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“That’s His Voice”: Willard Romney’s Integrity Problem

I really didn’t intend to return to the subject, but the latest defense from the Romney campaign for its transparent lying is too extraordinary to overlook.

To briefly recap, Mitt Romney’s very first television ad of the 2012 campaign pushes a blatant, shameless lie. In 2008, a month before the president was elected, then-candidate Obama told voters, “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’” In Romney’s new attack ad, viewers only see part of the quote: “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

It’s a cheap, deceitful move, suggesting Romney wants to get his general-election strategy off to as dishonorable a start as possible. And what’s the Republican campaign’s response? It’s a doozy.

Romney senior New Hampshire adviser Tom Rath tells CBS News the ad is “exactly what we want.” […]

Pressed on whether it was unfair to lop off the top of Mr. Obama’s comments — which would show the president was quoting the McCain camp — Rath said, “He did say the words. That’s his voice.”

There’s no way around this — the argument is just blisteringly stupid. Yes, Obama said those words, and yes, that’s the president’s voice, but the whole point of the controversy is that Romney wrenched the words from context, changing the meaning and deceiving the public.

It’s why ThinkProgress put together a video of Romney saying all kinds of interesting things, which, when taken out of context, show the former governor calling for higher taxes, insisting that there’s nothing unique about the United States, arguing that government knows better than free people, and rejecting the very idea of fiscal responsibility.

In each instance, to use Tom Rath’s reasoning, Romney “did say the words,” and that is Romney’s “voice.”

ABC News’ Jake Tapper said of Romney’s ad, “[I]t’s not just misleading. It’s TV-station-refuse-to-air-it-misleading.”

Agreed. Romney’s willingness to lie to voters raises important questions about his integrity, but the question now becomes whether television stations will participate in the lie by airing a spot that’s proven to be deceptive.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, November 22, 2011

November 23, 2011 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Media | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Scholarly Language”: Newt Gingrich Speaks Well But Is He Smart?

If Newt Gingrich’s career in public service proves anything, it is that he will never be caught saying “Oops.” Gingrich is currently rising to frontrunner status in the Republican presidential primary largely because he’s willing to talk about any subject at any time, is ready to do so with some measure of linguistic facility, and has sufficient  self-regard to exploit every opportunity to demonstrate his rhetorical  command. He has managed to leverage the televised debates to his benefit  by acting like a professor before an unprepared lecture hall of  students, condescending to the moderators by treating every question as a  logic exercise. And so, however improbably, his Ph.D in history has  earned the status of an important credential to the Republican Party.

But if Gingrich has amply proven his academic talents, he has also demonstrated their limitations. The Republican Party should not mistake his communication skills with evidence of real knowledge, or even of  good reasoning. Gingrich may be a master of academic exercises—his ability to make bookish references and formulate long sentences demonstrate as much—but that does not mean he knows what he is talking about.

Gingrich’s patterns of speech are largely analytically acute, and sometimes aesthetically interesting, but substantively, they are very often lacking. Language is supposed to be a package that carries substance, but Gingrich is sometimes so pleased with his uninterrupted  stream of words, that he mistakes it for an actual flow of ideas. This, sadly, is an affliction endemic in academia, where too many spend too  long trying to score points in petty intellectual fights; the further the substance of the debate recedes, the faster the self-satisfaction of the participants grows.

Linguists have long known not to be distracted by the decorative aspects of language, and that profound substance can often be found in unexpected packages; indeed, they are trained to find it there. A classic study, performed by the University of Pennsylvania’s William Labov back in the 1960s, shows that to be the case. Labov showed that in Philadelphia’s inner city, those speaking the roughest “Ebonics” were often reasoning  more deeply than more educated, middle-class black neighbors. (This was just before middle class blacks started moving to the suburbs in the wake of the Fair Housing Act.)

Here’s a male teenager asked whether he believes in heaven:

Like some people say if you’re good an’ shit, your spirit goin’ t’heaven … ‘n’ if you bad, your spirit goin’ to  hell. Well, bullshit! Your spirit goin’ to hell anyway, good or bad.  ‘Cause, you see, doesn’ nobody really know that it’s a God, y’know,  ‘cause I mean I have seen black gods, pink gods, white gods, all color  gods, and don’t nobody know it’s really a God. An’ when they be sayin’  if you good, you goin’ t’heaven, tha’s bullshit, ‘cause you ain’t goin’  to no heaven — ‘cause it ain’t no heaven for you to go to!

On the surface that hardly sounds like what we call sober reasoning. However, Labov laid out the clear formal lines of logic expressed in this slangy, nonstandard vehicle of speech:

1. Everyone has a different idea of what God is like.

2. Therefore nobody knows that God really exists.

3. If there is heaven, it was made by God.

4. If God doesn’t exist, he couldn’t have made heaven.

5. Therefore heaven does not exist.

6. Therefore you can’t go to heaven.

Compare this to the more bourgeois person asked whether there is such a thing as witchcraft:

I do feel that in certain cultures there is such a thing as witchcraft, or some sort of science  of witchcraft; I don’t think that it’s just a matter of believing hard  enough that there is such a thing as witchcraft. I do believe that there is such a thing that a person can put himself in a state of mind, or that something could be given to them to intoxicate them in a certain – to a certain frame of mind – that – that could actually be considered witchcraft.

A teacher would have no problem with the phraseology; we all see the basic confidence in self-expression. In a television debate, this may not have even been considered a gaffe. But technically this guy didn’t say a thing of use. Is there witchcraft or not? What is it that “could be considered witchcraft”? Smooth talking and smooth thinking reveal themselves to be hardly the same thing.

So it is with Gingrich. Take a close look at what he’s saying, and you’ll find that he’s using artfully constructed rhetoric to cloak ideas  that are simply wrong. A favorite of mine was a few years ago when he opined  that bilingual education fosters the language of the “ghetto.” He  apologized for the “ghetto” part, appropriately enough. However, he was  never forced to confront the fact that his whole statement was patently  ridiculous. What evidence is there of burgeoning communities in the  United States of people who grow up speaking only Spanish, or do not  speak English well enough to function beyond asking someone to fill it  up with regular?

The evidence shows instead that there are many communities of people who speak both Spanish and English, and, by all lights, they should be seen as a benefit, not a hindrance. Gingrich was arguing in  part against bilingual education, but research has shown quite conclusively  that children get a leg up in early learning when taught first in their  primary language. Bilingual ed programs in the United States have not  always been good, but Gingrich wasn’t offering criticism—he was  conducting a smear in the language of high-minded objectivity.

For someone with vaunted academic credentials, this is an embarrassment. If Professor Gingrich is intent on brandishing his Ph.D, might not he be expected to have done some basic research—or at least  show basic respect for research—on the subjects he talks about? But  there is a basic misunderstanding at work here: Scholarship is not about  the production of words, but about the search for knowledge on the  basis of evidence. Gingrich seems to have interpreted his academic  training rather as a way primarily to burnish his own ego—to confuse supporters into following him, rather than to clarify matters of  importance.

He is obviously well-practiced at this sort of scholarly and  linguistic malpractice. So as Gingrich’s poll numbers go up this week, we should keep in mind that sometimes the pomp and circumstance of  scholarly language is little more than a cynical game of bait and  switch.

By: John McWhorter, Contributing Editor, November 15, 2011

November 23, 2011 Posted by | GOP | , , , | Leave a comment

No Amount Of Obama ‘Leadership’ Could’ve Saved The Super Committee

Despite what you might have heard, Barack Obama is not to blame for the failure of the so-called “super committee” to reach a debt deal. That the president should have exercised greater “leadership” has become a standard talking point both on the right and among the “everyone’s to blame for a broken system” commentariat. But that line of criticism simply isn’t connected to political reality.

Part of the problem is a belief that has developed in recent decades in the omnipotence of the president and the bully pulpit.

As my colleague Ken Walsh notes,

Americans expect their president to push the system into action and, through persuasion, cajolery, threats, intimidation or personal diplomacy, get things done on Capitol Hill.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he told reporters, in reaction to the committee’s collapse, “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don’t see that happening.”

But that presupposes that all policy gaps are bridgeable. Some simply aren’t. In this specific instance, the chasm was too wide. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has neatly summarized it, the super sticking point was: “Democrats wanted the rich to pay more in taxes towards deficit reduction, and Republicans wanted the rich to pay less in taxes towards deficit reduction.”

When Republicans finally allowed for some increased tax revenues, they were conditioned on making permanent the Bush tax cuts. In other words the GOP was willing to close around $300 billion in loopholes in exchange for adding $4 trillion to the deficit in the form of enshrining the Bush tax rates.

Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum has a helpful set of four questions any critics of Obama’s leadership here should answer. The second one is the key: Critics should “explain whether they think Republicans would ever, under any circumstances, have accepted a deal with a net tax increase.”

No one who is both sentient and has watched politics in recent years thinks that they would. So the leadership that Bloomberg and others would have Obama exercise would involve him either talking the GOP into becoming Democrats or himself capitulating to their demands. (This latter option would, of course, have set many of the same commentators off on a round of exposition about what a weak leader Obama is for having surrendered to the GOP, again.)

The utter hollowness of the GOP position is underscored by the fact that Republicans who criticize Obama for not taking a more direct role in the super committee’s deliberations attacked him for undermining the committee when he released his deficit reduction proposal (h/t Sargent).

The belief that presidential “leadership” would have somehow bridged this divide is especially pernicious because it plays into the hands of GOP hardliners. So long as pundits insist that any policy chasm can be bridged with just an application of presidential leadership, it removes all incentive for the side opposing the president to do anything but hold a hard line. What else should they do when he gets the blame for their intransigence?

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, November 22, 2011

November 23, 2011 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Super Committee Co-Chair: Lawmakers Failed Because Democrats Refused To Privatize Medicare

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) faults the Democrats’ refusal to accept partial Medicare privatization for the super committee’s inability to come up with a bipartisan plan to lower spending in today’s Wall Street Journal. He writes, “Democrats on the committee made it clear that the new spending called for in the president’s health law was off the table” and pretends that the spending in the Affordable Care Act added to the deficit (it actually reduces it). “Republicans offered to negotiate a plan on the other two health-care entitlements—Medicare and Medicaid—based upon the reforms included in the budget the House passed earlier this year,” he continues and lays out the premium support proposal offered by Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici:

The Medicare reforms would make no changes for those in or near retirement. Beginning in 2022, beneficiaries would be guaranteed a choice of Medicare-approved private health coverage options and guaranteed a premium-support payment to help pay for the plan they choose….These seniors would be able to choose from a list of Medicare-guaranteed coverage options, similar to the House budget’s approach—except that Rivlin-Domenici would continue to include a traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan among the options.

This approach was also rejected by committee Democrats.

The Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare trustees, and the Government Accountability Office have each repeatedly said that our health-care entitlements are unsustainable. Committee Democrats offered modest adjustments to these programs, but they were far from sufficient to meet the challenge. And even their modest changes were made contingent upon a minimum of $1 trillion in higher taxes—a move sure to stifle job creation during the worst economy in recent memory.

Hensarling doesn’t mention that the Rivlin-Domenici premium-support proposal doesn’t so much lower national health care spending as it shifts it to the beneficiary. The plan reduces the federal contribution to Medicare by capping costs for each beneficiary and offering premium support credits that won’t keep up with actual health care spending. The federal government spends less, but seniors will pay more out of pocket for health care benefits every year. The proposal also breaks up the market clout of traditional Medicare and rather than ratcheting up some of efficiencies and payment reforms in the Affordable Care Act, it sets the nation on an untested path of private competition — leaving seniors vulnerable to the manipulations of for-profit health insurers.

Democrats, for their part, offered rather substantial concessions on Medicare spending. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argued, the Democrats’ $3 trillion deficit proposal to the super committee “stands well to the right of plans by the co-chairs of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission and the Senate’s ‘Gang of Six,’ and even further to the right of the plan by the bipartisan Rivlin-Domenici commission.” The plan contained “substantially smaller revenue increases than those bipartisan proposals while, for example, containing significantly deeper cuts in Medicare and Medicaid than the Bowles-Simpson plan.” For instance, Bowles-Simpson offered $383 billion in Medicare and Medicaid, while Democrats put $475 billion on the table.

President Obama introduced $320 billion in health care savings, mostly from the pharmaceutical industry and other providers, including rural hospitals, teaching hospitals, and biotechnology firms. But the plan even incorporated the GOP’s push for greater means testing in Medicare, asking some wealthier beneficiaries to pay more for coverage and sought to give beneficiaries “skin in the game” — as the GOP puts it — to discourage over treatment.

All of these are significant concessions — as are the health cuts included in the trigger mechanism — but Hensarling and Republicans aren’t interested in bipartisan agreement. They’re not accepting anything short of Medicare privatization.

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, November 22, 2011

November 23, 2011 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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