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“A Journey To Nowhere”: Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch Speech, Thin On Ideas And Policy

Finally, Mitt Romney shook the Etch a Sketch.

Having given conservatives everything they had asked for — from switching his positions on abortion and immigration to picking their favorite as his running mate — Romney turned Thursday night to his essential task: converting some President Obama’s 2008 supporters into Republican voters.

At a convention where the rhetoric was harsh and often indifferent to facts, Romney took the path of quiet persuasion. For the most part, he chose not to speak to the fervor and anger of political activists on the Right. He addressed instead less-partisan voters he hopes will be open to his candidacy by virtue of their disappointment with the man who had inspired them four years ago.

“Hope and change had a powerful appeal,” Romney said in the speech’s key passage. “But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”

In a sense, the appeal Romney re-launched here was the argument he had hoped to make from the beginning — that the election was primarily an exercise in judging the incumbent’s stewardship and, in particular, a painfully slow economic recovery.

Romney’s turn had been promised last March by his veteran aide Eric Fehrnstrom, who provided his boss’s foes with a useful metaphor for describing the ease with which the candidate has altered his positions on a long list of issues.

After the primary campaign, Fehrnstrom argued, “everything changes,” and he added: “It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Romney knew that what he most had to shake was a personal image tainted by an impression of inconstancy on issues; attacks on his record in business both by his primary foes and the Obama campaign; and off-the-cuff comments that suggested a great distance between his own experience and the lives of most of the voters whose support he needs.

Speaking a few hours before Romney’s address, Andrew Kohut, head of the Pew research Center, said the surveys pointed to three imperatives for Romney: He had to make himself more likable, more credible and more empathetic.

Thus the unusual amount of detail Romney provided about his family and history. Thus the long narrative about Bain Capital, aimed at changing the impression of a heartless business past that has reduced Romney’s appeal to blue collar voters. Such voters do not celebrate investors and employers with the same ebullience that greeted every mention of the private sector at this convention. The burden of having to tell his personal story fell heavily on this speech: It took up space and time and left the speech very thin on ideas and policy.

Romney hit few ideological hot buttons, and he broke little new ground. His philosophical core is clearly defined by his promise of a pro-business administration that would seek to create jobs by giving investors and CEOs what they want. He continued to paint Obama as lacking understanding of private sector. “Jobs to him are about government,” he said.

Once again, Romney showed that his campaign will launch attacks with little regard for their veracity. “Unlike President Obama,” he said, “I will not raise taxes on the middle class.” While the definition of the “middle class” is flexible, Obama has in fact asked Congress to retain current tax rates for families earning less than $250,000 a year.

“I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour,” Romney also said. “President Obama began with an apology tour.” There was no apology tour. And Romney suggested that Republicans had been initially eager to work with the president, when in fact the party was determined from the beginning to oppose virtually all of Obama’s initiatives.

Romney’s was not a great speech, but it did at least familiarize those who heard it with aspects of his personal journey of which they were unaware. He is likely to get some bounce out of his convention, but it will be short-lived as media attention shifts abruptly to the Democrats’ conclave in Charlotte right after Labor Day.

And there will be a jarring contrast between the Romney who spoke of uniting the nation and his exceptionally harsh, relentless and divisive advertising campaign that includes factually-challenged spots on welfare plainly aimed at stirring resentment.

The stark disjunction will inevitably keep alive the question that his convention speech did not answer: Who is the real Romney?


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 31, 2012

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

“Look Into My Lies”: Paul Ryan Uses Fact Checkers As Campaign Surrogates

The old saying goes “There are no referees in politics.” But there are fact checkers — Politifact,, The Fact Checker. These “independent” seers like to think they’re defending the truth. But Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have figured out how to use them to spread lies.

Many of these fact checkers peer into the words of both major parties and do their best to suggest that both sides are the same – despite the fact, for instance, that the GOP’s nominee Mitt Romney has more “Pants on Fire” rulings than any national politician.

Rarely are fact checkers as unanimous and righteous in their condemnation of a falsehood as they have been of the Romney campaign’s claim that the president took the work requirement out of Welfare. It’s a flat out lie. But it’s also the first ad that has moved the dial for Romney. You may have listened as a Romney pollster, when confronted with that fact that the attack is false, said, “We aren’t going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

Instead of letting fact checkers edit their campaign, Romney’s team has a better use for fact checkers: campaign surrogates.

The “birther” scandal shows that debunking lies does little to quell the lie and much more to spread it. It’s a tactic Mitt Romney has used effectively for a year now as he’s accused the president of “apologizing for America.” That never happened. But to debunk the lie, you have to repeat it. It’s classic “He’ll look like hell denying it” politics.

Although modern politicians are generally too smart to repeat lies about themselves, the Romney camp knows the fact checkers will. So how do you dictate what the media will be talking about tomorrow? Make purposely deceptive statements about the issues you want to highlight.

What are Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney’s biggest weaknesses? Medicare; the auto bailout; a hugely unpopular Congress and Ryan’s record of voting for Bush-era surplus-blowing policies.

So Ryan systematically made an “attack by assertion rather than accusationabout each of these issues. By making these attacks in deceptive ways that either ignored or left out crucial facts, he forced the media to repeat his assertions.

From the morning Romney announced Ryan as his running mate, the candidates have been making the assertion that the president funneled – or sometimes “robbed” — $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. This assertion is a classic half-truth in several ways. The money comes from savings that extend the life of the program. Ryan voted to keep the cuts but not to fund ObamaCare.

But you see? We’ve fallen into the precise trap that Ryan set.

While you and I and the fact checkers debunk his half-truth, we’re ignoring the larger issue. Ryan makes huge cuts to current seniors by gutting Medicaid now and then turning Medicare into a voucher program that passes the costs on to seniors. Point: Romney/Ryan.

The best part of this super-sneaky strategy is that it’s fool-proof. Republicans can admit what they’re doing, yet fact checkers and incredulous Democrats still fall into the trap. “Not only was everything Congressman Ryan said factually accurate, but by the Chicago folks highlighting this, they’re advancing our argument,” Sean Spicer, the chief spokesperson for the RNC, said today.

And I have to admit they’re right. Look at the one GM factory in Jannesville that Ryan brought up, deceptively blaming the president for its closure today even though it was scheduled to close during the Bush Administration. We’re doing it again!

Instead of talking about the dozens of GM factories the president helped save or the hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs that the auto rescue protected, we’re talking about one that’s closed. Point: Romney/Ryan.

Instead of talking about how Paul Ryan’s budget increases the deficit, we’re talking about how he voted against Simpson-Bowles. Instead of talking about Paul Ryan’s role in this incredibly unpopular Congress that held the debt limit hostage for a debt deal they won’t even honor, we’re talking about the U.S. credit rating.

These lies are clearly strategically placed, which becomes obvious when you think about what Ryan was really arguing. He wants fewer cuts to government? He wants the government to decide which factories stay open? He wants to protect the poor but cut tens of millions of them from Medicaid?

These aren’t his beliefs, they’re his smokescreen. As long as we’re parsing his words, we’re not talking about how harmful his vision for America actually would be. And that’s obviously what Paul Ryan and the GOP want. The entire convention theme “We Built It!” is based on a deceptive misquote from the president.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine the president lying the way Ryan or Romney do. But if he doesn’t find some way to break through to the truth, the real referees in politics — the voters — may end up being swept up in the tide of lies.


BY: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, August 31, 2012

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

“Romney’s Carter Delusion”: Mitt’s Acceptance Speech Perfectly Tailored For An Opponent He’s Not Running Against

There’ve been indications lately that Mitt Romney’s campaign no longer believes it will be enough to depend on widespread economic anxiety for a November victory – that too many swing voters like Barack Obama too much and are too willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because of the catastrophe he inherited.

If this is the Romney team’s new thinking, the speech the GOP nominee delivered last night didn’t reflect it. It was perfectly scripted for a candidate who is confident that the basic dynamics of the race favor him and who sees boldness, specificity and unforced errors as his main obstacles on the road to the White House.

I’ve written before about Romney’s desire to function as a generic candidate, someone likable and competent enough to swing voters who are inclined to vote out President Obama and who lacks any sharp edges that might give them pause. His acceptance speech was as broad and formulaic as this strategy. As Jonathan Bernstein put it:

Everything in it was perfunctory: the biographical section (which was weirdly interrupted by a digression into Neil Armstrong and the space race and by a call-out to every elected Republican woman they could scrape up — the whole thing seemed to have a case of attention deficit disorder); the five-point economic program; the foreign policy section; the stirring rhetoric at the end; and, certainly, the delivery.

Probably the most telling passage came when Romney invoked Ronald Reagan’s famous “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” line:

That is why every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction: “you are better off today than you were four years ago.” Except Jimmy Carter. And except this president.

This president can ask us to be patient. This president can tell us it was someone else’s fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that YOU are better off today than when he took office.

Let’s give Romney a pass for not mentioning George H.W. Bush, who flunked the “better off” test in 1992 and was drummed out of office with the lowest share of the popular vote of any president since Taft. This was a Republican convention, after all, and Romney has a warm personal friendship with the 41st president. But in calling attention to Carter’s defeat, Romney seemed to indicate that he shares a common view among Republicans about the 2012 race: that it’s a repeat of 1980.

Optimistic Republican voices have been making the claim a lot lately that, just as they were 32 years ago, swing voters are fed up with the incumbent and itching to fire him, and that’s needed from the opposition party is a modicum of reassurance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made this case to National Journal just a few hours before Romney’s speech:

“I’m not predicting a blowout like we ended up having in ’80,” McConnell said in an interview. But the mood strikes him as similar. It’s an atmosphere “in which people really don’t think the guy’s done a very good job, and the Democrats are betting on our candidate being inadequate.”

The speech Romney delivered is the speech that a candidate who believes he’s running against another Carter would deliver. The problem for Romney and Republicans is that the 2012-as-1980 model doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny.

The first problem is that Obama is much more popular as he seeks a second term than Carter was. At this point in 1980, it was common for polls to show Carter with an approval rating in the low 30s, or even in the 20s. And his party was bitterly divided. His initial victory in 1976 had been something of a fluke – he’d understood the ramifications of the Democrats’ radically expanded primary calendar better than anyone else and snuck to the nomination without the support of many of the party’s traditional leaders and interest groups – and he’d alienated huge chunks of the Democratic coalition by governing from the center-right on many domestic issues. This gave rise to Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge, which likely would have succeeded had it not been for the sudden Iran hostage crisis at the end of 1979. As it was, Carter limped to renomination with a majority of his own party saying they disapproved of his presidency.

This just isn’t the case for Obama, whose average approval ratings sits at 47.7 percent in the Real Clear Politics average. That’s hardly enough to guarantee him a second term, or even to make him the clear favorite, but it gives him a fighting chance and puts Obama more in the category of George W. Bush in 2004 – not Carter in 1980. Moreover, Obama’s own party is squarely united behind him. He’s never had a serious problem with his own base, and his approval rating among Democrats consistently clocks in over 80 percent.

The other problem with the ’80 comparison, as John Sides detailed earlier this month, is that Carter actually trailed Reagan throughout that year, sometimes by significant margins. Yes, Carter managed to tighten the race after his party’s August convention, when the Kennedy challenge was extinguished once and for all and many (but not all) of his supporters reluctantly returned to the Carter fold, but Reagan led in the vast majority of polls conducted in 1980. The reason the race isn’t generally remembered that way is that there was a strong sense at the time among the political class that Reagan was far too extreme to win a national election – that his Goldwater-style conservatism would somehow catch up with him and erode his lead before Election Day. But it never did.

Again, Obama is in demonstrably better shape on this front than Carter was. In the wake of the debt ceiling debacle last year, Romney briefly pulled ahead of Obama in polling, but since last October, the president has consistently led in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

The speech Romney gave last night would probably be more than enough to topple a president as weak as Carter. But he’s not running against Carter.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, August 31, 2012

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

“Empty Chair, Empty Promises”: GOP Convention Fails At Principal Political Goal

Going into the Republican Convention, Mitt Romney had one major political mission: to convince swing voters that he isn’t just the guy who fired their brother in law – that he understands their lives and is on their side.

Given his record as Governor of Massachusetts – 47th among the 50 states in job creation – and his history at Bain Capital – Romney can’t really make the case he has any experience creating jobs.

But the thing that really stands between Romney and swing voters is the perception that he has zero empathy – no comprehension of what life is like for everyday Americans.

So the Republicans tried very hard to tell stories that humanized the otherwise robot-like Romney. But here is the bottom line: when multiple speakers have to testify how authentic you are – you’re not.

The first night of the Convention did feature Ann Romney delivering a simple message: you like me, I love Mitt – so he must not be so bad.

But it also featured a cast of Governors doing auditions for 2016 – saying very little about Romney – and a great deal about their own “successes”. When Chris Christi gave the Convention’s Keynote address he didn’t even mention Romney until the very end of his speech.

Night two featured Paul Ryan whipping up the right wing base and delivering brazen lies about the Obama record. Ryan’s speech was a feast for fact checkers. From his assertion that Obama failed to prevent the shutdown of the GM plant at Janesville – which was closed before Obama took office – to his attack on the Obama for failing to take seriously recommendations from the Debt Commission which he himself voted to oppose.

Most egregious was Ryan’s claim that ObamaCare “cut” Medicare by over $700 billion. In fact, of course, far from “cutting” Medicare benefits, ObamaCare actually improved Medicare benefits and achieved $700 billion of savings for the Medicare program by cutting huge overpayments and subsidies to big insurance companies. Not one Medicare recipient has had his or her guaranteed benefits cut by ObamaCare – and Ryan knows it.

Of course, all the while Ryan was lying about the fake “ObamaCare” cuts in Medicare, he and Romney are planning to eliminate Medicare. They have made clear they want to replace it with a voucher program that would provide a fixed amount of money per person and require that seniors shop for coverage on the private insurance market. Their plan will raise out of pocket costs by $6,400 and eliminate the guaranteed benefit that defines Medicare and has meant that American retirees haven’t had to worry about their health care costs for over half a century.

The final night of the Convention, the Republicans made a concerted effort to “humanize” Mitt Romney. They put up a string of former friends and associates to tell stories aimed at trying to make him seem more caring and human.

Then, Bob White, the Chairman of Romney for President, and former Partner in Bain Capital talked about his business experience. White told the story of how Romney was asked to come back from Bain Capital and return to Bain Consulting to save it from collapse. Of course White ignored the fact that, as a new article in Rolling Stone indicates, he achieved that recovery through a federal bailout.

The essential role of the government, by the way, is a consistent, though never mentioned, theme that continued when it came to Romney’s “turn around” of the Salt Lake Olympics that receive a larger federal subsidy — $1.3 billion – than all of the previous Olympics combined.

Then came Tom Stemberg, the CEO of Staples, that had been funded by Bain Capital who argued – in one of the stiffest, least “everyman” speeches ever – that when the Obama campaign contends that Romney is out of touch with ordinary people, “they just don’t get it”. In fact, Tom led the assembled delegates in the chant: “they just don’t get it”. Multi-millionaire Tom Stemberg is a strange choice to serve as cheerleader for how Mitt Romney understands ordinary people.

Ray Fernandez, the owner of Vita Pharmacy, who told everyone how important Bain Capital was in creating his business, followed Stemberg. By this time the Convention was beginning to sound like a business development seminar.

Then came Kerry Healey, Romney’s former Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, to tell us about Mitt’s Massachusetts record. No mention of the three quarters of a trillion dollar increase in fees on everyday people. No mention of the fact that on his watch Massachusetts was 47th out of the 50 states in job creation. No mention of RomneyCare. No mention that his policies increased student class sizes, or that when he left office, Massachusetts had the highest debt per capita in America.

Next was Jane Edmonds, Romney’s former Massachusetts Director of Workforce Development, who testified to Romney’s “authenticity”. Edmonds went on to argue that Mitt believed in promoting women – particularly to “senior” positions. No mention of his refusal to endorse laws that would require equal pay for equal work.

Edmonds tried to convince us that Romney was not one of those leaders who “focused only on his own success” – but rather would work hard – selflessly — to make life better for other people. Now there is a tough sell.

Then came Olympic athletes to testify about how Romney turned around the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. Forgot to mention those Federal subsidies.

There were videos and home movies. Romney saying that when he traveled a lot, he would call home and find Anne exasperated from five active little boys. Caring guy, he told Anne: “Just remember that what you’re doing is more important than what I’m doing.” Really?

After the videos, we were treated to a “surprise” guest — Clint Eastwood — who argued that the Obama Administration failed to do “enough” to eliminate unemployment. Clint forgot about the fact that when Obama first took office, he confronted the worst economic disaster in 60 years. He forgot that Obama staunched the loss of 750,000 jobs per month that had resulted from the failed trickle down policies of the Bush Administration and that Mitt Romney hopes to revive. He forgot about the last 29 consecutive months of private sector job growth — over 4 million jobs – and, most importantly, forgot that the Republicans in Congress have done everything they can to sabotage the economy including refusing to pass the American Jobs Act that independent economists say would have created another million plus jobs.

Then Eastwood rambled through a bazar, awkward dialogue with a faux Obama during the first fifteen minutes of live primetime network Convention coverage. His presentation will be the most talked about event of the convention. And the Republican Party put out a statement distancing itself from Eastwood’s strange presentation just minutes after the Convention adjourned.

When Eastwood finally withdrew, Florida Senator Marco Rubio introduced Romney recanting stale rightwing bromides – whipping up the Republican hard core. Never a mention of the need for immigration reform, or the fact the Mitt Romney vowed to veto the Dream Act, and is the most anti-immigration candidate for President that of a major party in modern history.

Finally, came Romney – stiff and awkward as ever. Touting his record at Bain as a “great American success story”. Once again he blamed Obama for presiding over the “worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.” Let’s remember that the policies that he and Paul Ryan want to reinstall in Washington – tax cuts for the rich and letting Wall Street run wild – caused this economic catastrophe. Romney reminds you of an arsonist complaining that the fire department hasn’t done a good enough job putting out the fire. And in the course of his speech he never offered one idea to create jobs other than reinstating the failed Bush economic program.

Romney went on to attack the Obama foreign policy – apparently forgetting about his own recent disastrous foreign policy tour.

But most importantly, Romney did nothing to “Etch-a-Sketch” his image of the out of touch, prep school educated, son of a corporate CEO.

At the close of this Convention the most memorable stories that everyday people remember about Mitt Romney the person still have to do with a dog strapped to the roof of his car, or the way that, as an 18 year old, he led a gang of teenagers to bully another student. The most memorable facts about Mitt Romney remain that fact that he “likes to fire people” and did exactly that as CEO of Bain Capital.

Mitt’s convention fell short in its attempt to convince everyday Americans that he understands who they are and how they live and that he’s on their side. That is one of the major reasons, that those ordinary Americans will not elect him President of the United States.

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, August 30, 2012

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

“We Did Build That”: The GOP Identification Of Self Worship With Virture

I was pretty much focused on the speeches in Tampa last night, and less on the videos and other trappings, and so didn’t write about the overarching theme of “We Did Build That.” It was, as the New York Times’ Bill Keller noted, pretty odd to see a retort to something Barack Obama actually never said become the dominant theme of the convention dedicated to ousting him from power.

But the one honest thing about this theme and its power among conservatives is the righteous indignation it arouses. Wealthy people, and even some not-so-wealthy people often become furious at the suggestion that their “success” is not purely and simply a tribute to their moral superiority and hard work. The flip side of this calculation, of course, is that people who aren’t so successful are not so virtuous and/or are lazy. When Virtuous Republican Businessman was putting in that extra hour of labor, Lazy Democratic Looter was asleep, or having sex, or doing something else unvirtuous. Or so goes the mythology.

This identification of “success” (i.e., wealth) with virtue, ancient as it is, has always laughably defied common human experience. The hardest working people on earth are those who are literally working to keep from starving. Relatively few of them live in the United States to begin with, and those who do are rarely Republicans. And pride over one’s “success,” particularly if it is expressed via conspicuous wealth, has been the target of stern warnings in virtually every major religious tradition.

It has taken many decades of laborious revisionist work for the devout, scripturally literalist adherents of the faith whose God and Savior was quoted as saying, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” to become uninhibited enthusiasts for earthly success and wealth, and despisers of the “undeserving” poor. It’s the same revisionism, of course, that makes it possible for the Roman Catholic Vice Presidential Nominee of the Republican Party to fondly view Ayn Rand as an “intellectual influence,” instead of someone whose books any Christian should abjure like a Black Mass—someone whose fondest desire was to wipe both religion and altruism from the face of the earth.

But such thoughts do not seem to trouble the delegates in Tampa, for whom Paul Ryan is their true leader for decades to come, their very own Ronald Reagan.

I’ve spent a lot of my life around the non-college educated white voters who seem to be the only “swing voters” the GOP is concerned about at the moment, and while a lot of them do indeed tend to “kick down” and resent the “undeserving poor” they view as too lazy to work, they don’t automatically admire the very wealthy—their own bosses, for example—as paragons of virtue. So I suspect this whole “We Did Build That” theme is basically for the emotional benefit of the GOP base and its donors. It says a lot that at a National Convention their hurt feelings must be so lavishly propitiated. And it is about “hurt feelings,” as TNR’s Leon Wieseltier suggests in his savage takedown of Paul Ryan and his intellectual pretensions today:

It is no wonder that Ryan, and of course Romney, set out immediately to distort the president’s “you didn’t build that speech” in Roanoke, because in complicating the causes of economic achievement, and in giving a more correct picture of the conditions of entrepreneurial activity, Obama punctured the radical individualist mythology, the wild self-worship, at the heart of the conservative idea of capitalism.

“Self-worship” is an apt term for people who have all the material abundance anyone could hope for in this life, but still burn with resentment at the “lucky ducky” working poor who don’t have federal income tax liability, and are insulted at the very idea that they owe something back to their community. I hope they enjoyed their evening of self-congratulation last night. To mention another saying by Jesus Christ with respect to self-regarding “godly” folk: “They have received their reward in full.”

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 29, 2012

August 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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