Archive for February, 2012

Sadly, we have had no GOP debates in what feels like an age. In lieu of this we offer our Michigan Primary Awards.

Roy Hobbs Underdog Award: Whoever it was on the Santorum staff who chose the warmup music for the candidate’s concession speech. We suspect Robert Redford would not be pleased.

Sir Issac Newton’s Falling Apple Memorial Award: Newt Gingrich. For his wonderfully rambling account of his attempt to chop down a very large tree in one of his friends’ yards. Professor Newt explains, in detail, how the physics of three men totalling 500 pound would not be able to stay the gravitational pull of a 15,000 pound tree. He noted the rate of acceleration, and addressed the physics majors in the room at the school where he taught years ago. Perhaps Professor Newt should go back to the academy.

Nikita Khrushchev Shoe Banging Award: Rick Santorum. For his prop-use, pulling out a piece of shale and banging it on the podium as he bashed Obama’s energy policy. Rick’s Shale now has his own twitter feed, @SantorumShale!

Frank Luntz Empty Rhetoric Award: Mitt Romney. The Solution to his gaffe machine malfunctions over the last two weeks is a teleprompter and a positively, absolutely, almost phenomenally vapid speech. A series of Luntz slogans with no substance, “Restoring Promise,” (four mentions) “Death Tax,” “Job Creators,” “Restoring American Greatness,” “Take back America.” As Chris Matthews said, this speech lacked soul. Steve Schmidt says Romney is running a visionless campaign.

Peter Boyle/Don’t It Make You Want to Go To War Award: Rick Santorum. While one MSNBC commentator suggested the Senator could be played by Bruce Willis in Die Hard, charging ahead furiously even as his pursuers bloodied him, we favor a more obscure reference to Peter Boyle in “Joe,” railing against both the OWS hippies and the powers-that-be, with (as Rick put it) their “crisp suits” and snobby  entitlement. Hey Rick, don’t it make you want to go to war?

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Here’s a link to the podcast of my interview discussing the GOP candidates with John Barron of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, whose “Inside America” program provides a different perspective on American news.

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In case you missed it: Mitt Romney’s extremely awkward word choice in his CPAC speech, in which he employed the word “conservative” at least 25 times. As this excellent analysis in POLITICO details, no movement conservative would ever refer to themselves as “severely” conservative. Mitt’s foot-in-mouth problem continues. As does his authenticity problem.

Don’t take it from me, take it from Rush Limbaugh.

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In the latest of his foot-in-mouth rhetorical flubs, Mitt Romney today said that he doesn’t care about very poor people. While some of Mitt’s misspeaking has been innocuous or just goofy, the continuing pattern is that he does not have the vocabulary — or, also likely, the understanding — required to address income disparity in America…and his own massive wealth.

In Romney’s defense, what he wants to convey is that he wants his campaign to be about the middle class, not the poor or the rich. However well this message may have tested in the focus groups, Romney keeps proving, again and again, that he is a terrible messenger. He is hindered by his persona, as well as his repeated rhetorical inartfulness. His continual missteps are the equivalent of what poker players call a “tell”: A gesture a player makes unconsciously that reveals what cards they’re holding.

Romney has a rhetorical tell, and it is all about wealth. Listen below for an astounding 90 seconds of political ineptitude on the issue of income disparity — and Romney’s own persona as leader/candidate. Packed into this interview are not only the misstep of saying “I don’t care about the very poor,” but also a series of cringing follow-ons. The poor have a “safety net” that catches them (I thought conservatives were against safety nets) and I, Mitt Romney, will “repair” the “net” if it has “holes.” A dial-tested metaphor so nice he repeats it thrice. Flustered, Romney says he cares about the middle class because they make up the “90 to 95 percent of Americans who are struggling.”

So Romney only cedes 4-9 percent to the Occupy movement.

And he keeps going. Pressed further by the interviewer, Romney gives his poker tell again. He says it’s not really his job to talk about poor people anyway — he’s running for the Republican nomination. “You’ll hear plenty of talk from the Democrat [sic] Party about the ‘plight of the poor’.” It’s those guys’ job to talk about poor people, not mine.

Romney’s judgment on the matter: “It’s not good being poor.”

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A study in contrasts tonight from Romney and Gingrich. Romney moved immediately into general election mode, and was off to the races attacking Pres. Obama for all matters, whether or not grounded in reality. More than anything, I was struck by how Romney completely ignores the George W. Bush legacy–not that Bush Jr. is, to be fair, all that that beloved by movement conservatives. But by taking Obama’s State of the Union line (“remember how we got here”) and attempting to use it against Obama is a true looking glass move: What the President was saying is that the economic morass–noted by Romney tonight over and over again–were created by 8 years of ill-advised adventurism and overspending abroad and economically blind, doctrinaire tax cuts at home. “How we got here” is not about the last three years, which have been a cleanup effort. Romney either doesn’t understand that or he is engaging in a truly Orwellian manipulation of language and fact.

The brutal personal attacks Romney launched against Gingrich this past week are apparently also a prelude to what he plans for the President should he be the nominee. According to Romney, the President does not appealing to the “best in us,” but rather trying to turn us into the “worst of Europe.” He, like the rest of his effete intellectual snob friends in the “faculty lounge,”  thinks he knows better than us. (This is rich [no sic] coming from the scion of American political and economic royalty, the wealthiest man ever to run for the Presidency.) Also, Romney continues, Obama is destroying the American military and our standing in the world. In this case I’m with Jon Stewart, who has noted over and over again that the GOP is simply ignoring reality and creating a fictional opponent; it’s not what we in communications call “re-framing,” it’s simply invention. To say that  “our role as a global military leader is a thing of the past” and that Obama’s polities represent “appeasement and apology” is just false. The aggressiveness shown by Obama in his own foreign adventures, from Libya to bin Laden to the drone raids all over the world which many on the left object to (along with our allies) do not align with the parallel universe Romney is apparently encouraging his audience to embrace.

But no matter. Mitt mouths the words. One really does wonder what this individual has at his core; or if we are truly watching a Hall of the Presidents audio-animatronic.

And then there was Newt…

Blasting away, “grandiose,” and showing no sign of getting out of the way…the signage saying “46 states to go.” Gingrich’s first announcement was that this is now a “two person race” between himself and Romney. He was off and running not against Obama but against Romney, the “Massachusetts Moderate,” a phrase he backed off on in Florida for some reason. But the word of the Gingrich speech was “establishment,” which we can look for to be a recurring theme. Newt, for all is time in Washington politics, is running as the insurgent.

Newt’s rhetorical enthusiasms know no bounds, and his strength of delivery belies the contradictions in his reasoning; the gang on MSNBC tonight was calling it “delusional.” I think that’s going a bit far, but not in all respects. The irony of having Gingrich use as a them tonight his new catchphrase of “people power” and a “peoples’ campaign”…all the while attacking Saul Alinsky as an anti-American radical. Really? Cue Jon Stewart on this one. Alinsky’s community organizing was all about confronting “money power” by “people power.” Woops, I just quoted Newt Gingrich. (The serious point here, made by David Gregory on Sunday, was that serious conservatives like William F. Buckley Jr. years ago, was that Alinsky’s ideas were just as applicable to conservatism as they were/are to progressivism.)

There was chatter on twitter and TV in the postgame that Gingrich’s retinue of policy dreams that he moved to in the second part of his speech, repealing laws, moving embassies, the Keystone pipeline etc., were more of his “delusion.” But consider the contrast to Romney, who discussed absolutely no specific policies in his speech. Gingrich may be off the wall (and wrong) at times, but, as Richard Cohen wrote recently, he brings ideas to the table and moves the debate. Romney does not do this.

Newt jabbed at Pres. Obama as well, for his golfing and his Al Green renditions. But Gingrich delivers in a totally different way than Romney, able to pivot from those jabs to invocations of Lincoln. The rhetorical contrast between these two candidates could be more start.

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