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“Republican Playbook”:The Politics Of Fear And The Party Of Non-Voters

The latest Pew Research Center poll shows Mitt Romney ahead of President Barack Obama among likely voters, 49% to 45%. But the latest Gallup poll shows the President Obama leading Romney among likely voters, 50% to 45%.

What gives? The Pew poll covered the days immediately following last Wednesday’s presidential debate. It didn’t include last weekend. The Gallup poll, by contrast, included the weekend — after September’s jobs report showed unemployment down to 7.8 percent for the first time in more than three years.

So it’s fair to conclude the bump the President received from the jobs report bump made up for the bump Romney got from the debate. No surprise that voters care more about jobs than they do about debate performance.

But don’t be misled. The race has tightened up.

Moreover, polls of “likely voters” are notoriously imprecise because they reflect everyone who says they’re likely to vote – including those who hope to but won’t, as well as those who won’t but don’t want to admit it.

Remember: The biggest party in America is neither Democrats nor Republicans. It’s the party of non-voters — a group that outnumbers the other two.

So the real question is which set of potential supporters is more motivated on Election Day (or via absentee ballot) to bother to vote.

The biggest motivator in this election isn’t enthusiasm about either of the candidates. The Republican base has never particularly liked Romney, and many Democrats have been disappointed in Obama.

The biggest motivator is fear of the other guy.

There’s clear reason for Democrats and Independents to fear Romney and Ryan — their reverse Robin-Hood budgets that take from the poor and middle class and reward the rich; their determination to do away with Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Dodd-Frank constraints on Wall Street, and ObamaCare; their opposition to abortion even after rape or incest, and rejection of equal marriage rights; their support for “profiling” immigrants; and their disdain of the “47 percent,” to name a few.

And the thought of the next Supreme Court justices being picked by someone who thinks corporations are people should strike horror in the mind of any thinking American.

Yet Romney is such a chameleon that in last Wednesday’s debate he appeared to disavow everything he’s stood for, hide many of his former positions, and even sound somewhat moderate.

Meanwhile, for four years the GOP and its auxiliaries in Fox News and yell radio have told terrible lies about our president – charging he wasn’t born in America, he’s a socialist, he doesn’t share American values. They’ve disdained and disrespected President Obama in ways no modern president has had to endure.

They’re drummed up fear in a public battered by an economic crisis Republicans largely created, while hiding George W. Bush so we won’t be reminded. And they’ve channeled that fear toward President Obama and even to the central institutions of our democracy, casting his administration and our government as the enemy.

They’ve apparently convinced almost half of America of their lies – including many who would suffer most under Romney and Ryan.

Republicans are well practiced in the politics of fear and the logistics the big lie. The challenge for Obama and Biden and for the rest of us over the next four weeks is to counter their fearsome lies with the truth.

 

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Follow-Up Questions”: Unlike The Fawning Coverage He’s Received In The Past, Paul Ryan Shows His Thin Skin

Paul Ryan, we are discovering, does not always handle follow-up questions that well.

The latest evidence came yesterday afternoon, when an interview with a local television reporter in Michigan turned testy and was ended by Ryan’s aide.

The dispute was ostensibly over gun control. Asked by reporter Terry Camp of WJRT in Flint if America has a gun problem, Ryan responded that the country has a crime problem. “Not a gun problem?” Camp asked. “No,” Ryan replied, arguing that existing laws should be enforced and that “the best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity to the inner cities” – for “charities, and civic groups and churches” to teach people “good discipline, good character.”

“And you can do all that by cutting taxes – with a big tax cut,” Camp replied.

“Those are your words, not mine,” Ryan said, at which point his aide stepped in to end the interview.

“That was kind of strange – trying to stuff words in people’s mouths,” Ryan told Camp as he took his microphone off.

As Erik Wemple points out, it’s unclear what Camp’s intent here was. Ryan interpreted his words about tax cuts as a rude expression of skepticism and editorializing, but Camp and the station insist he wasn’t trying to make any kind of political statement and was merely asking another question. It’s certainly possible that Camp was just trying to prompt Ryan to expand his thoughts, and that he used some clumsy short-hand to do it.

The way Ryan chose to handle this seems noteworthy, though. Several times in the past few months, he’s been pressed by reporters and has had trouble deflecting lines of questioning that make him uncomfortable.

When he first joined the GOP ticket, for instance, Ryan sat for what everyone assumed would be a friendly interview with Fox News’ Brit Hume, who asked him about the long amount of time – not until 2040 – that it would take his fiscal blueprint to produce a balanced budget. Ryan replied that he wasn’t running on his budget plan – he was running on Romney’s. OK, Hume replied, well how long will it take Romney’s plan to bring about a balanced budget.

“I don’t know exactly when it balances,” Ryan conceded, “because we have – I don’t want to get wonky on you, but we have to run the numbers on that specific plan.”

More recently, there was Ryan’s sit-down with Fox’s Chris Wallace, who quizzed him about the Romney tax plan’s lack of specificity. Romney proposes a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut and insists he’ll make it deficit neutral by closing loopholes and deductions, but he hasn’t specified which ones. Wallace challenged Ryan to explain how the math would work.

“Well, I don’t have the time,” Ryan replied. “It would take me too long to go through all the math.”

That answer won Ryan no shortage of ridicule. It points to the steep learning curve he’s faced since being tapped as Romney’s No. 2. As a congressman, Ryan has been unusually visible, but the press coverage he’s received has tended to be rather fawning – reporters, columnists and television hosts giving him a chance to outline his plan and the hailing him as the rare adult in DC who’s willing to produce serious ideas.

It’s easy to get accustomed to that kind of treatment. But since August (and particularly since his vice presidential acceptance speech), the media has treated him with more skepticism, demanding that he and Romney fill in the blanks on their plans. Ryan doesn’t always seem used to aggressive scrutiny and follow-up questioning in interviews, and it’s shown on several occasions now. The interview with Camp isn’t a huge deal, but Ryan probably could have handled it in a way that didn’t create a big story. It’s a reminder that he’s still learning. And it makes this week’s VP debate that much more interesting, since Ryan figures to come in for some aggressive questioning from his opponent, Joe Biden.

 

By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Intrinsic Evils And Prudential Judgments”: The Right-Wing Catholic Vice-Presidential Voter Guide

Before there were soccer moms or NASCAR dads, there were Catholics. Once a Democratic bastion, they have been the bellwether voting bloc for the last forty years. As Ross Douthat of The New York Times notes, “Exit polling tells us that in every presidential election since 1972, the candidate who has won Catholics has won the popular vote as well.

Now the religious right is targeting Catholics with a narrow message of what Catholic teachings should mean in the political realm.

The Family Research Council, a socially conservative advocacy organization, has released a “2012 Catholic Vice-Presidential Voter Guide.” This seems especially relevant since both Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) are Catholic and were chosen partly for their putative appeal to Midwestern Catholic voters. FRC defines Catholic issues in a way that is far more congenial to Republicans.

They list nine “Intrinsic Evils,” of which eight favor the Republican position: various manifestations of opposition to abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. The one outlier is torture of foreign prisoners of war, which Vice President Biden, like the Catholic Church, opposes. (FRC could not find a position on torture taken by Ryan.)

Then there are “Prudential Judgments” on which good Catholics may disagree. These include more issues on which Catholic teaching would line up with Democratic values, such as amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Curiously, FRC offers the proportions of Biden’s and Ryan’s income that each gave to charity, but no other mention of helping the poor. It’s as if the few thousand dollars Ryan gave matters more than the trillions he would cut from social programs.

The justifications for how FRC determined what is a Catholic issue and where the candidates stand on them are provided in a “supporting document.”

Given the Catholic Church’s long commitment to aiding the needy, the absence of economic policy seems a bit odd. Ryan, after all, has been criticized by Catholic bishops because his budget would cut funding to essential anti-poverty programs such as Medicaid and food stamps to pay for tax cuts for the rich. In fact, the voter guide would give a Catholic the false impression that Ryan actually supports more aid to the poor than Biden, because he has given more to charity. (Although, as the supporting document unintentionally demonstrates, many of those charities—such as the Boy Scouts and crisis pregnancy centers—have little if anything to do with addressing poverty.)

FRC’s response would be that the Catholic Church only holds a vague notion that poverty should be ameliorated, not specific positions on how to do so. “Ryan makes the argument it’s not that you don’t help people in need rise out of poverty, it’s how you do that,” says Tom McCluskey, senior vice president of FRC Action. “It’s a political difference that has no relevance to Catholic teaching.”

I’m no expert in Catholic teaching, but I beg to differ. The church has repeatedly supported federal anti-poverty programs, such as the expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, that Biden supports and Ryan opposes. Even taking at face value Ryan’s claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy will grow the economy and thus lift more poor people into jobs, or better-paying ones, there will always be unemployed people, especially the disabled. The fact that Ryan would decimate their essential social services is fundamentally at odds with any concern for the vulnerable.

But McCluskey clearly believes in this distinction. He says:

Catholic doctrine is an official edict of the Catholic Church. On the issue of life, for example, there is only black and white, there is no gray [as is there is on economic justice]. A pro-life universal health care bill was supported by US Conference of Catholic bishops, but opposed by many individual bishops and that did not hurt their standing in the Church.

If a Catholic bishop were to take an opposing view on the life of the unborn, that would be unheard of and going against Catholic teaching. Support for increasing Medicaid funding would be more like Catholic opinion [than Catholic doctrine].

McCluskey also says the voter guide’s scope was limited by available information. “We couldn’t compare apples and oranges. If Ryan had a position we need one from Biden.” The one exception they made, given how essential it is Catholic teaching, is for torture. That notwithstanding, the general impression conveyed by the voter guide is that a good Catholic would prefer Paul Ryan, since Ryan’s decidedly un-Catholic fondness for warfare and opposition to welfare are not mentioned.

FRC is currently just sending the guide to thought leaders in the Catholic community such as priests and groups at Catholic universities. “We’re not at this point sending to voters but if it’s financially possible it’s definitely something we’re going to look at,” says McCluskey.

It might not even matter if they do spread it far and wide. There is tendency among journalists and political professionals to act as if the Catholic vote’s priorities reflect Catholic theology. The lazy conventional wisdom holds that this is because Catholics follow their church’s teachings and thus hold commitments that are orthogonal to the partisan divide. Here’s Mark Stricherz, of Catholicvote.org:

While experts define the Catholic vote in many ways, I define it as a vote that mirrors the social teaching of the hierarchy, especially the American bishops: culturally conservative, economically populist or liberal, and moderate to liberal on foreign policy.

Stricherz is approvingly cited by Douthat as a premise to Douthat’s argument that Obama has failed to appeal to these voters because he has emphasized his commitment to women’s rights and gay rights. Also in The New York Times, and also cited by Douthat, is Jim Arkedis, a Catholic Democrat who works for the Progressive Policy Institute. Arkedis writes:

The key to winning the Catholic vote is to understand its composition—litmus-test abortion voters, moderates, women and Hispanics—and to aim to carry persuadable Catholics by healthy margins in crucial swing states. The Obama campaign should tread lightly, however, and resist any poll-driven urge to drive a wedge between the faithful and official church positions on women’s issues or same-sex marriage. Divisive messaging probably won’t fly among most Catholics, who may grumble about their religious leaders’ positions, but don’t seek overt separation from them. I can’t say that there’s any scientific evidence to support this theory, but it comes from my observations over a lifetime in the Catholic community.

The Obama campaign’s message should unequivocally stand with the Church and Jesus Christ’s humble message of social justice, equality and inclusion.

Arkedis certainly does lack scientific evidence. And considering there is no shortage of polling data on the opinions of Catholic voters, it is mysterious that the Times would allow him to make such an unsubstantiated argument.

Catholics are actually no more socially conservative than the electorate as a whole. Gallup polling has found “almost no difference between rank-and-file American Catholics and American non-Catholics” on whether abortion and stem cell research are morally acceptable. That’s because Catholic voters do not take their marching orders from the church. A massive study by Georgetown University found Catholics growing more likely to make up their own minds about social issues. “American Catholics…increasingly tune out the hierarchy on issues of sexual morality,” reports the Religion News Service. “The sweeping [Georgetown] survey shows that over the last quarter-century, US Catholics have become increasingly likely to say that individuals, not church leaders, have the final say on abortion, homosexuality and divorce and remarriage.”

At the state level the Catholic electorate seems to actually be a force for social moderation. Take a look at the religious breakdown of states and you will find that predicting whether a state will lean Democratic or Republican is often as easy as simply asking whether it has more Catholics or white evangelicals. The ten states with the highest proportion of white evangelicals reads like a roll call of Red America: Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas. The most Catholic states are concentrated in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, including such Democratic bastions as New York and Massachusetts. In the Republican primaries, Catholic voters consistently favored the mainstream Mormon Mitt Romney, while evangelicals voted for the staunchly socially conservative Catholics Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich.

Stricherz points to the existence of Catholic anti–abortion rights Democrats as proof that a distinctly economically populist, socially conservative Catholic vote exists. “Think of the late Bob Casey Sr., governor of Pennsylvania, as the beau ideal politician for the Catholic vote,” Stricherz writes. “If there was no Catholic vote, these pro-life Democrats would be Republicans.” But a few anecdotes is not evidence. One could easily counter with the example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is Catholic, socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

The real cleavage among Catholics, as has been the case in recent elections, is how religious they are. Voters who go to church once or more per week, regardless of their denomination, tend to vote Republican, and those who go less often or not at all tend to vote Democratic. McCluskey points to this as evidence that their voter guide is in line with religious Catholics, if not Catholics more generally.

“One thing when talking about polling of Catholics is look at how frequently they go to church,” McCluskey said. “It’s basically an ethnic identity at this point. There are people in my own family who call themselves Catholic but don’t go to church on a weekly basis; that’s a sin. Most polls find those Catholics who go to church on weekly basis tend to run more conservative.”

That’s true, but it also suggests that there are not a large number of undecided voters out there who are socially conservative and fiscally liberal, who can be suckered into voting Republican by being told Catholic issues are limited to abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and torture. But conservatives will give it a try.

 

By: Ben Adler, The Nation, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liberals Need To Get A Grip”: While Others Push Opinions To Extremes, Feel Free To Stop Rending Your Garments

As a liberal who writes about politics for a living, I’ve spent the last few days talking to increasingly panicked Democrats, who have begun to overreact to the fact that President Obama had a poor debate performance, which then produced a movement in some polls toward Mitt Romney. I think David Weigel put it well yesterday: “The first presidential debate has come to remind me of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Democrats walked out of the theater/turned off the TV saying ‘huh, well, I wanted it to be better.’ After a few days of talking to friends, it changes from a disappointment into the worst piece of crap in human history.” Andrew Sullivan kind of went nuclear after seeing the Pew poll I discussed yesterday, writing a post titled, “Did Obama Just Throw the Entire Election Away?” I can answer that: No.

For many years, psychologists and sociologists have known that in small groups, a uniformity of opinion can push opinion to the extremes. For instance, if you get a group of liberals together and tell them to talk about military spending, by the time the discussion is over, each individual will end up favoring spending cuts even deeper than they favored before the discussion began. There’s an analogous movement in the opinions liberals have undergone since last Wednesday, but here conservatives and the mainstream media play a role as well. There’s no question that reporters, eager for a new storyline and an invigorated race, have seized on the idea that the debate changed everything. And as Kevin Drum explains, conservatives benefit from their large stable of hacks:

Here’s how things would have gone if liberals had their fair share of hacks. Obviously Obama wasn’t at his best on Wednesday. But when the debate was over that wouldn’t have mattered. Conservatives would have started crowing about how well Romney did. Liberals would have acknowledged that Obama should have confronted Romney’s deceptions more forcefully, but otherwise would have insisted that Obama was more collected and presidential sounding than the hyperactive Romney and clearly mopped the floor with him on a substantive basis. News reporters would then have simply reported the debate normally: Romney said X, Obama said Y, and both sides thought their guy did great. By the next day it would barely be a continuing topic of conversation, and by Friday the new jobs numbers would have buried it completely.

Instead, liberals went batshit crazy. I didn’t watch any commentary immediately after the debate because I wanted to write down my own reactions first, and my initial sense was that Obama did a little bit worse than Romney. But after I hit the Publish button and turned on the TV, I learned differently. As near as I could tell, the entire MSNBC crew was ready to commit ritual suicide right there on live TV, Howard Beale style. Ditto for all their guests, including grizzled pols like Ed Rendell who should have known better. It wasn’t just that Obama did poorly, he had delivered the worst debate performance since Clarence Darrow left William Jennings Bryan a smoking husk at the end of Inherit the Wind. And it wasn’t even just that. It was a personal affront, a betrayal of everything they thought was great about Obama. And, needless to say, it put Obama’s entire second term in jeopardy and made Romney the instant front runner.

Kevin is absolutely right about this, and it shows not only that there’s a difference between the conservative and liberal media worlds, but between MSNBC and Fox specifically. While MSNBC made a decision a while back that it would go ahead and become the liberal cable network, particularly in prime time, the individuals who appear on those shows have limits to how hackish they’re willing to be. On Fox, there really are no limits. It’s not as if Steve Doocy and the rest of the crew at “Fox and Friends” are going to say, “Wait, we’re supposed to say the jobs numbers are manipulated by a White House conspiracy? I really don’t think that’s supported by the facts.” I guarantee you that even if Obama performs spectacularly in the second debate and Romney stumbles terribly, Sean Hannity will still get on the air immediately afterward and tell everyone watching that Romney was fantastic and Obama was terrible. This will not only help buck up conservatives, it will encourage reporters to discuss the debate in the way Kevin describes.

Some people have said that Obama’s performance was the worst in history, but that’s just ridiculous. George W. Bush was much worse in all his debates in 2004, Bob Dole was terrible in 1996, George H.W. Bush was awful in 1992, and the worst debate performance was without question Ronald Reagan’s in his first debate in 1984, where he was barely coherent and, in retrospect, probably showing some initial signs of Alzheimer’s. You’ll note that two of the people I just mentioned ended up winning. Obama didn’t do particularly well last Wednesday, it’s true. But he’s a very competitive guy, and I’m sure he’s going to show up next week with plenty more focus and vigor. There are a lot of other factors—a recovering economy, the fact that it now looks like he’ll have more money, a superior ground operation—that continue to make him the favorite. So liberals can feel free to stop rending their garments.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

” A Constantly Moving Target”: Mitt Romney’s Foreign Policy Speech Brings More Lies And Reversals In Positions

It would be laughable were it not so completely serious.

As I listened intently to Governor Romney’s foreign policy address delivered this morning at the Virginia Military Institute, I was sure I heard him say that President Obama had not signed so much as one free-trade agreement during the past three years.

The statement struck such a discordant note I pressed the rewind button to make sure I had heard the Governor correctly.

Sure enough, that’s what he said.

Apparently, the Romney campaign did not get the memo—or more likely chose to ignore the facts—that it was on October 23, 2011, not one year ago, when, in a rare moment of bi-partisanship, President Obama signed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Even the Republicans were happy about the event as Speaker of the House, John Boehner, issued a statement saying, “years of perseverance have been rewarded today as American job creators will have new opportunities to expand and hire as they access new markets abroad.”

Why would Romney say such a thing when it is so obviously disprovable?

If you have the answer to that question, maybe you can then tell me why Mr. Romney would also include in his address a bold statement of commitment to a two state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the important role he could play in bringing about the same, when we all heard him say precisely the opposite in the now infamous “47 percent” videotape of his speech at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida.

In case you need a reminder, here is what Romney said in that conversation which was intended to be private—

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way. So what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

And yet, in today’s speech, Gov. Romney said—

“Finally, I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew.”

Not only does Romney completely turn tail on what he expressed in private, he actually blames the President in today’s speech for failing at something Romney is on record as saying is an unsolvable problem.

And maybe someone can tell me why Governor Romney chose to excoriate President Obama for not getting sufficiently involved in the internal skirmishes taking place in various Middle-Eastern countries when Romney went on record, in an April 2011 op-ed he penned for the National Review, and accused the President of being too aggressive in Libya by committing what he called ‘mission creep’?

Of course, it is possible Governor Romney simply forgot his most recent position on Libya given the number of times he changed his stance on that conflict.

In what might be considered a precursor to the now familiar Romney proclivity for “evolving” his stance to reflect what he thinks will best sell at any given moment, the Governor went through such a remarkable evolution during our efforts to assist the Libyans free themselves of the Gadhafi regime.

As Jake Tapper lays out in his October 20, 2011 piece on Romney’s ever changing view of our involvement in Libya, Romney managed to work through three, distinct positions on the topic over a one month period. The first was expressed in March of 2011, when the Governor criticize the Obama administration for being weak and not getting involved more quickly.

The second Romney position was no position at all, illustrated when, just one month following his initial take, Romney failed to even mention Libya during a speech delivered to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas where the Governor criticized Obama’s Middle-East policy. Having strangely omitted to discuss Libya during that speech, reporters sought to get the Governor to respond to questions on the topic. The encounter was described by the Las Vegas Review Journal as follows: “Romney was silent on Libya, the newest and stickiest military and U.S. policy problem as the United States and its NATO allies enforce a no-fly zone to help rebels oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. After his speech, Romney refused to take questions from reporters about his position on Libya. Instead, he and his wife, Ann, fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator at The Venetian, where the event was held. ‘I’ve got a lot of positions on a lot of topics, but walking down the hall probably isn’t the best place to describe all those,’ Romney said, deflecting a Libya query as he walked quickly with half a dozen journalists trailing him.”

Finally, in the April op-ed Romney posted at Nationalreview.com, as noted and linked above, Romney wrote that he had, indeed, supported President Obama’s “specific, limited mission” but went on to then criticize Obama for getting further involved in what Romney called “mission creep”.

So, in March, Romney deemed the American response to what was happening in Libya as weak only to evolve his message —just one month later—to one expressing initial support for the administration’s limited mission and then criticized Obama for going too far.

Confused?

Get used to it. If there is one thing we know for sure, we will continue to have no idea of where Governor Romney really stands on both domestic and foreign issues because where he stands is a constantly moving target.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Contributing Writer, Forbes, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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