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The Danger of “Scoring Points”: By Trying To Make Obama Look Bad, Romney Makes Himself Look Like An Asshole

Mitt Romney is running for president. And I guess it can be hard, when you’re running for president and your focus every day is convincing the American voter that you’re a great guy and your opponent is awful, not to approach every new development in the world by seeing it as yet another opportunity to tell everyone that your opponent is awful. But when the only question you ask yourself is, “How can I use this to make my opponent look bad?” you run the risk of making yourself look like a jerk. Sometimes during a campaign, a candidate will be asked, “Is there anything your opponent has done that you agree with?” or “Is there anything good you can say about him?” Usually they say, “He has a lovely family,” as though the thought that he might have done a single thing right is just impossible to contemplate. To say otherwise would be passing up an opportunity to “score points.”

And this, I think, is the root of why Romney did what he did yesterday and came out looking like such an asshole. American civil servants had died in the line of duty, and the only thing he could think to do was use it as the occasion for a weak, unpersuasive attack on Barack Obama, delivered at an appallingly inappropriate moment. All he wanted was to “score points.”

Romney seems to be laboring under the mistaken belief that his challenge on foreign policy is to make voters think poorly of Barack Obama. In fact, his challenge on foreign policy is to make voters consider him a credible president. That’s really all. As long as they think Romney would be reasonable on foreign policy, which is a secondary consideration for almost all of them anyway, it would be enough. Romney is just never going to be able to argue persuasively that Obama has been a foreign policy disaster, and he doesn’t have to. Four years ago the average voter thought the sitting president was such a disaster, committing blunder after blunder and undermining American interests around the world. But today only the most partisan Republican believes that, and Romney no longer needs to appeal to partisan Republicans.

At times of crisis and tragedy, Americans want our leaders to channel the emotions we’re feeling and be the people we want ourselves to be. That’s why, for instance, the best moment of George W. Bush’s presidency was when he stood on top of the rubble at the World Trade Center and said, “I hear you, the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” For all the spectacular screw-ups that came afterward, at that moment Bush perfectly expressed Americans’ anger and their desire to be strong and resilient (and take revenge). That’s why his approval ratings shot up to over 90 percent.

Mitt Romney failed to realize that when Americans are killed overseas, it’s not like every other thing that happens during a campaign. According to The New York Times, Romney’s reaction to the violence was actually the product of a lengthy discussion with his aides, during which I guess they agreed that what really mattered in this situation was not so much that American officials had been killed, but that a statement released by the Cairo embassy could, with the proper disingenuous description of the chronology involved, be described as some kind of weakness and “apologizing” and also attributed directly to Barack Obama. It sounds utterly insane, but that’s the conclusion they came to.

What they obviously didn’t do was take a moment to put themselves in the shoes of a typical American. Was the typical American going to learn of these events and say, “What really has me steamed isn’t the murders in Benghazi, it’s that statement the Cairo embassy put out.” Of course not. Instead, the typical American voter ended up watching Romney and saying, “For cripe’s sake, Americans died, all because of some insane amateurish movie, and this is what you have to say? To come out and whine about how the Obama administration handled a frigging tweet sent out by an embassy staffer? Are you kidding me? What a jackass.”


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 13, 2012



September 13, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The New Politics Of Nostalgia”: Political Schizophrenia Is A Poor Guide To The Future

A specter is haunting the affluent societies of the West. Across the rich countries, and across the political spectrum, there is an unstated but palpable longing for a return to the 1950s.

This ’50s nostalgia takes different forms on the left and on the right. For progressives, the backward-looking wish is for the shared and growing prosperity when unions thrived and could enforce a relatively egalitarian social contract. Democrats in the United States and Social and Christian Democrats in Europe created systems of social insurance — they were more robust in Western Europe — that were largely endorsed by political conservatives.

On the right, ’50s nostalgia takes the form of a quest for order, social homogeneity, religious faith — or, at the least, public respect for traditional values — and strong families, sometimes defined as a return to old gender roles and a less adventurous approach to sexuality.

Neither side fully acknowledges its own nostalgia, partly because everyone wants their 1950s a la carte. The left, for example, will not brook any retreat from gender, racial or ethnic equality, any abridgement of sexual freedom or civil rights, any re-imposition of cultural conformity. The right wants no revival of inhibitions on the rambunctiousness of liberated economies and hails the decline of unions and their capacity to get in the way of labor-market dynamism.

And nostalgia for the 1950s can also split the left and the right, or create a kind of political schizophrenia. Globalization, for example, is often applauded by the left for obliterating nationalism and giving rise to an expansive and less parochial consciousness. Yet the left can also disdain the power that globalization confers on multinational corporations and the way it undercuts the bargaining clout of workers who must now compete with each other across national boundaries.

The right, particularly the more economically libertarian in its ranks, likes the way globalization diminishes the ability of national governments to enforce rules, taxes and bureaucratic inhibitions on the market. Yet many traditional conservatives dislike the free flows of immigration that globalization has let loose. They long for a firmer sense of national identity, and the kind of solidarity more homogenous societies can foster.

Worries about immigration run deep in parts of the Republican Party and pushed Mitt Romney to positions that have left him with an anemic share of the Latino vote. In the Netherlands, where politics has tended toward the pragmatic, the moderate and the practical, worries about Islamic immigration roiled the system and gave rise to the Party for Freedom, the PVV, headed by the 49-year-old Geert Wilders. Pragmatism made a comeback Wednesday as the PVV was projected to lose about half of its seats in Dutch elections.

In one sense, all of the nostalgia can be boiled down to a simple proposition: In the 1950s, most Americans and most Western Europeans had confidence that their children would do better than they had done, that they would grow up to prosper in a stable society with a growing economy. The collapse of this certainty is the prime cause of discontent, left, right and center.

In the end, of course, nostalgia is a dangerous form of politics and a kind of lie. The fact that left and right alike are ambivalent about the 1950s, albeit in different ways, suggests that bringing them back whole is not in the cards.

And it’s not possible, which is why nostalgia is always a poor guide to the future. The effects of globalization can be mitigated, but the economic developments of the last three decades cannot be repealed by fiat. The vast changes in communications technology that simultaneously bind people together and make it easier for them to retreat into their own social and political circles will not be rolled back. I see no mass movement that will get people in large numbers to toss their iPhones into the rubbish.

But understanding politics now requires an appreciation for the nostalgic roots of our current struggles. It’s not hard to understand the yearning of many of Romney’s supporters for past cultural certainties. Obama’s coalition is, in cultural terms, the coalition of the future — younger, and both ethnically and racially diverse. Yet Obama’s core pledge is to a new social compact that provides many of the guarantees of the old one.

Thus the choice in 2012 may be, more than we realize, about which parts of the 1950s we yearn for most, and whether there is any way to bring back the best aspects of an old era while leaving the rest of it behind.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 13, 2012

September 13, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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