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“Specifics Please”: Joe Biden Calls Paul Ryan Out On Repeated Falsehoods

What a difference a week makes. In the first presidential debate, President Obama let Mitt Romney’s attacks on him stand, and seemed disengaged. Vice President Joe Biden stayed in Rep. Paul Ryan’s face for the entirety of Thursday’s vice presidential debate. In the process, he forced Ryan, and by extension the Romney campaign, onto the defensive for a large part of the evening. Obama has a lot to be grateful for.

Last week, Romney repeated over and over that the president’s health care bill cut $716 billion. Obama didn’t push back much to explain that the cuts came from providers and insurance companies, not beneficiaries. This week, Ryan was forced again and again to answer for his voucher/”premium support” approach to Medicare, which Biden hammered at relentlessly.

Last week, Romney flatly denied he had proposed $5 trillion in tax cuts. This week, Ryan had to keep dodging the question of what middle-class deductions would have to be eliminated to pay for the tax cuts. The moderator, Martha Raddatz, who effectively challenged both candidates throughout the debate, at one point turned to Ryan and asked: “No specifics again?” The discussion revived an issue Obama badly needs in play.

And Ryan made a major mistake in defending his past support for privatizing Social Security. Last week, Obama made a mistake of his own when he said that his position and Romney’s on Social Security were similar, thereby closing off a matter that has always been a Democratic staple. The Republicans should have let things sit right there. Instead, Ryan brought the privatization issue to life. His standing his ground on his Social Security ideas (rather than simply saying that Romney had no plans to move in that direction) will allow the Democrats to add Social Security to Medicare in their arsenal of issues they hope to use to cut Republican margins among seniors.

Biden was hot, avuncular, occasionally sarcastic, and always engaged. He laughed a lot, and never let a point slip. I am certain that the cheers in Democratic living rooms around the country were as loud as the sighs of relief. That alone was vital to Obama. Demoralized Democrats themselves contributed to the story line of Obama’s failure in the first debate. The days of demoralization are over.

Some will no doubt write that Biden was too hot and overreacted to Obama’s disengagement. But this misreads the net impact of the debate, which was to renew the doubts about Romney, Ryan and their approach that were hurting the GOP before the last debate. Biden stayed on Romney’s class bias from the beginning to the end — he was not shy, as Obama was, about mentioning Romney’s 47 percent comments. A Romney presidency, Biden said, would concentrate on “taking care only of the very wealthy.”

Ryan probably did himself some good with his conservative base, and he generally preserved his cheerful demeanor. The debate will help advance his chances for a 2016 Republican nomination if the Romney-Ryan ticket loses this year. But his main tasks on Romney’s behalf were to keep the momentum from last week’s debate going and to keep the campaign colloquy focused on Obama’s weaknesses. In this, he failed. The news is likely to shift again toward the problems with Romney’s ideas, and with Ryan’s own. A particularly revealing moment was Ryan’s heartfelt defense of his staunch opposition to abortion. It was an honest answer that will keep him in good stead with conservatives, but it almost certainly hurt Romney, who has been trying to soften his stance on the subject.

In 2004, after John Kerry’s clear victory over George W. Bush in the first presidential debate, then-Vice President Dick Cheney came out on top in most of the commentary about his encounter with John Edwards. Cheney thereby slowed Kerry’s momentum. Dick Cheney has never been Joe Biden’s role model, but Biden’s imperative Thursday night was the same as Cheney’s eight years ago. And with a very different style, he achieved the same result. It will now be Obama’s task to pick up where Biden left off, but the vice president clearly brought his president back to a much better place.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., The National Memo, October 12, 2012



October 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The L-Word Fits”: Whenever Truth, Integrity, And Honesty Are No More Than Collateral Damage

Officials with the Obama campaign have been a little less reluctant in recent weeks to accuse Mitt Romney and his campaign of “lying.” In each instance, folks like David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and even Stephanie Cutter just last night talking to Rachel, were referring to obvious falsehoods that the Republican campaign surely knew to be untrue.

Today, however, Daniel Henninger has a provocative piece in the Wall Street Journal today, raising concerns about the “sleazy political pedigree” of “the L-word.”

The Obama campaign’s resurrection of “liar” as a political tool is odious because it has such a repellent pedigree. It dates to the sleazy world of fascist and totalitarian propaganda in the 1930s. It was part of the milieu of stooges, show trials and dupes. These were people willing to say anything to defeat their opposition. Denouncing people as liars was at the center of it. The idea was never to elevate political debate but to debauch it.

The purpose of calling someone a liar then was not merely to refute their ideas or arguments. It was to nullify them, to eliminate them from participation in politics…. This Obama campaign is saying, We don’t want to compete with Mitt Romney. We want to obliterate him.

Henninger goes on to blame Paul Krugman’s influence on the discourse, at least in part, for the unsettling turn of events.

It’s worth noting that Henninger’s piece is a little over the top. OK, more than a little. I’ll gladly concede that “the L-word” is harsh, and isn’t too common at the presidential level, but those who haven’t heard it used in national politics since “fascist and totalitarian propaganda in the 1930s” need to get out more.

For that matter, Team Obama has begun using the word more, not to “obliterate” Romney or “eliminate” him from political participation, but for more mundane reasons — they see Romney lying, repeatedly, and have decided to call him on it.

Media professionals watching the campaign have a choice: they can either (a) be outraged by a candidate basing much of his campaign on ugly, demonstrable falsehoods; or (b) be offended by a rival campaign calling lies “lies.” Henninger prefers the latter; I think that’s backwards.

Indeed, what I’d encourage observers to consider is the larger system of incentives. Imagine you’re a candidate desperate to win, and you’re prepared to do just about anything to advance your ambitions. You’ve decided the truth, integrity, and honesty are little more than collateral damage — the ends justify the means.

You’ve also noticed that lying is easy to get away with, since the political establishment deems “the L-word” too harsh for polite discourse. You can repeat obvious falsehoods, but the media will be expected to stick to “he said, she said” reporting, and your opponents will be asked to stick to contemporary norms, steering clear of accusations that seem shrill.

Under this scenario, what incentives are there? If a candidate doesn’t respect the electorate enough to be honest, and he or she cares more about votes than character, what’s to stop that candidate from lying constantly?

The problem here isn’t the Obama campaign’s use of a word Daniel Henninger finds “unsettling”; the problem here is Mitt’s Mendacity.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 11, 2012

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Letting Us In On A Secret”: Congressional Intelligence Is An Oxymoron

When House Republicans called a hearing in the middle of their long recess, you knew it would be something big, and indeed it was: They accidentally blew the CIA’s cover.

The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was to examine security lapses that led to the killing in Benghazi last month of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others. But in doing so, the lawmakers reminded us why “congressional intelligence” is an oxymoron.

Through their outbursts, cryptic language and boneheaded questioning of State Department officials, the committee members left little doubt that one of the two compounds at which the Americans were killed, described by the administration as a “consulate” and a nearby “annex,” was a CIA base. They did this, helpfully, in a televised public hearing.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was the first to unmask the spooks. “Point of order! Point of order!” he called out as a State Department security official, seated in front of an aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, described the chaotic night of the attack. “We’re getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this.”

A State Department official assured him that the material was “entirely unclassified” and that the photo was from a commercial satellite. “I totally object to the use of that photo,” Chaffetz continued. He went on to say that “I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.”

Now that Chaffetz had alerted potential bad guys that something valuable was in the photo, the chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), attempted to lock the barn door through which the horse had just bolted. “I would direct that that chart be taken down,” he said, although it already had been on C-SPAN. “In this hearing room, we’re not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities.”

May still be a facility? The plot thickened — and Chaffetz gave more hints. “I believe that the markings on that map were terribly inappropriate,” he said, adding that “the activities there could cost lives.”

In their questioning and in the public testimony they invited, the lawmakers managed to disclose, without ever mentioning Langley directly, that there was a seven-member “rapid response force” in the compound the State Department was calling an annex. One of the State Department security officials was forced to acknowledge that “not necessarily all of the security people” at the Benghazi compounds “fell under my direct operational control.”

And whose control might they have fallen under? Well, presumably it’s the “other government agency” or “other government entity” the lawmakers and witnesses referred to; Issa informed the public that this agency was not the FBI.

“Other government agency,” or “OGA,” is a common euphemism in Washington for the CIA. This “other government agency,” the lawmakers’ questioning further revealed, was in possession of a video of the attack but wasn’t releasing it because it was undergoing “an investigative process.”

Or maybe they were referring to the Department of Agriculture.

That the Benghazi compound had included a large CIA presence had been reported but not confirmed. The New York Times, for example, had reported that among those evacuated were “about a dozen CIA operatives and contractors.” The paper, like The Washington Post, withheld locations and details of the facilities at the administration’s request.

But on Wednesday, the withholding was on hold.

The Republican lawmakers, in their outbursts, alternated between scolding the State Department officials for hiding behind classified material and blaming them for disclosing information that should have been classified. But the lawmakers created the situation by ordering a public hearing on a matter that belonged behind closed doors.

Republicans were aiming to embarrass the Obama administration over State Department security lapses. But they inadvertently caused a different picture to emerge than the one that has been publicly known: that the victims may have been let down not by the State Department but by the CIA. If the CIA was playing such a major role in these events, which was the unmistakable impression left by Wednesday’s hearing, having a televised probe of the matter was absurd.

The chairman, attempting to close his can of worms, finally suggested that “the entire committee have a classified briefing as to any and all other assets that were not drawn upon but could have been drawn upon” in Benghazi.

Good idea. Too bad he didn’t think of that before putting the CIA on C-SPAN.


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 11, 2012

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sentimental Storytelling”: Beware Of Mitt Romney’s “Softer Side”

Everyone is talking about Mitt Romney’s “softer side.”

That’s how some reporters are characterizing a recent shift in Romney’s stump speeches.

Because Governor Romney has started talking about dead people: the Navy SEAL who died in Benghazi. The 14-year-old boy who died of leukemia (profiled at the Convention). The long-lost friend stricken with multiple disabilities, who drags himself to meet Mitt Romney at a campaign rally. And dies the next day.

The New York Times reports Romney’s stump speech: “I reached down and I put my hand on Billy’s shoulder and I whispered into his ear, and I said, ‘Billy, God bless you, I love you.’ And he whispered right back to me—and I couldn’t quite hear what he said… [He] died the next day.”

And a hush fell over the crowd.

What does this have to do with running for president?

Look, people tell tear-jerkers about dead people all the time. Dying moms and kids especially.

Glenn Beck did it with his book The Christmas Sweater, in which a boy turns up his nose at a particularly unattractive but dearly-bought sweater his mother gifted him for Christmas.

And she dies in a fiery car crash a few pages later.

Beck learned the genre, I once argued, from a particularly bruising subgenre of Mormon sentimentality: Sunday School manual anecdotes and movies that circle like vultures around accidental, lonely, and untimely deaths. Just to make us cry.

This sentimental storytelling is an American tradition dating back at least to the nineteenth century. It encourages us to zero-in on the anecdote—to identify with and shed tears for the helplessness of the victim—and lose complete sight of the big picture.

Is there anything in Romney’s foreign policy that will ensure that more Navy SEALS, sailors, and soldiers will come home quickly?

Does the Romney-Ryan budget maintain the social safety net on which disabled people depend?

And how will repealing the Affordable Health Care Act help out the thousands upon thousands of American families who don’t have access to medical care or who face medical bankruptcy as their loved ones fight cancer?

Time to ask harder questions about the “softer side.”


By: Joanna Brooks, Religion Dispatches, October 11, 2012

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Truth-Telling As Fascism”: Is There A Better Way To Describe What Romney’s Been Doing In This Election Cycle?

It’s getting a lot of derisive attention today, but let me add my own hilarity to the general reaction to Daniel Henninger’s Wall Street Journal column today suggesting that people in politics should never, ever, call each other “liars.” Here’s the passage being quoted most:

The Obama campaign’s resurrection of “liar” as a political tool is odious because it has such a repellent pedigree. It dates to the sleazy world of fascist and totalitarian propaganda in the 1930s. It was part of the milieu of stooges, show trials and dupes. These were people willing to say anything to defeat their opposition. Denouncing people as liars was at the center of it. The idea was never to elevate political debate but to debauch it.

The purpose of calling someone a liar then was not merely to refute their ideas or arguments. It was to nullify them, to eliminate them from participation in politics.

Um, no. The habit of 1930s totalitarians was to either (a) ignore everything enemies say and simply exclude them because of who they are, or (b) force them to confess their perfidies, the more lurid the better. The only people I know of in U.S. politics with those unsavory characteristics are typically Republicans who have been calling their opponents “un-American” for years, and/or suggesting that anyone who doesn’t accept “constitutional conservative” policy prescriptions hates the country and God Almighty. Nobody’s trying to “eliminate” Mitt Romney “from participation in politics.” The people, myself included, who have called him a “liar” have done so because he’s, you know, on a factual basis, “lied.” It’s hard to call the massive ad campaign run by Romney accusing the Obama administration of abolishing work requirements for welfare anything other than a “lie.” Since it’s not very likely that Mitt Romney fails to grasp elementary arithmetic, his repeated assertions that there are no contradictions built into his tax proposals have risen to the level of a “lie,” as well. And as readers of Brother Steve Benen know, you can go on and on and on and on.

Sometimes people on the left accuse Romney of lying when it would be possible to accuse him of “misrepresentations” or “fudging the truth” or “serial exaggeration” and so forth. But you know what? Romney’s habit of using lies to reinforce even bigger lies (e.g., his preposterous claim that his “health care plan” would take care of the uninsured just as much as Obamacare would, or his alleged interest in governing in a bipartisan manner, or his supposed independence from the Cultural Right) kind of makes me lose interest in cutting the guy any slack in theoretically close cases. And in complaining (as his running mate did earlier this week) about Democratic attacks on his integrity, Romney hardly comes into the political court of equity with clean hands, having run hatefully negative ads on both his primary and general election opponents whenever it seemed helpful to his candidacy.

But the clincher to me is that it’s not just “liberals” who think there’s something specially mendacious about Romney’s campaign: it’s what conservatives said for months when they were searching high and low for any plausible alternative to the man, and then what they said about his general-election campaign until very, very recently. Why can’t Mitt be loud and proud about his conservative agenda? they asked over and over about the policy positions he continues to hide and distort with every breath.

If Henninger or anyone else can come up with a better way of describing what Romney’s been doing in this election cycle again and again, I’m all ears. For a while I thought about calling him “Nixonian” in his byzantine twists and turns. But after a while, this became an insult to the memory of the Tricky One. In any event, don’t call those of us who have the responsibility of truth-telling about Romney and his vast, dishonest Potemkin Village of a campaign “fascist.” Nobody’s trying to silence Mitt Romney; we’d just prefer he’d unfork his tongue a lot more often. It’s exhausting just keeping up with the man’s mendacity, or whatever you choose to call his aversion to anything like straight talk.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 11, 2012

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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