Nicholas Kristof presents an argument today that I’ve heard before, but which I struggle to understand. As the NYT columnist sees it, Mitt Romney was a “moderate and pragmatic governor,” who, his metamorphoses notwithstanding, may flip “back to his old self” in 2013.
The reassuring thing about Mitt Romney is that for most of his life he probably wouldn’t have voted for today’s Mitt Romney. […]
If we do see, as I expect we will, a reversion in the direction of the Massachusetts Romney, that’s a flip we should celebrate. Until the Republican primaries sucked him into its vortex, he was a pragmatist and policy wonk rather similar to Bill Clinton and President Obama but more conservative. (Clinton described Romney to me as having done “a very good job” in Massachusetts.) Romney was much closer to George H.W. Bush than to George W. Bush.
Kristof says we should “expect” this current version of Romney to revert back to a previous version. I think this is wildly misguided.
The premise here is that the Romney we see running for president is a ridiculous phony. Sure, he’s saying reckless right-wing things, he’s making irresponsible right-wing promises, and he’s completely rejected any sensible positions he once held, but it’s just an act to get elected. Voters should simply pay no attention to what Romney is saying, doing, proposing, and promising, since none this is sincere anyway.
This isn’t a criticism levied by Romney’s detractors; this is a defense offered by Romney’s tacit supporters.
It’s also incoherent.
To accept the premise of the argument, a voter would have to believe that every word out of Romney’s mouth for the last five years — about his policy agenda, worldview, and priorities — has been a deliberate scam. As part of an elaborate scheme to mislead the American public, Romney has chosen to become a closeted moderate. The lie will end and the centrist will reemerge just as soon as the electorate has put the presidency in his hands.
What those making this argument are actually proposing is an incredible gamble with the nation’s future. Sure, Romney says he’ll take a far-right approach to everything from the economy to entitlements, foreign policy to the judiciary, but perhaps we’re witnessing a half-decade-long ruse and everything will turn out fine.
That’s quite a risk with so much on the line.
Let me give Jonathan Bernstein’s piece in the new print issue another plug. The point of the article is important: what candidates say they’ll do is generally what they will do if elected.
Someone might want to send a copy to Nicholas Kristof.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 5, 2012
America’s recovery from recession has been so slow that it mostly doesn’t seem like a recovery at all, especially on the jobs front. So, in a better world, President Obama would face a challenger offering a serious critique of his job-creation policies, and proposing a serious alternative.
Instead, he’ll almost surely face Mitt Romney.
Mr. Romney claims that Mr. Obama has been a job destroyer, while he was a job-creating businessman. For example, he told Fox News: “This is a president who lost more jobs during his tenure than any president since Hoover. This is two million jobs that he lost as president.” He went on to declare, of his time at the private equity firm Bain Capital, “I’m very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs.”
But his claims about the Obama record border on dishonesty, and his claims about his own record are well across that border.
Start with the Obama record. It’s true that 1.9 million fewer Americans have jobs now than when Mr. Obama took office. But the president inherited an economy in free fall, and can’t be held responsible for job losses during his first few months, before any of his own policies had time to take effect. So how much of that Obama job loss took place in, say, the first half of 2009?
The answer is: more than all of it. The economy lost 3.1 million jobs between January 2009 and June 2009 and has since gained 1.2 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s nothing like Mr. Romney’s portrait of job destruction.
Incidentally, the previous administration’s claims of job growth always started not from Inauguration Day but from August 2003, when Bush-era employment hit its low point. By that standard, Mr. Obama could say that he has created 2.5 million jobs since February 2010.
So Mr. Romney’s claims about the Obama job record aren’t literally false, but they are deeply misleading. Still, the real fun comes when we look at what Mr. Romney says about himself. Where does that claim of creating 100,000 jobs come from?
Well, Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post got an answer from the Romney campaign. It’s the sum of job gains at three companies that Mr. Romney “helped to start or grow”: Staples, The Sports Authority and Domino’s.
Mr. Kessler immediately pointed out two problems with this tally. It’s “based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain,” and it “does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved.” Either problem, by itself, makes nonsense of the whole claim.
On the point about using current employment, consider Staples, which has more than twice as many stores now as it did back in 1999, when Mr. Romney left Bain. Can he claim credit for everything good that has happened to the company in the past 12 years? In particular, can he claim credit for the company’s successful shift from focusing on price to focusing on customer service (“That was easy”), which took place long after he had left the business world?
Then there’s the bit about looking only at Bain-connected companies that added jobs, ignoring those that reduced their work forces or went out of business. Hey, if pluses count but minuses don’t, everyone who spends a day playing the slot machines comes out way ahead!
In any case, it makes no sense to look at changes in one company’s work force and say that this measures job creation for America as a whole.
Suppose, for example, that your chain of office-supply stores gains market share at the expense of rivals. You employ more people; your rivals employ fewer. What’s the overall effect on U.S. employment? One thing’s for sure: it’s a lot less than the number of workers your company added.
Better yet, suppose that you expand in part not by beating your competitors, but by buying them. Now their employees are your employees. Have you created jobs?
The point is that Mr. Romney’s claims about being a job creator would be nonsense even if he were being honest about the numbers, which he isn’t.
At this point, some readers may ask whether it isn’t equally wrong to say that Mr. Romney destroyed jobs. Yes, it is. The real complaint about Mr. Romney and his colleagues isn’t that they destroyed jobs, but that they destroyed good jobs.
When the dust settled after the companies that Bain restructured were downsized — or, as happened all too often, went bankrupt — total U.S. employment was probably about the same as it would have been in any case. But the jobs that were lost paid more and had better benefits than the jobs that replaced them. Mr. Romney and those like him didn’t destroy jobs, but they did enrich themselves while helping to destroy the American middle class.
And that reality is, of course, what all the blather and misdirection about job-creating businessmen and job-destroying Democrats is meant to obscure.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 5, 2012
Thank God for elections and election years. An election gives our president, who must face the voters in November, permission to think and act like a partisan. It’s long overdue.
President Obama has boldly made key recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Republican strategy has been to destroy these agencies by failing to confirm appointees. In the case of the new CFPB, that meant nobody in charge to make key decisions to make the new bureau operational. In the case of the NLRB, it meant the lack of a quorum would paralyze the agency altogether.
In naming Richard Cordray to head the CFPB, the president has called the Republicans’ bluff. This was the agency that Elizabeth Warren invented and dearly hoped to lead. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment. When Obama passed her over in favor of the less-well-known Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and also a strong consumer advocate, Republicans blocked his confirmation, too.
The selection of Cordray, an activist very much in the spirit of Warren, is in many ways a tribute to her leadership in fighting both for a strong consumer protection agency and a strong leader to head it. Cordray is that leader. Consumers will finally have an agency to keep watch for abuses that do not only harm small borrowers but aggregate to major threats to the financial system. Had there been a consumer bureau in the Warren spirit a decade ago, it would have noticed that sub-prime loans were not only ripping off homeowners but threatening to take down the economy.
In the case of the NLRB, the agency, which protects the right of workers to organize or join a union free from employer harassment, would have been totally paralyzed. The Republicans said as much. Here’s what Obama said, in naming Richard Griffin, Sharon Block, and Terrence Flynn to vacant seats on the NLRB:
When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them. I have an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for the middle class.
Well said. These actions define a president who is leading, not searching for futile compromises. It exposes both the Republican obstructionism, the unprecedented tactic of destroying agencies by refusing to allow confirmations, as well as the Republican hostility to agencies that defend regular Americans against powerful corporate elites.
Predictably, the Republicans, having invented new forms of obstructionism such as the use of the filibuster on ordinary legislation and not special cases, as well of refusal to consent to routine extension of the debt ceiling, now cry foul when Obama uses a constitutional provision, the recess appointment, which has been conventional for presidents of both parties. Their contrivance of a fake nominal session when Congress is actually in recess is shameless. The more of a fuss they make, the more they out themselves as defenders of the one percent.
As in the case of the extension of the payroll tax cut, this conciliatory president seems to be warming to the concept of maximizing partisan advantage, particularly when the Republicans hand him opportunities on a platter. Just to make sure that message did not lost, Obama chose Cordray’s hard-pressed home state of Ohio for his announcement of the appointment, and painted Republican obstructionists as allies of Wall Street.
The citizenry loves a fighter far more than a punching bag. The right hates Obama. In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, he might as well earn that hatred.
By: Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, January 5, 2011
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is so dull that he could benefit from an eye-popping scandal because it would help tear down his plastic image and make him look more normal, according to national pollster John Zogby.
“This is the one instance where a groping incident could help a candidate,” said Zogby, in a reference to the scandal that torpedoed former GOP candidate Herman Cain’s campaign.
He said it could be the missing “leveling experience” for Romney that would make him look more human. Zogby explained that many stiff, rich men have run for office and won, but they typically had a humbling moment that made them more likeable. He gave former President George W. Bush’s alcoholism as an example of that leveling experience.
“His problem is an authenticity problem,” said Zogby of Romney, who today released his New Hampshire tracking poll that has Romney far in front. “He’s the kid who never colored outside the lines,” said the pollster.
Zogby said Romney needs to find a way to connect with an unethusiastic party that wants to vote with its brain and heart. But, he warned, he shouldn’t try to do that with a policy speech or new position. “Likability,” he said, “is a lot more than an issue.”
He echoed charges from competing campaigns and President Obama’s advisor David Axelrod that Romney’s 25 percent finish in the Iowa caucuses was an example of how he’s failed to expand his personal base of voters from the amount he received in the 2008 caucuses.
Romney, Zogby said, spent “a lot of time, money and energy to get where he was already.”
By: Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 5, 2012
Here is an actual Rick Santorum quote: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” And also, “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
These comments were not dug up from some bygone moment of ideological purity, before dreams of a presidential campaign. He said them in October, to a blogger at CaffeinatedThoughts.com (they met at Des Moines’ Baby Boomers Cafe).
It’s pretty basic: Rick Santorum is coming for your contraception. Any and all of it. And while he may not be alone in his opposition to non-procreative sex, he is certainly the most honest about it — as he himself acknowledged in the interview.
This is important, because while reproductive rights are always cast in terms of pro or against a woman’s right to an abortion and in what circumstances, even liberals are surprised to find out what social conservatives really want to do about contraception. Liberals are even willing to cast the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood and all Title X programs (a position that has become mainstream in Republican circles) as an abortion issue, when it is actually about contraception. (The Hyde Amendment already bans almost all federal abortion funding.) So is this about “babies” or is this about sex? Rick Santorum isn’t even pretending it’s (only) about childbearing.
Speaking to ABC News’ Jake Tapper, Santorum recently reaffirmed his opposition to Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that struck down a ban on discussing or providing contraception to married couples, and established a right to privacy that would later be integral to Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas. (It is generally better-known how Santorum feels about gay people.) That would be the case where the majority asked, “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.” Rick Santorum disagrees. He thinks, using the currently popular states’ rights parlance, that “the state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a constitutional right, the state has the right to pass whatever statues they have.” This is a view Santorum has held at least since 2003.
The trouble with this is that not only have more than 99 percent of sexually active women used at least one form of birth control, helping people get access to birth control is actually a popular issue. According to a June survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 82 percent of Americans actually want to expand access to birth control for women who cannot afford it, while only 16 percent were opposed.
Santorum isn’t alone. Five of the current or former Republican presidential candidates signed the Personhood Pledge (though unlike Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul added some caveats to their support). Mitt Romney told Mike Huckabee he’d support an amendment saying life begins at conception — which Personhood folks interpret as the fertilization of an egg, meaning that contraceptives like the IUD and sometimes even the pill are murderous. (Good luck figuring out what Romney actually thinks on that one.)
Santorum just happens to be happiest putting it at the top of the agenda. In the Caffeinated Thoughts video, he promises that “all those issues are going to be front and center with me,” and says, ”I know most presidents don’t talk about these things and maybe people don’t want us to talk about these things. But I think it’s important that you are who you are… these are important public policy issues.” Among those important public policy issues: Sex for fun. In the same video, Santorum bemoans sex becoming “deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.”
Many people don’t want them to talk about these things because it shows the true colors of what social conservatives wish for this country, which is very different from what Americans wish for themselves. Maybe the near-win in Iowa yesterday is the end of the road for Santorum, and maybe no one will ever succeed by openly suggesting a contraception ban that would send the condom police into America’s bedrooms. But that’s clearly the world Santorum wants, and it’s one that is entirely consistent with the antiabortion movement’s goals. That would be the same movement that over the past year decided it had a mandate in states across the country, the same one that demanded endless obeisance from the Republican candidates in Iowa this year — and mostly got it.
By: Irin Carmon, Salon, January 4, 2012