It’s been a long time since the country elected a man as personally unappealing as Mitt Romney. Will Americans overlook their deeply held conviction that he’s a jerk?
Very few votes are going to be cast on the basis of what Mitt Romney did or didn’t do to John Lauber in 1965. So that, per se, isn’t Romney’s problem. But this is: The story lands as another brick on pile of evidence amassing that he’s just a disagreeable human being. A few days ago I wrote about Barack Obama’s biggest problem, which is that despite all the many areas in which Americans rate him higher than Romney, the one on which they give Romney the edge happens to be pretty important: handling the economy. Now we get to Romney’s biggest problem. The likability factor. He ain’t got it. And he ain’t got much of a way to get it.
Historical question: When is the last time the clearly less likeable candidate beat the clearly more likeable one for the White House? The answer is, a long time. I put the question to Gallup, which didn’t have historical numbers at hand. But doing some noodling around on my own suggests that you have to go back to 1968 to find such a result.
In 2004, George W. Bush generally led the likeable category. Pew emailed me some numbers—they had Bush leading John Kerry on likeability by 47 to 36 percent in September 2004. Interestingly, Kerry caught up and even went ahead after the first debate. But even so, voters judged both very likeable—70 percent for Kerry, and 65 percent for Bush. In 2000, Bush usually topped Al Gore, but not by massive margins. An October 2000 poll gave Bush an 11-point margin. Pew had a nine-point margin for Bush around the same time.
Before then, numbers get a little harder to come by. But crusty old Bob Dole was surely not considered more likeable than Bill Clinton in 1996. The 1992 Clinton-George H.W. Bush matchup was probably close. But just think back over the elections. The “wooden” Michael Dukakis in 1988 wasn’t exactly radiating intense bonhomie. Ronald Reagan was extremely likeable on a personal level to most people. Jimmy Carter had that big smile in 1976. Et cetera. As I say, I would imagine that it’s 1968, when the surly Dick beat the Happy Warrior, although by just a half million votes out of more than 70 million cast. But even Nixon was probably not clearly less likeable than Humphrey. After all, he’d been the vice president, he’d been on the national stage for nearly 20 years; the man definitely had his backers.
Romney, though? This is the biggest washout of modern times, folks. Gallup just this week put the likeability ratings at Obama 60, Romney 31. It’s not that Obama’s number is unusually high. Look back at those Kerry-Bush numbers. Americans are an open-hearted lot, at least presumptively, so they want to like the guy who’s going be the president. But they Do. Not. Like. Mitt. Romney.
It would be more interesting for all of us if there were some great mystery here, but there isn’t. He reeks of privilege. Every time he says something off the cuff he says something obnoxious. Corporations are people, pal. I like firing people. Where on earth did you get those Godforsaken cookies?
He also—and this actually is interesting, because it’s something our normal public discourse does not like to admit or allow for—is way too rich. We’re constantly told that Americans don’t have any class envy, and compared to some European nations they don’t. But even Americans have limits. A few million, even $50 million; okay. But a quarter billion dollars? A house with an elevator . . . for the cars? It also matters to people how the money was made. It’s okay to be worth a gajillion dollars if you’re Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and have made everyone’s lives more interesting and cooler. But what’s Mitt Romney done? Helped give us Domino’s Pizza.
Even so, Romney might still pass muster, but he has no grasp of the one crucial reality of class in America: you can be filthy rich as long as you don’t look or act like it. Gates doesn’t comb his hair, much. Jobs wore sneakers. Romney just looks too pressed. Even when he’s wearing those jeans. You can look at Romney on television and practically sense how he smells—of costly ablutions whose brand names the rest of us probably don’t even know. And he acts relentlessly rich.
And this brings us back to the Cranbrook School incident. We might have learned from The Washington Post this week that Romney gallantly interceded on poor Lauber’s behalf. Or even, maybe, that he did the awful deed, but a few years later he got in touch with Lauber to say, “Gee, old scout, went a bit overboard there.” Or even that he acknowledged to one of his confederates that he regretted the incident. In other words, we might have learned something that showed he knows he behaved like an asshole. But all we learned is that he behaved like an asshole and is now pretending to forget it. A jerk is one thing. But a jerk who takes no responsibility for his jerkitude is pretty much the definition of an unlikeable person.
No human being is one dimensional. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the world for whom Mitt has performed kindnesses. I expect we’ll be getting to know every single one of them in these next few months, too, in heavily filtered television ads in which the men wear proletarian flannel and the women’s St. John blazers are kept safely in the closet. All I can say is they’d better be more likeable than their candidate—for his sake. In the meantime, there’s something very reassuring about this country reposing in those numbers, that the black guy with the weird name who’s been called everything under the sun is twice as likeable as the rich white guy. This is the America that drives the wingers crazy, but that the rest of us—the majority—live in, and love.
BY: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 13, 2012
People always say good health is the greatest gift, so let’s make health a priority this Mother’s Day. Now that I am a mother myself, I am even more appreciative that I have health insurance that covers the care I need. All moms deserve the kind of quality, affordable care that I was lucky enough to receive while pregnant and postpartum, and Obamacare is working to make that dream a reality.
While pregnant, what did I need the most—that is, besides a foot massage? Maternity care, of course. My prenatal visits reassured me that my pregnancy was progressing as it should and my insurance allowed me to use the provider of my choosing, labor in the setting I wanted, and get the emergency care I ultimately needed. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of plans in the individual health insurance market currently offer maternity coverage. Thankfully, starting in 2014, Obamacare will require all new health plans to cover maternity care as the essential health service that it is.
Needing an emergency C-section was the first sign that I was no longer calling the shots. It’s fine if my son has his own plans, but not the insurance industry. Insurers currently can deny women coverage for specific health services or entire plans due to gender-related “pre-existing conditions” such as Cesarean sections, breast cancer, domestic violence, and sexual assault. The idea that my surgery could disqualify me from obtaining coverage on the open insurance market is both absurd and deeply offensive. But this discriminatory practice becomes illegal under Obamacare in 2014.
After my son was born, my pediatrician’s office began to feel like a second home with the amount of time I had to spend there his first year. I am lucky enough to have a low co-pay that I can afford, but for far too many families those co-pays are not just a minor inconvenience. Obamacare ensures that families can afford to bring their children in for vaccinations and other routine visits by eliminating cost sharing, such as co-pays or deductibles, for well-baby and well-child care.
Whoever said breastfeeding comes naturally? Like so many of my peers, I was surprised to encounter all sorts of difficulties with nursing. I relied heavily on my local breastfeeding center to help me diagnose and address the problems I had, an expensive but incredibly helpful service. Had I not been able to afford those hefty out-of-pocket fees, there is no way I could have continued nursing my son, providing him with valuable antibodies and nutrients and strengthening the mother-child bond. The good news is that this August, nursing mothers in new health insurance plans will receive no-cost coverage for lactation supports that include counseling and equipment.
Nursing moms who return to work also will benefit, as I did, from the requirement that large employers provide breaks and a private space for expressing breast milk. I was very thankful for this provision, especially when I heard the horror stories of women who were forced to pump in a bathroom stall or in their cars—or those who were fired for requesting pumping breaks. With such obstacles in place, it is no wonder that only 36 percent of U.S. infants are breastfed past six months, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing through the first year. Obamacare should help that rate finally improve.
Despite these amazing benefits and more, the health reform law is under siege. It risks being overturned by the Supreme Court or repealed by conservative politicians. This Mother’s Day, let’s give moms a gift that is truly important and will really last. Let’s do everything we can to make sure Obamacare is fully implemented and remains the law of the land.
By: Jessica Arons, Center For American Progress, May 11, 2012
Barack Obama’s mother died on Nov. 7, 1995, a few weeks before her 53rd birthday. She was less than two years older than the president is now. Her death from uterine cancer came between two key events in her son’s life. Four months earlier “Dreams From My Father” had been published; it seemed destined to drown unnoticed in the deep ocean of books. One year later Obama won his first election, to the Illinois state Senate, the initial stop on his swift journey to the White House that, along the way, brought a mass audience to that forgotten memoir, which in its best-selling revival defined his political image and provided him with lifelong financial security.
The title of the book was at once understandable and misleading. Obama barely knew his father except in dreams, or nightmares. He spent time with the old man only once, when he was 10, for an unsatisfying month. It is harsh to say but nonetheless likely that Barack Obama II was lucky never to have lived with Barack Obama Sr., an abusive alcoholic. By far the most influential figures in Obama’s early life were his mother and grandmother. He has some of the demeanor of his grandmother and the will and much of the outlook of his mother. “Dreams From My Mother” better evokes his life’s story.
She was a woman of many names. Born Stanley Ann Dunham, she assumed, as most people did, that her unusual first name was imposed by her father. An uncle tells a different story, attributing the choice to Madelyn Dunham, Stanley Ann’s mother, who as a small-town Kansas girl yearned to emulate Bette Davis, the sophisticated actress she saw on the big screen at the air-conditioned Augusta Theater. While Madelyn was pregnant, Davis was starring in a movie in which she played a female character named Stanley. (As it happened, no two people could have been less alike than Madelyn’s daughter and this film character, who was cruel, cunning and racist.) Stanley Ann became Stannie Ann in grade school, Stanley in high school and, finally, Ann in adulthood. Her last name changed as often, from Dunham to Obama to Soetoro to a final spelling of Sutoro.
By any name, she was a searcher. She married a Kenyan and an Indonesian (both marriages collapsed; the first quickly, the second slowly) and spent most of her adult life overseas. She was constantly on the move. She earned a doctorate in anthropology and had an anthropologist’s nature as a participant observer, a character trait shared by her son. She was fascinated by other cultures and ways of living. A polyglot, she could speak Bahasa Indonesia fluently and had a working knowledge of Urdu, Hindi, Javanese, French and Latin. There was never a foreign film she did not want to see, a batik dress she did not want to wear, a mythology she did not wish to understand. In Indonesia, where she spent most of her adult life, she became obsessed with the work of rural blacksmiths, who were said to forge human souls. She devoted herself later to helping Javanese women maintain their handicraft livelihoods in a male-dominated society that practiced what she called “the gentle oppression” of women. She would wake up before dawn every morning and, in notebooks with the black-and-white speckled covers, record her travels, her encounters and her hopes for people, including her only son.
Barack Obama’s relationship with his mother was complicated. She called him Barry or Bar (sounds like bear). She pushed him to be serious and to look at people with empathy. He always felt protective of her, according to his memoir. He describes a scene in which she told him that she intended to marry Lolo Soetoro and that, after the marriage, they would all live in Indonesia. As Obama recalls it, he turned to her and asked, “But do you love him?” — a question that made her chin tremble. It was, at the least, precocious. At the time he was only only 31 / 2. But it was also in keeping with one of the themes that weaves through his dealings with his mother over the years — that she was naive and idealistic, sometimes too good for her own good. In the journal that his New York girlfriend, Genevieve Cook, kept during their time together in the early 1980s, Cook wrote, “Told me the other night of having pushed his mother away over past 2 years in an effort to extract himself from the role of supporting man in her life — she feels rejected and has withdrawn somewhat.”
Ann once joked that she had children with a Kenyan and an Indonesian so that the kids would not have light skin and get sunburns. She herself looked like a Kansas schoolmarm, she noted, which made it easy for her to sail through Customs during her foreign comings and goings. Barry, the hapa Kenyan, and his little sister Maya, the hapa Indonesian, could never say the same. The mother and her two children struggled to find their identities, but in very different ways. Ann found hers through her work and travels, a lifestyle that, among other things, meant she and her son were apart for most of his adolescence, he in Honolulu with his grandparents, she in Indonesia. The search for identity was more psychological for her children, something that Maya said her mother must have understood but never fully acknowledged. In her career, Ann was idealistic but not naive. If she at times came across as naive to her children, it was in the role of a mother not wanting her children to suffer.
“She made sure that laughter was the prevailing form of communication and that nothing ever became acrimonious and that everything was pretty and everything was sacred,” Maya told me during an interview. “Maybe she didn’t want us to suffer with identity. She wanted us to think of it as a gift. The fact that we were multilayered and multidimensional and multiracial — it meant that she was perhaps unprepared when we did struggle with issues of identity. She was not really able to help us grapple with that in any nuanced way. Perhaps she felt that if she did acknowledge the difficulty of it, she would feel guilty.”
No guilt on Mother’s Day. Barack Obama’s mother, by any name, did not live to see her son’s rise, but she shaped the essence of this president.
By: David Maraniss, The Washington Post Opinions, May 11, 2012
Richard Lugar’s loss in Tuesday night’s primary has been heralded by commenters on both sides of the aisle as a harbinger of doom for moderate Republicans. The conventional wisdom has quickly congealed: Lugar lost because he voted for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court candidates, worked with Obama on an arms control treaty, and was generally not partisan enough for a GOP dominated by the Tea Party.
That interpretation is plausible. But it’s not the only, or even the most likely scenario. There’s a high probability that Richard Lugar lost because he was 80 years old, didn’t keep a house in Indiana, ran an indifferent—at best—campaign, and focused on foreign policy rather than bringing home benefits to his state. But the first reading is the one that will be accepted by the press and, more importantly, by Republican politicians. Everyone is biased to believe that Lugar lost because of an ideological purge—and the acceptance of that interpretation will unfortunately further encourage Republican Members of Congress to stick as closely as possible to the rejectionist ideologues who run the GOP.
There’s a long history of foreign policy experts in the Senate finding that their constituents care a lot more about goodies for the state than accounting for loose nukes in the former Soviet Union (or whatever national security issue is on the table). And a Roll Call story by Shira Toeplitz a week before the vote made a good case that Lugar, like many aging legislators who hadn’t needed to engage in a serious campaign in years, had no idea how to run a modern campaign.
Why is there such a strong bias to accept the other interpretation? Movement conservatives, of course, want to claim credit for defeating Lugar; they’d like to use that story to pressure politicians into ideological orthodoxy. Individuals and organizations within that movement, too, have an interest in acquiring a reputation for being giant-killers. Oddly enough, partisan Democrats also prefer this narrative: It’s much better for fundraising to tell your donors that you’re competing with a powerful extremist movement than to tell them that some out-of-touch Republican senator lost.
Who else? Washington-based centrists love Dick Lugar. Therefore, they’d prefer to pin the loss on outside forces and crazy ideologues than to find any fault with Lugar’s own behavior. Nor do they want to accept the perhaps sad reality that part of the price for foreign policy leadership may be that constituents won’t care about your accomplishments. The national press gets a better storyline, too. In Indiana, “what happened to Richard Lugar?” might make a compelling headline, but from a national perspective a continuing story of conservative purges is far more exciting than a one-off about a Senator who may be a Washington institution but isn’t very well-known outside the Beltway.
There is one person, though, who has an incentive to play up the “out-of-touch” version of events: Richard Mourdock, the guy who won. After all, he’s now a general election candidate, and whatever he wants to be known for down the line (and whatever he said during the nomination campaign), right now he wants to win votes of moderate Republicans. However, Mourdock may well believe the pervasive ideological purge story himself—and, even if he doesn’t, the conservative groups who invested in his victory (whether or not they were the ones who made a difference) will be sure to remind him of it if he wins in November.
Add it all up and there’s an excellent chance that by the time the 113th Congress meets in January, every Republican Senator will “know” that Dick Lugar was defeated for being too reasonable and too moderate. Granted, they’ll also all make sure to check that the state of their home state residency; we’re not likely to see that mistake again for a while.
But congressional Republicans will take Lugar’s defeat more as a call to pay attention to Club For Growth’s key votes than to schedule some extra visits home and a few more town hall meetings. They’ll be even more motivated to reject compromise on principle and be uber-vigilant about opposing by filibuster Barack Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominations (if Obama is still in the White House). That’s bad for the proper functioning of democracy regardless of the reason, but it will be especially tragic if the real cause was just Dick Lugar’s losing touch with home.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, The New Republic, May 11, 2012
The New York Post yesterday published the first excerpts from an upcoming biography on President Obama by Edward Klein, “The Amateur.”
In the Post’s excerpt, Klein alleges that former President Clinton called President Obama an “amateur” and desperately tried to convince Hillary to resign as Secretary of State and challenge Obama in the Democratic primaries this year. (The Clintons swiftly and forcefully denied the claims.) The article was prominently featured on the Drudge Report.
Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the New York Post, the Drudge Report or other popular right-wing outlets, Klein is a discredited author with a history of presenting falsehoods as fact. Here’s what you need to know about Edward Klein:
1. Klein’s last book, which was self-published, suggests Obama was born on foreign soil and is a practicing Mulism. In his 2010 work The Obama Identity: A Novel (Or Is It?), Klein co-authored along with a former Republican congressman is a compendium of Obama conspiracy theories. He had to self-publish the book.
2. Klein promoted a shameful conspiracy theory that Bill Clinton raped Hillary. In his 2005 book, Klein promoted an anonymous, hateful allegation supposedly made by two people who “claim” to have spoken with Bill Clinton about the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Clintons’ daughter Chelsea.
3. Klein repeatedly questioned Hillary Clinton’s sexual orientation. He has similarly disparaged Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy and Katie Couric in previous works, leading the Washington Post to comment that Klein “has made a second career of leaving knuckle prints on famous women.”
4. Klein has a history of publishing demonstrably false allegations about Obama as fact. In a 2010 entry in The Huffington Post, Klein detailed President Obama’s “humiliation” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, claiming that sources told him of Obama leaving during a meeting with Netenyahu to have dinner with Michelle and their two daughters. One phone call would have revealed that to be impossible, since Michelle, Sasha and Malia were all in New York City at the time.
5. Klein’s book is being published by Regnery, a far-right imprint specializing in the promotion of conservative talking points. He was rejected by every respectable publishing house. In an interview, Klein claimed his difficulty locating a publisher was because Barack Obama was an “untouchable” subject. Yet several other books on the same subject, like Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas, set off a bidding war between the major New York publishers.
6. Even conservative critics view Klein as disreputable. Kathleen Parker, writing for the Tribune’s network of newspapers, described Klein’s 2005 book as “prurient tabloiding,” while New York Post columnist John Podhoretz said it was “one of the most sordid volumes I’ve ever waded through.” Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal review said it was “poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced and full of the kind of loaded language that is appropriate to a polemic but not an investigative work.”
The nation’s top book reviews have all panned Klein and his work. The Boston Globe called him “an author devoid of credibility,” the New York Times described him as “smarmy and sleazy,” the Los Angeles Times called his work “bio-porn,” and the Tucson Citizen referred to it as “the literary equivalent of a backed up-septic tank.” (It got a grade of “F”).
By: Adam Peck, Think Progress, May 12, 2012