Archive for 2011

Romney Rises as Fox Stirs the GOP Presidential Pot

Friday, August 12th, 2011

You gotta hand it to Fox News: these guys know how to put on a show.

The panel of “reporters” at last night’s Republican presidential debate, particularly Chris Wallace, hurled one tough question after another at the eight candidates on the stage (for two hours – two hours!) in Ames, Iowa while the bellows, boos and howls of the live audience made it sound like a WWE steel cage match. None of that wimpy “please hold your applause” stuff for Roger Ailes.

In the end, however, all the excitement boiled down to little more than most of the candidates shouting “pay attention to me” while cynically pushing every right-wing hot button they could summon.

Of the eight wannabes on the stage, only front-runner Mitt (“corporations are people, too”) Romney and the embattled Newt Gingrich remotely resembled a national leader, someone with enough bearing, stature and chops to imagine (however terrifyingly) them becoming a major party nominee.

Romney was the winner of the evening, simply because none of the others laid a glove on him (Tim Pawlenty’s limp slaps aside), and he was glib and adept, if sometimes patronizing, in bashing President Obama as “over his head” in dealing with the economy, while ticking off crisp talking points about his own free market ideas to fix everything in a jiffy. He did have the strangest line of the night, however, when he said he won’t eat Barack Obama’s dog food. Huh?

Gingrich shone largely because expectations for him were so low, after his campaign imploded a few months ago and he reported being $1 million in debt in his latest filing. His sharp attack on the media, in the person of Wallace, was great theater, his rant about the “super congress” budget committee was terrific and his world-weary tone of a veteran big leaguer contrasted with the white-rat-on-speed squeals and yapping of his second-tier rivals.

Our personal favorite performer was Texas congressman Ron Paul, whose isolationist ravings about the war-mongering idiocy of our foreign policy made a shocking amount of sense, despite his endless harping on the need to return to the gold standard, and his uncanny resemblance to crazy Uncle Bob telling everyone in a too-loud voice at Thanksgiving dinner that they need to apply DMSO to whatever ache, pain or life-threatening illness that’s bothering them.

Michele Bachmann — whose brief disappearance from the stage left us wondering if she had to a) take an aspirin b) powder her nose or c) grab some lines from Ed Rollins — all but promised that she would nuke Iran to keep them for becoming a nuclear power but handled the question of whether she’d be submissive to her husband with a certain amount of poise. Her attacks on Tim Pawlenty were sharp and nasty, which was fun, but when he said she’d never accomplished anything in Congress her only direct response was to tout her pushing a bill for freedom of choice in light bulbs. Pro-choice on light bulbs. Really?

Pawlenty (who offered to cook us dinner and cut our grass) and Jon Huntsman were feckless washouts, while Rick Santorum — who had to bite and scratch to get any attention at all — looked and sounded like a back-bench legislator (surprise!). He did get in one nice if oblique shot at Bachmann when he noted that of course the debt ceiling had to be raised  to keep the U.S. from becoming a deadbeat nation — leadership not showmanship, he said. Herman Cain is just plain screwy.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to enter the race this weekend during the Iowa Straw Poll in which he’s not participating, appeared only in a question from the reporters and none of the actual contenders were willing to brush him back, save one sideways mention by Huntsman that the GOP needs all the prayers it can get.

The actual content on the candidates’ remarks, in the end, doesn’t mean as much as whether they impress viewers as someone they could imagine being Leader of the Free World. Which is why Romney — no matter his conflicted stand on the 10th Amendment — came away the winner.

Those seeking a play-by-play replay of the evening are advised to check out Gawker’s live blog. Not that any of this matters much since the Ames straw poll (for which Thursday night’s debate was a precursor) and, for that matter, the Iowa caucuses themselves, have little to do with a) who gets nominated and b) who becomes president.  But it keeps our brothers and sisters in the news media busy spinning crapchurn for months on company expense accounts.

Note to Fox: Lose the annoying game-show warning dinger.

Press Clips: This week’s Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry goes to the inestimable Timm Herdt, for his hiding-in-plain sight perceptual scoop highlighting the absurdity of California’s Leviathan-sized legislative districts.

The point, of course, was made first and ably by Joe Mathews and Mark Paul, but kinda’ got buried in the big picture coverage of their “California Crackup”opus. But Herdt, who properly credits the dynamic duo, is right on the money with his timing, as what-about-me cries of anguish about the new legislative maps produced in the zero-sum redistricting process pierce the skies of California. For good measure, Herdt’s fine- writing-done-cheap piece provides just-right small, telling details to describe the nuttiness of the out-of-scale sprawl that shapes the current system:

The size of the Legislature — 80 Assembly members, 40 senators — was established in 1879. At the time, there were fewer than 1 million people living here.

Today, there are 37.3 million. That means that an Assembly district must contain about 465,000 people and each Senate district about 931,000…

How big is a Senate district? Five of the 50 states have fewer people. The districts are 10 times larger than the national average, three times bigger than those in the second-place state, Texas.

And while we’re on the subject, kudos to the indomitable Allan Hoffenblum for fleshing out the landscape and the lineups of the proposed new districts in an ongoing series over at Fox and Hounds.

The big story: The mighty roar of hemming, hawing and harrumphing that arose from D.C. precincts populated by Beltway Media Wizards this week came in response to an unusual, 3,000 word, pop psych op-ed in the Sunday NYT by a lefty egghead who proclaimed the end of his mad crush on Obama because the president doesn’t tell good bedtime stories.

Drew Westen, a psych professor at Emory and a disillusioned Obamabot, triggered a new  narrative among the journalistic pack – Lefties turn on Obama! – with an unrequited love tale of how The Great Man broke the hearts of his supporters and brought the world economy to the brink of disaster by failing to, well, trigger a new narrative:

The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to “expect” stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought. Our species existed for more than 100,000 years before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the majority of humans would know how to read and write.

Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and “news stories” that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories; the holy books of the three great monotheistic religions are written in parables; and as research in cognitive science has shown, lawyers whose closing arguments tell a story win jury trials against their legal adversaries who just lay out “the facts of the case.”

When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.

In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.

You get the idea.

We’ve not been shy about bashing the issue framing, political strategies  and communications operations of the White House, but Professor Chrome Dome seems to be living in a dream world where presidents get to make all the rules, people actually play attention to the pronouncements of politicians and Republicans actually want the government to work.

Amid all the breast-beating about the Westen piece on the left, and the huzzahs sounding in the studios of Fox News, some insightful members of the Pajamahadeen did nice work in tearing apart the guy’s argument with some Actual Facts, most notably xpostfactoid:

Westen is a good storyteller. There is real force to many of his charges. But modeling what he says Obama should have done, he  tells a simplified morality tale — highly selective, with a clear villain, and in some points demonstrably false. He makes copious use of political cliches about messaging that fail to take into account the degree to which economic conditions shape audience reception of a politician’s message. Founded on the alleged timidity of the 2009 stimulus, his story fails to engage the question of whether Obama could have got a larger stimulus through Congress. And in the end, it devolves into an ad hominem attack with recourse to cheap psychologizing (notwithstanding Westen’s protestations of scientific detachment) and unfounded impugning of motive.

Calbuzz sez check it out.

ICYMI: The rumors are true: Mitt Romney really did say that corporations are people.


Candy Bears, Gold Doubloons & Jihadist Logorrhea

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Whether the Tea Party Downgrade of the Full Faith and Credit of the USA will or will not have much impact on California’s state finances, it surely has already had an effect in terms of perceptions about whether a government divided by partisan ideologues can get anything done. What’s unclear yet, as Charlie Cook of the National Journal explained, is if voters will apply their widespread disgust with Washington selectively or aim it at anyone who was at the scene of the crime.

One note from Cook’s analysis is worth highlighting: “The lowly 14 percent approval (82 percent disapproval) for Congress in the August 2-3 CBS News/New York Times poll of 960 adults (with a 3-point error margin) was underscored by only 15 percent thinking most members of Congress deserve reelection and 75 percent don’t think that most deserve reelection.”

You gotta believe voters between, say 35 and 50, who are trying to patch together some sort of long-term security for themselves by building up their 401Ks or relying on pension plans, were gasping Monday and Tuesday as the stock market plunged and resurfaced at a sickening pace. BTW, where did people decide to stash big chunks of cash for safe-keeping? Or didn’t you notice that yields on treasuries went down?

Meanwhile, cartoonist Tom Meyer, whipped out his green eye shade and sided with those who say the bear market (or maybe the bear federal budget) will take a bite out of California’s financial standing.

Gandalf cons another Beltway Wizard: Our Department of Diversified  Portfolio Investments and Survival Cache Bug Out Bags has been quite busy  in recent days, simultaneously funneling cash to help Ron Paul dump the Federal Reserve while converting the rest of our assets into gold doubloons.

So we’re only now working our way through the transcript of Candy Crowley’s much-ballyhooed, “exclusive” interview with Governor Gandalf, finally figuring out why Krusty incomprehensibly gave a sit-down to CNN instead of Calbuzz.

Four key words: Cuz Crowley was clueless.

A bit of background: Back on April 10, 2009, long before he was a declared candidate, Brown sat still with us for his first detailed interview about the governor’s race, in which he discussed what he’d learned from his first tour of state chief executive duty and how would it shape a third term:

We wanted to interview Brown to ask his views on seven key questions we posed to all the candidates in one of our first posts. In his own fashion, he addressed most of them. However, Brown staunchly refused to specify what combination of cuts and tax hikes he would support to deal with chronic deficits, beyond stressing his view that California is a “very high tax” state and dismissing as politically impractical the proposal to amend Proposition 13 by taxing commercial and industrial property at higher rates than residential property.

“Anyone who answers that (tax and cuts question) will never have a chance to be governor,” he said. “It’s very hard to discuss with particularity anything that can be turned into (campaign) fodder.”

Comes now CNN’s Crowley and a squadron of highly paid flacks to trumpet to the world the news that Brown offered President Obama some unsolicited advice for the 2012 campaign: get out there and cite chapter and verse specifics on the federal spending issue:

BROWN: I’m telling you, we are at a crossroads, that if the Republicans cannot give up some of their ideological baggage, and if the Democrats can’t find a way to create common ground, the country is going to face some decline.

And I think the only way out of that is going to be a very vigorous election, where people lay out the stark alternatives, not muffle it like politicians like to do, kind of, you know, smooth out the rough edges. I think we need a very clear, decisive election.

I would say that the Republicans are gearing up to destroy the president, that the president will have to respond in a very powerful way, and the result for the country could be calamitous.

CROWLEY: What does his response have to be? What is that powerful response?

BROWN: He has to be authentic. He has to be powerful. He has to lay out a clear alternative and run a risk that it may not work out for him, because the — society’s in the mood where it wants a lot of things, but it’s not willing to pay for them.

CROWLEY: So you think the president needs to run saying, folks, we need to raise taxes?

BROWN: Well, I wouldn’t quite put it in those terms, because that, we know from Mr. Mondale, is a big fat loser.

CROWLEY: Well, exactly, but you’re talking about stark contrasts.

BROWN: Well, the contrast is what the choice is. If you don’t want to pay the taxes, you’ve got to cut Social Security, the military, research, highways, hospitals, schools, universities. You have to retrench from being a great superpower. And I think there is a bill at the end of that that people might be willing to pay. If they don’t pay then America will never be the same.

So there is the tax reform. There is the deductions, the loopholes. There are a lot of ways that the president can present it. But it may be that because of the propaganda or the state of indulgence where we are, maybe the truth cannot be spoken in a way that makes it a successful campaign. If that’s true, then we are really in for it.

In other words, proclaims California’s Apostle of Common Sense, Obama must do exactly what he himself absolutely refused to do in his campaign.

Ms. (Pass The) Candy not only failed to call Brown out on this gaping inconsistency between words and actions, but also let him endlessly run his pie hole on the issue, apparently oblivious of what actually happened in California, you know, a whole year ago.

The ever-insightful John Meyers did an excellent job of preventing his own head from exploding while gently chiding Brown for the absurdity of his latest unsuccessful bout with logorrhea, as he posed a trio of intriguing political questions:

Which raises a question similar to the one posed at the outset: if the state’s budget plan starts to unravel, will Governor Brown go back and lay out — as he calls it — the “stark choices” faced? And had he laid them out in 2010, would he have paved the way for a different budget outcome this year… or… would he now be home sitting on the sidelines?

Calbuzz sez: No, Yes, No.

Must-read of the week. Theory Number 653 about why Obama screwed the pooch in dealing with Republican jihadists: he’s just not that smart.

Why CA Will or Won’t Matter to GOP Pres Candidates

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Before we see and hear a lot of hyperventilating about how important California is in deciding who gets elected president of the United States – mostly from political writers hoping to justify their travel budgets and expense accounts — let’s consider some of the facts of life.

No Republican (or pro-life candidate) has carried California in a general election since 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush beat Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis 51-48%. By November 2012, it will have been 24 years since California chose a Republican for president. Barack Obama won the general election in California over Republican John McCain 61-37% after losing the 2008 Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton 52-43%. John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton all carried California.

President Obama will win California in 2012. The Republican presidential nominee may come here in the fall to raise money, to generate free media or to placate GOP stalwarts. But his or her media buy and campaign organization will be puny because anything else would be a big fat waste of time and money. As GOP consultant Rob Stutzman explained to us, “No campaigns are active here except for raising money. Also, none of these campaigns have the resources to plan for a contingency like California.”

The most likely scenario: So California’s 55 electoral votes will indeed be important – to Obama.  But California will not be a battleground state: it will be part of the Obama-Biden campaign’s assumed base.

Moreover, the nomination calendar is so front-loaded — not only by Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, but also by Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, Massachusetts and Texas (to name a few) — that by the time California Republicans have their say, it’s likely the GOP nominee already will have been decided.

Republicans are a lot more hierarchical than Democrats. They don’t like messy, riotous, protracted nominations and they tend to fall in behind their candidate a lot sooner than Democrats do. But not always.

In 1976, Ronald Reagan won enough states, including North Carolina, Texas, Ohio and California, to take his campaign all the way to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City where Vice President Gerald Ford won on the first ballot by just 117 delegate votes, taking only 53% of the 2,258 votes cast.

True, that was a long time ago. But the GOP today is more fractured than ever.

Infused with tea partiers who would dismantle government altogether and emboldened by a Democratic president who, despite his Chicago roots, seems constitutionally incapable of playing tough, the know-nothing wing of the Republican Party holds great sway.

How else can you explain the fact that a genuinely bat-shit, ignoramus congresswoman from a cold Midwestern state (we name no names) is taken seriously as a potential presidential contender?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the odds-on favorite, having run before and raised the most money. But plenty of Republicans don’t trust him for religious (his Mormonism) and ideological (pro-choice/anti-choice, e.g.) reasons. And if ultra-right, Bible-enforcing, Constitution shredding Texas Gov. Rick Perry gets in this week, he may quickly become the flavor of the week. Not to mention a cast of other GOP characters who are trying to capture attention and taking pot shots at the leaders in the polls.

Out in Iowa, where the Republicans prepare for a big debate on Thursday and straw poll on Saturday, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul and others already are trying to establish themselves in the top tier of candidates.

The most likely scenario going forward is that one candidate or another will rack up a series of victories and wrap up the nomination before California votes. As our friend Sal Russo of Sacramento, founder and strategist for the Tea Party Express, explained, “No one has the resources to mount any kind of serious campaign here, so they all just choose to skip it. The system puts a premium on momentum, which means once someone strings together a few wins, all of the pins fall over before California.”

How the state could be in play: But it’s not inconceivable that by June 5, 2012, the Republican presidential nomination could still be in doubt. If the GOP nomination is still undecided, California’s estimated 172 delegates — the bulk of them awarded winner-take-all in congressional districts – would represent about 15% of the total needed to secure the nomination.

Let’s say (just for the sake of argument) that by June the field is winnowed down to Romney, Perry and Bachmann. Even with eMeg the Magnificent as his finance chairperson, Romney, who pulled a million votes (35%) in 2008 against McCain in California and who had the best favorability and most backing in the June Field Poll, might not have a lock on California.

Given the sometimes ultra-right tendencies of California GOP primary voters, Perry and Bachmann – if they have resources and organizations – might well make it a contest. Which is why it makes sense that Bachmann has already accepted a speaking slot at the California Republican Party’s statewide September convention in Los Angeles and why, unless they’re loony, Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman, Gingrich and Perry (if he’s a candidate) ought to do the same.

Romney, in particular, who’s got a $12-million beachfront home down in La Jolla, has the most to lose by stiffing the state GOP. He’s already lost some of his edge. As our friend Jim Brulte noted the other day, his people wanted the GOP primary to remain early, since he has run in California before, but with the primary now set for June, all the others have a chance to catch up to him.

Another factor to keep in mind, we were reminded by GOP strategist Jarrod Agen: early voting by permanent absentee voters means that even though primary day isn’t until June, plenty of Republicans will have filled out their ballots and mailed them long before. So establishing, maintaining and re-enforcing support – especially among Republican activists – could prove important to whether candidates can make use of the treasure trove of delegates California offers.

Bottom line: California will continue to serve as a source of campaign contributions and free media for Republican presidential candidates. But unless no one is able to wrap up the nomination before June, California won’t be much of a factor in the GOP race. If however, the race is unresolved by June, California could be the pivotal contest.