Sunday, May 20, 2012

Political update for May, 2012

Not that this is facebook, but I’m been busy lately and thus have only written this slowly over two weeks. During that time, some newspapers,  have actually jumped in and written about some of the same topics. I hate that.

Five things Romney should keep in mind about the 2012 Election

It’s no secret I prefer Romney to Obama, regardless of my many reservations about him. So, although it is possible that I will vote third party (but not if Virginia is as close as some political scientists now think it will be), particularly if Romney ends up trying too  hard to please partisans on his own side. But, for the meantime -

5. Why gays matter

Raise your hand if you thought gay marriage would be a big issue in this election. Not me. I hope it’s not one because really, can’t we all get along?  Most likely the economy will eventually trump it, unless a miracle happens (Greece discovers oil at the base of the Parthenon, France’s socialist PM converts to capitalism and facebook’s initial offering sets off a 2,000 point rise in the market). But, certainly those who are among the most passionate partisans on both sides are very focused on gay right now, and it’s a topic I think there is a lot to talk about.  

First thing to know, both sides (and by “sides,” I really mean, the more partisan among them) are, as usual, not only sure they are right, but that it will help them in the election. Those two things often go together. When we believe something, we tend to think that other people will believe the same thing (I believe it - I am reasonable -If other people are reasonable they will believe it too.) I can’t say that this works for me that much, as I spend too much time being told I’m crazy or just wrong my whole life to think others believe as I do. But, in this case, I have always supported what are usually called gay rights – first, decriminalization, lately the right to serve openly in the military, and slowly, the right to associate in the same type of consensual legal coupling as heterosexuals. In my opinion, debating the issue as part of the presidential debate will hurt Romney more than Obama.

Right now, some polls show that those favoring gay marriage may enjoy a slight majority in the population. But, when it has come to an actual vote of the citizens in various states over the last few years, it is – this is the number I hear - 31 to nothing against them. However, the vote this time is for president, and the gay issue is only one factor in it. Still, it is more likely the issue will hurt Romney than Obama.

The reason is that not only that the trend is towards pro-gay marriage but that independents are right there in the middle of the trend, as I will show below. In just a matter of years, support for gay marriage has risen dramatically. There is no reason to believe that this trend will change. That’s because there will always be more young people reaching ages when they will be thinking about the issue. The polls also tell us they are more tolerant of gay rights than their elders. Older people, more likely to be opposed to gay marriage, will get older, drop out of the political debate and eventually die. Of course, it is not going to change all that much in less than a year, but the fact of the election could spur more attention on it. Plus, it is hard to conceive of things that might happen that might make more anti-gay rights people. Either they believe as they do or they don’t. But, a single attack on a gay person, or a gay person who couldn’t visit his loved one in the hospital, etc., might result in some more sympathy for gays. It is speculative, of course, but I raise it as the more likely possibility.

Here’s some stats from a recent Pew poll showing that both Democrats' and independents' support for legalized same-sex marriage increased this past year by 13 and 10 points, respectively. Those are pretty big numbers. According to the poll, 69% of Democrats now support gay marriage and 59% of independents (only 28% for Republicans, which has not changed in a year). 59% is actually a fairly big margin in a country which is so often split down the middle. There are even better numbers for gays when they measure ideologies -  moderates, liberals and conservatives.

The unfortunate incident that came to light recently about Romney bullying a closeted gay student in high school will probably not have legs, as most people who aren’t already dead set against him will probably agree that it is unfair to characterize a 65 year old man with a known history for what he did as a teenager (always exceptions). It shouldn’t be considered when voting for president.  

But, it also needs to be said that there was something about the incident that left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouth and it is hard to say whether, in a close state, even an unconscious feeling about it might have an effect. Those who claim that it was mere hazing and not a big deal are probably as biased for Romney as those who think it should matter a lot. Having a gang of kids hold someone down, gay or not, and cutting his hair, goes way beyond hazing for a high school student. Almost anyone not emotionally dead would have been enraged and humiliated if it happened to them or to someone they knew.   Clearly Romney’s childhood friends who took part in it feel traumatized by it to some degree.

Romney certainly could have handled the revelation much better, but he was probably not prepared for it and a weak apology with a semi-admission was the best he could think of at the moment. It is not credible to me that he does not recall the incident as he claims. Nor is it palatable to dismiss it as a prank. If it comes up in a debate or in an interview, the better strategy – and I am not pretending this will be anything but that – is for him to say that after a lot of reflection he does remember it, that it was him at his worst, that he was a bully and to whole-heartedly show remorse. It is not easy to have pretensions of religious piety if you cannot admit your faults. But, people like it when you admit your faults and it is very hard to attack you if you do.

You might fairly ask – what about all the negative things about Obama’s youth, like his past associations, drug use, and so on? Well, not all politicians are equal. Obama is just better at this than Romney, just as Bush was better at it than Gore, and Romney still comes off stiffly and disingenuously in a lot of people’s minds – including conservative minds. Plus, it is not a debate that the large majority in the media are on Obama’s side. It is alright for Romney’s side to complain about it in the right forums, but it is not going to turn the tide any more than Gingrich’s abrasive assault on the media helped him in debates outside of some conservatives.

But, to get back to the gay issue, Romney gets it and would like to discuss gay issues as little as possible. He can’t flip flop on it himself as it will trigger the narrative about him that he is a flip-flopper (although, I believe Obama is much more so). Romney’s instincts are right. He should tread as light as possible on the issue regardless of how hard the anti-gay crowd wants him to go for it. Obama has correctly stated that it is a state issue, and plainly it is. What is good for the goose . . . .

4. Calling names is not going to help Romney.

Karl Rove was someone I had a lot of questions about when he was a partisan campaign manager and then policy guru in the White House for Bush. I did not believe that he was behind the Robo-calls against John McCain in South Carolina in which the caller spoke about McCain having a black child (he and his wife adopted Pakistani handicapped child) because, as he himself said – they’d have to be idiots to try that and then hope it didn’t get out who was behind it. But, I just don’t like partisans much and he was very partisan. Yet, since he has been a commentator, he seems to me one of, if not the most informed guy in terms of research, history and strategy that I’ve listened to so far on television. Recently, he was on a panel at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC with Joe Trippi (Dean’s 2004 and then Edward’s 2008 campaigns and many others before that) talking about the election, and at least in my mind, he blew Trippi’s doors off in the discussion – and I don’t mean about policy or ideology at all. I mean in terms of political knowledge and strategy. It got to the point that everyone – even the moderator and the audience - were laughing about the obvious difference.

One of the questioners asked Rove and Trippi a loaded question, saying how Obama had been going against Romney not just on policy matters, but personally, and shouldn’t Romney go after him to show people just who he is – and then he politely characterized him as a European Socialist who doesn’t think like other Americans (and indicating by non-verbal signals he meant something worse).

Rove responded – “No.” He explained that Romney better not make that mistake. People generally like the president, he explained. They may be terribly disappointed in what he did once he was in office and they are concerned about the economy and policy matters. Romney should stay away from the policy stuff as much as possible. I agree whole-heartedly. As I’ve said over and over to people. This is not mainly a fight over women. It’s not so much a fight over Hispanics or blacks or religious people. It’s a fight over two things – 1) first, three states – Florida, Virginia and Ohio. Second, independents. If either party isn’t studying independents, they are out of their partisan minds. They will decide, more than any other group, who will win the election. And independents generally don’t like personal attacks.

The following attacks should be avoided at all costs, however much your strongest supporters like it. That Obama is (a):






Un-American or American hater

A bad Christian

Racist (although he can point out where his policies are racist)


After I wrote this section but before I published I saw to articles in the Washington Post that Romney know it already. One was his criticism of an ad linking Wright and Obama and the second was an article about how Romney’s allies on the right keep steering him off course from the economy where he wants to be. So, he doesn’t have to read this now. The problem is that even those who are emerged in politics are not able, without a lot of effort, to differentiate from Romney’s campaign and those of supporters. I think he would like to differentiate himself from Obama’s attack campaign in this fashion, but it is probably not going to work.

Many people who are what I would call reluctant supporters of Romney, such as Sean Hannity, are going to make this tough. I sometimes listen to Hannity, who is very popular and I think a trend setter on the right, and he has a campaign to “vet” Obama as he was not vetted the first time. Hannity’s fans love this, of course, but it is really all stuff that was heard the first time and didn’t do anything to help McCain. I had actually thought the Reverend Wright stuff was going to have legs because he is a racist and angry looney tune and Obama did sit in the audience for 20 years looking at it - but I was plain wrong.

Nevertheless, the bare bones memo to Romney – the gutter is not going to work.

3. Stop talking about what you don’t know – and you don’t know foreign policy.

One of the standards hobgoblins of political thought is that - whoever disagrees with me about anything, is presumed to disagree with me about everything. Again, because I believe that independents are critical this election (as they were the last one), both sides must, if they are wise, forget about rallying those who are going to vote for them no matter what, and concentrate on those whose votes are up for grabs.

I watched an interview with Romney’s campaign manager on CNN not long ago, and Wolf Blitzer was pretty fair in pointing out that both candidates had pretty much the same view on Afghanistan – and neither is in accord with the majority of Americans. Instead of agreeing with him and perhaps admitting the differences are small, so that they could move on to another issue, he tried to make mountains out of the molehill that Romney doesn’t approve of giving public timelines for when we are going to leave (me either – at least, it should be a military secret). But, this was such a small difference, it just made him, and therefore Romney, look petty and like they had nothing to really say.

There are things that I can’t agree with Obama about on his foreign policy. In the beginning there is what was termed “the apology tour,” including the speech in Cairo that made me cringe. But, so many of the assaults on him about foreign policy are not only wrong, they are bogus.

Last night I watched on C-Span one of Bush’s ambassador to NATO, who seemed to have nothing but praise for the way Obama has dealt with NATO issues, with Russia, and particularly with Iran. I said Bush’s ambassador, not Obama’s. Criticism of Obama on Israel is especially bogus. While Obama is certainly not the best friend Israel ever had, he pretty much takes the same positions that most American presidents have taken on Israel since it became independent. I will except the billion (or whatever it was) we gave to Gaza after their last war with Israel. It didn’t work. It didn’t make Hamas like us more or be more open to peace with Israel. But, I keep reminding conservatives I know that Reagan – supposedly Israel’s great friend, actually had his U.N. ambassador vote to condemn Israel. I can’t get one of them to even acknowledge that as a fact. And, actually, he had other run-ins with Israel as did Bush I, II and Clinton. Bush II was the first one to say in public that there had to be a two state solution. Not Obama. And he did it on the recommendation of Saudi Arabia (revealed by Bob Woodward and not denied by the Bushies).

Romney himself looks rather wild when it comes to foreign affairs, almost childish. He has basically declared Russia public enemy no. 1. This is just crazy. Despite a number of problems with Russia, we are actually on the same page with them on a lot of issues, including to a large degree, Iran, terrorism and even – get this – the Afghan War, which they are helping us with by giving us access. They give our astronauts rides to the space station because we can’t get there ourselves anymore. Romney has also stated that he intends to go nose to nose with China on currency matters as soon as he gets into office. I don’t mind him criticizing China – particularly on human rights, but his talk is so obviously going to exceed his walk if he is elected, given the way China and we now co-exist financially, it makes him seem especially ignorant if not dopey about the reality of modern trade.

Romney’s a smart guy. He can learn this stuff, just as Obama did. But, it is going to take a while.

My advice, lay off of foreign policy until you really know your stuff. And maybe think about getting a new foreign affairs advisor soon. You have to be ready for debates where you will be judged very broadly on any gaffe, but also on whether you look like you are just tying to show a difference between the two of you, which really doesn’t exist.

2. Go where he’s vulnerable – economic and other domestic matters

I saw an anti-Obama ad the other day that was, I thought, very effective. It played recordings of Obama blasting Wall Street, and then showed example after example of his actually being tied to Wall Street through his appointments and also campaign contributions. The ad named names, and their affiliation with both Obama and Wall Street. It was short, to the point, repetitious enough without being deadening, did not include that black and white, deep voiced narration doomsday type material that many attacks ads do, or end with something like – “Tell Obama to stop . . .” or variation on that which would cause me and many others to hit the mute button.

Neither side is going to stop taking Wall Street money (which, considering how much money the government gives Wall Street – is actually our money – but, it is hypocritical for Obama to bash Wall Street as “fat cats” on The View, while taking records amounts of contributions from them.

Here’s a list of stuff that are good topics for the Romney team to cover:

- Weakest on the list is Obama’s going to war against Libya without congressional approval after earlier stating that he believed it was unconstitutional for a president to believe this way. Because of the antipathy for Qaddafi and the success of the war (and no American deaths), this will be hard to sell. Plus, Romney will probably want to abuse the Constitution in the same way, and congress will let him, just as they let Obama.

- Refusing to take public financing after promising he would. This was the first outright lie told by Obama. It dates back to the campaign, but was the first indication that there would be no rules for him he would not break with a smile.

- The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which, even if held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court before the election, is still probably the worst case of public sausage making we’ve ever seen, including what in any other forum would have been considered outright bribery.

- The Justice Department may actually be worse than it was under Bush’s friend, Gonzales. The Civil Rights Department has been attacked from within by its own employees as being hopelessly racist in favor of blacks. The Fast and Furious scandal has been pretty much ignored, although even the conventional media has shown that not only was selling American guns to Mexican gangs was a horrible idea, that the Justice Department wanted it to be used to support gun legislation in America. As is well known, these guns were found at the scene of the murder of U.S. agents and have been used in multiple crimes by drug dealers. I can’t say for now whether I agree that Holder has lied to congress or been involved in Stonewalling, as I have not studied it myself, but this is a big deal, and I don’t think can be swept under the rug.

- The Stimulus and the attempt at a second stimulus. Nothing the administration said or promised turned out to be true about the wisdom of these huge government giveaways which ended up creating a few jobs at the rate of millions of dollars in spending per job created.

- Bailouts. These are very unpopular even where they show an eventual favorable return to the government. But, Romney must do a better job showing how it should work – with bankruptcy allowing other groups to step in and do a better job.

- Explaining how Obama’s desire to raise taxes on the wealthy will eventually fall on the poor and middle class, even when made against others – people will get it eventually although it is a difficult task.

- Like Reagan, Romney is going to have to make it clear that he is not going to take away entitlement programs despite their unpopularity on the right. But, this is a very broad field to talk about how to save the systems by cutting back.

- Romney must practice, practice, practice talking about in the simplest terms that every time Obama or one of his spokes persons talks about “fairness,” what they really mean is taking from Peter to pay Paul, or creating greater debt, or picking a winner and a loser. In the same breath, he must make a basic case for capitalism as opposed to socialism. It cannot be credibly said that we are not, in part, a socialistic system. We have been for a hundred years. But, left to run amock, it will be the undoing of our entire financial system. No credible person denies that, while our government continue on that path.

If Romney cannot sell independents on the basic tenets of capitalism and that Obama believes a much greater degree of socialism than I think most Americans want, he will probably lose. As I indicated above, the argument must be made on a higher plain than calling names. But, I do think it can be done. This is why Romney was selected. His supporters believe he can do it.

1) Getting along with strange bedfellows

Of course, he can’t explain it if he is spending all his time on the side issues we’ve been discussing above. Just as I believed when Obama took office that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would be his biggest problems, so I believe that Romney’s biggest problem may be the Tea Party movement and social conservatives.

No right wingers will be as important to Romney as Tea Partiers, who are organized and still powerful, despite having taken a terrible beating in their popularity in the past year. We all know from our own Whigs, not to mention the Nazis, how a motivated minority political group can move mountains, particularly if those opposing them do not have the will or cohesiveness to counter them. Romney is not a tea partier himself, but he has done his best to align himself with them as much as possible without joining them. At an early debate he kind of shilly-shallied through a question from Brian Williams about it to say that they believe in a lot of the same things, and if they are “for keeping government small and spending down, and helping us create jobs, then, hey, I'm for the tea party."

Fair enough. Aligning himself with them so as to not make himself a target and possibly get their support when he won the nomination, but not being one himself to distance himself from some tea partiers beliefs (like the whole birther thingee), he tried to have the best of both worlds. If that doesn’t describe Romney to a «t,» I don’t know what does.

But, let’s face it. What he was also saying sub rosa was – but it means the whole Obama is an American hating Muslim born in Kenya who is secretly trying to sabotage us – then I’m not for the tea party.

The Tea Party is about as mixed a bag as you can get for him. They have no choice but to prefer him over Obama, but their lukewarm enthusiasm for him will not do him much good either. Unfortunately for Romney, his chance comes at a time when tea parties are very unpopular.

According to Pew, just as support for gay marriage has gone up in the past year or so, support for Tea Party movement has become more unpopular. Six months ago, Pew surveyed feelings about them. And, they showed a complete reversal from just a year earlier.  

Worse for the movement, the survey also shows that even in “Tea Party” districts, they are barely more popular than unpopular. A New York Times/CBS survey in August, 2011 showed the Tea Party to be more unpopular than Muslims and Atheists – and those were the gold standards for unpopular.

A much more recent poll from last month by Langer Research Associates (for ABC) showed that interest in learning about the Tea Party had also dropped significantly since 2010.

You can argue, if you like, that all these polls are biased, or wrong. But, I can’t find any showing more popularity or more interest in the Tea Party.

I predicted in 2010 that the Tea Party movement would eventually fail as members elected to government would be coerced and seduced into getting into line with more traditional Republicans who still control congress. That may prove out, but, there is a chance for a resurrection. That would involve though something they are not good at – moderation. If you listen to the professional Tea Party leaders who have not faded away – say a Jim DeMint or Dick Armey, it is all about the money. That’s why people liked the Tea Party in the first place. If, however, you listen to some of the amateurs who gave the Tea Party its ballot box clout in ’09 and ’10, and the army of followers commenting online or visible at rallies, it was too often about other things.

For Romney, the question is – can he stop being such a chameleon trying to please every group he speaks before, and instead try and be a leader of people who want someone they can believe in. There is a reason Republicans ultimately rejected Santorum and Gingrich and Perry and Cain (well, other reasons there) and Bachmann. They were talking about other things which dripped with religious or cultural issues which aren’t important to most of them and you stuck to your theme - the economy.

This is, as he knows, his only chance. If he can’t find a way to galvanize the religious right and Tea Partiers support, without reservation, the way Ronald Reagan and Bush II were able to, he is going to be listed next to John McCain in the 2013 almanac. It’s probably going to take a lot of personal meetings where you ask them to step back from issues they want to talk about and talk only about the issues you want to talk about.

Romney's good at outwaiting people. And, he's shown he can take a hit and come back and get on message. Very disciplined. But, if he can’t manage to reign in his passionate friends, he is not the leader he thinks he is and he's not going to win.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .