Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The tribute Obama deserves

has been delivered by Jonathan Chait:
What can be said without equivocation is that Obama has proven himself morally, intellectually, temperamentally, and strategically. In my lifetime, or my parents’, he is easily the best president. On his own terms, and not merely as a contrast to an unacceptable alternative, he overwhelmingly deserves reelection.
Chait understands that true pragmatism is the rarest and most powerful lever of leadership:
Obama’s résumé of accomplishments is broad and deep, running the gamut from economic to social to foreign policy. The general thrust of his reforms, especially in economic policy, has been a combination of politically radical and ideologically moderate. The combination has confused liberals into thinking of Obamaism as a series of sad half-measures, and conservatives to deem it socialism, but the truth is neither. Obama’s agenda has generally hewed to the consensus of mainstream economists and policy experts. What makes the agenda radical is that, historically, vast realms of policy had been shaped by special interests for their own benefit. Plans to rationalize those things, to write laws that make sense, molder on think-tank shelves for years, even generations. They are often boring. But then Obama, in a frenetic burst of activity, made many of them happen all at once.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Romney's quicksilver Detroit turnaround

Can anyone stand yet another picking over Romney's actual position(s) regarding the Detroit bailouts?

Despite the reams that have been written, what Romney actually recommended in his now-famous Nov. 2008 op-ed and in subsequent elaborations remains elusive -- as is generally the case when you're dealing with a consummate bullshitter. Still, I've combed some of  his pronouncements from November 2008 through June 2009 and would venture to clarify a few points:

1) Romney never called for the liquidation of GM or Chrysler. That much should be obvious -- though his call for a "managed bankruptcy" to commence immediately upon the companies running out of money following their request for government aid in November 2008 would probably have led to liquidation.

2) By pronouncing "Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check," Romney set up a  false choice. As the event proved, GM and Chrysler both needed both -- first one, and then the other.

3) In calling for a "managed bankruptcy" in his November 2008 op-ed, Romney did not explicitly recommend a privately funded turnaround.  Rather, with a calculated vagueness that has since become numbingly familiar, he left unstated how and by whom the companies' continued operations would be funded.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Romney Rules special edition: the meta-ethics of the post-truth campaign

Paul Krugman dubbed Mitt Romney's drive for the presidency the post-truth campaign. Steven Benen chronicles 20-50 verifiable instances of Mitt's mendacity every week (a record future generations will marvel at). I like to focus on the campaign's meta-ethics -- its explicit justifications for willfully misleading the public.  

That has happened on at least four occasions. Here they are*, in reverse chronological order:  

1) The most recent is the most egregious: the campaign is defending an ad, now running in Ohio, that gives the clear false impression that Chrysler is going to move its U.S.-based Jeep production to China, whereas the company has merely stated an intention to build Jeeps in China for the Chinese market. The ad follows on the heels of a false statement by Romney last week that Chrysler was moving U.S. Jeep manufactures to China.  Asked by Buzzfeed, to explain the ad, an unnamed Romney aide responded, ""What's in there that's false? Are they building Jeeps in China or not?" Context doesn't matter; artful omissions are okay; deliberately creating a false impression is okay.

"Ohio Slipping Away?"

I get 20 emails a day from Democrats trying to scare me into donating, so I know to take campaign emails that raise an alarm ("we're being outspent!) with a grain of salt.  Ergo, I'm not going to get too excited by this campaign email from Josh Mandel, the GOP Senate candidate in Ohio, relayed by National Review. But it is rather cheering -- and a jarring counter-narrative to the one put forward by Romney momentum-mongers. Subject line: Ohio Slipping Away?

I would add, too, that by current American standards it's a fair pitch. The enemy is liberalism, spending, taxes. Nothing incendiary.  But there is a, shall we say, archetypal subtext: Democrats are voting early by the busload (you know what kind of people rely on buses); they want to bank enough \votes to win before election day (clever thieves that they are); I need you (patriotic American) to stand with me (the marine) and block the invading end-running busloaders marshaled out of their "strongholds" by the "Obama-Brown machine." We few, we happy few....

Here's the letter:
Dear Patriot,

Early voting has begun in Ohio.

And the Obama campaign is turning out Democrat voters by the busload.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Paul Krugman closes his own private enthusiasm gap

No one on the more or less mainstream left has been harder on Obama than Paul Krugman, who began tearing out his hair at the proposed size of the stimulus before Obama took office and did not let up for almost three years thereafter. The nadir came as details of the debt ceiling deal emerged last summer: Krugman's July 31, 2011 column was originally titled "Capitulation" and lives on online as The President Surrenders.  His bitterness reached this crescendo:
In fact, Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.

Yes, the debt ceiling deal was disillusioning, and droves of Democrats followed Krugman into the slough of despond.  Nine days later, the disgust peaked with Drew Westen's What Happened to Obama, a 3000-word screed on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Review that portrayed Obama as a craven conflict-averse surrender monkey while belittling his legislative accomplishments.  As I pointed out at the time, this rhetorical nuke dropped on ground zero in the liberal heartland relied almost entirely on Krugman's critique of the stimulus for its substantive attack on Obama's record.

Yet Krugman has had a change of heart over the past year. His esteem for the president has grown more swiftly than the economy -- to the point where, if Obama's base followed Krugman's lead, there would be no enthusiasm gap. Perhaps it's an accelerating case of 'you don't know what you've got till it's [almost] gone.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Obama looks forward to the whip hand

There are no real surprises in Obama's "off the record" interview with the Des Moines Register, which the administration very sensibly put on the record after being publicly challenged to do so by editor Rick Green  (kudos to Green for getting it done). But there is some blunt talk, and a coherent vision of sustainable economic growth laid out in more detail than the campaign trail allows.

The blunt talk,  about how he will deal with Republicans in upcoming months, highlights lessons learned in the debt ceiling negotiations of summer. There's no mention of a mutual will to compromise, or coming together for the good of the country, or both sides giving a little, or there being good ideas on both sides. It's about leverage, or rather, a set of blunt instruments:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Conservative debate watchers have a point, but...

On one hand, I am pissed that Republican spin on the last debate is getting some credence in the media -- Politico and ABC both retailed the hypothesis that the debate might strengthen Romney's position, since he came across as credible an unscary -- and the electorate doesn't much care about foreign policy.

On the other hand, I think that the conservative analysis digested by the Dish -- by Douthat, Levin, Lowry and Ponnuru -- has some validity. Lowry summarizes their collective take well:
I think Romney executed what must have been his strategy nearly flawlessly: reassure people that he’s not a bomb-thrower; project strength but not bellicosity; go out of his way to say how many Obama policies he agrees with to create a sense of his reasonableness; focus on the big picture of a world that seems out of control; get it back to the economy as much as possible; and communicate a real passion for the future.
In fact, my own reaction to Romney's performance, taken by itself, was somewhat similar.  I disagree, though, with this from Levin, and in that disagreement lies hope:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Moderate Mitt vs. Nimble Obama

As I expected, Romney brought Moderate Mitt to this debate. Practically the first word out of his mouth was "peace" -- and throughout, he stressed that he wanted to foster peace. In fact, he had a simple two-track message, peace/strength.  And I do think, taking his performance as a solo, that he hit his core objectives: he was 1) moderate Mitt, and 2) versed Mitt, reeling off for-show nuances like the power hierarchy in Pakistan, and rattling off 4- and 5-point plans and systematic rebuttals. .  Oh, and as always, 3) Dominating Mitt, talking over everyone.  Objective 4) was to paint a weak Obama, and that one didn't go so well.

One thing Romney did well --advancing his image as a peacemaker not a warmonger -- was deliver firm one-word answers to "should we" questions.  Should we divorce Pakistan? No. Should we have propped up Mubarek? No.  Should we take more decisive military action in Syria (beyond arming the 'right' rebels)? No.

The promise of an Obama second term

E.J. Dionne makes a great case today that Obama has a substantive and productive second term agenda, whether or not he makes the case for it as strongly as he might. After reminding us that Obama has in fact laid out a detailed deficit reduction plan -- attacked from left and right, but no less credible for that, he gets to what I consider the core:
Some dismiss what an Obama second term might achieve by claiming that it will be mainly concerned with consolidating his first-term accomplishments. If these had been trivial, that might be a legitimate criticism. But does anyone seriously believe that implementing a massive new health insurance program that will cover an additional 30 million Americans is unimportant? Can anyone argue that translating the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms into workable regulations is a minor undertaking?
Here is the case for a term of consolidation that I made informally, in a letter to a friend:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Obama, beware of Romnesia on foreign policy tomorrow night

Noting that vast majorities of Americans of all parties favor less U.S. involvement in Middle East leadership changes, not more, Daniel Larison warns Romney:
The Pew survey result matches findings from other surveys about what U.S. policy towards Syria should be, which show support for sanctions and not much else. The 23% that favors more U.S. involvement in the politics of the region are very likely the same people who think the U.S. should be directly arming the Syrian opposition and bombing Syrian air defenses. Their preferences are also wrong on the merits, but these results show that there is no real electoral price to be paid by ignoring what they want. That 23% is the audience to which Romney has been pandering for the last several months, and he probably has almost all of their votes locked up anyway. If most viewers correctly perceive that Romney is the more aggressive, activist candidate on Syria and on other international issues, he will lose the debate. Insofar as the last debate has an effect on the outcome of the election, he will be sabotaging himself in the final weeks.
Given Romney's recent renewed facility with the Etch-A-Sketch, I take this more as a warning for Obama than for Romney: expect Romney to shape-shift on this front as he did on taxes during (and indeed before) the first debate.

RIP, George McGovern: we're still a long way from home

Seasoned Democratic political operatives doubtless saw mainly chaos and certain defeat in the 1972 Democratic National Convention, in which an endless vice presidential nominating process pushed the presidential nominee's acceptance speech to 2 in the morning.  As a 13-year old thrilled by McGovern's insurgent capture of the nomination, I saw only promise and inspiration. 

I knew nothing about political process, but I don't think I was wrong about McGovern's integrity and force of character or core values.  Or about the tragedy of this country ignoring his warnings about three besetting sins: war of choice, government secrecy, and government controlled by corporate interests.  Here's some of what what he said to whoever was still awake at 2 a.m. (I think...) on July 14, 1972 (video here):

Friday, October 19, 2012

Poll-vaulting to debate glory

First we all watched the first debate and stood gaping as Obama's lead vanished in the aftermath. Then we learned that Obama's poll slide had in fact started about a week prior.

Next, we watched Obama win the second debate and held our breath for a bounce in the polls. Now, Jonathan Bernstein avers casually that the race is  "slightly trending towards Obama, perhaps beginning after the second debate or perhaps a bit before that."

A bit before...a new theory presents itself unbidden!  Whichever candidate is starting to rise in the polls outperforms in the debate.

The candidates personally are as much in the grip of campaign "fundamentals" as political scientists tell us the race itself is. The workings of their minds and bodies are pulled by electoral tides as surely as we are all subject to gravity. Or poll--arity.

Okay, maybe not. Sounds compelling, though, doesn't? I mean compolling.

Why does Obama let Romney get away with his "doubled the deficit" charge?

Obama did a lot of things right in the Hofstra debate. But one core Romney lie he let go unchallenged repeatedly. I go to my tweet tape:

nailed him on everything but his own deficits

3x "he doubled the deficit" - time to pop that lie
he has cut the deficit - time to say so
unaswered: you doubled the deficit Lie

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chris Hayes on Romney Rules

I have for some months been compiling a set of Romney Rules for electoral competition, all of which boil down, essentially, to "rule x applies to my opponent, but not to me."

I am currently about one third through Chris Hayes', Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, which argues that the very nature of the meritocracy ethos to which almost all Americans subscribe leads inevitably to corruption: unmediated competition drives winners to game the system and cement their advantages. It's through that prism that Hayes, focusing on Romney's violation of the negotiated ground rules (e.g, by posing direct questions to Obama), viewed last night's debate -- and by extension, Romney himself. Kos diarist Iarxphd transcribes (I've fixed apparent typos):
The theme of the last 10 years of this country is that the people at the top don't think the rules apply to them.  And you send your people to sit down and negotiate a set of rules, and 20 minutes into it you throw it out the window. Everything we've seen, from the financial crisis to everything else that's happened to this country has been about the Oligarchs and the ruling class, and the people at the top, feeling like they are not a party to the social contract. So some stupid little contract that was negotiated by your people, you don't worry about it 20 minutes into it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

At the close, a ritual slaughter

Lord-a-mercy, Obama just killed Romney on the 47%. Was it genius, or luck that he saved it for the end, when there was no time for rebuttal?

The structure of that answer will be studied and go down in debate lore [update: text below]. The voter's question: what misconception does the public have about you that you would like to correct? (Good question, by the way.) Romney's answer: I care about 100% of the people. True in its way. Obama's...what's lovely is that a direct answer to the question was the perfect segue to the contrast. The misconception about me, he said,  is that I want government to do it all -- and he was eloquent in affirming his belief in private enterprise and in government as midwife, hand up.  Then, the pivot: Romney is a good man. But. In that private room, he said what he said...and Obama ticked off beautifully the groups who don't pay income taxes: seniors, students, soldiers.

Unlike in the last debate, that denouement cemented a theme he had hit all night: that Romney believes that helping the richest helps the economy.  I was thinking that that core point had been made but was a bit effaced, until that closer.

Whither Obama on taxes?

David Weigel notes that he tax stance that served Obama well in his town hall debate with McCain in 2008 will not serve four years later:
Obama had miraculous success in 2008 by promising to raise taxes on the wealthy as a way to be fair and close the deficit. It simply isn't working as well in 2012, when Obama owns four $1 trillion deficits. He can correct plenty of his staging problems in a town hall, compared to a back-and-forth podium debate. But he needs a bigger argument on taxes.
I'm not exactly sure why we should credit this, since Obama has not yet been able to put over his proposed restoration of Clinton era income tax rates on the top 2% and other modest tax increases for the wealthy, and the broad principle of "asking the wealthy to pay a little more" has broad popular support. But allowing that the tax proposals in Obama's proposed ten year deficit reduction plan are a bit lightweight, a few thoughts below about where we are and where we need to head:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Battleground state (of mind)

Well, dear reader(s), excuse my absence during a little anniversary getaway weekend, spent not looking at polling news and gnawing over the dread possibility of a Romney victory as we tromped through sculpture park and wood. Not the best anniversary weekend to be married to me. I'd have been better off canvassing, as I will next weekend. But who'd have thought a few weeks ago that things would look so desperate going into this weekend?

During the working day today I have peeked by degrees into the political news, and it seems that the situation has not further deteriorated (I am choosing not to get too worked up about the Gallup/USA Today poll, with its double-wide spread between likely and registered voters and questionable "battleground subsample" status. In fact, I'm not even going to tax myself with learning what's wrong w/ battleground subsamples). I am therefore free to hold my breath until tomorrow night, which I guess means continuing this unpleasant peek-at-the news-and-brood-about-disaster routine until showtime. Which means, frankly, that I have little to contribute to anyone's understanding of anything at the moment.

For what it's worth, my brooding keeps sending flashes of the mortal combat between Hamlet Sr. and Fortinbras Sr., staged (according to a play cooked up centuries later, in which it's not staged) to dispose of lands desired by both kingdoms.  Just as elections are better alternatives to succession wars, political debates are proxies for such mortal combat. And this one feels pretty mortal. Polls since 10/3 have blown through political scientists' skepticism about the effects of debates -- though some are now highlighting evidence that Obama's lead was shrinking prior to the debates, I don't think anyone is disputing the massive impact of the first round, or the stakes in the next one. I personally cannot even begin to imagine being Obama walking onto that stage.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In defense of the boomers, who don't exist

Going away for the weekend, freaked out by recent polls, holding my breath until Tuesday night...and so reposting one that got a little lost in the sauce, below.
In an article pinging across the internets just now, 34 year-old reporter Jim Tankersley calls his 63 year-old lawyer father to the bar to defend the boomer generation against a broad indictment:
This is the charge I’ve leveled against him on a summer day in our Pacific Northwest vision of paradise. I have asked my favorite attorney to represent a very troublesome client, the entire baby-boom generation, in what should be a slam-dunk trial—for me. On behalf of future generations, I am accusing him and all the other parasites his age of breaking the sacred bargain that every American generation will pass a better country on to its children than the one it inherited.
Dad makes some very good points in defense, but he accepts the general terms of the trial: that it makes sense to indict a so-called "generation" for the course of human events, national and global.  I reject that premise. Generalizations about generations always send me around the bend.  Being admittedly predisposed to dismiss the case on conceptual grounds, I believe that the particular charges don't stand up to scrutiny.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Maybe I shouldn't do debate assessment, cont.

If you'll forgive a bit of navel-gazing: I am nonplussed by my anomalous debate reactions.

For Democrats, the Biden-Ryan debate was plainly balm to the gaping wound in confidence ripped open by Obama's performance last week. My feelings, until I checked others' responses, were more in tune with this right-wing spin sampled on the Dish -- no doubt sincerely felt, since of course we partisans feel hostile to the opposition:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Maybe I shouldn't do debate assessment

I begin to think I'm not a good reader of debates. While not looking at commentary, I was afraid that Biden would be laughed off the national stage. He shouted nonstop until his voice gave out; he grimaced far too much and failed to look at Ryan when confronting him (though I may have been misled in that by the C-Span split screen; when I switched to PBS he seemed more natural in this regard), he interrupted incessantly, and I thought he was often incoherent on domestic policy (though generally effective on foreign), failing to answer Ryan's allegations systematically and jumbling a bunch of not-fully-articulated assertions together. Ryan, on the other hand, struck me as methodical, systematic, unruffled and precise -- never mind that his characterizations of Obama administration policies -- and Romney's -- were wildly misleading.

"The most important thing Joe Biden can do"

I'd like to offer a quick elaboration of a wise tweet by LOLGOP:
The most important thing Joe Biden can do tonight is describe the Ryan Budget in the clearest terms possible.
The essence of the Romney/Ryan campaign is to hide the ball. The task is to make concrete the scope and the impact of the cuts Ryan calls for.  The template was laid down too long ago by a certain Barack Obama:
Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal. In fact, that renowned liberal, Newt Gingrich, first called the original version of the budget “radical” and said it would contribute to right wing social engineering. This is coming from Newt Gingrich. And yet this isn’t a budget supported by some small group in the Republican Party. This is now the party’s governing platform.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Done in by friendly fire? Dead-blogging the Obama-Romney debate

Kevin Drum has been hammering home two crucial insights about the Oct. 3 debate between Obama and Romney. First, that the spectacular flip-out of liberal commentators -- their fevered panning of Obama's performance -- in the debate's immediate aftermath drove the news coverage, which in turn drove the public's response. Second, that an obsession with the non-verbal aspects of debating has radically skewed the pundits' and hence the public's perceptions. I want to take up this challenge of Drum's:
what do I think liberal commenters should have done on Wednesday night? I'll tell you, but first let me lay some groundwork. Have you ever heard the old saw that the best way to judge a presidential debate is to watch it with the sound off? Well, I think that's just about the stupidest piece of folk wisdom I've ever heard. It's not just that this reduces debates to theater criticism. It's worse than that. It's not even good theater criticism. After all, would you watch a play or a movie with the sound removed and then write a review for your local newspaper? Of course not. You can't possibly judge a play without hearing the actual dialog.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Tankersley's case against the boomers: summarily dismissed

In an article pinging across the internets just now, 34 year-old reporter Jim Tankersley calls his 63 year-old lawyer father to the bar to defend the boomer generation against a broad indictment:
This is the charge I’ve leveled against him on a summer day in our Pacific Northwest vision of paradise. I have asked my favorite attorney to represent a very troublesome client, the entire baby-boom generation, in what should be a slam-dunk trial—for me. On behalf of future generations, I am accusing him and all the other parasites his age of breaking the sacred bargain that every American generation will pass a better country on to its children than the one it inherited.
Dad makes some very good points in defense, but he accepts the general terms of the trial: that it makes sense to indict a so-called "generation" for the course of human events, national and global.  I reject that premise. Generalizations about generations always send me around the bend.  Being admittedly predisposed to dismiss the case on conceptual grounds, I believe that the particular charges don't stand up to scrutiny.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

xpostfactoid at 5

Today is xpostfactoid's fifth birthday as a continuous blog, after a couple of false starts.  Since the blog's heart, for better or wooly-headed worse, has always rested in close reads of Obama' rhetoric, may I commend you to yesterday's post,  The credo of a community organizer?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The credo of a community organizer

Frontline has put up a series of "artifacts" from the lives of Obama and Romney, including a letter, highlighted by Fallows, that Obama wrote to a friend in 1985 (at age 25) when he was a few months into his job as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side. One sentence leaped out at me, because it's echoed in Obama's rhetoric throughout his career in a strain that's often written off as mystical hooey -- including last month, in Charlotte. Not to be coy, I've highlighted it below.
I work in five different neighborhoods of differing economic conditions. In one neighborhood, I'll be meeting with a group or irate homeowners, working class folks, bus drivers and nurses and clerical administrators, whose section of town has been ignored by the Department of Streets and Sanitations since the whites moved out twenty years ago. In another, I'll be trying to bring together a group of welfare mothers, mothers at 15, grandmothers at 30, great-grandmothers at 45, trying to help them win better job training and day care facilities from the State. In either situation, I walk into a room and make promises I hope they can help me keep. They generally trust me, despite the fact that they've seen earnest young men pass through here before, expecting to change the world and eventually succumbing to the lure of a corporate office. And in a short time I've learned to care for them very much and want to do everything I can for them.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Generalizations about generations are generally fatuous

Generalizations about generations -- particularly boomer-whacking ones -- always drive me around the bend. I don't know whether I'll muster the energy to take on Jim Tankersley's extended mock-formal indictment of the boomers, but for the moment let me pull up the gist of a post taking a whack at Thomas Friedman at his Thomas Friedmanest.  And do read Hal Espen on boomer-bashing -- link in the footnotes.

...Friedman expands the attack to encompass a more familiar target -- the boomers:

We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.

Time to trot out my 16-month unemployment movement rule

In June 2011, when the Times' Binyamin Appelbaum warned that no president since Roosevelt has won reelection with the unemployment rate above 7.2%, I cobbled together a "16 month rule" for the zone in which the unemployment rate might more or less directly affect elections:
I have for some time been (nervously) tracking Obama's political fortunes against Reagan's, since it's often pointed out that both inherited a vicious recession; at Obama's low moments I've taken some comfort in the fact that Reagan's approval rating reached a nadir of 35% in January 1983, shortly after the unemployment rate peaked at 10.8%.  The impression I've soaked up is that the unemployment rate really matters in the 16-odd months before a president stands for re-election, when the electorate starts to tune in and measure him against the opposing party's candidates.  For Reagan, I've noted, a decisive turn came in July 1983, when the unemployment rate dipped to 9.4% from 10.1% the prior month. From there he had the wind at his back to October 1984, when the rate was 7.4%. Hence Reagan's landslide.  He asked us to stay the course, and the course started running downhill run when it counted.

Might it be postulated that the direction in which employment moves in the 16 months prior to an incumbent president's reelection bid is a fair predictor of his political fortunes?  The postulate works for six of the seven incumbents since Nixon, the earliest president for whom I have monthly unemployment numbers....

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Romney is slippery when all wet

Obama continues to insist that Romney has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut -- he did it again today at a rally in Denver -- and liberal commentators such as Greg Sargent and Steve Benen make the same claim.  But that line of attack is too rigid. Romney can wriggle out from under it, as he did during the debate (as I forecast a half hour prior).

It remains true, deny though Romney will, that he cannot a) cut marginal rates by 20%, b) make that cut revenue neutral by reducing tax deductions, c) exclude investment income from the deduction reduction, and d) not raise taxes on Americans earning less than $200k per year.  It's also true that Romney has promised to do all of the above. Romney, therefore, is lying.

But it's not true that Romney has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut (over 10 years). He's proposed a $5 trillion marginal rate cut. That means he must either a) increase the structural deficit by up to $5 trillion by failing to reduce deductions enough to offset the rate cut (i.e., cut taxes by up to $5 trillion); b) raise taxes on the middle class; or c) not cut marginal rates by a full 20% across the board. Recently, he's intimated that he will break his package promise by going for option c).  You may argue, as Jonathan Bernstein and others have done, that the likeliest option is massive rate cuts with only token, or at least wildly inadequate, loophole closures. But that's an inference -- choosing one of three doors. You can also point out that in past debates Romney has referred to his "tax cut."  But he can plausibly claim to have misspoken -- from the beginning, he's included the not-credible "revenue neutral" claim.

It's hard to attack incompatible promises in a sound byte, especially four-part promises.  But insisting that Romney proposes to "cut taxes" by $5 trillion simply affords him deniability.

Romney's contortionist abilities should come as a surprise to no one. They were on full display throughout primary season, when he proved himself the best liar in the field and soothed appearances of inconsistency with a multi-verse lullaby.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Just a flesh wound?

Well, I don't know that this debate was quite as bad for Obama as the general consensus. He did get some core points across: that Romney's tax math doesn't add up, and that he's hiding the ball with regard to deductions; that a balanced approach, i.e. with new taxes, is a better approach to deficit reduction than cuts only; that Romneycare and Obamacare are structurally almost identical, and that Romney has no plan to cover the uninsured; that Romney proposes to voucherize Medicare.

But he didn't make the rebuttals concrete enough. He was too rigid in insisting that Romney wanted to cut taxes, instead of saying that his plan would either reduce revenue or raise taxes on the middle class or explode the deficit. In complaining that Romney had no real plan to cover the uninsured, he talked around the individual mandate, his real point being that when Romney was serious about expanding coverage, he pioneered the mandate. He didn't defend Medicare's Independent Payment Advisory Board effectively, or do any better job than the Republican presidential candidates did in exploding Romney's faux contrast between the healthcare plan he implemented in Massachusetts and the ACA. When Romney hit him for "ramming through" a plan with no Republican support, he didn't assert that the GOP sabotaged him, professed their desire to defeat him at every turn, demonized ideas that they'd pioneered (though he did say that the plan's main components were initially Republican proposals). He didn't defend his green energy investments at all, or rebut the Solyndra bullshit.

And of course, he didn't attack enough: didn't articulate how Romney's plans benefit the wealthy primarily, didn't drive home how revenue-free deficit reduction would gut domestic spending, didn't effectively rebut Romney's claim that he wouldn't cut Medicaid or other domestic spending drastically (he has to, if he proposes to balance the budget with no new revenues or with new tax cuts); he didn't mention the 47% comments or challenge the notion that the country is divided into makers and takers.   And he smiled too much, and looked down too much, and yielded to Lehrer much more than Romney did.

The media narrative that Romney dominated is almost unanimous, and John Sides et al tell us that that drives public opinion more than the debate itself (though the opposite seemed true in many Bill Clinton speeches; is reception of speeches different in that regard?).  So we'll see how much this moves the polls.

p.s. Fallows, of course, tried to warn Obama & co. of the debate dangers for incumbents; his quasi-forecast is infused in the post-debate commentary.  And I'm disappointed that Obama did not follow his own script and call out Romney's lies and the brutal cuts silently inscribed in his sketched-in policies. Apparently Obama hasn't been tracking Romney's repositionings as closely as, say, I have. He's a busy man

Obama beware: Romney's tax plan is a moving target

The president is a busy man, and James Fallows warns us that presidents often don't have time to prepare adequately for debates. If I could, I would warn the president that Romney in recent days may have nominally eased himself out of the tax reform trap he set himself, as exposed by the Tax Policy Center. If Obama claims that Romney proposes to raise taxes on the middle class, Romney will protest that he's proposed no such thing, and may be able to offer enough 'specifics' to at least seem to rebut the charge.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

From AEI, one more weak whack at TPC's debunk of Romney's tax reform "plan"

Ever since the Tax Policy Center exposed the plain fact that Romney's proposal to render a 20% cut in marginal income tax rates "revenue neutral" with unspecified tax loophole closures without raising taxes on the middle class is mathematically impossible, GOP apologists have taken serial attempts to square the circle and fill in the blanks that Romney refuses to fill in.

First, the Wall Street Journal editorial board attempted a laughable debunk, which relied mainly on assuming that the rate cut would stimulate fantastic growth rates-- the old voodoo economics assumption.  As I pointed out at the time, the TPC had already granted Romney the most generous "dynamic scoring" (projections building in the assumption that the plan would spur growth) that any reality-based economist would grant.