Something About Truth and Power

Who: Bob Engelhart
What: "Who???", Hartford Courant
When: November 21, 2011

If you'll recall, W, in a typically moron Republican move, cut taxes without cutting spending and then waged two, count 'em, two wars. It happened on his watch, and don't forget it. The corporate bailouts happened on his watch, too. I know the GOP doesn't like us to remember that, but unlike their brain-dead elephant and constituents to match, we remember.


NASCAR: When Stupidity is Your Defense

One Lee Owens makes a point worth considering about why some idiotic NASCAR fans booed Michelle Obama and Jill Biden during a veterans-related appearance at the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway: "It is not racial," Owens explains. "Michelle Obama is scorned by Nascar fans because her husband is a job-killer socialist."

Now, the question here isn't whether or not NASCAR fans are racist. Rather, it is whether NASCAR fans are idiots.

And as it seems hard to reconcile the idea of Obama as a socialist in any context remotely connected to fact, Ms. Owens, the trodabumsoutgrl, seems to be asserting that yes, NASCAR fans are idiots.


Famous Last Words?

In June, I offered up for friends and associates an analysis of the Republican presidential field in the context of Newt Gingrich:

When Democrats compete to challenge an incumbent Republican president, liberals tend to regard seemingly hopeless candidacies, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton's 2004 run, or even the respectable but wildly unsuccessful effort by former Sen. Caron Moseley Braun, as issue advocacy campaigns.

With the GOP field this year so presently disorganized, it is hard to figure who falls where. In some cases, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum, it is easy enough to figure; he is playing to and for the social conservatives—clearly, barring some apocalyptic collapse of the American political structure, Santorum cannot win. One might suggest the same of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, if she declares as expected.

Some consider Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty the foremost "serious" candidate, with the adjective taken to mean someone who actually can compete in the general election.

Which leaves a tier of candidates like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, who bring leagues of devoted fans and followers to the contest, and certainly have a penchant for headlines—thus posturing them as significant players in the early rounds—who cannot win the general election.

One could easily suggest that these will be relegated to the advocacy tier, but American politics is also so chaotic that Palin or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich could seriously unsettle a candidate like Pawlenty as the Republican Party moves toward its convention in Tampa at the end of August, 2012.

It is astounding how wrong I was. Tim Pawlenty is out. Newt Gingrich is running third.

It would be best, I figure, if I don't try to revise that analysis, and simply remind that anyone trying to tell you what conventional wisdom says is probably wrong. We'll see what the New Year brings, but come on ... really? Newt Gingrich is running in third place? Behind a book tour, and the guy Republicans seem determined to avoid?

Yeah, we'll see how they feel about Romney when the calendar turns to 2012 and the primary season kicks off. But the preseason so far has been an exercise in confusion.


The Obvious Question

Who: Steve Benen
What: "The growing acceptance of the 'sabotage' question", Political Animal
When: November 7, 2011

At first glance, it is just one of those things. Everybody has a certain line they won't cross. It is a line of human decency. And it's not that they won't commit this or that atrocity but, rather, a point beyond which they cannot believe "normal"—a highly subjective word, especially in this context—people would tread. It is a point which other people's cynicism can encompass, but no, one says, not me: I cannot believe that other people should behave that way, or that respectable folk would let them get away with it.

But it's been a question in the back of political observers' minds since the midterm election, if not before.

The New York Times editorial board had a piece today on the importance of unemployment benefits, and made an observation in passing that stood out for me.

"Tragically," the editorial said, "the more entrenched the jobs shortage becomes, the more paralyzed Congress becomes, with Republicans committed to doing nothing in the hopes that the faltering economy will cost President Obama his job in 2012."

The point was made in passing, but it's nevertheless striking. As far as the editorial board of the nation's most important newspaper is concerned, it's simply accepted as fact that congressional Republicans want to hold back the economy, on purpose, to undermine the Obama presidency.

Benen's analysis of the question shows such attitudes are a minority, to be certain, but only barely. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll put Obama up against Congressional Republicans, with the result that 50% sided with Obama.

This comes less than a week after a poll in Florida found that 49% of voters statewide believe congressional Republicans “are intentionally hindering efforts to boost the economy so that President Barack Obama will not be reelected.” The WaPo/ABC poll is, as best as I can tell, the first national poll to consider the same issue.

To be sure, the wording of this new poll isn’t ideal, and is far less direct than the poll conducted in Florida. But the takeaway is still pretty clear: half the country is inclined to believe GOP officials are killing efforts to boost the economy for purely political reasons.

Still, though, such a cynical gamble might work. Albeit with some minor exceptions, the American political system is a two-party arrangement.

A conservative associate recently pointed out to me that in 2010, the Republican margin was actually closer to fifteen percent, because the GOP one 14.77% more votes than Democrats. And it's true: the difference does equal 14.77% of the Democratic vote total. But what, really, does this half-witted fluffing of the margin really say? One would think the similarly-calculated 15.88% margin for President Obama, and the 20.66% congressional numbers (peaking at 25% in the Senate) would say even more in those terms. Yet what it has earned the nation is stonewall obstructionism from the GOP. Were those 14.77% more voters than Democrats hoping to duck out on the national debt? Were they hoping state houses would start tinkering with their zoning regulations to close specific medical facilities? Were they really voting for another round of the culture war as we see coming from the right?

What, really, is the likelihood of that 14.77% more voters than the Democrats won actually got what they were hoping for out of the deal?

Still, though, my associate's determination to convince me that all this obstructionism spells doom for Obama is not unfounded. There is a strong likelihood that it could work:

Though in theory, it should, this won’t necessarily give President Obama a boost. The degree of national cynicism is so intense, many Americans may simply assume Republicans are sabotaging the national economy, but take their frustrations out on the president anyway. As Greg noted, “The number who see Obama as a strong leader is now upside down (48-51), suggesting yet again that even if Americans understand that Republicans are deliberately blocking Obama’s policies, they may conclude that his failure to get around them just shows he’s weak or ineffectual.”

Voters’ understanding of the political process is severely limited, and many Americans likely fail to appreciate the role Congress must play in policymaking. There are no doubt plenty of voters thinking, “Sure, Republicans are sabotaging the economy, but why can’t Obama just go around them?” unaware of the fact that, on a grand scale, this isn’t an option.

Still, it is telling, at the very least, that the question of whether Republicans are deliberately stonewalling the economy in hopes that voters will punish Democrats should even be something we might have to take seriously.


The SimCity Plan

"Presumably, under the Cain plan, disasters would be turned off." (Amanda Terkel)

By the way, have you seen this graph yet?

(Graph by Brian Highsmith, via Jared Bernstein.)

Terms of Payment

Who: David Horsey
What: "Separating the truly scary from the bogus frights", SeattlePI.com
When: October 27, 2011

The last time America picked a president without resorting to a campaign filled with false accusations and trumped up crises was probably in 1796 when an unopposed George Washington won a second term.

By 1800, the compulsion to do battle over bogus issues had kicked in and, since then, many a campaign has been built on manufactured fear. Campaign 2012 is no different.

Watching the Republicans' serial presidential debates, one would think the most fearsome problems confronting Americans are high taxes that are killing economic activity, onerous regulations that keep businessmen from creating jobs, illegal immigration, gay marriage and a president who is too weak to confront Islamic terrorists and dictators.

Well, if you say something often enough and loud enough, people may begin to think it's important, but, outside the realm of boilerplate conservative applause lines, there are far more worrisome threats facing the country.

Halloween is a year-roud enterprise for some. While many criticize the American political circus for its histrionics, and plenty will attempt to sound sage while pointing out that it happens on both sides of the aisle, there is a fundamental process at work that often goes unnoticed for its subtlety.

And it is true that subtlety in politics can be counted as anything short of a twenty-five mile crack in the ice shelf. One sometimes wonders at the psychological processes governing voter perceptions, and whether the phrase cognitive dissonance has not actually been beaten to death in recent years.


Because Their Blacks ... er ... um ... Right

Who: Karl Frisch
What: "Less Vetting Than the Average Godfather's Pizza Delivery Boy", The Cagle Post
When: November 3, 2011

Democratic strategist Karl Frisch sort of states the obvious, and it's hard to know where to start. Of course, the obvious ought to be pretty much ... well ... blatantly obvious to begin with. So let's go with this:

... [Y]es, I realize conservatives assume facts have an intrinsic liberal bias just like the media, science, weather, letters, numbers, and shapes.

At 11:20am on Monday morning, Cain told Fox News, "If the restaurant did a settlement, I wasn't even aware of it." That is essentially the same thing he told the National Press Club not two hours later when he said, "I am unaware of any settlement. I hope it wasn't for much, because I didn't do anything" indicating that he not only had no knowledge of any agreements but that he also had no knowledge of the amount of any agreements if they actually existed.

By 6pm that evening, Cain's story was beginning to change. This time he told PBS, "I was aware that an agreement was reached."

Before calling it a night, Cain appeared on Fox News again at 10pm to completely contradict himself saying, "We ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement, quite frankly … Maybe three months' salary or something like that."

In less than twelve hours, Cain went from being clueless about the whole affair — pardon the pun — to knowing quite a bit more than he'd let on about.

Don't for a second assume that Cain and his team first heard about these accusations when they read them in Politico — they had been contacted several times over the course of nearly two weeks in advance of the publication of the story by reporters requesting comment in writing and in person.

Since the story broke, a third woman has come forward, telling the Associated Press that she had received "a private invitation to [Cain's] corporate apartment" and that the future presidential candidate had made "sexually suggestive remarks or gestures" towards her.

Few people know exactly what happened between Cain and his female employees and only one person has been free to discuss the story openly: Herman Cain.

Since Cain has proven himself unreliable, perhaps the National Restaurant Association should free these women from their confidentiality agreements so they can tell their side of the story.

Then, and only then, can this blame game end.

Life and Art, or, Something About Truth and Fiction

Who: Gail Collins
What: "Day of the Armadillo", The New York Times
When: November 2, 2011

First, the obvious: Regardless of whether or not one likes Gail Collins—and she seems likable, to judge by a scant few television appearances I've witnessed—it is very easy to make fun of her.

Second, though—

Also in the frozen armadillo category: Anything about Herman Cain. Does he want to feed illegal immigrants to alligators or electrocute them? Did he sexually harass women when he was chief of the National Restaurant Association? Did he ever notice that being chief of the National Restaurant Association was just a highfalutin way of saying "lobbyist?"

The one thing we've learned for sure is that Herman Cain's staff has no idea what Herman Cain has been up to. Really, by now they're probably so numb, you could come up to them and say: "Is it true your candidate was once a pirate?" and they'd just promise to look into it.

—that is perhaps the strangest pile of sentences you're going to read this week.

The article also contains the sentence, "Brian Tillerson, a manager at the Taco Bell/KFC restaurant, told The San Antonio Express-News that the man was angry the Beefy Crunch Burrito had gone from 99 cents to $1.49 each."

And there is any number of points one might try to make from there.