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Funny, I don’t feel like a victim

I don’t feel like one but, according to Mitt Romney, I am.  By now you have, no doubt, heard about the infamous video that’s all over the internet of Republican Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney.  Apparently the Governor was secretly recorded while speaking at a fundraising event in Florida on May 17th and his comments have raised a lot of eyebrows.

Here is the video from the fundraiser as released by the website Mother Jones.

The key quote I want to focus on from the Governor is the following:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Since the video has been made public, the Romney campaign has made a number of statements in response.  Here are a sampling:

“Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy. As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney’s plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs.” – Romney Campaign Statement

“I think he has to not apologize. … What he said is probably what he thinks.” – Donald Trump

“I am sure I can state it more clearly and effectively than I did in a setting like that…I am talking about a political process of drawing people in my campaign. … My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility…This is ultimately a question about the direction of the country. Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits? Or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?”  – Mitt Romney

Lots of explaining away the remarks, but no backing down.  Romney also added this his remarks were “off the cuff” which, rather than help explain, makes it even more clear these statements reflect his true and honest view of the country.  Trump is right.   Based on the response to the video being made public, it’s clear that the only regret on the part of Romney is that his statements were not as “eloquent” as they could have been.   That, my friends, is a good thing.

Too often we are forced to analyze candidates based on what we think they believe based on carefully scripted public statements and, of course, their actions – actions which, too often, are explained away by a spokesperson.  Here we have a candidate who has clearly articulated how he views the country and those who may not vote for him.  But it goes beyond that – it’s impactful because it doesn’t introduce a new idea.  We have always suspected this is how Romney views  the electorate, so these statements are serve as more of a confirmation than anything else

Beyond that, however, there are 3 reasons this gaffe (if one can even call it that) won’t be going away.

1. He’s wrong

In the video, Romney says that those who don’t pay any income tax won’t support him.  But a quick look at the map, below, shows just how wrong that is.  Look at the 10 states with the highest percentage of people not paying income tax – almost all Republican states (8 of the 10 have Republican Governors).  On the flip side, those with the lowest percentages tend to skew Democratic.

 

2. Who is Romney counting in the 47%?  Who is he leaving out?

The other point here is that, while it is true about 47% of Americans don’t pay income tax, the majority of those do pay other taxes (state, federal payroll etc…).   The percentage of Americans, according to the Tax Policy Center, that really don’t pay any Federal taxes is closer to 18%.   Most of those are elderly living on social security or extremely low-income families.  If you remove the elderly from the math, you are left with about 8% of the population – the majority of whom don’t have jobs and are living on other income (alimony,  child support etc…)  So, according to the non-partisan tax policy center, the percentage of the population not paying Federal taxes, and making more than $20K annually, but below the threshold for tax liability based on household size and other factors, is closer to 1%.  Of course, some of what makes up that 1% may well be the roughly 3,000 people who, despite making $2,178,866+ in 2011 – some of whom may have been in the room when Romney made his pronouncement – pay no federal income taxes.  Are they victims and irredeemable?

3. What does being reliant on the Government actually mean?

This is the crux of the issue with what Romney said.  He is deriding a significant portion of the population for being reliant on Government support.  But does that mean?  Is it reliance to take advantage of tax breaks to purchase a home?  Is it reliance for a Veteran take advantage of the GI Bill to get education?  Is it reliance to have student loans?  Is it reliance to use roads the Government paid for paving?  Is it reliance to expect a tax deduction for making a contribution to charity?  Is it reliance to deduct childcare expenses?  Is it reliance to call 911 in an emergency?

These questions are relevant because, so far, we don’t know what Mitt Romney would cut in order to balance out the giant tax cut he is proposing.  He has said time and time again that any tax cuts would be “revenue neutral” and offset by closing loopholes and ending certain tax breaks.  What he hasn’t said is which ones he is eyeing.  Given these comments, it is safe to assume that the loopholes he would close are the ones that “moochers” like me use.  That would be things like the aforementioned student loans, the mortgage interest tax break and others.  It might be cutting even more from Medicare and, while repealing the Affordable Care Act, it might mean the promised replacement (which he also refuses to talk about) would be something more akin to a privatized system.

So what does this all mean?  Well, to Governor Romney, it appears that tax breaks for the wealthy are right and proper, but “loopholes” that allow middle and lower class people to have an opportunity to succeed leads to entitlement.  Governor Romney’s assertion that those lower income people think they are entitled to things like food and housing suggests a society that has no responsibility for helping those less fortunate.  His callous writing off of these people as folks who he will never be able to reach suggest this is a man who should not be running for President.  It suggests a society where it is truly every person for themselves.  That’s not the country Ronald Reagan imagined and it’s not the America I believe in.  Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, took an estimated (according to his administration) 6 million low income people off the tax rolls – to him that wasn’t a problem, but the right thing to do.  In today’s Republican party that idea would seem to be a non-starter.  Romney called the EITC a “sweeping victory for fairness…perhaps the biggest anti-poverty program in our history.”  Quite the difference from how Romney sees the low-income population.  Reagan clearly cared.  Romney said “My job is not to worry about those people. ”

I’ll let conservative columnist David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, have the final word.  While he acknowledges Romney’s points about an “entitlement state growing at an unsustainable rate” he takes great issue with what Romney said and how he said it.  He lists several misconceptions that Romney must hold given the comments and says:

“The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.”

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3 Nights in Charlotte

Oh, the benefits of going second.  It’s not hard to imagine, after the Republican Convention last week in Tampa, Democratic leaders huddling somewhere to rewrite speeches, redo videos and shift the lineup to more effectively respond to the various charges and claims made by their opponents.  I’m here to tell you that, whatever they did, it worked.  Besides putting on a very entertaining show, the Democratic National Committee effectively made the case for President Obama’s re-election while, at the same time, energizing their base.  My prediction is that the President gets a 7-9 point bump out of this, but we’ll see once the new polls come out.

Before I get to the winners and losers of the convention, I want to share the best moment to come out of either event, by far.  On January 8, 2011, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords held an event in Tucson, Arizona.  Her “Congress on Your Corner” events were a great way for constituents to meet their Representative and have their voices heard.  On this particular day, however, the meeting ended in tragedy with six people (including a 9 year old girl) dead and Giffords critically wounded.   As anyone who has ever had or cared for someone with a serious brain injury knows, the path to recovery is long and extremely challenging.   She has made very few public appearances since the shooting and none have had the power and emotion of what she did last night.  Just watch.

Sure beats an empty chair as a lead-in to the party nominee!  Ok, without further ado, here are my winners and losers from the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Winners:

  • Bill Clinton

President Clinton has been delivering speeches for many many years and he is a master storyteller.  When Clinton takes the stage, people listen and hang on every word.  Love him or hate him, you have to admire his ability to captivate an audience and deliver key messages in an engaging and exciting way.  The speech he gave on Wednesday night, nominating President Obama was, in my humble opinion, one of the best he has ever given.  He was forceful, he was funny and he left no doubt about how he has seen the past 4 years and why he believes Barack Obama should be re-elected.   As CNN Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said following the speech, “If Barack Obama gets re-elected, I think tonight will be a good reason why.”  Hard to do better than that.

  • Barack Obama

Watching the Republican Convention, one couldn’t help but wonder how much the party elite is really excited about the prospect of a President Romney.  Many of the speakers seemed to be more focused on building themselves up for a future run, rather than making the case for Romney.  By contrast, the Democrats are clearly excited about their ticket and that passion shone through in speech after speech.   In addition, I thought Obama’s speech was very impressive.  I left his speech thinking that this is a serious guy who has learned from his mistakes, but whose commitment to doing what he believes is right hasn’t wavered.  I really liked the reframing of the “hope and change” arguement from 4 years ago and found it quite effective.  Was it a soaring speech that Obama 2004 or Clinton 2012?  No.  But I don’t think it needed to be or, quite frankly, should have been.  He needed to let the others do that, and come across as a leader we can trust.  Which I think he did.

The other thing about the convention is President Obama came across as much tougher and stronger than I have seen before.  We heard from Vice-President Biden about how he goes about making decisions and what a strong character he has.  Biden told us that Obama “has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and a spine of steel” and we saw that in Obama’s speech.  All of those traits were there and, when combined with his messages, Obama very much came across as someone who we can trust to work for all Americans and continue to make a difference.

  • Deval Patrick, John Kerry, Jennifer Granholm

Aside from Clinton and Obama, these three leaders delivered the best speeches of the convention.  Each focused on different issues, but all three were extremely effective in their defense of the President and convincing in their support for him.  All three are going to play a critical role in the campaign between now and November 6 and all three delivered stirring and memorable speeches.   Patrick (Romney’s record in Massachusetts), Kerry (Foreign Policy) and Granholm (Auto bailout) all made the point that Americans are better off today because of the leadership of President Obama and all made the the point that Governor Romney would be the wrong choice.

  • Michelle Obama

Wow.  Just, wow.  Michelle Obama delivered an incredible speech that was beyond a simple endorsement of her husband.  She told us more about the man, what drives him and, most importantly, connected his ideas and beliefs to their family and the future they imagine for their daughters.  It was powerful, it was compelling, it was funny and it was effective.

Losers

  • George W. Bush

It’s clear that Obama’s team see winning Michigan and Ohio as crucial to their chances in November.  That’s why they focused so heavily on the Auto bailout and how many jobs that effort saved.  What no one mentioned, however, is that President Bush was the one who first began to lay the groundwork for the bailout and, in fact, authorized the first loan to Detroit.  The fact is that the bailout worked, but the facts are, also, that Bush deserves some of the credit.

  • Martin O’Malley

The Governor of Maryland is often mentioned as a potential 2016 Presidential candidate.  However, he did not do himself any favors with his convention speech.  The Republicans want to make this election a referendum on the past 4 years and, as such, are making the argument that Americans are worse off than they were when President Obama took office.   Leading into this convention, the Democrats had primarily tried to counter that argument by attempting to make the election a choice election – that is, putting the Obama/Biden plan alongside the Romney/Ryan plan and asking Americans which one works best for them.  However, in Charlotte, there was a much more forceful argument that we are, in fact, better off than we were 4 years ago.  It’s important because if they can defend both their record and promote their future plans effectively, there is no way Romney can win.

However, in a pre-convention interview on Face the Nation,  Governor O’Malley undercut that message when asked by host Bob Schieffer if he could ” honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?”  In response,  O’Malley said “No, but that’s not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars — charged for the first time to credit cards, the national credit cards.”  It may have been honest and it may have been an attempt to link Romney to Bush.  But, as a result, O’Malley had to spend the convention backtracking and that’s not a position a 2016 candidate wants to be in.

  • Charlie Crist

Party changers are rarely well received at conventions, but Crist’s speech was embarrassingly bad.  It was such a transparent attempt to further his own political ambitions and those in the hall saw right through it.  I have no idea if Crist will help Obama win Florida by appealing to moderates but his speech last night didn’t do the President any favors.  As bad as Artur Davis was last week at the RNC, Crist was worse because he was clearly only speaking to help set himself up for a Gubernatorial run as a Democrat.   Not good.  Not good at all.

  • Platform Committee

The party platforms are rarely read and the news media, generally, only spends time talking about them if there is something controversial or different.  The fact that the RNC platform is anti-abortion, with no exceptions, was newsworthy and will become an issue in the campaign.  The Democrats made the decision to not mention God, and to not endorse Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Then, after some backlash from both inside and outside the party, the committee made the decision to add that back in.  This resulted in some awkward moments where, when the change was announced, there was scattered booing in the hall.  Likely the delegates were booing the fact that a change was being made, but it gave the appearance (as hyped up on Fox) that they were booing God.  Whatever the truth, it was not a good image for the party.

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Before I let you go (and kudos if you’ve read this all the way through) I want to leave you with two videos. I think it is ENORMOUSLY important that all Americans, regardless of where you may stand, see the speeches from both Presidential candidates.  Please set aside some time to watch – it’s important to know where they stand and what their vision is for the country.

A Scary Time in America

And you thought this election was going to be all about the economy.  Silly you!  In today’s of installment of “What the hell were they thinking?” I give you Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Missouri.   Akin won a tough primary battle for the right to face one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators, Claire McCaskill.  And the polls showed him doing quite well – up by 8-10 points in most.  But then Rep. Akin went on the Jaco Report and, at the risk of underselling it, things didn’t go too well.

Click here and scroll down for the full interview.  The abortion comments begin around the 4 minute mark.

Yes, you heard that right.  According to a man who has been serving in the United States House, women’s bodies have some sort-of magical ability to determine if a rape is “legitimate” and, if it is, can prevent pregnancy.  Stupidity like that, if it wasn’t so scary, would be hilarious.   Oh yeah, Akin also sits on the House Science Committee.

It might be interesting to note that this is not a new issue that Akin just happened to bring up. The House passed a bill earlier this year with full Republican support and 16 Democrats which would have added language to the Federal Abortion Ban (which includes rape exemptions) to differentiate between “forcible” rape and other rape. The bill never made it to the Senate floor but, if it had passed, women who had been the victims of non-forcible rape (statutory rape, rapes that involve drugs, or verbal threats) would not be exempted from the ban. My guess is that Akin misspoke and meant to say forcible rape, not legitimate.  To quote President Obama on this “Rape is rape.”  Done.  Simple.  Right.

Either way, this is just another in a series of moves by factions of a Republican party that is so far out of touch with modern times, I shudder to think what they will come up with next.   Now, I will acknowledge that many prominent Republicans have tried to distance themselves from Akin but it just doesn’t ring true in most cases.  Mitt Romney, through a spokesperson, says that “Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape…”  Problem is, Congressman Ryan was a co-sponsor of the “forcible rape” bill and the RNC sub-committee tasked with the creation of a party platform approved this afternoon anti-choice language with NO exemptions (not health of the mother, not rape of any kind, nothing).    Romney will be the leader of a party that believes a crucial issue this year is ensuring that Government doesn’t help women who get raped have abortions.  This isn’t just Congressman Akin – this is a a GOP strategy.

Consider other instances, just in the past 12 months:

  • Rush Limbaugh calls Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying before Congress regarding contraception
  • Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum said, in regards to abortion in cases of rape that “women should make the best of a bad situation”
  • Kansas lawmaker, Pete DeGraaf, suggested that women should plan ahead for being raped by buying abortion-only policies in the same way that he keeps a spare tire in his car.
  • Legislatures across the country have introduced nearly 1,000 bills relating to female reproductive rights – nearly all of them designed to limit a woman’s ability to control her own medical decisions.  (SIDE NOTE: Don’t you find it remarkable that the same Congress so concerned with “Obamacare” taking healthcare decisions away from the individual is so ok with it when it comes to these issues?)

This isn’t about religious freedom.  This isn’t about one man making a gaffe.  This is about a group of people – mostly men – who have decided that the pre-1950s era limits on women’s freedoms were the way to go.  This is about a group of people who want to control a woman’s body.  It is terrifying to me that these people serve in our government and I shudder to think what the United States of America would look like if they were in charge.

I’ll close with the words of Eve Ensler, in her heartfelt and powerful letter to Congressman Akin on the Huffington Post today.

“You didn’t make some glib throw away remark. You made a very specific ignorant statement clearly indicating you have no awareness of what it means to be raped. And not a casual statement, but one made with the intention of legislating the experience of women who have been raped. Perhaps more terrifying: it was a window into the psyche of the GOP…Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.”

Why is fairness so difficult?

There was an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer last week that caught my attention.   Essentially, there is quite the battle going on in Ohio right now regarding early voting and hours it will be available.  The debate has been over what hours polling stations offering early voting should be open.  The standard is that polling stations are only open during the week and close promptly at 5:00 PM.  However, in order to open access to those who work full-time, polling stations were open later in the evening an on weekends for the 2008 election.  This year those extended hours are under attack and are in jeopardy.

Now, it would be one thing if the extended hours were to go away in all Ohio counties.  But, because this is 2012, that is not the case.  In several Ohio counties extended hours have already been approved.   Why?  Well Democrats support extended hours in all counties, while Republicans are only supportive in areas that are likely to vote Republican.  Given that each the Board of Elections in each county has 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans, that has led to a 4-0 vote for in the likely Republican counties and a 2-2 tie in the likely Democratic counties.  When there is a tie the Secretary of State, Republican Jon Husted, breaks it.  Again, because this is 2012, he has aligned chosen short-term political gain over what is right and just.  The effect is that only certain counties will have early voting and others will not.

While it is true that, for those who can’t get out of work to vote, there are other options (absentee ballots), the fact remains that, in Ohio, the elections will not be fairly contested.   We can debate the merits of early voting and extended hours all we want, but that is not the issue here.  The issue here is that certain members of one party are doing everything they can to suppress the votes they don’t like and encourage the ones they do.  And that, my friends, is beyond shameful.   And, to say it is about money, as Husted has, is just a blatantly dishonest statement designed to pull the wool over the eyes of American citizens.  It’s a lie and he knows it.

You know what I’d love?  Let’s have international observers come monitor OUR elections and give a report.  Different rules applying to different places based on the expected results would be decried anywhere else in the world.  Results would be challenged and Anderson Cooper would be on the scene creepily quickly.  However, at home, we simply accept it and say, as chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party Alex Triantafilou did, “there will be plenty of hours to vote early.”  So, essentially, it may not be fair, but figure it out.  That is not the way our Democracy is supposed to work and not why so many groups, who Husted, Triantafilou, and others are working to suppress, have struggled for years for the right to cast their vote.