Saturday, October 06, 2012


President Obama's response to his debate performance was immediate.  At his first campaign rallies he was energized, focused, commanding, funny and incisive.  He attacked Romney for his manifest lies, and for his many contradictions. 

And the crowds were there for him.  12,000 in Denver, and 30,000 in Madison, Wisconsin.  Preliminary fundraising numbers suggest that the Obama campaign brought in more than $150 million in September, a record for this campaign by anyone.  Update: The final figures for Sept. indicate $181 million.  Also in September, the Obama campaign passed 10 million total donors in 2012.

The news cycles since Wednesday changed topics rapidly.  At first the Romney debate win.  Then pretty quickly, the Romney lies.  He lied about his tax plan.  He lied about the number of green companies that got federal support and went under (he said half.  It's less than 1%.)  He lied about how wonderfully bipartisan he was as gov of MA.  Above all he lied about what his own healthcare plan provides.  It does not in any way stop insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.  Paul Krugman called it a sick joke.

But what seems to be lasting from the debate was a single line by Romney that he probably meant as a sop to conservatives (who were otherwise getting shafted by his apparent etch-a-sketch position changes) and a mild attempt to show himself as a tough administrator: he vowed to not only end Obamacare, but to shut down PBS.  He specifically mentioned Big Bird.

The debate got a huge audience and a record number of tweets--more on Big Bird than any other moment.  And that's what has lasted.  Not only in the outrage of people like LeVar Burton that Romney would target programs that help children learn to read for a miniscule savings in the federal budget, or even by frightening children themselves, but by providing President Obama with a very effective campaign riff.  Romney refuses to reign in Wall Street, he said, but he wants to destroy Sesame Street.

Then came the big news of the September jobs report on Friday.  It would be big news only if it were very bad or very good.  It was very good.  The unemployment rate went from 8.1 to 7.8, which is the big headline.  But the report also shows that the economy was growing faster during the summer than previous reports suggested, as new jobs totals for the previous two months were revised sharply upward.

This good news for the American economy was greeted by Republicans with denial, and with suggestions that the Obama administration had fixed the numbers--precisely the most damaging response they could make, because it showed that they found an improving American economy disappointing--they would rather than more people unemployed.

But then this is fairly typical of how GOPers blow their victories with arrogance.  Their response the day after the debate was not to praise Romney but to deride the President in obviously racist terms.  Romney campaign co-chair Sununu said it showed that Obama is "lazy" among other slurs.

Meanwhile, in his effort to turn his aggressive debate perform into working class votes, Mitt Romney spoke again in coal country, on the day that more came out about his coal company appearance in August--not only were miners forced to attend his speech during their shift but without pay, they are coerced into contributing to Romney's campaign.  This story might not make waves in the national press, but I can guarantee that every worker in Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. who hears about it won't like it one bit.

Speaking of Ohio, another victory there against voter suppression: a federal court required that Ohio restore its final weekend early voting for all its citizens.   The Ohio GOPer state government responded as PA's has done, by dragging its feet in implementation.  But the fact remains that the courts have restored all the voting rights in Ohio the GOPers tried to take away.

As for the permanent damage of the first debate, the jury is out and will be for at least a week.  The first polls that take the debate into consideration don't show much if any damage to Obama, though Romney may have gotten a boost.  Ordinarily, the first polls out next week would say more.  But now with the jobs report changing the narrative already, it's not clear how long Romney's gains, if any, would hold.  But if next week's polls show President Obama maintaining a clear lead, it probably shows what many professionals suggested even before the debate: they don't move the numbers all that much.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Happy Liar

Update: In his column titled "Romney's Successful Debate Plan: Lying" Jonathan Chiat noted: "Romney won the debate in no small part because he adopted a policy of simply lying about his policies. Probably the best way to understand Obama’s listless performance is that he was prepared to debate the claims Romney has been making for the entire campaign, and Romney switched up and started making different and utterly bogus ones."

First Read adds: "If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate."

The media consensus is that Mitt Romney decisively won the first presidential debate on style points and that President Obama lost it.  That's going to drive a real frenzy of coverage over the next few days.  Perhaps it will even overwhelm the fact-checking, which will show that time after time, Romney brazenly and breezily lied--about his own proposals and about the President's. 

Within the debate's first minutes, Romney lied about his signature tax proposal, to cut taxes for the wealthy.  It was only the first of a number of etch-a-sketch moments, running away from his rabid right proposals and blithely and aggressively selling deceptions.  Unfortunately, too many of his worst lies, especially about President Obama's proposals and record, went unanswered.

But even the insta-poll showing that viewers overwhelmingly named Romney the winner also showed that his favorables did not increase, and that President Obama was rated even higher on caring about people's needs and problems.  While the clear consensus was that Romney won, there was no consensus on its effect on the race. 

It was disappointing because President Obama might have put Romney away for good with a sharp performance tonight.  It will take longer for Romney's lies to be exposed.  So now we know this race is likely to get more intense.  And we know how persuasive a liar Romney can be-- a more dangerous man than we thought.

Though it was a consensus judgment, it wasn't unanimous.  Some professional viewers just thought it was pretty boring.   Leading that chorus was Andy Borowitz:

DENVER (The Borowitz Report)—Millions of Americans lost consciousness on Wednesday night between the hours of 9 and 10:30 P.M. E.T., according to widespread anecdotal reports from coast to coast.

The sudden epidemic of sleepiness prevented voters from watching more than a minute or two of the first Presidential debate between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, which the few observers who remained awake have called the most tedious in American history.

The Long Game

The first 2012 presidential debate begins in under an hour. Some of the people (or all of the people some of the time) will watch for the information on policy, some will be eager for "moments," their twitter-fingers twitching. But probably for most it's the general impression, based a little on everything (when they switch back from the ball game), that becomes most meaningful.

Because there are lots of deciders and decisions: who do I vote for? Do I vote at all? Am I confident in who I am voting for? Am I voting for the winner? Etc. It should remind us that it's more than a game. There were people waking up today realizing that their Medicaid protection, should they need it, might be gone if Romney prevails.

But yes, this is now a ritual. But it's 90 minutes of unscripted ritual, in which parts may be scripted but the whole is not. Improv.

I believe President Obama sees this as an opportunity to communicate with the American people on what he has done and what he plans to do as President.  He plays a long game, and he's more than suggested that he will be using whatever means become available to communicate and generate public support in his second term for the policies he pursues.  Of course he knows that he must deal with getting reelected, but he knows that contrasting his agenda and his understanding of the realities the country faces with Romney's is also a way of clarifying and communicating what he wants to accomplish.  He'll have an audience, and that process begins tonight.  

Debate Prep

Tons of ultimately meaningless crud has been said and written about tonight's presidential debate.  Stats and quotes from past debates (tell us nothing.  We're in Twitterverse now.  It's all up for grabs.)  Lots of unsolicited advice about what each candidate must do/should do (the most clueless of which seems to be coming from Romney's advisers, but then they're auditioning for their next job.)

A new NBC poll shows again how damaging the 47% remarks are to Romney, and everything is now being measured against them--his proposals, his taxes, his every word.  But that poll also shows that less than half of registered voters claim that the debates will have much to do with how they vote.

There are three aspects to the debates: the facts and policies the candidates talk about, the moments that get seized upon and go viral, and the overall impression that potential voters come away with.  Only the last factor really matters, and they are dependent at least a bit more on the first than the second (although seasoned pols agree that general demeanor as conveyed by the cameras counts a lot.)  Like Romney's 47% riff, a memorable moment usually feeds and supports an existing narrative or sums up a performance, though in rare cases it's a surprise, one way or another.

But there I go, adding to the noise.  Romney is going to have trouble getting away with his fact-challenged statements--he's got two people on stage that aren't going to let too many of them go by.  And he does have a problem with facts, not only his blatant lies, but his grasp of them.

Take for example his statement on the temporary ban on deporting children of illegal immigrants that President Obama ordered.  His clumsy attempt to say, well, okay, me too, got it basically wrong. Lawrence Downes in the NY Times: "To the things we already knew or suspected about Mitt Romney and his views on immigration – that he is a hard-liner prone to pandering, a bearer of platitudes, seemingly allergic to clarity or specifics – we now must add a disturbing new possibility: that he has no idea what he is talking about."   Romney talked about visas, when visas aren't involved.  At all.

Romney will have to defend numbers which don't add up, especially on his tax cuts.  He will have to defend the GOP death to Medicare and Medicaid budget, as well as his own announced health care plan which--a study revealed Tuesday--increases the number of uninsured Americans to 72 million, which is millions more than now.  Jonathan Chiat says it succinctly, and you can bet President Obama will: "The largest and clearest point of distinction in the presidential race is universal access to health insurance. If President Obama wins reelection, his law to provide access to the uninsured will go forward. If Mitt Romney is elected, it will be gutted, and Medicaid — the bare-bones coverage plan for the most desperately poor and sick — will face enormous additional cuts."

But all that is about mere reality.  Bring on the atmospherics!  Because without them, Romney is doomed.  Said best (as usual) by Andy Borowitz:

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—With the first Presidential debate just two days away, G.O.P. nominee Mitt Romney has been working intensively on two skills that have eluded him throughout the campaign: talking and thinking.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Do the Vote

The most important single factor in the 2012 election is who will successfully vote.

The Obama campaign is concentrating on ground game in the swing states, and right now on early voting.  They're racking up impressive numbers in early voting but there are a lot of challenges ahead.  There's people getting complacent if they think Obama is a lock (which most people polled do.)  There's people who need to believe there is a major crisis or a messiah on the ballot in order to set their priorities to get themselves to a polling place (which in certain cities and states is actually the commitment of hours in line.)  So far the polls suggest the youth vote is just not fired up.  (Although this is comforting--Obama can do less well with college students and still meet his 08 totals.)

Then there's GOPer registration cheating, through the now discredited firm that has forced the RNC to cancel their registration drives in five swing states.  So some Dems can show up thinking they are registered when it fact their registration forms have been torn up because they checked the wrong party box.

And there's the people discouraged from even showing up, either by new GOPer voter suppression laws, or more and more, by the misinformation about the laws.  That remains a problem in the good news/bad news in the basically positive but deeply moronic court decision in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

The basic decision said that the voter suppression ID law would not be in effect for this year's election--that is, voters won't need the ID they couldn't get anyway.  But the judge inexplicably decided that election officials can still ask to see ID, even though they can't turn away anyone for not having one.  Plus the Commonwealth can still keep running TV ads telling people they need a certain kind of photo ID to vote, even though they don't. (No, this isn't the Andy Borowitz/Onion version.  This is the actual decision.)

So the question is--and in PA it won't be answered until election night--is all this confusion going to discourage people from voting?  Because much of President Obama's margin is located in areas where this could be the greatest problem--even his big polling lead may not be absolutely safe, if Dem turnout isn't heavy.

There is the theory that all the publicity and the on-the-ground activity concerning the voter suppression law has energized the Democratic base and the party apparatus, so turnout is going to be big.  The head of the PA Dems seems to think so--he sound angry, and sounds like other people are angry.  And why not?  This is a Reconstruction-style attack on their rights they can do something about.  They can do the vote. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Meanwhile, Back on Earth...

The U.S. political campaign is involving and expressive, and it is very definitely important.  Today's Rabid Right Republicans are wrecking the potential for this country--and hence a good part of the world--to address the challenges of the future.  A Romney victory would be catastrophic, especially at this moment.

But also at this moment we are witnessing the surreal spectacle of a contest for political leadership that studiously avoids the most important issue facing the country and the planet.  Referring to the latest--and scariest--studies of fast-melting Arctic ice and what that portends, the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert writes:

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this development. We are now seeing changes occur in a matter of years that, in the normal geological scheme of things, should take thousands, even millions of times longer than that. On the basis of the 2012 melt season, one of the world’s leading experts on the Arctic ice cap, Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, has predicted that the Arctic Ocean will be entirely ice-free in summer by 2016. Since open water absorbs sunlight, while ice tends to reflect it, this will accelerate global warming.  Meanwhile, recent research suggests that the melting of the Arctic ice cap will have, and indeed is probably already having, a profound effect on the U.S. and Europe, making extreme weather events much more likely...

Yet, as big as the almost certainly irreversible retreat of the sea ice will figure in the future of the planet, it has attracted relatively little attention in the here and now. A study released on Thursday by Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, found that over the last few months, Representative Paul Ryan’s fitness routine—he’s a big fan of what’s known as the P90X workout plan—has received three times as much television coverage as the ice loss."

Kolbert notes how little the climate crisis has been even mentioned in the presidential campaign.  Romney brought it up in his convention acceptance speech only to mock President Obama for believing in it, and President Obama gave a stern and definite but brief rejoinder in his acceptance speech.  And that's pretty much it so far.

I expect it will come up in the debates somehow, and it will be interesting to hear what's said about it, and what impact it might have.  But it seems that politicians will be the last to confront this onrushing reality.  In Kim Stanley Robinson's climate crisis trilogy, it takes Washington D.C. being flooded for lawmakers to demand action.  I'm not sure even that would be enough in today's Washington.

But the reality is going to be harder and harder to ignore.  As Rolling Stone notes, the math of catastrophe is so daunting that it can be overwhelming, which I'm sure is at least partly why as a society we won't face it.  I have high hopes for Obama's second term, especially given his determination to marshal public support for change.  (It's forgotten now, but that's how President Kennedy forced the Senate to ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.)  But as of right now, it's a sad, sad thing. 

Note that one scientist says the Arctic will be open in 2016.  That's the next presidential election.  Will anybody be able to ignore the climate crisis then? 

But I believe I've said that before.