Maybe there’ll come a time somewhere in the future when a Republican presidential candidate jumps at the chance to associate himself with George W. Bush, but we’re not anywhere near that point yet.
In 2008, John McCain kept as much distance from the then-president as possible, appearing with him for a brief, perfunctory endorsement announcement at the White House and relegating him to a pre-taped video appearance at the GOP convention in St. Paul. This time around, Bush was absent when his parents offered a high-profile show of support to Mitt Romney in March, confirming his backing of the presumptive GOP nominee weeks later in a quick, off-camera comment to a reporter while boarding an elevator.
But by the minimal standards of his post-presidency, Bush is really stepping out this week. First, he unveiled a new book that purports to offer a road map to sustained 4 percent economic growth. Then he agreed to an on-camera interview with the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson, who wrote speeches for George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The presidential race came up only once during their hour-long chat, with Bush explaining that he doesn’t want to be in the political game anymore, but that “I’m interested in politics. I’m a supporter of Mitt Romney. But, you know, he can do well without me.” Still, that’s more than Bush has previously had to say on the subject, guaranteeing that it will make news.
In fairness, Bush’s low profile since 2009 isn’t entirely attributable to his pariah status. His father made a point of stepping back from politics after leaving the White House in 1993 and not publicly weighing in on his successor’s administration. In part, W is simply affirming this tradition. But in the 1996 presidential election, the elder Bush was granted a prominent prime time role at the GOP’s national convention, and Bob Dole made a point of conferring with him at the height of the general election campaign.
By contrast, Romney and his fellow Republicans have spent the last three years doing their best to pretend W’s presidency never happened, acknowledging him only when they’re forced to and changing the subject as quickly as possible. The politics are understandable: The GOP’s strategy since 2009 has been to channel the public’s intense economic anxiety into a backlash against Obama that will restore control of the legislative and executive branches to the GOP. That much of the country’s suffering can be linked to the epic economic meltdown that came on W’s watch in 2008 is not something they’d prefer anyone to dwell on.
But, polls show, most voters do remember what happened in 2008 and who was president at the time. This offers President Obama a potential opening to win reelection under economic conditions that you might think would doom an incumbent president. As I’ve noted before, there is research that suggests Obama’s approval rating and standing in head-to-head match-ups with Romney is significantly better than it should be based on the state of the economy – evidence, it would seem, that the uniquely catastrophic circumstances under which he came to power are affording him the benefit of the doubt from some voters.
In that sense, Bush’s reemergence this week is only bad news for Romney, and only good news for Obama. So it’s not surprising that the president scheduled a campaign swing through Texas this week, playing the Bush card without actually mentioning his predecessor’s name:
“We spent almost a decade doing what they prescribed,” Mr. Obama said. “And how did it turn out? We didn’t see greater job growth. We didn’t see middle-class security. We saw the opposite. And it all culminated in the worst financial crisis in our lifetimes, precisely because there were no regulations that were adequate to the kinds of recklessness that was being carried out.” He added, “I don’t know how you guys operate in your life. But my general rule is, if I do something and it doesn’t work, I don’t go back to doing it.”
It’s possible the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney’s Bain background or his own tax return stonewalling will end up costing Romney a critical point or two (and thus the election) in November. But if Obama survives this campaign, it seems far more likely it will be because voters remembered exactly what he inherited in 2009 and exactly whom he inherited it from.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, July 18, 2012
Turns out the Romney camp isn’t all that different from other Republicans.
For a long time now, Mitt Romney and the people who work for him have seemed like the reasonable people in the Republican party. That isn’t to say that Romney’s policies or rhetoric were particularly reasonable, but we all accepted that when he started breathing fire, it was an act. Buffeted by the winds of extremism, he made a bargain with his party’s base: I’ll pretend to be as crazy as you, and you’ll learn to live with me as your nominee.
But now, Barack Obama has finally opened the can of whoop-ass on Romney that many of us had long been expecting, and as McKay Coppins reports, both Romney himself and his people don’t like it one bit. Their reaction indicates that maybe they were never that different from the Republican base after all.
“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” the adviser said. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”
Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney’s finances and business record, the Republican’s campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston’s pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a “liar” — very little will be off-limits, from the president’s youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.
“I mean, this is a guy who admitted to cocaine use, had a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago, and was associated and worked with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate,” the adviser said. “The bottom line is there’ll be counterattacks.”
It might be just this one particular aide’s formulation, but the use of the word “vet” is the tell. One of the consuming fantasies on the right is that we never learned very much about Barack Obama, and if only the American people knew about Reverend Wright, or about Obama’s youthful drug use, or about his relationship with Bill Ayers, then they would as one recoil in horror and boot him from office. This is all summed up in the oft-repeated assertion, “He was never vetted.” The fact that all these things were, in fact, reported on extensively doesn’t penetrate with the people who believe this, because if the public actually knew then Obama could never have been elected in the first place, so that must mean they just don’t know. Could the voters have heard all this stuff and decided to elect Obama anyway? Impossible.
I’m quite surprised to hear this stuff coming from the Romney camp, since they were supposed to be the cold-eyed pragmatists of the GOP. But they seem to have no idea how to actually defeat an incumbent president. If they want to run the rest of their campaign on the fact that Obama knew Rod Blagojevich and did coke when he was a teenager, I’m sure the Obama campaign would reply, be our guest.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 18, 2012
If you’re Mitt Romney, it can mean whatever you want.
Mitt Romney is, without doubt, a representative of contemporary capitalism, a spectacularly rich financier who got his money not by making things but by buying and selling companies, exploiting leverage, and a whole bunch of other things folks like you and me will never have the privilege of understanding. So it isn’t surprising that this campaign has featured a debate about the nature of our economic system. That debate could be a salutary and educational discussion that leaves us all more informed and aware. Or it could be an occasion for some of the most vile demagoguery you could imagine. Do you need to ask which course it will take?
By now, we can all agree that a large portion of the Republican party has created in their minds an imaginary Barack Obama, one who is either a literal or philosophical foreigner (Romney has begun dropping the word “foreign” in as often as he can when discussing Obama), who hates America (here’s Rush Limbaugh on Monday: “I think it can now be said, without equivocation—without equivocation—that this man hates this country”), and one who hates success, hates rich people, and hates capitalism itself. And if you can’t find any actual evidence for these propositions—if “Barack Obama hates job creators so much he actually wants to increase the top income tax rate by 4.6 percentage points!” doesn’t have quite the ring you’d like—then it isn’t hard to find words you can twist around to make your point.
Which brings us to the word “that.” If you’ve been to a Mitt Romney speech in the last day or so, or if you’ve watched Fox News or listened to conservative talk radio, or even if you’ve watched some mainstream news*, you would have heard that Barack Obama said that people who own businesses didn’t actually build their businesses. Only a secret socialist could say such a thing, and Romney and his allies assure us that Obama did indeed say that and he is indeed that kind of person. But here’s what Obama actually said:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.
When this quote worked its way up from the conservative media to the Romney campaign, they knew they had something. Sure, it’s obvious that when Obama said “you didn’t build that” he was talking about roads and bridges. But who cares? You can take that one sentence out of context, lie about what “that” in the quote refers to, and you’ve got evidence of Obama’s America-hating heart.
And yes, it is a lie, a word I use carefully. Romney and the people who work for him know full well what Obama was and wasn’t saying. But they decided to go ahead and engage in an act of intentional deception anyway, and I’m sure he’ll be repeating it many times.
There’s actually a discussion to be had about the radical individualism that has taken over the conservative movement, which Obama was responding to in his speech. I’d be interested to hear Mitt Romney’s thoughts on it, not in a “gotcha” kind of way, but because I genuinely want to know what his response to Obama’s arguments would be. Does he think that every rich person got rich completely on their own and owes nothing to the society that created the context that allowed their wealth to be created? I really have no idea. But the deeper into this campaign we go, the more it becomes clear that we’ll never know what Romney really believes about anything. And he may not be the most dishonest presidential candidate we’ve ever seen, but give him time—he’s working on it.
*Last night I saw Peter Alexander on NBC Nightly News do a story in which he showed Obama’s quote clipped exactly as Romney did, making it seem that Romney was being absolutely truthful. It was one of the most maddening acts of journalistic jackassery I’ve seen in some time.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 17, 2012
Dear Mr. Romney, I was hoping you could tell me how to get more free stuff from the government, and I see that you took up that question after your speech to the NAACP last week. You were speaking to a group of white people in Hamilton, Montana, and you told them that, at the NAACP, you had said that you were “going to get rid of Obamacare.” You said that they “weren’t happy” about that. And you said that if people want “more free stuff” from “the government,” they should “go vote for the other guy.”
Well, I want more free stuff from the government, but, actually, if you want free stuff from Obama, you’d be better off as a banker than as a black person.
Maybe you heard that Obama’s TARP and stimulus programs already gave $4.5 trillion in bailout money to the big banks and investment houses on Wall Street. There’s a lot more if you count loan guarantees and emergency lending from the Federal Reserve.
If I had gotten any of that free stuff, like your friends on Wall Street did, I could have done what they did—use those public funds to pay myself really well.
Some of your friends are praising you for your “straight talk” to the NAACP, for having the courage of your convictions and letting the chips fall where they may. But actually you didn’t tell the black people they should vote for the other guy because they want free stuff. Instead, you told a white audience afterwards that’s what black people should do.
Some people, like Matt Taibbi at RollingStone.com, thought your post-NAACP remarks were “shockingly offensive” and “cynically furthering dangerous and irresponsible stereotypes in order to advance some harebrained electoral ploy involving white conservative voters.” I can see his point.
But at the Center for the Study of Mitt Romney, they found that this isn’t the first time you said that people who want “free stuff” from the government should “vote for the other guy.” (Actually it was Rachel Maddow who found this.)
A few months ago, Rachel reported, you responded to questions about contraception access by saying, “If you’re looking for free stuff you don’t have to pay for, vote for the other guy.” You also complained that Obama was trying to buy students’ political support by offering them “free stuff.”
Rachel thought she could see a pattern here: “If you’re a woman who wants access to preventive care you might not otherwise be able to afford, Romney sees you as wanting ‘free stuff.’ If you’re a young student who can’t afford higher-ed tuition, Romney assumes you expect ‘free stuff.’ And if you’re a black person who wants your family to have access to affordable healthcare, Romney thinks you too are just looking for “free stuff.”
Of course, there’s another way to look at all this. You could say we are taking on the responsibility to see that everyone gets decent medical care, whether or not they can afford it. We want our friends and family and neighbors and co-workers who are uninsured or underinsured to be able to go to the doctor when they’re sick. We want the same thing even for people we don’t know. That’s the way minister Leslie Watson Malachi of People for the American Way explained it.
One other thing—it’s not just black people who will benefit from Obamacare. Most of the beneficiaries will be white—just in case the white people in Hamiltion, Montana got the wrong impression from your speech.
By: Joe Wiener, The Nation, July 14, 2012
Add Brit Hume to the growing list of prominent conservative voices suggesting that Mitt Romney release more than just two years of tax returns.
“Anytime it’s disclosure versus nondisclosure, you always wonder whether it isn’t better just to put it out there,” he said on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show last night.
Hume’s comment came a few hours after Haley Barbour used an interview with ABC News to reiterate his call for Romney to put out more tax records. “The advice I would give Romney is, Who cares about your tax returns?” Barbour said. “Release ‘em! We need for this campaign to be about Obama’s record.”
Other conservatives who have offered similar advice include George Will, who said on Sunday that the Romney campaign is “losing in a big way” on the topic, Bill Kristol, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.
So far, Romney has released his returns from 2010 and an estimate for 2011, with a promise that he will release that year’s full return when it’s completed. But he’s drawn a line at putting out information for any other years. This is causing him two problems. The first is with the Obama campaign, which is jumping at the chance to paint Romney as a man with something to hide. Today, for instance, Obama’s team launched this ad: http://youtu.be/uMo5pykT4uw
The bigger problem for Romney, though, is that the media has also latched on to the story, pressing him to explain why he won’t release more and exploring all of the possible reasons he might be reluctant to share his past returns – especially the possibility that his effective tax rate might have been at or close to zero in some recent years.
Romney and his team haven’t helped themselves by offering bogus precedents for a presidential candidate releasing so little tax information, a response that has only encouraged the media to push harder. A measure of how big the story has become to the nonpartisan press came last night, when CNN’s Erin Burnett abandoned her neutral pose and excoriated Romney for not coming clean.
It’s hard to believe Romney can ride out the next four months without offering up some additional records. Of course, as Joan Walsh noted yesterday, it’s possible the returns Romney is now sitting on contain information that would be more damaging than what he’s now enduring. Then again, what little tax information Romney has released already reveal investments in Swiss bank accounts and offshore havens and an effective tax rate of just 13.9 percent. So the image of him as an extravagantly rich man who benefits from a tax system that’s skewed toward the investor class is already established. Assuming he’s done nothing illegal (surely the IRS would have taken notice if he had), would it really be that much worse for Romney if documents came out showing he paid an even lower effective rate in some years?
Maybe the calendar offers a clue about Romney’s thinking. In just over a week, the London Olympics will kick off. If you’re going to release more embarrassing tax returns, maybe that would be the ideal time?
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, July 17, 2012