An interesting, assertive speech from the President tonight. A few takeaways:
1) Lead with your strengths. Obama opened and closed with references to military successes ranging from the killing of bin Laden and Qadhafi, and emphasizing the nonpartisan cooperation of the armed forces as a model for bipartisan cooperation — so lacking in Washington. Notable that the opening drew unusual applause from the Joint Chiefs. Still, the electorate is more concerned about jobs than foreign policy. As Mitch Daniels said in his response, this is what people are thinking about.
2) Speed and delivery. This was a campaign speech, delivered with almost rambunctious energy and darting from topic to topic. The president didn’t garner particularly large applause lines, but kept ploughing through his lists of accomplishments…and demands. He is playing the fighter, much as Newt is on the other side. This election is gearing up to be a fight.
3) Co-opt the enemies’ arguments. On multiple key points, Pres. Obama tried to make claims that he was in fact trying to make reasonable progress on the specific areas that the GOP says he’s failing on — rebutting the caricature they use of him as a “socialist” and such. Examples: Cutting taxes, eliminating regulations, drilling for oil, and boosting the military.
4) North Carolina matters. I’m biased, as this is my home, but it wasn’t coincidence that the Pres. made repeated references to us in the Tar Heel State. We are a battleground — home to high tech manufacturing but also diverse rural populations that confound political conventional wisdom. Heath Shuler’s constituency still matters here.
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We’re all getting a little worn out by the never-ending GOP debate schedule, and tonight’s was not among the more memorable. Mitt went after Newt more aggressively, but still without much feeling of authenticity. Hence his repeat award noted below…
Hall of the Presidents Audio Animatronics Award: Mitt Romney. Once more, Mitt looks and sounds like he was manufactured by the Imagineers at Disney World.
Marcel Marceau Award: Newt Gingrich. Newt proves again that he is not only a skilled at rhetoric, but also acting; using his hands and facial expressions far more effectively than the rest of the field.
Mr. Scott, Beam Me Up! Award: Mitt Romney. For suggesting that the solution to the immigration crisis is “self-deportation.” Self deporting is achieved by using a special card issued by the government.
Fred Dalton Thompson Reverse Mortgage Award: Newt Gingirch. For picking up FDT’s endorsement. Per Howard Fineman, FDT can be a very effective salesman; Fred and Newt could make a great team of hawkers. Thanks to @FranEaton for the idea of this award!
I Thought That Was Nixon’s Cliché Award: Mitt Romney. For dusting off the press’s favorite line about Nixon, “resigned in disgrace.” Watch for it in the ads.
If It Walks Like A Duck Award: Mitt Romney. For pointing out Newt’s flimsy defense about distinctions between acting as a “lobbyist” vs. a “consultant” (or “historian”).
Bay of Pigs Award: Newt Gingrich. For expressing his belief that Comrade Fidel is not going to “meet his maker” but rather is “going to the other place.”
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A special limited edition, following the primary speeches tonight.
Hall of the Presidents Award: Mitt Romney. For his audio-animatronic concession speech, which the right as well as the left correctly viewed as a recycled stump speech. President Obama went to Disneyworld, but Romney belongs there.
“Some Chicken, Some Neck” Award: James Carville. On CNN, the Rajin’ Cajun’ described Rick Santorum as a chicken with his neck cut off. Not sure how the metaphor works, but it’s vivid. We miss Crossfire, James.
W.C. Fields Perfect Timing Award: Newt Gingrich. Love him or hate him, the Speaker shows his skills. Letting the losers go first. And complimenting them all.
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After a hiatus on Monday, the Awards are back tonight following the fireworks from what Rick Santorum called the Final Four.
Jim Croce Junkyard Dog/Bad, Bad Leroy Brown Award: Newton Leroy Gingrich. For his rampage against questions over his past infidelities that opened the debate. Moderator John King, who is among the most unshakeable pro’s in the business, was truly rattled.
Tattered Tom/Horatio Alger Award: Mitt Romney. Who benefitted not a whit from his parents’ wealth, prominence, or international political stature. He made every penny on his own, while living on the “real streets of America.” As the Cos would have said, “riiiiight!”
Winston Churchill Rhetorical Pivot/”Some Chicken, Some Neck” Award: Newt Gingrich. For a masterful turn on Santorum’s criticism that he had a “grandiose” view of himself. Newt says yes, ’94 was grandiose. Americans are a great and grandiose people. Touché.
Ron Paul We’re All Libertarians Now Award: Ron Paul. After decades of crusading for the libertarian wing of the GOP, Paul now presides over a field of candidates who all took the libertarian position on the vital pending issue of Internet regulation — supported by many pro-business conservatives in Washington.
Al Gore Fuzzy Math Award: Mitt Romney. Can you run over those number from Bain Capital again?
W.C. Fields Perfect Timing Award: Newt Gingrich. For releasing his tax returns during the course of the South Carolina debate. This blew up on twitter and also forced CNN’s John King to raise the issue. Romney’s stumbling, awkward responses continue his problems on this issue.
Artful Dodger “Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two” Award: Mitt Romney. For repeatedly refusing to answer direct questions from his opponents or the debate moderator. Including, notably, his personal wealth and taxes.
Captain Francesco Schettino Down With The Ship Award: Mitt Romney. Surrounded by others who seem to be telling him his ship may be running aground, he maintains the helm, grinning amiably. Room service is surely awaiting on the lifeboat.
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In an interview that will air later tonight on CNN, former President Jimmy Carter accused Newt Gingrich of making “subtle” racist appeals in his rhetoric, which as recently as the Monday night Fox News debate included continuing references to Barack Obama as a “food stamp president.” His exchanges with Fox’s in-house liberal Juan Williams also drew fire for ongoing talk about minorities needing to get off government aid/welfare/food stamps and “learn how to get a job.”
Is this racism? An interesting 2004 column here from no less than Juan Williams, looking at the history of the GOP’s use of “dog whistle” racism over the years.
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Cribbing my headline from Chris Matthews tonight, adios to Jon Huntsman. We hardly knew ye.
My thoughts on POLITICO today.
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Posted in Conservatism, Political Rhetoric, tagged Barack Obama, Buckley, Conservatives, Diane Rhem, Framing, Franklin Roosevelt, Liberalism, Populism, Republicans, rhetoric, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, tea party, Thomas Frank on January 9, 2012 |
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Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” had a fascinating appearance today on Diane Rehm program. I’ve had my objections to his theories in the past, namely that there is a fundamental flaw, from a political and rhetorical standpoint, with the premise that there is something wrong with Kansas. As one teacher of mine put it, the smartest thing conservatives might have done after Frank’s book premiered would have been to offer (via National Review, perhaps) a free copy of the book. The accompanying advert would blare: “See, here come those liberals again, telling you you’re not as smart as them, that–literally–there’s something wrong with you.”
My addendum to this argument would be that there’s nothing really wrong with Kansas; there’s something wrong with the progressive/Democratic response to the conservative/Republican arguments being made to the people of Kansas. The problem, if you are a Democrat, is that conservatives are persuading people in Kansas. The solution lies not in “fixing” what’s “wrong” with people, but in persuading them that your ideas are better than the ones they have come to subscribe to.
Frank has a new book out, “Pity the Millionaire,” which he discussed in the Rehm interview, and he seems to be coming around to the position that there’s not as much wrong with Kansas as there is something wrong with the arguments being made by Democrats. I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve read the new book–but based on the interview, Frank and I may be more on the same page this time. His project traces the evolution of populism since its real inception during the Depression years. How did FDR’s political victories, built on the successes of the progressive labor movement, get co-opted a generation later by Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority and the current tea partiers? Frank’s analysis focuses on several factors, among them a failure to embrace the importance of rhetoric in maintaining movements. Frank rightly points to FDR a great political wordsmith who persuaded the nation on the rightness of his policies. Those fireside chats meant something. Liberalism in the postwar years drifted away from FDR’s vigorous rhetorical engagement and towards a more institutionalized, polite, managerial style. Adlai Stevenson vs. William F. Buckley. No contest.
As Rehm pointed out in her interview with Frank, by the time to cultural turmoil of the 1960s came around, the Right had moved in for full populist capture (Rick Perlstein’s “Nixonland” is vital reading here.) The white working class (and even a good percentage of the black working class) supported Richard Nixon in 1972. Reagan Democrats were emerging as a political cohort, successors to Nixon’s Silent Majority. I look forward to Frank’s analysis of how this trajectory led us to the tea party and today’s populist anger on the right.
Frank notes that one of his criticisms of the current political left is what he calls “the silence of the technocrats.” He is dead on. In a conversation with a similarly minded friend just yesterday we found ourselves echoing this very theme. Why didn’t the President and his allies make better arguments about their policies, such as health care reform? Why didn’t they articulate them in ways that would persuade, and respond to the phony criticisms from the Right? “They always fall back on expertise,” was Thomas Frank’s reply today. “That’s not how Roosevelt did it,” he said. “You don’t say you’re doing it because the economists told you so.”
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