The great German filmmaker Werner Herzog has an illuminating formulation to describe his unorthodox way of making documentaries. There is, Herzog says, an “accountant’s truth,” and there is an “ecstatic truth.”
Herzog is all about seeking the latter, as he explained to Slate magazine:
In his own nonfiction films, Herzog wants to tell stories and he doesn’t feel beholden to fact. His approach to documentary is an alternative to cinema vérité, the observational aesthetic that proceeds “as if presenting facts was everything.” Just because something is factually true, he argues, “it does not constitute truth per se.” Herzog likes to respond to and collaborate with his subjects; if he bends fact—by inventing dialogue, for instance—it is to the ends of “truth.” The Manhattan phone directory provides millions of correct entries, he says, “but it doesn’t inspire you”; in the film, he says it doesn’t tell you what Manhattanites dream. Instead of fact, which is the “accountant’s truth,” he is after the kind of “ecstatic truth” available to poetry: “These moments are rare but I’m trying to find them, which is why I have had different goals from some of my colleagues.”
Which “truth” is former Gov. Mitt Romney going to tell about President Barack Obama’s administration: the accountant’s truth or the ecstatic truth?
Romney telling an accountant’s truth would sound something like his interview with radio host Laura Ingraham, wherein President Obama inherited a bad economy that has improved modestly despite, not because of, the efforts of his administration:
The economy always gets better after a recession, there is always a recovery. There’s never been a time anywhere in the world where an economy has never recovered. The question is, has it recovered by virtue of something the president’s done or has he delayed the recovery and made it more painful?
To stick with the Herzog formulation, Romney is here reciting the political equivalent of the Manhattan phone directory—uninspiring, to say the least.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s success, such as it is, lies in his willingness to tell what conservatives would consider the “ecstatic truth”: that Obama is a radical un-American to his core; that he is anti-work and pro-dependency.
Savvy conservatives know very well that telling the accountant’s truth about Obama is not going to be enough to defeat him, and they’re worried that Romney isn’t mean enough to deliver the necessary payload of ecstasy.
I think this fear is misplaced.
If you had asked me a couple months ago, I would’ve said (actually, I did say) there are places Romney just won’t go in order to get himself elected. I no longer believe that. He was posturing all along—trying to remain above the fray for as long as he could. After South Carolina, that became untenable. The Romney campaign’s self-described “destruction” of Gingrich in Florida is an indication of how much he means business.
Whether enough Americans are going to buy the ecstatic truth from an uncharismatic plutocrat with a strange-seeming religion is an open question. But I have no doubt that Romney will try to sell it.
By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, January 30, 2012
This morning, Jonathan Adler, a contributing editor to The National Review Online, asks:
Why is it that hardly anyone — not the media nor the other candidates — directly challenge Gingrich’s claim to have a conservative record?
I’m going to gently suggest to Mr. Adler that the blame lies with his fellow conservatives, who until recently were loath to question Gingrich’s party bona fides.
Here’s Rich Lowry, the Review’s editor(!), crowning Gingrich “the party’s most important intellectual table-setter.”
And here’s a Gallup survey from 2009, confirming that Lowry’s opinion was widely shared; After Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney, Republican voters chose Gingrich as the “main person who speaks for the Republican Party today.”
I have no dog in this fight — I think Gingrich and Romney are equally, dangerously conservative — but It seems a little odd to question the credentials of the guy who wielded so much power within the party. Maybe conservatives are just embarrassed to have backed a loose cannon for so long?
By: Elon Green, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 29, 2012
The Republicans chose Mitch Daniels to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union speech. They chose Bush’s budget director to talk about the economy. The guy who inherited the Clinton budget surplus and transformed it into the largest budget deficit in American history. If you want to understand how clueless and out of touch the Republican Party has become, all you have to do is start with their having chosen Mitch Daniels to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union speech.
Republican insiders are freaked out over the possibility of Newt Gingrich becoming their presidential standard bearer. That’s the technical term: freaked out. And that they are so freaked out over that possibility at least speaks to their not having completely lost touch with reality. They have completely lost touch with the American people, but they haven’t completely lost touch with reality. Not completely. At least not yet. But in light of their support for the personification of so much that is so wrong and so unpopular in this country as alternative to Gingrich, their prospects for retaining at least a partial grip on reality are not good. And they did choose Mitch Daniels to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union speech. Which speaks for itself.
The Occupy movement is not overtly political, at least not in the traditional sense of that word. It does not adhere to any political party or any individual political movement, but it is symbiotic with many political movements, and its goals align very well with traditional Democratic Party populism. The Democratic Party has been adrift from its populist traditions, and in many ways that made the Occupy movement necessary, but many Democrats seem to be recognizing what is happening. They seem to be rediscovering the Democratic Party’s populist tradition. The Republican Party has no link at all to populism. The Republican Party, since at least the Reagan era, has been the party of the economic elite, waging neoliberal class warfare and then feigning outrage at what Republicans consider to be the class warfare of merely calling the Republican Party on its actually waging class warfare.
Since the Reagan era, the income gap has exploded, the wealthy have grown wealthier, the poor have grown poorer, the middle class has all but disappeared, and the nation has grown increasingly segregated by income. And while President Obama’s State of the Union speech emphasized the degree to which he understands the importance of the Occupy movement and how it has changed the economic conversation in this country, the Republicans chose Bush Budget Director Mitch Daniels to speak on their behalf, thus demonstrating that they remain utterly clueless about what has gone wrong with the economy, how people feel about what has gone wrong with the economy, and how anything about the economy will ever again go right. While President Obama’s State of the Union speech emphasized the degree to which he understands the importance of the Occupy movement by announcing the appointment of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the corporate crimes that neoliberal deregulation made inevitable, and that inevitably crashed the economy, the Republicans chose to demonstrate that they remain utterly clueless about what has gone wrong with the economy by having Bush Budget Director Mitch Daniels repeat the same stale failed Republican recipe of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, and the class warfare of feigning outrage at the alleged class warfare of calling for economic fairness and justice.
No one will openly admit it, but part of the Republican rationale for having Mitch Daniels rebut President Obama’s State of the Union speech was that he is the choice of many supposedly serious Republicans to make a late entry into the presidential race, or possibly to prevail at a brokered convention. There are actually some Republicans who understand that neither the gruesome Gingrich nor the unprincipled Romney is likely to catch political fire with the voting public. What these Republicans haven’t figured out is why. Because Republican insiders haven’t figured out that the American people are angry at and fed up with a stagnating economy and increasingly obscene income and wealth disparities. The American people don’t want handouts, but they do want a social safety net. But more than anything the American people just want a fair chance. They want to know that if they work hard and obey the laws, they will do better than maybe scraping by. They want to know that if they are taken advantage of by unscrupulous, greedy, politically connected corporations, there will be justice. They want their children and grandchildren to have at least the same, and preferably better, opportunities than they had. In the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the known history of the human race, those goals shouldn’t be considered excessive or but unrealistic fantasies, but to the Republicans those goals not only are unthinkable; they are class warfare.
The Republicans continue to promote policies that hurt people. The Republicans continue to promote policies that will only enrich the already rich while making life more difficult for everyone else. Not many still believe that if the Republicans and their wealthy friends and owners throw a lavish feast, enough crumbs will trickle down to the floor to nourish everyone else. But that’s all the Republicans have to offer. And even their usual means of convincing people to vote against their own best interests won’t work.
Under President Obama, accused terrorists have been caught and killed; one war has been drawn down, if not quite ended; and while not perfect, there is an obvious basic competency in foreign policy and national security. Republican fear-mongering fails. On the domestic front, the Republicans are finding it no longer works to exploit and exacerbate hatred and bigotry. So they turn to the economy. Because no one is happy with the economy. But the problem for the Republicans is that the public well understands who is to blame for the economy, and that someone is named Bush. And then the Republicans decide the perfect person to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union speech is Bush’s former budget director, Mitch Daniels.
The Republicans assume people have very short attention spans. Maybe because so much of their base does. But the fact is that Mitch Daniels played an instrumental role in turning President Clinton’s record federal budget surplus into the largest ever federal deficit. Mitch Daniels disastrously underestimated the cost of Bush’s disastrous war on Iraq. Mitch Daniels helped Bush downgrade the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the years immediately before the Hurricane Katrina disaster. And with the American public increasingly focused on unemployment and income disparity, in his current job as governor of the state that once sent the execrable Dan Quayle to the U.S. Senate, Mitch Daniels is busy waging war on workers. Mitch Daniels played a key role in creating some the worst disasters created by any U.S. president ever, and yet when it comes time to rebut the State of the Union speech given by the president who is leading the tentative recovery from those disasters, it is to Mitch Daniels that the Republicans turn. Mitch Daniels played a key role in creating some the worst disasters ever created by any U.S. president, and yet when it comes time to find a candidate to run against the president who is leading the tentative recovery from those disasters, it is to Mitch Daniels that many supposedly serious Republicans would like to turn.
A lot of Republican insiders are frightened for their party’s future. They should be. But not for the reasons they think. Newt Gingrich is not what’s wrong with the Republican Party. Mitt Romney is not what’s wrong with the Republican Party. That New Gingrich and Mitt Romney are the leading candidates to carry the Republican Party’s standard against President Obama is not what’s wrong with the Republican Party. That Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are the leading candidates to carry the Republican Party’s standard against President Obama is but a symptom of what’s wrong with the Republican Party. The problem runs wider. The problem runs deeper. The problem is simple. The problem with the Republican Party is the Republican Party.
By: Lawrence Lewis, Daily Kos, January 29, 2012
I’ve always had a soft spot for Mitt Romney, who strikes me, in a way I can’t completely define, as a good guy. The fact that he is an audacious liar does not strike me as a definitive judgment on his character, but primarily a reflection of the circumstances he finds himself in – having to transition from winning a majority of a fairly liberal electorate to winning a majority of a rabidly conservative one, one that cannot be placated without indulging in all sorts of fantasies.
So I do understand David Frum’s sympathy for Romney. What I don’t quite get is Frum’s claim that Romney is not an audacious liar. He made this claim in a joint interview we gave on Canadian television, and again the other day in the Daily Beast:
Mitt Romney cares a great deal about speaking accurately and truthfully. He uses statistics carefully in his speeches and debates, unlike former leading rival Rick Perry.
He eschews the audacious somersaulting of reality we often hear from current rival Newt Gingrich …
So long as we are in the world of facts and specifics, Romney has shown himself scrupulous not to overstate or misrepresent. Even where he has changed his mind, on abortion for example, you’ll see no equivalent of the glaring disregard for the factual record of a Ron Paul
Really? It seems to me that Romney makes factual, specific claims that are false all the time. Some of them are minor, daily stories, such as his denials, when convenient, that he knows anything about the ads he is running against Newt Gingrich. Others are obvious attempts to mislead the public about his own history:
When first asked as a 1994 US Senate candidate about records showing him voting in the 1992 Democratic primary, Romney said he couldn’t recall for whom he voted.
Then Romney told the Globe he voted for Tsongas because he preferred his ideas to his then-opponent for the nomination, Bill Clinton. Later, he added that it was proof he was not a partisan politician.
Yet in 2007, while making his first run for president, Romney offered a new explanation: He said he voted for Tsongas as a tactical maneuver, aiming to present the “weakest opponent” possible for Bush.
Or important components of the claims that undergird his policy arguments:
At last night’s debate, for instance, Romney claimed that Obama “went before the United Nations” and “said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip.”
These are just a couple of examples plucked from the last day of campaigning. There is an endless supply, large and small. Romney’s whole line of attack against Obama rests upon facts that are verifiably false. His main foreign policy indictment is a lie that Obama went around the world apologizing for the United States – this is the basis for his slogan that he “believes in America,” as well as the title of his campaign book, No Apology. His domestic indictment of Obama rests upon his ludicrous claims that Obama “has no jobs plan” and his repeated, specific assertion that Obama wants to create full equality of outcome.
Even by the standards of politicians, Romney seems unusually prone to dishonesty. Again, you can ascribe this to circumstance rather than character. I see him as a patrician pol, like George H.W. Bush, who believes deeply in public service but regards elections as a cynical process of pandering to rubes. I think you can plausibly make other interpretations, and you can separate Romney the man or even Romney the president from Romney the candidate. But I don’t see how you can paint Romney the candidate as in any way scrupulous about the truth in any form.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, January 27, 2012
America is almost four weeks into the voting stage of the Republican presidential race. The candidates are debating. The media is covering the competition 24/7, and in such minute detail that Rick Perry’s quitting of the contest was treated as news. And Republicans in three states have caucused and voted in numbers that party leaders, pundits and the talk-radio amen corner tell us are significant.
Yet at the same time, those same party leaders, pundits and radio talkers continue to dismiss the movement to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as a false construct with little real hope of prevailing.
Fair enough, let’s compare.
Since January 3, Republican caucuses have been held in Iowa (with an electorate of 2,231,589), and Republican primaries have been held in New Hampshire (electorate of 998,799) and South Carolina (electorate of 3,385,224).
That adds up to a total electorate of 6,615,612 in the trio of first- (and second- and third-) in-the-nation states.
That adds up to a total turnout of 971,093, or about 14.5 percent of the possible voters in the three states.
And what of Wisconsin?
The state has an electorate of 4,170,501.
The United Wisconsin petition drive to recall anti-labor Governor Scott Walker collected significantly more than 1 million signatures.
Rounding to a million, that’s about 23.9 percent of the possible voters in the state.
So here’s what we know:
1. If you add up all the caucus and primary votes that have been cast so far for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, the former Rick Perry, the former Jon Huntsman, the former Michele Bachmann and the eternal Buddy Roemer, they still have not attracted as much support as has the drive to recall Scott Walker.
2. If you compare the percentage of the electorate in the three caucus and primary states that has expressed support for all the Republicans who would be president, it is dramatically lower than the percentage of the Wisconsin electorate that wants to recall Scott Walker.
3. If you add the total number of names on petitions filed January 17 to recall other Republicans in Wisconsin—Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and three of Fitzgerald’s colleagues—the total number of signatures filed in support of the recall of Walker and his cronies is close to 1,940,000. That figure is just about double the number of votes cast in all the Republican presidential contests for all the Republican presidential candidates so far this year.
Conclusion: if the Republican presidential race is a serious endeavor, the Wisconsin drive to recall Scott Walker, Rebecca Kleefisch, Scott Fitzgerald and their compatriots is doubly serious. And far, far more popular with the available electorate.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, January 28, 2012