Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mormonism as Pathology

A lot of us have pondered out loud and in the blogosphere about how Mitt Romney can be a "severe conservative" a year ago, but suddenly and inexplicably claim moderate leanings in the past three weeks.  We've all joked about the Etch-a-Sketch meme birthed by Romney's own campaign manager, and it seems plausible enough.  But one thing has bugged me: when you see Romney on the debate stage or on the stump or in interviews now sounding every bit the moderate Republican he claimed to be 10 years ago as Massachusetts governor, he seems utterly comfortable now inhabiting the skin that the GOP base routinely calls RINO.

"Etch-a-Sketch" offers a pretty solid analogy for this ideological shift, as well as for Mitt's seeming comfort with the new persona.  But it doesn't explain what makes him tick.  I wanted something deeper.

Today, along comes my favorite conservative, Andrew Sullivan, who yesterday posted a scathing piece about the LDS Church's racism based in scripture and the writings of the religion's founders.  His point in that piece was that the LDS Church until 1978 declared that African Americans were "cursed with the sin of blackness" and excluded then suddenly and inexplicably reverse course without apology or explanation.  Why, when asked if the previous policy was wrong, does Romney fail to answer the question?

In most people carrying that level of cognitive dissonance, the moment someone exposes it, it shows up on the face, in the voice, in the body language, or in the temperament.  I don't see it on his face or body, don't hear it in his voice, and don't feel it in his temperament.  In other words, he's either a liar of superhuman dimensions, or he simply doesn't experience the dissonance for some psychological reason.

In a post highlighting reader dissents, a reader takes Sullivan to task for not having "fully grasped just how the continuing revelation thing works for Mormons: what is said today by Church leadership takes precedent over what went before. And to claim that this is done 'casually' is to betray ... ignorance on the question."  Indeed, the church believes that once the church leadership has ruled on an issue, nothing anyone ever said in the past which contradicts that ruling "make[s] a particle of difference."  What this tells me is that, once Mitt Romney has changed course on an issue, nothing contradictory he said or did before announcing the new position matters.  A year ago he was a "severe conservative," but on October 3 at the first debate, he was a moderate.  It was like the severe conservative never existed, and nothing he said on the stump during the primary campaign had any bearing on what he's been saying today.  Therefore, the church offers a much more concrete pathology than Etch-a-Sketch, at least for me.

I don't hold any particular opinion on the LDS Church, but feel particularly uneasy about a person who can, with the precision of an automaton or, perhaps, the Inner Party of Orwell's 1984, suddenly say, "I'm a moderate, and I've always been a moderate."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why Women Can't Wait to Protect Themselves from Romney

This morning on NPR I heard a story about some women in Ohio who were voting for Romney even after his disastrous second debate performance, where he gaffed about "binders full of women" and suggested both that women should get flex time at work so that they can get home and cook dinner and that single parent homes (presumably led by women) are responsible for gun violence in our society because such households are inherently less stable than two-parent households.

One of the women interviewed said she thought it was a good thing that Romney talked about flex time.  Well, it certainly is a good thing that an employer provides workers of ANY gender flex time to deal with family matters, such as child care and other domestic duties.  But we are increasingly in a world where there are two income earners per household, and men are increasingly likely to be home and available to pick kids up from school and cook dinner (as I am today, how about that?). 

More importantly, another said that she didn't appreciate Romney's comments about gun violence, or his views on contraception or abortion, but that she was more concerned with the economy, like jobs and our debt, than her own choices about reproduction. "I think women can wait till later to deal with those issues."  I couldn't be sure, but she sounded older and past her child-bearing years.

Here's the thing, and I'll try really hard to avoid falling into the "you're a man, you couldn't possibly understand" trap.  While I agree that national economic issues such as unemployment, deficits, and national debt are of major concern, their importance doesn't detract from the seriousness of women's equality and health issues.  In fact, they shine a very bright spotlight on women's issues.  Women make up more than half the population, and occupy a similar share of the work force.  Their issues regarding equal pay, contraceptive availability, reproductive choice, and the like, are also national economic issues, as Obama said in the debate. 

Folks, neither men nor women can wait to deal with the issues women until after the economy is restored to what we consider "normal."  They go together, and if you delay women's issues, you hamper economic recovery.  Having access to contraception, and access which is covered in their employers' health insurance plans, helps women prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Unwanted pregnancies lead to more lost work time, especially if some women decide to terminate them.  Not to mention, the stress of dealing with a pregnancy one carries to term, which, let's admit, also costs employers time and money in lost productivity.  And if a woman lacks easy access to contraception AND has to deal with a workplace that considers her contribution to be less valuable than a man's even if doing the same work, the economy suffers a great deal.  A vote for Romney practically ensures that women will have to fight even harder to be recognized and valued as equal members of this society.  How a woman decides to vote against that is beyond me, but I'm of the mind that, as a polity, we're pretty fucked up. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Maddow Goes Postal Because FACTS MATTER

Been posting a lot of my thoughts on Facebook lately, which is why this blog has seen so little time from me this year.  Sorry.  But this time I'm linking from FB to here because I need the space.  That being written...

Rachel Maddow hit the roof on her show Wednesday night.  Didn't catch it?  Neither did I, but a Kos poster named Exurban Mom did.  Read her transcript attempt.  The video for the rant is here.   The video leads off with Maddow talking about Romney's credentialing of Jerome Corsi, he of the World Net Daily (don't expect me to link there, are you fucking kidding me?) and calls for Obama's birth certificate (and, now, Obama's a "secret gay married murderer").  However, at about 8:40 of the 10:15 clip, Maddow says the following, which is a huge point worth discussing:
Part of the reason I think this country would be better if the website Politifact didn't exist is because Politifact has encouraged relativism, on the subject of whether or not stuff happened, as a mainstream thing.  So, like, when Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" and he went on CBS News and defended his call to let Detroit go bankrupt, including that headline, Politifact fact-checked whether or not Mitt Romney did say, "Let Detroit go bankrupt."  And they found that HALF TRUE!  Because basically they don't think that Mitt Romney likes to be quoted saying, "Let Detroit go bankrupt." Or something.  Even though he did.  So... "half true?"  Politifact last night looked into whether or not President Obama used the phrase "act of terror" the day after the Benghazi attack when he gave that speech in the Rose Garden.  [cuts to clip of President Obama saying, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation."]  Politifact, in its assessment, said, "Oh, yes, he did say that, but it's really only HALF TRUE because people on the right say maybe he didn't mean it when he said it.  This infection is leaving the conservative media, through purportedly neutral arbiters of fact like Politifact. These baldly false, conservative, "feel-good" assertions about knowable facts that come from the right, end up becoming just "the other side of a political issue... we're taking an 'objective look.'"  And that is BULL.  Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.  The unemployment rate is below eight percent. The day after the Benghazi attack, the president called it an "act of terror."  Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better, but do not confuse your WorldNet-Daily-caliber-therapeutic-conservative-alternative-reality-fantasy-BABBLE for what actually happened.  Because stuff really does actually happen.  And eventually, you really do have to deal with it.
As I've been writing all week, FACT MATTER.  TRUTH MATTERS.  REALITY MATTERS.  Of course, spin happens on both sides of the aisle, and in all of life's wonderful situations: between parent and child, husband and wife, boss and employee, customer and business.  But at some point we all have to acknowledge that our spinning does not alter facts.  It does not alter reality.  Oh, for some like Karl Rove, who proclaims that he and his ilk create their own reality, and that the "reality-based community" can do nothing but sit back and watch, reality can actually be altered.  Just not how he thinks it can.  He may think the world is seeing reality through the lens he creates, but it's just a filter.  On film, a soft focus filter can make an aging, wrinkled actress look younger and more beautiful.  On stage, a colored gel turns a white light blue, or red, or green, or yellow.  And on Fox News, a decent, hard-working, mixed-race, Christian, capitalist President of the United States can be turned into a white-people hating, do-nothing, Chicago-ghetto-trash, terrorist-fist-bumping Muslim socialist Nazi who may or may not be constitutionally eligible to hold the office.  In real reality, the US was acting like a war-mongering, oil-grabbing imperialist, instead of Rove's version: a spreader of democracy. 

We'll tell ourselves all day long that up is down and black is white, but it won't change what IS.  The "reality-based community" actually owns the high ground in this election, while the Romney-ites desperately scramble for some semblance of relevance.  But, until they face reality, they're nothing but a sham. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debate #2 Reaction

President Obama, after a dreadful showing two weeks ago during debate #1 where he was listless, aloof, and unwilling to engage in debate, found his footing again Tuesday night in Hempstead, NY.  He came out swinging, and never let up.  It wasn't a perfect showing, as he missed a couple of key opportunities to attack Mitt Romney on the economy while touting his own record.  Having him show up with his game face on, with his usual cool demeanor, and with a solid command of facts and reality was a sorely-needed shot in the arm for his supporters.  In particular, Andrew Sullivan stepped back off his ledge after going a bit mad after the Denver debate.

Far better writers and commentators than I have written millions of words already about the specific moments in the debate where Obama gained the upper hand.  For example, right off the bat, when he said that Romney wanted the auto industry to fail without the means to stay open for business, you knew that Obama meant business.  And this was just the tip of his iceberg.  Romney's titanic tirade of tall tales (I like that!) continued throughout the debate.  Time and again, Obama called Romney's assertions "not true," or simply slammed him with the real Mitt Romney (he of the "one-point plan" and "sketchy" deals).  When Obama stood up to Romney over the suggestion that Obama and his team misled the country over what had happened in Libya, his indignation was justified, and he took exactly the right tone to put Romney in his place.  From that point forward, Romney acted like a petulant child, and made some really bad choices in what he said and/or suggested.  When Romney said that two-parent households helped reduce gun violence, suggesting that single-parent households were responsible for the increases in gun violence, my wife's ears pricked up and she got pissed.  Had I been Romney at that moment, I'd have gone back to my stool, pulled off my wing-tips and shoved both feet into my mouth. 

For Romney, it was a frustrating evening, and it showed all over his face and in his body language.  He scored pretty well when hitting Obama on the economy because, well, Obama's performance on the economy has not pleased many people and is a politically weak area for him.  Romney would do well to continue hammering on jobs, deficits, and debt.  But because he has been exposed for failing to spell out how, specifically, he would make changes to the Obama policy, he needs to start backing up his criticisms with real ideas.  I don't hear vision from him -- he's not a visionary person, he's a problem-solver -- and in the final debate, which deals with foreign policy issues, he'll need to lay it all out there for everyone to see if he wants to build on his considerable post-Denver momentum.  I'm sure his people are busily drafting and crafting away at his message, slowly moving him toward a moderate position.

For Obama's part, he definitely is missing some key elements to his second term agenda.  I don't particularly believe that he's got nothing but more of the same (that would be politically suicidal), but he needs to show from this point forward where he will change things up.  He knows he's got to deal with a Congress that will become even more intransigent and obstructionist.  If the GOP gains seats in the Senate, with or without gaining a majority, you'll see even more gridlock.  Obama, a former state and US Senator, was content during his first term to let the Legislative Branch do its job, but even with a filibuster-proof Senate majority and a giant House majority for six months, very little got done in a bipartisan fashion.  Now, a lot of this can be attributed to certain rules in the two legislative bodies that give individual members the power to hold up votes, block judge nominations, and filibuster without actually standing at the microphone.  But most of it is due to the FACT that the GOP set out from the beginning to deny Obama re-election, damn the torpedoes and screw the whole country!  Despite this massive blockade, Obama passed key legislation that empowers the middle class and guarantees Americans access to healthcare.  I think the public Obama who showed up in Hempstead Tuesday night needs to be the public Obama now and all through his second term, calling out Republicans for not telling the truth, for being inconsistent with past positions, and for putting their party before the well-being of the country.  No matter what the GOP says in response to that, they can't deny that they want power before they'll lift a finger to help Americans.

To counter Romney's tack to the center, Obama also needs to tell anyone who is listening that we simply do not know who Mitt Romney is.  Up until right after the GOP convention, all we've heard from Romney is about what a "severe conservative" he is, about the 47% of the country with whom he doesn't want to be bothered, and about his support for nearly every hard-right policy in the Republican platform.  Of course, we know from his days as governor of Massachusetts that he held a moderate position on a lot of issues, including reproductive choice, which is why so many in the Republican base were wary of his conservative bona fides.  So he tacked to the right for over a year, sewed up the nomination, and is now tacking back to the center.  Obama needs to fashion a theme similar to, "Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?" or "Who are you, sir, and what have you done with the real Mitt Romney?"  Mitt Romney truly has been whatever he's needed to be at any given moment to gain voters.  He's a populist and an opportunist of the worst kind, asserting "core" convictions so powerfully that people forget that he's a monumental panderer and flip-flopper. 

Did Obama stop the freefall in the polls?  Probably, but we won't really know yet until more polling is done.  There were plenty of people who thought Romney had either won or fought to a draw, which tells me and should tell the President that he still has a lot of work to do.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Post Veep Debate Reaction

I went into watching last night's Vice Presidential debate in Danville, KY not caring who would "win."  There wasn't one voter watching that debate who is/was going to change his mind on whom to vote for based on the words or ideas (or lack thereof), or exhanges between the two VP candidates.  Not one.  The debate had one primary purpose: to make sure that those already in the presidential candidates' respective corners continue to feel good about being in those corners.  On that basis, both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan did fine. 

Where the scales tipped was in the substance and the energy of the debate.  Joe Biden has a lifetime career in politics.  His experience as a Washington mover and shaker, his background in foreign policy, and his "I was there" cred were in ample supply.  Ryan was completely out of his league on foreign policy.  I was embarrassed for him when he talked about the different places in Afghanistan he'd visited.  When he would spout off the names of those places, as well as was authoritative about "fighting season," he came across as little more than a well-coached high school debater.  (It also didn't help that he looked frighteningly like Eddie Munster with that dark hair, widow's peak, and big ears.)  On domestic policy, Biden dominated as well because, well, he has actual reality on his side.  When Ryan talked about unemployment going up, I simply could not avoid shouting at the TV, "That's a lie!"  But Joe was there with the facts. 

And Joe's congeniality simply outshone Ryan's frankly scary tone.  Yeah, Joe smirked, he giggled, he rolled his eyes, he threw up his hands, he interrupted Ryan, and he raised his voice.  It was all a little much.  But that's classic Joe Biden.  He was never disrespectful of Ryan, calling him "my friend" numerous times (because that's what senators and representatives do even when they're arguing).  Ryan, on the other hand, got rattled near the end of the debate, and even though he tried to admonish him once, saying, "Mr. Vice President." later he twice called him "Joe."  I'm sure Joe didn't really care about that; he's Joe! 

The real winner in this debate, by far, however, was Martha Raddatz of ABC News.  Finally, a real reporter, with actual real journalism experience under her belt, moderating a debate where real pointed questions were asked.  I didn't like her final question about the tone of the campaign, but I'll give her a pass on that one since the rest were so fine.  Not only that, she engaged in strong follow-up questions, pressed each candidate for clarity, and did a far better job at holding to the time limits than sleepy ol' Jim Lehrer did with the first presidential debate last week.  Ryan seemed utterly flustered when Raddatz pressed him for specifics on both the Romney tax plan, and foreign intervention choices.  And Biden, good ol' Joe, grinned sheepishly when he got caught going on too long. 

In the end, I come away with this: Facts matter.  Truth matters.  Reality matters.  Four years ago, Obama and Biden were elected at a time when the entire world was reeling economically because of the crazy shit Bush, Cheney, and Paulson actively and tacitly encouraged in the financial sector.  That's a fact.  That's the truth.  That's reality.  Unemployment now is at the level it was when Obama took office, but it must be acknowledged that what happened to jobs in Obama's first year was fallout from what had happened in 2008, when Obama was a candidate.  That too, is reality.  I don't think they believe they did everything right every step of the way.  But I do believe they did what they thought was the right thing to do at the time.  And the results -- declining unemployment rates, steady (though sluggish) job growth for nearly three years, steady (though sluggish) GDP growth, a stabilizing housing market, more manufacturing jobs, a thriving auto industry, a vibrant stock market, record corporate profits, higher worker productivity -- bear that out.  These, too, are facts.  Obama has also had to deal with one undeniable fact: the Republican Party has been the single greatest obstacle to greater American prosperity since 2009.  They have, since January 21, 2009, had one vision: deny Obama a second term.  Everything they have done to obstruct the Obama legislative agenda has cost this country.  The right can spin this all they want, but it is a FACT that they have put their hunger for power before the success of the country.  And they must not be allowed to succeed.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Romney the Robot Resets

It is unsurprising, but nonethess unconscionable, that R-money now walks back his secretly-recorded comments from last May where he says that 47% of Americans are government-dependent parasites with whom he can't be bothered. 

You might think that, after his debate win and while he's enjoying an uptick in the polls, it would be a good time to try to correct a past wrong.  But let's be crystal clear: After the news broke that R-money had made these comments, not only did he not immediately walk them back (let's call that what it actually would have been -- an apology), he hastily put together a painfully awkward presser and then doubled down on them.  On Sept. 17, he said, "This is something I talk about a good deal in rallies and speeches and so forth.  The president’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes.” 

Not only is the clarification completely different than what he'd said months ago, we clearly see that the 47% comment represents one of his core beliefs.  Perhaps we had been waiting to see what his core actually is.  It is this, certainly, but it is also that he has a reset button for practically everything he has ever said or will ever say. 

As conservative blogger Daniel Larison put it today, "Romney demonstrates on an almost daily basis that he can’t be trusted. Even when he is correcting obvious mistakes, he gives people reason to doubt him."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Three-Cent Reaction to Obama/Romney 1

Mitt Romney executed a masterful end-run around Barack Obama last night, grabbing the political center that Obama has so deftly occupied for the past four years.  And he did it by repeatedly lying about his policies.  Furthermore, he changed the narrative of the election from ideology to a referendum on Obama's effectiveness.  Basically, his argument last night, after flip-flopping on some major conservative points (see more below), was, "I'm really not that much different than President Obama, but with a Republican-led Congress, I'll be much more effective at executing.  The President's had time to get stuff done and he's failed, so it's time to give me a shot at it." 

Where did Romney flip-flop?  On the DREAM Act, he said he would keep the order alive (the far right hates this law).  On Obamacare, he said he'd keep all the good things he liked alive while getting rid of the law nonetheless (which would be impossible).  He will stop Obama's $716B Medicare stripping and let seniors choose to have traditional Medicare if they want (a lie and a bureaucratic clusterfuck to run two different programs at the same time).  And he would embrace Simpson-Bowles "with some tweaks here and there" to make it stronger (another lie). 

The worst part of Romney's argument is that it could work.  People can see the reasonableness of what he said, when in truth the extremist GOP has held the country hostage for four years by obstructionism and nihilism toward anything Obama wanted to do, and has then blamed Obama for it.  Romney sold us on his plan, and it involved the most adept example of pandering that he has ever shown us.  Those in the middle who haven't yet decided whom to elect might very well have been pulled to his side.

As for President Obama, I have never been more disappointed in him.  Going into this debate, he had to have known that Romney would come in acting like he had nothing to lose.  Say anything, who cares if it's true?  Obama himself, meekly harping on Romney's $5 trillion tax cut, referenced the idea that if you say something enough times... And then he caved when Romney said his plan did not involve a $5 trillion tax cut, but would cut taxes for the middle class.  Why didn't Obama say, eye to eye, face to face, "You and your running mate have talked about the vagaries of your plan for weeks.  Americans are getting tired of your games; they want specifics.  Give us all one specific example of how your plan is deficit-neutral."  Why?  Because that's not his character. 

So does Obama's long game, the deftness of which has frequently been underestimated, entail letting fact-checkers and surrogates do his dirty work?  Probably.  In our 24-hour news cycle world, the next day will involve a phalanx of Democratic strategists and administration officials relentlessly slamming Romney's tax plan, his lies at the podium, his 47% statement, and his inability to relate to ordinary Americans.  Could Romney have been more insincere than last night?  Between the smug, bemused smile he pasted on his face, coupled with the vaguely uncomfortable look in his eyes, I got the sickest feeling that he didn't mean a word he said. 

Worse, however, was Obama's refusal to look up while Romney was speaking directly to him.  A president, especially one who has firm confidence in the good he has done, can ill afford not to meet his opponent's gaze.  He came off as aloof, distracted, bored.  That's the ticket: he bored me, and I sure as hell think he bored a lot more people too.

Damage has been done.  Polls are showing a narrowing, and Nate Silver shows that Obama's reelection chances dropped from 74% to 64% overnight.  Round two will need to be a very strong showing for the President.  I truly don't think he can withstand another onslaught from Romney without an equally strong push-back.