bookmark_borderWhat Is At Stake

There are a lot of issues to be decided in this election, and the differences between the major-party candidates have not been starker in recent times, but there is one question that stands out for me: can a “post-truth” candidate win the Presidency?

This has implications down the ballot for the foreseeable future. If Romney can pull it off, the sky is the limit for future campaigns. We’ll see the same tactic down-ballot. Eventually, Democrats will adopt the same tactics – adapt or die – and we will all be the worse for it.

If Romney pulls this off, I will blame the American voters. We will get what we deserve.

It may already be too late. That the race is as close as it is means running a “post-truth” campaign can get you within striking distance of office. Who wouldn’t want to run a strategy with an end result like that?

bookmark_borderHostage Negotiator In Chief

Shorter Romney: Nice country you have there. Sure would be a shame if something were to happen to it.

This has been the GOP’s modus operandi in Congress, but now Mitt Romney is embracing it as what is campaign is calling his “closing argument:”

Romney said that Obama “promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan” and that his bitter relations with the House GOP could threaten the economy. As his chief example, he pointed to a crisis created entirely by his own party’s choice — Republican lawmakers’ ongoing threat to reject a debt ceiling increase. Economists warn that a failure to pass such a measure would have immediate and catastrophic consequences for the recovery.

If he pulls this off — if Romney manages to get elected running a fact-free, post-reality, dada performance art campaign — we’re in for a wild few decades. If candidates believe they can win without having to engage with peksy things like the facts, one can only begin to speculate about the claims that will be made in the next election. This is cynical, nihilistic politics at its worst.

bookmark_borderRomney Could Win Florida?

Romney could win Florida. Let that sink in a bit. The Republican candidate, whose running mate advocates turning Medicare into a voucher system, is essentially tied with President Obama in Florida. How? He’s closed the gap on Medicare.

It is easy to see how.

I posit that older Americans are more selfish than the general population. Romney’s divide-and-conquer plan – promising that his drastic changes to medicare will only hurt those under age 55 – reassures older voters that they can continue with their excellent healthcare. This essentially takes Medicare off the table as an issue. They’re then free to vote their other concerns (and prejudices).

I’d like to think today’s 55-plus crowd would care enough about their children and grandchildren to consider the impact of changes in Federal earned benefit programs on the next generation, but they’ll mostly be dead and gone by the time the rest of us are ready to collect. Sadly, pulling up the ladder behind you is something of a dark and deadly tradition. These poll numbers unfortunately bear out my thesis: older Americans are a selfish lot.

bookmark_borderFine! Don’t take my advice!

Earlier today I proposed a plan for the Romney/Ryan campaign: donate to the Red Cross.

Specifically, I suggested they pull their advertising for the remainder of the week and donate their entire advertising budget to the Red Cross. Call on the SuperPACs to do the same, and challenge the Obama/Biden canpaign to follow suit. I didn’t expect them to do it, but they’re clearly flailing around, looking for a way to capitalize on Sandy politically. So why not get some good publicity the old-fashioned way: buy it?

Romney has a huge hole to dig himself out of. He’s on record advocating the privatization of FEMA:

And his performance as Governor of Massachusetts during the Green River flood in 2005 was less than stellar..

Instead, the R/R camp has done the opposite. They’ve doubled down on the “Jeep is leaving Ohio for China” lie Romney first voiced in a speech and later made into an ad. They’re spending $100k to run a radio version of it in the Toledo market.

It is so bad, Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne felt compelled to respond.

They’re also starting to air commercials attacking Obama for the closure of coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania:

Here in PA, we have a love/hate relationship with coal. The mines have been good to us employment-wise, and the power plants have been a cheap source of electricity for decades, but we also have a history of mine fires, Black Lung, and acid rain.* Fortunately, the recent boom in natural gas is allowing us to replace our coal-fired electricity generation capacity with cleaner-burning natural gas plants.

Like I said, I never expected R/R to take my advice. But just about anything would be better than this: Mitt Romney attends storm relief event. In Ohio. Sponsored by his campaign. You can’t make this stuff up!

And who is coming out looking the best in all of this? Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey. By all accounts, he’s acquitted himself quite well in the disaster. He’s praised the Federal response in general, and President Obama’s hands-on approach in particular. And he rejected the opportunity to have a photo op with Romney. (I suspect he can smell the stench of defeat on the R/R campaign and is already thinking about 2016.)

*Our acid rain problem was attributed to plants upwind from us. The stuff we burn comes back down in New England.

bookmark_borderAnd Then There Were None!

We made it, people! The 2012 Presidential Debate Death March is over! Congratulations on surviving your various drinking games, meme onslaughts, and spin room prevarications! (There will be a moment of silence at the end of this article for those who didn’t make it to the end, the lightweights.)

I think we saw one Commander-in-Chief on the stage last night. I was looking for consistency from Governor Romney, and I didn’t get it. I don’t expect him to hold the same views he’s had all his adult life, or even for the six years he’s been running for President. I recognize that people can and do change. They learn new things. Circumstances change, and we should allow for that without automatically labeling someone a “flip-flopper.” Governor Romney, unfortunately, couldn’t remain consistent through the ninety minutes he appeared on stage last night.

Not to denigrate the mentally ill, but his positions were positively schizophrenic. On one issue, he seemed eager to reassure the public he wasn’t afraid to strike first, hard, and with vigor. On others, he was trying to project calm and reasoned reflection before acting. Neither position was convincing, and I think he pretty much reversed when each was appropriate.

A lot of political hay (and memeage) will be made of the “horses and bayonets” moment, but I don’t think it was that significant. Very few voters – outside the shipyards of Virginia – are going to make their decision on how many ships the government procures over the next four years. That being said, it was a devastating take-down of an unprepared candidate by a Commander-in-Chief who clearly knows his stuff.

I was hesitant about Obama in 2008. I wasn’t sure he was ready to be President, primarily for foreign policy reasons. I’m glad to say he’s proven me wrong. I disagree with about 75%-80% of his foreign policy positions, but I can’t deny that he knows what he’s doing and that he has a vision for the future of the world and America’s role in it. I wish I could say the same about Romney. Perhaps he will grow into it, but on balance I’m not willing to take that chance.

All in all, it was a good debate. Nowhere near as good as the second one, which really was one for the ages, but still a good example of the genre. Onward to November 6th!

[insert moment of silence here]

bookmark_borderConspicuous in Their Absence

I didn’t realize it earlier, but the topics for tonight will be:

* America’s role in the world
* Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan
* Red Lines – Israel and Iran
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – I
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – II
* The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World

Conspicuously absent will be:

1) The eurozone crisis
2) Latin America
3) Russia
4) Africa
5) Foreign economic policy
6) India
7) North Korea

I really doubt this thing moves beyond the Middle East (specifically: Libya and Iran/Israel) and a smattering of “he said/he did” saber-rattling on China.
Expect no or very little mention of any of the following: the incipient civil war in Syria; extrajudicial execution via drone strikes pretty much everywhere; any discussion about Israel and the Palestinians that doesn’t involve what time of day it’d be best to nuke Iran; and the ever-absent global threat of climate change.

What don’t you expect to come up tonight?

bookmark_borderThe Most Important Issue

The Most Important Foreign Policy Issue hasn’t been discussed in the debates. And odds are it won’t be mentioned tonight.

Climate change continues to be the single most important, most pressing, and most urgent foreign policy issue facing the United States. A report out today from reinsurance company Munich Re reinforces this fact. Munich RE have no reason to lie about the details. They’re the ones who are left footing the bill as our coastal cities wash away and our inland cities blow away.

From the press release:

…[T]he study now provides new evidence for the emerging impact of climate change. For thunderstorm-related losses the analysis reveals increasing volatility and a significant long-term upward trend in the normalized figures over the last 40 years. These figures have been adjusted to account for factors such as increasing values, population growth and inflation. A detailed analysis of the time series indicates that the observed changes closely match the pattern of change in meteorological conditions necessary for the formation of large thunderstorm cells. Thus it is quite probable that changing climate conditions are the drivers. The climatic changes detected are in line with the modelled changes due to human-made climate change.

There is next to no chance climate change will come up in tonight’s third and final 2012 Presidential debate, and we will be all the poorer for its absence.

Even David Brooks agrees with me.

More from

bookmark_borderJoe versus the Wonkcano

That was some show, right?

Joe Biden always delivers, and Paul Ryan held his own. Regardless of the pre-debate spin, it was clear that these men are seasoned debaters. If nothing else, they demonstrated an ability to deftly pivot from the question asked to a talking point they wanted to deliver.

I’d privately observed that both candidates had their own challenges, more personal than political, in this debate.

  • Ryan needed to avoid condescending to the female moderator.
  • Biden needed to keep his cool.

In other words, “Biden needs to keep his shirt on. Ryan needs to avoid telling Martha Raddatz to make him a sandwich.”

I think both candidates easily cleared that low bar.

To be sure, Biden was assertive and interrupted Ryan frequently, but no more so than Romney did last week. In a political debate at this level, this sort of thing is de rigueur. Anyone feinting shock that Joe Biden was mean either has never seen Joe Biden debate before or has such thin skin that they should consider a career in something other than politics.

The most telling part of last night’s debate was Paul Ryan’s abject refusal to provide specifics on the Romney-Ryan tax plan. This was it, the big night. Here he was, before the biggest audience he’s had since the GOP convention, and this is what he gave us:

RYAN: Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. You see, I understand the…

RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the… Do you know exactly what you’re doing?

RYAN: Look—look at what Mitt Romney—look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that.

What we’re saying is, here’s our framework. Lower tax rates 20 percent. We raised about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forego about $1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is, deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation so we can lower tax rates across the board. Now, here’s why I’m saying this. What we’re saying is, here’s the framework…

We want to work with Congress—we want to work with the Congress on how best to achieve this. That means successful. Look…

RADDATZ: No specifics, again.

RYAN: Mitt—what we’re saying is, lower tax rates 20 percent, start with the wealthy, work with Congress to do it…

RADDATZ: And you guarantee this math will add up?

RYAN: Absolutely.

Raddatz was asking for some nitty-gritty, wonky stuff. But the nitty-gritty matters, especially when it involves federal tax exemptions and deductions. And Paul Ryan is the “details” guy in the GOP. He’s supposed to be the wonky one, the one who gets turned on by a spreadsheet. To say “congress can decide” is an abject abandonment of the President’s role in recommending and suggesting policy by setting the political agenda. (US CONST Art. II, Sec. 3, cl. 2.) While it is true that all such legislation must originate in the House of Representatives, and it is refreshing to see someone defer to the Constitution, as a practical matter it doesn’t work that way. “The President proposes and Congress disposes” goes the political chestnut. A President Romney would have the responsibility to propose certain cuts to the Congress. He has a responsibility to tell the American people what those would be before they elect him President, not after. Paul Ryan missed his opportunity to do that last night.

Onward to the Town Hall! A roomfull of “undecided” voters… what could possibly go wrong?

bookmark_borderThe Beltway Debate

The more I think about last night’s debate, the madder I get.

Mostly, I’m mad at Jim Leher. He should join MacNeil in retirement. His befuddled demeanor and lack of stage presence allowed Romney to walk all over him. Romney, for his part, refused to acknowledge that the debate should be moderated at all. He told Leher what was going to happen, and then did it. This may look like bold leadership to some, but it came across as bullying entitlement from where I was sitting.

Obama wasn’t any better. He was listless, his answers were rambling, and he didn’t seem to want to be there. If he’d checked his watch, the transformation would have been complete!

But beyond all that, I blame Jim Leher for asking asinine questions. Here’s a little-known fact about the deficit and the national debt: outside the beltway and local Tea Party meetings, no one cares about the deficit or the debt. It just isn’t a consideration. In the abstract, everyone knows the national debt will eventually be a bad thing (although a growing economy will make it less painful to pay off than our politicians like to scare us into believing). As a practical matter, the deficit and the debt have nothing to do with our everyday lives.

What do people care about?

  • Housing (credit is still effectively frozen for people without pristine credit and/or extensive wealth)
  • A real discussion of gun violence
  • Ongoing, systematic voter disenfranchisement, including voter ID requirements and polling place/time shenanigans
  • Women’s healthcare (birth control and abortion)
  • The rising cost of a higher education
  • The nonexistent job market
  • Climate change

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure you can make your own list at home. Nothing was asked in these categories in more than a cursory way, and yet these are all domestic issues that the American people care about. For some reason, they weren’t even on Jim Leher’s radar. Maybe one of the moderators will ask a question about climate change in the National Security debate, but this was pretty much the only chance to get into these things before election day.

This was a Beltway Debate, pure and simple. The pundits surely slept well last night, with visions of cat food dancing in their heads.

Next Up: A “town hall” style debate, with a room full of people who claim they haven’t made up their minds yet. More on why (or how) someone can still be an undecided voter later…

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