By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 2, 2011
Rick Perry should have backed off. Instead, he doubled down, and in a way that was doubly illuminating — about Perry himself and the degraded state of modern politics.
In an interview with Parade magazine, the Texas governor declared Obama’s place of birth a “distractive” issue even as he happily latched on to the opportunity to distract.
“Well, I don’t have a definitive answer [about whether Obama was born in the United States], because he’s never seen my birth certificate,” he said. It was classic Perry, combining logical incoherence and a smarmy cheap shot.
A smarter candidate would have stopped there. Perry, in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, kept going, despite Harwood’s repeated invitations to walk back his silliness.
“Look, I haven’t seen his,” Perry said. “I haven’t seen his grades. My grades ended up on the front page of the newspaper, so let’s, you know, if we’re going to show stuff, let’s show stuff. “
Is this a presidential campaign or a middle-school playground? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours? By the way, if I had Perry’s grades, I wouldn’t be mentioning them. Certainly not if I were running against a former president of the Harvard Law Review.
But then Perry, as is his style, let on what this was really about. “But look, that’s all a distraction. I mean, I get it. I’m really not worried about the president’s birth certificate. It’s fun to poke at him a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.’ ”
The matter of the president’s birthplace, Perry added, is “a good issue to keep alive.”
You might think this was the candidate cannily trying to have it both ways: a nod to the birther crazies with a simultaneous wink at those who know this is a ridiculous distraction. Except that Perry managed to step on his real message of the day: his unaffordable and unfair proposal to “simplify” the tax code — by grafting a flat-tax alternative onto the existing system.
Perry’s acknowledgment of his interest in benefiting from birther mania was reminiscent of his artless dodge, during the last debate, about whether he thought the 14th Amendment should be changed to abolish birthright citizenship. “You get to ask the questions,” he told moderator Anderson Cooper. “I get to answer like I want to.”
Note to candidate: It’s better not to narrate your own stage directions. Just because your debate coaches tell you to answer the question you want to answer, not the one that’s been asked, doesn’t mean you should announce that’s what you’re up to.
Now we have Perry, who has a decent if fading shot at the Republican presidential nomination, openly practicing politics as poke-fest. The point isn’t to debate whose solutions are best for America — it’s to get under the other guy’s skin.
Thus Perry needling Mitt Romney on immigration: “You hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.”
As it happens, Perry is righter — that is, more correct — than Romney on immigration, at least when it comes to the question of the DREAM Act and the ability of the children of illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition rates.
But Perry’s jab at Romney was below the belt. The former Massachusetts governor employed a landscaping firm that, the Boston Globe discovered, had hired illegal immigrants. Romney told it to stop. When it turned out that the company hadn’t, he fired the firm.
The matter of Obama’s birth certificate should be a closed case. It is astonishing that a sitting governor, no less a serious candidate for president, would stoop to playing this game.
Then again, 2012 is shaping up to be an astonishing campaign. Witness Herman Cain’s bizarre, substance-less new ad in which the candidate is endorsed by, yes, the candidate’s campaign manager. Who is actually smoking (literally) during the ad.
“I really believe that Herman Cain will put United back in the United States of America,” says the aide, Mark Block.
The country is facing serious problems. This will be a fateful election. Voters deserve better than scare tactics and drivel.
By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 25, 2011
Why hasn’t there been a Tea Party on the left? And can President Obama and the American left develop a functional relationship?
That those two questions are not asked very often is a sign of how much of the nation’s political energy has been monopolized by the right from the beginning of Obama’s term. This has skewed media coverage of almost every issue, created the impression that the president is far more liberal than he is, and turned the nation’s agenda away from progressive reform.
A quiet left has also been very bad for political moderates. The entire political agenda has shifted far to the right because the Tea Party and extremely conservative ideas have earned so much attention. The political center doesn’t stand a chance unless there is a fair fight between the right and the left.
It’s not surprising that Obama’s election unleashed a conservative backlash. Ironically, disillusionment with George W. Bush’s presidency had pushed Republican politics right, not left. Given the public’s negative verdict on Bush, conservatives shrewdly argued that his failures were caused by his lack of fealty to conservative doctrine. He was cast as a big spender (even if a large chunk of the largess went to Iraq). He was called too liberal on immigration and a big-government guy for bailing out the banks, using federal power to reform the schools and championing a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Conservative funders realized that pumping up the Tea Party movement was the most efficient way to build opposition to Obama’s initiatives. And the media became infatuated with the Tea Party in the summer of 2009, covering its disruptions of congressional town halls with an enthusiasm not visible this summer when many Republicans faced tough questions from their more progressive constituents.
Obama’s victory, in the meantime, partly demobilized the left. With Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, stepped-up organizing didn’t seem quite so urgent.
The administration was complicit in this, viewing the left’s primary role as supporting whatever the president believed needed to be done. Dissent was discouraged as counterproductive.
This was not entirely foolish. Facing ferocious resistance from the right, Obama needed all the friends he could get. He feared that left-wing criticism would meld in the public mind with right-wing criticism and weaken him overall.
But the absence of a strong, organized left made it easier for conservatives to label Obama as a left-winger. His health-care reform is remarkably conservative — yes, it did build on the ideas implemented in Massachusetts that Mitt Romney once bragged about. It was nothing close to the single-payer plan the left always preferred. His stimulus proposal was too small, not too large. His new Wall Street regulations were a long way from a complete overhaul of American capitalism. Yet Republicans swept the 2010 elections because they painted Obama and the Democrats as being far to the left of their actual achievements.
This week, progressives will highlight a new effort to pursue the road not taken at a conference convened by the Campaign for America’s Future that opens Monday. It is a cooperative venture with a large number of other organizations, notably the American Dream Movement led by Van Jones, a former Obama administration official who wants to show the country what a truly progressive agenda around jobs, health care and equality would look like. Jones freely acknowledges that “we can learn many important lessons from the recent achievements of the libertarian, populist right” and says of the progressive left: “This is our ‘Tea Party’ moment — in a positive sense.” The anti-Wall Street demonstators seem to have that sense, too.
What’s been missing in the Obama presidency is the productive interaction with outside groups that Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed with the labor movement and Lyndon B. Johnson with the civil rights movement. Both pushed FDR and LBJ in more progressive directions while also lending them support against their conservative adversaries.
The question for the left now, says Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future, is whether progressives can “establish independence and momentum” while also being able “to make a strategic voting choice.” The idea is not to pretend that Obama is as progressive as his core supporters want him to be, but to rally support for him nonetheless as the man standing between the country and the right wing.
A real left could usefully instruct Americans as to just how moderate the president they elected in 2008 is — and how far to the right conservatives have strayed.
A few weeks ago, Dick Morris, the sleazy Republican consultant, wrote an entire print column built around a single observation: the economy lost 30,000 health care jobs in the month of August. There was, however, a small problem: the economy actually gained 30,000 health care jobs in August. Morris’ entire indictment was based on numbers he misunderstood.
This week, it happened again. Here’s the lede in Morris’ new print column, published yesterday.
Behind the president’s whining to the Black Caucus, begging them to “quit grumbling,” is a decline in his personal popularity among African-American voters that could portend catastrophe for his fading reelection chances.
According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey, his favorability rating among African-Americans has dropped off a cliff, plunging from 83 percent five months ago to a mere 58 percent today — a drop of 25 points, a bit more than a point per week!
If the president’s favorability rating among African Americans really had slipped to 58%, that would be a pretty significant development. But once again, Morris based an entire column on numbers he chose not to read carefully enough.
What the poll actually found is that President Obama enjoys an 86% favorability rating among African Americans — 28 points higher than Morris’ column claimed.
How’d he screw this up? The poll found that 58% of African Americans have a “strongly favorable” view of Obama, but that’s only part of the basis of a favorability rating. Morris apparently noticed one number, brushed past the relevant detail, and published a claim that’s plainly not true.
The point here isn’t that the president can ignore some of his key supporters, and win a second term with his current levels of support. Clearly Obama has a lot of work to do. The point is, The Hill keeps publishing Dick Morris claims that are demonstrably wrong. It’s not a matter of opinion — the columnist is making specific arguments about numbers that aren’t connected to reality.
Indeed, Morris said Obama was doing well when his favorability rating among African Americans was 83%. But right now, they’re 86%. By Morris’ reasoning, Obama is doing great with this constituency.
Also note, this wasn’t just some side detail Morris flubbed — just as with the clearly dishonest health care column a few weeks ago, the columnist is building entire print pieces around basic statistics that don’t exist.
Either Dick Morris can’t read or he’s assuming his readers won’t bother to check. Either way, maybe it’s time for The Hill’s editors to start taking a closer look at his pieces.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 28, 2011
Here’s my question for the Republican Party: How’s that Rick Perry stuff workin’ out for ya?
You’ll recall that Sarah Palin asked a similar question last year about President Obama’s “ hopey-changey stuff.” Indeed, hopey-changey has been through a bad patch. But now the GOP is still desperately seeking a presidential candidate it can love. Or even like.
That Perry was crushed by Herman Cain — yes, I said Herman Cain — in the Florida straw poll Saturday confirms that the tough-talking Texas governor’s campaign is in serious trouble. He’s the one who put it there with a performance in last week’s debate that was at times disjointed, at times disastrous.
Perry was supposed to be the “Shane”-like Western hero who brought peace to the troubled valley that is the Republican presidential field. A month after he rode into town, however, increasingly frantic GOP insiders are begging New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to saddle up and save the day.
After watching Perry in the debate, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol — a card-carrying member of the Republican establishment — had a one-word reaction: “Yikes.”
Perry got off to what his supporters consider a strong start, which means he spoke in complete sentences. After the first hour, however, he began to slip into gibberish — as when he said his program for controlling the border with Mexico without building a fence includes putting “the aviation assets on the ground,” and when he described the nation between Afghanistan and India as “the Pakistani country.”
Then he wound up for his big attack on Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper. This is what came out:
“I think Americans just don’t know sometimes which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of — against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it — was before — he was before the social programs from the standpoint of — he was for standing up for Roe versus Wade before he was against Roe versus Wade? Him — he was for Race to the Top. He’s for Obamacare and now he’s against it. I mean, we’ll wait until tomorrow and — and — and see which Mitt Romney we’re really talking to tonight.”
Yikes, yikes and double yikes.
The prospect of Perry standing next to Obama on a debate stage may have freaked out the GOP establishment, but what angered the party’s base was Perry’s position on illegal immigration. It is both reasonable and compassionate, meaning it is also completely unacceptable.
At issue was Perry’s initiative to let the sons and daughters of illegal immigrants in Texas pay in-state tuition at state universities. “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said.
Two days later, in the straw poll, Florida Republicans showed him just how heartless they can be.
I don’t know anyone who believes that Cain’s big victory — he captured 37 percent of the vote, compared with Perry’s 15 percent and Romney’s 14 percent — is a sign that the Hermanator’s campaign is about to catch fire, except perhaps Cain himself. Instead, it was a vote of no confidence in what still looks like a strikingly weak field.
Michele Bachmann swiftly rose and fell in the polls. If Perry traces the same arc, the temptation would be to conclude that the party has resigned itself to Romney and is ready to fall in line. But Romney has been running for nearly five years now and still hasn’t overcome an uncomfortable truth: The party’s just not that into him.
At this point, you have to wonder if the GOP will fall in love with anybody. I’m trying to imagine the candidate who can maintain credibility with the party’s establishment and Tea Party wings. If the ultra-flexible Romney isn’t enough of a political contortionist to do it, who is?
Given the state of the economy, Obama’s going to have a tough re-election fight no matter what. But while the president flies around the country knitting the Democratic Party’s various constituencies back together, Republicans are still waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to ride over the horizon.
I don’t know if Christie can ride a horse, but this movie’s not over yet.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 26, 2011