Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Did Romney "panic"? Or revert to form?

Ezra Klein and Jonathan Chait each offer insightful views of the thinking, such as it was, behind Romney's disgustingly opportunistic attack on the Obama administration's response to the assaults on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, the latter of which left four Americans dead. But the two explanations are actually somewhat at odds with each other.

Klein takes the verbal assault as evidence that the Romney campaign is panicking.  It has been determined to keep the focus relentlessly on the economy:

A few months ago, the Romney campaign had a clear theory of the campaign: Keep the focus on the economy. When other issues came up, they had a clear strategy for dealing with them: Acknowledge them, issue some restrained comment, and then, if possible, end by saying we need to remain focused on the economy. Everything was about Romney campaign’s Prime Directive: It’s the economy, stupid.

But the underlying dynamics of of the election are no longer seen as helping Romney...The economy isn’t proving sufficient to beat Obama. That means the Romney campaign’s strategy isn’t proving sufficient to beat Obama...When campaigns are losing, they get desperate. And when they get desperate, they make riskier political decisions.
Chait, in contrast, sees continuity and an old reflex in the attack:

In the wake of his defeat in the 2008 GOP primary, Romney almost immediately started running for the 2012 nomination. At that time (well before the depth of the financial crisis was clear), Obama’s main political weakness appeared to be foreign policy. He was inexperienced in the field and associated (through a 2002 speech against the Iraq War) with a vulnerable dovish wing of the party. What’s more, he seemed vaguely foreign, and many Americans incorrectly believed he was Muslim. All this set the stage for Romney’s planned line of attack that Obama did not sufficiently love or appreciate his country and inappropriately coddled Muslim extremists, a line set forth in Romney’s campaign book No Apology, which castigated Obama for undertaking an international apology tour.
Now, the apology tour was a figment of the right-wing imagination. But this was beside the point. The point was that it set the tone Romney wanted: Obama apologizes for America to the bad guys, and Romney would stand firm for America.
You could say that these explanations are not mutually exclusive, in that the foreign policy line of attack pre-dates the economic one: it was not clear in 2009-2010 that Obama would face a weak economy in his reelection bid.  From that perspective, in this attack Romney simply reverted -- perhaps because, as Klein suggests, he needed to try something different.

In truth, though, Romney has never let up on the "apologizes for America/sympathizes with our enemies" bullshit.  And he never passes up a perceived opportunity for a ham-fisted attack on any front. Take, for example, his attempt to stick the shiv in when the administration's negotiations to offer protection to Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng last May seemed briefly to go awry. Chen, you'll recall, had taken asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. When the U.S. arranged, with his full assent, for a transfer to a hospital, and thence to continue his education in China without molestation, Chen briefly panicked and seemed to blame the Americans for releasing him back to the wolves. Romney then pounced, much as he did last night, releasing this statement:
'The reports are, if they are accurate, that our administration wittingly or unwittingly communicated to Chen an implicit threat to his family and also probably sped up or may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy," Romney said. "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom, and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration."
Not an error, mind you -- not a miscalculation, or even failure of will, but a "day of shame."  Romney always has to go the extra nine yards in slander, apparently feeling compelled to belie his earnest aw-shucks faux wholesomeness with language befitting a Minister of Propaganda.  It doesn't matter whether the subject is the economy, or healthcare, or entitlements, or the defense budget, or foreign policy.

Romney didn't panic. He lunged as impulsively as ever.

Incidentally, this is the second time I can recall in whcih Chait has illuminated a seemingly incongruous Romney gambit by exposing it as an older attack line that's passed its sell-by date.  Throughout the primary debates, Romney lambasted the Affordable Care Act as "government controlled healthcare," asserting that "Obama-care takes over health care for the American people", whereas his own Massachusetts plan created a free market that gave people a choice among private plans. This contrast made no sense, as the two plans are structurally all but identical.  In this piece, Chait made me realize that Romney was still talking about the ACA as if it included the public option he had expected Obama to insist on:
In 2009, Mitt Romney had a problem. He was running for the Republican presidential nomination, and the towering achievement of his governorship in Massachusetts — health-care reform — had been embraced by President Obama. Romneycare played almost no role in Romney’s 2008 presidential run, but the emergence of the issue onto the national agenda threatened to link Romney with a president Republicans had already come to loathe.

His solution was simple. He seized upon the one major difference between his plan and Obama’s, which was that Obama favored a public health insurance option. The public plan had commanded enormous public attention, and Romney used to it frame Masscare as a conservative reform relying on private health insurance, and against Obama’s proposal to create a government plan that, Romney claimed, would balloon into a massive entitlement. Andrew Kaczynski collects several televised appearances and one op-ed in which Romney holds up Masscare as a national model.

This tactic backfired when Obama had to jettison the public plan, and Republicans came to focus on the individual mandate as the locus of evil in Obamacare. What was once a Republican idea in good standing was now, suddenly, unconstitutional and the greatest threat to freedom in American history.
Thrift, Ezra, thrift. Yesterday's applause lines do coldly furnish forth today's slanders.

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