The Political Animal

Preventing Romney: Mediating the Laughter and the Lies


The challenge for supporters of Barack Obama, tonight and after, is to mediate the media’s mediation of reality. Mediating the mediation: in politics that’s called “spin.” Spin is a conceptually sexy, pop-cultural term for influence. It is a method of persuasion. But as the nature of the expression suggests in its physical metaphor, it is superficial, acting on the exterior body rather than the interior being. Spin – like the earth on its axis. Don’t necessarily transform the deep understanding; just grab the body by the arm and turn it in another direction.

In this picture, though, the body is the whole argument, both sides of it – the presentation of it. By the media. In all the now common reference to spin as if it were the weather – just part of politics, like a convention – what is too little acknowledged by the media is that what is really being spun is the media. Reporters and analysts pretend to stand back and in rather blasé fashion cursorily acknowledge the pol spin activity as if they, the journalists, are immune to it and it is really being directed at us, the receivers of mediation.

The media doesn’t get it.

A standard story line of the news media, particularly over the span of the Obama administration, has been the break down in our governance due to extreme partisanship and consequent popular contempt for elected officials by those who elect them. This is one element of the news media’s false equivalency “objectivity.”

“Both sides do it.”

Well, you know, everybody eats, too. Everybody doesn’t eat as much.

The news media is far less observant of its own break down in its own civic role. Even news organizations’ own occasional, self-congratulatory coverage, in apparent self-examination of its own failures, occurs in brief and superficial segments that function as a sop to critics and the challenges of conscience. The same failures are reenacted. The failure of large segments of the journalistic world to adequately understand fundamental concepts of their own profession makes all this unsurprising. Significant numbers of journalists believe objectivity means not attempting to mediate between truth and falsity. Such a notion seriously mistakes any meaningful, coherent definition of objectivity, is – many journalists would no doubt be surprised to recognize – essentially relativistic, and actually makes the journalist uniquely susceptible to – spin. To be the handmaiden of spin is precisely the outcome of believing not that objectivity is the position of truth, but of independence from critical thinking, an empty passivity of mind.

We just report – stenographers, digital recorders, auto-cams rotating back and forth between he said and she said.

Raise the issue of truth with the mentally lazy or inadequate-to-the-task and you will immediately hear of its difficulty. What is the truth, they’ll cry. How can we know the truth?

How can we get up in the morning? First, one leg…. Work at it.

Every opinion is “just an opinion” is the mental state of the untrained mind. All persuasion is not the same. There are good, sound arguments, and there is spin. There is Socrates and there is sophistry.

The major spin to come out of the Vice-Presidential debate is the subject of Joe Biden’s laughter, his smiles and scornful reactions to Paul Ryan – his “rudeness.”

A truth is that there is meaningful consideration to be given to the effect of Biden’s manner. It is not reporting or analysis to ignore human nature, behavior and responsiveness. Biden’s demeanor did displease some who were not simply GOP partisans. But the far greater effrontery of a lie can be masked by a calm, quiet demeanor. The scornful laugh in response is there for all to see, and all that will be seen by those who cannot recognize the lie. Whose task is it, then, to reveal the lie and then consider the lie and the reaction to it as a whole? To weigh them in significance?

What deserves our lasting attention, the superficially apparent rudeness of “disrespectful” facial reactions – should one show respect to a lie? – or the rudeness of bald-faced lying to the people over whom a candidate seeks to exercise power? What is worse – rolling eyes or claiming the employment rate is going up when it is going down? What is worse – hands thrown up to the sky in feigned disbelief or claiming Social Security is threatened with insolvency when it is not? What is worse, the apparent disrespect of behavior purposefully directed at discrediting an argument and its author or a candidacy generally acknowledged since its inception and repeatedly established and acknowledged to be dissembling and dishonest? That the conservative mouthpieces and right wing bloggers have talked about Biden’s behavior for a week was to be expected. That the news media permit that discussion to become the defining characteristic of the event – with Biden’s superior argumentation second – was not a requirement. The news media got spun. And because the media generally accept the world of spin, live within it and on its rotating surface, they do not feel its effect on them.

The mass news media believes it is transparently mediating the delivery of reality to its audience. Increasingly, however, the reality it purports to deliver is the Potemkin village of its own mediation. If the most dishonest campaign ever waged for the Presidency succeeds, it will be in very large part because of the failure of the American journalistic establishment.

The challenge for those who seek to prevent this outcome is to mediate the media’s mediation – to serve as a corrective lens that refocuses everyone’s perception from the process and the game, of politics and journalism, that political reporters love so much, to something a little closer to the truth.


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The Political Animal

The Other God That Failed


English: Caricature of Soviet leader Leonid Br...
English: Caricature of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev wearing a dark suit and two medals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, nothing so far can match, or is likely to, the epic-historical failure of twentieth century Marxism. The cost of that failure, if not actually beyond measure, surely transcends any measure the mind can really grasp. Other failures, however, cannot be denied just because they do not reach a comparable magnitude. Dionysus was not Zeus, but he held sway enough.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, like Brezhnev after the debacle is done, seek the presidency and its supporting role in the geriatric decrepitude of a conservative idea that over thirty years of sway over American society has proven an abject failure.

“You’re as young as you feel,” they cry, with forced smiles as the flesh droops all around them.

The period of greatest economic growth during those three decades – before the last four post-deluge years – were under the only eight years of Democratic administration, and even Bill Clinton cooperated with the Reaganite deregulatory regime that led to the 2008 Great Recession and failed to halt stagnated middle class income and declining wealth. But like every party apparatchik in a communist cubicle, American conservatives insist their idea is the holy grail, while they drive the lives of ordinary Americans further towards hopeless subsistence and necessary persistence.

In California, the saga of budgetary dysfunction has many plot lines, but here is one. At the start of 2008, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a budget that sought to address a $14 billion dollar deficit. Thirteen months later, after 2008 came down upon us all, that deficit had atomically mushroomed to $40 billion dollars. Today, the world of finance capital is already long recovered from the near disaster that it and its American conservative enablers brought down upon us all. The wealthy are doing fine, even better than ever. But middle class homes are still under water and IRA’s and personal wealth for the vast majority of Americans are decimated. Nonetheless, according to the likes of William J. Bennett and the governing hatchet men like Scott Walker who enact the latest five-year ideological plan, the fault, dear booboisie, lies not in our bankers, but in our working suckers. Now that the party of the moneyed class has tanked the economy, and with it the tax revenue streams of every state in the Union, but recovered itself, let’s blame state and local budget crises on public pensions out of control.

Meanwhile, reports the Los Angeles Times, for the young,

California’s community college system, the nation’s largest, has suffered about $809 million in state funding cuts since 2008. It faces another $338-million hit midyear if voters reject a tax measure on the November ballot supported by Gov. Jerry Brown.


“There is no question that the system is shrinking in terms of the number of students we’re serving but not shrinking in terms of demand,” Chancellor Jack Scott said in an interview Tuesday. “The real problem is we don’t have the financial resources to offer the courses that we could fill. In the long run, it’s going to be hurtful to the economy. These are the individuals who are going to make up the future workforce of California.”

These students also tend to be among the neediest: They typically require remedial classes, financial aid, tutoring and counseling. And many are juggling school with jobs.

Yet 70% of colleges in the survey report having reduced hours for such support services, and 87% have reduced staff. In addition, 82% said they planned to offer no winter session this year.


The colleges predicted a grim year if further cuts are required in January. Administrators said they would need to further reduce class offerings, lay off full-time faculty, postpone building and classroom maintenance, and borrow to manage cash-flow needs.

Already, budget cuts have had a deep effect. Overall enrollment dropped about 17%, from about 2.9 million in the 2008-09 academic year to 2.4 million in 2011-12, and officials have estimated a further decline this year. The number of class sections decreased 24% from 522,727 in 2008-09 to 399,540 in 2011-12.

The colleges say they are being forced to cut into vital services that for many students can mean the difference between success and failure.

And for older Americans, according to the Huffington Post, especially poorer people:

In 2010, 8.3 million Americans over 60 faced the threat of hunger — up 78 percent from a decade earlier, according to a 2012 report. The proportion of the seniors affected has grown to one in seven in 2010 from one in nine in 2005 — even as the hunger risk for the population as a whole declined slightly, the report found.

The rise in food insecurity is being seen primarily among Americans earning less than $30,000 –- or one to two times the poverty level –- as well as people between the ages of 60 and 69, said Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois, who co-authored the report with James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky.


The growth in food insecurity tracks a larger trend in poverty: While the official poverty rate among seniors 65 and older was 9 percent in 2010, a broader poverty measure released by the Census Bureau last year puts the rate at nearly 16 percent –- or roughly one in six seniors.

Many of these Americans are new to poverty, said Sudipto Banerjee, research associate with the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C. He analyzed trends in poverty among people over 50 from 2001 to 2009 and found 6 percent of people age 75 to 84 fell into poverty for the first time in 2009, compared to 3.3 percent in 2005.

The biggest jump in poverty rates was among people 50 to 64 in the period studied, but poverty levels are highest for people 85 and older, Banerjee noted, citing medical expenses as the most significant factor. “In all the other categories –- housing, entertainment, food, clothing –- spending goes down with age,” he said. “But medical expenses are higher, and for these people, it takes about one-fifth of their budget.”

About 70 percent of citizens living below the poverty line have experienced an acute health condition such as cancer, lung disease, heart problems or stroke -– compared to 48 percent of people who are not in poverty, Banerjee added.


In terms of demographic trends, senior poverty is most acute among Latino and African-American seniors. In 2009, the poverty rate was 29 percent for Hispanics and about 25 percent for blacks -– more than three times higher than the rate for whites, at around 8 percent, according to Banerjee. Single women are also vulnerable: One in five women over 65 lived in poverty in 2009.

Wahlstrom is one of those women. Her monthly income includes $900 a month in Social Security, $200 from a small annuity and $140 in food stamps. “It’s cutting it close, but it’s still enough,” she said.

Roughly 45 million Americans received assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly referred to as food stamps — in 2011, with an average monthly benefit of $133.85. Recipients typically must earn no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty line — for people over 65, that’s $13,375 annually for a single person and $16,877 for a couple.

After four years of a Romney-Ryan administration, we might get lucky enough to skip Andropov and go right to Chernenko. Then the job would really be done.


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The Political Animal

Mitt Romney Thinks You’re a Moron


speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...
speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 11, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conventional wisdom is not precisely an oxymoron (time really does fly), but it is not infrequently moronic. The conventional wisdom that the Romney campaign wishes to create around Paul Ryan is one of rare courage and unusual intelligence and experience in budgetary matters – the GOP’s fiscal Brainiac for the Chinese (I mean Second American) Century, and now, too, a man of bipartisan largeness (so long as he isn’t confronted with cancerous progressive smallness). According to TPM this morning, The Most Fundamentally (© N. Gingrich) Dishonest Candidate Since Richard Nixon™ is on that theme already.

“This guy’s a real leader,” Romney told CBS News on Sunday. “He’s reached across the aisle. He’s worked with Democrats, Republicans. Tried to take on the toughest issues America faces.”

On the campaign trail in Florida Monday, Romney again praised Ryan for “working across the aisle” to find solutions to the nation’s problems.

The problematic reality?

In almost 13 years as a congressman, Ryan has proposed just two bills that have passed and become law, one of which involved renaming a post office in his district. It’s a low number by any standard, but particularly for a chairman of the powerful Budget Committee.


Statistics peg Ryan as a staunch conservative. According to the DW-Nominate metric, Ryan’s voting record makes him almost as conservative as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and more conservative than Rep. Allen West (R-FL). By the same measurement, Ryan is the most right-wing member of Congress to be selected for vice president since at least 1900, according to data analyzed by the New York Times.

Ryan has also helped thwart bipartisan efforts at debt reduction, an issue he frequently touts as a top national priority. He attacked and voted against the Bowles-Simpson deficit plan in late 2010, which would have reduced the nation’s budget shortfall by trillions of dollars with a combination of spending cuts and new revenues.

But as we already know, the truth stands not in the way of The Most Fundamentally (© N. Gingrich) Dishonest Candidate Since Richard Nixon™.

Need more? Here is Ezra Klein:

I’ve got a modest proposal: You’re not allowed to demand a “serious conversation” over Medicare unless you can answer these three questions:

1) Mitt Romney says that “unlike the current president who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion. We will preserve and protect Medicare.” What happens to those cuts in the Ryan budget?

2) What is the growth rate of Medicare under the Ryan budget?

3) What is the growth rate of Medicare under the Obama budget?

The answers to these questions are, in order, “it keeps them,” “GDP+0.5%,” and “GDP+0.5%.”

And from BuzzFeed:

Mitt Romney often attacks President Obama for his lack of business experience, but his own running mate has spent his life in government as a Congressional staffer and Congressman since graduating college. At a May event in Las Vegas, Romney enthusiastically told the story of man who proposed amending the Constitution to require all presidents have three years of business experience, a criteria that would disqualify his own running mate.

ThinkProgress shares with us, from among numerous aggregated Romney quotes,

I happen to believe that having been in the private sector for 25 years gives me a perspective on how jobs are created — that someone who’s never spent a day in the private sector, like President Obama, simply doesn’t understand.

Garance Franke-Ruta adds, at the Atlantic,

Mitt Romney said Sunday that Ryan’s “career ambition was not to go to Washington.” But Ryan did go to Washington, D.C., arriving as an intern in 1991 and spending the entire rest of his career here after graduating from college. As National Journal’s Rebecca Kaplan and Sarah Huisenga put it:

Ryan’s career path doesn’t quite gel with the image Romney projected in his speech. As a college student at Miami University in Ohio, he began serving as a staffer for Republican Sen. Bob Kasten. After graduating, he was hired as a speechwriter for Jack Kemp, then a congressman from New York. Ryan, who cited Kemp as a mentor at an event in Manassas, Va., on Saturday, went on to work for Kemp’s think tank, Empower America, and as a speechwriter on his vice presidential campaign in 1996. He also was a legislative director for then-Sen. Sam Brownback, now governor of Kansas.

Ryan ran for and was elected to Congress in 1998, and has been serving as a member from his Wisconsin district since 1999.

Now, too, and continuing, no doubt until Election Day, Romney’s VP hopefuls, including Ryan, answer that they were asked for “several” years of tax returns during the VP vetting process, to vaguely contrast not too much with the two only that Romney adamantly will not go beyond in revealing to the public. When the truth comes out – because now there are people who will not rest until they know – how uncertain it will turn out to have been what the meaning of “several” is. Almost like “is.”

And when the truth comes out finally about Romney’s taxes (vide supra), and John McCain is asked about this certification

“I am absolutely confident that [Romney] … did pay taxes.” McCain told the Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston during an interview set to air on his “Face to Face” program on Tuesday. “Nothing in his tax returns showed that he did not pay taxes.”

– we will be asked to note that it makes no reference to federal income taxes.

Jonathan Chait concluded that Ryan’s “public persona is a giant scam.” Noted Franke-Ruta,

there’s a big difference between manners and character, between ideologically rigid political posturing and a substantive commitment to the difficult work of creating positive change within a pluralistic and diverse democratic society. If people can no longer tell the one from the other it’s because we now live in an age, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has so memorably noted, where “where counter-intuitive bullshitting is valorized, where the pose of argument is more important than the actual pursuit of truth, where clever answers take precedence over profound questions.”

All political campaigning involves strategic and tactical presentation of a candidate’s ideas and policy proposals. It is not an Oxford Debate, and the terms of what is, in the essential analysis, a contest for power, are set as much by one’s opponent as by oneself.  But Mitt Romney believes he can tell us anything one day and its opposite the next. He’ll call it fertilizer on Sunday, manure on Monday, and tell us on Tuesday, that’s right, it all depends on what you stick in it.

And he’s the seed, by golly.

He thinks we’re morons. Are we?


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The Political Animal

The Other Paul Ryan


While the general media roll out of Paul Ryan as VP pick focuses on the GOP’s chosen narrative of Ryan as “smart” and “courageous” thinker about budgetary and Medicare matters, many more careful economists, like Paul Krugman, are offering the necessary corrective in even that area. Krugman reminds us that Ryan has never crunched the numbers, which don’t add up, and that Jacob Weisberg felt compelled to correct himself by writing,

Ryan is more an anarchist-libertarian than honest conservative.

This, though, is hardly a surprising assessment of a man who has said,

  • “I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.”
  • “It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.”
  • “But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

However, Paul Ryan is not all budget and senior health care.

Though best known as an architect of conservative fiscal policy, Representative Paul D. Ryan has also been an ardent, unwavering foe of abortion rights, has tried to cut off federal money for family planning, has opposed same-sex marriageand has championed the rights of gun owners.


In an interview with the conservative Weekly Standard in 2010, Mr. Ryan, an observant Roman Catholic, played down the possibility of a truce on social issues, which had been suggested by Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a Republican.

“I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” Mr. Ryan said then. “You’re not going to have a truce. Judges are going to come up. Issues come up, they’re unavoidable, and I’m never going to not vote pro-life.”


He voted in 2006 for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. And, as he said recently, he supported an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution, approved in 2006, that denies official recognition to same-sex marriage.


Appearing on C-Span shortly after he was first elected to Congress in 1998, Mr. Ryan said, “I do not think that more gun control laws are going to solve our crime problems.” He added, “Gun control is not crime control.”

Noting that he had lived on Capitol Hill, Mr. Ryan said: “I’ve been mugged before. I’ve heard the gunshots. This city has perhaps the most stringent gun control laws in any city in the country. Yet it has perhaps the greatest crime problems with firearms.”

Apparently, it did not occur to this GOP intellectual light that that people with guns in Washington D.C. might have purchased them across the river in Virginia. You’d have to study up on that.

People with environmental concerns have little reason to cotton to Ryan either (or, once again, that towering intellect).

“Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow…” Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, argued in a 2009 op-ed.

The Wisconsin congressman’s lack of support for clean energy and climate change programs has led many environmentalists to react with outrage over Romney’s pick. (Romney himself has reversed stances on man-made global warming, declaring, “we don’t know what’s causing climate change.”)

As co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted, “Meet Paul Ryan–it snowed in my district, so let’s not do anything about climate change”.

Earning a measly 3% in the League of Conservation Voters 2011 National Environmental Scorecard, the advocacy group tweeted with a link to Open Secrets, “Paul Ryan has received $244,250 (and counting) from the oil and gas industry.”

The Sierra Club raised similar concerns, with Executive Director Michael Brune stating in a press release: “There is a reason big polluters have given Paul Ryan hundreds of thousands of dollars and why the Koch Brothers are one of his top donors – he’s tried to turn their wildest fantasies into law. From rejecting the reality of climate disruption to attacking good-paying clean energy jobs to trying to gut the EPA’s ability to protect our air, our water, and the health of our families, Ryan operates out of the dirty energy playbook.”

Brad Johnson dissects Ryan’s voting record on ThinkProgress, including his efforts “toprevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting greenhouse pollution, toeliminate White House climate advisers, to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from preparing for climate disasters…”

In the same op-ed as his snow stance, Ryan argued, “e-mails from leading climatologists make clear efforts to use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.”

Romney is completely unprincipled and Paul Ryan would be the Tea Party-Koch brothers vice-president. Still, he is such a cute, wholesome looking young man.

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