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“Not Even Close”: Newsweek Gets It Wrong, Mitt Romney Is A Bully

Howard Kurtz, whose usual beat (for the last 20+ years) is media reporting, not politics, has a story in this week’s Newsweek claiming that John McCain is desperate to help Mitt Romney, but Romney is apparently not seeking the legendary maverick’s assistance.

The headline says McCain staged a campaign intervention for Mitt Romney, but that apparently happened months ago, during the primaries. (McCain and his BFF/sidekick Lindsey Graham called Romney and told him not to say “self-deport” anymore.)

McCain is I guess disappointed that Romney won’t take his advice on foreign policy issues (bomb everywhere forever) and immigration (be a little bit less anti-immigrant) and also no one invited McCain to speak at the convention.

We get another wonderful iteration of the “Obama failed to reach out to McCain” story:

The other glitch was his strikingly antagonistic relationship with Obama. Despite a fence-mending meeting at the White House last year, the president never called again. McCain contrasts Obama’s aloof approach to lawmakers with that of Bill Clinton, who “was remarkably good to me.” In fact, McCain told me that he and Clinton chatted about policy in occasional phone calls during his 2008 campaign, even as the former president was backing Obama.

I never get sick of hearing this. Obama’s legendary “aloof approach” forced John McCain to be a bitter, petty man who holds grudges forever after minor perceived slights! He only got one invitation to the White House!

I can’t even really figure out the point of this story. At least Kurtz got most of his sources — McCain and Steve Schmidt — to speak on the record, which is better than your average Politico non-story, but it doesn’t really strike me as odd or unusual that Romney is not making a man who lost badly to Barack Obama a major surrogate in his campaign to beat Barack Obama.

It’s especially unsurprising because Romney, a supremely self-confident man, doesn’t care to take advice from anyone not already in his inner circle. He thinks he and his hand-selected staff know best, and he doesn’t give a shit what anyone else thinks.

That analysis would seem to be contradicted elsewhere in Newsweek (on the cover), where we learn that Romney is actually a “wimp.” How is he wimpy? Well, Newsweek called another guy wimpy once and it got a lot of attention so Romney is also definitely a wimp.

Poor Michael Tomasky is forced to write a Romney analysis shoehorned into a desperate retread of one of the half-dozen Newsweek covers people still sorta remember — the one where they called George H.W. Bush a wimp. It was a silly cover, and one that presaged much of the worst aspects of modern presidential campaign coverage, like the elevation of some amorphous pundit-based “perception” of a candidate over the actual tangible facts of his story and positions. It’s remembered mainly because it made Bush mad (and it should have, the guy was a war hero!). What’s worse about this one is that it’s not even close to being accurate. Romney is indeed a stiff, rich twit, and a guy who was horrible at athletics as a kid, and a guy who says “gee whiz” or whatever, but he’s not a “wimp.” He’s a bully! He bullied other kids in school, he was arrested for mouthing off to a cop who dared to question him on a minor violation, he publicly berated a teenage volunteer traffic cop at the Salt Lake games and then refused to apologize, and he generally loses his temper at any time he’s challenged by anyone he considers a subordinate. And he considers just about everyone a subordinate!

Poor Newsweek! They’ll get this “weird blog that comes out once a week and is on paper” thing right one of these days.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 31, 2012 

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doom And Gloom”: A History Of Paul Ryan’s Attempts To Dismantle Social Security

That House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) supports the privatization of Social Security is well known. Ryan proposed $1.2 trillion in cuts and the partial privatization of Social Security upon taking control of the Budget Committee in 2011, and he has constantly warned about the supposed doom facing the program if major reforms aren’t enacted immediately.

But Ryan’s attempts to gut the most popular entitlement program in America go back quite a few years, as Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker profile of the conservative hero makes clear. Ryan’s fight against Social Security has been ongoing since he pushed President George W. Bush to privatize the program in 2005:

Under Ryan’s initial version, American workers would be able to invest about half of their payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, in private accounts. As a plan to reduce government debt, it made no sense. It simply took money from one part of the budget and spent it on private accounts, at a cost of two trillion dollars in transition expenses. But, as an ideological statement about the proper relationship between individuals and the federal government, Ryan’s plan was clear. […]

Two weeks after Bush’s Inauguration, Ryan gave a speech at Cato asserting that Social Security was no longer the third rail of American politics. He toured his district with a PowerPoint presentation and invited news crews to document how Republicans could challenge Democrats on a sacrosanct policy issue and live to tell about it.

Bush ultimately went with a slightly less radical proposal that still failed in the Senate and caused Republicans massive losses in the 2006 mid-term elections. But Ryan, undeterred, told Lizza that the failure of privatization was simply due to marketing, not that the plan was unpopular:

What some might interpret as the failure of an unpopular idea Ryan insisted was mostly a communications problem. “The Administration did a bad job of selling it,” he told me. Bush had campaigned on national-security issues, only to pitch Social Security reform after reëlection. “And . . . thud,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to prepare the country for these things. You can’t just spring it on them after you win.” The lesson: “Don’t let the engineers run the marketing department.”

Aided by the mainstream media’s spreading of the lie that Social Security is “going bankrupt,” Ryan has been able to thrust Social Security “reform” back onto the table, and it was embraced during the primary by virtually every Republican candidate.

What Ryan and his Republican colleagues continue to ignore, however, is how easy fixing Social Security would be if they weren’t so insistent on protecting the wealthiest Americans from a single tax increase. By lifting the payroll tax cap that currently limits Social Security contributions to the first $110,100 in income, Congress could ensure the program’s solvency for the next 75 years — longer than the program has been in existence to this point.

That wouldn’t fit Ryan’s belief that the government doesn’t have a role in helping protect the financial security of the American people. But it would prevent millions of Americans from losing the much of their retirement savings, as they would have during the 2008 financial crisis had Ryan’s plan to privatize Social Security become law.


By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, July 30, 2012

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Social Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Culture And The Hand Of Providence”: On Israel, Mitt Romney More GOP Than LDS

When Mitt Romney claimed “culture” and the “hand of Providence” led to Israel’s economic superiority over the Palestinians at a Jerusalem fundraiser this morning, he was hardly reading from a Mormon script.

Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at Brigham Young University, editor in chief of the BYU Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, and author of the book Abraham Divided: An LDS Perspective on the Middle East, said in an interview that growing up as a Mormon in California in the 1960s, most Latter-Day Saints were “very militantly pro-Israeli.” That stance has evolved, however, said Peterson, describing the evolution as a “mellowing” as people have gotten to know Muslims and discovered the conflict is “not as black and white as I once thought it was, that there are decent people on both sides. Good people have gotten hurt on both sides.”

Although Mormons believe that God has a hand in returning the Jews to Palestine, unlike many evangelicals who claim to be pro-Israel, Mormons also have what Peterson characterized as a “fairly liberal view of other religions,” including Islam. “We don’t have the same imperative, we don’t have same sense of urgency of getting to people in this life or else they’re going to hell.” As a result, it’s not uncommon in Mormon circles, he said, to hear Buddha or Muhammed described as “inspired,” a view that has “filtered down largely to the rank and file membership.”

What’s more, an important feature of Mormonism is “that Abraham is the father of the faithful and his other posterity also have a role to play and are heirs to promises given to him.” In 1979, the flagship magazine of the Church published an article entitled, “Ishmael, Our Brother,” and has paid “tribute to Muhammed, among other religious leaders, as having received a portion of God’s light used to serve his people, a very positive statement for a Christian group to make, before that was really politically correct.” That was not a break with previous LDS tradition, said Peterson, because “it flows right out of Joseph Smith,” although Peterson noted that he didn’t know how Smith came in contact with teachings about Islam or what he read about Islam.

There are critics, said Peterson, who “think we’re too friendly with Muslims.” Such critics, particularly evangelicals, he said, think “we should be condemning Islam as the religion of the devil, and because we’re not, that goes to prove we’re not real Christians.”

While the Church has, said Peterson, avoided taking explicitly political stands in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—it does not, for example, use the word “occupation” and it does not take positions on proposed political solutions to the conflict—it lays down “broad moral guidelines” about “all God’s children.” The Church is “very concerned that we be seen, for example, in Jerusalem itself as friends to both sides,” something Peterson said the administrators of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies of Brigham Young University strive for.

While “a Latter-day Saint would find it very hard to be fundamentally critical of the Zionist project because our scriptures talk about the return of Jews to the Holy Land,” said Peterson, “there’s certainly room to disagree about the form that it’s taken or specific policies of the Israeli government. Some are going to be very sympathetic. You take someone like Glenn Beck who’s obviously very closely aligned with the government of Israel but others who are extremely critical and embarrassed that Glenn Beck is a Mormon.” Peterson described Beck as “much more in line with certain militant evangelicals.”

With regard to Romney’s statements about economic disparities between Israel and Palestine, Peterson noted, “There are other factors Gov. Romney should’ve noticed,” including that “Palestinians are not just under occupation but are surrounded by a wall.”

“If I could sit down and talk to him,” said Peterson, “I’d like to say, but Governor, remember, the Palestinians are too from our point of view theologically descendants of Abraham, and they deserve concern and consideration too.” While a Latter-day Saint would believe, as Romney claimed, that “the hand of Providence” is on Israel, Peterson cautioned, “I would be really careful about saying that in a political context, I would really want to balance it out if I were speaking publicly as a politican to express concern and support for legitimate Palestinian aspirations.” Peterson said he worried about Romney’s statements because “I don’t want Mormons to be seen as so pro-Israeli that we discount actual grievances that I think in some cases the Palestinians really have.”

Peterson added that he was worried, as well, about Romney’s reaction to Abraham Hassan, a Palestinian-American (and a Republican) who asked, at GOP presidential debate earlier this year, “How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people?” Peterson described Romney’s response as “fairly dismissive,” and that “I really thought he missed an opportunity there to send a message to the Arab community, which is fairly large, too, that I hear your concerns too. That I regret.”

Peterson added, “I list myself as a political conservative, I am a quite serious conservative, probably more than Mitt Romney is, probably of a peculiar kind. I really don’t like dismissing Palestinian concerns because in many cases they are legitimate.” What’s more, he added, “pragmatically, this is a voting bloc, and some of them have money, and he ought to be thinking about that.”


BY: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, July 30, 2012

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Short Memories”: If Only The President Would Make Speeches, Everything Would Be Different

The bizarre idea that Obama never tried to convince the public on health care reform.

Yesterday, psychologist and political consultant Drew Westen had yet another op-ed in a major newspaper (the Washington Post this time) explaining that all of Barack Obama’s troubles come from a failure to use rhetoric effectively. Don’t get me wrong, I think rhetoric is important—in fact, I’ve spent much of the last ten years or so writing about it. But Westen once again seems to have fallen prey to the temptation of believing that everything would be different if only a politician would give the speech he’s been waiting to hear. There are two problems with this belief, the first of which is that a dramatic speech almost never has a significant impact on public opinion. The second is that Barack Obama did in fact do exactly what Drew Westen and many other people say they wish he had done.

This is only one part of Westen’s piece, but I want to focus on it because it’s said so often, and is so absurd:

In keeping with the most baffling habit of one of our most rhetorically gifted presidents, Obama and his team just didn’t bother explaining what they were doing and why. To them, their actions were self-evident. But nothing is self-evident when your opponents are spending millions of dollars to defeat you. Instead, the White House blundered around with memorable phrases such as “bending the cost curve,” which didn’t speak to the values underlying the need for health-care reform.

My God, do people ever have short memories. They “didn’t bother explaining what they were doing and why”? Oh sure, if only Obama had, say, given a major speech about health-care reform, explaining to the public the principles behind his plan and the practical steps he would take! That would have changed everything! Oh, but wait—he did. Multiple times. Here‘s a speech he gave on it in June 2009. Here‘s a speech he gave on health-care reform to a joint session of Congress that September—maybe you’ve forgotten about it, but it was a pretty big deal at the time. Here‘s another speech he gave on it. We could go on.

Any time you’re tempted to say, “The President has never said X!,” you really ought to take some time to see if it’s true, because chances are he has. And in this case, the president made the case for health care hundreds of times. He did it on an almost daily basis for an entire year. The fact that his campaign of persuasion wasn’t as successful as many of us wanted it to be doesn’t mean he and his administration just forgot to talk to the public about health-care reform.

In fairness, when President Obama himself was asked about his biggest mistake in an interview not long ago, he said it was that he had spent all his time on getting the policies right and hadn’t spent enough time communicating with the American people. But that’s the presidential version of the job interview response, “My greatest weakness? I guess it’s that I work too hard.” The fact that he says it, and the fact that you might like to believe it’s true, doesn’t make it so.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 30, 2012

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Health Reform | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You’re Not Just A Chump”: Mitt Romney Thinks You’re A Sucker

You don’t have accounts in the Caymans? What a chump.

Back in January, when he was asked during a primary debate about the taxes he pays, Mitt Romney made the somewhat odd assertion that “I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.” As I’ve written before, this would seem to indicate that Romney believes that if you don’t have a team of accountants who can ferret out every last loophole to minimize your tax bill then you’re just a sucker, so pathetic that you are unworthy of occupying the highest office in the land. But maybe I was being unfair. After all, I’ve been critical of the campaign habit of reading too much into any particular statement a candidate makes. We all say things that upon reflection we’d like to put another way or take back completely, so maybe Romney didn’t quite mean it the way it sounded.

But once you repeat a statement like that more than once, we can be pretty sure you do in fact mean it. And based on what he said in an interview yesterday with ABC News, we can be pretty sure Mitt Romney genuinely believes that if you paid an extra dollar to the federal government, then you’re not just a chump, you’re such a chump we wouldn’t want you to be president:

From time to time I’ve been audited as happens I think to other citizens as well and the accounting firm which prepares my taxes has done a very thorough and complete job pay taxes as legally due. I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires.

Think about this for a moment. Romney thinks that paying more than you owed, or even failing to take advantage of every last loophole and tax shelter you could, is so despicable it’s disqualifying, as though it were a moral transgression on par with, I don’t know, stealing a car or abusing your wife or something.

Not only that, both times he has said this he projects the belief onto other people as well. “I don’t think you want someone” the first time, “I’d think people would want me” this time. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say this has its roots in Romney’s time in the private equity world. If you’re investing with a private equity firm, you want the leader of that firm to be smart, thorough, and ruthless. You want him to squeeze every last penny he can from every available source, and of course minimize the taxes he and you will pay. If he says, “I could have set up an elaborate network of shell companies in the Caribbean, but I decided not to,” you might think he had failed you, since the only goal in the endeavor is to make as much money as possible and keep the government’s hands off it.

But the presidency isn’t the chairmanship of a private equity firm, and maybe, just maybe, the qualities that make one effective at the latter aren’t precisely the qualities we want in the former.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the real issue is that we have a tax system that allows people like Mitt Romney, who takes in about $20 million a year despite the fact that he hasn’t actually held a job in five years other than running for president, to pay a laughably low tax rate, while people who actually work for a living pay a far higher proportion of their income in taxes. Weirdly, Romney thinks that system is just peachy, and he would actually like to tilt it even farther in favor of the wealthy.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 30, 2012

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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