a debate you say, I don’t know anything about giving tax cuts to rich folks – you need to get a thermometer, take your temperature, because you’ve probably got Romnesia.

Then again, maybe it just strikes me as strange because I’ve heard it before, way back in 1992:

President Bush delivered his harshest personal attack yet on Gov. Bill Clinton today, reminding voters of Mr. Clinton’s experimentation with marijuana 20 years ago, accusing him of plotting huge cuts in Medicare and calling him a weak-kneed waffler.

“This guy couldn’t remember in detail that he didn’t inhale 20 years ago, and he can’t remember what came out of his mouth 20 minutes ago,” Mr. Bush said, describing a condition he called “Clintonesia” — “weak knees, sweaty palms and an incredible desire to say anything on all sides of any issue, depending on who you’re trying to please.

I understand the need to come up with some kind of gimmick to get your message on the TV news in the closing weeks of the campaign, but still.  Maybe Mitt’s got Romnesia, but Team Obama is stealing campaign tactics from George H.W. Bush, an incumbent president running against a tough economy who wound up getting only 38 percent of the vote.

And how sane is that?

Late Night: A Wake-Up Call, Perhaps Scheduled in Advance

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Of all the complaints that can be justifiably launched against President Obama, can I add that he sure knows how to take the fun out of chronicling the cratering of Mitt Romney’s campaign?

Not that I think B.O. has thrown away his re-election with his passive performance in Wednesday’s debate — as Reagan in ’84 and Bush in ’04 showed, a shaky opening debate by an incumbent who’s leading in the polls is a survivable error.  But he did let Romney regain a bit of support from a Republican base that was starting to be demoralized, and I kind of liked seeing them that way.

I’ll admit, though, I wasn’t entirely surprised that Obama let his opponent seize the initiative.  For one thing, maybe he wanted to re-enact the arc of his presidency for the viewing audience.  Not only that, can anyone remember the last time he wasn’t unexpectedly subdued in a high-profile public setting?  From last month’s convention speech back through his inaugural address and 2008 acceptance of the Democratic nomination, it seems like Obama has been intentionally reluctant to live up to the oratorical reputation he established earlier in his rise to the White House.

Fortunately for Barack, it seems like his campaign was fully prepared to launch a momentum-recapturing assault as soon as the morning after the debate.  Which isn’t the same thing as saying he “threw” the contest — I don’t think his intention was to lose, much less come across as hopelessly weak, but it was to avoid getting baited into a partisan shouting match that might diminish his favorability with independents and women (which initial polls show he preserved quite well).

The way the New York Times portrays it, Team Obama — including the man himself — came out with a comprehensive, yet nonetheless improvised assault on Mitt Romney’s integrity after a feverish all-nighter of recriminations regarding the president’s subpar showing in the debate.  I don’t buy that.

If you ask me, the template for the ad above (including its stock Oval Office chair shot, which I think dates back to at least Walter Mondale against Gary Hart in ’84) was laid down long ago, just waiting for appropriate debate-night footage to be inserted.  As someone who’s been waiting for months to see when the O-team would go after Romney’s serial lying — and was telling a friend just the other night that I was surprised they’d gotten this far without having to do it — I think they planned a post-debate attack all along… sort of like a good cop-bad cop scheme, with the campaign finally saying things they thought it might be too rude to have the president say directly to Romney’s face in the debate.

The fact that Obama may have, shall we say, over-executed on the good-cop portion of the plan is beside the point.

Late Night: Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

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The whispers began to surface nearly two weeks ago, in this Byron York column:

Mitt Romney is in the race of his life. So why isn’t he running harder?

A look at the Republican presidential candidate’s schedule of public events shows a remarkably relaxed pace for a man who says this election is critical to America’s future.

York went on to list Romney’s recent schedule.  Even though “Barack Obama, when he’s on the trail, usually manages to hold at least two public events each day, and he’s supposed to have a full-time job,” Romney was making only one public appearance a day — or, on some days, none at all.

Then we saw a phase of making excuses:

“We’re going to reach a point here–hopefully soon–where we’ll have the resources we need to carry us through Nov. 6 and we don’t need to be doing those finance events,” Ed Gillespie said on a conference call with reporters.

Some conservatives have criticized Romney’s campaign for spending too much time on the fund-raising circuit, rather than holding campaign events in crucial swing states.

The former Massachusetts governor, for example, spent much of last week raising money in California, Utah and Texas–states not considered up for grabs this fall.

But even with the election barely a month away, the pattern doesn’t seem to be changing:

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are in the midst of a fundraising swing that is taking them to some unexpected locations that appear to have limited electoral significance.

On Thursday, Ryan held back-to-back fundraisers in Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., two cities in a reliably Republican state.

Tomorrow, Romney is set to hold a fundraiser in Philadelphia. A fundraising invitation published by the Sunlight Foundation says that he and Ryan will then meet up in Chestnut Hill, Mass. for two fundraising events. Two days later, Ryan will host two events in Connecticut…

These come on the heels of a fundraiser that Ryan hosted on Sept. 25 in Houston, Texas and a reception that Romney held Sept. 27 in Washington, D.C.

… Certainly, at a time when Romney is trying to present himself as more accessible to voters, and scrambling to erase polling deficits in key swing states, the argument could be made that Romney should focus more closely on those states.

When are people going to start guessing that maybe it’s the other way around, and the Romney campaign (if not the candidate himself) knows exactly what they’re doing with regard to Mitt’s schedule?

I mean, for all the criticism the GOP team has gotten for basing their message entirely on bashing President Obama — in effect, positioning Romney as a generic alternative rather than making a specific case why he should be leading the country — maybe it’s because they know their candidate all too well.

After all, this is the rare presidential nominee who is seen by the opposing campaign as the most effective spokesman for their message, as the latest Obama ad demonstrates:

“… I think this is the first time we’re seeing a candidate saying, ‘Here’s 30 seconds of Mitt Romney telling you why you shouldn’t vote for him,’ ” said Benjamin Bates, a communications professor at Ohio University and an expert on political advertising.

So unlike in a typical campaign — let’s say, Obama’s, for example — you don’t have the brain trust debating, “Where do we send our candidate to appeal to voters in local media, excite the volunteers, and boost our poll numbers?” 

Instead, I have a feeling Team Mitt is looking at the polls where their guy has spent the most time lately, and seeing those numbers go south.  So their thought process is, “Where can we hide him?  Where will he do us the least damage?”  And there’s your explanation for Romney’s unusually light campaign schedule.

Late Night: For Romney, Things Go From Bad to Weird(er)

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I guess the bright spot for Mitt Romney at this point, as complaints from fellow Republicans about his increasingly wobbly presidential run pile up, is that he can adopt the joking slogan many parts of the U.S. have regarding their weather: “Hey, if you don’t like our campaign’s strategic focus, just wait a few minutes — it’ll change!”

Last week, Team Mitt floated any number of putative new directions they would take to counteract President Obama’s post-convention bounce in the polls (More policy specifics!  More culture war!  More mustard, pickle and relish!).  This week, they seemingly ditched all of them in favor of — believe it or not — excessive makeup and a brand-new theme they invented on the spot just yesterday:

An hour after President Obama said he couldn’t “change Washington from the inside” at a forum hosted by Univision in Miami, Mitt Romney took to the stage at an outdoor rally here Thursday afternoon and accused the president of “surrender” — an attack, his aides say, that will become a major part of his campaign’s message in coming days.

“The president today threw in the white flag of surrender again,” Romney said. “He said he can’t change Washington from inside. He can only change it from outside. Well, we’re gonna give him that chance in November; he’s going outside.”

As the crowd cheered, Romney added, “I can change Washington, I will change Washington, we’ll get the job done from the inside!

I suppose it takes a candidate of Mitt’s unique political acumen to think running as an effective Washington, D.C. insider will be a winning come-from-behind campaign strategy… and to overlook that the kind of change the blindingly unpopular House GOP would help him deliver is exactly what voters don’t want.

But then, you have to realize that this is a campaign that organized their entire nominating convention around an inside joke.  (And you wonder why they don’t understand how they failed to pick up any support from undecided voters in the polls.)

Perhaps figuring out belatedly that this umpteenth new direction wasn’t such a hot idea after all, Mitt & Co. decided today the best thing to do was change the subject yet again, this time to — hey, why not? — Romney’s mysterious tax returns, which just ensures that we’ll be hearing more about this subject next week.

Of course, if you look at Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign as one long, rambling, grotesque joke, then his tax returns make perfect sense as the punchline.

Late Night: The Limits of Rovianism, Cont’d

(photo: Gage Skidmore)

You know this election is deeply surreal when pollster Pat Caddell — who long ago cashed in his credibility from Jimmy Carter’s surprising victory in 1976 to become a Fox News Democrat — tosses aside his poor-man’s-Dick-Morris schtick for a moment and makes sense:

… if the president is at 50% approval, hundreds of millions of dollars raised and spent by Republican and conservative consultants and organizations have failed….

I watched Romney yesterday, I swear to God, there is no urgency to this man…. [If] we’re heading for a major crisis [and] you see it coming, [you say,] ‘Here are the three or four things that I’m going to do, we must make a change.’ [But] he has no message other than ‘I’d like to win and by the way I have a secret formula.’ He may still win with this, but not if Obama’s at 50% approval.

Their strategists from the beginning have decided — I just, you know can’t say enough bad things about them. They are incompetent, that believe that you can sit and election will automatically come to you.

This was very similar to what I said last week about if Romney had modeled his campaign message on Bill Clinton in 1992 rather than Ronald Reagan in 1980. (You might say Romney couldn’t pull off a convincing Clinton imitation, but then again, is anyone buying him as Reagan?)

But in a way, I can forgive Mitt Romney’s campaign strategists for the approach they chose. If my candidate was as transparently insincere and awkward as Romney, I might be tempted to try making the election a referendum on the other guy, too.

And really, it’s understandable how they thought it might work. Put yourself in their shoes — first of all, maybe as a Republican, you dismiss 2008 as a fluke based on a combined reaction to Bush’s unpopularity and Obama’s fresh-faced charisma.

And then you think back to the Rovian glory days of 2004, when the GOP gleefully redefined John Kerry (and his numerous Purple Hearts from battle in Vietnam) into a limp-wristed weakling who couldn’t protect America nearly as well as the draft-dodging, My Pet Goat-reading George Bush. With a stagnant economy and (literally) untold millions of Citizens United-fueled advertising dollars to help them, why shouldn’t Team Romney have believed that they could redefine Obama the same way?

I have to admit, I was as surprised as anyone to see the results from CNN’s latest poll showing that even now, four years later, most people blame our economic problems on Dubya & Co. rather than the current president.

And remember those awful, dishonest welfare ads Romney was putting on TV?  Well, shortly after they first appeared, I noted that you could tell what campaign tactics were working or not by ignoring the respective sides’ words and watching their actions… and now, a month later, those commercials seem to have had little impact, even without the Obama re-election squad having to make any extraordinary effort to rebut them.  They apparently just evaporated because viewers ultimately didn’t believe them.

I mean, really? The American electorate can be that discerning?  I’m not sure whether it’s Karl Rove or H.L. Mencken who’s being proven wrong here.