If you’re a Romney partisan, and you’ve seen Barack Obama move ahead in the polls over the last couple of weeks, you may be saying to yourself, “Maybe the debates can save him.” After all, the four debates (three presidential, one VP) are the the only planned events between now and election day. Though you never know what kind of unexpected events might occur, tens of millions of voters will be watching. And so many times in the past, the race has been transformed by a dramatic debate moment.
Except that’s actually not true. As John Sides lays out quite well, after all the sound and fury, debates almost never change the trajectory of the race. Of course, something never happens up until the moment that it happens, but there’s strong reason to believe that the debates will change nothing this year in particular. But before I get to that, here’s Sides:
Why are presidential debates so often inconsequential? After all, many voters do pay attention. Debates routinely attract the largest audience of any televised campaign event. And voters do learn new information, according to several academic studies. But this new information is not likely to change many minds. The debates occur late in the campaign, long after the vast majority of voters have arrived at a decision. Moreover, the debates tend to attract viewers who have an abiding interest in politics and are mostly party loyalists. Instead of the debates affecting who they will vote for, their party loyalty affects who they believe won the debates. For example, in a CNN poll after one of the 2008 debates, 85 percent of Democrats thought that Obama had won, but only 16 percent of Republicans agreed.
All those memorable gaffes—George H.W. looking at his watch, Michael Dukakis not pounding his lecturn at the suggestion of his wife’s rape and murder, Al Gore sighing—turn out not to have had any discernible impact on the race. What was almost certainly the most disastrous debate performance of all—Dan Quayle’s in 1988—did not, you may recall, prevent him from becoming Vice President.
And this year is even less likely to produce anything significant. As James Fallows explained, Mitt Romney is at his best when he can prepare carefully, and at his worst when he’s taken by surprise. Over the course of the 500 or so primary debates the Republicans held, he was clearly the most informed and serious-seeming of the GOP candidates. Of course, besting Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann in verbal combat doesn’t exactly make you the Ted Williams of debating, but there’s little doubt Romney will show himself to reasonably knowledgeable, for what it’s worth. His problem, though, is that it isn’t worth much. He doesn’t need to convince Americans he can recite a ten-point plan, he needs to convince them that within him beats the heart of an actual human, one who understands and cares about them. The chances of him doing that are pretty slim.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 20, 2012
Mitt Romney and his Republican allies thought they had a way to diffuse the fallout from his now-legendary secretly-recorded fundraising video when somebody unearthed a tape of President Obama saying he favored “redistribution.” Sure, the tape is 14 years old. And sure, as Jamelle pointed out yesterday, pretty much everybody favors redistribution in some form, even Mitt Romney (if he didn’t, he’d be advocating removing all progressivity from the tax code). Romney is bringing it up whenever he can, as is Paul Ryan, and the Obama tape has been shown on Fox News approximately three million times in the last 24 hours. Are they a little desperate? Of course. But the fact that they think such a thing will have even the remotest impact on what people think of Barack Obama shows that they are existing within an ideological cocoon that makes it almost impossible for them to figure out what they’re doing wrong.
It isn’t just that the tape is 14 years old (and man, has Obama aged in that time), or that what he’s saying is pretty innocuous. It’s that they think there’s any statement of Obama’s that they can unearth that will change how voters think of him. As though some significant number of voters are going to say, “I’ve been watching this guy on television every day for the last four years, but this 14-year-old videotape that contains the word “redistribution” has finally made me realize that he’s a dangerous socialist. I was undecided before, but now you’ve got my vote, Mitt.”
A couple of years ago, bloggers had a discussion about “epistemic closure,” the tendency of many on the right to barricade themselves within a self-reinforcing informational bunker. The danger is that you wind up with a skewed view not only of the facts but of what other people believe as well. This can be deadly for a campaign, whose goal, after all, is to persuade people, some of whom don’t already see the world as they do. And it sure seems like Romney and his people are falling prey to it. The temptation is strong, because everyone who works on the campaign is a partisan who was probably getting much of their information from partisan news sources before they got there.
So when Romney comes out and says triumphantly “I don’t believe in redistribution!” he probably thinks voters will respond with, “Me neither, Mitt! Screw those freeloaders! Viva job creators!” But the more likely response among people who aren’t already committed Republicans is that once again, this rich guy who disdains everyone who isn’t as rich as him is saying, “I got mine, Jack, and the rest of you can go to hell.” In other words, he’s not countering the attacks the Democrats are making on him, he’s reinforcing them.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 20, 2012
“The media wants to beat up Mitt Romney,” Sean Hannity told his Fox News viewers this week, “which is driving me nuts.”
Me too, Sean. Much as I’d like to see Hannity driven nuts, I agree that we in the media have been far too rough on the Republican presidential nominee. In fact, I send this urgent appeal to my fellow members of the lamestream media: Please go easy on the guy — for our own sake.
First, Romney was pounded for his false and tone-deaf statements about the attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt; in a weak moment, I joined in the criticism.
Then Politico came out Sunday night with an article titled “Inside the campaign: How Mitt Romney stumbled,” discourteously detailing all sorts of infighting and missteps.
At this rate, Romney will surely lose the election — and for journalism, this would be a tragedy.
At these times of declining revenue, we in the media need to stay true to our core interests. As the old saying goes, we should “vote the story.” And the better story in this election is clearly President Romney.
Romney’s hit parade — insulting the British, inviting Clint Eastwood to the Republican convention, flubbing Libya and now dismissing half the nation as parasites — may make good copy for the next seven weeks. But if we go easy on the man, we could have four years of gaffes instead of just seven more weeks. Admittedly, this may not be the best outcome for the country, or for the world. But in this race, there is no denying that one man will give us much better material.
President Obama has many talents, but he is not good copy. He speaks grammatically, in fully formed paragraphs. He has yet to produce a scandal of any magnitude. He is maddeningly on message, and his few gaffes — “you didn’t build that,” “the private sector is doing fine” — are inflammatory only out of context. If it weren’t for the occasional relief offered by Joe Biden, the Samaritans would have installed a suicide-prevention hotline in the White House press room by now.
Romney, by contrast, showed his potential for miscues in his first presidential run (see: varmints, hunting of), but he truly blossomed in the gaffe department this cycle, when he became a one-man blooper reel:
“Corporations are people, my friend.”
“There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”
“I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake; we can’t have illegals.”
In addition, Romney frequently gives the media fresh opportunities to rerun the blooper reel with his attempts to explain the original mistakes. This goes back to his explanation for why he strapped his dog Seamus to the top of the family car: The dog “enjoyed himself” up there.
More recently, Romney offered this explanation for his claim that Obama was making America a less Christian nation. “I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was,” he said.
Saying zany things and then standing by them: From a presidential nominee, this is newsworthy. From a president, it could be sensational.
Romney caused an international incident when he went to London and spoke of “disconcerting” signs that the Brits weren’t prepared to host the Olympics. Were he to do that as president, he could bring transatlantic relations back to War of 1812 levels — and that would be a big story.
At home, likewise, he has caused consternation with his remark that 47 percent of Americans “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name it” and won’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” If he governed that way as president, he could stir up social unrest not seen in half a century — and that, too, would be quite a story.
Usually, reporters have little trouble recognizing our self-interest. For all of Newt Gingrich’s complaints about media bias during his primary candidacy, reporters fantasized about a Gingrich presidency.
We should do the same now as we consider prospects for a Romney presidency: gaffes in news conferences, diplomatic slights at state dinners or ham-handed attempts to placate conservatives in Congress. This is exactly the man our industry needs. Be gentle.
I’m from the mainstream media, and I approve this message.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 18, 2012
Casting the tax debate as an argument in which liberals want to use the tax system to reduce income inequality after the fact by taxing the wealthy at higher rates than middle and lower income classes, while conservatives favor flat taxes that tax rich and poor at the same rate, misses the main point. Deregulation of the financial system over the last 35 years and tax preferences that benefit corporations and wealthy individuals have done much to increase the before-tax incomes of the top 1 percent. An army of tax accountants, many of them recruited from the IRS, has figured out how to push the envelope on tax avoidance for the big businesses and wealthy individuals that can afford their high-priced services. For these folks, tax accounting has been transformed from a service that makes sure that required taxes are paid to a profit center that manipulates the tax code to generate huge returns at the expense of the tax-paying public. Increasingly what we see in the United States is the growing importance of tax-payer financed capitalism.
There is no economic reason that the debt taken on by corporations should be treated differently in the tax code from the equity invested by shareholders, but it is. Corporations get to deduct the interest paid on debt from their earnings, thus reducing the corporate income tax they have to pay. The tax code also provides an incentive for private equity firms, which plan to hold companies they acquire for their portfolios for just a few years, to load these companies with debt. In good times, this greatly increases the returns to investors. In poor economic conditions, this greatly increases the risk of financial distress and even bankruptcy, and imposes great costs on workers, creditors and communities. For investors with a time horizon measured in years and not decades, this is a risk worth taking for the promise of higher returns.
Tax preferences mean that income from owning stock is taxed at a far lower rate than income from working—a point made by Warren Buffet who famously pointed out that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. The fiction that bonuses earned by partners in private equity and hedge fund firms is ‘carried interest’ that should be taxed at the lower rate on earnings from owning stock, rather than at the higher rate on ordinary income that ordinary workers and managers pay on their bonuses, boosts the income and wealth of these already wealthy economic players.
The use of aggressive tax avoidance schemes is rampant among big businesses and wealthy individuals. Setting up a subsidiary that lives in a file drawer in a tax haven and owns the company’s intellectual property and collects the royalties on it, or that owns the loans the company has made and collects the interest, allows financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and IT companies to park their profits outside the United States and defer taxes on this income indefinitely while waiting for a tax holiday to bring their profits home. Setting up so-called blocker corporations in offshore tax havens to launder taxable income for foreigners and pension funds, and turn it into nontaxable income is another favorite scheme.
Tax preferences and tax loop holes enrich the already wealthy and increase their incomes while starving the country of much needed tax revenue. The meaning of this rise in tax-payer financed capitalism is that the rest of us must either pay higher taxes or do without necessary services.
By: Eileen Appelbaum, U. S. News and World Report, September 19, 2012