A rare sighting

A rare sighting
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Talk about a perfect storm for the Republicans.

For starters, you’ve got Mitt Romney, who by all accounts gave a steller performance during his first debate with Barack Obama on Wednesday. The Gov was thoughtful, pragmatic, clear, serious, compassionate — and yes, openly moderate — in marked contrast to the President, who not only seemed flustered and aloof, but also weirdly restrained in his critical vigor towards such a vulnerable opponent with such a contrary worldview.

In a far cry from the cold and oblivious plutocrat we saw in the 47% video, Wednesday’s Romney seemed keenly aware of the enormous heap of stereotypes and slurs that have piled on his back over the last few months, and systematically set to deconstruct them.

I will not cut taxes for the rich, he said firmly and repeatedly. I will not alter the status quo on Social Security. I am not ignorant of the importance of revenue and accept that cuts alone cannot balance the budget. I know that bipartisan compromise will be unavoidable if I want to get anything done, and will not only embrace the practice, but actively instigate it.

You can argue about how genuine or phoney any of these promises were, but the fact that they were said so comfortably, and in such open contrast to the dogmatic magazine-collage-letter tone that has become inseparably associated with the Republican brand in recent years (mostly for good reason) certainly seems to have shocked voters in precisely the right sort of way. Post-debate polls have shown an overwhelming consensus that Romney bested the president, with some manner of bounce in the national numbers almost certain to follow.

This, in turn, has helped generate an enormously powerful media narrative that Romney has finally received his second wind, swiftly displacing the earlier narrative of a depressed candidate idly killing time before his imminent defeat, which at one time seemed so intractable. The second presidential debate, which is not scheduled for another two weeks, will now almost certainly be optimistically framed as Romney’s “to lose,” which is not a prism that has been used to describe much of anything related to the GOP campaign in quite some time.

So legit success begets a bounce which begets a favorable media climate. The Romney camp has never had it so good.

Right-wing lore is loathe to admit this, but the press actually tends to be fairly insecure about public perceptions of liberal bias. They’re a capitalist enterprise, after all, and when so much of the country self-identities with an ideology opposite the one you’re supposedly pushing, how can you not get a little antsy? Coupled with the fact that conservatives have been even more ornery than usual in response to the aftermath of 47%-gate, the press could not have a more obvious vested interest in playing up the “Romney on the ascendency” storyline for all it’s worth. See, they cry, we do report good news for Republicans!

This 11th hour bout of sympathy syncs conveniently with the press’ other obvious self interest, of course — portraying the presidential race as an extremely tight and competitive contest requiring constant public attention with lots of watching and reading and buying. There’s nothing duller than a November horse race that concludes in September, after all — and that goes for reporters as well as readers.

The ultimate question is whether or not Romney can bounce high enough to make any of this matter, and then keep that height constant for the critical next four weeks. The Republicans’ electoral college math remains daunting, and the the extent to which there exists a deep enough pool of “swing voters,” the sort of people whose votes are actually influenced by specious stuff like debate performances and media coverage, is hardly certain.

There’s a big difference, in other words, between getting clobbered and merely losing with dignity, and I’m not completely convinced Romney has a goal much greater than the latter within his grasp.

But what’s your take?


  1. Mark

    Well, I'm still not sure whom I'm voting for, but it won't be Romney, ever since the Republican national convention. One can learn a lot more from what a candidate does than from what they say, after all. Romney's brand is built on his experience as a business leader. I think the most important specific skill that a businessman can have is to recognize and hire the right people… and Romney hired the buffoon who was in charge of that fiasco of a convention.

  2. Jake_Ackers

    The Convention is made months and years before the candidate is even close to be picked. Romney doesn't run the GOP. They have a Chairman for that how actually changed just a little while back too.

  3. Zulu

    lmao XD hilarious comic

  4. Taylor

    I just love how upset American right wingers get at the media. "Yes, the mass media intentionally tries to alienate 50% of it's audience."

    You'd think a group that screams about a victim mentality in some population groups wouldn't have the exact same problem.

  5. Germann

    For all I've heard of Mitt Romney winning the debate, I just don't see it. Point for point, the president and Romney were nearly identical, "I want to create jobs, and help the middle class" versus, "I want to help the middle class and create jobs." They railed, one would get a good hit in on the other, the argument would go in circles, and in the end I felt neither side gained any real headway on the other. They 're two moderate candidates with very similar views going head to head, and the only thing they actually disagree on (whether or not less taxes would ultimately cut the deficit in the long run), is Obamacare, which is Governor Romney's own original legislation, so in reality they don't disagree on much of anything. I still call the debate a draw, so I'm really confused how so many have come away saying "Yep, Mitt's the clear winner!"

    Though I have to say, they both made me mad as hell… Romney much more so than Obama, but I still. Romney, the Republican candidate, criticizing Obama for not be bi-partisan, for refusing to reach across the aisle… let me put this as gently as I possibly can: go f**K yourself. The solidarity of the Republican Congress has been to disagree with Obama, at any point, whether it's a bill for health care for 9/11 first responders (go f**k yourselves), raise the debt ceiling to keep the American national credit intact (go f**k yourselves). No matter what olive branch or concessions that Obama has offered to them, which have been considerable, they have unanimously said, "No. We will let the country burn to make you look bad. Our only concern is winning the White House back." And you, Mr. Romney, have the audacity to stand there and accuse the president of not being bi-partisan?!




    And yeah, I'm mad at Obama too. I was mad at him the other night for the same reason I've been mad at him for the past four years. The past four years have been like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and he's Jimmy Stewart, all bright eyed, idealistic, good, honest, and hopelessly naive. He keeps being a nice guy to these animals, and just once, just once, when he had Romney, Mr 47%, Mr You-Haven't-Been-Bi-Partisan, in a position where he could have gone on the attack and won, he was a nice guy again…

  6. Phlinn

    It's not nearly as clear as you seem to think that the republicans are more intransigent than the democrats. http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/morning-jay-m

    During the deb ceiling negotiation, republicans allowed for revenue increases in excess of what had initially been asked for, but balked at Obama's last minute demand for more
    The general pattern is to put nominally conservative items into bills that fundamentally non-conservative, and then to complain that the other side isn't compromising at all when the bill is 90% progressive in nature. Adding concessions to some sort of straw republican isn't actually compromising.

  7. EBounding

    Nice guys don't unlawfully detain/assassinate American citizens.

  8. Jake_Ackers

    Reagan made it work, Clinton made it work (with many of the same people in office today), Obama can't make it work. Plus Obama had Congress for 2 years he didn't need the Republicans.

  9. @SideshowJon36

    Media bias is not intentional (or wasn't until Obama). It's just the worldview those that get into Journalism hold (and the Journo-List scandal put it into broad daylight), particularly in NYC and DC.

    If Bush went to Vegas to fundraise the day after a terrorist attack, the press would have rightfully crucified him. If Fast and Furious had occured under Ashcroft, it would have been front page news for weeks. Joe Wilson was made a hero for revealing classified info that hurt Bush, whereas Mark Owen was made a heel for doing the same to Obama. The list could continue.

  10. Hentgen

    I think it's revisionist to say that the media wasn't biased until Obama. The whole purpose of Fox News was to cater to a conservative-leaning audience that was hungry for left-leaning mainstream media outlets. This was back in the 90s. As Fox News improved its format, MSNBC took the opposition position and both left CNN in the dust.

  11. @SideshowJon36

    It was bias before Obama, it just was unintentional, for the most part (Dan Rather's producer setting up fake evidence against Dubya's National Guard service proves there were some exceptions).

  12. Andrew

    Dude Dubya has some serious questions to answer to regarding his service in the national guard. There was lots of questionable stuff going on that was never cleared up. Especially considering Dubya sent our military to war on the national credit card.

  13. @SideshowJon36

    As serious as Obama's Kenyan birth; meaning, not.

  14. Jake_Ackers

    Left: MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Telemundo, Univision, CurrentTV, CNBC, PBS
    Right: Fox

    Yah there isn't bias…

  15. @SideshowJon36

    I might add CNBC to the Right column lately.

  16. Guest

    Somebody watches CNBC?

  17. Roland Jones

    Am I the only one who thought Romney's debate performance made him look even worse? Besides that all his claims were backed up by absolutely nothing (and he outright contradicted himself multiple times, like talking about how he supported clean energy and then his support of coal, or how he talked about his belief in freedom of religion then went on to say that the whole nation believed in one god) and were frequently outright lies, he was a complete ass up there. He constantly interrupted both the mediator and Obama and was generally rude and unpleasant. This is not a man I want handling diplomatic situations.

    Obama didn't look great either, really, and after a while he joined Romney in bowling over Lehrer, but at least a few (though not many) of the things he said were backed up by actual evidence, and every other sentence of his didn't contradict a previous one. Also, he burned Romney good on the healthcare comment. That was amusing. I wouldn't say he "won" either, though.

    But, yeah. I can't really see how this is a win for Romney. He didn't win in any way except wordcount; if you actually listened to what he said it was a flood of nonsense. Is our country really so screwed up that being a loud, incoherent bully is considered a positive quality in our Presidential candidates?

  18. EBounding

    I think Obama was trying to do the rope-a-dope and keep his powder dry for next time, but it completely backfired. This doesn't sink Obama, but it definitely makes Romney really competitive. My favorite line from the internet:

    That wasn't a debate so much as Mitt Romney just took Obama for a cross country drive strapped to the roof of his car."

  19. rmjones13

    See, I think if you ignore everything except the debate, Romney definitely won (and for those who only watch the debate, thus, he possibly won them over).

    My problem was (as someone who constantly fact-checks and keeps track of different policies the competitors are bringing forth throughout the election) that Romney was not Romney. Many of his points were completely opposite of positions he has taken from the preliminary to just before the debate, he flat out lied (ignoring the 27 lies article that is going about that stretches some things, I found about 21 flat out lies about actual facts), and etc. I don't know what Obama was doing, I get the feeling he just didn't really care or want to be there. It seemed he was running off a script at some points.

    A part of me wonders if it is possible that as the Democrats didn't know what strategy Romney's team would use, they coasted on this one to see how they would act in debates. Hopefully, Obama will come back better next round, mostly because it is crazy that a person can say blatant lies and those who the lies are meant to devalue does not call him on it. It's so easy! All you need to do to dismantle him is point out the fact that what he said WAS NOT TRUE. FACTUALLY! Or how his position up until now has been completely different!

    If you are going to debate, debate on the positions that you actually hold. That is what a debate is supposed to be for- you know, bringing forth ideas, and testing them? But nope- our system has turned them into a "who's more charismatic!" show.

    Also, Obama's approval rating has actually gone up since the debate (I think it's at 54% now?), so I wonder how much this actually effected him. In the day of fact checking internet users, I think this might be a net loss for Romney on many moderate voters (because lying your butt off in a debate isn't exactly going to make people trust you with a nation). I mean, I suppose some moderate voters don't read the various newspapers that cited all the lies, or read the internet, or watch other news stations besides Fox… I guess?

  20. Jack B Nimble

    I think "lie" is a somewhat loaded word. To lie is to knowningly say something you know isn't true. If you say something you believe is true and ultimately it comes out that it isn't that isn't lying, that is called being mistaken.

    The people at PolitiFact have gone through a number of the statements made by President Obama and Govenor Romney and picked out things they believe to be true, half-truths, and false. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2

    The break down shows that both candidates said things that were true, half-truths, and falsehoods. Perhaps Romney said more inaccurate things than Obama, but that doesn't mean he was a liar. And when a candidate is talking about numbers (such as costs, deficits, or revenue) those numbers are highly subjective to how they are depending on how they are computed. (http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2012/sep/28/ron-johnson/sen-ron-johnson-says-deficits-under-obama-total-53/)

  21. Damien RS

    Yeah, what rmjones13 said.

    JJ said: “I will not cut taxes for the rich, he said firmly and repeatedly. I will not alter the status quo on Social Security. I am not ignorant of the importance of revenue and accept that cuts alone cannot balance the budget.”

    Those aren’t contradicting “stereotypes and slurs” that have been piled on him, those are contradicting things *he has said*. Politicians tend to be bendy or to tailor to an audience, but Romney spins like a weathervane in a storm. What policies does he stand for? Who can tell?

  22. @SideshowJon36

    If Romney does not live up to the caricature Obama painted of him, that does not mean he "lies"

  23. Dryhad

    Every four years I wonder why they bother naming "winners" of these debates, since they invariably do so with repeated reminders of various candidates who won the debates but lost the election (John Kerry seems a popular example). Added to that the fact that it's not much of a debate as far as the format goes, I don't really see what the rationale behind declaring a winner is. Is it just so the media can essentially ignore any content and report a fact so simplified as to lose all meaning?

  24. SES

    The default position for incumbents seems to be to flop in the first debate. Reagan did so badly in the first debate in 1984 that there was not-so-quiet speculation that maybe he was having some problems with his mind.

    But as a staunch Obama supporter, Romney really did come off better, especially at the very beginning when he seemed to be more emotionally moved by the Obamas' anniversary than the president was. The few undecided voters left would have gotten a good picture of Romney (had any of them been watching; I'm not sure the kind of people who are genuinely undecided at this point would have watched).

  25. Trenacker

    Romney won the debate handily. He did so on style, not substance, and told lies while doing it. Neither of those things matters. He won the debate, and the evening. He set the narrative, which was, "You aren't better-off than you were four years ago." (And probably had some unintentional help from Lehrer in doing that.) Obama fell into the trap of trying to defend that record without managing to go on the attack, probably because his narrative was about four years of treading water and learning to swim again following the sinking of the economy. Romney also won the evening. There, the litmus test was, and remains, the national dialogue. Romney went into the debate walking wounded, exactly as J.J. described. He emerged as a contender in the eyes of the Press, regardless of the reasoning behind the stories. He didn't just hold his own, he won.

    Debates — in any time and place — are about showmanship: looking and sounding "presidential." The objective is to appear in command of the issues. Actual qualifications to govern are unimportant. There is even an element of schoolyard bombast: he who delivers the most potent "zinger" often walks away seeming the champion because, as Americans — as humans — we love the Alpha. Especially the Alpha male.

    Romney conveyed confidence and composure. He appeared to belong on stage, under scrutiny. He spoke clearly, succinctly, and with conviction. And, as I mentioned earlier, he set the theme, which was Obama's inability to deliver on his outsized promises while Americans suffer. Many Americans feel less well off today than they did four years ago. As one voter later remarked, "If the best argument that can be mustered against Romney's performance in that debate is that he wants to cut funding to PBS, then he won going away."

    Obama's job was to take credit for yanking hard on the seatbelt as the car crashed: he didn't get us to the curve in the road, but he did prevent us going head first through the windshield… and then set about the unenviable task of digging the car out of the mud. This came through only weakly. Obama failed to pin responsibility for the economic crisis on the policies of George W. Bush, strongly endorsed by the Republican rank-and-file, which Romney now represents. In short, Romney has doubled down on "Bushonomics," and is championing severely discredited trickle-down economics. The problem, of course, is that trickle-down economics are outrageously seductive. Or rather, than many Americans are ignorant of practical economics.

    Some of the explanation for Romney's victory lies in the difference between the two contenders. Romney is naturally more succinct. Obama takes a while to get going. Romney, despite being described by confidants as a "numbers guy," is incisive, focusing on decisions rather than processes when he is in public. Obama comes off as academically dry, wonkish, and even arrogant. Last night, Romney took an especially aggressive tack: he called the President a liar to his face, and he did it several times. By contrast, Team Obama appears to have taken — and suffered from — a conscious decision not to let Obama deviate into "hatchetman" territory. My personal suspicion is that somebody spent a lot of time worrying that Obama's closest recent parallel was Al Gore, and that the campaign bet heavily on Romney's stumbling out-of-bounds by appearing out-of-touch, angry, or both. Of course, as one newspaper editorial has already pointed out, that isn't sound strategy. In fact, it isn't strategy at all. It's hope, and it's a fool's game.

    Romney also benefited from calling audible after audible. Many Americans watch the news without absorbing any facts about either candidate. They can vaguely attest that significant differences exist between the two political parties — although many prefer to snarkily insist otherwise — but prefer caricatures to actual platform discussion. Think about the typical conservative view of partisan differences on taxes. Democrats want to tax you to help people who are mostly undeserving, but have a strong sense of entitlement, in part because they hope that these people vote for them. Republicans want to let you keep your money. If these voters think about the impact of lost revenue at all, it is in positive terms: by keeping your tax money, you usefully allow the inefficient bureaucracy to die on the vine. And, of course, the only thing that bureaucracy does is distribute welfare checks and promote anti-family social agendas.

    I've written before how the rise of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle have combined to create echo chambers on the one hand, and high transparency on the other. Now, partisans can rally as never before — and all the while in philosophical safety. They can have their own facts and their own "experts," because they have learned pseudo-science. This is true of both sides, but it has come home to roost for the Republican establishment, which has been partly upended by the Tea Party and its campaign to punish those candidates who are insufficiently radical. Who was it that said Clint Eastwood's routine was a perfect caricature of the Republican Party? An old white man who feels disenfranchised by change speaking at an imaginary black man.

  26. Jake_Ackers

    Yah you cannot say trickle-down economics is severely discredited and expect it to fly. Reagan's economy will always speak otherwise to that. And yes I know the argument, it worked then but it can't work always. My point is not if it works or not but to say its "severely discredited" won't fly simply because people remember Reagan's economy.

    Plus we are in a recession because of the housing market, nothing to do with the tax rates. Cutting taxes will not cause businesses to close. We know that. You can argue taxes in relation to debt but cutting taxes didn't cause this recession. The spending Bush did and Obama is doing, maybe you can blame or credit for the economic situation (depending).

    Now trickle-down economics most people won't realize what it is. And not all Republicans are pushing for it (cut taxes for rich versus cut taxes for everyone versus raise taxes on the rich). Romney wants a simpler tax code. Reagan did that plus cut taxes for the wealthy (as did JFK) in addition to supply side. Supply side is the government creating a supply in the hopes people will buy it. IE: The Car Bailout by Bush/Obama. That is gov't picking the winners and losers. Now if you say Romney is supporting the bailout, then yes he is supporting the same policies for the past few years.

    However, he wants a simpler tax code but largely a cut for the middle class which frankly isn't much in terms of the overall budget. Now the debate becomes is Romney cutting taxes for the middle class, the rich or for everyone? Will he cut taxes in certain sectors (which Reagan did do which is supply side) or cut taxes in every sector (which isn't)? People can't even agree what Romney's plan is. That was the whole point back and forth between him and Obama.

    What Romney was trying to say is this. If you cut taxes the economy grows. Economic growth means more people paying into the system and earning more money thus more revenue as well. Raise taxes enough and business start to fire people and invest in other countries. That was pretty much it. You can't seriously expect business to continue to invest and grow when companies are forced to pay a higher rate (thus less money to invest, less jobs, less tax revenue and when people have to pay higher taxes too (thus less money to spend, less biz revenue, less jobs). It's not that hard of a concept.

    The left thinks if you raise taxes "greedy" business won't fire anyone nor will they stop investing. Plus the left wants people to believe if they raise taxes any gov't spending will not only offset anything negative done by businesses but will also grow the economy. Obama has spent about half the American GDP since he has come into office and yet the GDP growth has been anemic barely keeping up with inflation and population growth. With that amount of money under the left's economic ideology we should of been out of it by now. You can't simply buy a better economy, you have to grow one.

  27. Trenacker

    Yes, I can. For one thing, the cause of the economic revival during the Reagan presidency is still hotly debated. Paul Krugman is famous for that. There is a significant wave of scholarship pointing out that deregulation was a feature of the Carter administration more than of the Reagan's, which actually put many barriers in place vis-a-vis international trade. The really fatal question for Reagonomics, though, is why it didn't lead to another burst of prosperity during the most recent Bush presidency.

    The top tax rates are extraordinarily low. In fact, they have only been lower between 1988 and 1992, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, according to PolitiFact. Top earners were paying 31.3% in effective taxes in 2004, the lowest since 1950.

    Romney has been careful not to specify where, exactly, he would cut taxes. The problem is that, if he is going to avoid gutting treasured areas of the budget, he will need to find revenue from somewhere. And the argument that tax cuts automatically and inevitably lead to economic growth is flawed. Many people will choose to save rather than to spend, for example. In part, that's exactly why the Bush tax cuts floundered: businesses sat on the money they saved, intending to keep cash reserves for a rainy day. They did not hire, as anticipated, or otherwise spend it elsewhere.

    Another problem with trickle-down economics is that many people tend to state the theory as if tax money goes into a giant hole in the ground. Rather, it funds government projects, many of which are of signal importance to the private sector: infrastructure improvement, education, research and development, defense production, and so on. Part of the jobs slump is because so many of those people out of work have skill sets that are becoming obsolete in the Information Age. To some degree, it isn't that there aren't any billets; it's that some of the billets that do exist can't be filled by qualified people to a certain extent.

    The left isn't particularly interested in labeling businesses "greedy." No more than I think you would claim that conservatives are interested in labeling unemployed people "lazy."

    The reason that Obama has spent so much money is to try and avert the mass bankruptcy of American banks and manufacturers. That was political as much as it was economic, but considering the number of jobs involved and the scope of the financial turmoil possibly averted, I'm willing to write him a pass. Not a free pass, but a pass.

  28. Virgil

    The Bush case is not fatal.

    The tax rates heading into Reagan's administration were over 70% at the top rate, and were lowered to 28%. In short, there was an effective cap on personal income prior to the 80's, and not afterward. Bush's "Reaganomics" consisted of lowering the top rate from 39% to 35%, not exactly an epic feat.

    Moreover, Bush ignored every other part of conservative governance. Clinton was far more of a de-regulator than Bush and spending under Bush increased tremendously. In regards spending, Bush has more in common with Obama than either Clinton or Reagan, both of whom cut spending as a proportion of GDP.

    This leads to a final point, and this is what makes and made Reaganomics work. It has to do with the GDP taken in percentage wise in taxes. In spite of the various tax cuts revenue stayed about even as a proportion of GDP…somewhere in the neighborhood of 18-20% The reason for this is that with tax rates lower the "rich" who generally know more about money than the government and who can create tax havens faster than the government can outlaw them took more money in as personal income rather than placing the money in a trust, or a corporation.

    Regardless, the fact remains that % of GDP tends to be constant, so spending must be controlled. Right now % of GDP taken in via taxes is lower…at around 16% due to the poor economy. Meanwhile spending, which was at 18% under Clinton, climbed to 22% under Bush and is now at over 25%, and these are the figures before Obamacare is implemented.

    I find it difficult to argue that Obama spent as much as he did trying to keep businesses open. TARP was a Bush policy that Obama made into a baseline. His stimulus package primarily went to the states, but not to private hands. The singular exception to this that I can identify is the bailout of GM, but my suspicion is that the solution…..ownership by Union retirement funds, will in time prove to cause additional problems. I'm not certain that this is a better solution than Chapter 11 in the long run.

  29. Jake_Ackers

    Exactly. Tax revenue is always about 20% regardless of the actually rate. It varies a little. If you lower taxes the economy grows. So you pick: lower tax burden and larger economy or higher tax burden/rate and smaller economy. Even raising taxes still wouldn't cover the spending problem. We have to grow out of this economy. You said it perfectly Virgil. Thumbs up.

  30. Trenacker

    This may be a case of dueling facts. I am no economist, and I am only able to speak to the success or failure of Reagan-era policies with resort to a panel of experts. As is often the case these days, "my" experts — Paul Krugman, for one — apparently differ from your experts in the sources they use, the measures they hold dear, the variables they consider, and the outcomes they draw. Since I'm not an economist, I haven't the basis for determining which analysis is the most accurate.

    I will say that, applying only basic logic, it is clearly not enough to simply reduce taxes. Such a measure only means that people get to keep relatively more of their money. As I pointed out, businesses have tended to sit on the cash reserves built up as a result of recent tax cuts, rather than spend them. It doesn't guarantee that they spend it. It should also be pointed out that the government is a consumer in and of itself — the largest and therefore the most influential. This doesn't mean that government spending is necessarily superior to private spending — only that the relationship between tax cuts and economic growth isn't necessarily linear.

    In an NYT editorial of January 21, 2008, Paul Krugman argued that "there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans" during the Reagan presidency. "By the late 1980s," he wrote, "middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen." He added that productivity growth was later dated by the White House Council of Economic Advisers to 1995 — firmly at Ground Zero of the digital revolution.

    In 2005, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that a hypothetical tax cut of 10% would have no significant positive net effect on the American economy.

    The GOP today also has to deal with the fact that Reagan's vision was, inevitably, a product of that particular economic context. Bruce Bartlett, writing in the February 3, 2012 edition of The Washington Post, believes that the Reagan-era tax cuts provided important anti-inflationary outcomes for the American economy. Barlett ought to believe that, since he crafted the bill that implemented the first great wave of those cuts. But he also argues, from the perspective of an insider, that the conditions are inappropriate for replication of Reagan's move. First, inflation is low; lower than it was when Reagan entered office. Moreover, federal revenue hasn't been this low for about 60 years: it stands today at around 15% of the GDP, relative to the 18.5% post-1945 average. The problem, Bartlett argues, is consumer spending: people haven't got the money to burn.

    Certainly George W. Bush made significant, if not unprecedented steps in deregulation with his roll-back of restrictions on Wall Street.

  31. Trenacker

    To uninformed voters, Romney sounded thoughtful. He also sounded like a moderate. His record? They don't know enough about that to hold him accountable. In the absence of fact-checkers or an ornery moderator, and with the quiet consent of Obama, Romney redefined himself as a candidate. He won't raise your taxes, no matter who you are. He'll make cuts, but only to programs we all agree are unimportant. Those cuts won't have to be severe, because lowering taxes automatically generates economic growth. Here, have some cake, and eat it, too. Romney also benefitted from the general consensus among Americans that regulations (read: rules) are mostly bad, because mostly unnecessary. He even managed to paint Obama the "bad guy" with respect to Big Business, and claimed the improbable mantle of king on Energy Security despite rejecting programmatic investments in sustainable fuels. This was possible in part, I suppose, because Romney talks about coal, but said little or nothing about oil.

    Perhaps significantly, perhaps not, Romney also invoked the specter of Death Panels when discussing Obamacare, implying that "the Government" will make life-and-death decisions. He made a genius, but highly disingenuous, argument that Obama's endorsement of innovation-driver reform through best practices development was somehow compromised because it would involve boards of qualified people making decisions — and boards are somehow inherently anti-democratic. He also paid into a very obvious falsehood when he argued that insurance companies do not really constitute Death Panels-by-proxy because one can always switch their insurance at will — a highly dubious argument that assumes too much about the portability, convenience, and equality of plans, as well as the knowledge of the people who possess them.

    In short, I found Romney's performance to be both impressive for its polish and horrifying for its casual disregard of prior statements and very intentional lies.

  32. Jake_Ackers

    Depends what you mean as record. His actual record as a MA Governor was pretty good. If you go off just that then he is a moderate, actually kind of lib too. Now if you go on what he has said, well that's always going to be go either way depending who is reading it.

  33. Trenacker

    Like Obama, Romney will be held accountable by at least some of the electorate for the variance between promises made on the stump to date and new statements issued during the debates. He managed to rewrite his campaign on Wednesday night. That put him ahead in the contest at hand, but it also illustrated that he is either (A) a deceitful opportunist who hasn't let on his actual agenda, or (B) a moderate who has been forced rightward by the extremists that have taken control of the nomination process at every level. If the first, that's a problem in and of itself. If the second, the question is how he would govern if elected.

  34. truteal

    At first I thought Obama in my view had a very good chance of winning the foreign policy debate because he killed Bin Laden, but thanks to Libya and Romney's first debate, not so much now

  35. Trenacker

    I'm curious to see how the next debate goes.

    Certainly the outcome should matter far less: the public is interested in the economy, not national security this time around.

    Obama has by far the stronger record, and, if wise, will remind voters that he has not only continued, but intensified, the fight against terrorists and insurgents. That includes not just the mission that killed Bin Laden, but also the drone strikes and the decision not to close Guantanamo. (Even if it was his intention to close the base, Obama clearly chose not to do so because he could find no alternatives more satisfactory.)

    Obama's challenge will be to come out of the gate hard with the message that he has never apologized for this nation. He will then be expected to defend the White House reaction to Libya. He should not have to answer for consular security, although political realities will oblige him to do so. Therefore, his safest bet is to point out that our ambassador to Libya elected to remain in Benghazi despite knowing the risks. Whether he will be able to do that without sounding flippant, I cannot say.

    Obama will also need to deliver to the American public two very wonkish messages. The first will deal with the fact that it would have been unwise to back Musharrif to the bitter end. America's interests are served by promoting development in the Middle East, not by fighting rear guard battles to keep the lid on the pressure cooker by propping up retrogressive dictatorships that never get their countries to the next stage of economic and political development. The State Department is very good, but it cannot hold back the tide of history. The Egyptian regime was going to fall. It was merely a question of how much more we wanted to alienate Egyptians in the process.

    Obama then needs to emphasize, as some of his advisers have already, that there is a struggle taking place throughout the Middle East today — between progressives who are justifiably wary of the United States because of its past relationship with their oppressive rulers, and fundamentalists who wish to turn back the dial even further. Democratization is hard. We know it. We experienced it. The growing pains include heartbreaking violence and serious internal strife. In the United States, democratization took two hundred years and a Civil War. (Ideally, a president would go on to talk about how we still wrestle with issues of race and class. Sadly, if Obama does so, opponents will argue that he sees the United States through the lens of an angry black man who wants to punish White America.) In Europe, democratization and self-determination were part of the motive forces that led to two World Wars as we experimented with fascism and communism before realizing that extremism in the cause of human dignity leaves no dignity at all.

    After his first showing, I'm doubtful that Obama will hit all the high notes. Right now, I expect a minor Obama victory. My specific prediction is that Obama will manage to speak eloquently about the U.S. leadership role, while Romney will be criticized for failing to complement with details some very general promises that he will stand taller and speak more loudly. He will sound less presidential than before.

  36. Jake_Ackers

    Obama skipped security briefings about Libya and other embassies. The Ambassador asked for additional security and was turned down. You seriously expect the Ambassador to Libya to leave? Why wasn't the embassy closed. If he knew about the riskes then Obama knew it was a terrorist attack and refused to admit it. Plus the US was informed about this planned attack for a while.

    The problem with Obama on foreign policy is he is wish washy, always saying sorry for the US. Never making clear his stand on an event or an issue on foreign policy, never explaining it fully either. Same as Bush. Everyone his administration says something different. Point is this, he should of been clear and the administration should of spoken with one voice in public even if they disagree behind the scenes. He hasn't really give the image of leading on foreign policy.

    So we have had years and years of a lack of SOLID leadership. We had a period of solid leadership from a LBJ style to Nixon to a Reagan style. My point, its more that style and presence on the world stage matters a lot. Especially now a day in a region that is centered around that kind of view too. Obama I think has to appear stronger and more solid as a result.

    The people expected Obama to be more like the time when Bill Clinton got Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to shake hands (leading from the front through diplomacy) and less like Carter in a sweater. But I do agree, with you Tren, Obama will probably win the election.

  37. Trenacker

    The same way Carter skipped briefings about the Shah, or Bush about Osama bin Laden? Until I know why he skipped those briefings, I'm in no position to sling stones. Nor am I inclined to hold the president responsible for decisions that reside within the portfolio of the Secretary of State. Who turned Ambassador Stevens's request down? Why? Note also that Stevens was killed in a consulate, not an embassy.

    Always saying sorry for the U.S.? PolitiFact, I think, has blown that one way out of the water. Obama takes a less strident tone than George W. Bush, and sometimes speaks directly to foreign audiences in a manner calibrated to best advance our interests (as when he apologized on behalf of the nation for desecration of a Quran by an American soldier), but he does so out of necessity. Obama is not evincing doubt about the United States as world leader; rather, he is acknowledging the tactical necessity of engaging with parts of the international community that cannot be brought around to our standard of democracy in a fortnight.

    Reagan's "solid" leadership led us into a blunder in Lebanon — and a pull out that arguably signaled to our enemies that terrorism against American targets can be highly effective. Obama has largely retained the security policies that Americans endorsed under his Republican predecessor, and has, in fact, doubled down on the use of drones to conduct targeted killings. If he didn't stick with Musharrif to the bitter end, it is, I think, because he realized that we could not prop up such an unpopular leader indefinitely, especially in the digital media age.

    I'm not sure how you think Obama could have averted crises in the Middle East by projecting a "stronger" or "more solid" image. George W. Bush did exactly that, without any evident results. In fact, his mishandled public statements merely reinforced stereotypes of the United States that promoted skepticism about our motives and sympathy for our enemies.

    Obama is like Carter only in that he is wonkish. Carter would not have gone even farther than George Bush in the use of drones.

  38. Jake_Ackers

    I'm talking about what people expect in respect to foreign policy. Bush attacked and bombed and invaded but lacked that kind of leadership persona that Reagan showed or even Clinton. I'm not arguing if it was right or wrong or successful or not. My point is that on foreign policy when it comes to politics it is largely about a persona of leadership to the voting public. Now whether Obama or Reagan or Bush or whomever else are/were successful or not is another debate.

  39. Jake_Ackers

    Yah Obama is even worst off. Bush got Saddam but that lasted about a few weeks. Obama has been all over the place with respect to foreign policy.

  40. Trenacker

    I'm not exactly sure what you want from Obama. It seems to me that, without the Libya debacle, there could be no effective Republican criticism of his handling of foreign policy, except with respect to ignorant arguments that ignore the startling similarity to the policies of the last eight years, or which accuse him of "losing" Iraq and Afghanistan without any fair consideration of the fact that the American people were and remain clearly unwilling to pay the cost of long-term success in either location.

    Obama was in no position to encourage Musharrif to resort to military force. Nor can he fairly be held responsible for the emergence of extremist elements in Libya.

    The only part of Romney's platform that I like is his pledge to increase military spending. But, of course, it seems unlikely that he could fulfill that promise based on his avowed commitment to huge cuts in revenue.

  41. @SideshowJon36

    Killing Bin Laden is not a policy. The underlying policies that lead to his takedown were relics from the Bush administration; including enhanced interrogations (torture), Black Sites, and GTMO. Obama's foreign policy can be summed up in two words: Drone Assassinations. Well, that and dissing allies while bowing to enemies.

  42. Trenacker

    Going after bin Laden on Pakistani territory was a choice demonstrating boldness, but that's about as far as it goes. The American public isn't primed to hear philosophical arguments about how killing bad man lets us all sleep better at night.

    The circumstances surrounding Osama's death provide Obama with a propaganda coup for voters who don't know any better. Osama's death changes nothing about our ongoing struggle with extremism in the Middle East.

    I'm not sure why it is somehow illegitimate for a president of either party to continue the policies of a predecessor, if deemed workable or unavoidable. Obama's policy was clearly to disengage from Iraq with the least amount of brouhaha while surgically dismantling al-Qaeda networks in the region using a strategy pioneered by the Israelis in the Occupied Territories: targeted killings. It is also clear that disengagement from Afghanistan is just around the corner. That, too, is being handled quietly. Iran is more isolated today than it was during the Bush years. If there has been no movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front, that is very clearly the result of demographic, and therefore political, changes in Israel that have resulted in a rightward shift over which the White House can have no control.

    Obama wisely avoided doubling down on American support for Mubarak in Egypt. The alternative, then, was and has been a "wait-and-see" approach. In Libya, the U.S. naturally assumed a back seat to Europe, which had far more skin in the game. Syria's fate is partly a consequence of the American experience in Iraq: nobody wants to throw in with the rebels, only to discover that they have touched off an ethnic civil war in the offing.

    If Obama is not, perhaps, as outspoken on matters of foreign policy as George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, that is most likely the result of political pressures indicating that Americans today care far more about the domestic arena. I'm curious, too, what the only alternative to Obama offers. Romney has been frustratingly vague, except with respect to criticism of the administration's initial statements as regards the attack on our Benghazi consulate. Does Mitt Romney proposed that we should have backed Egypt's strongman? For how long, exactly, would that move have been viable? Romney may believe that we should show stronger backing for Israel. I'm not sure how one does that without further alienating the Arab Street, where, coincidentally, we may now have more to lose in light of our relative popularity in places like Libya and our clear interest in positioning ourselves as a partner for growth vis-a-vis Egypt and Tunisia.

    But look at me, forced to speculate because you (and Romney) have been nothing but vague.

    Also, if you're going to toss around the canard that Obama has gone about apologizing for the United States, at least back your own play and provide solid examples of when he has done so and what it has cost us. For one thing, I'll bet you can't find an unequivocal apology. I'd also point out that many presidents have, in the past, issued public apologies or calibrated statements of regret when it has been deemed politically advantageous. After all, if apologizing were never worthwhile, nobody would ever do it, and no two people — or nations — would ever be able to mend fences. Instead, they'd barrel blithely off the cliff of mutual antagonism. "Apologies" aren't meant to prostrate America before our detractors or our enemies; they are intended to demonstrate our greatness of character. But I suspect, based on the language used here, that merely by talking about apologies, I am leading you to believe that I somehow support a comprehensive policy of "bowing to enemies." Ironically, the only policy of Romney's I like very much at all is his pledge to raise defense spending… which I also think is a load of malarky, considering all of the other obligations he's taken on.

  43. Jon B.

    Its not illegitimate for Obama to continue Dubya's policies, but since he actively campaigned against them, it's pretty hypocritical to take credit for the fruits they bore.

  44. Trenacker

    Candidates have the easy job. I'm disinclined to punish President Obama for making what I believe were reasonable deviations in his original roadmap after clearly discovering that political reality would not brook more radical change.

  45. Guest

    I the President can take credit for 'killing Bin Laden' surely he has to take the blame for allowing diplomatic staff to be killed in Libya
    Can't have it both ways.

  46. Trenacker

    Only insofar as the buck stops in the Oval Office for everything that happens during a particular leader's time in office.

    Realistically speaking, Obama made the decisive decision that caused the U.S. military to violate Pakistani sovereignty and execute the raid on the bin Laden compound. In any time or place, one would have expected authorization for such a venture to come directly from the Commander-in-Chief.

    Diplomatic security falls under the purview of decision-makers somewhat lower on the metaphorical totem pole. Let's also avoid language that suggests that an American president somehow "allowed" Americans to be killed, shall we? I doubt you meant to lend credence to any of the more garish conspiracy theories floating around out there.

    If Obama deserves blame for anything, it would seem to be in connection with how he first described the attacks to the American public — as the chance outcome of protest, rather than a surgical operation carried out by a terrorist cell.

    But getting back to foreign policy, Joe Klein has recently had a piece in TIME that points out the great and embarrassing similarities between Obama's foreign policy agenda and those of the Republican Party. There's a reason why Obama's critics are falling back on vague condemnations that focus on either Obama's supposed apologetics, or else on his lack of forceful, "decisive" leadership — unless the argument is about delivery, there really isn't any sunlight between the two positions, with two meager exceptions.

    First, Romney is urging that the U.S. come out in stronger favor of Israel. It is unclear at this time whether Romney would endorse, say, new settlements in the West Bank, or whether it is mostly posturing that has him urging closer association. Either way, it is unclear how Romney would guarantee Israel's security to a greater extent than the current administration already does (or to which previous administrations already have), unless he is prepared to either endorse a unilateral strike on Iran, which Israel probably wouldn't be able to pull off, or is prepared to go to war with Iran himself. Some conservatives in the United States argue that the White House can and should lose all pretense of impartiality, arguing that Israel clearly represents civility to the Arab's alleged savagery, but those people are fools who are indulging in not-so-subtle racism. Unless Romney is prepared to write off American leadership in the Middle East, including hopes of reconciliation with the Muslim Street (all to the interest of reducing the flow of recruits for terrorism) or else to completely abandon hopes of exerting influence over the Arab Spring, he will be unable to really push a more stridently pro-Israeli agenda anyway.

    Then there is Syria, in which regard Romney has made some noise about extending military as well as non-military aid. But to whom, exactly? Romney won't say. Perhaps that is because, as Klein makes clear, there is no single rebel movement; rather, there are about a hundred, each with its own agenda, and many with explicit ethnic affiliations. In other words, there is the possibility of as comprehensive a breakdown as in Iraq or Afghanistan once Assad is oustered. Is Romney proposing to pick a winner? Well and good, but who? Saber-rattling isn't policy; it's politics.

  47. Guest

    I mostly agree Trenacker, my point is certainly not that the President caused or allowed those deaths in any way. But it is to suggest that the guy in charge is the guy in charge and he has to take the blame equally with the credit. I accept he gave the 'go' to the Bin Laden mission but he also did not order higher security measures in Arabic consular posts. I also agree that he made a real misstep in his response to those attacks and this came off as 'soft'.
    I do recall Romney saying re: Syria – the US must identify those amongst the rebels who most closely support American values and then give them all the military hardware they can ask for. Now, finding those rebels…
    I agree foreign policy will be a tough debate all around because Obama has barely shifted away from the previous Bush policies and, in many instances, taken them to the next level.
    Romney is always going to be stridently supportive of Israel. That is not likely to change. I think he is not likely to trade that support for conciliation with the Islamic world, but he is smart enough to know that the emergence of fledgling democratic movements (or at least reform movements) in the Middle East must be nurtured.

  48. Trenacker

    What kind of intelligence did Obama have, and when did he have it? Were the threats made against the Benghazi consulate specific to that city? To Libya? Was there a general estimate warning of increased violence likely to erupt all along the Arab street?

    I don't mind playing king-maker. I mind empty assertions that somebody ought to be something. I mind lack of detail when discussing a situation in which Americans might get in a lot of trouble by leaping before they look.

    I sense that Romney, and many of his supporters, still think of foreign policy too much as a game played to rouse domestic voters, rather than to benefit national security or national competitiveness goals.

  49. Jake_Ackers

    If Romney wins all 3 debates and slams Obama on the employment and lack of leadership he can maybe make it. But frankly I doubt it, he should of been doing this for months not the last few days. The election is largely decided on Labor Day barring some major tanking in the stock market or terrorist attack.

    All Romney needs to say is this, "Yes the economy could be worst, but it SHOULD be better."
    Or "You can blame Bush for the situation we are in but it's Obama's fault we are still in it."

    Agree or not if he does it right, then is done. Although problem is its kind of late.