April 26, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Marie Burns:
Charles Blow of the New York Times should stop reading Right Wing News. Last night in a “Campaign Stops” post he wrote, “After his primary wins on Tuesday, Mitt Romney delivered a nice speech with some punchy lines, and the pundits jumped and flipped like a troupe from Cirque du Soleil.” Really? Blow is clearly an Obama supporter, and he means this post to be supportive of his candidate. But the Romney campaign will “jump and flip like a troupe from Cirque du Soleil” when they read Blow’s post. Blow swallows Romney’s argument and offers no rebuttal.
Instead of tearing into the content of Romney’s speech, Blow complains about the “frame of the argument.” He whines about how unfair it is that Romney “framed the debate largely around economic issues.” Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that, as Blow himself fairly concedes: “Yes, this election is about the economy.” Blow devotes most of his post to making excuses for Obama’s failure to right the economy. He essentially makes Romney’s case for him: “Times are tough,” Blow writes, just as Romney said. Blow’s case for Obama? A short paragraph at the end of the post about how the election should be about more than the economy: “… it is also about priorities and values and the social direction of this country.” Well, yeah, that’s what Romney said, too.
Since Blow liked Romney’s “nice speech” so much, we should give the nice speech a bit of a run-through to see just how nice it was. You can read the speech here. Don’t worry. It’s short, and if you’ve followed the GOP presidential campaign at all, you’ll recognize not only the thrust of Romney’s argument but also quite a few of the lines. There is nothing in the speech from the first words “Thank you, America” to the last words “God bless the United States of America” that Romney – or some presidential candidate – hasn’t said before. In case you think the speech might have sounded better than it reads, here it is in Youtoobz. Meh. (For comparison’s sake, here’s Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire concession speech, a speech he made after a primary election he was expected to win – and didn’t.)
Oddly enough, I found quite a few pundits who must have had their backs out because they sure were not jumping and flipping over Romney’s speech. Let’s start with Blow’s boss, Andy Rosenthal, who gave a short but comprehensive account of how Republican obstructionism “holds more responsibility for the nation’s economic sluggishness than Mr. Obama.” In critiquing Romney’s address, Rosenthal added,
Mr. Romney promised he would ‘stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses’ – a reference, I guess, to so-called earmarks…. Mr. Romney seems to have missed the news … that 65 House Republican want to ‘bring back a certain type of earmark so that they can help companies back home in an election year.’
Not only did Mr. Romney try to blame the president for all of the country’s ills, he also drew a completely false distinction between his view of government and Mr. Obama’s. ‘Government is at the center of his vision,’ Mr. Romney said. ‘It dispenses the benefits, borrows what it cannot take, and consumes a greater and greater share of the economy.’ He added, ‘He’s asking us to accept that Washington knows best, and can provide all.’
The actual President Obama, as opposed to Mr. Romney’s mythical socialist, has repeatedly outlined a vision of government that does for ordinary people what they cannot do for themselves, not one that makes all of their decisions for them.
Jamelle Bouie of American Prospect shares Rosenthal’s view. Bouie called Romney’s speech “a startlingly dishonest take on the last three and a half years of the Obama presidency.” Bouie began by placing blame for the economy where it belongs: “The proximate cause was the collapse of the global financial system, but the process itself was long in the making; George W. Bush was a terrible steward of the economy, and his policies – along with those of congressional Republicans – yielded a decade of slow growth and sluggish job creation.” Like Rosenthal, Bouie homed in on Republican obstructionists:
Congressional Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, pledged to make Obama a one-term president by any means necessary. Their plan was to use legislative rules like the filibuster to create a supermajority requirement for everything from confirming nominees to passing new legislation. Far from harming Republicans – who would be unified in their opposition – the blowback would tarnish Obama, who would be blamed by the public for gridlock and obstruction….
Republican obstruction was successful in reducing the size of the stimulus, stigmatizing health-care reform, and taking the teeth out of financial reform. Worse, the sudden reversal of Republicans on the issue of fiscal stimulus – which they supported at both ends of the Bush administration – meant that the economy was stuck without further support, even as it stagnated with slow growth and high unemployment. Obama, as the president, received the lion’s share of blame from the public.
Bouie wrote his post many hours before Blow posted his, but Bouie might as well have been addressing Blow when he concluded,
As he did in this speech, Romney will be allowed to campaign as if the past never happened, and the Republican Party didn’t have a part in producing the current circumstances. His campaign will run on clichés, and angrily swat back at anyone who questions his refusal to acknowledge the people – his fellow Republicans – who created this mess in the first place.
Charles Riley of CNN, a nonpartisan, didn’t think much of Romney’s repetition of Ronald Reagan’s famously effective 1980 campaign question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Riley’s answer is, “Well, yeah”: Riley runs through the sour economic realities of 2008 and concludes, “No leap of faith is required to say the economy at large is without doubt in better shape today than it was in late 2008. The economy is growing, not contracting. Jobs are being added, not lost. More credit is available.” Riley notes that Romney’s argument “require[s] mass amnesia amongst the electorate as to what the economy was really like in late 2008.”
Even Politico’s Reid Epstein, writing a straight report on Romney’s speech, noted at the top of his story that the address “was heavy on rhetoric and light on policy proposals. He offered familiar criticisms of President Barack Obama with signature syrupy paeans to Americana….” Epstein added that “He called America ‘fundamentally fair,’ but didn’t mention his proposal to cut marginal income tax rates by 20 percent.”
Robert Borsage, writing in the Huffington Post, zeroed in on “The Big Lie” embedded in Romney’s speech: “Those who promise to spread the wealth around only ever succeed in spreading poverty.” Borsage writes,
… the greatest period of growth and widely shared prosperity in the US came in the decades after World War II. And in those decades, public policy purposefully ‘spread wealth around.’ The top end tax rate was at 90%. With labor unions representing over 30% of the workforce, workers shared in the benefits of rising productivity. The GI Bill gave an entire generation of veterans access to college and affordable housing. Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican president, built the interstate highway system vital to national competitiveness. Wall Street, shackled by New Deal reforms, went decades without a major bank crisis….
Mitt has amassed a personal fortune of over 200 million dollars and pays 14% tax rates on $20 million in annual income, so it isn’t surprising that he confuses this history. Spreading the wealth around is in the national interest, but it surely isn’t in his.
Of course Romney couldn’t resist the little lies, either: “We’ll stop the days of apologizing for success at home and never again apologize for America abroad,” he said, a reference to his oft-repeated and oft-debunked claim that President Obama has toured the world apologizing for the U.S. Romney even fudged his own family history. Romney claimed in his speech that his father “grew up poor,” but as the Associated Press reported, “that’s not the whole story. The father of the presumptive Republican nominee, George Romney, grew up in a family that suffered financial losses and enjoyed prosperity.”
Frank Rich of New York magazine captures the essence of Romney’s big speech:
The speech was more humanlike than usual, but that’s setting the bar quite low. He still seems the best Audio-Animatronic politician that money can buy. The positive part of the speech, I assume, was Romney’s promise to bring relief to a nation that he characterizes as being nearly at death’s door. Not exactly Morning in America. And his attempts to empathize with the downtrodden (including a shout-out to working moms taking on second jobs) never sounded more scripted. Even the aristocratic Bush 41’s hapless ‘Message: I care’ had more conviction than Mitt’s stab at ‘I feel your pain’ karaoke. The biggest takeaway from the speech for channel surfers was the chanting of a virtually all-white Amen chorus crying out a repeated rhetorical ‘No!’ to ratify a lengthy Mitt litany of negatives about the country and Obama. The Party of No is nothing if not consistent in its messaging.
Now let’s look at a few of those “punchy lines” Charles Blow so enjoyed. I’m not surprised Blow liked them. He’s heard them before – in campaign speeches by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, not to mention Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole. Blow headlined his post, “We Are Not Stupid,” in admiration of this line from Romney’s speech: “It’s still about the economy” – pause – “and we’re not stupid.” Of course that is a riff on James Carville’s mantra from Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Michael Scherer of Time says the whole Romney address was pure Obama:
Back in 2008, Obama promised to end the malaise and economic decline of the Bush years. In 2012, Romney is promising an end to the malaise and decline of the Obama years. ‘America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this,’ Barack Obama said in his convention speech in 2008. ‘A better America begins tonight,’ Romney said Tuesday night.
Scherer runs through a fairly remarkable list of copycat lines Romney lifted from Obama and noted that his overall theme is a reprise of Obama’s 2008 general election campaign. The specific prescriptions may be different, but the themes – and the promises – are the same. One major difference, which I suggested earlier: to my taste, Romney’s delivery sucks; Obama’s is usually terrific.
Then there’s this: Dan Amira of New York magazine writes, “When Mitt Romney proclaimed last night, during his Super Snoozeday victory address in New Hampshire, that ‘everywhere I go, Americans are tired of being tired,’” he took the line from “Joe Biden. Verbatum.” Biden has said it at least twice in recent months, and his press secretary says he has been saying the line “for months.”
Romney didn’t bother to update the Ronald Reagan classic “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” And as Reid Epstein added, “Romney’s big finish was … reminiscent of Bob Dole’s 1996 promise to build a ‘bridge to the past.’”
It is true that Republican pundits declared the speech a winner, and apparently the usual Very Serious People praised it, too. Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post called the speech “very presidential.” Yes, it was that, inasmuch as Romney’s speechwriter composed a speech cut-and-pasted from the best lines uttered by every presidential candidate over the last 35 years, including those of his opponent.
I don’t expect Charles Blow to write a post giving a complete rundown of the fallacies and misstatements in Romney’s speech. But I do expect him to at least be aware that the speech was long on factual errors, misrepresentations, pie-in-the-sky promises, Americana cliches and borrowed hyperbole. Blow’s claim that “the pundits” loved it is true only if you ignore all the pundits who didn’t love it. Blow seems to be clueless. Worse, of course, he leaves his readers clueless. As one of a few liberals writing on the New York Times op-ed age, Blow has a duty to inform his readers. To leave them with the misimpression that Romney gave a “nice speech,” beloved by all professional observers, constitutes editorial malpractice.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com