Fact Check

Alexis de Tocqueville observed:

“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”

Every four years there are lies in campaigns, and at times a blurry line between acceptable political argument and outright sophistry. But recent events — from the misleading statements in convention speeches to television advertisements repeating widely debunked claims — have raised new questions about whether the political culture still holds any penalty for falsehood.


NO Leadership

In a discussion among voters sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center this month, a group of suburban Milwaukee women — one of the potential swing groups in this election — sounded disappointed in both presidential candidates and in the political system as a whole.

“In 2008, I was real into it, but this year I’m not really into it,“ said Michelle Wilke, 38, an electrical assembly worker who was laid off from her job at Harley-Davidson in 2009. “I just have a feeling that no matter what happens, it’s not going to change.”


Neither party inspires any confidence


Just trust them.

In fact, Romney didn’t furnish the promised proposals, and his foreign policy didn’t get much more elaborate than “American strength is critical.”

The audience members were friendly, but they wanted more details. His plan to reduce the debt? .

“We want to grow this economy and cut federal spending.” .

His tax plan? “I will not raise taxes on the American people.” .

His Afghanistan plan? “Bring our men and women home, and do so in a way consistent with our mission.” .

His plan to reduce student costs? “Make sure that when you graduate, you can get a job.” .

Just trust him. .


Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan (R-WI) to be his running mate was honey for the punditocracy… flies. They were all over it. Suddenly, Congressman Ryan, a budget wonk, gave Governor Romney’s campaign cred — substance. Suddenly, Mitt Romney became a risk-taker instead of the carefully crafted pol who makes gaffes in speeches and on substance like McDonald’s makes hamburgers.

Phooey. Barack Obama doesn’t want this election campaign to be about substance — he doesn’t have any, just ideology.

A Romney-Ryan ticket will help to clarify the choices for voters in November. Rarely have the two parties presented such a stark contrast in visions as now appears to be the case. Those competing visions could produce, after a summer of often small-minded tactics, the kind of big debate about the country’s future that both Obama and Romney have said this campaign should be about.

Such a debate will generate as much heat as light, however, which is the risk that comes with putting Ryan on the ticket. Romney has now assumed ownership of Ryan’s budgetary plan and its provisions for reining in the cost of entitlement programs. Democrats will attack it and its author as vigorously as they have tried to savage Romney’s business background and personal finances. .


Here’s a rule of thumb: If you are the Republican nominee and The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard and The National Review are all urging you to do the same thing, run the other way. Romney doesn’t need the base; if they are not enthusiastically for him, they are enthusiastically against Obama, which ought to be enough.

Romney needs independents in Virginia, suburban women in Colorado, seniors in Florida. It’s not a question of whether Ryan will help him woo these voters; it’s a matter of whether Ryan — especially once the Obama campaign and associated super PACs get through with him — will make that even harder.


As for Ryan himself, to begin with, what policies turned Clinton-era surpluses into Bush-era deficits? In large part, two tax cuts, two wars and a massive prescription drug benefit, and Ryan voted for all of them. (He also voted for TARP, by the way; his fiscal rectitude only included actually voting against massive expenditures once President Obama took office.) His “serious” debt-reduction plan doesn’t balance the budget until 2040. By contrast, the House Progressive Caucus budget, whatever else you think of it, balances the budget within a decade.(Note: In both cases, those are the budgets’ authors’ projections; your math may vary.) Furthermore, no doubt in fear of the senior vote, Ryan dropped the Social Security privatization aspect from his debt plan and now only guts Medicare for people 55 and younger. Finally, Ryan refuses to touch defense spending, retains tax breaks for oil companies that don’t need them, zeroes out the capital gains tax and finds his savings in programs by shredding the already hole-ridden safety net. For a Republican, this is smart politics. But how exactly is it “courageous” or “serious” to protect the interests to some of the most powerful (and wealthiest) lobbies in Washington — Wall Street, oil companies and the defense industry — while heaping painful cuts on the poor? No, the idea that Ryan or Romney’s nomination of him as his vice president is courageous is simply wrong.


Ryan is not a “fiscal conservative.” A fiscal conservative pays for the government he wants. Ryan never has. His early “Roadmap for America’s Future” didn’t balance the budget until the 2060s and added $60 trillion to the national debt. Ryan’s revised plan, passed by the House in 2011, wouldn’t reach balance until the 2030s while adding $14 trillion in debt. It adds $6 trillion in debt over the next decade alone — yet Republicans had the chutzpah to say they wouldn’t raise the debt limit! (I remain mystified why President Obama never hammered home this reckless contradiction by insisting that the GOP “raise the debt ceiling just by the amount it would take to accommodate the debt in Paul Ryan’s budget.”)


Mitt Romney has yoked himself to Paul Ryan’s vision and campaigns on the bus as the most conservative candidate since Barry Goldwater.

Obama’s and Romney’s resort to personal attacks has reflected standard political logic: It beats the alternatives. Obama can’t run on his record, because his record isn’t strong. Payroll jobs remain 4.8 million below their pre-recession peak. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) — his singular legislative achievement — isn’t popular; it is disliked by 44 percent of the public and liked by only 38 percent in the latest Foundation poll. For his part, Romney has so far failed to paint a compelling vision for the United States. He’s campaigned mostly on Obama fatigue.


The President and his handlers will continue firing barrages of personal attacks upon their oppponents — area weapons. That’s what they believe in; that’s what they know. They believe negative campaigns work. Paul Ryan’s weakness will be exploited, and that is, he’s a professional politician who has been around Washington for twenty years; he’s forty-two years old…

Moerover, Obama and Ryan have clashed before; they don’t like each other. Ryan’s radical slash and burn Libertarian version of the budget, which includes privatizing Social Security, has become Romney’s Achilles heel.

Ryan’s redolent ideology and baggage will assure that the tenor of the campaign, already negative, remains fixed upon orthodoxy rather than substance. The inevitable fiscal cliff, so-called Taxageddon, is the salient issue that should be debated in this campaiggn for the consequences of sequetration.

Romney will remain out of touch with common aspirations while Obamaloney and Romney Hood could seem civil in context. Ryan invoked “leadership” to “turn around” the assaualt “on the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed.”

Chosen to be Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan is a contract follower. His partner from New Hamspshire/Massachusetts/Michigan/Utah is no leader.

Of course this analysis could be wrong, that’s why it’s opinion.

Published: August 13, 2012

Greenwich, Conn.

PAUL D. RYAN is the most articulate and intellectually imposing Republican of the moment, but that doesn’t alter the fact that this earnest congressman from Wisconsin is preaching the same empty conservative sermon.


Paul Ryan sold shares on same day as private briefing of banking crisis
Vice-presidential candidate denies he profited from a 2008 meeting with Fed chairman in which officials outlined fears for financial crisis

Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney‘s vice-presidential running mate, sold stock in US banks on the same day he attended a confidential meeting where top level officials disclosed the sector was heading for a deep crisis.

The congressman on Monday denied profiting from information gleaned from the meeting on 18 September 2008 when Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, then treasury secretary Hank Paulson and others outlined their fears for the banking sector. His office said he had no control over the trades.

Public records show that on the same day as the meeting, Ryan sold stock in troubled banks including Wachovia and Citigroup and bought shares in Goldman Sachs, Paulson’s old employer and a bank that had been disclosed to be stronger than many of its rivals. The sale was not illegal at the time.

Not long after the meeting, Wachovia’s already troubled share price went into free fall. It plunged 39% on the afternoon of 26 September alone as investors worried the bank would collapse. It was eventually taken over by Wells Fargo for $15bn, a fraction of its former value.

Citigroup’s share price fell soon after the meeting. In October 2008 Citigroup was among the largest beneficiary of the troubled asset relief program (Tarp), the taxpayer-funded bailout of the banking sector.

Ryan was a supporter of the Tarp bailout – a position that has put him at odds with the right wing of his party despite his otherwise conservative credentials. Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo are now among his largest financial supporters, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The trades were highlighted at the weekend by the Richmonder, a left-leaning political blog in Virginia.


12 Things You Should Know About Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan


America’s main economic problem – the relocation of the US economy offshore — is not a campaign issue. Therefore, the US economy’s main problem will remain unaddressed.

Sensata employee Mark Schreck in Freeport. Workers at the plant have appealed to Bain and Romney to save their plant. Photograph: Carlos Ortiz/Polaris


“A statesman is he who thinks in the future generations, and a politician is he who thinks in the upcoming elections.”

Campaigns are increasingly becoming a show about nothing
Sunday July 29, 2012 7:42 AM

At the end of our six-minute phone interview last week, Larry Sabato said, “This, of course, was all on background. I assume you’re going to run any quote by me so I can change it and make it look more erudite.”

Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and one of the nation’s savviest political observers, was kidding, of course.

But his quip was ripe with irony following our discussion of a New York Times story about how the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are trying to exert control over what is published and aired about them in the mainstream media.

The story outlined the campaigns’ efforts to limit gaffes that opponents can exploit by demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over published quotations. If a reporter wants to talk with a high-level campaign official — even a midlevel official in states such as Ohio — and quote him or her by name, then the reporter must agree to “quote approval” before publishing or airing the story. The penalty for not agreeing: No interview.

“The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative,” according to the Times story by Jeremy W. Peters.

Political reporters, including me, are used to “background” interviews with campaign and government officials in which their comments are on the record but they are not, vaguely identifiable only as a “Democratic strategist” or “top Republican” or “official with knowledge.” Agreeing to such pre-conditions is frustrating but often necessary to obtain information for a story.

But quote editing is a new twist, one that the campaigns increasingly demand because they can, essentially telling reporters, “Play by our rules if you want access.”

Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison last week instructed reporters not to participate in interviews giving campaigns quote-editing rights.

“They’re taking advantage of the situation,” Sabato said. “They realize that news organizations just don’t have the clout they once did. And so they can actually set these conditions and get away with it. Unfortunately, the public doesn’t complain, because the public is misled by the proliferation of websites and blogs. They believe that these quasi-news organizations somehow substitute for the old regime. They do not. They don’t do investigative journalism. They have even less success getting people on the record.”

Even when they agree to be quoted on the record, campaign officials say little that is enlightening. Pointed questions elicit ad nauseam talking points and rote attacks against opponents. Today’s campaigns include one time-wasting conference call after another with surrogates mindlessly reading consultant-written scripts to bracket every move, every statement the other side makes.

Sabato calls them Seinfeld campaigns.

“More and more, I think less and less matters in these Seinfeld campaigns,” he said. “And they are campaigns about nothing by design. They don’t want to get into any of the real decisions that have to be made, because they’re controversial and costly to the candidates. They actually have to take a stand that may alienate some people.”

Over the past several weeks, the presidential race has been dominated by such monumental matters as when Romney really left Bain Capital and Obama’s clumsy “you didn’t build that” statement.

“It’s lunacy,” Sabato said. “And meanwhile, the world economic system is on the verge of collapse, and this country may very well go over the fiscal cliff after the election. Still, the candidates have refused to talk about the real choices.”

Amid these ever more intellectually vacuous campaigns, expert perspective from Sabato and other political scientists — John Green of the University of Akron, Paul Beck of Ohio State and Mark Caleb Smith of Cedarville University come to mind in Ohio — is crucial because they are erudite. They fill the void by offering relevant and honest insight with a talent prized by reporters: an ability to speak in quotes.

And they don’t demand editing rights.

Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.


Jon Stewart Mocks Romney Aide Rick Gorka For ‘Kiss My A–’ Comment (VIDEO)


Sam Stein

2012 Election Gaffes Fuel Media Obsession, Leading To Scripted Campaigns
Posted: 08/01/2012 9:29 am

As Mitt Romney walked toward his motorcade Tuesday morning in Warsaw, Poland, Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker yelled a question in his direction: “What about your gaffes?”

Rucker didn’t specify which gaffes, but 4,500 miles away, his Post colleague Eugene Robinson wrote in that morning’s paper on a few that had become media fixations during Romney’s six-day overseas trip, which he dubbed “gaffepalooza.”

Whether at home or abroad, presidential candidates’ so-called gaffes — and the media’s preoccupation with each inartfully phrased or impolitic remark — have defined the 2012 election. Gaffes get tweeted, blogged, and reported. Cable pundits declare them game-changers. And rival campaigns amplify them through any means possible. When that’s done, the story becomes whether the campaign gaffed in cleaning up its gaffe.

Reporters complain that Romney’s too robotic and Obama’s too detached. But given that media’s extensive coverage of gaffes so far, including at The Huffington Post, the chances of unscripted moments or off-the-cuff question-and-answer sessions seem likely to grow more remote from now until November. Reporters, in short, may be facilitating the very reality they detest.

“The energy of the press corps is to find the silliest and most twistable thing said on any given day and run with that,” said longtime Republican consultant Steve Schmidt. “And the end product is that candidates are going to be more closed off from the press.”

More than most, Schmidt understands the increasingly unbalanced choice between close-scripted politics and free-wheeling campaigning. Managing Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, he was tasked with buttoning up a shoot-from-the-hip politician.

“The accessibility that John McCain was famous for over the course of an eight-year period went from being a huge asset in 2000 to enormous liability in 2008,” Schmidt recalled. “The conclusion everyone came to was that it was absolutely impossible to deliver a message to the American people when you handed a microphone over to the audience — with 1 out of 3 questioners who were crazy — or, two, being surrounded by a bunch of very young reporters on the campaign plane who … were interested in asking a question to elicit the most embarrassing answer.”

The 2012 cycle has only made that calculation easier, Schmidt and other campaign vets insisted. It’s not just that younger reporters looking to make a splash are populating the bus. It’s that a Balkanized media landscape has changed the way the press operates.

“I don’t think politicians collectively today make any more gaffes than 2008, or 2004, or 2000, or ’96 or ’92,” said Jonathan Prince, who was John Edwards’ deputy campaign manager in 2008 Democratic presidential primary. “I think one thing has changed: it’s easier for the press and opposing campaigns (and their super PAC affiliates) to discover gaffes and easier — and faster — for them to spread, or be promulgated.”

The word gaffe is often confused for the term “gaff,” or penny-gaff, which described a 19th century makeshift theater that offered cheap, mindless and often vulgar entertainment. The 2012 election has, at times, resembled a political version of that meaning: a non-stop gaffe-a-thon, in which candidates’ remarks — quite often clipped — drive the day’s news until the next made-for-cable flap.

Political gaffes can get significant airtime, evenas fact-checkers conclude lines were taken out of context, such as with Obama’s July 13 remark that “if you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”

Fox News has since discussed Obama’s remark 81 times, according to a July 31 search using the media monitoring service TV Eyes. The comment came up a dozen times on morning show “Fox & Friends,” and several times on each of Fox’s top-rated prime time programs.

“I think Obama has made the gaffe of the year when he said if you created a business, you didn’t build it,” conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News’s “Special Report.”

MSNBC mentioned the “didn’t build it” fracas 43 times, albeit often to criticize Republican ads using the line. CNN, which often gives less air time to partisan cable feuds, mentioned “build that” 16 times.

The previous month, Obama’s remark at Friday news conference that the “private sector’s doing fine” sparked a media frenzy. Although Obama quickly clarified his remark, the line still got dozens of cable mentions into the following week. Fox News covered the gaffe 28 times from June 8 to June 11, including Saturday, Sunday and Monday on “Fox & Friends.” MSNBC covered it 19 times, with CNN clocking in at 16.

Most recently, Romney’s comment to NBC’s Brian Williams about “disconcerting” reports over London’s preparedness for the Olympics overshadowed much of his trip. From July 26 to July 29, the gaffe got plenty of mentions on MSNBC (21), Fox News (16), and CNN (15).

But it’s not only presidential candidates whose misplaced words can drive the day. Some of the biggest gaffes have come from advisers, including Romney aide Eric Ferhnstrom suggesting that switching from the primary to the general election was akin to shaking an “Etch A Sketch,” or Obama surrogate Cory Booker calling attacks on Romney’s Bain Capital record “nauseating.” The 2012 election was overtaken briefly by a comment from Hilary Rosen, a CNN pundit unaffiliated with either campaign.

Obama has long criticized the 24/7 political media culture, arguing that the incessant focus on who’s up and who’s down distracts from more important issues. And so, when asked whether coverage of Romney’s verbal flubs has been destructive to the broader discourse, Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt disputed the question.

“Cable chatter should never serve as a campaign’s North Star,” LaBolt said in an email. “What penetrates in battleground states is what matters. Every day … we’ve gone out to make the case that voters have the opportunity to break a stalemate in November between two economic agendas, one that will build the economy from the middle class out and the other that will continue to reward the wealthiest with special breaks and assumes that the market will take care of the rest.”

Romney, for his part, took up the mantle of press critic Tuesday morning, suggesting to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron that the media is too focused on small-ball matters.

“I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran,” Romney said.

Kevin Madden, Romney’s longtime adviser, called it a “race to atomize the news coverage” in which instantaneous coverage often wins more attention than longer analysis.

“I truly believe that the bigger debate over bigger concerns make a more lasting impression on the most persuadable voters,” Madden told The Huffington Post. “And as a campaign, you have to remind yourself of that fact. You have to constantly ask yourself, ‘Does this really matter?’”

Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary during George W. Bush’s presidency, put it this way: “Politicians have to be disciplined enough to engage on Twitter, but also to ignore Twitter.”

Each campaign’s high-mindedness will, of course, disappear once the opposition makes its next flub. And their tweets and emails pointing it out will find a receptive audience among a press corps eager for the next micro-controversy.

“There is this tendency to want to catch you in the next one, so everything you say — people begin to parse and pull a nugget out to use against you to further a negative narrative,” said former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, a self-admitted “expert in the area” of gaffe politics.

Political reporters routinely justify gaffe coverage by citing journalist Michael Kinsley’s 1983 maxim that a gaffe “occurs not when a politician lies, but when he tells the truth.”

Nearly three decades ago, Kinsley wrote in the New Republic that the candidate gaffe has become “the principal dynamic mechanism of American politics, as interpreted by journalists.” But these days, he said, the press corps’ gaffe obsession is only “getting worse,” with reporters routinely treating all verbal miscues as deep revelations about the candidate’s supposedly secret views.

“I think the whole campaign has been about gaffes and not about — I hate to sound pompous — the issues,” Kinsley told The Huffington Post. “Romney’s whole campaign strategy, at this point, is to avoid gaffes. The only way to avoid gaffes is to avoid talking.”


Dullest Campaign Ever

Published: July 30, 2012

A few weeks ago, Peggy Noonan wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal that perfectly captures my attitude toward this presidential campaign: It’s incredibly consequential and incredibly boring all at the same time.

Since then, I’ve come up with a number of reasons for why it is so dull. First, intellectual stagnation. This race is the latest iteration of the same debate we’ve been having since 1964. Mitt Romney is calling President Obama a big-government liberal who wants to crush business. Obama is calling Romney a corporate tool who wants to take away grandma’s health care.

American politics went through tremendous changes between 1900 and 1936, and then again between 1940 and 1976. But our big government/small government debate is back where it was a generation ago. Candidates don’t even have to rehearse the arguments anymore; they just find the gaffes that will help them pin their opponent to the standard bogyman clichés.

Second, lack of any hint of intellectual innovation. Candidates used to start their campaigns by giving serious policy addresses at universities and think tanks to lay out their distinct philosophies. Bill Clinton was a New Democrat. George W. Bush was a Compassionate Conservative.

But the ideological climate has ossified. Candidates know that they’d be punished for saying something unexpected — by the rich, elderly donors and by the hyperorthodox talk-show hosts. Instead of saying something new, now they just try to boost turnout within their own demographic niches and suppress turnout in the other guy’s niches.

Third, increased focus on the uninformed. Four years ago, Barack Obama gave a sophisticated major speech on race. Mitt Romney did one on religion. This year, the candidates do not feel compelled to give major speeches. The prevailing view is that anybody who would pay attention to such a speech is already committed to a candidate. It’s more efficient to focus on the undecided voters, who don’t really follow politics or the news.

Fourth, lack of serious policy proposals. Has there ever been a campaign with so few major plans on the table? President Obama’s proposals are small and medium-size retreads, while Mitt Romney has run the closest thing to a policy-free race as any candidate in my lifetime. Republicans spend their days fleshing out proposals, which Romney decides not to champion.

Fifth, negative passion. Both parties are driven more by hatred than by love. Both sides feel it would be a disaster for the country if the other side had power during the next four years. Neither side is propelled by much positive enthusiasm for their own side.

Many Democratic politicians think Obama looks down on them as a bunch of lowlife hacks. As Noonan wrote in that column, he sometimes seems to regard politics as a weary duty on his path to greatness. The Republican coolness toward Romney is such that he’s having trouble recruiting people to work on the campaign.

Sixth, no enactment strategy. To avert catastrophe, the next president will have to rally bipartisan majorities around a budget deal and many other things. That will require personal and relationship skills neither has demonstrated. The polarizing, negative tactics the candidates use to get elected will make it impossible to succeed after one of them wins.

Seventh, ad budget myopia. Both campaigns fervently believe that more spending leads to more votes. They also believe that if they can carpet bomb swing voters with enough negative ads, then eventually the sheer weight of the barrage will produce movement in their direction. There’s little evidence that these prejudices are true. But the campaigns are like World War I generals. If something isn’t working, the answer must be to try more of it.

Eighth, technology is making campaigns dumber. BlackBerrys and iPhones mean that campaigns can respond to their opponents minute by minute and hour by hour. The campaigns get lost in tit-for-tat minutiae that nobody outside the bubble cares about. Meanwhile, use of the Internet means that Web videos overshadow candidate speeches and appearances. Video replaces verbal. Tactics eclipse vision.

Finally, dishonesty numbs. A few years ago, newspapers and nonprofits set up fact-checking squads, rating campaign statements with Pinocchios and such. The hope was that if nonpartisan outfits exposed campaign deception, the campaigns would be too ashamed to lie so much.

This hope was naïve. As John Dickerson of Slate has said, the campaigns want the Pinocchios. They want to show how tough they are. But the result is a credibility vacuum. It’s impossible to take ads seriously. They are the jackhammer noise in the background of life.

This is the paradox. As campaigns get more sophisticated, everything begins to look more homogenized, less effective and indescribably soporific.


A gaffe a day keeps substance away

By Ruth Marcus, Published: July 31

The 2012 presidential campaign has become a festival of gaffe-hopping.
The candidates skitter along on the surface of politics, issuing vague pronouncements or taking predictable shots at each other. But these seem like increasingly brief interludes, mere campaign busywork as each side awaits and — abetted by an attention-deficit-disordered media — pounces on the opponents’ next gaffe.

Or supposed gaffe. The 2012 campaign has witnessed the full flowering of the faux gaffe, in which a candidate is skewered, generally out of context, for saying something that he clearly did not mean but that the other side finds immensely useful to misrepresent.

Mitt Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” and “I’m not concerned about the very poor” fall into this category. So do Barack Obama’s “the private sector is doing fine” and “you didn’t build that.”

It would be dreamily naive to moan that politics, once about high-minded ideas and detailed policy platforms, has now deteriorated into gaffe-sploitation.

Candidates’ missteps have always mattered; e.g., George Romney on his Vietnam brainwashing or Gerald Ford’s debate flub denying any Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. And some alleged gaffes — Vice President Al Gore supposedly asserting that he invented the Internet or discovered Love Canal, for example — have always had a questionable provenance.

Indeed, it was almost 30 years ago that columnist Michael Kinsley wrote that “the ‘gaffe’ is now the principal dynamic mechanism of American politics.”

Prompted by a now-obscure Gary Hart gaffe (the candidate dissed New Jersey and proceeded to lose its primary), Kinsley wrote that “journalists record each new gaffe, weigh it on their Gaffability Index (‘major gaffe,’ ‘gaffe,’ ‘minor gaffe,’ ‘possible gaffe’. . .), and move the players forward or backward on the game board accordingly.”

But the 2012 campaign, more than any I can recall, feels like all gaffe all the time. The curve for what counts as a gaffe has been dramatically lowered. Meanwhile, attention to the most minor of gaffes has been enhanced to deafening levels, drowning out, or at least taking the place of, other discussion.

There are several interlocking explanations for this development:

  • The 24/7 news cycle and the constant need for fresh nuggets of supposed news to toss out.
  • The ubiquity and intrusiveness of technology — cell phones and cameras yielding multiple “Macaca” moments — combined with the hyper-connected capacity for instantaneous dissemination.
  • Intellectual laziness (how much easier to critique a candidate’s gaffe than to dissect his tax plan) on the part of the press corps.
  • Policy voids (wait, these candidates don’t actually have tax plans!) on the part of the campaigns.
  • Should gaffes matter? Do they? Yes, but with reservations. Gaffes can expose candidates’ factual ignorance or intellectual shortcomings (see you later, Rick Perry and Herman Cain). Gaffes can reveal candidates’ characterological failures as well — a tendency to self-important puffery, undisciplined bloviating or politically convenient shape-shifting. Indeed, the more the gaffe, real or imagined, reinforces the preexisting image of the candidate, the greater damage it will inflict. Ask Dan Quayle about spelling “potatoe.”

    So there is a legitimate place for gaffe coverage — in perspective. Take Romney’s not-so-excellent European vacation. His mildly derisive comment about preparations for the London Olympics was dumb, even if it fit the classic Kinsleyian definition of gaffe as a politician saying something truthful in public. But unless the United Kingdom has previously unknown electoral votes, this episode seems destined to be much-noted but not long remembered.

    Add in Romney’s Israel comments, though — thatIsraeli “culture” may help explain differences in “economic vitality” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — and you do have to wonder about Romney’s consistent ham-handedness. How many foreign leaders can you annoy on one trip? Imagine what Republicans would have done if Obama had been similarly clumsy in the course of his foreign trip during the 2008 campaign.

    So I’m not against gaffe coverage — I’m against covering only gaffes, which is where campaign reporting seems to be trending. I’m not against politicians’ seizing on opponents’ gaffes — I’m against politicians who believe, or act as if they believe, that this tactic can substitute for substantive campaign discussion.

    There is a dangerous mismatch between the seriousness of the moment and this too-often-dominant form of political discourse. Americans like to think we choose presidents on the basis of who has the best vision for leading the country. We are at risk of electing the candidate least apt to make a clumsy remark.


    Obama’s Mansfield misstep shows hypocrisy of both parties
    Sunday August 5, 2012 6:35 AM

    Pity President Barack Obama: He went into Mansfield on Wednesday expecting applause and support from the heartland and figuratively stepped in a pasture covered with cow patties.

    The president’s mistake: Flying into Mansfield’s Lahm Airport while forgetting that his budget proposal had suggested eliminating 800 jobs at the Air National Guard base there.

    So much for being job-creator-in-chief. And so much for the president’s campaign staffers doing their homework.

    Still, the actual rally in Mansfield was successful; Obama eviscerated rival Mitt Romney’s rich-favoring tax plan before 2,000 cheering supporters at a Downtown park.

    But the irony surrounding the event was mentioned in virtually every news report.

    The budget Obama proposed in February would terminate the C27-J fleet at the Mansfield base. The administration concluded that the much-larger C-130 could better perform all the missions of the C27-J. So, if there was no need for the C27-J, it was assumed there would be no need for the 179 {+t}{+h} Airlift Wing and the its 800 Guard jobs.

    When Republicans saw the Mansfield event on the president’s campaign schedule, they set the trap. Chief among them was the staff of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Romney’s potential running mate. First, the operatives notified ABC News reporter Ann Compton that Obama was about to fly into trouble.

    At a White House briefing Tuesday, Compton asked presidential spokesman Jay Carney about the fate of the C27-J’s and the 800 jobs. It was obvious Carney had no idea what she was talking about.

    Hours later, administration spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm tried to navigate the president through the patty-laden field by insisting that there was never a plan to close the Mansfield base. Not to worry, she said, “another mission” would be found for the 179 {+t}{+h} — no matter that the administration seemed to have no idea what that mission might be in the face of billions of dollars in mandatory defense cuts next year.

    It had dawned on the White House that in Mansfield, local voters were not apt to react kindly to the loss of 800 more jobs. It’s a city pocked with empty storefronts. Its once-roaring General Motors plant is now rusting, and its 8.4 percent unemployment rate is more than a point higher than Ohio’s overall rate.

    Republicans were gleeful. “Punching someone in the stomach and then asking them for lunch money probably won’t go over well with people in Mansfield,” Ohio GOP Chairman Robert T. Bennett crowed.

    After Obama’s speech, Carol Liles, 65, a retired Mansfield school principal and Obama campaign neighborhood team leader, sat in the park, contemplated a tea party rally that had preceded the president’s rally and was repulsed by the Republicans’ hypocrisy.

    “They want to have it both ways,” she said.

    Indeed, here were the Republicans — Portman, Bennett, the tea partiers all under the same umbrella — who rail incessantly about big government and out-of-control government spending, whining because Obama had proposed saving millions of dollars by getting rid of a bunch of military aircraft that aren’t needed.

    It was the GOP-led House, after all, that led the standoff over the debt ceiling last year — the same standoff that led to the sweeping, mandatory budget cuts coming early next year. One economist predicted that those cuts, unless repealed by Congress, will cost the country 2.1 million jobs at a time when the economy is still sputtering. The very Republicans who squeal the loudest about the need to cut spending are ready to stomp on the brakes when that spending includes a Guard base in their backyard.

    Obama’s campaign visit to Mansfield spoke volumes about the shameless pandering punctuating this campaign. Leaders of both parties won’t acknowledge reality and tell the truth.

    If closing a small military airbase in Mansfield is so hard, how are we ever going to solve our nation’s crippling financial problems?

    Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.


    Romney’s tax plan makes no sense
    By Robert J. Samuelson, Published: August 8

    There seems to be a Democratic mole inside Mitt Romney’s campaign. Could it be Romney himself? Well, of course not. But considering the campaign’s behavior, it might just as well be. President Obama and his allies have cast Romney as a wealthy fat cat who’s out of touch with everyday Americans and who would use his presidency to enrich the already rich. To counter this damning image, the last thing you’d expect Romney to do is embrace a tax plan favoring the super-rich.

    Which is exactly what he has done.

    After examining Romney’s proposal, the nonpartisanTax Policy Center concluded that households with incomes exceeding $200,000 would receive tax cuts; meanwhile, taxes would rise for the other 95 percent of the population. Taxpayers making more than $1 million would receive an average cut of $87,000; those making less than $200,000 would pay an average of $500 more. Romney denies that he would raise taxes on the middle class but has provided no evidence that the Tax Policy Center’s analysis is wrong.

    What can he be thinking?

    It’s not just that the politics are poisonous. The economics don’t make sense, either. Many wealthy Americans already have lower-than-average tax rates, because their incomes derive heavily from (profits on the sale of stocks or other assets) and dividends. These are taxed at a preferential 15 percent rate. Remember the ruckus over Warren Buffett and his secretary? Although the wealthiest 5 percent still pay about 40 percent of federal taxes, it’s questionable whether further reducing their tax burden would bolster the economy.

    True, Romney’s basic approach is sound: lowering top rates and offsetting lost revenue by ending tax breaks. Romney would drop the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent and the lowest rate from 10 percent to 8 percent. This would improve incentives to work and invest. People would keep more of their last dollar of earnings. Reducing tax breaks would make the tax code less of a political candy store used to reward and penalize different groups and industries.

    Just which tax breaks would be reduced, Romney hasn’t said. But he has made two decisions benefiting high-income Americans. The first is to repeal the estate tax, which in 2009 applied to only 0.6 percent of adult deaths and raised $21 billion. The second is to retain tax preferences for capital gains and dividends, costing an estimated $85 billion in revenue in 2013. So the wealthy would gain both from lower rates on ordinary income (wages, salaries) and from tax preferences heavily skewed toward them. To keep the package revenue-neutral — raising the same amount as today’s system — would require deeper cuts in middle-class tax breaks.

    The political damage from this lopsided tax plan transcends its details. The central appeal of the Romney candidacy is that he would bring a competence to economic policy that would inspire the confidence needed to reinvigorate the recovery. The idea is to present a compelling contrast to Obama, whose low understanding of and meager sympathy for business seem plain and have arguably hobbled economic expansion.

    Romney’s tax plan calls into question his claimed superiority. The plan seems crafted mostly to satisfy Republican constituencies, which fervently support ending the estate tax and keeping capital gains rates low. The campaign has pointed to a study claiming that Romney’s plan would increase the economy’s output by 5 percent, $750 billion at today’s prices, after five years. The projection seems a stretch — just numbers generated by a computer model — but it’s also irrelevant because the plan would be dead on arrival in Congress.

    Under any circumstances, broadening the tax base by curbing popular breaks would be difficult. Huge constituencies benefit from the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable gifts. Other popular breaks include the income exclusion for employer-paid health insurance and tax credits for college tuition. To cut them so that taxes rise for the poorest 95 percent and fall for the richest 5 percent suggests a form of political suicide unappealing to elected officials.

    What’s curious is that, with a few courageous tweaks, Romney could have presented a more credible plan. In 1986, Ronald Reagan supported eliminating the preferential rate for capital gains, which then remained at 28 percent from 1987 to 1997. The economy did fine. Romney might have emulated Reagan by proposing a top tax rate of 30 percent and an end to the capital gains and dividend preferences.

    Indeed, these preferences may undermine the economy’s efficiency. Because low capital gains rates apply (illogically) to hedge fund and private-equity managers, we may have too many hedge and private-equity funds. If you subsidize something, you get more of it.

    So Romney might have struck a blow for fairness, efficiency, simplicity — and political independence. Instead, he’s made a gift to Obama.


    The Tale of Two Unelectable Candidates


    Romney has proven remarkably resistant to Obama’s negative attacks. While they are freezing the race in its current pattern, they are not eroding the Republican vote share. The GOP candidate needs to rebut these attacks by pointing to the good deeds he has done at Bain Capital, but the larger question is why aren’t the Obama negatives working better?

    I believe that they are poorly aimed. If you believe all the garbage about Romney that the Obama campaign is broadcasting, what do you have? You’ve got a candidate who only cares about the rich. You’d have to believe he’s hard-hearted and not conversant with the difficulties the average family faces.

    That’s not the real Mitt Romney. But neither is it a portrait of a candidate you can’t vote for. You don’t have to be warm and fuzzy to be a good president. You don’t have to feel the pain of every American. You’ve got just to be a competent, smart, energetic, activist who has the right answers for the economy. And there’s nothing in the Obama barrage that would disabuse anyone of that notion of Mitt Romney.

    Look at the negative campaigns that have worked at the presidential level. Each succeeded in depicting the target as a threat. Barry Goldwater, in 1964, came across as a man who might plunge the world into nuclear war. George McGovern, in 1972, was portrayed, successfully, as someone who would denude us of our military defenses. Walter Mondale, in 1984, was a man who would raise taxes to new heights. Mike Dukakis, in 1988, would release dangerous criminals back onto the streets where they might rape and kill again. John Kerry, in 2004, wasn’t up to protecting American in the war on terror. His concern for civil liberties and his weakness, the negative ads suggested, would make another 9-11 more likely.

    But what is the threat that Mitt Romney represents in the Obama ads? That he’ll give tax breaks to rich people? That he’ll salt away money in his off-shore accounts? There’s no threat there. No looming danger. No worst case scenario.

    Why not? Because Romney is too elusive a target to make him a threat. He’ll repeal Obamacare, but people want that. He’ll cut government spending but that will reduce the deficit and that’s popular. Obama can accuse him of gutting Medicare, but Romney has explicitly distanced himself from the intial Ryan Plan and embraced only the amended version that lets people keep their current Medicare if they wish.

    The price Obama has to pay for his dismal record is that he can’t win merely by painting his opponent as hard hearted and out of touch. His supposed hands-on understanding of the problems of America’s families hasn’t done them much good as unemployment continues and economic growth slows.

    Romney, on the other hand, has failed to transform his negative attacks on Obama’s record into personal shortcomings. It is not enough to say that Obama’s programs haven’t worked and that he has not kept his promises. You must then say that he is incompetent and hasn’t a clue about what to do. Romney needs to show that Obama is, indeed, an “amateur” as Bill Clinton allegedly called him, in over his head, with no solutions.

    Romney needs to ask what skills Obama brought to the job of saving the economy? He’s a lawyer, after all, and a community organizer after that. The failures of the Obama record need to become evidence of his incompetence for them to have their full effect.

    Oddly, even as both campaigns get more vicious, none is going for the jugular. Obama paints Romney as remote, cold, and out of touch, but not as a danger or a threat. Romney says Obama has bad ideas and ill conceived policies but he doesn’t go the next step and call his competence in economics into question.

    But Obama has a problem. Romney is really not a threat and Obama really is incompetent.

    Could Paul Ryan’s ideas help his struggling home town?


    Paul Ryan arrives at a campaign event at Miami University, Aug. 15

    The Paul Ryan I knew

    Ian Golub, Miami ’92 was a Delta Tau Delta fraternity brother and roommate of Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican named this month as Mitt Romney’s running mate.

    A former Wyoming resident, Golub now lives in the Washington DC area, where he is a principal at JG Realty. He describes his politics as “dead center,” and has voted for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

    Congressman Paul Ryan, or Paul, or PD, as he was known in college, was my roommate and fraternity brother and close friend.

    It’s true that Paul was always passionate about politics. During college, he woke up way too early on the weekends, made his coffee, and headed to the common TV room of the fraternity house to watch the political talk shows. If he was lucky, he might get in an hour or two of viewing before enough of the fraternity brothers woke up. As we assembled after breakfast in the TV room, Paul would try to convince us that Robert Novak’s opinion on Lebanon was important to all of us, but as you might imagine, it was only a question of time before Novak and CNN Crossfire got the boot, usually replaced with Sports Center.

    Paul could be serious about politics, but he never took himself too seriously. That’s what I loved about him, and still love to this day. He has an amazing ability to find the funny, to bond with all types of people – even those who might perceive him as a threat. I’ve seen him break up a fight on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin that had nothing to do with him. He’d walk up to anyone and introduce himself at any time. He had – and still has – little inhibition, as if rejection was always a possibility, but not something to fear.

    But what I think I love about Paul most is his sincerity, bordering on corny at times, but always genuine. I remember driving with Paul back to his hometown of Janesville during our sophomore year of college. He was as excited as I’ve ever seen him.

    I thought our trip would end upon reaching his house, but that was the beginning of a three-hour tour of Janesville. We dropped by Paul’s high school, saw the gymnasium, visited some teachers, saw the soccer field, his elementary school, drove past the Ford factory, then into town, and finally finished up with a long stop at a hunting surplus store. Our tour could have been cut in half, if every few minutes he hadn’t stopped the car to take in the view, shake his head, and say, “Man, isn’t this pretty country.” Places, people, his home, his family, even the land hold great value and meaning for Paul. What I found, driving with him through Janesville was that pretty soon he had me seeing the gray fields and dense pines the way he did, and seeing him, also, in a way I never had back at college.

    In recent days I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I thought Paul could be Vice President someday. To be honest, it wasn’t something I really gave much thought, but I do remember a day toward the very end of college when Paul was preparing a speech that he was going to deliver as a final project for some economics class. He wanted to practice it for an audience. That day the audience consisted of me and another fraternity brother (Petsch, Aves, Sabs, Mitch?) who happened to be hanging out in our room listening to the stereo (the pre-iPod years).

    I can’t remember what Paul’s speech was about, but I remember him caring a lot about the speech, which surprised me because this was the last semester of our senior year and for all intents and purposes these final projects were meaningless. Paul had already nabbed a job working in DC, and I recall being a little bothered to have to turn off whatever song we were listening to at the time.

    After he had finished, he asked what we thought. “It was good,” I said, but what I was really thinking was that something about this guy had changed since I met him four years before.

    He had finally figured it out, what the future held for him and where his passions could best be utilized – politics, oratory, and influencing people.

    I also realized I wasn’t quite as lucky, not nearly as confident in my future. I almost said something along these lines to him, because he was always someone I could trust. But we were twenty-two and didn’t dwell on that type of thinking for more than a few seconds. “Is that it?” I asked.

    He nodded.

    “Great,” I said. “Can we turn the radio back on already?”


    About Jerry Frey

    Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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