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Last night, as conservative Muslims enraged by an inflammatory anti-Islam film attacked US embassies in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney issued a statement soon to become infamous in American election lore:
I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
The Obama administration, of course, did no such sympathizing. (See Robert Dreyfuss debunk the lie here).
Now, even mainstream reporters and GOP foreign policy hands are shocked by Romney’s crass and inaccurate attempt to score political points from the unrest. NBC’s First Read called it “one of the most over-the-top and incorrect attacks of the general-election campaign.” Romney performed “one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign,” in the words of Time’s Mark Halperin. “I guess we see now that…they’re incompetent at talking effectively about foreign policy,” one Republican told Buzzfeed.
What could have led Romney so astray—to say something so clearly unfounded and cheap? The answer is quickly becoming a familiar one: the right-wing blogosphere. Many of Romney’s most blazingly inaccurate and inflammatory statements this summer can first be traced back to right-wing blogs, to whom Romney’s communications team seems keenly tuned.
Foreign Policy correctly noted that for several hours before the Romney campaign issued that statement, the US embassy press release was “heavily criticized by conservative websites.” Indeed, yesterday afternoon the website Twitchy—a popular creation of prominent right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin—had a post up titled “U.S. Embassy in Cairo chooses Sep. 11 to apologize for hurt Muslim feelings.”
The Twitter account for Instapundit.com, run by Glenn Reynolds, tweeted this mid-afternoon yesterday:
Jonathan Tobin had a post at Commentary yesterday titled “Sound Familiar? Islamists Storm U.S. Embassy and America Apologizes.” At Human Events, David Harsanyi published a post at 3:30 pm titled “In Egypt, the United States Condemns Free Speech.” Harsanyi also presciently implored Romney, a little after 9 pm, to get aggressive on the issue: “i think a little bluster from romney about now would make republicans feel a lot better,” he tweeted.
Bluster Romney did, and right into political catastrophe. The idea that the US embassy apologized for anything is simply daft, and ill-timed, as commentator after commentator is noting today. But it made sense inside the online, right-wing echo chamber—and Romney’s campaign may be stuck inside it.
Granted, his campaign is staffed by neoconservatives who are generally prone to over-police instances of “sympathy” or “apology” towards Islam—but it’s hard to believe any of these experienced politicos would cook up such a flimsy attack as what we just saw. In fact, one of them—Rich Williamson, a former Bush official now advising Romney—gave a detailed interview to Foreign Policy last night about the unrest that never touched on the statement from the US embassy in Egypt. That attack line was straight off the blogs.
And this isn’t the first time Romney has lifted attack lines from the wacko online right: remember, this is the candidate who made a birther joke last month.
Just this past weekend, Romney bizarrely pledged that “I will not take ‘God’ off our coins.” This is something that Obama has never done—and the only basis to believe he has is widely disseminated right-wing e-mail that has been repeatedly debunked by Politifact.com and Snopes. As Politifact noted:
[T]he email has the standard ingredients of an Internet falsehood—sloppy punctuation, an abundance of exclamation points, a plausible story (“I received one from the Post Office as change and I asked for a dollar bill instead”), a request to spread the email far and wide (“Please send to all on your mailing list!!!”) and screaming capital letters (“‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ IS GONE!!!”) .”
Recall also another lie Romney told this summer—arguably the most brazen before yesterday. When Ohio restricted early voting hours to apply only to military veterans, the Obama campaign sued to open it back up to all Ohioans—and Romney asserted, completely incorrectly, that Obama was trying to stop veterans from voting.
This was not misleadingly slanting a policy dispute but rather an outright lie—as Ohio newspapers were quick to note. What gave Romney the idea? Once again, this was a crackpot take on the lawsuit circulating on right-wing blogs for hours before Romney issued his statement. The previous day, the powerful blog Redstate.com put on its front page a diary asserting that “the Obama campaign’s lawsuit says that the state of Ohio cannot treat soldiers differently than the ACORN troops they round up on the streets on election day.” Romney soon made the same charge, stripped (thankfully) of the ACORN language.
Romney seems to have outsourced a substantial part of his communications operation and opposition research to right-wing blogs—and keeps getting burned for it. Will he learn to stop?
On Meet the Press yesterday, Mitt Romney tried to explain what he would do about the country’s healthcare system once he delivered on his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. Romney told host David Gregory that “there are a number of things I like” about Obamacare, and named the features that allow young people to stay on their parents’ plans and the pre-existing conditions protections:
The takeaway for everyone watching was that Romney wouldn’t actually gut the whole law. But only hours later, Romney advisers told a conservative website that he was just kidding:
In reference to how Romney would deal with those with preexisting conditions and young adults who want to remain on their parents’ plans, a Romney aide responded that there had been no change in Romney’s position and that “in a competitive environment, the marketplace will make available plans that include coverage for what there is demand for. He was not proposing a federal mandate to require insurance plans to offer those particular features.”
So essentially Romney “likes” those features, but wouldn’t actually do anything to create them—he just trusts the marketplace to make it happen somehow. Romney can’t say he would pass any law to do so, because that would then resemble the dread Obamacare.
This sloppy two-step on healthcare isn’t unique to Romney, however—it reflects a party held hostage by its right wing, and we’ve seen this dance before. We noted in May that John Boehner was forced to perform a nearly identical flip-flop as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the health reform law.
A Politico story reported on May 17 that House GOP leadership was preparing bills to replace the pre-existing condition and young-adult provisions should the entire legislation be overturned—and then right-wingers flipped out. “If this is true I have had it. I’m calling out John Boehner right now,” said powerful radio talker Mark Levin. “Look how fast they fold like a cheap tent.” Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association tweeted: “GOP thinking about keeping parts of ObamaCare, if you can believe it. No, no, a thousand times no.”
Within a day, Boehner had to pull the same move that Romney just did. His office sent out an e-mail making it clear that, contra the Politico reporting, “Anything Short of Full ObamaCare Repeal is Unacceptable.”
Sure, Romney’s quick flip-flop on healthcare reform yesterday underscores now-familiar problems with his campaign: holding multiple positions and ultimately leaning on an impossibly vague policy prescription. (If the healthcare reform law were repealed in full, what would stop private insurance companies from rejecting customers with pre-existing conditions?)
But the real story here is how the right-wing has the GOP under its boot, refusing to allow even noncontroversial, broadly acceptable policy fixes if they were at any time supported by Barack Obama. It would be good politics for Romney to offer voters, particularly middle-class independents, some backstops should the healthcare reform law be repealed—the Tea just Party won’t let him, just as they didn’t let Boehner when he made the same, accurate calculation. This is the price a political party pays for whipping up rabid opposition to anything done by the current administration, no matter what it was.
During his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last night, President Barack Obama asked people to be patient with the economic recovery. “The truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over the decades,” he said.
His advisers are surely hoping this morning that people were listening. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs data this morning, which revealed that sluggish growth trends are continuing, and a recovery remains elusive.
The economy added 96,000 jobs in August, according to the data, which is at about the level needed to keep up with population growth. The unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent, but only because 368,000 people stopped looking for work.
Public sector job losses continue to be a huge problem: 6,000 jobs were lost at the state level in August, and 4,000 at the local level. (The federal government added 3,000 jobs). The public sector has now shed 571,000 jobs in total.
The private sector continued to add jobs, for the thirtieth straight month, but a deeper dive into the gains is troubling. The manufacturing sector—which Obama promised to revive last night, with 1 million new jobs—lost 15,000 jobs. Many of the gains were in low-paying sectors: retail (6,100 jobs) and hotels, restaurants and leisure industries (34,000 jobs).
The president’s team is trying to focus attention on the continued private-sector job gains, and noting that Obama has made things (at least marginally) better. Its argument is summed up in this chart, showing that the unemployment rate is indeed improving:
But the Romney-Ryan team was quick to pounce on signs of anemic growth. “43 straight months of unemployment above 8%. This is not what a recovery looks like,” tweeted Ryan. “If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover,” said Romney.
Their argument could be summed up in this chart, showing how far the economy still has to go, and how truly modest—at best—the recent gains have been:
Ultimately, this was a status quo report, on pace with recent data—it’s just that the status quo is not all that great. Without any major spikes or valleys in the next two months, voters will have to choose based on who they think has a better plan for accelerating job growth.
It should be noted that the American Jobs Act—which Obama introduced almost exactly one year ago, and which Republicans in Congress have blocked ever since—would add 2.6 million jobs to the economy, protect 1.6 million more, and 2 percent to gross domestic product, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Romney, meanwhile, has a somewhat vague jobs plan that the Center for American Progress Action Fund estimates would actually eliminate 360,000 jobs next year. Many of the proposals in Romney’s plan don’t change policy, making it hard to discern how he believes they would create jobs. Others, like tax credits for companies that outsource jobs, would obviously depress employment.
Last night presented an interesting contrast of different Democratic approaches to regulating Wall Street. Bill Clinton brought the house down at the Democratic National Convention with a brilliant stem-winder packed with policy details—but, naturally, some policy he didn’t mention was the massive financial sector deregulation that took place under his watch. When Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, he allowed commercial banks to run wild in the stock markets and helped pave the way for the financial collapse less than a decade later.
But if Clinton was the ugly deregulatory past of the party, perhaps the woman who preceded him is the promising future. Elizabeth Warren, now a Senate candidate in Massachusetts, conceived the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and helped shepherd it through the tough early days, when Republicans attacked the bureau relentlessly and called Warren a liar to her face. Last night, Warren had tough words for the financial sector: “Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them,” she said.
Where President Obama stands on getting tough on bad actors in the financial sector is the source of some progressive consternation. Early on, he hired many old Clinton hands known for friendliness to Wall Street, but then got Dodd-Frank passed—a significant achievement, though one that has been substantially hollowed out by financial industry lobbyists.
One man at the center of this question about Obama’s backbone for battling Wall Street is New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He is a co-chair of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, an investigation into Wall Street malfeasance leading up to the financial collapse that was celebrated by progressives when Obama announced its formation during this year’s State of the Union address. But the reformers have since protested a lack of action from the working group, and noted its comparatively low staffing levels. This week, Phil Angelides, who headed the federal inquiry into the financial collapse, wrote that “the jury is still out on whether the investigation will bring Wall Street CEOs to justice and deter future wrongdoing.”
I caught up with Schneiderman in Charlotte on Thursday and asked him about the anxiety that his working group won’t produce results—and he hinted that some movement is imminent.
Right after the working group was created, on January 30, Schneiderman appeared on Up w/ Chris Hayes and said he would be “very disappointed” if there weren’t major announcements within six to eight months. Even at the high end of that timeline, we’re about to hit it.
I asked Schneiderman about that projection. “I think I’m still good with that timeline,” he said with a smile. He wouldn’t give any further predictions, but a staffer told me to “stay tuned.”
Of course, they have said this before, which Schneiderman acknowledged along with the anxiety about the pacing—but said “I think that the question will be answered at the end of the day when we see what the results are.”
Schneiderman did express concern, however, that a Romney victory in November could derail future RMBS progress. “It obviously would raise a question about whether or not there’s continued support, resulting in a change of personnel. I guess I would be the only co-chair whose job would be secure,” he said. (The other four co-chairs are federal appointees). “So yes, I think that anyone who is concerned about regulating or enforcing laws regarding financial services should be concerned about the direction the Romney-Ryan ticket would take the country.”
Beyond the RMBS action, Schneiderman has several other high-wattage investigations underway—into potential tax fraud at the US Chamber of Commerce, the questionable tax status of nonprofits that pump dark money into election, and whether Bain Capital and other private equity firms are avoiding federal taxes.
An obvious theme here is targeting the undue influence of the financial sector, whether it’s influencing elections or manipulating the tax code. Schneiderman acknowledged this was a priority of his. “It’s something that I am very concerned about. The health of our democracy is so essential to all of the work we do, anything that threatens the vitality and the viability of our electoral process and our democratic process, has to be closely scrutinized,” he said. “And if there are improprieties in the way money is being spent to influence elections we have an obligation to take a look at it.”
The Democratic Party platform released this week ahead of the national convention in Charlotte laudably opposes any privatization of Medicare and Social Security, and doesn’t mention those programs in the section on deficit reduction. But it doesn’t explicitly say Democrats will protect those programs from cuts—only that trimming them can’t be the “only” solution. That’s an important distinction, given the upcoming fiscal cliff negotiations and recent willingness by the administration to discuss, for example, raising the Medicare eligibility age.
I asked Representative Keith Ellison, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, about the platform language yesterday. Speaking outside a church on the outskirts of downtown after a Progressive Democrats of America forum, he told me that nobody should worry too much about what the platform left out, but that he still wished it included stronger language on the safety net.
“I would prefer that it would say we won’t cut Medicare, Social Security [and] Medicaid. I’d prefer that,” he said. “But just because it’s not in a platform, doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for it. Certainly the Progressive Caucus is absolutely dedicated, and I believe there’s way more people than just the Progressive Caucus believe in that idea, so I’m not too worried about it.”
The Progressive Caucus’ “People’s Budget,” unlike the official Democratic platform, straightforwardly promises to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from cuts. I asked Ellison if he was worried the administration would once again offer benefit cuts during the upcoming negotiations. “Well, it might be put on the table, but we’re going to take it right off the table,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has an op-ed in today’s USA Today urging President Obama to explicitly promise to protect Social Security during his acceptance speech tomorrow night.
“In order to win support from the American middle class, it is absolutely imperative that the president provide a strong agenda that speaks to their needs, and that makes clear he will fight to win those proposals against the right-wing extremists who now control the Republican Party,” Sanders wrote. “The president must make it clear to the American people that he will not cut Social Security.”
Last night, the Democratic Party released the platform that will presumably be approved at tonight’s convention. For the most part, it’s an unsurprising document that reprises many of the political and policy themes pushed by the party over the past several years, and won’t shock anyone who has followed the Obama presidency and the last three years in Congress. But there are still a handful of promising aspirations listed—and a few disheartening planks and omissions as well.
Here’s a quick look at what’s encouraging and disappointing. Again, this critique is in the context of what we understand to be Democratic Party politics. One could certainly imagine a far more progressive platform. (The Nation did, here: “A People’s Platform for the Democratic Party.”) This platform isn’t that, and I won’t belabor that point. I also won’t waste time lauding well-known positions like unequivocal support for Roe vs. Wade.
A constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The Republican National Convention sucked up a lot of media oxygen last week, so many people missed an important development in the campaign finance battles: during a Reddit session, President Obama proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The White House, for the first time, was endorsing a massive grassroots movement already underway to undo the highly destructive Supreme Court decision, and it turns out Obama was also previewing the Democratic platform. It reads: “We support campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary.”
Exempting the safety net from deficit reduction. There are a few encouraging things about the platform when it comes to deficit reduction, which will be a major issue very soon after the election as Congress must deal with the fiscal cliff. The first is that the platform counts the $2 trillion in spending cuts already signed into law during debt ceiling negotiations as part of an effort to get $4 trillion in deficit reduction—an accurate but not universally agreed upon metric. (Many deficit hawks argue for $4 trillion more in reductions). Encouragingly, the section on deficit reduction then talks about ending the Bush tax rates for top earners, closing corporate loopholes, and enacting the Buffet Rule—but does not include reductions in Medicare and Social Security. Given that Democrats seemed prepared to cut these programs during the debt ceiling negotiations, this is a heartening omission from the deficit reduction section of the platform.
Gay marriage. We’ve already known for months the platform would include this, but it’s worth noting again: for the first time, a major party platform explicitly endorses same-sex marriage. “We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law,” the Democratic platform states. “We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples.”
Voting rights. Amidst a slew of aggressive voter suppression laws by Republicans in several different states, the Democratic platform contains some strong language fighting back on the right to vote: “ We believe the right to vote and to have your vote counted is an essential American freedom, and we oppose laws that place unnecessary restrictions on those seeking to exercise that freedom…. Democrats know that voter identification laws can disproportionately burden young voters, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly, and we refuse to allow the use of political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens.”
Omits support for Jerusalem as capital of Israel. The 2008 Democratic platform advocated the controversial and inflammatory position that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” That is still Mitt Romney’s position, but the 2012 platform has excised that section completely, much to the chagrin of Israel hawks. (The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin has already labeled it “the most radically unsupportive statement of policy on Israel by any major party since the founding of the state of Israel.”)
Minimum wage. We’ve covered recent legislative efforts to raise the minimum wage: a coalition of progressive lawmakers, backed by Ralph Nader, have proposed a bill to immediately raise the minimum wage to $10 (roughly what it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation) and then link it to the consumer price index one year after that. Representative George Miller and Sen. Tom Harkin have a less progressive, but still valuable, bill as well: it would raise the minimum wage to $9.80 over three years, and then tie it to inflation. The platform endorses the spirit of both bills, though the specifics of neither: “We will raise the minimum wage, and index it to inflation,” it reads.
Assault weapons ban. The platform vaguely references recent mass shootings, saying “we understand the terrible consequences of gun violence,” and then calls for renewing the assault-weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole: “We can focus on effective enforcement of existing laws, especially strengthening our background check system, and we can work together to enact commonsense improvements – like reinstating the assault weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole – so that guns do not fall into the hands of those irresponsible, law-breaking few.” An important caveat, however, is that Obama ran on banning assault weapons in 2008, and then mentioned it only once in the ensuing three-and-a-half years in a speech to the National Urban League—and White House press secretary Jay Carney quickly said after the speech that the president wasn’t really calling for any new laws.
Reiterates support for cap-and-trade. Congressional Democrats and the White House may have abandoned cap-and-trade in recent years, but at least the platform (somewhat obliquely) affirms support for it going forward. “Democrats will continue pursuing efforts to combat climate change at home as well, because reducing our emissions domestically – through regulation and market solutions – is necessary to continue being an international leader on this issue. We understand that global climate change may disproportionately affect the poor, and we are committed to environmental justice.”
Lowering the corporate tax rate. The platform states: “We are also committed to reforming the corporate tax code to lower tax rates for companies in the United States.” It advocates closing loopholes, and is probably meant to support President Obama’s supposed revenue-neutral reduction of the corporate tax rate announced earlier this year. But this is a disappointing approach—it takes all the money gained from closing massive loopholes that allow numerous corporations to pay little or no taxes, and dumps the revenue gained into lowering the overall tax rate for corporations. This bypasses a major opportunity to raise money for public investments, safety net programs, or deficit reduction. Moreover, as Citizens for Tax Justice notes, Obama’s plan only actually specifies about one-quarter of the loopholes and exemptions that should end, and is decidedly vague about the rest. Given the arcane nature of the debate over tax code exemptions, which would likely be conducted mainly out of public view, along with the proven power of corporations to lobby members of Congress, it’s quite possible that in the end Obama’s plan would lower the corporate tax rate without ending enough exemptions to pay for it.
Housing section. The entire housing section is essentially horrendous, containing highly misleading claims (“finely crafted bullshit,” as David Dayen puts it), and omitting several policy promises that should be common sense. For one, the platform makes no reference whatsoever to principal reduction, a hugely important policy that the White House has at least claims to support—though it won’t follow through by appointing a replacement to FHFA chief Ed DeMarco. Next, it says that “President Obama took swift action to stabilize a housing market in crisis, helping five million families restructure their loans to help them stay in their homes, making it easier for families to refinance their mortgage and save hundreds of dollars a month.” Dayen has a great breakdown of why this is wildly misleading—it claims to have helped people that likely have not actually been helped, or for whom help is not yet guaranteed. It also seems to take credit for things the administration didn’t directly do: homeowners are refinancing because of low interest rates. In the end, HAMP has been such a spectacular failure—“nothing short of abysmal” in the words of the program’s Inspector General—that it’s truly stunning the platform tries to take credit for it. Finally, the platform claims that the administration has “cracked down on fraudulent mortgage lenders and other abuses,” when that’s not the record at all—no high-ranking Wall Street officials or firms have been held responsible for the subprime catastrophe. The administration did create the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, but it has accomplished nothing so far and is distressingly omitted from the platform. A statement of support for the working group might have added some heft to claims of holding Wall Street accountable.
Civil liberties. As Adam Serwer details here, the 2008 Democratic platform contained strong language on indefinite detention, warrantless surveillance, racial profiling in fighting terrorism, Guantanamo Bay, and torture. The 2012 platform is completely silent on several of these issues, or uses wishy-washy language on others to modify previous stances.
No support for card-check. In 2008, the Democratic platform pledged to “fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act,“ also known as the card-check legislation that would make it easier to organize a union. Despite a lot of flowery language on unions in the 2012 platform, there is no pledge to take another bite at the apple on EFCA, which was stymied by Republicans in Congress.
Doesn’t pledge not to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. As noted earlier, the platform does not say that the safety net should be part of deficit reduction. That’s good. But nowhere does it affirm support for protecting those programs from cuts or pernicious changes like raising the retirement or eligibility age—things that, in the past, Democrats were prepared to do. Sure, Democrats will “block Republican efforts to subject Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market through privatization,” and “adamantly oppose any efforts to privatize or voucherize Medicare,” but that’s a low bar and wouldn’t preclude cuts or eligibility changes. The platform says “We reject approaches that that cutting benefits is the only answer.” To me, the operative word there is “only.”
Affirms support for the death penalty. The platform only says that it should be administered fairly: “We believe that the death penalty must not be arbitrary. DNA testing should be used in all appropriate circumstances, defendants should have effective assistance of counsel, and the administration of justice should be fair and impartial.” Of course, the historical prejudicial nature of capital punishment is exactly the problem, and these paeans to DNA testing and better lawyers are unlikely to remedy that.
Signals Support for Keystone XL pipeline? Perhaps I’m just being a nervous nelly. But this line concerned me: “We are expediting the approval process to build out critical oil and gas lines essential to transporting our energy for consumers.” That language is new to the platform—the 2008 document had no reference to approving oil and gas lines, and it strikes me as an odd and very specific addition to talk positively about approval processes for oil pipelines. Perhaps the platform is simply trying to promote the approval of other pipelines, and even the southern portion of Keystone XL, to inoculate against attacks about postponing the entire project. But remember, it hasn’t been killed completely, and the platform doesn’t tout the responsible move of delaying Keystone—only speaks highly of industry-friendly approval processes.
After the Republican National Convention climaxed with Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech (and Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance art), a week of industry-funded parties was capped off by a huge “nonpartisan” bash thrown by the American Petroleum Institute, an oil trade group that, as Lee Fang writes in this week’s issue, has been anything but nonpartisan. API has funded massive lobbying efforts to counteract any attempt by the Obama administration to battle climate change—an administration failure Mitt Romney openly mocked in his speech last night—and has also funded opponents of Democrats who might want to make it an issue.
After the convention wrapped up, thousands of people flocked to a nearby concert venue in the Channelside district of Tampa to see a concert by the Zac Brown Band, a wildly popular country music group. A stream of luxury cars idled out front, though most of the attendees seemed to be young people looking for a party.
As Fang demonstrates, API’s lobbying runs much, much deeper than a concert at the RNC—Romney’s energy platform is clear evidence of that. But the show by Zac Brown Band, Grammy-winning artists that regularly sell out large arenas, was by far the most talked-about afterparty of the night. And that’s what API wanted. “We knew we’d have everybody’s focus,” Marty Durbin, vice president for governmental affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, told FuelFix. “So we wanted to make sure we were here and visible and participating in as many of the policy discussions as we can.”
While API’s lobbying efforts are clearly targeted at the Obama administration, its party planning is still nonpartisan. Next week in Charlotte, during the Democratic National Convention, it will be throwing another big concert featuring O’Malley’s March—a Celtic rock band that once featured Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who currently chairs the Democratic Governors Association.
Last night at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the handsome young governor of Puerto Rico took the stage to a warm reception. Luis Fortuño greeted the crowd and millions watching on television with a jovial “Buenos Noches Puerto Rico! Buenas Noches America!,” and went on to hit on the popular GOP theme of “tough choices.”
”You and I know there is a better way, and like many conservative governors—we are proving it,” he said.
But what most viewers at home didn’t know, and what Fortuño didn’t mention, is just how tough his choices were—in almost every way, his budget plans exceeded the brutality of any current GOP governor, including even Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.
When he was sworn into office in 2009, Fortuño essentially instituted economic martial law. He got Public Law 7 passed in March 2009, which declared a state of economic emergency and allowed Fortuño to take actions that would have otherwise been illegal. His plan was to lay off 30,000 public workers—10 percent of the federal workforce—and Public Law 7 allowed him to unilaterally suspend union contracts, override labor laws and deny remaining workers the benefits already promised to them. (Despite a supposed dedication to fixing Puerto Rico’s budget problems, he later slashed the corporate tax rate by 9 percent).
Unions fought back hard, instituting a crippling one-day general strike, and mass protests overwhelmed the streets. Collective bargaining rights were eventually restored, but a staggering 20,000 public workers were eventually laid off. Puerto Rico’s economy slowed, and the unemployment rate naturally shot up and is hovering around 16 percent.
It’s no wonder GOP honchos are so attracted to Fortuño’s craven economic doctrine of deep public-sector cuts to help pay for corporate tax easements. Fortuño didn’t explicitly boast about the layoffs but instead presented a friendly Latino face that GOP leaders surely hope will help win over a crucial voting bloc. This makes last night’s appearance all the more craven. If Fortuño’s policies continue to be enacted in the United States, it’s Hispanics who will suffer most—historically, public sector jobs provide more equitable opportunities to women and people of color.
A rally against voter supression at Centennial Park in Tampa Bay, Florida, on August 28, 2012. Photo by George Zornick
On the first full day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Republicans were not running from their record of voter suppression. At a fundraiser Tuesday afternoon not far from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, GOP superstars lined up to pay their respects to one of the key architects of recent voter-suppression tactics—Cleta Mitchell, a Tampa Bay–based attorney who is head of the Republican National Lawyers Association.
Earlier this year, before the House Judiciary Committee, Mitchell proudly testified that the “burdens” of voter identification laws—that is, some people not being able to vote—were justifiable to prevent non-existent fraud. “Because the purpose of a voter identification, a photo identification, is to ensure and protect the integrity of the election, whatever burden may exist is offset by the need to protect the integrity of the elections,” she testified. And Mitchell is not a newcomer to the voter-suppression game—back in 2008, she was running “training sessions” for GOP poll-watchers so they could fight back against a supposed “long pattern of abuses in registration by groups such as ACORN and their Democratic allies.”
The guest list to her party included six Republican senators, including powerhouses Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio, as well as former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who would address the convention hours later. (I staked out the entrance to the party and didn’t see the A-listers enter, though they appeared to be coming in through a secure parking garage. I did, however, spot conservative columnist George Will and Grover Norquist coming in).
Later that night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley got one of the biggest applause lines of the convention so far when she boasted about her voter-suppression achievements back home. “We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America—the right to vote,” she said.
But Haley’s timing was awful—the ground beneath voter-suppression efforts is falling away, in her state and elsewhere. On the same day Haley spoke, a trial was underway in South Carolina in which the state is suing Obama’s Department of Justice for blocking the voter identification law. And it isn’t going so well for the state. (Ari Berman has excellent coverage here).
The bill’s author, state Representative Alan Clemmons, took the stand yesterday and admitted he cannot produce a single example of in-person voter impersonation, and also conceded his law wouldn’t really stop a dedicated impersonator anyhow. Then, one lawyer presented racist e-mails sent to Clemmons about voter-identification laws—with which Clemmons agreed. (Someone e-mailed Clemmons to denounce the idea that black voters wouldn’t sign up for photo identification if an incentive was offered, saying “it would be like a swarm of bees going after a watermelon.” Clemmons replied, “Amen, Ed, thank you for your support,” a response he admitted in court yesterday was “poorly considered.”)
And just this morning, in Mitchell’s home state of Florida, a federal judge ruled that he would strike down one of the more pernicious Florida vote-suppression laws—one that restricted the ability of third-party groups to register voters. Republicans in the legislature passed laws that hurt Floridians’ ability to vote, all of which have now been halted: they shortened voting hours (which was blocked by a federal judge this month), attempted to purge voter rolls (also stopped by a court), and now the harsh restrictions on groups like the League of Women Voters and Project Vote have been lifted. These restrictions caused a huge imbalance in partisan voter registration—see this chart from The Rachel Maddow Show:
That gap is likely to be closed dramatically now that third-party registration can resume.
And outside the RNC, protesters were closely watching and demonstrating against the voter-suppression policies being trumpeted inside. At what was billed as a “large-scale” rally in Centennial Park, hundreds of young people—mainly African-Americans and undocumented Latinos—marched against voter-suppression tactics. “A lot of us here are undocumented immigrants and DREAMers, and we also have the African-American and Latino community gathered here to let the Republican Party know that it’s time to stop suppressing these communities of minorities,” said Erika Andiola, who traveled to the demonstration from Mesa, Arizona.
“Voter suppression directly affects immigrants. A lot of people ask me ‘What do you care about voter suppression if you can’t vote in the first place,’ and that’s exactly the point,” said Mayra Hidalgo, an undocumented immigrant living in Lakeland, Florida, who helped organize the rally. “Historically DREAMers have been so active in civic engagement and registering other people to vote, so that we can have our voices heard at the polls and elect those pro-DREAM Act and pro-immigration reform politicians. And now all of those voices are being silenced by these voter suppression laws.”
Rev. Charles McKenzie, the Florida coordinator for the Rainbow PUSH coalition, agreed that the demographics of the country are changing, and Republicans can’t suppress new votes and voices forever. “The message for [Republicans] is that there is another demographic in this country that is on the move. We’re watching you, we do not support your core value system, and you’re going to either change or you’re going to have to face the consequence of becoming a party that is out of date with, and out of step with, what America is becoming.”
The unmistakable theme of Tuesday’s Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida, was “We Built It”—a riposte to President Obama’s supposed claim to small business owners that “you didn’t build that.”
Speaker after speaker hammered the president and extolled the self-reliant businessman who created a successful venture. “We need a president who will say to a small businesswoman: congratulations, we applaud your success, you did make that happen, you did build that!” said Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell during his address. “Jack Gilchrist is the face of small business in America,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte of a small-business owner in her home state of New Hampshire. “And yes he did build it!”
John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, even suggested Obama might get beat up for so grievously insulting small-business owners. “Now if a guy walked into our bar, heard all that, and said, ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.’ You know what we’d do? Throw him out.”
Of course, as countless fact-checkers have pointed out, all President Obama was saying was that private business and the government need each other to create a vibrant economy—and specifically that businesses counted on public investments in infrastructure to succeed. This seems an obvious point, and should have been all the more obvious to convention attendees: this week’s festivities simply would not have been possible without massive infusions of public dollars and government-funded projects.
Here is a quick look at all the ways government money has made the RNC in Tampa Bay possible:
• The convention site, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, is a publicly financed and publicly owned venue. It was built in 1996 by the Tampa Bay Sports Authority, a public agency created to develop major sports attractions in the city. The project was majority financed using $80 million in city and county bonds, backed in part by taxes. To this day, the Forum is actually owned by Hillsborough County, and leased back to the Authority.
• Both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are directly financed, in part, by taxpayer money. The Presidential Election Campaign Fund gave public grants of $18,248,300 to each convention, according to the Federal Election Commission.
• The city of Tampa Bay undertook a wide variety of public projects—financed by federal and local dollars—to prepare the area for convention-goers. The city paid for $2.7 million in beautification projects and infrastructure upgrades to get ready for the RNC, which improved highways, planted trees and redesigned signage. The city has also received $11 million from the federal government to complete The Riverwalk, a two-mile greenspace near the Forum and utilized by many RNC attendees.
• The federal government also doled out a $50 million grant to provide security for the RNC, which is being used to pay police overtime and enhance equipment.
Over at Next New Deal, Jordan Fraade, Sarah Pfeifer and Jeff Madrick have a nifty back-of-the-envelope calculation estimating that for the public infrastructure costs alone—which total about $100 million for the arena costs and area improvement projects—each delegate would have to kick in $43,745 in order to accurately say “We Built It.” Checks can be made payable to the City of Tampa Bay and the US Treasury.