Archive for August, 2012

False Witness

Friday, August 31st, 2012

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19

The Bible is pretty clear about lying.  It’s the eighth commandment.  Proverbs classifies those who lie and sow discord as “an abomination”.  Those who like to cite Bible verses about homosexuality place a lot of weight on the use of the word “abomination”.  Even Jesus, when asked by the rich man which commandments he should follow included the prohibition against lying.

I know that Mormons use both the old and new testament too.  So I’m also sure that Mitt Romney is familiar with the concept of false witness.  That makes the most recent turns of his campaign that much more distressing because they indicate that this man who claims to be a devout Mormon is either delusional or deeply cynical regarding the practice of his religion.

The Romney campaign has been running a  series of ads claiming that President Obama is gutting welfare.

These ads have been widely criticized as inaccurate and race-baiting.  It has been universally condemned by the fact finders.  Politifact gave it their worse rating, “Pants on Fire”.  The Washington Post gave it four Pinocchio’ concurred.  All of the major newspapers echoed the fact-checkers.

The Romney campaign, however, seems undeterred.

“Our most effective ad is our welfare ad,” a top television advertising strategist for Romney, Ashley O’Connor, said at a forum Tuesday hosted by ABCNews and Yahoo! News. “It’s new information.”

“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” Romney Pollster Neil Newhouse said.

In other words, we don’t care whether our ads are factually accurate.  All we care about is how people respond to our ads.  This ad convinces more people to vote for Mitt Romney than any other ad that we have.  So we are going to continue to make this claim even though it has no basis in fact.

Further, we aren’t going to let ourselves be limited in any way by any other claims that we make. We are going to say and do whatever is required to get elected and we really don’t care what the consequences are for our actions.  If inflaming old racial stereotypes is what we need to do to drive more of our voters to the polls in November, we are going to do it.  This is a no holds barred campaign and we are in it to win it.

The big difference here is when the Kerry campaign suffered a similar fate; the perpetrator of the Big Lie was an independent group supposedly unconnected to the Bush campaign.  This Romney ad is not some PAC or other interest group shredding the truth. These ads are running with Mitt Romney’s personal endorsement.

The first question is why they think they can get away with this tactic and not suffer some consequence from voters?

The second is what the long term implications are if these sorts of political tactics are successful?

There are certainly the rationalizations that the right wing echo chamber have been making that the Romney campaign can use to justify their actions.  The Obama campaign has also been telling lies, but that’s not really the question.  The “Romney killed my wife” Obama ads were the product of a PAC.  Because of the public outcry including the fact checkers, those ads never did actually run.  If the Romney campaign took a similar stance on their “welfare” ads, they would defend their position but stop making the assertion and move on as the Obama campaign did.  In this case, the Romney campaign’s primary defense is that they aren’t going to stop running an effective ad even though it is inaccurate.

The Romney campaign thinks they can get away with this because Republicans have developed three effective strategies to minimize the impact of fact-checkers.

The first is the basic tenant of Big Lie politics.  That is to repeat your lie louder and more often than those objecting to it.  Eventually the lie drowns out the truth.  If you have the money and the determination, this tactic has already been proven effective in past campaigns.  Willy Horton and Swift Boat are just two examples.  There are mountains of campaign cash flowing into the Romney campaign and the shadowy unregulated semi-independent PACs supporting his campaign.  So the Romney campaign has the means to mount a sustained effort to establish their lie as the truth.

The second is the ongoing Republican campaign to discredit the mainstream media.  This has created distrust among conservative voters of anything in the mainstream media that contradicts their views or the views of their candidates.  Evidence of this is the Romney campaign’s suggestion that, “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs.”  This is code for the claim that the fact checkers share the same liberal bias as the mainstream media.  One need look no further than the dust ups that has had with MSNBC and the Obama campaign to appreciate that these organizations are committed to holding ALL politicians and parties accountable to the truth.

The third is the conservative media who make huge amounts of money repeating right wing talking points and supporting conservative candidates.  They both spread the lie and create doubt about any sources who suggest the lie has no basis in fact.  Rush Limbaugh said, “But I have no reason to lie to you about any of this, and there’s nothing in it for me to be wrong.  It does not help me to be wrong about any of this.  There aren’t any lies in the Romney welfare reform ad.”  The next day he accused Obama administration of exerting undue influence on the government’s Hurricane Center’s prediction models in hopes of disrupting the Republican Convention.  Rush clearly has this figured out since his act generates somewhere north of $40M/year for him.

The result is a parallel Republican universe where anything is free game, pollsters and pundits can create whatever claim they feel will best advance their agenda, and where fact-checkers are irrelevant.

The implications for democracy are dire.  Democracy depends on informed debate and compromise.  We have elections (rather than civil wars) to decide those particularly troublesome issues where compromise fails.  We also have the balance of law and the judiciary to protect minority rights from being trampled by the majority.

Without a shared set of facts, you can’t have productive debates or effective compromise.  Instead ideology is allowed to trump reality and demonize compromise.  When that happens, we leave ourselves open to demagogues.  To quote Robert Reich, “A society without trusted arbiters of what is true and what is false is vulnerable to every lie imaginable.”

Crazy Train

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

This has been a remarkable week for exposing the crazy side of conservative Republicanism.

Women’s Issues
Suburban women were a significant part of Obama’s winning coalition in 2008 and were also the reason why so many Tea Party Congressmen were elected in 2010.  So how are the Republicans doing with this particular voting block this year?

Look no further than Todd Akin the tea-party backed Congressman running against Clare McCaskill in the Missouri senate race.  He referenced a loony theory created by Dr. Jack C. Willke, the father of the antiabortion movement, that pregnancy from rape is rare.  This theory is important to the pro-life movement because it allows them to argue that the current exclusions of rape from abortion bans are unnecessary.  Not only is this whole concept deeply offensive to women across the political spectrum, but the theory has no basis in fact.

It has also shined a light on Paul Ryan’s record regarding women’s rights.  Ryan and Akin co-sponsored a bill which attempted to introduce this concept of “legitimate rape”.  Ryan’s 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee is the result of his support for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.  Ryan and Akin were also co-sponsors of the Sanctity of Human Life Act which sought to give a fertilized egg the same rights of “personhood” as a human being and would not only ban all abortions but outlaw some forms of birth control.

Ryan has said he will support the Romney position of allowing abortions in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother.  Some women are already wondering what would happen if Romney were elected and then could no longer serve?

Climate Change
We are going through the worst drought in 60 years which deeply affects famers.  New scientific studies are released almost every week attributing this drought specifically to climate change caused by human activities.  Yet, John Shimkus of Illinois who heads the house subcommittee on climate change says there is nothing to worry about.  “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length.

John Barton is on the same committee.  He’s the one who among other things apologized to BP because he felt the Obama administration was being too demanding following the gulf oil spill.  Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines.  Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.”  Clean energy, he said, “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter.  “You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

Michele Bachmann and Jim Inhofe claim that global warming is a hoax.  Mr. Inhofe is a senior member on the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

Romney’s energy plan calls for increased oil drilling and relaxation of EPA regulations on the use of coal.  He promises North American energy independence by 2020 (assuming Canada still likes us by then).  He depends on a study by the Citigroup for his data but ignores the portion of the study which also recommends dramatic increases in conservation standards in order to achieve energy independence.

Finally Romney also promises freedom from foreign oil and cheaper gas.  As long as oil is a globally traded commodity, he can’t deliver on either of these promises unless he is willing to restrict domestic oil exports.  He’s said he won’t do that.  So though the US balance of trade may improve when the US becomes a net oil exporter, prices will still fluctuate based on international events that could affect supply, and we will still be burning foreign oil.

Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House, is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

Romney has taken the position that college students don’t need the loan supports they currently receive.  His advice to a college student asking about how they are going to afford the costs of college is that they shop around for a cheaper college or borrow the money from parents and relatives.

Romney does not want this election to turn on whether or not he releases his tax returns.  However he continues to assist the Democrats in keeping this issue in the news.  The latest evidence of this is from a talk he gave recently to a small business group.

“We’ve got to make it easier for small businesses,” Romney told a crowd of about 300 people at a high-dollar fundraiser in Minnesota. “Big business is doing fine in many places -they get the loans they need, they can deal with all the regulation. They know how to find ways to get through the tax code, save money by putting various things in the places where there are low tax havens around the world for their businesses. But small business is getting crushed.”

So not only did he echo Obama’s remark regarding the private sector, and effectively take that off the table as a future talking point for his campaign, but one of his recommendation for helping small business appeared to be easier access to tax havens.  This remark came on the heels of several reports on Bain’s practice of setting up tax havens for their customers and additional analysis of Romney’s public returns suggesting extensive use of off-shore accounts to avoid US taxes.

Romney has promised to balance the budget, but recently he also said he was going to add back $700B in Medicare spending which the Obama administration had listed as cost savings in the Affordable Care Act.  This $700B, as many have already pointed out, is coming from reduced re-imbursements primarily to hospitals who have agreed to the cuts in return for seeing a reduction in their costs for caring for the uninsured.  The other major source of that reduction comes from reducing the rates paid to insurance companies for the Medicare Advantage coverage since the Affordable Care Act also addresses many of the gaps in Medicare coverage that the Medicare Advantage plans filled.  I’ll address the whole Medicare issue in another more detailed post.  But Romney also hasn’t said how he hopes to pay for this additional $700B in spending and still keep his promise to balance the budget and reduce the deficit.  His math didn’t work before.  It has only gotten worse.

Romney has said that he doesn’t dispute Obama’s citizenship.  At the same time, he met with Donald Trump during the primaries and recently made a joke about his own citizenship in a talk in Michigan where he said “no one ever asked to see my birth certificate”.

Romney’s claim that the Obama administration is dismantling welfare work requirements has been widely criticized as a thinly veiled bit a race-baiting.  It is factually inaccurate because if anything, the states requesting waivers of the current work rules were attempting to put MORE people to work rather than less.  Instead it was an appeal to the portion of the Republican base who distrust an African American President and the motivation of the African Americans who support him.

There are a couple of things going on here.

There is a segment of the Republican party that hold beliefs well outside mainstream America.  34% of conservative Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim.  51% doubt his citizenship.  50% feel that he is a socialist.  You can see that extremism in the Republican platform which includes a pledge to pass a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion without exception.  It includes the construction of a giant wall along the US border with Mexico, mandatory use of electronic verification by private employers, no support for a path to citizenship, the blocking of funds to universities offering in-state tuition fees to the undocumented, and an end to federal lawsuits against controversial anti-immigrant legislation such as Arizona’s SB1070.  There’s even language suggesting an annual audit of the Federal Reserve and a “gold commission” to investigate return to the gold standard.

Romney’s strategy to become President has shifted over the last month.  Some pundits say that his selection of Ryan had much more to do with needing to put Wisconsin in play than it did anything else.  That’s because many say that Romney can’t win Ohio.  Romney has to win one of the rust belt states to have any hope of a November victory and he was willing to put Florida at risk because of Ryan’s unpopular Medicare proposals in order to improve his chances in Wisconsin.

The other shift in Romney’s strategy is that he has refocused his attention on his base.  Selecting Ryan made it more difficult for him to win women, but it did guarantee a vigorous attack from Democrats.  That attack and Romney’s recent statements on energy, welfare, and birtherism all indicate that the focus of the rest of his campaign is going to be on turning out the Republican base.  He wants every Republican voter (including those with loony beliefs) so energized that they will be first in line when the polls open.  The added benefit is that a divisive campaign not only gets his base to the polls but also suppresses the less partisan undecided voters who may decide to just stay home because they are so disgusted with the whole process.

This scorched earth strategy  may work to get him elected.

It won’t leave much room for him to govern if he is successful.

The Return of the Taxman

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Among other things I was a wrestler in school.  One of the things that you learn in wrestling is that there is a counter for virtually every move.  So wrestling ends up being much more about desire, conditioning, and who makes the fewest mistakes rather than who is the strongest.

There was an example of this on the campaign trail this week.

The Romney campaign successfully turned the conversation from tax returns to Medicare by selecting Paul Ryan as their VP candidate.  The Obama campaign immediately pounced on that selection by pointing out that Ryan had proposed turning Medicare into a voucher program.  This produced a whole set of back and forth about Medicare which I will cover in another post.  Whether or not this was working for Romney, he clearly appeared to have regained some footing and was at least engaging the Obama campaign in a substantive debate about the future of Medicare.

Then out of the blue Romney finally responded to Senator Harry Reid’s claim that he hadn’t paid taxes in ten years.  Romney’s response was that he has paid at least 13% in taxes for the past ten years.  This response came six weeks after Reid’s original claim on the floor of the Senate.

During the past six weeks, the Romney campaign called Reid a liar.  They said they weren’t going to release additional returns because those returns would only result in the Democrats asking for more returns and the whole campaign would become a discussion about personal taxes rather than the economy which is what Romney REALLY wants to talk about.

So why say anything more, particularly after this long delay?  The delay in itself further re-enforces the claim, whether true or not, that Romney has something to hide because virtually every taxpayer remembers at least in general numbers how much they paid in taxes.  So why did it take him six weeks to confirm that he didn’t have a year where his taxes dipped below the 13% threshold?  Is he really that disconnected from the process of paying his taxes?

The Obama campaign, just like a good wrestler, responded quickly with their counter.  They offered Romney a deal.  Just release three more years of tax returns which, in addition to the two years of returns that Romney has already promised to release, would comprise five years.  In return the Obama campaign said they would not request any further information and they would step criticizing the Romney campaign on this issue.

The Romney campaign rejected that offer almost immediately.  That rejection allowed the Obama campaign to ask all of the same questions again that they had been asking the past six weeks.  In addition the rejection of what many would regard as a reasonable compromise reinforces another claim the Obama campaign has been making that Obama has tried to compromise but these Republicans at least are so ideological that they can’t make a deal.  This plays into one of the major issues that I posted about with swing voters – the desire for both parties to figure out how to work together.

The Obama campaign is right back where they want to be questioning what Romney has to hide and the Romney campaign is right back in the same place they were before they announced Paul Ryan as their VP pick.  They are defending their candidate’s decision to withhold information that a majority of the American people say they are interested in.

The Romney campaign in their rejection said, “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”  This is the same thing that they have been saying for the past six weeks, but now they are the ones responsible, at least in the mind of some voters, for the campaign being stuck on this issue.

The Romney campaign is correct about the Obama campaign, but wrong about what voters want.  Obama continues to push this issue because it is working for him, particularly with swing voters in battleground states.  It cuts to the core of whether or not this guy can be trusted, and Obama is winning this argument.

Romney said, “As long as I continue to speak about the economy, I’m going to win.”  This week, he failed to talk only about the economy and he lost.



What Swing Voters Really Want

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

This election is going to turn on a relatively small number of voters in a relatively small number of states.

These are the voters who haven’t already decided who they are going to vote for.

In the 10-12 swing states that will decide this election, these undecided voters represent roughly 10% of the electorate.  In the other states leaning or solidly in either candidate’s column, their leads exceed the margin that these undecided voters could influence.

So what do they want?

According to the AP, these voters want more details about Romney’s economic proposals and Bain Capital record, less bickering between the parties and a greater sense of inspiration and leadership from both candidates.

They also understand that this is a vague wish list, but it happens to be the issues that will move them from one candidate to the other.

What is also striking is what is NOT on this list.  This group, for example, is not going to be moved the by jobs reports.  Most feel that the economy, or at least short term improvement in the economy, is beyond the ability for either candidate to deliver.  They also aren’t questioning Obama’s personal history or Obamacare.

So what does that mean for both candidates who have been running very controlled campaigns designed to minimize the mistakes and quickly respond to criticisms?

Here’s my take.

Romney is going to hold out as long as he can hoping that the economy will deteriorate to the point where he can win without providing more information about either his personal finances or his economic plans.  He is certainly not going to do much before the Republican Convention in hopes that the national coverage associated with the convention and his choice of a VP will give him a bounce that will close the gap in the battle ground states.

Obama is going to continue to hammer Romney on his failure to provide specifics while Romney will attempt to deflect that criticism by claiming that he would rather talk about the economy while at the same time avoiding any specifics on what his plans really are to improve it.

This will likely not help either candidate because the undecided will view it as more bickering and less leadership and inspiration.

Romney will eventually be forced to reveal more personal and policy information.  When he does, he will lose.  That’s because on a policy level, his numbers won’t add up.  On a personal level, the information he releases will not answer any questions, but only raise more questions.

Until that happens, we have one of these weird end games that in chess would just result in a draw.  Neither candidate is going to make a bold move because they don’t have to.  Romney is hoping between the economy and the convention to close the gap without releasing any more information.  Obama is hoping that the economy does not get any worse, and that his unrelenting attacks on Romney will eventually force Romney to release more information.

They could very well stretch this whole thing out until November and frustrate undecided voters in the process.

Here’s what I wish they would do to demonstrate leadership and inspiration.

Romney should promote himself as the candidate who can square the circle.  He should be claiming that he is the only one who will be able to reform that tax system, close loopholes created by the rich and powerful, create an incentive-based hiring program, a federally subsidized jobs training program, and capital gains incentives for domestic investments that result in new jobs.  He could have promoted himself as someone who understands the need for healthcare reform and would IMPROVE the Affordable Care Act rather than repeal it.

Obama needs to call the Tea Party Republicans out for the hypocrites that they are regarding government spending and jobs.  He should be using the current conservative Republican bleating about sequestration as evidence to the American people that those who said that debt was THE most important thing and were willing to put the country into default rather than approve one dollar of tax increases are now suggesting that we NEED all of this deficit spending to keep all of the defense industry jobs that will be lost if the defense budget is cut.  He needs to defend government spending as an effective stimulus tool, and propose a whole series of “targeted” jobs programs.  Things like “first fired first hired”.  Eliminate time limits on unemployment insurance until unemployment numbers go under 8% for at least six months, and provide mortgage protection for homeowners who have been laid off until they are able to get new jobs.  This gets paid for through meaningful entitlement reform.

In other words, Romney the conservative should be touting his WILLINGNESS to raise taxes on the rich by closing loopholes.  Obama the liberal should be touting his willingness to reform the entitlement programs in order to continue to invest in job growth.

Just like the undecided, it is a wish list that probably won’t come true.