Monday, August 27, 2012

Nats Fans - Chill Out, We Got This

During a season that has been just short of magical, an ugly weekend sweep at the hands of the rival Philadelphia Phillies has got Nationals fans (and the media) all up in arms.  For the past few weeks, most of the talk has been centered on why (or whether) the Nats should shut down Stephen Strasburg next month, as the team has planned to do since before the season started.  Now, after three ugly losses to a division rival, skittish fans who have just started following the team and media types looking for an angle to report on suddenly think the sky is falling.  My message to them is … RELAX. 

Watching the series this weekend (and I suffered through all three games), reminded me of another three game sweep the Nationals endured earlier this year at the hands of the New York Yankees.  Both the Phillies and Yankees fielded veteran line ups with deep playoff experience.  Those line ups took away one of the Nationals' big advantages - pitching.  Each team worked high pitch counts and scored a run or two early in the game, putting pressure on the Nats' starting pitching. No Nats starter pitched past the 6th inning in any of those six losses and in two of the three games against each team, the opponents got at least one run in the first inning. The end result?  While the Nats bullpen is deep and strong, being called upon to pitch so many innings day after day put pressure on them to get meaningful outs.  

Meanwhile, both the Yanks and Phils sent experienced playoff pitchers to the mound and the Nationals struggled. Against the Yankees, the near 40 year old Andy Pettitte tip toed around the Nats line up for 7 innings, giving up 2 runs, while Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova yielded a lone run each. Similarly, against the Phillies, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, neither of whom is what they once were, but are still very good pitchers, dominated the Nats line up, throwing high percentages of strikes and inducing many strike outs and weak grounders while giving up two runs and one run respectively. The Nats had no better luck against Kyle Kendrick, while Phils batters got to Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson early, scoring runs off both in the first inning and driving up their pitching counts so that neither one was in the game to start the 7th inning.

The results speak for themselves. In those six games, the Nats scored a total of 11 runs - 1 run twice, 2 runs 3 times and 3 runs once while giving up 28 runs, including 4 runs in all three games against Philadelphia, and 4, 5 and 7 runs in the Yanks' three game sweep. So is all of this cause for concern?  Yes and no.  On the positive side, the Nats are still in 1st place by 4.5 games over the Braves, still have a deep and talented starting rotation and bullpen and a starting line up which, while not at full strength, is not awful either.  The team's remaining schedule is manageable.  While there are a number of games against the rival Phillies and three more at the contending Braves, half of the team's remaining games are against also rans like the Cubs, Brewers and Marlins (a total of 13 games) and three against the fast fading Mets. Plus, come September 1, the team can expand its roster and add critical bench and bullpen depth. 

The bad news?  Most of the team's starters have not been in a playoff race before and may fold under pressure. Strasburg is probably 3 starts away from being shut down (he'll be replaced by the capable, but not as talented John Lannan) and key contributors like Ian Desmond and Mike Morse are dinged up. Most importantly, other contenders have been handed a blueprint of how to handle the Nats - score early, run up the starting pitcher's pitch count and expect the inexperienced Nats may make a bone headed play or two along the way.  Strong pitching can shut them down and the team seems to play tight if it gets down early against veteran pitchers. 

These last 32 games, and, barring a true September collapse, will be a great testing ground for this young but talented group.  They are captained by a very experienced manager who has won a World Series and taken three teams to the playoffs.  Davey Johnson may have done a wonderful managing job until now, but the next month will truly test his skills.  The potential this team has for growth before the playoffs start may cement a foundation for a deep run this year and a string of appearances in years to come. One thing fans should not do is read too much into this weekend's sweep.  It's baseball, it happens, but there's no need to hit the panic button. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meta Sketch

On Tuesday, the Republican Party will nominate for President a man who, during the primaries, expressed his support for an amendment to Mississippi's state Constitution that would have declared that life begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg, making all abortion and most forms of birth control illegal and criminalizing any effort by a woman (or her doctor) to terminate her pregnancy.  This man also stated that he would veto the DREAM Ac if it passed Congress, a law that would modernize our immigration policy (in its current form, it was filibustered by Senate Republicans), promised to defund Planned Parenthood, believes "corporations are people" and would provide massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, who have already seen the most massive redistribution of wealth in their favor since the 1920s.  Speaking of wealth, this gentleman has amassed an enormous fortune, probably the largest personal fortune of any man who has ever run for President, but refuses to allow the American people to see his tax returns, uses off shore tax havens to shelter his money and led a firm that was an innovator in outsourcing and leveraged buyouts.  Oh, and the one policy achievement he has from his single term as a state Governor is a health care plan that his party hates so much, its majority in the House of Representatives has attempted to repeal the federal version of it more than 30 times. 

To run with this man, Republicans have selected a Congressman who has called for the elimination of Medicare as a guaranteed health benefit provided through the federal government in favor of having senior citizens purchase private health insurance, supports reducing Medicaid spending, making health care inaccessible for millions of poor people, and trimming food stamps so that 17 million Americans who currently receive them would no longer do so. Oh, and he also believes that the term "rape" needs to modified with the word "forcible," and does not think abortion is appropriate in any circumstance.  To top it all off, he has no foreign policy experience except, as he jokes, being close to Lake Superior and (not joking) that he voted to send men and women into combat. 

Of course, the Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan people who tune into the Republican National Convention (RNC) will see are far different than the two gentlemen described above (even though they are those people too). Indeed, the RNC is the ultimate Etch-A-Sketch moment that Eric Fehrnstrom promised us some months ago. Gone will be inflammatory talk about illegal immigration, restricting abortion rights and denying contraception to women. In their place will be anodyne paeans to the "American Dream" with fluffy talk of mom and apple pie.  No credit will go to the President that finally "got" Bin Laden or ended the Iraq War. Instead, there will be talk of expanding defense budgets and rattling sabers against Iran in solidarity with our good friend Israel.   Refrains of "we built this" will echo in an arena built primarily with government dollars and from a Vice Presidential candidate whose private sector CV was limited to being the driver of the Oscar Meyer "Weinermobile" and a waiter at a well known Mexican restaurant in D.C. He has, however, collected a government check uninterrupted for nearly 20 years, used Social Security survivor's benefits to get through college and now has health coverage guaranteed for the rest of his life (he'll get a fat government pension if his ticket does not win but he is re-elected to Congress and stays for 8 more years). 

Seniors will be reassured that their access to Medicare is inviolate while telling everyone under 55 that major changes must be made with less provided at greater cost. Our national debt will be laid at the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, except only the current occupant will be blamed. Stimulus will be mocked even though Mr. Romney called for the same in 2008. Bailouts will be demonized except the one that rescued the auto industry, which will be embraced and co-opted by a man who wrote an editorial titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Governors from states like Florida, Ohio and Virginia will brag about their improved economies without noting the massive investment of federal dollars that helped stabilize their employment situation while the Governor of a state with a 9.8% jobless rate (New Jersey) is spotlighted. And nowhere will the sad legacy of George W. Bush be uttered - of flag draped coffins, limbless veterans, a surplus turned to oceans of red ink, a failed response to one of the worst natural disasters in our country's history and the enmity of friend and foe alike throughout the world. 

If a question is raised about those Voter ID laws, they will simply retort that the ballot must be protected, never mind that 10 confirmed cases of in person fraud have been found in 146 million votes cast since 2000 or that the most recent cases of election fraud had to do with a Republican Congressman (Thad McCotter) and Indiana's Republican Secretary of State.  Any attempt to talk about government investment in the economy will be derided as left wing socialism, even though the party's own VP candidate sent letters of support to Cabinet members on behalf of businesses in his district who wanted those precious federal dollars. Slow economic growth, an increase in the poverty rate and budget deficits will be Obama's fault while Senators in the audience who filibustered everything from health care to the appointment of the Public Printer clap lustily and their own intransigence is nowhere mentioned. 

It will all seem very reasonable because it has been poll tested and word smithed, and millions are being spent on staging and lighting to give just the right impression. Republicans tease the President over the "greek columns" onstage at his 2008 acceptance speech but are spending $2.5 million on a stage for their own candidate who, I'm guessing, will use a TelePrompTer.  All of this will be done in an effort to convince the media covering the event and the voters watching it that this is not a reactionary party beholden to the 1%, whose rabid right wing believes women can avoid rape-induced pregnancies and that the President is a Kenyan, Muslim or both. That this is a big tent, not a sheet and hood.

Monday, August 20, 2012


A few months ago, in the heat of the primary season, there was a one day story about how Mitt Romney's website misspelled the word "America," as "Amercia." A good chuckle was had and the story quickly disappeared; however, the idea of a bizarro country called Amercia has become a quick shorthand for the broader policy objectives of the Republican party. 

In Amercia, women can prevent pregnancy by "shutting the whole thing down," during a sexual assault, at least according to the Republican nominee for Senate from Missouri. What about birth control? Surely, women should be able to access the Pill, right? Not so, according to mega donor Foster Friess, who almost single handedly bankrolled the Super PAC supporting Rick Santorum. Contraception is unneeded, just a Bayer aspirin between the knees. And that regulation in the Affordable Care Act mandating that employers provide birth control options for women? Can't have that if it offends religious employers, even if 28 states already require it and, you know, the Constitution says so (see my blog post: In Amercia, Planned Parenthood is defunded and since embryos are human beings, lots of luck getting an abortion, though prosecutors will be kept busy putting doctors who perform abortions and the women who get them, in prison. 

While Amercia may look dystopic for women, America is not much better right now. TRAP laws and regulations have essentially outlawed abortion in states like Kansas and Mississippi and in many other states, regulations have been enacted that severely restrict the ability of women to safely terminate their pregnancies. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is one retirement and one Republican replacement away from overturning Roe v. Wade (though it's so full of exceptions at this point, it's just a shell of what it originally was) entirely. 

Fortunately for women, they have a lot of company in the back of the Amercia bus. Notwithstanding things like the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Republican legislatures around the country have spent the past two years passing Voter ID laws that require certain forms of identification if you have the temerity to exercise your Constitutional right to vote. But Scary Lawyer Guy, you say, we don't want people showing up to vote who are not entitled to vote, right? Well, of course not.  The only problem is that it almost never happens. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University researched the number of confirmed cases of "in person" voter fraud (which is what these laws claim to protect against) since 2000 and found a whopping ten instances out of 146 million ballots cast - yes, you read that right, 1 out of 14.6 million votes in this country were believed to be improperly cast at the voting booth by someone claiming to be someone else (  

While these laws will do little to prevent a problem that does not exist, they do a wonderful job of disqualifying otherwise eligible citizens from voting. Elderly people, who no longer have driver's licenses, but may not have access to confirming documentation like birth certificates, are one such class of people. Media reports are replete with stories like the one of a 96 year old woman in Tennessee who was initially denied the free voter ID card promised under that state's law ( and an 86 year old World War II veteran who was turned back at his voting location because his Veteran's Affairs ID did not have a current address, even though he'd been living at the same residence for 40 years (  

And even though states that pass these laws are required to provide a free, conforming ID, as the Brennan Center has pointed out, in the 10 states with the most restrictive ID laws, hundreds of thousands of eligible voters do not have a means of transportation to get to the government offices that issue these IDs.  Further, in many instances, the offices that voters must go to are either far away or have limited hours of operation, making it even harder to access this government service.  Of course, even if a poor person can make it there, they must provide the proper documentation, and things like birth certificates or marriage licenses (two common documents states use) cost money to get copies of, in other words, a modern day version of the poll tax (for more from the Brennan Center: (

The court challenges to Voter ID laws are flying fast and furious, with telling results. In Pennsylvania, where a lawsuit was filed challenging its Voter ID law, the state conceded, at the beginning of the trial, that not one instance of in person voter fraud had taken place in the state and it did not expect it to occur in the November election, yet a trial court judge bizarrely upheld this law, even though the lead election official also acknowledged she did not know the particulars of the law and that 750,000 people could potentially be affected by its enactment (for more:  At a trial challenging Texas's law, the state conceded that some of its citizens would have to travel more than 100 miles to get the required identification yet argued with a straight face that this was not overly burdensome. 

On top of Voter ID laws, states are also restricting early voting, limiting the ability of third-parties to engage in voter registration drives and seeking to purge voter rolls, all of which impact some combination of poor, minorities and/or the elderly. While earlier eras in American history were defined by efforts by the disenfranchised to gain access to the ballot, in Amercia, voting is a privilege, not a right and blithely denying it to (potentially) hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people is just par for the course. 

So Amercia is not particularly welcoming for women who want to use birth control, sentient human beings who think rape is rape or minorities, the elderly or young people who can't scrounge up a Republican gold-plated ID to exercise the franchise, who else is part of the "untouchable" caste in Amercia? Well, of course, as Ann Romney vaguely referred, it's "you people."  Who are "you people?"  You people include anyone who doesn't collect most of their income from capital gains or carried interest (don't know of (or have) one or both of them? You might be "you people"). In Amercia, the wealthy are over-taxed and the poor are free loaders who pay no taxes and cruise on the heady wave of capitalism produced by the Bain Capitals of the world. The wealthy cannot be asked to help pay down our debt and deficit, but rather, the bite must come entirely from programs and services that help provide people with the bare minimum necessities of life. 

Another feature of Amercia is the pillaging of the social safety net. Anyone silly enough to pay into our benefits system (Social Security and Medicare) expecting them to be there when they retire are simpletons who do not understand the fiscal realities of having spent trillions in unfunded tax cuts, wars and benefit extensions.  In Amercia, Social Security gets privatized, diverting your automatic FICA deductions to Wall Street instead of allowing FICA to be collected on income above $106,800, which would make the program solvent for the next 75 years. 

Back in America, that big bad Obamacare slows the future growth of Medicare by limiting reimbursement to medical providers in order to encourage best practices and insurance companies who offer supplemental insurance coined "Medicare Advantage," takes those savings and (1) closes the "donut hole" in Medicare D (the so-called "donut hole" was a creature of cheap Republican legislative drafting. In order to hold down the total cost of the program, Medicare helps pay for your prescription drugs up to a total cost of about $2,600, but from that point until the cost reaches roughly $6,154, the individual must pick up 100% of the cost. From $6,154 beyond, the split is 5%/95% (individual/Medicare). The Affordable Care Act phases out the "donut hole") and (2) provides free preventative care for seniors. The only "cuts" that will be experienced will be to providers and insurers who offer "Medicare Advantage," not a penny is taken away from seniors. 

In Amercia? Republicans take those same "savings" and pump them into tax cuts for the wealthy while converting Medicare into a voucher program that, when effective, will cost the average senior more than $6,400 out of pocket for private insurance coverage.  And no, in Amercia, there is no irony that Republicans think that able bodied adults should not be forced to purchase this same insurance as part of an "individual mandate," but are perfectly fine with leaving seniors to the predations of the private sector (can't wait for United Health to estimate the premiums on policy coverage costs for senior citizens!). 

Of course, if you're poor, forget it. While President Obama sought to expand medical coverage under Medicaid by offering to have the federal government pick up 100% of the tab the federal government pays for Medicaid if states expanded coverage up to 133% of the poverty line (the federal "co-pay" slowly goes down and hits a floor of 90%, in 2020), Paul Ryan's budget would toss roughly 17 million people off Medicaid, block grant it to the states and take those savings to, you guessed it, "redistribute" to the wealthy. While the working poor in our country have access to food stamps to provide needed aid, Amercians will have no such luck because the thrifty Mr. Ryan thinks it would be a great idea to cut food stamp coverage by more than 15% over the next 10 years to … you guessed it .. oh, never mind. In Amercia, the "welfare queen" is alive and well, brought to you by people like Paul Ryan, who has collected a paycheck from the federal government uninterrupted since the mid-1990s, used Social Security survivor's benefits to pay his way through college and has lifetime medical coverage thanks to his 13 years service as a Member of Congress. 

And why is there so much enmity for the poor and disenfranchised.  Beats me. Something to do with freedom and liberty, I'm a bit unclear. But what I am clear on is that the beneficiaries in Amercia are rich people.  Rich people, you see, leave the few crumbs of wealth and prosperity they do not keep for themselves for the rest of us, but to be a rich person in Amercia is to not have to worry about things like high taxation or regulation. Keep as much of your money while turning a profit in the most irresponsible ways possible, just keep cutting those checks to the GOP. One hand washing the other. No mountain top is too large to be flattened, no hole in the ground too hallowed to be exploited (drilling near the Grand Canyon? Why not! and of course, no regulation too mild that it should not be repealed (financial regulation, for example). 

Amercia is actually not a new concept. It does, in its way, synthesize earlier eras of political thought, a kind of perfect storm of domestic policy insanity converging to threaten all "you people" who would not benefit financially from Republican reign. Its economic doctrine is firmly rooted in the "robber baron" era of the late 19th century with a touch of 1920s Gilded Age laissez faire and a splash of Ayn Randian philosophy. Rolling back voting and civil rights is to pretend that seminal laws and Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s do not exist and casual disenfranchisement of African-Americans would not look foreign to Jim Crow era southern politicians. As for Social Security and Medicare, each has been a bete noire of the right-wing for decades and their fundamental alteration or elimination would represent a long held dream of erasing both the New Deal and Great Society of FDR and LBJ. The decades-long struggle to repeal Roe is well documented, but the level of misogynism expressed in today's Republican party represents a newer and uglier level of sexism that is truly alarming. Mix this witch's brew together in a Romney Administration with a Republican Congress and ours will be a country most Americans will no longer recognize. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mitt Hits The Reset Button

After a whole one day of analysis regarding Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential running mate, opinion has toggled between greatest thing since sliced bread to foolish gamble that unnecessarily handed the Democrats an easy tool (the "Ryan Budget") with which to beat Romney, Ryan and any Republican running for Congress about the head for its harsh cuts to the social safety net. So, while the mainstream media basks in an almost posti-coital glow over what passes for one of the most important events in any Presidential race, consider the following:

Give it a week, ok, make it a month. The bloom of "Romney-Ryan" will be short-lived and I say that not because I have any particular animus toward the Republicans (though I do), but rather, because the bounce, bump or whatever you'd like to call it from any VP pick is temporary. Today, the ticket is a shiny new object for the media to obsess over.  Tomorrow, something shinier and newer will come along. Don't be surprised if Romney sees an uptick in his numbers, but like the over the top media coverage, it will be temporary.  Already, Ryan's votes for TARP, Medicare D and the Bush tax cuts are undercutting his image as a fiscal hawk and his myriad public appearances, speeches and statements will now be subject to meaningful scrutiny (not to mention advertising by Obama and the Democrats). 

Speaking of Ryan's voting record, although he's only 42, Ryan has been in Congress for 15 years and has voted for thousands of bills, not just the high profile stuff like TARP or Medicare D, but smaller stuff that affects everyone from military veterans to college students. Undoubtedly, there are a few in there that he will now wish he had not cast. In fact, one of Romney's most successful ploys during the primaries was to cherry pick a few of Rick Santorum's votes while in Congress to undercut his conservative credentials. Expect much the same from the Democrats with Ryan. Talk to me a month from now, after both conventions and after the media (and the public) learn more about who Paul Ryan is before drawing any conclusions about whether he changed the direction of the race. 

A True Etch A Sketch Moment. While Eric Fehrnstrom uttered a now-memorable gaffe about Governor Romney shaking the Etch A Sketch once the general election started, it turned out he was half right. As the more insightful pundits have observed, by picking Ryan, Romney has conceded that the entire foundation upon which he was running - Obama economy bad, me fix it - was not being accepted by the American people.  This is significant because what the GOP is attempting to do is reframe this campaign less than 90 days before Election Day. Until yesterday, Romney wanted voters' first concern to be jobs and the economy, but by picking Ryan, he's shifted his message to shakier terrain while admitting, albeit tacitly, that his "message" was not working. For all the hand wringing we do about "low information" voters, what is now clear is that no matter how many millions the GOP and its affiliated Super PACs spent, the American people do not "blame" President Obama for the mediocre economy and more so, the Obama team has effectively pigeon holed Romney as part of the "1%" who put profit over people. That Romney has refused to release his tax returns handed Democrats a convenient amplifier for their case. In short, by picking Ryan, Romney admitted the entire raison d'ĂȘtre for his campaign was null and void, a HUGE concession so close to Election Day.

Further, the Ryan pick spoke to the fact that Romney was losing the support of thought leaders on the right.  In the days before the Ryan selection, Romney was pilloried on conservative talk radio and FOX News over the amateurishness of his campaign, polls were showing Obama's national lead moving firmly past the margin of error and the media was coalescing around a narrative that Romney had "lost" the summer.  No matter what the Romney camp spins, the reality is that there was a temporal connection between right wing hand wringing about his campaign (and their encouragement for him to pick Ryan) and his selection of Ryan. Consider that Ryan was announced more than two weeks before the Republican National Convention, whereas both Obama and McCain made their announcements within days of their conventions (two and four days, respectively.) Just another sign that Romney made a cold calculation that he needed to "change the narrative" in the campaign. 

A Debate Republicans Cannot Win. So now, instead of trying to pin the economy on Obama, Romney has now outsourced fiscal policy to his VP pick, whose budget was so radical in its cuts to Medicaid, fundamental change of Medicare to a vouchered, private insurance company run health plan and partial privatization of Social Security, that a whopping nine Congresspeople co-sponsored it in 2010.  Now? It's mainstream GOP orthodoxy. The problem is, and the dirty little secret of "inside the Beltway" politics, is that the American people LOVE entitlement programs- they love their Social Security (just ask George W. Bush how well privatizing the program polls), Medicare (talk to Kathy Hochul, who was the first Democrat to win New York's 26th Congressional district in 40 years by campaigning against Ryan's budget) and are not crazy about heartlessly cutting more than $750 billion from health coverage for the poor and infirm (Medicaid) when the rich are paying a lower percentage of their income in taxes in decades (not to mention that 14% rate Romney coughed up in 2010). 

But more than our love of the social safety net (and for good reason, it has reduced poverty among the elderly to a level lower than the general population), is our belief in fairness.  And while an off year election like 2010 can convince Republicans that the general electorate wants cuts to these programs and is willing to make "sacrifices" in the name of fiscal sanity, the same error was made by Republicans after the 1994 election and Bill Clinton coasted to re-election.  But more than a policy overreach, Republicans fundamentally misread the mood of the public- for example, there is HUGE public support for higher taxes on the rich, yet Republicans refuse to entertain this idea and as long as they do, making cuts to programs that aid the poor and middle class will not wash and now Romney OWNS these ideas lock, stock and barrel. There is a reason John Boehner and the leadership of the GOP ran AWAY from Ryan in 2010- even in a low turnout year, they knew too much focus on cutting or fundamentally altering entitlement programs would be unpopular.  But now? Every Republican in the House running for re-election has endorsed (by vote) Ryan's priorities and he is now on the national ticket. 

Until now, I was willing to go along with the idea that this race was shaping up much like the 2004 election, with an incumbent the other side desperately wanted to get rid of deftly parrying their thrusts by making the other guy unpalatable. Now, I'm thinking the Ryan pick smells more like 1996. Romney is as wooden as Bob Dole, who, like Romney, was mired in the polls and had little to offer in terms of vision until he threw a "hail mary" and selected supply side hero Jack Kemp, believing that the country was prepared to double down on precisely the type of supply side economics that blew apart our budget in the 1980s (and came back for an encore in the 2000s!).  When the initial euphoria in right wing circles died down and the sane center understood the differences between the visions of President Clinton and Senator Dole, the race was a joke. I suspect a similar thing will happen in 2012 and 90 days from now, we will look back at this weekend as the time when Romney made a desperate reach that back fired, in a feeble attempt to (forgive me) change the game. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Romney/Ryan 2012

In picking Paul Ryan, (something I predicted 2 weeks ago:, Mitt Romney has acceded to the wishes of the loudest voices in the conservative movement and embraced the tenets of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan's version of budgetary austerity that burdens the poor and middle class while giving tax cuts and benefits to the wealthy.  In substance, it is not that different than the vague outlines Romney has provided for his own tax policy, but what Ryan's selection does is solidify that framework and affords the Obama team myriad opportunities to point out specifically how the GOP team would govern. 

While much of the initial attention will focus on Ryan's proposal to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher system, I will be more interested to see the longer term work done on Ryan's record in Congress.  As a Congressman, Ryan has cast thousands of votes over the years, some of which may end up being highlighted to illustrate his hypocrisy, differences with Romney on the thinnest of details or that he is outside the mainstream of political orthodoxy. Even this morning, the media has mentioned Ryan's votes for TARP (a heresy with the Tea Party), the Bush tax cuts (currently one of the largest drivers of our deficit and debt) and the unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Finally, the Ryan pick would suggest that the Romney team did not think it had captured the imagination of conservatives eager to vote against Obama. Note, *against* Obama. Romney has not given voters, much less Republicans, a reason to vote *for* him, so instead of laying out a broad vision of his own, he is adopting the one provided by a darling of the right and will now call it his own. It's worth noting that the GOP's last standard bearer also felt compelled to pick a "game changer" in an attempt to reset the race and we all know how that turned out.  While the sugar high of picking Ryan may give Romney a couple of days of good coverage, ultimately, the media will circle back to the same questions Romney has assiduously avoided - his tax returns, his career at Bain Capital and his one term as Governor of Massachusetts.  The only difference is that now, in addition to avoiding those questions, Romney will have to answer for the radical budget proposals and votes (for TARP, auto bailout, Medicare D, unfunded wars, tax cuts, etc…) that his supposedly fiscally conservative running mate has cast.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Right Files For Divorce From Mitt Romney

The modern Republican party might as well have Sun Tzu as its mascot- the party moves tactically, and often with far greater alacrity, than Democrats. To take just a few examples, President George W. Bush "won" a highly contested race in 2000 with fewer popular votes than Al Gore, but successfully rammed through a major tax cut within six months of his inauguration. Republicans venerate Ronald Reagan as a small government conservative while blithely ignoring the 11 tax increases he signed while President. When in the opposition, Republicans counter punch with devastating effect. In 1994, they took back the House after 40 years in the minority and in 2010 they added more House seats (63) than any election since 1938. Finally, they understand the "long war." Barry Goldwater may have been sacrificed at the electoral altar in 1964, but the landslide that crushed him reversed itself 16 years later when Ronald Reagan was elected President.  The 30 plus years since then have resulted in a cementing of conservative orthodoxy in the Republican Party and, in Democratic circles, a moderation that has resulted in a rightward shift of the entire political debate in this country. 

So what does this all have to do with Willard Mitt Romney and the 2012 Presidential election? Everything. The ever growing conservative wing of the Republican Party never warmed to Romney. Before the primary season, boomlets for everyone from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush rose and fell as each begged off a run for the White House. Once the primaries were set, conservatives elevated (literally) every single one of Romney's opponents to front runner status before Romney's numbing barrage of negative ads, perceived inevitability and his opponents' sloppy performances did them in. 

That the right wing took to Romney with about as much enthusiasm as a child does to a teaspoon of castor oil is not an understatement, but swallow they did when he sewed up the nomination. Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich made appropriate niceties, and conservative commentators like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, who had been dismissive of Romney were suddenly on board. Romney's polling improved and the mainstream media dutifully picked up the "this race is going to be very close" meme and ran with it. It appeared we were settling in for a campaign that would be nip and tuck, with minor variations in polling but little chance of one candidate or the other breaking out. 

And then .. well, the summer happened and the Obama team ju jitsued Romney on everything from his failure to release his tax returns to his sketchy business dealings while he was CEO of Bain Capital.  The media should be credited (in part) as well, after all, they did some actual reporting on Mitt's complicated exit from Bain, occasionally called him out for his advertising falsehoods and got miffed at Romney's imperiousness toward them. Romney did himself no favors either, from a weak sauce European trip that managed to offend nearly every constituency he met with and ended with one of his press aides telling a member of the press to "shove it" to his stonewalling on why he won't release more of his tax returns. 

The final straw for conservatives appears to have occurred earlier this week. In the wake of an ad by the President's Super PAC that featured a man who was laid off from a company taken over by Bain and whose wife ended up dying of cancer because neither of them could secure health insurance after she lost her job, a Romney spokeswoman essentially responded that had the couple lived in Massachusetts, the wife would have been able to get coverage through "Romenycare." Perfectly sensible, if a bit of a non-sequitur response, but nevertheless, the right wing had an absolute meltdown.  Influential blogger Erick Erickson tweeted "OMG. This might be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election." Coulter laced into Romney on Sean Hannity's TV show, calling for donors to stop giving money to his campaign until he fires Ms. Saul (the video is worth your time: and the inevitable "DUMP ROMNEY" campaign was launched by former supporters of Rick Santorum. 

So what gives? Why are conservatives already jumping ship before Romney has picked a Vice Presidential running mate, delivered his convention speech or stood on a stage debating the President?  Some of it may have to do with those polls, which are slowly, but inexorably, moving in Obama's favor. Some of it may have to do with the sprinkling of good economic news recently that, if it continues, will make Romney's effort to unseat President Obama that much harder, but mostly, I think it is because if you hooked up right wing types to lie detectors (spare me the jokes), they would tell you that Romney's lack of policy coherency (he's described himself as "to the left" of Ted Kennedy on gay rights (1994) to having been a "severely conservative" Governor (2012)) means he cannot be trusted, even if, as Grover Norquist suggested, all the right wing needs is Romney to sign the bills they want enacted into law. 

Consider that Romney passed an assault weapon ban in Massachusetts just a few years before he became a lifetime member of the NRA; he lambasted Obama for reviewing welfare waivers that were identical to one Romney submitted to the federal government when he was Governor; and criticized Obama for requiring contraception to be included in health plans, while the same mandate was required under his health care law in Massachusetts. And on and on it could go, literally, for pages, highlighting all the places Romney has flip flopped on issues.  As long as Romney looked competitive with Obama, the Ann Coulters of the world were willing to hold their nose and support him, but with this steady accumulation of policy gaffes, communications blunders and general ineptitude, the long knives are out.  

And that's where the Republican belief in the "long war" really comes into play.  You see, if Mitt is circling the drain in October, the right wing will drop him like a hot potato and focus on more winnable down ballot races to help ensure they retain control of the House and either take control of the Senate or keep chipping away at the Democrats 53-47 majority.  For conservatives, the calculus is pretty simple - even if Obama wins, they did a great job of blocking or, at a minimum, slowing down, many of his first-term initiatives, there's no reason they can't continue doing so for another four years. And even if Democrats win the House and retain control of the Senate, Republicans have no fear that Harry Reid will modify the filibuster rule because both parties understand they want that tool when they are in the minority.  Meanwhile, Republicans being elected to Congress are, as a general matter, more conservative than the people they are replacing, a phenomenon that has been underway in the House for some time but is now migrating to the Senate, where candidates like Ted Cruz and Richard Mourdock stand good chances of replacing more "moderate" Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Richard Lugar. 

More importantly, true believers on the right will be more than happy to sacrifice Romney if it means being able to nominate someone in 2016 with "pure" conservative credentials. In the past 100 years, neither party, with the exception of 1988 and the Democrats' freakish run in the 1930s-40s, has won three consecutive elections (though some of us would argue 2000 should count as well) and the genuine affection leading conservatives have for people like Marco Rubio, Christie and Paul Ryan (not even mentioning Jeb Bush, who I personally think will run and win the nomination) would argue against going all out for Romney, who, if he won, would close the door to anyone else until 2020.  The right wing entered into a marriage of convenience with Mitt. Right now, it looks like they are heading for a divorce. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lies, Damn Lies & Harry Reid

Harry Reid dropped a pipe bomb into Mitt Romney's campaign last week when he claimed, based on, as he described it, an "extremely reliable source," that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years. His allegation was subsequently confirmed by CNN reporter Dana Bash, but that did not stop the GOP establishment from having a collective conniption about Reid's claim.  Romney oddly told Reid to "put up or shut up" - that is, reveal his source - which struck most thinking people as silly when the alternative, having Romney just release his tax returns, was the far more logical solution. The chairman of the RNC, Reince Preibus, called Reid a "dirty liar," and Senator Lindsey Graham went with the more pedestrian "liar." Journalists hopped on Reid's statement, criticizing its lack of sourcing while admiring the sheer political audacity of what he did. 

And Reid? He's doubling down, daring Romney to release his tax returns to put the matter to rest.  Moreover, Reid has simultaneously re-raised the issue of Romney's failure to make his tax returns public and handed political bobble heads a ready made story to beat to a pulp. And the best part? The whole story is a no lose for Reid unless Romney actually DOES release his tax returns and those returns show that he paid a meaningful tax rate (i.e., 35% "top" rate) because anything in the neighborhood of what Romney paid in 2010 (13.9%) will just reinforce the idea that he takes advantage of the tax code and anything below that will be even worse. 

Once journalists dig into the information, no one will remember or report on what Reid said. If Romney releases his returns, he will open himself up to a full vetting of those documents, where little jewels like the $77,000 tax deduction he and his wife took on their dressage horse surely lurk.  Some have speculated he may have also repatriated money from offshore Swiss Bank accounts in 2009 in order to take advantage of a one-time "amnesty" offered by the IRS.  Of course, the worst case scenario would be if Reid turned out to be telling the truth - in fact, if any year showed that Romney was able to avoid paying taxes altogether through deductions, transfers of money into tax-exempt vehicles and other financial chicanery, the damage to his candidacy would be irreparable.  Indeed, the fact that Romney is willing to take so much flack about NOT releasing his taxes instead of just releasing them tells you all you need to know about what those returns contain.

Finally, Republican faux outrage over Reid's claim is rich indeed. After all, Sarah Palin claimed Obama "palled around with terrorists" as the Vice Presidential nominee of her party, Joe Wilson called Obama a liar during a speech the President gave to a joint session of Congress, a federal judge forwarded an email alleging that the President was the offspring of a human mother and canine father and Tea Party members protested in Washington carrying posters and photos of the President as a witch doctor, Hitler and the Joker from Batman.  That all of this is acceptable at the same time Reid's allegation is somehow a heresy merely highlights the hypocrisy of Republicans, and the reaction it has engendered speaks to the fear Republicans have that they are about to nominate a fatally flawed candidate. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pander Fail

Politics is, among other things, theater. Candidates travel from place to place, from state fairs where they consume corn dogs to iconic dessert palaces like Ted Drewes, where they gorge on delectable frozen custard. It's a bonding ritual, an effort to show "ordinary" Americans that people who run for President, travel with hundreds of staffers, Secret Service personnel and media, are actually regular "Joe Six Packs" who, but for the fact they are you know, RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT, are just like you and me.

Of course, pandering takes many forms.  Much of it is harmless, like the tradition where the President dons a green tie on Saint Patrick's Day or appears on a daytime talk show and reveals something mildly personal. Others are more blatant, and nowhere has Mitt Romney's pandering been more obvious than his outreach to Jewish-Americans.  I'm Jewish. Not particularly religious, in fact I'm whatever the opposite of religious is - I don't go to synagogue, I don't keep kosher, I don't think Noah built an ark and the animals, came on by twosies-twosies (elephants and kanga-roosies-roosies), but nonetheless, I'm a Jew, secular, assimilated, but intensely invested in my "people" and our future, both here in America and across the world. 

In other words, and in theory, I'm in Mitt's sweet spot for the full-court press he's done lately in trying to show what a great friend to the Jewish people he will be as President. His most overt effort occurred last week when he traveled to Israel (he had already promised to make Israel his first foreign trip as President). He got his photo taken at the Wailing Wall, a crisp yarmulke perched on his thick mane of hair and a look of appropriate solemnity on his face. His rhetoric was muscular in its defense of the Jewish state, bellicose toward Iran and dismissive of Palestinians (apparently, cultural differences account for you know … all that money <wink> <wink> Jews in Israel have accumulated - nice one, Mittens!). In other words, short of being circumcised by a mohel or growing a flowing beard and payis, Mitt is super duper supportive of Israel! Vote for him because .. yarmulke and he knows Netanyahu, or something. 

But here's the thing, Romney will be lucky to get a quarter of the Jewish vote in November. Obama cleared 78% in 2008 and every Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992 has won at least 75% of the Jewish vote. Even Walter Mondale won Jewish voters 2:1 over Reagan (want to see the breakdown of Jewish votes for President from 1916-2008? Of course you do: 

So why won't Mitt Romney's genuflect work? Simply put, reflexive support for Israel is ignorant and, arguably, bigoted.  Why do politicians assume putting on a yarmulke (something very few Jews I know wear anywhere but synagogue, and attach little significance to) and expressing support for moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem (it's currently in Tel Aviv) will cut ice with most Jewish voters? Are people like Romney of the opinion that Jews are so simple minded and dogmatic that all politicians need to do is promise to protect Israel's interests and we will vote for them?

Instead of fundraising and getting that made-for-the-front-page photo of himself at the Wall, it would have behooved Mr. Romney to learn more about Jews as people, not as a convenient backdrop for his photo ops or Greek chorus for his rehashed neo-conservative rhetoric on Iran. What he would find is that Jews are liberal because we know what it's like to be outsiders in our own country. We know what it is to be barred from attending certain schools, to be slurred and picked on, to be called names like "Jew Boy" and "Kike," to be stereotyped and to be singled out for approbation by everyone from Richard Nixon to Father Coughlin to Jesse Jackson (sorry, Jesse, "Hymietown" let you down). Many of us were educated in public schools Republicans deride, marched with African-Americans during the civil rights era, defend the rights of others in court, and believe in equality for all. These are not big "D" democratic ideas or principles, once upon a time, they were just "democratic" views that people across the political spectrum believed in.  

On Israel, the saying that if you ask two Jews a question, you will get three opinions is particularly apt. American Jews are of as many opinions on Israel as Israelis are.  We are not monolithic. I think ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to leave the West Bank and believe in the biblical land of Israel are idiotic and borderline dangerous. I have no idea why Evangelical Christians have a weird fetish about Jews but I wish they would stop. I don't like what the West Bank has become and think that Israel's continued occupation erodes its democratic character. On the other hand, I'm proud of the ingenuity of Israeli businesses and the fact that Israel has the third-most companies listed on the NASDAQ of all countries in the world, but it doesn't mean I don't support a two-state solution (in fact, I have my own proposal, read about it: I've read about Ehud Barak's daring-do as an Israeli commando (including dressing in drag during a raid in Lebanon) but I also respect the fact that a decorated war hero like him understands the need to negotiate for peace. 

So here's a pro tip for Mitt - before you put that yarmulke on again, before you try to memorize a few words in Hebrew so you can impress your audience, and before you regurgitate whatever Bill Kristol and the neo-cons at The Weekly Standard want you to say about the existential threat Iran poses to Israel, learn about my people and you will understand why we hold Republicans in such low esteem - your policies are antithetical to the idea of community, antagonistic toward public sector workers (where many of us work), would sever the social safety net that many of us firmly believe in (not to mention have relatives who rely on for retirement income and health benefits), slavish in your protection of the wealthy over the middle class (the latter being where many of us originate or remain) and discriminatory toward other minority groups (something we, as a minority, are quite sensitive to). Until any of that changes, that 20-25% you've steadily collected over the last 20 years is unlikely to change, no matter how many blintzes you eat. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mitt's Not-So-Excellent Adventure

Presidential politics requires equal parts style and substance. Ever since Bill Clinton answered the "boxers or briefs" question on MTV and blew his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992, running for President has morphed from something that was homogenous and predictable (campaign rallies, basic stump speeches), into something that is far more interactive and personal - the 24/7 news cycle, multi-media platforms and sheer length of the campaign season requires candidates to deploy a diverse set of skills that are dissected and dissembled with alarming frequency. 

Traveling abroad as a Presidential candidate is a new phenomenon. When Bill Clinton ran against George H.W. Bush, he did not set foot outside the United States, but by 2008, Barack Obama was delivering a speech to more than 200,000 people in Germany and was photographed in a now famous picture on a helicopter with General David Petreaus in Iraq. In keeping with this new tradition, Mitt Romney decided he too would take a highly managed, low expectations foreign trip that would get the American people comfortable with the idea of him as the "leader of the free world." He chose three staunch American allies for his visit - England, Israel and Poland - framed the first stop around the Olympics (which he led here in the U.S. in 2002), the second around his commitment to Israeli security and the third, not sure, perhaps a thank you for hosting those black sites after 9/11.  

This political equivalent of spring training got off to an inauspicious start even before it started. The disgraced ex-CEO of Barclays had to pull out of a fundraiser Romney was holding in London because the optics of having the guy at the heart of the LIBOR scandal paying $50,000 to have dinner with the GOP nominee would have been, in a manner of speaking, awkward. Another fundraiser in Israel was moved because his staff did not realize it was scheduled right before the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Second Temple.  Poor form indeed. 

All of this would have been forgotten, or at least pushed to the back pages, if the roll out in England was not so awful.  First, a Romney advisor was quoted as stating that the Governor would better respect and appreciate England and the United States' shared "Anglo-Saxon heritage." Then, within hours of landing, Romney inserted his foot in his mouth during an interview with Brian Williams. When asked by Williams about the host country's Olympic preparation, Mitt questioned the security, calling some things he'd seen "disconcerting," an odd word choice in any event, but certainly not the type of description a visitor makes in a host's home. While this type of tsk tsking might be copacetic when you are the CEO of a corporation cleaning house at a company you have taken over, it is poor form when you are visiting our oldest ally. The blowback was immediate, with British Prime Minister David Cameron taking a not-so-subtle dig at the difference between security in one of the world's largest cities and an out of the way place like Salt Lake City. Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson name checked Romney at a public rally, dissing him before more than 60,000 cheering attendees. 

Things only got worse. Romney publicly confirmed a meeting with the British MI6 (their version of the CIA and something anyone on Romney's staff with a 101 level of knowledge about foreign policy should have instructed him to not disclose), and was called "worse than Palin" by a source quoted in the UK's Daily Mail. Other bons mot added that Mitt was a "total car crash" and was "devoid of charm, warmth, humour (sic) or humanity." (For more, check out: That Romney engendered so much bad media coverage in such a short amount of time is truly breathtaking.  And to cap things off, Romney couldn't pull the name of the opposition leader, Edward Milliband, out of his hat, referring to him only as "Mr. Leader." 

Of course, Israel was supposed to be the highlight of his trip. After all, he and Prime Minister Netanyahu have known each other since the mid-1970s and the Romney camp has moved heaven and earth to sound to the right of Obama on Iran (even though in actuality their differences are paper thin and Romney supports sanctions, something Obama has doggedly pursued). But again, the keystone cops running Mitt's campaign whiffed.  First, a photo of an Israeli flag being lowered in Romney's plane was tweeted out, then Romney decided to bar journalists from his closed door fundraiser, in violation of an agreement his campaign had that allows a "pool" reporter into such events (the reporter was ultimately allowed in, about which more in a minute). 

That fundraiser was newsworthy not just for the kerfuffle with the press, but because Sheldon Adelson, who, along with family members, essentially bankrolled the Super PAC that supported Newt Gingrich, was in attendance. In retrospect, had Adelson's presence and the pool snafu been the only bad news from this event, Romney's people would have taken it, because that pool reporter ended up with quotes from Romney that (1) misstated the disparity in GDP between Israelis and Palestinians and (2) suggested that difference was due to "culture and other things" between the two peoples. The reaction from the Palestinian side was immediate and negative.  The comments were labeled "racist" by a leading Palestinian official and worse than anything he'd ever heard an Israeli say about his people (never mind the implied stereotype that Romney made about Jews as … you know .. being good with money <wink> <wink>).  Lost in the shuffle was the fact that Romney canceled a meeting with the head of the opposition party before he flew off for Poland. 

The Polish leg was the the least newsworthy, but even there, the campaign managed to err.  When the press had the temerity to try and ask Romney, as he was leaving a memorial akin to our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a few questions about his remarks about Palestinians, a Romney press aide shot back to the reporter that he (the reporter) could, "kiss my ass, this is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect." The aide, Rick Gorka, then followed up by telling a reporter to "shove it." Classy. Of course, had Romney not played hide and seek with reporters since his ill-considered comments in England, perhaps there would have not been an attempt to buttonhole him as he was leaving the event, but the snub is of a piece with Romney's attitude toward the press - dismissive and rude, and only to be called upon when needed. During the primaries, Romney went weeks without a press conference, but when his tax returns cropped up as an issue, he raced to the cameras. Similarly, when questions about his separation from Bain bubbled to the surface recently, he appeared on multiple newscasts on the same day. Otherwise, he is as removed from the press as Dick Cheney was as VP, secluded in his undisclosed location.

If you're scoring at home, in the span of five days, Romney insulted the English people, got called out in front of a crowd of tens of thousands by the mayor of London, accidentally leaked details of a meeting a junior aide in the State Department would know not to reveal, received a zinger from Prime Minister Cameron, made an odd comment about whether he'd ever paid a tax rate below 13%, insulted the Palestinian people, was called a racist, had an aide tell the media to kiss his ass and "shove it," and was compared unfavorably to Sarah Palin. That, friends, is an unmitigated disaster. 

Add it all up and what you are left with is not just a ham handed roll out of Romney as a "world" leader, but something that Americans should consider when they vote in November. Being "leader of the free world" is not an empty thing, our President must balance many delicate and competing interests on the world stage, understand nuance, subtlety and that his words carry meaning for people on all sides of any particular issue. One cannot pander to Israelis by discussing their land as providential without insulting the people on the other side of that equation. When you are fricasseed in the English press and tagged "Mitt the Twit," the impact on our standing is affected if you lead us. That you don't know the respective GDPs of Israel and Palestine is fine if you keep that information to yourself, but if your staff is ignorant enough to not brief you on that information or worse, you try to wing it, people notice. And when your staff is dismissive and rude to reporters covering you, do not be at all surprised when they write negative stories about you. 

In short, what Mitt's Not So Excellent Adventure has shown us is that it is not a question of whether he is ready for prime time, but whether he's ready for mid-day. Forget the 3 A.M. call, Mitt has shown himself unprepared for a 3 P.M. call. The issues facing our country are far too consequential - in Europe, Afghanistan, the Middle East, China and elsewhere to entrust the Presidency to a rank amateur.