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“Extremely Weak Tea”: The Media Circus Finds A New Spectacle

Political coverage of President Obama can be odd sometimes. We’ve reached the point at which media professionals no longer evaluate the president’s comments at a press conference, for example, but rather evaluate how the comments might be used against him later.

What matters isn’t the substance, then, but whether the substance has the potential to be wrenched from context in future attack ads.

Take this morning, for example. Obama hosted a press conference at the White House, starting with a seven-minute opening statement on the economy and the need for Congress to act on pending job legislation. Then he opened the floor to questions, most of which dealt with the Eurozone crisis.

At one point, a reporter asked, “What about the Republicans saying that you’re blaming the Europeans for the failure of your own policies?” Obama responded:

“The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last two, 27 months — over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.”

Reporters figured Republicans would seize of the notion of the private sector “doing fine,” so pretty much every other word uttered during the press conference has been deemed irrelevant. Now, the “gaffe” is what matters — include Obama’s important explanation of the policies needed to improve the economy and the damage done by austerity-like measures in the public sector.

Sigh.

As gaffes go, this strikes me as extremely weak tea. The choice of words probably could have been slightly better, but really, to treat this as some kind of breakthrough moment in the campaign is pretty silly. Indeed, what Obama said, in context, is largely correct — compared to the public sector, the private sector really is doing fine.

This isn’t complicated. Corporate profits have soared, the stock market is up, and private sector job growth has fueled the recovery entirely on its own. In fact, private sector job growth last year was the second best year we’ve seen since the late 1990s, and 2012 is on track to be even stronger.

The public sector, meanwhile, continues to be a drag on the economy, laying off workers and cutting budgets. Comparing the two sectors, there’s nothing shocking about saying one is “fine” and the other isn’t.

If the media pushback is that the current growth rates aren’t yet good enough, that’s certainly fair — but I think everyone realizes Obama has said the same thing several thousand times. Republicans and reporters may enjoy being opportunistic with these comments, but that doesn’t make the story legitimate.

For his part, Mitt Romney quickly learned of the media reports and told voters that the president is “out of touch.” Yes, Mr. Elevator For My Cars who isn’t concerned about the poor and who enjoys firing people wants to talk about which presidential candidate is “out of touch.”

The election is 150 days away. It’s only going to get sillier.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 8, 2012

June 9, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Openly And Dangerously Reckless”: Republicans Are Unfit To Govern

One of this biggest economic stories of the past week was this:

The 17-country eurozone risks falling into a “severe recession,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Tuesday, as it called on governments and Europe’s central bank to act quickly to keep the slowdown from dragging down the global economy.

Just six months ago the OECD considered a 2 percent European contraction the worst-case scenario, but it now sees that as close to happening.

The report forecasts Europe falling further behind other countries, particularly the United States, whose economy is expected to grow 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent next.

Let me repeat: Europe’s economy is contracting, while the U.S. economy is growing. Europe’s economy is in imminent danger of contracting at the rate that just six months ago was considered the worst-case scenario, while the U.S. economy is expected to grow even more next year than this year. And just outside the Eurozone, this past week also saw England’s double-dip recession reported as even worsethan had been thought. In other words, as the world continues to attempt to dig itself out of the economic collapse that was caused by the banking meltdown, the United States is slowly recovering. Europe isn’t.

While Europe elected conservative governments at the worst possible moment, and then embraced the cruel stupidity that is economic austerity, the United States took a different path. The United States should have embraced a much more aggressive growth policy, but at least it didn’t slash and burn government spending the way Europe did. Europe’s economies and Europe’s people have been devastated by economic austerity while the tentative Obama stimulus package has stimulated tentative economic growth. Stimulus works, austerity doesn’t. Until the economy is fully back on its feet, more stimulus would be the best economic policy. Austerity would be the worst economic policy. So what do the Republicans want to do?

Mitt Romney would have let the auto industry go bankrupt. Mitt Romney thinks unemployment insurance is a disaster. Mitt Romney wants to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits. Mitt Romney wants to cut benefits on just about everyone who needs them in order to finance even more tax cuts for the extremely wealthy— people such as Mitt Romney. In other words, Mitt Romney wants to impose austerity on pretty much everyone other than the very few who are in the economic class of Mitt Romney. In fact, Mitt Romney’s economic program is so unfair, and it so favors the very few who are in the economic class of Mitt Romney, that he doesn’t even want us to know its details. And that gets to the core of why Mitt Romney is unfit to govern.

The problem with Mitt Romney is not only that he doesn’t want us to know the details of his economic agenda, which suggests that it’s even worse than what we do know, and what we do know is bad enough, but Mitt Romney also doesn’t want us to know any details about Mitt Romney. Breaking with the tradition that voters should know as much as is possible about presidential candidates, Mitt Romney won’t release his tax returns. What is he hiding? Breaking with the tradition that voters should have at least some idea about a presidential candidate’s positions on major issues, Mitt Romney has flip-flopped so many times on so many issues that even one of his top campaign advisors openly admitted that Romney’s stands can be erased and rewritten without notice. Does he even have any principles or values, or is that he doesn’t want us to know what they are? What is he hiding? Mitt Romney has taken so many stands on so many issues that even he can’t remember where he is supposed to stand on them on any given day. Maybe what Mitt Romney is hiding is that there is no Mitt Romney at all.

For their part, Republican congressional leaders want to repeal the Obama health care law, which would explode the national debt. Republican congressional leaders offer nothing to replace the Obama health care law. House Republicans voted to end Medicare. House Republicans want to decimate health care spending. House Republicans want to take away a million Pell Grants. House Republicans want to punish low income Americans. House Republicans want to punish senior citizens. House Republicans want to punish women. House Republicans want to drive even more Americans from some semblance of food security into poverty. The House Republican budget leader wants to drive even more children into poverty. Whatever they may say they want to do, the agenda of congressional Republicans would be devastating for tens of millions of Americans.

Unfortunately, being wrong— even stupidly wrong— is not in itself proof of unfitness to govern. As the Bush-Cheney team proved, it is in fact now a prerequisite for any Republican aspiring to national office. But the destructive policy agenda of congressional Republicans is not even remotely the worst of it, because in order to impose these policies they have resorted to tactics that are nothing more than political extortion, and government cannot function by extortion. It cannot function when hard fought agreements are blithely broken for the purpose of further extortion. And that’s what the Republicans now are about. They operate like criminal thugs and they cannot be trusted to keep their word. And it’s not merely a game of daring high stakes brinksmanship, for merely playing the game is itself dangerously destructive.

When the Republicans last summer broke bipartisan precedent by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States in order to force the sorts of budget cuts that have shattered the economies of Europe, they agreed to a deal that itself will damage the recovery, but by forcing that deal they also triggered the first ever downgrade in our national credit rating. The Standard & Poor’s downgrade was problematic in itself, but S&P was very carefully explicit in its rationale:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.

That brinksmanship was wholly the fault of the Republicans. Under both Democratic and Republican presidents, and with both Democratic and Republican Congresses, no one previously had been so petty and unhinged as to play chicken with the debt ceiling. The Republicans last year broke all precedent. Ownership of the consequences is theirs alone. And beyond revealing how dangerous they are even to have attempted political extortion by holding the debt ceiling hostage, the specifics of the Republican approach to the national debt also was specifically mentioned.

Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.

Both the Republican policy and the means of imposing the Republican policy were specifically cited. As our own Hunter explained:

Parsing the S&P statement from a partisan standpoint, there are a few things to note. As cited above, the Bush tax cuts appear to be the only non-entitlement-related government policy specifically called out by S&P in their rationale for downgrade, and “Republicans in Congress” were specifically called out for “continu[ing] to resist any measure that would raise revenues.” It seems S&P comes down squarely on the side of believing revenues doneed to be increased, though it pointedly shies away from suggesting any numbers.Couple this with their plain and prominent citation of debt ceiling hostage-taking as a prime reason for the downgrade, and it would be difficult to argue any position other than that S&P is blaming recent GOP actions directly for their downgrade decision

All of which would be bad enough. All of which would by itself reveal how dangerous it is to allow such people any means of asserting any level of control over the making of economic policy. But now House Speaker John Boehner wants to play the whole game over again:

In the meeting—a day after a high-profile speech by Boehner in which he called for spending cuts paired with any future debt-ceiling hikes—the speaker told the president that “I’m not going to allow a debt ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt,” according to the Ohio Republican’s aides.

Which has even his Republican Senate counterpart unenthused. Of course that same Republican Senate counterpart last year said that his single most important goal was to deny President Obama a second term in office. Despite two wars, international terrorism, a still staggering economy, rising poverty and homelessness, an impending climate crisis and a host of other issues on which one would think a national political leader would want to focus, the single greatest priority of the most powerful Republican in the Senate was to ensure electoral victory. And continued Republican efforts to sabotage the economyproved the man’s words.

The Republicans don’t want to solve the nation’s problems, they only want to gain and maintain political power. And in pursuit of that goal they are openly and dangerously reckless. And their new presidential standard-bearer not only wants to impose policies similar to those that continue to devastate Europe, he is a deliberately dishonest cipher, not only about where he stands on issues but even about whether or not he actually has any stands on issues. He doesn’t merely disinform, he openly mocks even the concept of informing.

Differences in policy are one thing, and history tends to reveal who was right and who was wrong. For example, the New Deal worked, while austerity doesn’t. And it’s perfectly fair for Republicans to continue to try to gut the New Deal while promoting more disastrous austerity. That’s politics, and if American voters want to swap the current slow but steadily improving economic recovery for the type of economic implosion and social upheaval now crushing Europe, they have every right to vote for the Republicans. They have every right to vote for whomever they want for whatever reasons or lack of reason they choose. But when Republicans shatter precedent by attempting political extortion that by itself endangers the full faith and credit of the United States, when they threaten to crash the economy if they don’t get their way, when they consider winning more important than responsible governing, when they consciously attempt to undermine the very concept of an informed electorate, that isn’t politics, it’s the deliberate destruction of politics. It makes mere thuggery appear relatively benign in comparison. It reveals the Republicans as not only ideologically and intellectually incompetent, but also as dangerously unstable of temperament.

With the modern Republican Party, the danger isn’t merely that they will succeed in imposing more disastrous policies, the danger is that even allowing them to have any influence at all on the process of making policy can and will be abused, with potentially disastrous consequences. Modern Republicans are not merely lousy at governing, they are unfit to govern.

By: Laurence Lewis, Daily Kos, May 27, 2012

May 28, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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