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“Wishing On A Star”: The Debates Won’t Save Mitt Romney

If you’re a Romney partisan, and you’ve seen Barack Obama move ahead in the polls over the last couple of weeks, you may be saying to yourself, “Maybe the debates can save him.” After all, the four debates (three presidential, one VP) are the the only planned events between now and election day. Though you never know what kind of unexpected events might occur, tens of millions of voters will be watching. And so many times in the past, the race has been transformed by a dramatic debate moment.

Except that’s actually not true. As John Sides lays out quite well, after all the sound and fury, debates almost never change the trajectory of the race. Of course, something never happens up until the moment that it happens, but there’s strong reason to believe that the debates will change nothing this year in particular. But before I get to that, here’s Sides:

Why are presidential debates so often inconsequential? After all, many voters do pay attention. Debates routinely attract the largest audience of any televised campaign event. And voters do learn new information, according to several academic studies. But this new information is not likely to change many minds. The debates occur late in the campaign, long after the vast majority of voters have arrived at a decision. Moreover, the debates tend to attract viewers who have an abiding interest in politics and are mostly party loyalists. Instead of the debates affecting who they will vote for, their party loyalty affects who they believe won the debates. For example, in a CNN poll after one of the 2008 debates, 85 percent of Democrats thought that Obama had won, but only 16 percent of Republicans agreed.

All those memorable gaffes—George H.W. looking at his watch, Michael Dukakis not pounding his lecturn at the suggestion of his wife’s rape and murder, Al Gore sighing—turn out not to have had any discernible impact on the race. What was almost certainly the most disastrous debate performance of all—Dan Quayle’s in 1988—did not, you may recall, prevent him from becoming Vice President.

And this year is even less likely to produce anything significant. As James Fallows explained, Mitt Romney is at his best when he can prepare carefully, and at his worst when he’s taken by surprise. Over the course of the 500 or so primary debates the Republicans held, he was clearly the most informed and serious-seeming of the GOP candidates. Of course, besting Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann in verbal combat doesn’t exactly make you the Ted Williams of debating, but there’s little doubt Romney will show himself to reasonably knowledgeable, for what it’s worth. His problem, though, is that it isn’t worth much. He doesn’t need to convince Americans he can recite a ten-point plan, he needs to convince them that within him beats the heart of an actual human, one who understands and cares about them. The chances of him doing that are pretty slim.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 20, 2012

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Talking To Themselves”: Republicans Are Barricaded Within A Self-Reinforcing Informational Bunker

Mitt Romney and his Republican allies thought they had a way to diffuse the fallout from his now-legendary secretly-recorded fundraising video when somebody unearthed a tape of President Obama saying he favored “redistribution.” Sure, the tape is 14 years old. And sure, as Jamelle pointed out yesterday, pretty much everybody favors redistribution in some form, even Mitt Romney (if he didn’t, he’d be advocating removing all progressivity from the tax code). Romney is bringing it up whenever he can, as is Paul Ryan, and the Obama tape has been shown on Fox News approximately three million times in the last 24 hours. Are they a little desperate? Of course. But the fact that they think such a thing will have even the remotest impact on what people think of Barack Obama shows that they are existing within an ideological cocoon that makes it almost impossible for them to figure out what they’re doing wrong.

It isn’t just that the tape is 14 years old (and man, has Obama aged in that time), or that what he’s saying is pretty innocuous. It’s that they think there’s any statement of Obama’s that they can unearth that will change how voters think of him. As though some significant number of voters are going to say, “I’ve been watching this guy on television every day for the last four years, but this 14-year-old videotape that contains the word “redistribution” has finally made me realize that he’s a dangerous socialist. I was undecided before, but now you’ve got my vote, Mitt.”

A couple of years ago, bloggers had a discussion about “epistemic closure,” the tendency of many on the right to barricade themselves within a self-reinforcing informational bunker. The danger is that you wind up with a skewed view not only of the facts but of what other people believe as well. This can be deadly for a campaign, whose goal, after all, is to persuade people, some of whom don’t already see the world as they do. And it sure seems like Romney and his people are falling prey to it. The temptation is strong, because everyone who works on the campaign is a partisan who was probably getting much of their information from partisan news sources before they got there.

So when Romney comes out and says triumphantly “I don’t believe in redistribution!” he probably thinks voters will respond with, “Me neither, Mitt! Screw those freeloaders! Viva job creators!” But the more likely response among people who aren’t already committed Republicans is that once again, this rich guy who disdains everyone who isn’t as rich as him is saying, “I got mine, Jack, and the rest of you can go to hell.” In other words, he’s not countering the attacks the Democrats are making on him, he’s reinforcing them.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 20, 2012

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A One-Man Blooper Reel”: The Media Should Go Easy On Mitt Romney For Their Own Sake

“The media wants to beat up Mitt Romney,” Sean Hannity told his Fox News viewers this week, “which is driving me nuts.”

Me too, Sean. Much as I’d like to see Hannity driven nuts, I agree that we in the media have been far too rough on the Republican presidential nominee. In fact, I send this urgent appeal to my fellow members of the lamestream media: Please go easy on the guy — for our own sake.

First, Romney was pounded for his false and tone-deaf statements about the attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt; in a weak moment, I joined in the criticism.

Then Politico came out Sunday night with an article titled “Inside the campaign: How Mitt Romney stumbled,” discourteously detailing all sorts of infighting and missteps.

Worst of all was Monday, when my friend David Corn had the temerity to post on Mother Jones a surreptitiously recorded video of Romney dismissing nearly half the country as moochers.

At this rate, Romney will surely lose the election — and for journalism, this would be a tragedy.

At these times of declining revenue, we in the media need to stay true to our core interests. As the old saying goes, we should “vote the story.” And the better story in this election is clearly President Romney.

Romney’s hit parade — insulting the British, inviting Clint Eastwood to the Republican convention, flubbing Libya and now dismissing half the nation as parasites — may make good copy for the next seven weeks. But if we go easy on the man, we could have four years of gaffes instead of just seven more weeks. Admittedly, this may not be the best outcome for the country, or for the world. But in this race, there is no denying that one man will give us much better material.

President Obama has many talents, but he is not good copy. He speaks grammatically, in fully formed paragraphs. He has yet to produce a scandal of any magnitude. He is maddeningly on message, and his few gaffes — “you didn’t build that,” “the private sector is doing fine” — are inflammatory only out of context. If it weren’t for the occasional relief offered by Joe Biden, the Samaritans would have installed a ­suicide-prevention hotline in the White House press room by now.

Romney, by contrast, showed his potential for miscues in his first presidential run (see: varmints, hunting of), but he truly blossomed in the gaffe department this cycle, when he became a one-man blooper reel:

Corporations are people, my friend.”

I like being able to fire people.”

I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

I’m also unemployed.”

Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.”

Ten thousand bucks? $10,000 bet?

I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.”

“There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”

“I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake; we can’t have illegals.”

In addition, Romney frequently gives the media fresh opportunities to rerun the blooper reel with his attempts to explain the original mistakes. This goes back to his explanation for why he strapped his dog Seamus to the top of the family car: The dog “enjoyed himself” up there.

More recently, Romney offered this explanation for his claim that Obama was making America a less Christian nation. “I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was,” he said.

Saying zany things and then standing by them: From a presidential nominee, this is newsworthy. From a president, it could be sensational.

Romney caused an international incident when he went to London and spoke of “disconcerting” signs that the Brits weren’t prepared to host the Olympics. Were he to do that as president, he could bring transatlantic relations back to War of 1812 levels — and that would be a big story.

At home, likewise, he has caused consternation with his remark that 47 percent of Americans “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name it” and won’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” If he governed that way as president, he could stir up social unrest not seen in half a century — and that, too, would be quite a story.

Usually, reporters have little trouble recognizing our self-interest. For all of Newt Gingrich’s complaints about media bias during his primary candidacy, reporters fantasized about a Gingrich presidency.

We should do the same now as we consider prospects for a Romney presidency: gaffes in news conferences, diplomatic slights at state dinners or ham-handed attempts to placate conservatives in Congress. This is exactly the man our industry needs. Be gentle.

I’m from the mainstream media, and I approve this message.


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 18, 2012

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tax-Payer Financed Capitalism”: The Great American Tax Debate Misses The Point

Casting the tax debate as an argument in which liberals want to use the tax system to reduce income inequality after the fact by taxing the wealthy at higher rates than middle and lower income classes, while conservatives favor flat taxes that tax rich and poor at the same rate, misses the main point. Deregulation of the financial system over the last 35 years and tax preferences that benefit corporations and wealthy individuals have done much to increase the before-tax incomes of the top 1 percent. An army of tax accountants, many of them recruited from the IRS, has figured out how to push the envelope on tax avoidance for the big businesses and wealthy individuals that can afford their high-priced services. For these folks, tax accounting has been transformed from a service that makes sure that required taxes are paid to a profit center that manipulates the tax code to generate huge returns at the expense of the tax-paying public. Increasingly what we see in the United States is the growing importance of tax-payer financed capitalism.

There is no economic reason that the debt taken on by corporations should be treated differently in the tax code from the equity invested by shareholders, but it is. Corporations get to deduct the interest paid on debt from their earnings, thus reducing the corporate income tax they have to pay. The tax code also provides an incentive for private equity firms, which plan to hold companies they acquire for their portfolios for just a few years, to load these companies with debt. In good times, this greatly increases the returns to investors. In poor economic conditions, this greatly increases the risk of financial distress and even bankruptcy, and imposes great costs on workers, creditors and communities. For investors with a time horizon measured in years and not decades, this is a risk worth taking for the promise of higher returns.

Tax preferences mean that income from owning stock is taxed at a far lower rate than income from working—a point made by Warren Buffet who famously pointed out that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. The fiction that bonuses earned by partners in private equity and hedge fund firms is ‘carried interest’ that should be taxed at the lower rate on earnings from owning stock, rather than at the higher rate on ordinary income that ordinary workers and managers pay on their bonuses, boosts the income and wealth of these already wealthy economic players.

The use of aggressive tax avoidance schemes is rampant among big businesses and wealthy individuals. Setting up a subsidiary that lives in a file drawer in a tax haven and owns the company’s intellectual property and collects the royalties on it, or that owns the loans the company has made and collects the interest, allows financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and IT companies to park their profits outside the United States and defer taxes on this income indefinitely while waiting for a tax holiday to bring their profits home. Setting up so-called blocker corporations in offshore tax havens to launder taxable income for foreigners and pension funds, and turn it into nontaxable income is another favorite scheme.

Tax preferences and tax loop holes enrich the already wealthy and increase their incomes while starving the country of much needed tax revenue. The meaning of this rise in tax-payer financed capitalism is that the rest of us must either pay higher taxes or do without necessary services.


By: Eileen Appelbaum, U. S. News and World Report, September 19, 2012

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Real Moochers”: Obama Supporters Subsidize Romney Supporters With Their Taxes

In a video posted yesterday, Mitt Romney slammed the people who support President Obama, saying they are most likely “dependent on government.” Romney’s comments were recorded as he spoke at to an exclusive group of donors at a private meeting. Obama’s fans think of themselves as “victims,” he said. They believe they are “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.” He added, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Many on both left and right have criticized Romney for his lack of empathy and rejection of the social contract. However, it’s easy to understand why Romney might view America this way. After all, Republicans supposedly represent those with more money, and Democrats supposedly represent those with less—sometimes much less. It’s plausible that Romney’s supporters would pick up the tab (through their taxes) for social programs that benefit Obama’s supporters. For the same reason, it’s plausible that Red states would subsidize Blue states, and Red counties would subsidize Blue counties where the poor people live.

But, although it’s plausible, it’s completely wrong. When Romney says his job isn’t to care about those who depend on government for healthcare, food, and housing, he’s talking about his base. Across America, Obama’s supporters actually subsidize Romney’s supporters.

Blue States Subsidize Red States

Studies show that states that elect Democrats contribute the most in federal taxes relative to what they consume in government services. Conversely, many states that elect Republicans contribute the least in taxes relative to the services they consume. This is true even though many Democratic states contain large, poor, urban populations of color.

Here’s the evidence: The 10 “Tax Producing States” listed below, left, contribute the most in tax revenues relative to the services they consume. They usually vote Democratic. The ten “Tax Dependent States” listed below consume the most in government services relative to the taxes they pay. And they usually vote Republican. (Each state’s name is shown in blue if voters there lean toward Obama, and red if they lean toward Romney, as per Nate Silver’s 538 blog.)

Red States vs. Blue States

More detailed analysis confirms this pattern. Even the libertarians at the journal Reason acknowledge this so-called “Red/Blue Paradox.”

Blue Counties Subsidize Red Counties

The same imbalance prevails within states, at the county level. The Blue counties contribute the most state taxes relative to the services they consume. The Red counties consume the most services relative to the taxes they pay. For example, a recent study documented the pattern in Washington state. King County, the solidly-Democratic county that surrounds Seattle, provides “nearly 42% of the state’s tax revenues, yet receives only 25% of the money spend from Washington’s general fund.” Conversely, five counties that require the most in services relative to the taxes they pay are largely Republican.

California shows a similar pattern. Republican Modoc and Tulare Counties consume the most in taxpayer-funded services from the state on a per-capita basis. Says San Francisco Chronicle writer Kevin Fagan: “The prevailing attitude among the right-wing ranchers and modern hippies who define Modoc County is of fierce self-reliance—but more people here than just about anywhere else depend on welfare checks of some kind to get by.” In contrast, famously liberal San Francisco and Marin Counties generate the most tax revenues for the state on a per capita basis.

Why Red States Need Blue State’s Tax Dollars

Why do people in Red states and counties resent government spending so passionately even as they need so much of it? The central problem is poverty. Many of the residents of these counties are poor. They are ill-prepared to make a decent living no matter how hard they tug on their own bootstraps. For example, in California’s conservative Modoc county only 12 percent of adults over 25 have a bachelor’s degree. Nearly 20 percent live below the poverty line. Many Modoc residents can’t afford to send their children to college. They need government programs to survive, let alone improve their financial outlook.

Without government support it’s hard to see a way to break the cycle of poverty and dependence. At least so far, the formula of small government, limited services, low investment, and low taxes that conservative states have implemented for themselves hasn’t helped their economies much. (See my earlier column.)

This situation would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. When a tax protester yelled “Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare” many scoffed at that one person’s ignorance. But most Americans who rail against taxes and the size of government are profoundly unaware that taxes they hate fund the programs they want and need. And they are unaware that the states and counties inhabited by “welfare queens” and “freeloading illegals” are actually sending them the money that keeps them fed, cared for, and educated.

Put It to a Vote

Let’s put the question of a tax rates to a national referendum and see what Americans really want. Allow voters in each county to decide whether to keep their state and federal taxes at their current level or to lower them. The catch is this: If you vote to lower your taxes then your county or state can’t take out any more money than it puts in. Perhaps this would make everyone happy. Red counties would get the lower taxes and vastly reduced services they want. And people in Blue counties (once they stop trying to give their money to people who don’t want to receive it) would keep more of their hard-earned cash, and enjoy vastly better-funded local services. Let’s give it a try.


By: David Brodwin, U. S. News and World Report, September 18, 2012

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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