Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why does Mitt Romney want to be President?

I'm likely to watch Mitt Romney's speech tomorrow, antacid at hand.  (What the hell, the Red Sox are losing on the West Coast this week.)  

What I'll be hoping for is some insight into why the man wants to be President.  I don't think he'll deal with that, even inferentially, but it's something I've been wondering about.

I mean, many of us have daydreams about what we'd do if we inhabited the Oval Office (that physical space is mainly ceremonial, but you know what I mean).  We might even think about why we'd like to be the President.  But hardly any of us have the ambition, ego, drive, energy and guts to go out and run for the office.  Much less to make it to through the nominating process of even such a diminished party as today's Republicans.  

Yet I wonder why it is that Mitt Romney wants the job.  

I'm assuming that he is mature enough to the know that it isn't winning, but serving as President that's important.  (Not sure if that was true of George W.)  

It's not as Romney hasn't told us what he'll do.  He has.  Endlessly.  And often in contradiction to what he said before.

But are any of these ideas and policies really enough to motivate someone for the most difficult job on Earth?  (I'm not sure that it really is more difficult than, say, being a sandhog, or painting the top of the towers on the Golden Gate bridge, or being a fighter pilot in combat, or even serving as a Supreme Court justice, but it's a really big job.)  Is freeing business from the yoke of government regulation, or reducing taxes on the wealthy really enough to inspire a person to go through the tortuous work of running for President?    Is turning Medicare over to the insurance companies and Medicaid to the tender mercies of the state so thrilling?  Is getting government out of our hair but not out of our bedrooms or bodies enough?  Maybe, but I don't see it.

If you have any thoughts on why Mitt Romney wants to be president, pass them along.  It's our policy to publish all comments that are not unintelligible, spam, scurrilous or sufficiently defamatory to make us liable in a court of law.    

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mitt deconstructed

The real Mitt Romney revealed by.......David Brooks?

"If elected, he promises to bring all Americans together and make them feel inferior."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Campaigning makes you stupid

Well, not the campaigning, but the overweening ambition that leads one to campaign for high office.

Today's example:  ABC reports that Paul Ryan "now supports Mitt Romney's softer position [on abortion] now that he shares the GOP presidential ticket because 'it's a good step in the right direction.'"

Paul Ryan is an intelligent man.  True, Paul Krugman has demolished the idea that Ryan is a serious man when it comes to national economic policy (he just plays one on the floor of Congress), but he is certainly intelligent.  So, what is he doing making a dumb statement like the one that ABC quoted?

What does Ryan mean that changing his position is "a good step in the right direction?"  Does he mean that he realizes he's been wrong, that women should be given control of their own bodies when they are pregnant due to rape or incest?  Apparently not, because if he felt that way, he and Gov. Romney would have called for the Republican platform committee to soften  the plank on abortion.  

Ryan must meant that by adopting Romney's position--whether or not he believes in it--he hopes to increase the chances that he and Mitt will be elected.  Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to win--if Ryan didn't he should find a new line of work.  But he has presented  his stand on abortion as one of principle.  And it's not a good idea to let the voters know that you'll abandon principle to get elected, especially when you do it with such ease.  People might get ideas about a candidate like that.  They might think he is just another politician--a thought that will reduce the likelihood that the Republican team will be the people's choice  in November.  

Todd Akin is in the mainstream...

of the Republican Party.  As Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in today's Times:
As an orator, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri may stand out for his clumsiness.  But as a legislator, Mr. Akin has a record on abortion that is largely indistinguishable from those [sic] of most of his Republican House colleagues, who have viewed restricting abortion rights as one of their top priorities.
In one sense, Akin may be more sensitive than most in the Republican Party.  If he believes what he said on Sunday--scientific bilgewater though it is--he implicitly admits that rape followed by pregnancy is trauma followed by tragedy.  Those in the party who have denounced him for his inaccuracy do not, apparently, care about that:  they would forbid abortion for rape victims even though they know that pregnancy can, indeed, result.  

Akin's crime is not his ignorance so much as that he brought attention to just how inhumane the Republican position on abortion has become; that could lead to more voters taking note of how inhumane the party is on other issues.  

Worse yet, Akin has shown bad timing:  his remarks came just before the Republican Party platform committee voted to support--as the party has in the past two presidential election years--a constitutional amendment that would outlaw abortion, with no reference to exceptions even for rape or incest.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The truck is back

Scott Brown's truck is back.  It became a fixture of his Everyman-campaign-for-Senate in 2010, even though it's  a big honkin' gas guzzler (or maybe a diesel guzzler) that he bought to pull a trailer with his daughter's show horse.  Now he's got the first of what I understand will be a series of spots of him in the cab, driving.  

Leave aside the question of how unsafe it is to be talking to the camera while moving down the road.

In the first spot, Brown talks about his childhood.  It's well known that he did not have an easy one.  He summarizes the repeated moves, his mom's need to work more than one job at a time.  "Life certainly wasn't a picnic.  But I was raised to work hard, be honest and play by the rules."  

Then Brown says something that ought to be noticed:  "As tough as it was growing up, I wouldn't change a thing."  

Umm, remember how Brown told us that he had been sexually abused by a camp counselor and repeatedly beaten by a stepfather? 

So, does he really mean it when he says that he would not change a thing?  

I don't know the man--I met him once, for a few minutes, in his Washington office.  But I have a sneaking feeling that he does mean it--that at least he did when he cut that campaign spot.  Because its my impression that he is not a critical thinker, that he does not stop to consider the complexities of situations or issues, and that he may have the convenient memory that afflicts almost all of us at least some of he time--the one where we believe that what is good for us is the truth.

Does that say anything about his fitness to be in the Senate?  I leave that to you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Corporate citizenship

I've been thinking about Citizens United, and trying to be partisan.   

It's easy to say that corporations are not people (they aren't), but harder--if you stop to think about it--to say that corporations don't have First Amendment rights, or something like them.  Would we really say that General Motors should not be permitted to argue against CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards?  Or even to comment on global warming?  Surely, corporations must have some right to express views on matters involving their business interests.  And what standard can we use to winnow out protected from unprotected corporate speech?

I suggest that corporations should be permitted to comment on issues, and to support efforts directed to issues--such as referenda, even though I am uncomfortable with the idea of corporate interests participating in elections of any kind.  Still, the distinction between corporations and people--real people--is most clear when we distinguish issues from candidates.  Issues are specific; candidates who become office holders have sway over all matters that may arise.  

In this respect, one of the one-man-one-vote cases, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 580 (1964), is especially apt.  There, Chief Justice Earl Warren observed that "Citizens, not history or economic interests cast votes...people not land or trees or pastures, vote."


Something is wrong here.

Warning, this is likely to break your heart.

Two brothers, both with a disease that will kill them, but only one gets the drug that could save his life.  

Three kinds of lies

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that every person is entitled to his own opinion, but not  to his own facts.  So while, as I said yesterday, we must respect the right of the other side to its opinions, we need to call them out when they lie.  Given that that seems habitual with the Republican Party these days (interspersed with mere ignorance and prejudice), constant vigilance is needed.  

Since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to run with him, the air has been rife with contentions about Medicare, as Republicans try to turn the issue against President Obama.  As is widely known, they are doing so primarily by lying:  by maintaining that $700 in future savings in the program are cuts in it, and by implying that those cuts come from benefits.  False and false again.  

The media have reported the Romney-Ryan team's "distortions" widely, but what has been less reported is the telling detail of where the Medicare savings would come from:  Reduced payments to hospitals (including for-profit chains that are major supporters of Republican candidates) and Medicare (dis-)Advantage plans, which are huge boondoggles in which insurance companies are subsidized to provide Medicare benefits to citizens who could get them directly from the government.  Medicare Advantage plans cost the government 12 percent more than socialized medicine, err, Medicare.  Given the scale of Medicare payments, that's real money.

And so the Republicans, again, want to subsidize corporations from the public treasury.  Another example of corporate welfare that should be more widely reported.

To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington, there are three kinds of lies:  Lies, damn lies, and Republicans.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

He's for us

Campaigning for re-election, Scott Brown's slogan is "He's for us."

So, who's "us?"  And who isn't?  

Implicitly, but clearly, the "us" in question is not the coalition of people who support Brown's Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.  

Is there a subtle appeal to racism here?  Most African-American and Hispanic voters will support Warren.   (Not so clear about South Asian or Chinese-Americans.)  
Undoubtedly, most of Brown's support will come from white voters, and he probably does better among men than women (although he apparently got a lot of women's votes in 2010).   

My instinctive reaction to Brown's slogan is that it expresses an exclusionary view--you're with us or against us, you're one of us or you're one of them.  

But is that any different than what we liberals do?  Don't we separate the political world into "us" and "them?"  

We discount the legitimacy of the Republican coalition, because we believe that many, perhaps most of its members should not be such.  In What's the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank presented a Republican electorate that votes against its economic interests.  Those people--"those people"--should not be doing that, we believe.  

But why not?  Don't many liberals vote against their interests?  Don't we celebrate rich people who support Barack Obama in spite of, or even because, he would raise their taxes?  

And if some voters support Republican candidates because of social issues, is that less legitimate than those who voted for Democrats because of revulsion at the Iraq and possibly the Afghan war?  

Scott Brown's slogan seems to me to appeal to a certain anger or even rage.  And that is part of the Republican platform.  In her column today, Maureen Dowd quotes Tom Morello, a member of Paul Ryan's self-professed favorite band, Rage Against the Machine, as saying of the band's most prominent fan that, "I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta 'rage' in him.  A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment."  

I generally agree with that assessment, and I think that such feelings are wrong.  But when I say that, am I not assuming that working- and middle-class voters should sympathize with the cause of immigrants and women and gays?  That such voters should identify with workers, not management?  Yes, I am, and that's what I believe.

And yet, I ought to recognize that there is legitimacy in the beliefs of those who do not agree.  Not least because, as the shrinks say, your feelings are your feelings.  We don't need to be so morally relativist as to equate racism and sexism with color-blindness or sexual-equality to see that many of the disaffected who support the Republican Party (think of the Tea Party, for instance) have legitimate grievances, and that the narrative to which they attach themselves is at least plausible on the surface.  We may think that the story that Republicans are trying to feed the electorate does not go very far below the surface, but we cannot require voters to drill down; we can only attempt to persuade them to put in the work necessary.

And the task of persuasion is damaged by the elitism that treats members of the Tea Party and other Republican supporters who are not wealthy or members of active anti-choice and anti-abortion groups as being deluded.  We need to accept that if we have failed to reach those voters, it is our fault at least as much as it is theirs.  More, actually, because we want to reach them.

Internet petitions

Yesterday, a friend sent me a solicitation to sign an Internet petition calling for the re-enactment of the Glass-Steagall Act.  the New-Deal era regulatory framework that limited banks to, well, banking.  The petition is organized by something called  

This page has called for the re-enactment of Glass-Steagall for several months, so I might be considered and easy target for the petition.  But I did not "sign" and I shall not do so.  I've made it my policy to refrain from completing such petitions, not matter how sympathetic I might be with the position espoused.  

I think that Internet petitions are at best misguided, that often they are misleading, and in some cases they may be misleading.  In particular, I believe that many of them are directed less at expressing support for a position about an issue than to obtaining email and other personal information about the "signers."  While the data may be intended for a legitimate, even laudatory purpose, how do we know?  And how to we know that the information we volunteer will not wind up in the hands of people with whom we would not share it?  We don't.

There's something else here:  I believe that Internet petitions have no effect on political leaders.  If I were a member of Congress, I'd question the legitimacy of the signers of such a petition--how do I know that they were not made up by the organizers--and would discount completely those who are not my constituents.

Internet petitions sound like a good and easy way to express opinions, but my advice is to ignore requests to sign them.

Friday, August 17, 2012

So Paul Ryan pays a higher rate than his would-be boss

Paul Ryan released his 2010 and 2011 tax returns today.  As CBS News noted, that's one more year than Mitt Romney has let us see.  Romney does promise to release his 2011 return when it is filed, probably a few weeks before Election Day.

Ryan's returns reveal that he and his wife took in about 1/100th of what Romney showed on his tax return in 2010, but paid a higher rate--15.9% against 13.9%.  But don't expect Ryan to complain about the apparent inequity.  

(Although Ryan and his wife--almost half of the income came from investments, most in her name--received a tiny fraction of what the Romneys got in 2010, they are very close to the top tier of Americans in terms of their income.)

One more thing:  Ryan turned over seven years' worth of returns to the Romney campaign. In other words, Mr. Romney thought it necessary for him to see much more information on his prospective running mate's taxes than he is willing for us, the voters, to see about his.  Yet it is we who are making the decision about whether to employ the two gentlemen.


In a post this morning, we discussed Mitt Romney's declaration that he has paid at least 13 percent of his income in federal income taxes in each of the past 10 years.  The post probably left the impression that we disapprove of such a low rate, and that we blame Mr. Romney for paying so little.  While we believe that those with incomes at the very top of the scale should pay substantially more in taxes, there is no evidence that Mr. Romney has done anything other than to meet his legal obligations.  And if that is what he has done, then no blame should attach to him.  The blame belongs to us, for allowing such a situation to exist.  

No tax returns for you!

First, a confession.  I never watched "Seinfeld."  Always seemed like a bunch of self-involved people of the kind I avoid in real life.  This I need when I kick back to watch TV?  No.  

But even I know about the Soup Nazi.  And I couldn't help but think of him when I saw that poor Ann Romney was having to explain to NBC why her husband will not release more of his tax returns.  She began with, "There's nothing we're hiding."  Which is transparently false.  It may be that there's nothing in the hidden returns that would embarrass the Romneys, but by holding them back, they are hiding the information by not releasing them.  It's a simple matter of grammar.

Then Mrs. Romney waded in deeper.  "Have you seen how we are attacked?" she asked rhetorically.  "[T]he more we release, the more we get attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed."  

To which the only answer is, "Duh, uh."  That is what happens in this messy democracy.  And it's true that some of the inevitable attacks would be distorted and unfair.  But if her husband wants the American people to hire him as our next president, he's going to have to trust in our ability to discount the irrelevant and untrue, and to winnow out what's accurate and important.  That's what the political process is all about.  

It didn't help that Mitt Romney chose to hit back at his critics yesterday by attesting that he paid at least 13 percent of his income in taxes in the past ten years.  Then he made it worse by calling the attention to his tax returns "small-minded."  

Can the Romneys really be that out of touch with ordinary Americans?  Do they really believe that their sense of noblesse oblige will get Mitt elected?  I guess they do.  

For all of Barack Obama's mistakes, for all of the unfulfilled hopes, it is astounding to think that Romney is within 10 points in the polls.  That a man so insensitive to the lives of his fellow citizens, so obviously willing to say anything, so totally lacking in convictions could be a serious candidate for high office, to say nothing of the White House.  

Given my almost boundless faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people, I can only conclude that once those who are not political junkies start to focus on the campaign, the gap between the candidates will grow and that, by November 6th, it won't be a close race.  

 (The New York Times' story on Romney's 13-percent declaration went on to say that that is "a higher effective rate than most people pay."  Which--not for the first time--demonstrates sloppy journalism.  For while it's true that most Americans don't pay 13 percent of income (not clear whether that is gross income, "adjusted gross income" or net income, three very different concepts) in income taxes, most Americans start off by paying flat-rate taxes for Social Security and Medicare that amount to about 9 percent, with income taxes on top of that.  While income taxes are graduated, those so-called payroll taxes are not and, worse, above about $110,000 in income no further Social Security taxes are collected.  So someone like Mitt Romney pays a substantially lower tax rate for Social Security than most of us.  And while it's true that most Americans may not pay 13 percent of their income in income taxes, they probably pay more than that in total federal taxes.  Not to mention that the sting of taxes is a lot greater for those trying to support a family on $30,000, $40,000 or even $50,000 a year than it is for people like the Romneys.)  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Battle of a century

This quotation was posted on a list-serve that I get:
American industry is not free, as it once was free; American enterprise is not free; the man with only a little capital is finding it harder to get into the field; more and more impossible to compete with the big fellow.  Why?  Because the laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak.
Woodrow Wilson wrote that, in 1913.   

Still true today.  Indeed, in politics it may be worse.  In 1913, Progressives were winning their fight against entrenched political power, and the influence of wealth in politics was being limited.  Today the power of wealth is, to use a favorite word from the Romney campaign, unchained.  

When I was younger, I read about the battles of the past, but I never thought that we would have to fight them again, a hundred years on.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ah, so that's how it is

I just heard Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in a joint interview with Bob Schieffer on 60 Minutes.  In the course of the interview, Schieffer asked how many years' tax returns  Ryan had given to the Romney campaign.  "Several" was the response.  "Several."  Several is more than two--the number of returns that Romney has produced for his would-be bosses, the American people.  

So Romney has required those who would be his vice-president to produce more information about their taxes than he deigns to show the voters.  

Oh, in case  you were hoping, Paul Ryan isn't going to show you all the returns that he gave to the Romney campaign.  Like Mitt, he's going to produce two years' returns.

As I noted earlier, Romney hopes to change the game by selecting Paul Ryan--but he's still singing the same old song.

Hail Mary in August

Apparently, some Democrats believe that Paul Ryan is a dangerous pick for them, because his presence on the GOP ticket will mean the need to discuss big issues--like the deficit, Medicare, Social Security.  That view could be right, although I tend to put it along with believing in the Tooth Fairy--the one is as likely to be true as the other.

The choice of Ryan shows that the Romney campaign believed that it needed a game-changer:  something that the growing narrative about Mitt (insensitive, out-of-touch with average people, vague in his alleged ideas, ready to turn 360 degrees at a moment's notice) needed to be changed, and now.  In that, at least, I agree with the Republicans.  

Yet Ryan seems to me to be just about the worst pick that Romney could make.  Put it this way:  He would have a better chance of winning with Sarah Palin on his ticket.  
It's true that Ryan's candidacy will lead to new discussions, but they are unlikely to help Romney's candidacy.  Much, much more probable that Ryan's nomination to be--as we are endlessly reminded--a heartbeat away from the presidency will cement the view of independent voters that the Republican Party is so far out of the mainstream that it does not bear serious consideration.  Or as this page has put it in the past, that the Republicans are on the road to irrelevance.  

As one commentator on NPR put it this morning, presidential candidates normally begin on the left or right and then move to the center after locking up the nomination.  Mitt Romney has done the opposite:  in the nominating process he was the moderate, warning against the dangers of right-wing extremism (though he did not put it in those terms).  Since becoming the presumptive nominee, however, he has tacked toward the conservative wing of his party.  For a while, as his poll numbers stayed close to the President's, that strategy seemed justifiable.  As a gap began to show between them, however, Romney chose to double-down--to shore up support among those who already had nowhere to go.  It's true that he may get more enthusiastic support from some of them now, but so what?  More enthusiasm among a distinct minority of American voters will elect a president only if (a) the candidate can also carry a substantial proportion of independents and even some members of the other party or (b) the nation is so apathetic that a minority of fanatical supporters can outweigh the rest of those who will go to the polls.  The first is not true with Paul Ryan on the ticket, and although voter participation in our elections is woeful by the standards of other developed democracies, we're not so distanced from our politics that the Republican right wing can elect a president by itself.

Paul Ryan's personal story, while perfectly fine for a candidate, is not as affecting as President Obama's or Vice-President Biden's (his father was a lawyer who died when Mr. Ryan was 16; he worked selling for Oscar Meyer as a young man--apparently, he even drove the Weinermobile; he's spent a long time inside the beltway).  To judge from his speech in Norfolk yesterday (admittedly the only time this writer has heard him in more than a sound bite), his orator will not inspire.  And his ideas are way out there.  (Indeed, it is a measure of how far to the right our politics have moved that he is not considered a yahoo.)  If his place on the ticket proves to be a game-changer, it's not likely to be in favor of the Republicans.  

Normally, teams save the hail Mary for the end of the game.  The Romney campaign has thrown one before the fall campaign has really begun.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

True Colors

Sen. Scott Brown (R.MA) portrays himself as a Republican who reaches across party lines and represents all of the people of Massachusetts.  And it's true that in a limited number of instances he has voted with Democrats, notably on the Dodd-Frank Bill and the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare).  

But he's shown his true colors by vilifying the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (the state welfare agency) for sending out almost half-a-million voter registration forms to its clients.  Brown asserts that "its outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients as part of a special effort to boost one political party."  

I don't know how much the state of Florida has spent in its effort to cleanse the rolls of voters who tend to support Democratic candidates.  Or how much Pennsylvania is spending to install a voter ID system that will aid Republicans in this fall's election--even though the state has admitted in court that it knows of no instance in which one person impersonated another at the polls.  But I'd bet that those and other states that implemented measures that will restrict participation spent a lot more than Massachusetts has in trying to help people exercise their right to vote.  But Senator Brown does not care about that.  What he cares about is his political skin.  Which is what we'd expect from any political candidate.  But it would be nice if he would drop the sanctimony.

Oh, and by the way, the mailing to Massachusetts citizens was required under federal law.  

The asserted key for Brown and his allies is that the daughter of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren is the chair of the board of trustees of an organization of an organization called Demos, which represented voting-rights groups in a suit to enforce the federal Voter Registration Act of 1993.  The mailing to public-assistance recipients in Massachusetts was prompted by an interim settlement of that suit.  In other words, Brown and his allies are angry that his opponent's daughter joined in trying to enforce federal law.)