Saturday, January 21, 2012

Money can't always buy you love ...

... as Mitt Romney is learning to his sorrow. Often, though, it is good for tearing down your opponents, as Newt Gingrich learned to his sorrow in Iowa, where his temporary lead in the polls was demolished by a wave of attack ads run by pro-Romney SuperPACs. But sometimes even that doesn't work reliably, at least for Mitt. Consider, for example, today's Republican primary in South Carolina, which Romney could well lose despite heavily outspending any of his opponents. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that, deep down, they just don't like him.

Rachel Weiner
sums it up (below) at the Washington Post politics blog.

—Jeff Weintraub

Posted by Rachel Weiner at 12:11 PM ET, 01/20/2012

If former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney loses South Carolina Saturday night, it will be a very expensive loss.

From Jan. 16 through the Saturday primary, he and his super PAC supporters have spent more than any two of his rivals combined, according to a Republican media buyer.

[JW: Not exactly. According to the figures below, the pro-Gingrich and pro-Paul spending adds up to just slightly more than the pro-Romney spending. But the basic point holds. And whereas Gingrich concentrated most of his fire on Romney, the Ron Paul ads trashed Gingrich as well as Romney and Santorum.]

In Iowa, a deluge of ads from the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future buried former House speaker Newt Gingrich. In the Palmetto State, Gingrich is fighting back, thanks to a huge boost from his own super PAC supporters.

Romney also has more rivals to contend with in the south. In Iowa he was focused almost exclusively on Gingrich; now former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum has emerged as a serious rival and another big ad spender.


* Mitt Romney $858,155 + Restore Our Future $1,238,482 + Citizens for a Working America $202,642 = $2,299,279

* Newt Gingrich $337,763 + Winning Our Future $856,220 = $1,193,983

* Rick Santorum $667,810 + Red White and Blue Fund $406,447 = $1,074,257

* Ron Paul $984,538 + Santa Rita PAC $150,992 = $1,135,530

* Rick Perry $102,450 + Make Us Great Again $97,851 = $200,301

Total: $5,903,350

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Annals of Chutzpah – Sarah Palin thinks we need "more vetting of candidates"

No, that's not a parody. She really said it. (If you find that difficult to believe, see the video clip below).

Andrew Sullivan captures the joke here:
"More debates, more vetting of candidates. Because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago, with having a candidate that was not vetted to the degree he should have been," - Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee in 2008 whose selection process was negligible, who never released her medical records, and who never gave a single press conference before Election Day.
—Jeff Weintraub

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The latest from the Republican slugfest in South Carolina — Ron Paul attacks his opponents for being dishonest, corrupt, and insufficiently right-wing

At one point in David Weigel's running commentary on Monday night's Republican debate in South Carolina (The Massacre in Myrtle Beach: Live Thread) he offers this passing comment:
Sort of forgotten in the media's hazy coverage of Paul is that he runs, by miles, the most negative, record-based attacks of any campaign.
That jibes with other things I have read. And my impression is that most of these attack ads go out under Ron Paul's own name (commendably enough), rather than getting outsourced to allegedly 'independent' SuperPacs.

Weigel also offers, as an example, a new ad released by the Ron Paul campaign, which features direct and un-subtle attacks on Newt Gingrich ("Serial Hypocrite"), Rick Santorum ("Counterfeit Conservative"), and Mitt Romney ("Flip-Flopper" and father of ObamaCare):

According to this attack ad, Gingrich & Santorum & & Romney share "One Vision: More Big Government, More Mandates, Less Freedom".

This ad is interesting at a number of levels. Of course, given the character of the Republican primary electorate in South Carolina, most of the candidates are competing with each other to stand out as the most radical-right candidate in the race. (Romney, by contrast, just wants to convince Republican voters that he is reliably right-wing and also the most "electable" candidate to send up against Obama.) But they represent somewhat different strands and shadings of reactionary politics. So it is informative to see the specific grounds that this Ron Paul ad uses to pin the "counterfeit conservative" label on each of the other candidates. They illustrate some of the hot-button issues in current Republican politics, or at least the ones that Ron Paul and his campaign want to emphasize right now.

Most of the themes highlighted here are unsurprising. But it is intriguing that this ad attacks Rick Santorum not only for being insufficiently anti-union (a blemish on Santorum's pro-plutocratic purity that's not surprising for a politician whose political career started out in western Pennsylvania) but also, believe it or not, for being insufficiently hard-line against abortion. Santorum, let us not forget, is a candidate who has outspokenly condemned not only abortion but even contraception.

More generally, this ad helps to bring out the extent to which an obsessive jihad against Planned Parenthood has become a central theme in right-wing political discourse. Many of the attacks against Romney by his Republican opponents have emphasized that RomneyCare in Massachusetts not only paid Planned Parenthood for medical services but (horrors!) allowed a Planned Parenthood representative to sit on a state advisory panel. This Ron Paul ad doesn't even bother to spell that out in Romney's case, but instead charges that even Rick Santorum "funded Planned Parenthood" (double horrors!).

=> Ron Paul does not, in fact, have a "real plan to cut a trillion dollars year one and to balance the budget in three"—and, of course, any attempt to do anything along these lines in the middle of a recession would be economically catastrophic. But not all of his claims about his opponents are inaccurate or unfair. What a crew!

—Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The French Ron Paul?



Both the US and France will be having presidential elections later in 2012. The structure and dynamics of politics in the two countries are dramatically different in a lot of important ways, and it would be foolish to look for any close analogies. Nevertheless, I feel moved to share some speculative musings—no more than that—about a more approximate possible analogy. My musings were provoked by reading a string of troubling reports about the resurgence of the far-right National Front in France under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, daughter of the FN's founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. For example:
Sarkozy Just Ahead of Le Pen in French Presidency Election Poll

Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy is just two percentage points ahead of anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen less than four months before the presidential election, an Ifop poll for Paris Match showed.

In the first round, to be held April 22, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande would finish first with 27 percent, followed by Sarkozy with 23.5 percent and National Front candidate Le Pen on 21.5 percent, the poll published today showed today. [Etc. ....]
Obviously, I don't intend to suggest any simple equivalence between Ron Paul and the Le Pens. In many respects, they represent two different varieties of reactionary politics. In the ideological spectrum of the American right, a figure like Pat Buchanan probably corresponds more precisely to the Le Pens, father & daughter, than Ron Paul.* The National Front, for example, is as far away from free-market-fundamentalism as one could imagine. It's true that both Paul and Le Pen are obsessed with protecting national sovereignty against real and imagined threats from multinational institutions, but for Ron Paul that's consistent with being a doctrinaire free-trader, whereas the National Front shares the distrust of free-trade "neo-liberalism" that runs across the whole French political spectrum. It's also true that Ron Paul has a record of appealing to racist and xenophobic sentiments (and his positions on immigration still paint a picture of the "Balkanization of America" caused by an uncontrolled flood of illegal immigrants, he supports a constitutional amendment to abolish birthright citizenship, and so on). But Paul's supporters and apologists are correct when they point out that these themes have not been prominent in his current campaign.

In both cases, however, we're talking about right-wing political tendencies that appeal to widespread beliefs and concerns in public opinion, but which until recently were considered too un-respectable and politically beyond-the-pale to be taken seriously ... and which are now riding a wave of anti-establishment feeling into political respectability.

As a candidate for the Republican nomination, Ron Paul seems to be stuck with a ceiling of somewhere around 20% support, only slightly higher in some states and somewhat lower in most others. But Paul's supporters are, on average, both younger and more fired up with enthusiasm than the supporters of the other Republican candidates (and they include a lot of people registered as Independents and even Democrats, not just registered Republicans). Furthermore, too many people who should know better have lost sight of the fact that he's a dangerous crackpot and are treating Paul and his candidacy with remarkably uncritical indulgence. If Ron Paul manages to keep his campaign active through the rest of the Republican nomination fight, which seems plausible, it may be hard for the Republican establishment to avoid making some accommodations with him and his constituency down the line. And I can't help being struck by the fact that Ron Paul has a smoother-but-equally-far-out son in the Senate, Rand Paul, who could conceivably wind up playing the role of Marine Le Pen.

(Of course, there are other far-right tendencies in the Republican Party that I also find quite scary, and I don't want to give the impression that I'm discounting those, but they can be left for another discussion.)

As for the Le Pens ... In 2002 the Narional Front's founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, got slightly under 17% of the vote in the first round of the Presidential elections. The field was so fragmented by multiple candidacies that, to everyone's shock, Le Pen knocked the Socialist Party's candidate out of second place and went into the seond & final round of voting. But Le Pen was overwhelmingly repudiated by the electorate, who rallied around the incombent Jacques Chirac and gave him a crushing victory. (As one slogan memorably put it: "Vote for the crook, not the fascist.") Le Pen's share of the vote in the head-to-head stage of the election didn't quite reach 18%.

On the other hand, Marine Le Pen's figures have already reached over 21% in a much less crowded field. If she can maintain that level of support and expand it even slightly, she and her party could well break into respectability. It has been argued that in the period after 2002 the mainstream right has already shifted some of its positions to accommodate parts of the National Front's message and to co-opt parts of its constituency—but that has been true, at most, only unevenly and up to a point. If the cosmetic make-over of the National Front under Marine Le Pen succeeds in making the party politically respectable, that process could well be be reinforced.

Or these speculations could turn out to be entirely off-base, both for the US and for France. I hope so. Stay tuned ....

—Jeff Weintraub

* Although the contrast between the styles of reactionary politics represented by Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul is real and significant, perhaps one shouldn't overstate the gap between them, either. As my correspondent Robert Beckhusen reminds me, Ron Paul supported Buchanan in Buchanan's 1992 bid for the Republican nomination; and although Buchanan can't formally endorse a candidate this year because of his job with MSNBC, in practice he has come about as close to endorsing Ron Paul as he can get without saying so explicitly.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Tunisians greeting Hamas leader chant "Kill the Jews"

The point about this incident is that it is not really news, in the sense of something exceptional or unexpected, but just a normal, routine event. So it's useful mostly as a reminder of some unpleasant realities. I know that some people think murderous anti-semitism is no big deal, and that harping on it is either boring or a form of sinister propaganda, but I guess I don't entirely agree.

(To pre-empt some of the standard evasions and excuses, when you hear "Yahud" in the video below, that means "Jews", not "Zionists". And yes, when far-right Jewish extremists in Israel chant "Death to Arabs", which happens on occasion, that's also disgusting and alarming.)

This comes via Point of No Return, an excellent website on the historical experience and current diaspora of the Middle Eastern Jewish communities, . For more on that history, including the fact that since 1948 there has been an almost complete ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Arab world (and at least 80% of the historic Jewish community in Iran is gone, too), see here & here.

(In Tunisia, there are still about 1,500 Jews, down from about 100,000 in 1956.)

—Jeff Weintraub

Point of no return
Information and links about the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees

Friday, January 6, 2012
Tunisians greeting Gaza leader cry 'Kill the Jews!'

Cries of 'Out with the Jews!', 'Kill the Jews!' greeted the arrival at Tunis airport of the Hamas chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, StandWithUs (France) reports.

A few hundred people gathered on 5 January at the Tunis-Carthage airport to welcome Haniyeh. As they waited for him they sang antisemitic chants and slogans to the glory of Palestine and the liberation of Gaza. They carried Palestinian flags, the flags of the Ennahda movement, and the black flags of the Salafists.

Ismail Haniyeh was arriving in Tunisia from Turkey for a two-day visit.

Point of No Return commenter Sammish clarifies what the demonstrators were shouting:

Speaker(One person): "Kick the Jews"
Crowd: "Duty" [wajib] (It is a duty)

Speaker: "Expel the Jews"
Crowd: "Duty"

Speaker: "Kill the Jews"
Crowd: "Duty"

Read article in French
Crossposted at CifWatch

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Romney cruising toward victory? — Maybe not quite cruising

Well, the answer may be getting a little more complicated than it seemed. Romney is still at the head of the pack in New Hampshire, and it would be surprising if he doesn't wind up winning the Republican primary there. But the latest polls suggest that his lead is less dramatic than it used to be. According to the well-regarded Suffolk University poll, Romney's numbers have been slipping, from 43%, less than a week ago to 35% on Sunday, while Ron Paul's are increasing. Santorum's support is still in single digits, but support for John Huntsman (!) has inched past the 10% mark.
The latest 7 News/Suffolk University poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire Primary is great news for the Paul campaign and troublesome news for the Romney campaign. Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, surged 3 points to 20 percent of the votes in a 7 News/Suffolk University poll released Sunday. On the other hand, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney dipped 4 points to 35 percent of the votes in the same poll.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is the only other candidate to earn double-digit support in the latest New Hampshire poll. Mr. Huntsman garnered 11 percent of the votes to finish in the top-tier, but former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who has been riding a recent wave of momentum following his 2nd place victory in the Iowa Caucuses, pulled in 8 percent of the votes. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who once was a serious contender for second place in New Hampshire, earned just 9 percent of the votes.
Furthermore, the Sunday morning GOP candidates' debate, unlike the one on Saturday night, included some sharp attacks on Romney ... though it remains to be seen whether they did much damage. Jonathan Bernstein, for one, thinks not ...
Last night on ABC, none of the Republican candidates seemed very interested in attacking Mitt Romney in person. This morning, NBC moderator David Gregory didn’t give them any choice: The first three questions, and the first 15 minutes of the debate, were devoted to Gregory begging the candidates to attack the front-runner. What did they show? That a few attack lines in a debate aren’t going to change the structure of the nomination race.
... though some others are not so sure.

The upshot is that even if Romney does come in first in New Hampshire, which I think is what everyone expects, it may not be the crushing victory he was hoping for. The overall anyone-but-Romney constituency seems to be resilient, and when the votes are counted, one candidate, Ron Paul, may pull close enough to Romney to spoil his party. (If Ron Paul can't do that to Romney in New Hampshire, he probably can't do it to him anywhere.) Or perhaps not. Stay tuned.

—Jeff Weintraub

Is Mitt Romney cruising toward victory?

As far as the Republican nomination contest is concerned, he might be. At the very least, according to the latest polls, he seems to be headed toward a crushing victory in the New Hampshire primary. South Carolina may be more complicated, but even there his prospects are looking better, especially if Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, and perhaps Perry continue to fragment the anti-Romney vote.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidate's debate in New Hampshire last night featured a significant, and surprising, dog-that-didn't-bark. There was every reason to expect that a number of the leading Anyone-But-Romney candidates, led by the irascible and resentful Newt Gingrich, would come together for an all-out assault on the front-runner. But it didn't happen. Jonathan Chait wonders why not (below).

=> For a useful round-up of other post-debate reactions, see here.

—Jeff Weintraub

New York Magazine
Sunday, January 8, 2012 | 12:34 a.m.
Mitt Romney's Miraculous Free Ride Continues
By Jonathan Chait

The unchallenged march of the formerly pro-choice, self-described “progressive” father of national health insurance to the Republican nomination is one of the most bizarre political spectacles of my life. I am running out of explanations for it, including explanations that require party-wide conspiracies or science fiction. (Perhaps Romney has a force field that turns to mush the brain of anybody who threatens him.) The latest inexplicable event was Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire.

The background here is that Newt Gingrich, after Mitt Romney crushed him beneath an avalanche of negative ads, spent the week in a state of fury and vowing revenge. The further background is that the one constant of Gingrich’s career is a penchant for rhetorical flourish. Generally he deploys this against Democrats (corrupt traitors who resemble child murderers) but occasionally he aims it against fellow partisans (like Paul Ryan, whose plan he described as “right-wing social engineering.”) All this had primed the campaign press to watch the enraged Gingrich unload on Romney. What would he call him – a progressive? A socialist? A congenitally dishonest, satanic agent of Obamunism?

Instead Gingrich, along with the other Republican rivals – or, at least, Republican former rivals who haven’t yet dropped out – didn’t turn any of the questions into attacks on Romney. Toward the end, Gingrich was asked to contrast his philosophy on the economy with Romney. He professed general agreement, and added, almost as an aside, that Romney was “a little more cautious” than him.

A little more cautious? What a moment Gingrich picks to err on the side of understatement for the first time in his political career! Is it the brain-melting force field? A secret backroom deal? No rational explanation can suffice.

Rick Perry, having already been the subject of campaign postmortems and left for dead, didn’t get the chance to go after Romney. Instead he has homed in on the primal essence of his selling point to the Republican electorate: he is the candidate of maximal violence restoring privileges to the dominant socioeconomic group. Perry endorsed a re-invasion of Iraq, claimed that if not forced to debate he would be firing weapons, and railed against the “war on religion” imagined by many Fox News viewers. He performed quite effectively, either because he’s improved or, more likely, because he wasn’t allowed to approach the speaking time threshold after which he exhausts his already-limited brain function.

Romney, in the absence of intra-party challenges, framed himself almost entirely in opposition to Obama. He previewed a new line of attack in response to positive economic data, comparing Obama to the rooster who takes credit for the sunrise. This seems like a shockingly weak line – if you concede that it’s morning, you’ve lost the argument.

Romney also repeated his claim that Bain Capital had created 100,000 jobs. His campaign had released the figure earlier, and Glenn Kessler discovered it was totally bogus. Romney’s campaign merely added together the new jobs created by a handful of companies Bain had purchased, without bothering to subtract the jobs lost at other firms. [JW: For more on this, see here.] Not only did Romney use the figure again, and not only did he misstate how it was compiled, he admitted that the method he used was bogus:

Romney: In the business I had we invested in, over 100 different businesses, and net/net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and the ones where we added? Those business have now added over 100,000 jobs. I have a record of learning how to create jobs.

Stephanopolous: There have been questions about that calculation of the 100,000 jobs, so if you could explain a little more, I’ve read some analysts who look at it and say that you’re counting the jobs that were created, but not the jobs that were taken away. Is that accurate?

Romney: No, it’s not accurate, it includes the net of both, I’m a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that.

The number he used did not “get both sides of that.” Oh well -- there’s nobody around to call him on that, and there won’t be for quite a while.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Nick Cohen observes the march of political folly on both sides of the Atlantic

In December an article in the English-language edition of Der Spiegel surveyed the field of Republican presidential candidates and pronounced them "A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses".
The US Republican race is dominated by ignorance, lies and scandals. [JW: The writer left out bigotry, xenophobia, and dangerous irresponsibility, which have also been abundant.] The current crop of candidates have shown such a basic lack of knowledge that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein. The Grand Old Party is ruining the entire country's reputation. [....]

No campaign can avoid its share of slip-ups, blunders and embarrassments. Yet this time around, it's just not that funny anymore. In fact, it's utterly horrifying. [....] They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge -- political, economic, geographic, historical -- that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe. [....]

Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans -- no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. [....]
And so on. It's hard to disagree. Of course, horrified and contemptuous assessments of US politics along these lines by western Europeans are perennial, and are too often colored by knee-jerk anti-Americanism. But one must concede that, this time around, the Republican nomination contest has provided all too much evidence for such conclusions. Just as the man says, this spectacle would be hilarious if it weren't potentially terrifying.

On the other hand, it's also true that smug European denunciations of American society and politics can often be superficial, one-sided, and misleading. And America-bashing can serve as a tempting distraction, helping Europeans to ignore or minimize the absurd, dysfunctional, and dangerous features of their own political scene. I'm not just alluding to obvious buffoons and poisonous demagogues like Berlusconi and Le Pen. Among other things, Europe's whole political economy is now undergoing a complex and dangerous crisis of major proportions, and so far the responses of Europe's political, economic, and policy-making elites have been almost uniformly abysmal.

Two recent pieces by the British democratic-left journalist Nick Cohen, taken together, do a characteristically acute job of capturing this situation and sounding the alarm. The first is a British/American comparison titled "The Good, the Smug and the Blind".
The Economist has a rather good, rather smug and – in the end – entirely self-deluding leader about the predicament of the American right this week.

It is good because the Economist sets out with neatness and style what policies a Republican candidate must sign up to if he or she is to make it through the primaries. [....] The approved list of right-thinking right-wing opinions explains why so many centrist Republicans who might have defeated Obama – Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush – have stayed out of the election. They were not politically correct enough for the fanatics at the grassroots.

How unlike our own dear Tories the tea partiers are, the Economist implies. While the Yanks are demented, the Brits are sensible, practical men and women of moderate temperament who abhor extremism and have no time for wishful thinking. No member of the coalition cabinet or editor on the Economist would sign up for any let alone all of the above.

Yet British conservatives hold extremist views on economics that are as wild as anything you can find on the American right. The Economist will not mention the failings because it shares them too. [....]
Too true. The second piece, based on an "Interview with a Danish Journalist", pointedly juxtaposes the Euroskeptical tendencies in British politics with the blind spots and unreflective wishful thinking of many Continental Europhiles. See below.

--Jeff Weintraub

The Spectator
January 2, 2002
The Good, the Smug and the Blind
By Nick Cohen

The Economist has a rather good, rather smug and – in the end – entirely self-deluding leader about the predicament of the American right this week.

It is good because the Economist sets out with neatness and style what policies a Republican candidate must sign up to if he or she is to make it through the primaries. The aspiring president must believe not just some but all of the following:
  • That abortion should be illegal in all cases.
  • That gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it.
  • That the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home.
  • That the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame.
  • That global warming is a conspiracy.
  • That any form of gun control is unconstitutional.
  • That any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk.
  • That Israel can do no wrong and the 'so-called Palestinians', to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right.
  • That the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.
The approved list of right-thinking right-wing opinions explains why so many centrist Republicans who might have defeated Obama – Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush – have stayed out of the election. They were not politically correct enough for the fanatics at the grassroots.

How unlike our own dear Tories the tea partiers are, the Economist implies. While the Yanks are demented, the Brits are sensible, practical men and women of moderate temperament who abhor extremism and have no time for wishful thinking. No member of the coalition cabinet or editor on the Economist would sign up for any let alone all of the above.

Yet British conservatives hold extremist views on economics that are as wild as anything you can find on the American right. The Economist will not mention the failings because it shares them too.

First, the right cannot admit that its policy of imposing austerity during a period of stagnation is – surprise, surprise – pushing Britain and Europe back into recession.

Second, British conservatives in particular cannot admit that the free market in high finance led to disaster, and a bailout that ought to have been so abhorrent to them it forced them to rethink their ideas.

I should add that I write this as an Economist addict, who becomes as fraught as a junkie without a fix if I can’t get hold of a copy on a Friday morning. But something is wrong there. When I began reading it in the late 1990s, Economist journalists predicted the collapse of the dotcom mania with brutal and brilliant clarity. Now they and the wider centre-right with the honourable exception of Vince Cable, don’t see crises in capitalism coming and don’t feel the need to work out why their ideology went wrong, and how their views must adapt if they are to see the world as it is again. It is the great intellectual failure of our time, and not only in conservative journalism.

The Spectator
January 2, 2002
Interview with a Danish Journalist
By Nick Cohen

He came to talk to me about British Euroscepticism, and I did my best to explain. I said it was far stronger in England than Scotland for nationalist reasons, and that although Labour MPs were, in general, mildly Eurosceptic — Brown would not take us into the Euro, for instance — Euroscepticism was a passion on the Conservative side.

‘I know some of the young MPs who supported Cameron,’ I said. ‘They’re incredibly liberal about gay rights and all the rest of it but on the EU…’

‘They’re not liberal at all…’

I had to explain to him that supporting a Eurozone that is imposing an austerity on Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal that offers them no way to grow out of recession was not, in normal language, a ‘liberal’ thing to do. [JW: Well, it's certainly "liberal" in the sense of 19th-century economic liberalism.] If anything Germany’s abhorrence of Keynesian demand boosting measures recalled Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, whose response to the Great Crash of 1929 was to say, ‘liquidate labour, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.’ Only liquidation could ‘purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.’

Needless to add, Hoover and Mellon’s uncompromising economic morality ensured that the Great Crash of 1929 turned into the Great Depression of the 1930s.

My Danish colleague found it strange to think that opposing Angela Merkel’s Depression-era economics and puritan desire to purge southern Europe for its sins did not make one a conservative. Quite the contrary, in fact. But the notion that allegiance to the EU makes one a progressive was embedded in his mind as it remains embedded in the minds of most European liberal-leftists. [....]

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Is Newt about to go nuclear?

Or, to use a different metaphor, is he planning to go postal?

David Corn sums up Newt Gingrich's reaction to the way that Mitt Romney's barrage of attack ads demolished his temporary front-runner status is Iowa. (Actually, Gingrich also got hit with negative ads by Ron Paul and others, but the one he really resents is Romney.)
In a bitter and spiteful concession speech last night in Iowa—Kanye West could do no worse—the former House speaker, who finished fourth, signaled a shift in his mission. [JW: You can watch it here.] He would no longer be running to obtain the Republican presidential nomination; he would be campaigning to obliterate Mitt Romney. He would be Sherman; the former Massachusetts governor would be Georgia.

If Gingrich does pursue this march—and there are two debates this weekend in New Hampshire in which Gingrich can be a suicide bomber—Gingrich will be reaching the peak of his 30-year career as a Republican demolition man. And now his target will be the candidate the GOP establishment believes possesses the best chance of unseating President Barack Obama.
Corn draws a hopeful conclusion:
Newt Gingrich has finally reached his destiny: destroyer of the GOP.
Maybe. Whether that conclusion turns out to be prescient, or a bit of wishful thinking, remains to be seen. It's certainly possible that, between them, Gingrich & Santorum & Paul and the other crazies still in the Republican race could wind up handing Obama a landslide victory. But it's by no means inevitable. I guess we'll see.

Meanwhile, Corn's piece offers a nice overview of Gingrich's political career so far, and of the significant role Gingrich has played in helping to poison American politics. Read the whole thing (below).

—Jeff Weintraub

Mother Jones
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Newt the Destroyer
Gingrich is now on a single-minded mission to detonate Mitt Romney's presidential prospects. Will he blow up the GOP in the process?
By David Corn

Newt Gingrich has finally reached his destiny: destroyer of the GOP.

In a bitter and spiteful concession speech last night in Iowa—Kanye West could do no worse—the former House speaker, who finished fourth, signaled a shift in his mission. He would no longer be running to obtain the Republican presidential nomination; he would be campaigning to obliterate Mitt Romney. He would be Sherman; the former Massachusetts governor would be Georgia.

If Gingrich does pursue this march—and there are two debates this weekend in New Hampshire in which Gingrich can be a suicide bomber—Gingrich will be reaching the peak of his 30-year career as a Republican demolition man. And now his target will be the candidate the GOP establishment believes possesses the best chance of unseating President Barack Obama.

Gingrich, as is widely known, entered the House in the late '70s, throwing bombs. He aimed them at both the stodgy leadership of the Republican House minority and at Democratic leaders, whom he routinely called "corrupt." For years, he hurled harsh and bombastic rhetoric, routinely comparing those with whom he disagreed to either Nazis or Nazi appeasers. It was often hard to keep track of his faux historical analogies. (For a partial list of his excesses, see this run-down.)

During his venom-laced rush to the top, Gingrich sought to institutionalize his hate politics. His political action committee, GOPAC, sent out a memo to Republican candidates counseling them to use particular words when describing Democrats, such as "decay," "betray," "traitors," "pathetic," and "corrupt."

>And "destroy." Which was Gingrich's intent—targeted first at his foes, but then, ultimately, at himself. Soon after achieving his ambition of becoming House speaker, he self-destructed. His ambition, arrogance, and lack of discipline triggered a mutiny among his fellow Republicans. He survived that episode, but after leading the impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton and suffering at the polls during the 1998 midterm elections, Gingrich (who at the time was extramaritally trysting himself) resigned the speakership—rather than face the wrath of his GOP comrades who had (once again) had enough.

Thirteen years later, it was tough for Newt watchers to feel any sympathy when he whined about the incoming attacks mounted by a Romney-supporting super-PAC. His bleating about negative campaigning was, given this historical perspective, farcical. His claim that Romney was a "liar" carried little heft—after all, Gingrich himself had recently displayed his penchant for prevarication, such as when he claimed he had been paid by Freddie Mac for performing duties as a "historian."

But a presidential candidate scorned can be a dangerous thing. Gingrich has never had a self-esteem problem. His ego is supersized. And with his late-autumn jump in the polls, he, no doubt, was measuring himself for a crown. (Tiffany's?) He all but declared his ascendancy was inevitable. Yet then that nasty super-PAC came along and…told the truth about Gingrich, in killer attack ads, behaving much as Gingrich had always counseled GOPers to act. In a 1978 address to College Republicans, before he was elected to the House, Gingrich declared, "I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty." Well, if his goal back then was to nastify the GOP, he can proudly proclaim, "Mission accomplished."

But having been on the receiving end of Newt-like treatment, Gingrich is not going to quietly skulk back to his Newt Inc. empire and continue to cash in. First, it seems, he must crush Romney. Which is not such a hard task. At the upcoming debates, Gingrich will have plenty of ammo—all those flip-flops and whatnots—to blast Romney to smithereens. If Gingrich goes scorched earth, he can provide much material for Democratic anti-Romney ads and will obviously tick off the Republican Party pooh-bahs who have already decided that Romney is the only credible candidate in this sorry lot.

It will be as if a time bomb with a very long fuse has finally detonated.

The Republicans embraced Gingrich when his thuggish formula for success worked and returned them to power in the House of Representatives. But now that same explosive force can be trained on the GOP inner circle's favorite. Live by the Newt, perish by the Newt? Romney might be able to withstand the detonation of the Gingrich death star. But if Gingrich does go nuclear on Romney, it will be a fitting—and not unpredictable—end to a long reign of terror.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Romney continues to lie about his record, and Obama's, on jobs

If we tried to keep up with all the lies, distortions, and prevarications being churned out by the Republican nomination campaigns, there wouldn't be time for anything else. (No, neither Republicans nor right-wingers have a monopoly on that sort of thing; but let's not try to pretend that there is anything like moral equivalence on this score.) However, since Mitt Romney is probably going to wind up being the Republican nominee for President (though that's by no means a done deal), and since a central theme of his campaign is that he's businessman who knows how to "create jobs," it's worth taking the trouble to point out that two of the central claims made by Romney and his campaign in this connection happen to be fraudulent.

As Greg Sargent argued yesterday, probably correctly:
It is now beyond doubt that Mitt Romney will be resting his case against Obama on two core claims.

The first: At Bain Capital, Romney created over 100,000 jobs, which proves he has the job-creation experience to turn the economy around.

The second: Under the Obama presidency, the country has actually lost jobs, which proves his record is a failure.
Sargent quotes a statement by Romney on Fox News in which Romney, once again, summed up this alleged contrast:
This is a president who lost more jobs during his tenure than any president since Hoover. This is 2 million jobs that he lost as President. [....] And I’m very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs. By the way, we created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president’s created in the entire country. So if the President wants to talk about jobs, and I hope he does, we’ll be comparing my record with his record and he comes up very, very short.
[Update: Sure enough, Romney repeated these claims in the New Hampshire debate on Saturday, January 7. examined Romney's claims a few days before the debate and rated them, generously, as "unproven" and "misleading", respectively.]

=> Let's take these two claims in order. During Romney's time as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital, he and the firm were certainly successful in making huge amounts of money for themselves. In the process, did they really create "over 100,000 new jobs"? That's dubious, to say the least.

No one is quite sure about the overall figures yet, but it seems plausible that, on balance, Bain Capital's operations may have led to a net loss of jobs rather than a net gain. At all events, neither Romney nor his campaign have ever offered any solid evidence to support this claim of "over 100,000 new jobs".

Well, now that someone has squeezed a little information out of the Romney campaign, this claim turns out to be quite dishonest. Greg Sargent again:
Post writer Glenn Kesler pressed Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom to justify the 100,000 jobs assertion, and he offers this:
Fehrnstrom says the 100,000 figure stems from the growth in jobs from three companies that Romney helped to start or grow while at Bain Capital: Staples (a gain of 89,000 jobs), The Sports Authority (15,000 jobs), and Domino’s (7,900 jobs).

This tally obviously does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain.
Got that? Romney is only counting jobs gained at companies restructured at Bain during and after his years there — and is not factoring in jobs lost — in claiming he created over 100,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, as the Romney camp concedes to Kessler, in making the claim Obama is a job destroyer, Romney is factoring in the jobs that were lost during Obama’s presidency — before Obama’s policies went into effect. In other words, Romney is calculating a “net” number for Obama, and isn’t calculating a net number for himself. Just wow.
=> As Sargent just noted, it's clear that Romney's complementary claim that Obama "lost" 2 million jobs as President is also quite dishonest. Paul Krugman does an excellent job of spelling out how dishonest it is, so we can just leave that to him (below). Krugman's graphs are especially illuminating.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. A friend writes to add a significant point that is often overlooked:
The fact that Romney doesn’t have real numbers about job creation tells you something important (and obvious, if you think about it): Businessmen are not in the business of job creation [JW: i.e., when they do create jobs, that's a by-product of their pursuit of other goals, like maximizing profit, which can often entail job elimination instead], so they don’t track how well they are doing at it and their experience doesn’t equip them well to understand how it’s done. In economics generally, jobs are a cost and added costs are bad.
Paul Krugman (The Conscience of a Liberal)
January 3, 2012
Obama, Romney, Jobs

Greg Sargent is rightly outraged by Romney’s claim that Obama is a job destroyer:
Romney’s claim that two million jobs were lost under the Obama presidency is based on the idea that there’s been a net loss of jobs since he took office. In other words, Romney is taking into account the fact that the economy continued hemorraghing jobs at a furious rate after Obama took office — before Obama’s stimulus passed. But the figures show that once it became law, monthly job loss declined over time, and turned around in the spring of 2010, after which the private sector added jobs for over 20 straight months, totaling around 2.2 million of them.
I think this benefits from a figure:

Does this look to you like a president who “lost jobs”, or like a president who inherited an economy in free fall? You can accuse Obama of not doing enough to promote recovery — and I have (although the biggest villain here was Romney’s own party). But to claim that Obama caused the job loss is indefensible.

By the way, that wiggle in the upward climb represents the temporary hiring of Census workers.

Now, if you wanted a more credible case of a president who presided over job losses at this point in his administration, how about this?

And the truth is that I did give Bush a hard time over his job record — although I’m pretty sure I never accused him of destroying jobs, or even of bearing responsibility for the recession that began on his watch.

Mitt Romney in Iowa, 2008 vs. 2012

Interesting factoid of the day: In the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, Romney got 25.2% of the votes. Then Romney campaigned hard for another 4 years and poured millions of dollars into Iowa during the final stretch (including the money spent by allegedly "independent" SuperPACs on his behalf). And in the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses yesterday he got ... 24.55% of the vote.

(In 2008 Romney got 30,021 votes; in 2012 he got 30,015 votes.)

One might be tempted to conclude that there is a pretty firm ceiling on support for Romney in the Republican primary electorate—and all the national polls taken in 2011 suggest that this isn't true only in Iowa. New Hampshire seems to be an exception, so Romney must be relieved that the next Republican primary happens there. But soon after that, there's South Carolina ...

Some further details from Eric Kleefeld at TPM, below.

—Jeff Weintraub

Talking Points Memo
January 4, 2012 - 12:59 a.m.
The Iowa Caucuses: How Did Romney ‘12 Stack Up To Romney ‘08?
By Eric Kleefeld

So how did Mitt Romney’s performance in Iowa compare to the last time he ran for president, in the 2008 cycle — with the difference that this time, he has been the big national frontrunner?

In the 2008 caucuses, in which Romney made a major effort to become the conservative opposition to John McCain, he ended up getting 30,021 raw votes, 25% of the total vote, for a second-place finish — a humiliating finish behind Mike Huckabee’s 40,954 votes, 35% of the total. Indeed, that bad result threw Romney off his momentum going into New Hampshire, which he then lost to John McCain, who went on to win the Republican nomination.

Tuesday, Romney garnered … 25% of the vote again, and about 30,000 votes (the exact figure is still being tabulated).

In 2008, Romney carried mainly the northeastern area of the state, and the far west.

In the 2012 caucuses, he mainly carried the east (though the northeast corner had some strong posts for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum), and the major population center of central Iowa, Polk County (Des Moines). The west went mainly to Santorum, though Romney did carry a couple scattered counties in the west plus other areas of the state.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Newt Gingrich comes out and says it – Mitt Romney is a liar

Of course, this is a pretty hilarious case of the pot calling the kettle black. But even Newt Gingrich tells the truth sometimes--usually by accident or in a moment of carelessness, but sometimes from a mixture of calculation and resentment.

For a while now, Gingrich has assumed the pose of running a sunny and 'positive' campaign while his Republican opponents attacked him with a barrage of TV ads. (His main reason for taking this tack, so much at variance with the vicious partisanship and rhetorical bomb-throwing that has marked his whole political career, was probably the fact that he didn't have enough money to run his own barrage of negative ads in response.) But in a CBS interview this morning he took the gloves off ... or, if you prefer a different metaphor, let the mask slip.

Some highlights:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose support in Iowa has withered after riding on top of the polls, on Tuesday called former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a liar who would mislead the American people if elected to the White House - but added that he would still vote for him if Romney won the GOP nomination.

On CBS' "The Early Show" this morning, CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell asked Gingrich about comments he had previously made about his chief rival and the Super PAC whose negative campaign ads have hurt his campaign: "You scolded Mitt Romney, his friends who are running this Super PAC that has funded that, and you said of Mitt Romney, 'Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president. I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"

"Yes," Gingrich replied.

"You're calling Mitt Romney a liar?"

"Well, you seem shocked by it!" said Gingrich. "This is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC - it's baloney. He's not telling the American people the truth.

"It's just like this pretense that he's a conservative. Here's a Massachusetts moderate who has tax-paid abortions in 'Romneycare,' puts Planned Parenthood in 'Romneycare,' raises hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on businesses, appoints liberal judges to appease Democrats, and wants the rest of us to believe somehow he's magically a conservative.

"I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven, consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points, and I think he ought to be candid. I don't think he's being candid and that will be a major issue. From here on out from the rest of this campaign, the country has to decide: Do you really want a Massachusetts moderate who won't level with you to run against Barack Obama who, frankly, will just tear him apart? He will not survive against the Obama machine."
At the moment, the answer seems to be that Romney probably will emerge as the eventual Republican nominee, and would probably be a stronger candidate against Obama than any of the current alternatives—definitely including Newt Gingrich, whose past record includes at least as many policy flip-flops as Romney's along with a lot of other baggage. But anything is possible, so we'll have to see.
Yet, when pressed by CBS News' chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer on whether he could support Romney if the "Massachusetts moderate" became the Republican nominee, Gingrich replied, "Sure. I would support a Republican candidate against Barack Obama because I think Barack Obama is tearing the country apart.

"But, let's be clear," added Gingrich. "Which part of what I just said to you is false? [....]

"But Mr. Speaker, what you're saying is 'Folks, Barack Obama is so bad that we'd be better off electing a bald-faced liar to the presidency, somebody that we would never know if he was telling the truth.' That is pretty strong stuff," said Schieffer. [....]
Well, yes. But Schieffer was probably even more on-target than he realized, and perhaps a bit naive as well.

True, the widespread (and accurate) perception that Romney is a flagrant hypocrite and "a bald-faced liar", so that we can't believe anything he says, is in some ways a liability for Romney as a candiate. But at the same time, this perception is also one of Romney's greatest assets.

Many of those who support Romney, and who will wind up voting for him in the Republican primaries and the general election, are operating precisely on the assumption that Romney doesn't really mean any of the crazy, extremist things he is currently saying, and hasn't really repudiated his whole previous record and all the things he once claimed to stand for, but instead is just cynically prepared to say or do whatever is necessary to reassure enough of the Republican primary electorate to win the nomination. (That's the only possible basis on which someone like Chris Christie, for example, could have endorsed Romney. Many voters in the so-called Republican "base" liked Christie because of his abrasively pugnacious political style. But Christie himself clearly realized that many of his substantive positions, which he couldn't easily repudiate while being the Governor of New Jersey, would mark him as far too "moderate" to get through the Republican primaries.) We may get a chance to see whether those assumptions are correct. Meanwhile, for many voters, pundits, and politicians, the unspoken slogan of the Romney campaign is, or should be: "Vote for the hypocrite, not the lunatic."

Be that as it may ... it must be confessed that when Newt Gingrich accuses Romney of being a liar and a hypocrite, it's hard to disagree. It takes one to know one, I guess.

—Jeff Weintraub