If it’s our ideals and not our origins that make us countrymen, Romney’s tactics suggest that he’s the one whose Americanness should come under question.
Nobody’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. But as someone of Chinese descent I have been asked plenty of times where I’m from — and when I say “Poughkeepsie,” I often get the follow-up question that’s almost a cliché now among Asian Americans: “No, where are you really from?”
It’s always disheartening to get that question, even though I’ve learned to answer it with equanimity and usually take care to make the inquisitor feel not-stupid. But it’s always clarifying, for it reveals the default picture in the minds of some of my fellow Americans about who they are, who we are, and who I am.
That’s why Mitt Romney’s birther-baiting remarks today are, in a way, welcome. Let there be no doubt: He is the candidate for people who think the name Obama must be Muslim and its bearer indelibly foreign. He is also the candidate for the greater number of people who do not initially imagine that someone with my face, my eyes, my skin could be from this country.
Even in one of his home states (Michigan, the site of today’s remarks), Mitt Romney is not some iconic American hero whose patriotism is beyond reproach. The reason no one questions where Romney was born is simply this: he is white. If that’s good enough for you, then you’re good enough for Romney.
But that’s not good enough for America. I have as much a claim to be the image of an American as Romney and his offspring do. So does Barack Obama. So, by the way, does Bobby Jindal or Ted Cruz or Susana Martinez — nonwhites in Romney’s own party who likely have also been asked (no, really) where they are from.
Romney’s implicit pledge of allegiance to the birther movement is as revealing of his character as anything else in his campaign of half-deliberate opacity. He appears to lack a core capacity for empathy. He literally cannot see himself as someone not white, as someone accented or a newcomer.
In fact, Romney’s tactics suggest that he’s the one whose Americanness should come under question. True Americanness is not about how WASPy your surname is, how pale your skin, or how many generations your family has lived here — or how much you can lord those facts over others. Nor is it about how subtly you can stir up secret prejudices against people who could be deemed outsiders.
True Americanness is about fidelity to a creed that by design transcends color or place of family origin. Yes, we as a nation have often subverted that creed, or averted our gaze, but it still stands in timeless judgment, measuring our willingness to deliver on the promise of equal citizenship. True Americans see in a sea of colored faces a chance to bring everyone into the fold, so that the team is stronger and the creed redeemed. Mitt Romney can prance all he wants but his words today were those of a second-rate American.
And the more he plays his Donald Trump card, the more his becomes a last-gasp candidacy: the inarticulate paroxysm of those who still silently believe, as was once permissible to declare in public, that America is a white nation and that the interests, mores, and preferences of whites should predominate.
Romney may yet win in November. But he and this whole odious line of attack are on the losing side of history. The tide of demographics is irresistible, and soon enough it’ll sweep up his birth certificate and mine into a new notion of who is truly from this country.
By: Eric Liu, The Atlantic, August 24, 2012
I’ve been struck by the boldness of Romney’s repetitive lies about Obama — that Obama ended the work requirement under welfare, for example, or that Obama’s Affordable Care Act cuts $716 billion from Medicare benefits.
The mainstream media along with a half-dozen independent fact-checking organizations and sites have called Romney on these whoppers, but to no avail. He keeps making these assertions.
Every campaign is guilty of exaggerations, embellishments, distortions, and half-truths. But this is another thing altogether. I’ve been directly involved in seven presidential campaigns, and I don’t recall a presidential candidate lying with such audacity, over and over again. Why does he do it, and how can he get away with it?
The obvious answer is such lies are effective. Polls show voters are starting to believe them, especially in swing states where they’re being repeated constantly in media spots financed by Romney’s super PAC or ancillary PACs and so-called “social welfare” organizations (political fronts disguised as charities, such as Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have set up).
Romney’s lying machine is extraordinarily well financed. By August, according to Jane Mayer in her recent New Yorker article, at least 33 billionaires had each donated a quarter of a million dollars or more to groups aiming to defeat Obama – with most of it flooding into attack ads in swing states.
In early August, “Americans for Prosperity,” one of the nonprofit front groups masquerading as a charity, and founded in part by billionaire right-wingers Charles and David Koch, bought some $27 million in ad time on spots now airing in eleven swing states.
So Romney’s lying machine is working.
But what does all this tell us about the man who is running this lying machine? (Or if Romney’s not running it, what does it tell us about a man who would select the people who are?)
We knew he was a cypher — that he’ll say and do whatever is expedient, change positions like a chameleon, eschew any core principles.
Yet resorting to outright lies — and organizing a presidential campaign around a series of lies — reveals a whole new level of cynicism, a profound disdain for what remains of civility in public life, and a disrespect of the democratic process.
The question is whether someone who is willing to resort to such calculated lies, and build a campaign machine around them, can be worthy of the public’s trust with the most powerful office in the world.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, August 24, 2012
“Giving Way To Angrier Politics”: Republican Convention Is Sign That Republican Grip On Sun Belt Is Loosening
For more than 50 years, the Sun Belt — the band of states that extends from Florida to California — has been the philosophical heart and electoral engine of the Republican Party. It was more than just a source of votes. The Sun Belt infused the Republican Party with a frontier spirit: the optimistic, free-ranging embrace of individualism and the disdain for big government and regulation.
From Richard M. Nixon through John McCain, a span of 48 years, every Republican presidential candidate save for Gerald R. Ford and Bob Dole has claimed ties to the Sun Belt. The last Republican president, George W. Bush, made a point of fixing his political compass in Texas once he was done with Yale and Harvard Business School, complete with what many heard as a slightly exaggerated drawl, as had his father, a Connecticut Yankee turned Texas oilman.
Yet as Republicans gather here this week, they are nominating for president a governor of Massachusetts who was born in Michigan and, for vice president, a congressman from Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Sun Belt states that were once reliable parts of the Republican electoral map are turning blue or have turned blue, like California. Only Southern notches of the belt remain. And the sunny symbol of Ronald Reagan in a cowboy hat cutting wood, as good an image of the Sun Belt spirit as there was, has given way to the angrier politics of the Tea Party, which embraces much of the same anti-government message but with a decidedly different tone.
The Sun Belt remains an economic, political and cultural force. But the 40th Republican National Convention is a sign that the Republicans’ grip on it is loosening. The nominations of Mitt Romney and Paul D. Ryan could mark the end of an era.
“It’s really a dramatic change in the 30-some-odd years since I ran Reagan’s campaign,” said Ed Rollins, a Republican consultant. “I began with a base, even when we were 30 points down, when Reagan asked me to run his campaign. The West Coast is gone, and those are big numbers.” Stuart Spencer, another senior Reagan campaign adviser, said Reagan at once personified and defined himself as a creature of the Sun Belt. “That’s where we started, and we added from there,” he said. “But Colorado is in play now. Nevada is in play.”
How did this happen?
For one thing, the Republican who came riding in as the candidate of the Sun Belt — Gov. Rick Perry of Texas — stumbled. But there are larger forces at work that lead many analysts to think that a long-lasting shift is under way. The Sun Belt is in many ways not what it was when Barry Goldwater came on the scene. Once the very symbol of economic prosperity and untrammeled growth, it has been pummeled by the collapse of the housing market.
“There is a soaring rate of poverty in these new suburban regions,” said Lisa McGirr, a history professor at Harvard who studies the region. “I think it’s bound to have a political impact and to transform the ability of the Republican Party to appeal to suburbanites with private, individualistic solutions.”
More transformative is the demographic shift brought on by the influx of Latino voters. It is upending the political makeup of states like Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida. And it has come when the Republican Party has been identified with tough measures aimed at curbing immigration.
Many Republicans date the beginning of the decline to 1994, when Republicans in California backed a voter initiative, Proposition 187, to deny government services to immigrants in this country illegally. The law was eventually nullified by a federal court.
“Once California started alienating Latinos and once Latinos started moving in large numbers to Arizona and in Texas, that changes the whole game,” said Richard White, a professor of history at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford.
The change has been noted in places like Orange County, Calif., home to the Nixon presidential library and once a symbol of conservative political power and for many years overwhelmingly white. Today, it is filled with enclaves of Latinos and Asians — on many streets, it is hard to find an English-language sign on a store — and only about 43 percent of the voters are registered Republican.
Eventually, some say, even Texas might move to the Democratic column as more Latinos move in and vote. Even though Florida continues to vote Republican in statewide elections, indications are that the increasing presence of non-Cuban Hispanics could tilt the state leftward.
“The real question now in Florida is whether the I-4 corridor — between Daytona and Tampa — is becoming more Democratic than independent,” said Joseph Gaylord, a Republican consultant who lives there. “Texas and Florida offset California. And there’s no way a Republican can become president if you don’t win Texas and Florida.”
If the political allegiances of the Sun Belt are shifting, the changes in its political philosophy, represented by the increasing power of the Tea Party in states like this and Arizona, are slightly more nuanced. The view of government expressed by Tea Party members is not that different from what Reagan or Goldwater might have said.
But Mr. Spencer, the Reagan hand, believes that the Tea Party would never have embraced Reagan. “He was a pragmatist,” Mr. Spencer said. “Ronald Reagan raised taxes 13 times at least” in his years as governor and president.
It was Reagan whose election as president seemed to mark the coming of the political age of the Sun Belt, but also of what Kenneth M. Duberstein, the White House chief of staff for Reagan, referred to as “the lock”: the notion that the Republican Party could consider the Sun Belt in the political bank. As late as 2002, Karl Rove, the chief political adviser to George W. Bush, was arguing that California was fertile ground for Republicans.
“Reagan in many ways seemed to be the beginning of the wave, but in retrospect, it’s going to be remembered as the peak of the wave,” Mr. White said. He suggested that Mr. McCain’s defeat in 2008 might come to carry its own political symbolism.
“It’s always hard to say things based on one election, but he will probably be seen as the tail end of it,” Mr. White said.
By: Adam Nagourney, LA Bureau Chief, The New York Times, August 25, 2012
If you haven’t read it, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fantastic essay on Barack Obama’s relationship to race and racism in the latest issue of The Atlantic. There’s too much to quote, but this paragraph captures the thesis:
In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.
The power and symbolism of Obama’s election is compromised by the extent to which his presidency has been shaped by white expectations and white racism. Obama can’t show anger, he can’t propose policies tailored to African Americans and he can’t talk about race. In other words, he can’t remind white Americans that their president is a black man as much as anything else.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I expect that Coates will inspire howls of unfairness from the right. It’s almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama. Conservatives dismiss such concerns as “playing the race card”—and use it as an opportunity to accuse liberals of racism—while more neutral commentators note that Bill Clinton also faced a rabid conservative opposition. But as Coates points out, no one called Clinton a “food stamp president” or attacked his health care plan as “reparations.” Local lawmakers didn’t circulate racist jokes about the former Arkansas governor, and right-wing provocateurs didn’t accuse Clinton of fomenting an anti-white race war.
Of course, race isn’t the reason conservatives oppose Obama, but it shapes the nature of their opposition. The right wing would have exploded against Hillary Clinton as well. But they wouldn’t have waged a three-year campaign to discredit her citizenship.
With that said, I’m honestly amazed that—for many people—it’s beyond the pale to accuse a political party of exploiting racism for political gain. We’re only 47 years removed from the official end of Jim Crow and the routine assassination of black political leaders. This year’s college graduates are the children of men and women who remember—or experienced—the race riots of the late 1960s and 70s. The baby boomers—including the large majority of our lawmakers—were children when Emmett Till was murdered, teenagers when George Wallace promised to defend segregation in perpetuity, and adults when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for his belief in the humanity of black people.
Five and a half million Americans are 85 or older. In the years they were born—assuming the oldest is 110 (several thousand Americans fit that bill)—1,413 African Americans were lynched. And that’s a rough estimate; the number is almost certainly higher. For nearly a third of our country’s history, this was a common occurence:
Interracial marriage was illegal in large swaths of the country when Barack Obama Sr. married Ann Dunham.
Mitt Romney was 31 when the Church of Latter Day Saints allowed African American priests, and repudiated early leader Brigham Young’s pronouncement that “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”
Nancy Pelosi grew up in segregated Baltimore.
Of course there are politicians and political parties that capitalize on racism. Why wouldn’t they? The end of our state-sanctioned racial caste system is a recent event in our history; more recent than Medicare or Medicaid, more recent than the advent of computers, more recent than the interstate highway system, and more recent than Social Security. Taken in the broad terms of a nation’s life, we’re only a few weeks removed from the widespread acceptance of white supremacy.
Race remains a potent way to activate voters and motivate them to the polls—see Mitt Romney’s current campaign against Obama’s fictional attack on welfare. To believe otherwise—and to see this country as a place that’s moved past its history—is absurd.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, August 23, 2012
Too much about the Republican candidate for the presidency is far too mysterious.
When Mitt Romney was governor of liberal Massachusetts, he supported abortion, gun control, tackling climate change and a requirement that everyone should buy health insurance, backed up with generous subsidies for those who could not afford it. Now, as he prepares to fly to Tampa to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president on August 30th, he opposes all those things. A year ago he favored keeping income taxes at their current levels; now he wants to slash them for everybody, with the rate falling from 35 percent to 28 percent for the richest Americans.
All politicians flip-flop from time to time; but Mr. Romney could win an Olympic medal in it (see “Mitt Romney’s chances: The changing man”). And that is a pity, because this newspaper finds much to like in the history of this uncharismatic but dogged man, from his obvious business acumen to the way he worked across the political aisle as governor to get health reform passed and the state budget deficit down. We share many of his views about the excessive growth of regulation and of the state in general in America, and the effect that this has on investment, productivity and growth. After four years of soaring oratory and intermittent reforms, why not bring in a more businesslike figure who might start fixing the problems with America’s finances?
But competence is worthless without direction and, frankly, character. Would that Candidate Romney had indeed presented himself as a solid chief executive who got things done. Instead he has appeared as a fawning PR man, apparently willing to do or say just about anything to get elected. In some areas, notably social policy and foreign affairs, the result is that he is now committed to needlessly extreme or dangerous courses that he may not actually believe in but will find hard to drop; in others, especially to do with the economy, the lack of details means that some attractive-sounding headline policies prove meaningless (and possibly dangerous) on closer inspection. Behind all this sits the worrying idea of a man who does not really know his own mind. America won’t vote for that man; nor would this newspaper. The convention offers Mr. Romney his best chance to say what he really believes.
There are some areas where Mr. Romney has shuffled to the right unnecessarily. In America’s culture wars he has followed the Republican trend of adopting ever more socially conservative positions. He says he will appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court and back the existing federal Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA). This goes down well with southern evangelicals, less so with independent voters: witness the furor over one (rapidly disowned) Republican’s ludicrous remarks about abortion and “legitimate rape” (see “The Todd Akin affair: Grenades and stilettos”). But the powers of the federal government are limited in this area; DOMA has not stopped a few states introducing gay marriage and many more recognizing gay civil partnerships.
The damage done to a Romney presidency by his courting of the isolationist right in the primaries could prove more substantial. He has threatened to label China as a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency. Even if it is unclear what would follow from that, risking a trade war with one of America’s largest trading partners when the recovery is so sickly seems especially mindless. Some of his anti-immigration policies won’t help, either. And his attempts to lure American Jews with near-racist talk about Arabs and belligerence against Iran could ill serve the interests of his country (and, for that matter, Israel’s).
Once again, it may be argued that this will not matter: previous presidents pandered to interest groups and embraced realpolitik in office. Besides, this election will be fought on the economy. This is where Manager Romney should be at his strongest. But he has yet to convince; sometimes, again, being needlessly extremist, more often evasive and vague.
In theory, Mr. Romney has a detailed 59-point economic plan. In practice, it ignores virtually all the difficult or interesting questions (indeed, “The Romney Programme for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs” is like “Fifty Shades of Grey” without the sex). Mr. Romney began by saying that he wanted to bring down the deficit; now he stresses lower tax rates. Both are admirable aims, but they could well be contradictory: So which is his primary objective? His running-mate, Paul Ryan, thinks the Republicans can lower tax rates without losing tax revenues, by closing loopholes. Again, a simpler tax system is a good idea, but no politician has yet dared to tackle the main exemptions. Unless Mr. Romney specifies which boondoggles to axe, this looks meaningless and risky.
On the spending side, Mr. Romney is promising both to slim Leviathan and to boost defense spending dramatically. So what is he going to cut? How is he going to trim the huge earned benefits programs? Which bits of Mr. Ryan’s scheme does he agree with? It is a little odd that the number two has a plan and his boss doesn’t. And it is all very well promising to repeal Barack Obama’s health-care plan and the equally gargantuan Dodd-Frank act on financial regulation, but what exactly will Mr. Romney replace them with—unless, of course, he thinks Wall Street was well-regulated before Lehman went bust?
Playing dumb is not an option
Mr. Romney may calculate that it is best to keep quiet: The faltering economy will drive voters towards him. It is more likely, however, that his evasiveness will erode his main competitive advantage. A businessman without a credible plan to fix a problem stops being a credible businessman. So does a businessman who tells you one thing at breakfast and the opposite at supper. Indeed, all this underlines the main doubt: Nobody knows who this strange man really is. It is half a decade since he ran something. Why won’t he talk about his business career openly? Why has he been so reluctant to disclose his tax returns? How can a leader change tack so often? Where does he really want to take the world’s most powerful country?
It is not too late for Mr. Romney to show America’s voters that he is a man who can lead his party rather than be led by it. But he has a lot of questions to answer in Tampa.
By: The Economist, Business Insider Contributor, August 25, 2012