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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Obama’s Ad Blitz Failing in Iowa and Out West, Working Elsewhere

The latest poll results out of the Hawkeye State show Mitt Romney leading the president, 47% to 44%. That’s within the margin of error, but if you’re an incumbent trailing your opponent by three points, then it also has to be worrisome.

Following the Republican National Convention, the Romney-Ryan campaign hit Iowa with this ad:
As you can see/hear, the ad is not very good. I think this, however, is a better ad:
Just imagine what effect more ads like this one would have on the polls. 

The Desert West Deserts Obama

In 2008, President Obama won Colorado by nine percentage points and Nevada by twelve points. Polls have shown the presidential race this year to be a dead heat in both states. Rasmussen Reports shows Romney with a two-point lead in Colorado, 47%-45%, while the president leads him by the same margin in Nevada. (The president has a one-point lead in Colorado, according to a Quinnipiac poll, and a CNN/Opinion Research survey puts his lead at three points in the Silver State, 49%-46%,.) Nevada is a particularly interesting case because, while polls have shown the president with a consistent lead in the state for months, he can't seem to break 50%. In any other state, this would portend inescapably bad news for the incumbent in what is essentially a two-way race, but Nevada is unique, in that it allows voters to cast their ballot for "None of these candidates." Thus, Obama's sub-50% approval rating need not be drag on his campaign if he can convince enough voters that Romney is an unacceptable alternative.

There's a lot of stupid people out east.

The money the president's campaign has been pouring into other swing states has yielded more appreciable dividends, however; he's opened up a small but obvious lead over Romney in Ohio and Virginia, and Michigan--which once looked like a swing state--now appears to be out of play. The Obama campaign has not been spending a lot of money in Michigan, but outside groups and labor unions have been covering for them, and the polls indicate a marked shift toward Democrats. The Detroit News poll has Obama up leading Romney by 14 points in Republican's the native state; last month, that lead was six points. EPIC-MRA also shows the president widening his lead over Mitt Romney in Michigan; late last month, their poll showed Obama ahead by just three points, 49%-46%, but their latest poll of likely voters in Michigan gives the incumbent a ten-point lead, 47%-37%. (Note that both candidates have lost support, though Romney has lost a lot more than Obama.) Republicans aren't convinced Michigan is a lost cause, however; Restore Our Future, the conservative super PAC that boosted Romney in the primaries, will be running ads in several media markets throughout the state through October 2nd

I'll cover Ohio and Virginia in a separate post, but I wanted to also mention that the presidential race remains a dead heat in Florida, which has expectedly been the largest recipient of campaign spending this election cycle, and of course, Obama's campaign has outspent Romney's, while pro-Romney/anti-Obama groups have slightly outspent pro-Obama/anti-Romney groups on the airwaves. With less than seven weeks to go before election Day and early voting already underway, the question becomes whether Romney, Ryan and their allies can overpower the president's machine (which I'll be posting about next week), especially with voters in some swing states feeling overwhelmed by all the attention focused on them. As November 6th draws closer, the effectiveness of campaign ads becomes more and more limited. Let's hope the Romney campaign makes the most of the next few weeks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Obama's Post-Convention Bounce Is Gone

Earlier today, I had an experience I honestly never thought I would have. It involves a former member of Congress and violating the law, but that's not what I wanted to blog about.

If you watched any news show with a panel or round-table discussion in the past week and a half, then you've probably heard something about the Obama-Biden ticket getting a "bounce" in the polls following a hugely successful Democratic National Convention. Well, as of today, we can definitively state that that post-convention bounce is g-o-n-e.

As of today, Obama is back to his pre-convention poll positions in both the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls. (As of right now, Gallup and Rasmussen are the only two pollsters conducting tracking surveys of the pesidential race and publicizing the results.) The president leads Mitt Romney by one point, 47%-46%, in the Gallup poll and trails him by two, 45%-47%, in the Rasmussen poll. That's exactly what these two polls showed two weeks ago, right as the Dems were starting their convention in Charlotte.

Beyond these national poll numbers, the news today was mixed: Rasmussen also published the results of a survey showing Romney up two points on Obama in Colorado, 47%-45%, which is not good news for the president, who won the Centennial State by nine points in 2008. Gravis Marketing, which has been regularly polling voters in select swing states more frequently than any other independent pollster since the conventions, has Romney leading Obama by a statistically insignificant point in Florida, 48% to 47%. More significant than that, perhaps, is that their poll shows the U.S. Senate race there to be a dead heat, with Rep. Connie Mack (R., Fla.) leading Sen. Bill Nelson (D) by one point, 43%-42%. (This is one race that may hinge on which party's presidential candidate carries the state.)

The good news for Obama came from a Washington Post poll that gave him an eight-point lead in Virginia and an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that shows him leading Mitt Romney by five nationally (50%-45%). The Virginia results are especially stunning--and suspicious--as they are out of line with what every other poll of the race in that state has shown. Rare is the case when such a salient outlier is correct, but the same could be said about the Gravis Marketing survey that gave Romney a five-point lead over Obama, 49%-44%, in Virginia last week.

In my view, two states have been severely underpolled in the last week: Iowa and Wisconsin. Only once in the last six presidential elections has a Republican ticket carried either of these states, but the most recent polling data we have shows that they are both very much in play this election cycle. Now that the effects of the Democratic National Convention have worn off--at least as far as polls reflect--survey results from these and other swing states should be considered more accurate. Ordinarily I advise people with strong preferences in an election to avoid fixating on poll numbers, but from this point forward, I think it's worth it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Washington Post Needs Better Fact-Checkers

Following Paul Ryan’s address at the Republican National Convention last month, self-styled “fact-checkers” went nuts, seizing on what they perceived as false and misleading statements in the vice-presidential candidate’s speech. Their critical analyses provided much fodder for Ryan’s detractors, who tried to make him out to be a liar who couldn’t be trusted. Whether or not they were successful is hard to tell, but that’s not the focus of this article.

The Washington Post has had a mixed record this election cycle when it comes to fact-checking. A completely unbiased and disinterested observer with no dog in the fight might fairly conclude they’ve been overly harsh on both the Obama and Romney campaigns. I’ve noticed multiple mistakes in the paper’s sundry “fact checks” conducted this year, but they’ve also done a lot of good work. Of late, however, they seem to be getting sloppy...or lazy...or maybe they're just dropping the mask and letting their bias show. Whichever it is, I’ve decided the time has come to catalogue some of the most egregious malefactions I’ve seen.

Before I commence castigating individual fact-checkers, I should identify who’s who. Glenn Kessler writes the Post’s “Fact Checker” column (the one that uses the "Pinnochio" rating scale). He is assisted in this endeavor by a reporter named Josh Hicks. Post columnist Ezra Klein is the editor of Wonkblog, a blog under the newspaper’s aegis. Suzy Khimm, Sarah Kliff, Dylan Matthews and Brad Plumer are all contributors to Wonkblog.

Now then, a couple weeks ago, I challenged anyone who accused Paul Ryan of lying in his convention speech to identify one actual lie he told. To date, no one has brought such a lie to my attention. (Brief caveat: I don't consider a statement a "lie" if the person making the statement doesn't know/realize it's false at the time.) Somebody referred me to this post on Wonkblog, and while it didn't expose an actual lie in Ryan's speech, I did notice several errors the author, Dylan Matthews, made in his "fact check". For starters, he labelled the claim that "[a] GM plant in Ryan’s district shut down on Obama’s watch" FALSE and attributed the claim to Ryan. The problem is that Paul Ryan made no such claim. Surprisingly, Matthews actually admitted this--sort of--as he quoted what Ryan actually said: 
My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day.
Now, if you've done your research, then you should know that all of those statements are/were true. Matthews, however, didn't fact-check these statements. Instead, he wrote, "Ryan says that Janesville was 'about to' lose the factory at the time of the election, and Obama failed to prevent this." According to Matthews, this was "false," but Matthews is wrong; the plant was "about to close" when then-Senator Obama came to Janesville and made the remarks Ryan quoted. Notice also that Ryan never said "Obama failed to prevent" the plant's closing, though I suppose one could infer that from what he said, but even if he did, it's true; Obama didn't prevent the plant from shuttering. The issue is not whether he was in a position to save the plant; it's whether the plant closed or not

Matthews also distorted Ryan's claim about the stimulus. Here's what he wrote, exactly as it appears on Wonkblog:
The stimulus was the biggest expenditure in government history – The stimulus, Paul Ryan writes, “cost $831 billion – the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government.” This is false any way you cut it. By comparison, the Congressional Research Service estimates (pdf) that World War II cost $4.1 trillion in 2011 dollars. That was the biggest one-time expenditure ever, not the stimulus. Ryan is simply incorrect.
Notice that, again, the "claim" Matthews attributes to Ryan (in bold) differs substantially from what he quoted Ryan as saying. (This odd behavior is not unique to Matthews; see below.) Even aside from this glaring analytical error, however, is his premise that World War II "was the biggest one-time expenditure ever."' The stimulus was one bill that became one law, PL 111-5; it was a "one-time expenditure". By contrast, the $4.1 trillion "cost" of World War II was authorized through multiple appropriations bills, none of which reached anywhere close to $831 billion.

Matthews also cut out a couple of statements Ryan made--to wit, “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst,” and ”We got a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care.”--that I would call fair characterizations of Obama's policies that others may disagree with and dubbed them "false". He then listed a few claims from Ryan's speech that he called "misleading," but only one of these (that “President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him.”) was truly misleading. (The National Debt has grown by $5.4 trillion under President Obama--a greater increase than other any one president in U.S. history--but Obama is not solely responsible for this.) The other two--about the Simpson-Bowles debt commission report and S & P's downgrade of our credit rating--were true and not even misleading. (Matthews strained credulity by asserting that these statements in Ryan's speech "impl[ied]" things that no reasonable person would have interpreted the congressman as saying.)

You would think a responsible editor would have caught at least one of these slights and rebuked Dylan Matthews for his sloppy work and lack of journalistic integrity, but Klein himself
admitted that, before posting Matthews's piece, he re-read Paul Ryan's speech, "this time with the explicit purpose of finding claims we could add to the 'true' category. And I did find one." One?!? I wasn't sure how Ezra Klein defines the word "true," but then he told us:
I want to stop here and say that even the definition of “true” that we’re using is loose. “Legitimate” might be a better word. The search wasn’t for arguments that were ironclad. It was just for arguments — for claims about Obama’s record — that were based on a reasonable reading of the facts, and that weren’t missing obviously key context.
Yet, in spite of that supposedly lax standard, Klein would have us believe that, after reading Ryan’s speech in an advance text, watching it on television, then reading it over again twice more, he "simply couldn’t find any other major claims or criticisms that were true." (Perhaps he should have told us what he considered "major claims or criticisms," though as we can see from Matthews's post, Ezra seems to have no problem labelling as "false" claims that are plainly true.)

According to his profile on Wonkblog, Dylan Matthews has written for The New Republic, Salon, Slate and The American Prospect, all left-wing rags (except for Slate), so perhaps the blatant mistakes in his Wonkblog post weren't mistakes at all but deliberate attempts to deceive readers. I wanted to know, so I read his post entitled "Fact-checking Bill Clinton on the economy" the following week. I myself noticed no fewer than seven obvious lies Clinton told in his convention speech, as well as other statements I suspected were false but couldn’t be sure of at the time. Yet, Matthews branded only one of the statements he examined from Clinton’s speech “false,” and it wasn’t one of the seven I noted while watching the speech. (Four of those seven, however, had to do with Medicare, and Matthews did acknowledge that this particular post of his didn’t cover the former president’s statements about Medicare; those were dealt with in a separate post, which I also examined.) He actually did address two of the statements I recognized as lies as soon as I heard them, but his "fact check" of the statements left a lot to be desired:

1. “...the Senate Republican leader said, in a remarkable moment of candor, two full years before the election, their number-one priority was not to put America back to work. It was to put the president out of work!” Not only did I know this was false, but Matthews actually used the same thing that proves this statement false to explain why it's "TRUE". Here is the video--which Dylan Matthews embedded in his Wonkblog post--of what Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, said:

As you can see/hear, Senator McConnell clearly said that "our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term." Now, the difference beween "top" and "number-one" is de minimis, as is the difference between denying President Obama a second term and putting him out of work; I'll not fault the Big Dog for that, but there is a hugely significant difference between one's top priority and top political priority. (If you don't think the Democrats' top political priority this election cycle is to get President Obama re-elected, then you are in such a deep state of oblivion that I don't see any point in continuing.) Furthermore, there's a big difference between saying what something "is" and saying what it "should be". (We know President Clinton has been unsure of the definition of the word "is" in years past; it seems Dylan Matthews was as well.) Even if McConnell thought the GOP's top priority and top political priority were one and the same, that's not what he said. Clinton's statement was false.

2. “The Recovery Act ... cut taxes for 95% of the American people.” I interpreted this as a reference to the stimulus, and apparently Matthews did, too, so let's just go with that. This statement is also clearly false, as the percentage of Americans who pay federal taxes is far less than 95%, unless you take into account how the people who pay the taxes pass them on to others, but that's so tenuous and not supported by the context. Dylan labelled this statement "TRUE" and offered only this one sentence as support:
The “Make Work Pay” tax credit in the stimulus helped 94.3 percent of Americans.
I clicked on the link because I was willing to spot Slick Willie 0.7% if his claim otherwise held up. Matthews's source for the 94.3% claim was Politifact, which as I've demonstrated ad nauseum has some serious credibility issues. Nevertheless, even if you take them at their word in this instance, the piece Matthews linked to doesn't support his claim, nor does it entirely validate Clinton's. According to Politifact:  
The stimulus included tax cuts for many Americans, including a broad cut known as "Making Work Pay" intended to offset payroll taxes, which are automatically taken out of most workers’ paychecks and are not refundable.

Because of the stimulus, single workers collected a $400 tax credit, and working couples got $800. The credit didn’t come in the form of a check; it worked out so that most workers had about $400 less in federal income taxes withheld from their paychecks.
This raises the issue of what you consider a "tax cut"; most people think of tax cuts as cuts in tax rates, but I think it's fair to interpret Clinton's use of the term "cut taxes" to include reducing the tax burden or simply "reduced taxes". Still, that leaves the issue of the 95(or 94.3)% number. Whence did that come? Says Politifact:

Ahead of the 2008 election, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center analyzed the effects of Obama’s tax proposals for workers. The center determined about 95 percent -- more precisely, 94.3 percent -- of tax filers would receive a tax cut under Obama's plan based on the tax credit to offset payroll taxes.
That data certainly deserves consideration, but the problem is that neither Politifact nor Dylan Matthews pointed to an analysis of the actual stimulus, so we don't know how many people actually received a credit as a result of the "Make Work Pay" tax credit. Further, concluding that President Clinton's statement was true requires the additional assumption that, by "the American people," he meant "American tax filers" or "taxpayers" or some other term that's not synonymous with "people". (Indeed, Politifact said that "Clinton left out an important qualifier: It’s a tax cut for 95 percent of working families.")

Matthews didn't fact-check the other lie I noticed--that “This Republican narrative, this alternative universe, says that...every one of us in this room who amounts to anything, we’re all completely self-made.” Not only have I never seen/heard any Republican say any such thing; this statement goes way beyond a permissible paraphrasing or reasonable interpretation of anything Repbulicans have actually said. As for
Wonkblog's "fact check" of Clinton's Medicare claims, I think that Sarah Kliff deserves some credit for a basically good job; she caught three of the four lies about Medicare I heard Clinton say and even exposed a couple more. I don't know why she didn't mention the other obvious lie Clinton told on this topic--that Republicans’ plan to block grant Medicaid will “end Medicare as we know it”--but I'll not fault her for that. If this one post is any indication, then Messers. Klein and Matthews can learn a lot from Ms. Kliff about how to do a proper fact check.

Now, then, on to "The Fact Checker" himself, Glenn Kessler.
I've previously faulted Glenn for what I deemed an unfair analysis of Mitt Romney's claims about how many jobs he created through his work at Bain, but I've noticed that he also does some good work, too. Kessler assigns claims that are anything short of true anywhere from one to four pinnochios; four-pinnochio ratings are reserved for what he calls "whoppers". My one big riff on his "fact checking" is that he and Josh Hicks seem to apply their ratings indiscriminately and arbitrarily. I'll give you an example: Remember that awful Priorities USA ad featuring the "steelworker" whose wife "died of cancer"? Well, Kessler analyzed the claims (many of which were downright false) made by the man in the ad, a Mr. Joe Soptic, and appropriately gave the ad "four pinnochios", concluding, "Soptic is welcome to his opinion on possible reasons for his wife’s death, but that does not mean Obama supporters should exploit it. On just every level, this ad stretches the bounds of common sense and decency."

That's very charitable; I think a fairer and more honest reaction would be that this man, Joe Soptic, is a horrible person who was trying to deceive people. Regardless, the Priorities USA ad clearly deserved four pinnochios, but according to Kessler, so did the Romney campaign's ad attaking President Obama for his "plan to gut welfare reform." Kessler called this ad "over-the-top", but as Robert Rector, who helped draft the work requirements in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (a.k.a. Welfare Reform), has explained, "The law has indeed been gutted." The ad does bend the truth by saying that, under President Obama's plan, "you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They'd just send you your welfare check...." Reasonable people might interpret that as saying that unemployed people would receive welfare payments without having to work or look for a job, and that's not the case. This ad deserved one or two pinnochios, but none of the statements in it compare to the utter mendacity of the Priorities USA ad. Nevertheless, Kessler apparently thought the two spots were equally dishonest, writing that "the Romney campaign is asserting an extreme interpretation of what might happen under these rules, but it is certainly not based on any specific 'Obama plan.'"

Hmm...a campaign asserting an extreme interpretation of what might happen if their opponent's policy proposals are enacted? That sounds exactly like what the Obama campaign did with this ad: 

This ad is full of lies and deceptions. The voice-over says "chances are, you pay a higher tax rate than [Mitt Romney]," and "Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010 but paid only 14% in taxes, probably less than you." I'm not sure who this ad is speaking to when it says "you", but "chances are" not good that you pay a lower tax rate than Mitt Romney. First, notice that they're only using one year to reference Romney's effective tax rate. (The candidate reportedly paid 15.4% of his income in federal taxes in 2011.) We don't have data from the I.R.S. for 2010 indicating what percentile a 13.9% tax burden would place Mitt Romney in, but even counting just the people who filed returns, 14% is higher than most Americans' federal tax rate in 2009. As Kessler himself has explained
For all the rhetoric about high taxes in the United States, most Americans pay a relatively small percentage of their income in taxes. Romney had an effective rate of 13.9 percent in 2010 and 15.4 percent in 2011. That gives him a higher rate than 80 percent of taxpayers if only taxes on a tax return are counted and puts him just about in the middle of all taxpayers if payroll taxes paid by employers are included.
So we can agree that, at the very least, the Obama ad contains some shading of the truth. That should earn it at least one Pinnochio, right? Not according to Kessler, who called the commercial "[a] tough new Obama ad that — surprise! — is accurate." That's quite an about-face from the man who less than a month earlier had given the president's campaign team three Pinnochios for tweeting, “FACT: In 2010 and 2011, Romney paid less than 15% in taxes on $42.5 million in income—much less than what many middle-class families pay.” Kessler alluded to that fact check in this analysis but distinguished the two claims, saying "the language in this ad is much more accurate." (More accurate, possibly, but still dishonest.) He also found ways to justify the ad's mendacious assertions that Romney "has a plan that would give millionaires another tax break and raises taxes on middle class families by up to $2,000 a year." (Notice the use of the qualifier "up to"; I could say that Obama has cheated on his wife Michelle up to 100 times, and even if the actual number of such adulterous trysts was zero, I'd technically be telling the truth.) This claim is based on a single study that exemplifies shoddy analysis, but aside from that, the ad misleads people by saying that Romney's plan "would give millionaires another tax break", even though Romney has been quite clear that his plan would not result in a net tax cut for people at the high end of the income spectrum. However, he has proposed lowering the top federal income tax rate to 28% and eliminating or reducing deductions and tax credits. The Tax Foundation piled assumption upon assumption and inference upon inference to reach the conclusion that "a revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed ... would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers." Also, the Tax Foundation qualified their "study" by acknowledging, "We do not score Governor Romney’s plan directly, as certain components of his plan are not specified in sufficient detail, nor do we make assumptions regarding what those components might be." (emphasis added) So, when the Obama campaign says Governor Romney "has a plan that would give millionaires another tax break and raises taxes on middle class families by up to $2,000 a year," they are simply lying.

Kessler didn't seem to think so. He wrote that "the Obama ad correctly describes the key findings of a study by a highly credible organization." (I don't disagree with the "key findings" part of that statement, but "highly credible" is his opinion of the Tax Foundation, not an established fact, and to say the ad "correctly" described the study's conclusions is just laughable.) In an untenable act of...I don't even know what to call it...Kessler gave the ad the Fact Checker's first "Geppetto Checkmark" of this election cycle. (According to Kessler, the Geppetto checkmark is reserved for “[s]tatements and claims that contain ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’.”)

This ad--entitled "Stretch"--may have contained some true statements (such as Barack Obama saying "I'm Barack Obama...."), but it certainly wasn't the whole truth, and it contained a lot more than the truth. Glenn Kessler should be ashamed of himself.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not rebuke Josh Hicks for this atrocious piece he did on some comments Rudy Giuliani made while campaigning for Mitt Romney in Florida. The post actually combined two "fact checks" in one, focusing on two series of statements America's mayor made in the Sunshine State in July. My beef is with Hicks's analysis of the first series, to-wit:  
“Remember Joe the Plumber? Joe the Plumber asked [then-Sen. Barack Obama]: ‘Would you raise taxes even if it didn’t bring any more money to the government? Like the capital gains tax. If you raise the capital gains tax — the government did this once 20 years ago — if you raise the capital gains tax, you actually make less money for the government, because people stop doing investments, or they’ll do investments overseas.’ He [Obama] said, ‘Well I would do it anyway because it’s only fair.’ ”

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani during a pro-Mitt Romney speech at the Florida GOP headquarters in Tampa, July 26, 2012
Hicks quoted an excerpt from then-Senator Obama’s exchange with Joe the Plumber and declared, “This shows that Obama did indeed talk about tax fairness with Wurzelbacher. But Giuliani suggested that the president was talking about fairness at the expense of greater revenue, which is not the case.” Nowhere in his “Fact Checker” piece did he mention Obama’s statements in a debate with Hillary Clinton in April 2008, in which the candidate said he "would look at raising the capital-gains tax"--even if it resulted in the government taking in less revenue—“for purposes of fairness.” Giuliani said that Obama claimed he was willing to raise the tax even if it cost the government revenue “because it’s only fair.” A permissible paraphrasing? You bet. A propos? Absolutely, but conspicuously absent from an analysis by what purported to be an objective fact-checker.

These are just some of the many, many "fact checks" conducted and published by these individuals on the Washington Post's web site. I've seen other analyses that contained no obvious errors or misstatements, but as you can see, there have been multiple instances--just in the past couple months--of these so-called fact-checkers getting their facts wrong and making overt analytical errors that any competent journalist interested in discerning what's true and what's false should have caught. I suppose it would be crass of me to castigate these men without suggesting I could do a better job, so I'll close with this: if the Washington Post decides to bring in some more diligent fact-checkers, then my services stand at the ready to help them. Until then, we'll just have to see if any of these "fact-checkers" get their act together.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Deval L. Patrick: One Malevolent Masshole

Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick speaks at the Democratic National Convention
in Charlotte, N.C. (Alex Wong - AFP/Getty Images)

If you're not familiar with Deval Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, then here's what you should know: He’s an accomplished Harvard lawyer who worked in the Clinton Justice Department under Attorney Gen. Janet Reno. In 2006, he defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R) to become the first black governor of Massachusetts. As governor, he raised taxes, increased state spending (after being forced to cut the budget during the recession) and generally messed up state government. For reasons I’ve stopped trying to figure out, 1.1 million Massachusetts voters re-elected him in 2010. In this article, I will—among other things—explain why everyone who voted for Governor Patrick two years ago is either stupid, a fool or a terrible person who ought to be stripped of his/her right to vote until he/she learns the error of his/her ways.

Now, suppose you become governor of your home state, and your predecessor bequeaths to you a budget surplus, a booming economy and a school system that is ranked first in the nation. Would you think the policies he had in place were worth preserving? If so, then Governor Patrick has no use for your kind, because his actions upon taking office betrayed a determination to turn the corner on the Mitt Romney way of doing business.

With the Massachusetts economy still in good shape, like most of the country in 2007, the Commonwealth was looking forward to another year of increased tax receipts (State revenues in 2006 had risen by $1 billion more than estimated and were projected to grow by another 4% in FY '07.), but the newly elected governor had made lofty promises during his successful campaign (Sound familiar?) that would require lots of new spending. At the same time, he was disingenuously warning of a mythical $1 billion budget deficit.

More spending was predictable, but the magnitude was jaw-dropping. The budget for FY08 Patrick signed increased spending by nearly $1.8 billion over the previous fiscal year. In 2009, Patrick and the legislature slapped voters with a barrage of tax increases, which the Democrat-friendly Boston Globe reported would ensure “Massachusetts residents will pay more for everything, from satellite dishes to cheeseburgers.” The lion’s share of new revenues would come from a hike in the sales tax from 5% to 6.25%.

The economic verdict on Patrick’s tax-and-spend agenda was damning: In the governor’s first term, Massachusetts lost a net 66,400 jobs. By comparison, the state added a net of 48,344 jobs during Romney’s four years. Under Patrick, the state’s unemployment rate shot up from 4.7% when he took office to 8.7%, where it remained until March 2010. Amid this historic economic slump, the governor proposed soaking Massachusetts residents for another $100 million through new taxes and fees in his 2010 State of the State address. Incredibly, he won re-election, albeit by a considerably smaller margin than he had won by in 2006.

Now, being a terrible governor doesn't make Deval Patrick a bad person. What does call his character into question is his speech at the Democratic National Convention last week. On Tuesday night, he took to the podium onstage at the Time Warner Cable Arena and delivered a spirited defense of President Obama's record that revved up the audience and struck a chord with undecided independent voters. 

No, just kidding. He attacked Mitt Romney! "In Massachusetts," he said in an almost comically petulant tone, "we know Mitt Romney."

Nothing objectionable about that. Just listen to what Mitt's fellow Bay Staters Bob White, Kerry Healey, Jane EdmondsTed & Pat Oparowski and Pam Finlayson said at the Republican National Convention last week. Unlike these people, however, Patrick had an incentive to lie, so it should come as no surprise that what he said about Romney was neither complimentary nor true. 

"Today," he shouted over the din of the peanut gallery--which pretty much described the entire audience--"we're out of the deficit hole Mr. Romney left...." A couple lies in one: Not only did Mitt Romney leave Massachusetts in good fiscal shape, but Patrick has yet to close the budget gap he and Democrats in the state legislature created. Even Ezra Klein, the Washington Post's leading faux policy wonk, called him out on this outrageous bit of mendacity.

Governor Patrick not only lied about Mitt Romney's record as governor, he embellished his own, even taking credit for Romney's accomplishments. He actually had the audacity to boast, in a speech bashing Mitt Romney, that "Massachusetts leads the nation in . . . health-care coverage . . . ." (For the record, Patrick played no role whatsoever in the passage or enactment of Romneycare.)

Let the above sampling suffice to apprise you of the content of Patrick's convention speech. If you crave more, then Patrick Brennan posted an incisive takedown of the governor's dishonest diatribe on The Corner; I encourage you all to read it.

It takes some brass to use a prime-time speaking slot at a national convention to inveigh against one's predecessor who, by pretty much every objective measure, had a more successful tenure in office than you did, but that's just the kind of person Deval Patrick is. No further castigation is necessary; his reprehensible conduct speaks for itself.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nicki Minaj Has My Heartbeat Running Away

Nicki Minaj performs on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. (Photo from Rap-Up Magazine)

The last time I visited home, my sister was surprised to learn that I was a big Nicki Minaj fan. I like the sound of her music; most rap is painful or irritating to listen to, like daggers in your head. Nicki Minaj's songs--the ones I've heard--are oddly relaxing, like a massage. Her outlandish outfits and dazzling music videos are somewhere between Katy Perry- and Lady Gaga-territory, creative but not crazy.

So when I heard that the Trinidadian-born rapper had endorsed Mitt Romney for president, I was surprised and skeptical. I looked into it, and here's what I learned:

On Lil Wayne's mixtape Dedication 4, which dropped Tuesday, Wayne and Minaj tease out raps over Kanye West's Mercy. (I have no idea what any of that means.) In the first verse, Minaj says:

I'm a Republican voting for Mitt Romney
You lazy bitches are fucking up the economy
Out in Miami I be chillin' with a zombie
Now, to some, that sounded like an endorsement of the Republican candidate, and Minaj has since received death threats from people who are probably very easy to cheat out of money. Even-tempered folks, however, are left scratching their heads at these ambiguous lyrics. 

 Did Nicki Minaj actually endorse Mitt Romney? Well, if you take her words at face value, then "I'm a Republican voting for Mitt Romney." is pretty clear, but somehow I don't think it's that simple. She could have been mocking Republicans who are voting for Mitt Romney, or this could be some character she invented for the moment. That part about "chillin' with a zombie" in Miami only adds confusion to any attempt to decipher what she meant.

Perhaps Miss Minaj is just messing with us. Curious, though, that she hasn't come out and confirmed/denied that she's supporting Mitt Romney. I'll continue to enjoy her work either way.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama's Underwhelming Acceptance Speech

As promised, I shall post a recap of this week's Democratic National Convention later this month, but I wanted to briefly remark on the president's speech.

When President Obama said "God bless you, and God bless these United States!" and backed away from the podium, my immediate reaction was, "Wow. That was all?" I must confess, I was not looking forward to the president's speech on Thursday. I knew he could give an incredible convention speech. But after last night, I was left thinking about how less than impressive it was.

I figured he'd tell a lie or two, and he did, and I knew he couldn't recapture the magic of his speech four years ago at Invesco Field--certainly he wouldn't recreate the optics--but even in this smaller, less daunting arena, I still thought he could deliver a doozy, and he didn't.

We heard talk that the president was going to try and fill the "gaps" Mitt Romney left open by not being "specific" enough in his acceptance speech, but when the opportunity came, President Obama was no more specific about what he would do in a second term than Mitt Romney was about what he would do in his first. As the Washington Post editorial board (which has never missed an opportunity this year to bash Mr. Romney) put it, "If Mr. Obama has a plan, [then] Americans who listened Thursday don’t know how he would achieve it."

Even some of the president's supporters were disappointed. The New Republic’s Timothy Noah wrote that, after watching the president’s speech, “it occurred to me for the first time that he might actually lose.” In acknowledging that Obama’s speech also "fell short — of his own proclaimed standards," the aforementioned Washington Post editorial opined that, while the incumbent "offered an appealing, even a stirring, vision of a shared citizenship and commitment to democracy[,] the attractiveness of that vision made all the more frustrating Mr. Obama’s refusal to fill in any substance, his once again promising hard truths that he did not deliver." Time Magazine's Joe Klein conceded that, while he liked Obama's speech more than Mitt Romney's (big surprise), the president "did not close the deal."

As I said...not what I was expecting. Apparently others had a similar reaction.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This Is Not 1980 Redux

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

That was Ronald Reagan’s knockout punch to then-Pres. Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election. Reagan famously put the question to the audience in the candidates' final debate, held one week before the election. He won in a landslide.

For the past week, the Romney-Ryan camp has been driving the are-you-better-off message. In his acceptance speech last Thursday, Governor Romney pointed out that “every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction, ‘You’re better off than you were four years ago,’ except Jimmy Carter, and except this president.Paul Ryan echoed that sentiment in North Carolina on Monday. Polls suggest it should be a winning tactic for Republicans. In a recent AP poll, only 28% of respondents claimed they were better off than they were four years ago; the rest said they were either the same or worse. Politico reported on Monday that, according to a survey by The Hill, 52% of voters say that the nation is in worse shape than it was in September of 2008, while 31% believe the nation is in better shape, and 15% say "about the same."

This is just one of many ways in which the 2012 presidential election has been compared to the 1980 race, when another personally popular Democratic president with an abysmal economic record and terrible poll numbers got his clock cleaned by an aged but reassuringly competent Republican ex-governor, but the more apt analogy may be 1992. We’re technically not in a recession like we were in 1980; rather, this election will take place amid a lethargic economic recovery, just like the '92 election. The things-are-getting-better argument didn’t work for President Bush then, and it’s not working for President Obama now. Just like they were in 1992, Americans are dissatisfied with the incumbent president’s economic performance, and their opinions are unlikely to change before Election Day.

The similarities don’t end there: Obama won the 2008 popular vote by almost the same margin, percentage-wise, that George Bush won with in '88. Despite having a net-negative approval rating—more people disapprove of the job he’s doing as president than approve—Obama still gets high marks on foreign policy; Bush enjoyed similar trust on foreign affairs (though successfully driving Iraq out of Kuwait is a far greater accomplishment than sitting back and letting people who know what they’re doing take out the world’s most wanted terrorist), but that didn’t matter. In 1992, the number one issue was the economy, same as now.

As I watched former Pres. Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention tonight, it reminded me of Reagan's electrifying address at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Reagan was amazingly popular, like Clinton is now. He gave a rousing speech, and the audience loved it. But it didn't matter; Reagan wasn't on the ballot; he would never be president again, and many people who idolized the Gipper as a great conservative leader were gravely disappointed in his successor. (Heck, even Art Laffer jumped ship and voted for Clinton.) Similarly, many Americans who were so enamored of Slick Willie and voted for Obama in '08 are now supporting Mitt Romney.

Sure, Romney doesn’t have the charisma of Bill Clinton, but he also doesn’t have the baggage--no draft-dodging, no affairs--and Obama needn't worry about a serious independent candidate siphoning off votes (though, in this climate, such a candidate might just as likely take votes away from Mitt Romney), but he presents a plausible alternative to the current administration, the threshold criterion for any candidate seeking to oust an incumbent president. Unlike Bush, however, Obama can use the excuse that he inherited a deep recession. That's probably the main reason polls are still tight; Obama's performance is measured against a different metric than most of his predecessors have been held to. Still, if this election is about the economy, then voters would have to be pretty stupid to ask for four more years of the status quo by re-electing Barack Obama.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Here It Is...Your Unofficial Democratic National Convention Bingo Card!

Some of us--and, by "Some of us," I mean I--thought it would be fun to play bingo during the Democratic National Convention, so I've created the following bingo card. If you want to play, then print it off, cut it out and find something to use as tokens.
Traditional bingo rules apply. Every time a speaker at the convention utters one of the words or phrases on the card, place a token in that square. You can make the rounds as long as you wish, though I suggest starting over at least with every new day. As I've conceived this game, you should only place a token on a square containing a term in quotes if the speaker uses that exact word/phrase. Other terms are not in quotes, and therefore players may score on them if a speaker uses some form of the word/phrase. (For example, if a speaker says, "George Bush" or "President Bush," but it is clear from the context that (s)he is referring to George W. Bush and not his father, then you can score on the box with George W. Bush's name in it.) The only additional rule I'd advise you to follow is to only play during the speeches. If a speaker uses one of the talking points while offstage--say in a TV interview--then it doesn't count, but you're free to play the game as you wish.

Finally, for those of you who might not have the patience or free time to to play the game as I've just described using the card above but like the idea, here is a simpler card. The rules for using this card differ in that you won't score when a speaker says the words/phrases in the boxes but rather when he or she makes the kind of statement or employs the kind of rhetorical device described in the box. 
 Clicking on the image should bring up a larger image. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Recapping the Republican National Convention

Although I was reluctant to add my voice to the cacophony of reactions to this week’s festivities in Tampa, I noticed that there were some aspects of the convention on which no one seemed to share my perspective, so here's a brief rundown.

Much criticism has been heaped on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—from both the Right and the Left—for his keynote address. Most all the negative reactions I’ve heard are some version of this: He didn’t mention Mitt Romney until 15-20 minutes into his speech, and even then, barely at all. He talked too much about himself. It sounded like he was setting himself up for a future presidential run. Other rising stars who spoke at the convention, particularly the governors, received similar criticism: They were too boastful of his own accomplishments and mum on Romney’s, the meme goes. While I believe the organizing committee could have done a better job emphasizing Mitt Romney’s character and accomplishments and values/beliefs, I do not share this view that the other speakers should have spent less time on their personal records. The electorate needs to hear these Republican success stories; they need to know about these Republican governors who balanced their budgets without raising taxes; they need to know about their education reforms and their courageous fights against politically-charged lawsuits filed by an oppressive federal government. Voters who are still on the fence need to be confronted with the sharp contrast between the Democrats’ failed policies and our party’s success.

They also needed to hear New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s anecdote about realizing she and her husband were Republicans, and they needed to hear Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval's rise from (excuse the cliché) humble beginnings to the federal judiciary (and now the governor's mansion). Ted Cruz’s impassioned, podium-less appeal to Hispanics, especially immigrants, was head-and-shoulders above anything we can expect to hear from San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who will be keynoting the Democratic National Convention next week, or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who mused on Tuesday that Republicans "can't just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname" and expect Latinos to vote Republican. (Sour grapes, anyone?) Other speakers’ personal narratives were less salient components of their addresses but no less significant. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s personal story was confined to a single sentence at the end of her speech, but it may have been the most potent. It took the normally apolitical academic 23 seconds to recount her journey from Jim Crow-era Birmingham to U.S. Secretary of State, but the standing ovation she received lasted at least twice as long. (Dr. Rice is too classy a woman to have added what some of us inferred and every educated person familiar with the history of the deep South knows: that the Jim Crow laws under which she grew up were all passed and enforced by Democrats.) I also think Rick Santorum’s speech was underrated. I’d never been a big Santorum fan, but on Tuesday night, he gave one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard, at a convention or anywhere.

Paul Ryan's acceptance speech irked the Left in a way I've not seen since...well, I suppose I've never seen them react the way they did to the eye-pleasing Congressman's Wednesday night address. It was clear that the Obama campaign was incensed by Ryan's ability to disembowel their case for re-election without telling a single lie. No surprise the only response they could muster was to accuse him of--that's right--lying. I'll spare you a laundry list of examples, but if you've seen the speech, then you know there wasn't a single lie in it.

I had my own list of things I was hoping to hear Mitt Romney say during his acceptance speech, and I got some of what he wanted. (I wasn't expecting him to do anything as jaw-dropping as Ronald Reagan's silent prayer at the end of his convention speech in 1980, but I was surprised that he didn't include a sentence or two about the flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi or make hey of the president's ill-conceived "We tried our plan, and it worked." comment.) He did well to run down a list of specific policy proposals he had for addressing our economic woes. I agree with those who called this "a workman-like" address, as opposed to something heavy on soaring rhetoric and light on substance (Any guess which kind of speech we'll hear from President Obama next week?); still, I wouldn't have minded a little more bluster. It also would have been nice to hear Romney--or anyone at the convention--reassure supporters with something along the lines of, "Remember, we have the easier argument to make in this election. All we have to do is convince people of the truth. We need not lie or distort our opponents' records. Victory for them requires getting enough people to believe things that aren't true. It necessitates keeping voters in the dark." However, since I did not take care to write all this down and publish it before Thursday night, and because after-the-fact criticism always has that tinge of second-guessing someone without having been in his position, I will go no further on this point, except to offer this defense of Mitt Romney and whoever wrote his acceptance speech: When previewing something you’ve written—especially something intended to be delivered orally—it’s fairly easy to spot things that probably shouldn’t be in there or that should be changed, but it is typically very difficult to recognize everything that was left out; spotting the omissions means looking for things that aren’t there, a very tough task.