When the Left wanted to escape from the Bush administration, they watched "The West Wing". They didn't stop believing that Bush was president or stop believing that any numbers were true, or create their own polls in which John Kerry was up by 15 points. ... The Right, I think, has retreated into their own universe in which they are winning, they are the majority, and Barack Obama was never elected president.
-- Joy Reid
This week everybody was talking about the debate Romney wonOr maybe the one that President Obama lost. The New Yorker's cover expressed the situation pretty well.
The short version is that Romney finally shook the Etch-a-Sketch and brought back Moderate Mitt, who hadn't been seen all year. Obama seemed unfocused and didn't make Romney pay a price for either his sudden about-face or his mis-characterizations of both the president's policies and his own.
Obama's passivity and moderator Jim Lehrer's unwillingness to enforce discipline allowed Romney to dominate the debate, getting the last word on every segment. CBS' snap poll indicated that 46% of undecided viewers believed Romney won the debate, compared to 22% who thought Obama won.
Aside from a pervasive depression about an election that had seemed in the bag before the debate, liberals like me were left with a series of questions:
- What was wrong with Obama? All kinds of theories cropped up: overconfidence, the altitude, bad strategy, and so on. To me, none of them seem more compelling than the explanation that he just had a bad day. The most optimistic explanation is that he has a four-debate strategy, and that the whole point of the first debate was to get Romney to commit to either Moderate Mitt or Mr. Conservative. Maybe.
- What are the facts about Romney's tax plan, pre-existing conditions, and other disputed points? I'll cover Romney's tax and budget proposals (such as they are) in a separate post. Once again, Romney claimed to cover pre-existing conditions on national TV, only to have his staff walk it back later. In short, all Romney promises is not repeal the legal protections that have existed since 1996.
- How big a difference will the debate make in the election? As much as everybody likes a winner, I don't think anybody goes into the voting booth thinking: "I'm going to vote for this guy because he won the debate." Rather, winning the debate means creating a moment that will change people's minds. It's not clear that happened. Romney's performance, IMO, will cause viewers to take another look at him. Whether they'll like what they see is another question. Nate Silver believes Obama's lead has shrunk from around 4.5% to between 1% and 2%, but sees signs that Romney's momentum has already faded.
- Would conservatives let Romney get away with moving to the center? The answer seems to be Yes. Chris Hayes had this absolutely right: "The thing that conservatives care the most about is pissing off liberals. ... If you can infuriate liberals by moving to the left and confounding their beloved president, [conservatives] are going to love you. They don't care. One more thing: They don't really worry that [Romney] would actually do what he says."
- If his sudden pivot to the center wins the election for Romney, which Mitt will take office in January? My money is on the "severe conservative". Particularly if the Republicans retain the House and make gains in the Senate (as they probably will if the climate changes enough to elect Romney), only "severely conservative" bills will come to his desk. Can you really picturing him vetoing them?
Finally, the most memorable moment of the debate may hurt Romney: his threat to Big Bird. Romney's promises to cut taxes and raise defense spending, while protecting Medicare and Social Security for current and near-future retirees leaves him with a credibility problem on the deficit: What is he going to cut to make the numbers work?
Needing some kind of example, Romney picked PBS, whose subsidy amounts to one ten-thousandth of the federal budget. "I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too" he told moderator Jim Lehrer (from PBS), "but I’m not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it."
That prompted a huge save-Big-Bird response on the Internet, some serious, some tongue-in-cheek. The visuals said it best.
... and new jobs report
Romney's Wednesday-night momentum was blunted by Friday morning: The new jobs report puts unemployment below 8% for the first time since Obama took office. The drop was not dramatic, but continued the generally improving pattern of the last two-and-a-half years.
Conservatives reacted to the news the way they react to any facts they don't like: It can't be true. Either Obama has a method (which no one identified) for manipulating the Bureau of Labor Statistics (which has no political appointees), or Democrats are lying to the survey-takers about having jobs, or something.
... and you also might find this interesting
A behind-the-scenes battle is going on in news organizations around the country about what to call people who enter the United States illegally and/or stay without a visa or other official documentation. Are they illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants, or what?
The argument gained a little attention when it appeared in the blog of the New York Times' Public Editor, who defends The Times' usage of illegal immigrant as "clear and accurate". Jose Antonio Vargas, whose NYT Magazine article "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant" touched off a furor in 2011, is campaigning for undocumented, which NYT standards editor Phil Corbett considers a "euphemism".
A good discussion of this topic appeared on Sunday's Up with Chris Hayes.
Illegal vs. undocumented is a very instructive example of framing, which can seem arcane in the abstract. Even if the illegal and undocumented refer to the same people, each term favors a particular course of action. If immigrants are illegal, the obvious thing to do is arrest them. But if they are undocumented, the simplest solution is to issue them papers. A reporter who doesn't want to advocate either approach still has to call these immigrants something.
When I'm trying to be neutral, I think I'm going to use unprocessed, which doesn't specify whether resolution requires a criminal or a bureaucratic process.
Want to reduce the number of abortions? Then you should be advocating for ObamaCare's contraception mandate.
A new study of women in St. Louis found that counseling about contraception combined with free access to the contraception method of their choice led to dramatically lower rates of unintended pregnancies and abortions.
Will anti-abortion activists seize on this new information and demand the contraception mandate be upheld? Of course not. As worked up as the religious right gets about ultrasounds of fetuses, abortion is actually a screen for other issues, most notably promiscuity. The sky will fall if women can enjoy sex without consequences, and even if contraception could eliminate abortion entirely, traditionalists would find the price too high.
In 2010, climate change was a losing issue. Republicans who were on record supporting cap-and-trade or other action had to quickly recant (like John McCain) or lose a primary (like Rep. Bob Inglis). Democrats didn't do much better with it, and most were happy if the topic never came up.
Democrats have mostly stayed silent in 2012 as well, but that may be a mistake. Mother Jones' Chris Mooney (author of The Republican War on Science) argues that public opinion on climate change has shifted recently, and for a very interesting reason.
If you remember the mid-2000s, the icon of global warming was the polar bear. From a public opinion standpoint, this was a disaster: It rendered the issue remote, in both time and space. The fear was about future devastation, in a place where most people have never been and will never go.
The new face of global warming, though, is extreme weather: droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, skipped winters, and so on.
Global warming is now ... about something that is just not right in your surroundings, and in the rhythm of your own life.
Mitt Romney played to the old framing in his convention speech: "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family." His audience laughed.
Obama struck back with the new frame: "More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future." Unfortunately, that was a single-news-cycle exchange. So far, there's no indication that Obama or Democrats in general recognize climate change as a winning issue.