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Saturday, September 29, 2012

When Fallows is Fallows

Not to be too fulsome about it, but James Fallows, as his readers well know, is fair-minded to a fault, and generous to a fault. On my morning read, two moments in a recent post struck me as echt Fallows, recalling a third by association. On the timeworn theory that three is a trend, and by extension a portrait, here they are.

First:
I have known, respected, and come very much to like Jim Webb over the course of more than 30 years. We originally met because of deep disagreements about the Vietnam War. He went to Annapolis, served with distinction and bravery as Marine officer, was badly wounded, and then in his novels, movies, essays, and public-affairs work championed the memories and the futures of the people he had served with. I was in college while he was in combat, opposed the war, and deliberately avoided being drafted to serve in it.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Giving Ryan undue credit for Wyden-Ryan

I had a faint expression of interest in response to a letter I sent the Times a week-plus ago, responding to Steven Rattner's call for some form of healthcare rationing. Frankly I can see now why they didn't run it, as I concerned myself with a tangential point, while several letters the Times did publish went for the heart of Rattner's argument (and are well worth reading). Still, mine had some political relevance, as it took Rattner to task for giving Ryan credit for cost control mechanisms he dropped from his 2013 budget.  Here it is:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mitt Romney's "them" vs. Bill Clinton's "I and thou"

Garance Franke-Ruta notes that in Romney's latest heart-to-heart ad, in which he faces the camera and addresses voters directly, he refers to middle class voters as "them," rather than "you." Franke-Ruta flags this as a fatal tell:
The problem with Romney's campaign is not just a secret video, or media- and PAC-hyped candidate gaffes. It's an approach to talking to and about people in a way that is othering, rather than empathetic -- so much so that in direct appeal to middle-class voters, Romney doesn't think to say (or, rather, no one on his campaign thinks to have him say), "The difference is my policies will make things better for you." 
The anti-Romney in this regard is Bill Clinton, the ultimate feel-your-pain politician, the Star Trek-caliber empath.  Exhibit A: when Clinton famously ad-libbed almost half his DNC speech earlier this month, the additions added not so much substance, as intensity, and as I noted at the time, a big part of that impassioned buttonholing was injecting a lot of extra we's, I's and you's:

Obama urges the world to win the future

The writer M.S. at the Economist's Democracy in America blog, who finds Obama's address to the U.N. "cogent, right, sensitive, sophisticated and moving," meditates on the various audiences it was addressed to and concludes that the main audience was a domestic American one. He is skeptical that Obama's eloquent re-presentation of American values as universal ones would reach Arab citizens in any meaningful numbers.

I will leave that question alone. But I do want to amplify the author's point about the way Obama's speech resonates in our domestic political realm. M.S. cites the following passage as evidence that Obama is responding to the political imperative to denounce the violence against American missions abroad more robustly than he denounces the bigotry of the anti-Muslim film that ostensibly triggered the violence. I hear a different chord struck:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Obama sings his half-step with the Arab Spring

Much has been written about the tension between Obama the idealist, spokesman and putative embodiment of American ideals that he loves to cast as universal, and Obama the realist, coldly pursuing American interests, often with stealth lethality, and weighing the costs of intervention with hyper-rationality. 

With that tension in mind, take a look at Obama's careful presentation to the U.N. of American response to the Arab Spring (my emphasis):

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is "breaking the fever" Obama's fever dream?

Brendan Nyhan thinks that Obama is blowing smoke when he suggests that his reelection will "break the fever" of reflexive and unyielding GOP opposition to everything he proposes, and when he avers that change will come from outside Washington, via citizen activism, rather than from inside. I find Nyhan's debunking unconvincing on several fronts.  Here's the core argument:
In reality, while Obama will have increased leverage in the upcoming “fiscal cliff” scenario, there’s little reason to think the upward trend in legislative polarization will relent any time soon, or that Obama can magically change public opinion from the bully pulpit or force Congress to act through outside pressure. Similarly, it’s not clear that a president’s re-election creates especially strong incentives for the opposition party to start compromising. It’s true, for instance, that Bill Clinton cut a budget deal with Republicans in 1997, but he was also impeached in 1998. Similarly, George W. Bush faced far more relentless and effective opposition from Democrats in Congress during his second term than his first. Despite John Kerry’s loss, Democrats killed Bush’s proposal to add private accounts to Social Security in the 109th Congress and subsequently won a landslide victory in the 2006 midterm elections. 
First, the points that Nyhan concedes -- that  a reelected Obama would have the whip hand in fiscal cliff negotiations, and that Clinton cut a budget deal (largely reflecting his priorities) after his reelection --  go a long way toward making Obama's argument for him. "Breaking the fever" is not primarily, or initially, about about producing comity between the parties; it's about changing the opposition's incentives. Clinton's reelection did do that; the fact that he later handed the Republicans a sword to gore him in the person of Monica Lewinsky does not negate the leverage he won or the relatively rational compromises he was able to strike with a GOP Congress -- yielding balanced budgets that Gingrich boasted about in the GOP primaries as if he'd been Clinton's right-hand man. Moreover, had Clinton not dallied in the Oval Office, Republicans would have lacked a massive, er, stimulus to total warfare, and polarization may not have advanced to its subsequent apotheosis under Obama.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Andrew Sullivan's vision for Obama is appealing. But what about Afghanistan?

Ever since November 2007, I have both enjoyed and caviled at Andrew Sullivan's heroic chronicles of the Obama presidency, which started as prophecy in November 2007.  That's the case with his latest Newsweek cover, which makes a pretty strong case that if re-elected Obama will have the chance to fulfill his stated ambition of being a "transformative" president in the Reagan mold --one who "changes the trajectory" of American politics, as he famously/infamously posited during the 2008 campaign.

So far, the rhythm  of Obama's tenure has indeed somewhat tracked Reagan's: two years of transformative legislation enacted in tough economic times; an approval rating that dipped low as unemployment broke double digits, leading to a major midterm setback; then the recovery of economic growth and popular approval (at very different paces). In prospect, Sullivan sees for Obama the chance to protect and enact the seismic legislation passed in his first two years; to cut major tax-and-spending deals with a chastened (or at least cornered) GOP; and to help feather down the collapse of repressive regimes and foster democratic revolution in a major corner of the globe. He protests that the forward vision is "potential, not prophecy," but with that caveat lets hope have its creative way.

It's a 3000-word vision, so perhaps one can't demand too much supporting detail.  That said, it suffers from a signature Sullivan sleight-of-hand: the paragraph brief, that builds a case by grammatical momentum, stuffed with "items in series" -- that is, comma-separated talking points that sweep the reader past some pretty questionable claims or omissions. Take the foreign policy side of the vision of second-term "potential':

Site note

I have owned the xpostfactoid.com domain for some time, and I have just gotten around to a domain redirect that will take you here if you just type xpostfactoid.com in the navigation bar - no 'blogspot' needed.  For whatever it's worth!

"Unless" war is necessary? -- or until?

Like Peter Beinart, I'm mildly heartened by evidence that "Obama's backbone vis Bibi [is] proving infectious" on Capitol Hill.  Yet  I'm troubled by a perhaps random note in Barney Frank's otherwise forceful message to Bibi to back off (as reported by the Hill's Julian Pecquet):

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A fresh crop of Romney Rules

As we've noted before, Romney's approach to any contest seems to be an aggressive drive to rig the game in his favor -- leading, in the political arena, to codifiable Romney Rules (e.g., context for me, but not for thee).

Well, in the past week, Romney has written (or tipped his hand to) a crop of new beauts.  Exhibit A: Romney's now-infamous pronouncement, at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser secretly taped last May, that the 47% of Americans (actually 46.4%) who pay no income tax are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." Revelation of that outburst pairs instructively with Romney's release of his 2011 tax return, in which his effective federal tax rate, admittedly punched up for show, is just under 14% -- in other words, less than the payroll tax for salaried workers who earn too little to be assessed for income tax (if you count the employer's contribution). Hence,

Romney Rule #15:  Accessing the tax breaks allowed by the tax code is a sign of moral turpitude in poor people, and a sign of virtue justly rewarded in the hyperwealthy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rory Stewart's sorrowful assessment of the Afghanistan project

Rory Stewart, the man who walked across central Afghanistan in winter, and later urged light-touch, sustainable engagement underpinned by modest expectations, is back with a sorrowful assessment of the West's options as the training mission collapses:
In the absence of “victory”, three alternative strategies have been proposed: training the Afghan security forces, political settlement with the Taliban and a regional solution. But training Afghan forces, which cost $12bn in 2010 alone, will not guarantee their future loyalty to a Kabul government. Two years and many regional conferences have passed since the formation of the Afghan Higher Peace council, and the clear Nato endorsement of reconciliation: but there is no sign that insurgents, the Kabul government or its neighbours will reach a deal, or feel much desire so to do. So there is no military solution, and no political solution either. Nor will there be before the troops leave. We will have to deal for decades with a troubled Afghanistan, which is not likely in my lifetime to be as wealthy as Libya, as effectively governed as Iraq, as educated as Syria, or as institutionally mature as Pakistan.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ezra Klein's unconvincing theory that Obama misunderstands (or misrepresents) "change"


Ezra Klein, noting that Obama has recently revamped the way he talks about "change," attempts a massive debunk.  Obama is now claiming that he's learned, "you can't change Washington from the inside..you can only change it from the outside. That's how I got elected. That's how the big accomplishments like health care got done."

Nonsense, protests Ezra. All the change that Obama effected was the result of inside baseball -- buying off corporate interests, herding Democratic cats, striving (mostly unsuccessfully) to win opposition buy-in. Obama brought policy change, but not change in the way Washington works. The latter is an impossible goal for a president or any one person.

In my view, Klein is viewing this question too narrowly. Obama is well aware of the limitations of the bully pulpit, and he's got to know better than any person on the planet that presidential advocacy polarizes, entrenching the opposing party in implacable opposition to whatever the president proposes. Yet, in presenting a revamped theory of how the presidency works, he's not just feeding us a line of BS.  And if Obama wins reelection, I believe that we will look back five or ten or twenty years from now and recognize that yes, Obama did change the way Washington works. Or at the very least, he kept the US on a sane policy course in a time of extreme polarization and thus gave (will have given...) the system space to self-correct, as it has in the past.

Let's start with Klein's objection to Obama's characterization of how healthcare reform got done:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Meanwhile, outside our sandbox...

In service of my lifelong reflex to ward off nemesis...as we near the end of a blissful political week for Obama and Democrats, in which Romney was exposed as a sneering oligarch mouthing Randian shibboleths, writing off a Palestinian state and licking his chops at a potential October surprise...as the multi-tiered depravity of that tape sinks in bit by bit, polls swing a bit Obama's way and he sticks the shiv in without apparent rancor or glee; as Romney campaign operatives point fingers at each other and GOP Senate candidates run from him...

I can't help but pick my head up from the Twitter sandbox to worry whether the world meanwhile will blow up on Obama, and us, before the election -- or, for that matter, after. That is, as our effort in Afghanistan verges on collapse, and Netanyahu continues to threaten his own October surprise, and the mobs keep surging at UN missions, and a decision looms re Spanish debt -- there is so much beyond the control of Obama, or this nation, or rational human effort. And some ill-timed accident or well-timed plot could still put an unprincipled plutocrat in pawn to extremist ideologues and monied interests into the White House.

Just a friendly reminder.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 47 percent and the case for voter suppression

I found myself musing this afternoon: what was Romney really saying about the 47 percent of the electorate he wrote off in that fundraiser?

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax... my job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
There are three propositions here: 1) 47% of Americans don't pay taxes; 2) those 47% don't believe in personal responsibility or free enterprise;  3) because of those beliefs, they will vote for someone who is destroying personal responsibility and free enterprise. A fourth proposition did not need to be spoken to this group, but Romney says it on the stump all the time: Obama, enabled by this 47%, will change the fundamental character of America, destroy its commitment to and reward of free enterprise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

True conservatives to the Randians: you're devouring the base

Serendipity.  In today's Times, Cass Sustain showcases a social science finding: the best way to puncture confirmation bias, our tendency to hear only our own side of an argument, is to recruit a "turncoat"from the other side:
People tend to dismiss information that would falsify their convictions. But they may reconsider if the information comes from a source they cannot dismiss. People are most likely to find a source credible if they closely identify with it or begin in essential agreement with it. In such cases, their reaction is not, “how predictable and uninformative that someone like that would think something so evil and foolish,” but instead, “if someone like that disagrees with me, maybe I had better rethink.”
Coincidentally, it strikes me this morning that in the torrent of well-informed criticism of the crude Randianism expressed by Romney in that leaked fundraiser, the best, the most conceptually comprehensive responses have come from thoughtful conservatives.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Print those "Don't Worry About Me, Mitt" tee shirts! (or on second thought, don't)

Jesus Joseph and Mary, as my Irish grandmother-in-law would have said.  Was Romney really caught on tape saying this at a high roller fundraiser?
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
Romney went on: "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Relatively speaking, doesn't Barack "they cling to guns, they cling to religion" Obama positively ooze with empathy and respect for his opponent's voters?

Placeholder: Rattner suffers Ryan version confusion


I have a letter pending at the Times -- always a low-odds proposition -- that flags an error in Steven Rattner's op-ed calling for tighter Medicare controls. Rattner criticizes both the ACA and Ryan's most recent Medicare reform plan for inadequate cost control, but he does credit both for including some cost control mechanisms.  In crediting the way the annual cap in federal outlays included in the Ryan plan is supposed to work, however, he quotes a clause from the Dec. 2011 Wyden-Ryan white paper, to the effect that should the cap be breached: "Congress would be required to intervene." Nah...that's missing from Ryan's own plan -- the one embodied in his 2013 budget and passed by the House, which relies exclusively on the Competition Fairy to keep spending below the cap. And what Ryan's plan lacks in policy detail it makes up in excoriating "bureaucrat control" of healthcare costs, which includes curbs imposed by Congress on growth in payments to providers and insurers. Moreover, a few weeks ago Romney ditched the Ryan's plan's spending cap altogether.   

I'll either link to the Times letter if it's published or elaborate here...the Times requires haiku compression.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Netanyahu drives his bus at Obama

Three thoughts about what Netanyahu told David Gregory on Meet the Press today.

First, Gregory failed to press Netanyahu on exactly what kind of red line  -- that is, a tripwire that would bring on a US attack if Iran crossed it -- he was calling for. Obama has already laid down a red line: Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon.  What's Bibi's? Gregory didn't ask, exactly. He asked whether Iran had already crossed Israel's red line. Netanyahu said, "they're in the red zone" -- they're within 20 yards. But the discussion of that point remained metaphorical, and therefore close to meaningless.

Second, though both the U.S. and Israel assert that Iran cannot be allowed to produce a nuclear weapon, there is a real difference in threat perception.  Here's Bibi on the danger of a nuclear Iran:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Perfidious Obama, Assaultive Obama

It goes without saying that if you're trying to unseat an incumbent, you have to portray that opponent as having failed in fundamental ways -- pursued policies that were ineffectual or counterproductive, wasted resources, wounded relationships, shown lack of resolve or energy, etc. etc.

For the past twenty years, Republicans, schooled in large part by Newt Gingrich, never stop there. Opponents in their portrayal are always depraved, malevolent, disloyal, craven, fundamentally hostile to real Americans.  

Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, Jamelle Bouie and others have laid out with precision the ways in which Romney taps into birther and Manchurian candidate fantasies about Obama to portray him as unAmerican, socialist, committed to "European' values, sympathetic to or submissive before aliens of various stripes, hostile to the upstanding businessmen who make America great.  I want to paint with a broader brush for a moment.  It seems to me that Romney's cartoon villain Obama has two main sets of vices.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The U.S. as "selective superpower"? Not if Romney can help it

The Financial Times's Philip Stephens, surveying global macro trends with his usual acuity, sees the U.S. gradually downsizing its role as global hegemon:
Whether led by Mr Obama or Mr Romney, the US will continue to see itself as the most powerful nation on the international block. But the focus and ambition of its world view have narrowed. Leading from behind in the toppling of Muammer Gaddafi in Libya and the extreme reluctance to intervene in Syria have been signposts to the future. So too the eagerness to quit Afghanistan and Mr Obama’s “rebalancing” to Asia.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Say it's so, Joe, and say it loud

I don't often paste up a clip from someone else's post if I don't have more than two cents of my own to add.. My audience is too small; why bring buckets of water to the ocean? Or rather, I tote my buckets via Twitter or emails to the Dish.

But Joe Klein is out there loudly proclaiming something that so needs to be said -- and risking the full fury of the anti-semite police to say it -- that I feel compelled to add my kazoo to his bullhorn:
Netanyahu’s recent behavior is outrageous. He is trying push us into a war that is not in our national interest, a war that would only further destabilize a region that is already teetering near chaos. He is trying to get us to damage our relations with the rest of the world–especially the Russians and Chinese, whom we spent great diplomatic effort luring into the Iranian economic sanctions–so that he can pursue a strategy that even the Israeli military and intelligence communities find questionable. President Obama will not yield to this pressure, nor should he–and every American should know the implications of what Netanyahu and his American neoconservative allies, including Mitt Romney, are proposing...

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:

The key word here is "disgraceful"


In the wake of the attacks on the U.S. missions in Libya and Egypt and the Obama administration response, Mitt Romney released this statement:
"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Leave aside the merits of the measured administration statement or the in-the-heat  responses from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which were not "administration" response. You do not have to be expert in anything to assess the merit of Romney's reaction -- or his fitness for the presidency. You need only be a social mammal of the human species.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Obama freezes out extremists and hysterics

In the last year, it seems Obama has learned when not to negotiate, and how to back adversaries into a corner when he has public (or world) opinion on his side. Two apparent instances struck my eye within 30 seconds a few minutes ago.

First, this:
House Republicans have dropped their demands to cut spending on domestic programs, for the time being, and instead unveiled bipartisan legislation to keep the government funded through the end of the year at previously-agreed-upon levels.

Monday, September 10, 2012

'Ware Nemesis, Obama

Courtesy of the Dish, a tweet from Jeffrey Goldberg in immediate reaction to Joe Biden's Convention paeaen to Barack Obama, Osama-killer:
I've been told I'm a bloodthirsty warmongering neoconservative, but for whatever reason, I just don't like all this bragging about killing.
For the record, I was on the same page. Below, excerpts from that section of Biden's speech, and my immediate reactions on Twitter.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Mitt's standing prescription for America: Go (hardware) shopping

As Romney, in his nomination acceptance speech, hit Obama first for his Medicare cuts and then for the defense cuts triggered by the Budget Control Act, I tweeted that he was attacking Obama for cutting $1.2 trillion in spending - pretty funny for someone supporting a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.

Paul Krugman made the same point last week -- "OK, so deficit spending hurts the economy — unless it’s spending on the military (or on the medical-industrial complex), in which case cutting spending destroys jobs." Today, he elaborates:

Saturday, September 08, 2012

We may be on the brink of a democratic miracle


Jonathan Chait recently framed a conundrum facing Democrats who are convinced that the Romney campaign is playing the race card: you don't have to be racist to subscribe to conservative positions on spending for the poor, but such positions are attractive to those who envision the "undeserving poor" primarily as minorities. His conclusion: while Romney attack ads alleging that Obama is gutting the work requirements for welfare might not be racist if the charge had any basis in truth, the fact that it was concocted out of thin air points conclusively to a race-based appeal. 

Chait is wary of Democrats overplaying the race card, and so asserts at the end that "the best counterattack against Romney’s welfare gambit is simply to point out that Romney is shamelessly lying." But he's threading a needle here, much like people who acknowledge that while a given hurricane can't be chalked up to global warming, an overall increase in hurricane intensity probably can. His personal conviction is delivered in the conditional:

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Obama maintains hope, but not in comity

Much of Obama's speech was the same as always: I ran because the American Dream, the "basic bargain," is slipping away; we need to renew our commitment to shared prosperity, opportunity for all; to build sustainable broad-based prosperity by investing in green energy, education, infrastructure; to secure our budgetary future by controlling healthcare costs without denying care. And of course, the other side is about trickle-down, the failed policies of the Bush years, the toxic post-Reagan conviction that government is the problem.

What struck me as different was a subtle bid to tie his opponents to the wholesale corruption of our politics threatened by the unleashing of the Super PACs and the 501(c)(4)s post-Citizens United and Speechnow.org. Democrats have always suggested that Republican policies serve the wealthy.  Obama cast Romney and co. as pretty much owned and bound.

It began at the beginning, with a suggestion of corrupted process that's encompassed him too:

When Clinton edits Clinton

Wow. The Atlantic has a transcript of Bill Clinton's nominating speech that overlays the speech he actually gave atop the prepared remarks. At first, the differences are relatively restrained elaborations and intensifiers. When he gets into the heart of the attack on Republican positions -- themselves an attack on his entire legacy -- the green-shaded ad-libs swamp the prepared text.

When I first eyeballed those later sections, I thought, "My God, he ad-libbed all that detailed policy contrast -- the analysis of their Medicare and Medicaid proposals, the debunking of their welfare attacks." That isn't true, though.  The factual nuggets are almost all in the prepared texts. What's chiefly added is incredulity, outrage, judgments, summations, and personal interjections.

As I noted in my immediate response to the speech, the dominant chord to my ear was listen to me -- repeated as a phrase at least four times, and as a subtext in almost every sentence; essentially, all his additions said listen to me.  Below, I've classified six types of ad-lib that served this mission. In quoted passages, all italics denote Clinton's oral additions. Boldface is my emphasis.

In GOP heaven, St. Ronnie is lonely

Most GOP presidents in this century have helped advance American prosperity and security in enduring ways. Teddy Roosevelt busted the trusts. Eisenhower kept the peace while keeping the military-industrial complex under control and building our modern transportation infrastructure.  Nixon opened China to the US, helping to sap Soviet strength and provide an engine for global growth that's still chugging. Reagan helped feather down the Soviet Union peacefully, as did Bush Sr., while turning back Saddam's aggression and helping to lay the foundation for the balanced budgets of the 1990s.

Lots of twitterers, including James Fallows and Ezra Klein, have noted that while Bill Clinton mentioned George W. Bush three times in his speech last night, mostly positively, none of the GOP speakers in Tampa mentioned him by name. That's not surprising. Bush was a disastrous president on all fronts -- busting the budget, getting tens of thousands of US soldiers and Iraqi and Afghan civilians killed and maimed in two botched wars, permanently compromising U.S. civil liberties, massively eroding the nation's soft power. Not even Republicans can defend that record of faillure.

Defending Medicaid is personal for Clinton

Ezra Klein reminds us that the core of Bill Clinton's extended policy rebuke to the GOP last night was an attack on their proposed cuts to Medicaid, not their Medicare plans. Medicaid is the locus, Klein says, of
arguably the most important and concrete policy difference between the two campaigns. The Medicare changes get more attention on both sides, but Romney and Ryan don’t intend to touch Medicare for 10 years, they swear they’ll honor the Medicare guarantee, and at least in Ryan’s most recent budget, he envisions the exact same long-term spending path as Obama does. By contrast, Romney and Ryan intend to begin cutting Medicaid immediately, and independent analyses suggest that their cuts could throw as many as 30 million people off the program. If you want to see the difference between Obama and Romney’s vision for American policy, it’s probably the single starkest example.
Democrats generally give talk of Medicaid short shrift because it's perceived as a program for the poor, and it's a sad fact of American political life that being perceived as channeling government resources to the poor is about as toxic as being perceived as showering largess on the rich.  Clinton took care of that by emphasizing Medicaid's middle-class constituencies (as well as children, also politically tonic):

Bill Clinton gets personal

Well, it took Bill Clinton a long time to get to the heart of his speech. But what a mighty heart it proved to be. What a giant enterprise. He set himself singlehandedly to counter a billion dollars in attack ads, to break through the core Republican lies and obfuscations.  The big ones, the ones about high-stakes policy: Obama is gutting Medicare. Obama is gutting welfare reform.   Huge cuts to Medicaid won't devastate the poor, the nursing home population, the disabled.  Obama is exploding the debt.  Romney will cut taxes by $5 trillion and reduce the debt.

Listen to me, he said repeatedly in the epic debunk session. He said it secure in the authority conferred by eight years of successful budget combat. Unlike other speakers (who else could take/command the time?) he drilled down in (sometimes fudged) detail. Republicans quadrupled the debt in the 12 years before I took office and doubled it in the eight years after I left office. Listen to me. Obama's state waivers for welfare work requirements are to enable initiatives to increase job placements, not diminish them. This is personal for me -- to claim the opposite is just not true. Obamacare's Medicare cuts are to insurer and provider reimbursements, not coverage for seniors.  I want you to listen -- by erasing the ACA's Medicare cuts, the Republicans will bid fair to end Medicare by 2016.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

MIchelle brings Obama's story home

In his bid to move the political center back to the left in the wake of the Reagan revolution, Obama has always relied on an idealized abstract of American history, casting it as a story of ever-expanding commitment to shared prosperity -- prosperity shared ever more widely.  It's an oral slideshow, a series of historical tableaus delivered with incantatory parallel phrasing and refrain. In his speech on election night 2008, for example, he invoked a 106 year-old African American voter as a witness to the panorama:
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.
Toward the end of her speech tonight, Michelle Obama deployed the same kind of narrative, with the same political message:

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

One gift of age

Some time in my teens, I set myself against fashion, both as an industry and a concept. The notion that after being pleased by fat ties I could be induced to get enthusiastic about thin ones seemed absurd on its face. What's more, I've always been put off by the sullen mouths and vacant stares that models put on.

Those prejudices have persisted, but live and learn. While I was walking to my office this morning, a few thoughts crystallized -- triggered, I think, by an oddly-flapping frilly blouse passing by. First, kind of obviously: fashion shaped my initial prejudices: there is no Archimedean fashion-free point at which our tastes are forged.  There were lots of things that as a pre-teen I unquestionably considered dowdy, ugly, laughable that were no such things -- and of course others, such as long hair for males and bell-bottoms, that I learned to embrace while coming to see their opposites as square.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Wall Street Journal editorialists rush in where Romney fears to tread

The true believers in supply-side economics on the Wall Street Journal editorial board long for a policy debate that Romney is determined to avoid:
the one thing [Romney's speech] didn't do constitutes a major political gamble. Neither he nor the entire GOP convention made a case for his economic policy agenda. He and Paul Ryan promised to help the middle class, but they never explained other than in passing how they would do it.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Romney tossed out his five policy ideas almost as an afterthought. Energy got one sentence, education scored big with two. Neil Armstrong received almost as much speech time as what Mr. Romney would do specifically to spur faster growth and raise middle-class incomes.

Romney launches an apology tour

Romney first charged that Obama kicked off his presidency with an apology tour on June 1, 2009, and he has never stopped repeating that lie. What he meant was that Obama, in his addresses to various allies and sometime adversaries, often acknowledged some fault in past American conduct as prelude to acknowledging fault on the other side and defending overall American conduct, interests and values (see Politifact link below).  For example, in his address to the Arab world in Cairo on June 4, 2009 Obama cited legitimate causes for resentment of the U.S. and the west in Islamic countries:
More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Obama's message is jelling

We often hear that Romney has a challenger's advantage in a down economy. He can stick to a simple message: the economy is broken and Obama can't fix it -- I can.  And the Romney campaign has indicated that he regards offering detail as a disadvantage and distraction. Don't say what you'd cut; don't say what tax loopholes you'd close or what "simple, effective" regulation would look like; just offer yourself as a problem solver who "knows how jobs come and how they go."

Such a strategy could work if the economic news is bad enough. But there's a flip side. Obama, unlike Romney, has a record to run on -- a record of engagement with national problems that he doesn't have to run away from, as Romney does from his signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts. And now, Obama is running on that record. Here he is at UVA on Aug. 29, combating the notion that he failed to bring hope and change: