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Under different circumstances, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg could have been running for president this fall. It’s no secret that the mayor, who made no endorsement in the 2008 presidential race, considered competing in 2012 as an unaffiliated contender who would speak blunt truths.
But Bloomberg didn’t run. So he faced with “the choice.”
Sure, Bloomberg’s a social liberal, like President Obama—only more aggressive, particularly on gun control and public-health initiatives that don’t make fast-food chains or soda pop producers all that happy.
But he’s also a businessman-turned-politician, like Mitt Romney—only much more successful in business, and perhaps more successful in politics.
So where would the Republican-turned-Independent mayor of America’s largest city—and one of the few reasonably well-regarded unaffiliated political players—go?
And for exactly the right reason.
Obama he argues “gets” that climate change matters.
Romney does not—or, at the least, does not want to say it matters because he fears the climate-change deniers in his own Republican Party.
As a campaign where both major-party candidates neglected climate change as the front-and-center issue it should be came to a close, the East Coast was hit by the second epic hurricane in as many years, And New York took a beating.
That, Bloomberg determined, was a tipping point.
He looked at the candidates and recognized: “One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”
That does not make Obama a perfect candidate in Bloomberg’s eyes, or those of environmental activists on questions of global warming. And the mayor’s association with Obama certainly does not make Bloomberg a perfect player; his stances on education policy, civil liberties and economic justice in New York City still merit scrutiny and objection.
But with his endorsement of Obama, Bloomberg has done something vitally important.
He has made climate change an issue, building on the tremendous work of activists with environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace and with movements such as 350 that have been specifically focused on breaking through the wall of spin that has delayed real action on life-and-death issues.
Bloomberg has called for an issue-based vote, a science-based vote. As he put it in issuing what could be the most notable endorsement of 2012, Bloomberg wrote that he would cast “A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change.”
Here is how the mayor explained his unexpected decision:
The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast—in lost lives, lost homes and lost business—brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.
The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. And in the short term, our subway system remains partially shut down, and many city residents and businesses still have no power. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods—something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable.
Here in New York, our comprehensive sustainability plan —PlaNYC—has helped allow us to cut our carbon footprint by 16 percent in just five years, which is the equivalent of eliminating the carbon footprint of a city twice the size of. Through the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group—a partnership among many of the world’s largest cities—local governments are taking action where national governments are not.Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be—given this week’s devastation—should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.
But we can’t do it alone. We need leadership from the White House—and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.
Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed on to a regional cap- and-trade plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels. “The benefits (of that plan) will be long-lasting and enormous—benefits to our health, our economy, our quality of life, our very landscape. These are actions we can and must take now, if we are to have ‘no regrets’ when we transfer our temporary stewardship of this Earth to the next generation,” he wrote at the time.
He couldn’t have been more right. But since then, he has reversed course, abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward.
I believe Mitt Romney is a good and decent man, and he would bring valuable business experience to the Oval Office. He understands that America was built on the promise of equal opportunity, not equal results. In the past he has also taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and healthcare. But he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the healthcare model he signed into law in Massachusetts.
If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him because, like so many other independents, I have found the past four years to be, in a word, disappointing.
In 2008, Obama ran as a pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder. But as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction. And rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.
Nevertheless, the president has achieved some important victories on issues that will help define our future. His Race to the Top education program—much of which was opposed by the teachers’ unions, a traditional Democratic Party constituency—has helped drive badly needed reform across the country, giving local districts leverage to strengthen accountability in the classroom and expand charter schools. His health-care law—for all its flaws—will provide insurance coverage to people who need it most and save lives.
When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.
One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected for future generations; one does not. That difference, given the likelihood of Supreme Court vacancies, weighs heavily on my decision.
One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history.
One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.
Of course, neither candidate has specified what hard decisions he will make to get our economy back on track while also balancing the budget. But in the end, what matters most isn’t the shape of any particular proposal; it’s the work that must be done to bring members of Congress together to achieve bipartisan solutions.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both found success while their parties were out of power in Congress—and President Obama can, too. If he listens to people on both sides of the aisle, and builds the trust of moderates, he can fulfill the hope he inspired four years ago and lead our country toward a better future for my children and yours. And that’s why I will be voting for him.
For more on Mitt Romney's disregard for climate change, check out "Romney's Extremist Energy Plan."
It is no secret that political candidates are capable of doing awful things when they are reach the desperate final days of an election campaign.
But trying to scare American workers into believing that a government initiative that saved their industry was some sort of secret scheme to shutter major plants and offshore jobs is more than just creepy. It’s economic fear-mongering of a sort that is destructive to the spirit of communities and to the very future of the republic as an industrial force.
George Romney, who led the remarkable American Motors Company project that would eventually produce the Jeep, never in a political career that saw him win election as governor of Michigan and seek the Republican nomination for president would have engaged in such calumny.
But George Romney’s ne’re-do-well son, a very different sort of businessman who devoted his career to taking apart American companies and offshoring jobs, is trying to resurrect his presidential candidacy with a big lie.
And the lie is about Jeeps.
Jeeps are made in Toledo, Ohio, where the iconic American vehicle has been produced since 1941, and Romney needs to win Toledo and the rest of northwest Ohio if he is to stand a chance of winning the battleground state that is key to the presidency.
Last week, Romney went to the region and shocked voters by suggesting that: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”
The story, an October 22 report by Bloomberg News, which specifically stated that: “Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Fiat/Chrysler executive Mike] Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”
Yet, Romney spoke of the company that manufactures Jeeps “moving all production to China.
The statement stirred fundamental fears in a regional that has been battered by plant closings. So much so that Jeep’s parent company, Chrysler, rushed to clarify that Romney was completely, totally, incredibly wrong. “Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China,” announced Chrysler.
Company spokesman Gaulberto Ranieri said that Romney had remade the facts so aggressively that: “It is a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”
What was Romney’s response to being caught in a lie.
He lied bigger.
The Romney campaign is now airing an ad in Ohio that claims President Obama, with the auto bailout that saved domestic vehicle production, “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
The ad concludes that Romney—whose Bain Capital enterprise identified as “a pioneer of outsourcing”—“will fight for every American job.”
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the nation’s top experts on political advertising reviewed the ad and dismissed it as “inferentially false.”
“They are inviting a false inference,” Hall said of the Romney campaign’s attempt to suggest that Obama had engineered a change in Jeep’s status that would see the Toledo plant shuttered and its more than 3,500 workers idled.
The Washington Post “Fact Checker” site reviewed Romney’s ad and declared: “the overall message of the ad is clearly misleading—especially since it appears to have been designed to piggyback off of Romney’s gross misstatement that Chrysler was moving Ohio factory jobs to China.”
The pushback from Obama’s backers and his campaign has been aggressive.
Former President Bill Clinton flew to Ohio and decried Romney’s claim as “the biggest load of bull in the world.”
Vice President Joe Biden said: “I have never seen anything like that. It’s an absolutely, patently false assertion. It’s such an outrageous assertion that, one of the few times in my memory, a major American corporation, Chrysler, has felt obliged to go public and say, there is no truth.”
An Obama campaign ad announced that “now, after Romney’s false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney’s lie.”
What was Romney’s response.
Up the ad buy.
Expand the big lie so that it is now enormous.
The deception has become such a serious issue that, on Tuesday, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne felt compelled to clarify what is becoming an international controversy.
“Chrysler Group’s production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate. I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” wrote Marchionne, who added:
North American production is critical to achieving our goal of selling 800,000 Jeep vehicles by 2014. In fact, U.S. production of our Jeep models has nearly tripled (it is expected to be up 185 percent) since 2009 in order to keep up with global demand…
With the increase in demand for our vehicles, especially Jeep branded vehicles, we have added more than 11,200 U.S. jobs since 2009. Plants producing Jeep branded vehicles alone have seen the number of people invested in the success of the Jeep brand grow to more than 9,300 hourly jobs from 4,700. This will increase by an additional 1,100 as the Liberty successor, which will be produced in Toledo, is introduced for global distribution in the second quarter of 2013.
There was nothing unambiguous about that statement. Yet Marchionne continued: “Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio, plant, will never see full production outside the United States.”
“Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand,” confirmed Marchionne. “It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
That’s a rare commitment by a manufacturer—far more clear and unequivocal than the commitment Bain Capital made to the companies it bought up, tore apart and outsourced.
Yet, Mitt Romney’s campaign is still running the ad.
That’s made United Auto Workers union president Bob King furious:
It is especially hypocritical of Mr. Romney’s statements and new ad is Bain Capital’s closing of profitable U.S. facilities and shifting work to China to make even higher profits like what is happening today in closing a profitable Sensata plant in Freeport, IL, to move the work to China. Romney says in the ad that he will fight for every American job, so why isn’t he fighting for the American jobs at Sensata? And why isn’t he intervening with his own Bain Capital to keep these jobs in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them to China? We just wish that Mr. Romney was as committed to investing in the U.S. as Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is.
Americans will remember that President Obama stood behind American working families and American communities in rescuing the U.S. auto industry and that Mr. Romney opposed the rescue and now attacks Chrysler with misinformation. In putting out this misinformation, Romney is recklessly undermining Chrysler’s reputation and threatening good American jobs.
Imagine if Mitt Romney were to be elected president of the United States.
Imagine if he had to go into negotiations with Marchionne, or another CEO of another industrial giant, about protecting US jobs. Or expanding US manufacturing.
Would the executive trust Romney?
Or would the executive remember Romney as the politician who lied and then lied bigger in order to get what he wanted?
That’s a question that American voters who want their country to have a future as a country that makes cars and trucks and Jeeps would be wise to ponder as November 6 approaches.
For more on Mitt “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” Romney’s auto industry problems, check out John Nichols on “Obama Outsources Romney.”
Who would have thought that a late-season hurricane would sweep up the East Coast of the United States on the eve of one of the closest election contests in the country’s history?
Not, presumably, Mitt Romney.
Let’s stipulate that the Republican nominee for president, like the Democratic president he seeks to defeat, hopes and prays that Hurricane Sandy and the storm fronts with which it is likely to combine will not cause the devastation that some predict. Let’s also stipulate that both men will support and encourage an aggressive response to any crisis that results from a Halloween-season weather nightmare that has, indeed, been described as a “Frankenstorm.”
But, while we’re acknowledging things, let’s also note the storm is hitting one week before a national election that—even as it is complicated by a natural disaster—will name the leader of the republic for the next four years and select a Congress that will define the direction of the federal government.
Let’s also acknowledge that one candidate and his party have proposed balancing the federal budget by making dramatic cuts even to essential programs.
How about the Federal Emergency Management Agency?
Romney says he “absolutely” wants to decrease the role of FEMA in particular, and the federal government in general, when it comes to dealing with natural disasters. Specifically, he wants to shift more responsibility for responding to storms to the states—despite the fact that, as Hurricane Sandy well illustrates, storms do not respect political jurisdictions. And he appears to be enthusiastic about the idea of substantial privatization of relief initiatives.
Romney is not proposing a radical downsizing of federal disaster preparation and responses in order to improve care and service for those hit by disaster. He proposes pulling the federal government back in order to cut costs, saying: “we cannot afford to do those things.”
Indeed, he has suggested, substantial federal spending to address emergencies is “immoral,” as in: “It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids…”
Following the brutal tornado hit to Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, CNN’s John King asked Romney—during a Republican debate—to discuss disaster relief.
Here’s how it went:
KING: Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?
ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.
Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut—we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…
KING: Including disaster relief, though?
ROMNEY: We cannot—we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.
“It makes no sense at all”?
Actually, it might make sense to a lot of folks by the end of this week.
The 2012 election campaign has, in so many ways, been a referendum on the role of government.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have taken a stand on one side of that referendum. They want to downsize the federal government, reducing its role even when it comes to responding to natural disasters. President Obama and Vice President Biden have been less inclined toward sweeping cuts and the radical restructuring of the role of the federal government when it comes to disaster relief.
Reasonable people might agree with Romney and Ryan, or with Obama and Biden. From the first days of the republic, there have been Americans who have taken the stand that the Republican ticket now espouses. But there have been many more Americans who have held to the view that the constitutional charge to “promote the general welfare” should probably begin with an assurance that a strong federal government can respond to natural disasters that sweep across state lines.
America is always in the process of updating the definition of how we “promote the general welfare” of the republic and its people—and of how we “insure domestic tranquility”—and no one election is going to settle the issue.
But this week should bring some clarity to the debate. The first priority is always to deal with the immediate crisis. But how we respond to this disaster, and future disasters, is always up for interpretation. And the choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will send a strong signal with regard to how and when America promotes the general welfare and insures domestic tranquility.
For more on Hurricane Sandy, check out Mike Tidwell on what the storm says about climate change and the fate of American coastal cities.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Paul Ryan has a right to be wrong. He can believe that anti-poverty programs don’t work.
But he does not have a right to foster the fantasy that his opinion is grounded in reality.
Unfortunately, media reports on the Republican vice presidential candidate’s “big” speech on how to address poverty, focused on Ryan’s glib one-liners rather than the fact that his basic premises are false.
Ryan says that: “In this war on poverty, poverty is winning.”
That’s a nice play on words. But there’s a problem. Ryan wants us to believe that the “war on poverty” is what’s causing poverty.
The Republican candidate says:
With a few exceptions, government’s approach has been to spend lots of money on centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs.
The mindset behind this approach is that a nation should measure compassion by the size of the federal government and how much it spends.
The problem is, starting in the 1960s, this top-down approach created and perpetuated a debilitating culture of dependency, wrecking families and communities.
So, in Ryan’s opinion, the “war on poverty” that President Lyndon Johnson declared in 1964 as part of a broader Great Society initiative made matters worse.
But that’s just wrong.
How do we know? Census data.
In 1959, 22.1 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line.
In 1969, 13.7 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line.
The poverty level has varied since 1969. It has gone as high as 15 percent. But it has never again gotten anywhere near where it was in 1959.
What changed during the 1960s to dramatically decrease poverty?
“Centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs” like Medicare (1965), Medicare (1965), the initiatives launched with the Food Stamp Act of 1964 and Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 programs such as the Jobs Corps (1964) and Head Start (1965).
Those programs worked.
They’re still working.
An honest political leader who really wanted to do something to finish the “war on poverty” would propose to expand them, with, for instance, an expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, and a real Jobs Corps that would put Americans to work rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of America.
But Paul Ryan does not believe that.
He says “the problem” started in the 1960s.
Indeed, if Ryan is known for anything it is for his determination to downsize, voucherize and privatize the programs that have worked, that are working, to fight poverty.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan would get at least 62 percent of its $5.3 trillion in non-defense budget cuts over ten years (relative to a continuation of current policies) from programs that serve people of limited means.”
Paul Ryan’s challenger is his other 2012 race—a bet-hedging run for an eighth term in the US House—is calling this one right:
“If poverty’s winning the war, it’s because of policies Paul Ryan supports,” says Wisconsin Democrat Rob Zerban. “By doubling down on his radical plot to gut Medicaid, privatize Social Security, and decimate food assistance programs, Paul Ryan is betting against working families—all to hand out new tax breaks for millionaires and Big Oil.”
Paul Ryan has taken as side in the war on poverty. He’s against what works.
Ryan has a right to take the positions that he does.
But no one should confuse those positions with a sincere commitment to fighting, let alone ending, poverty.
For more on the invisible issue in this election, check out Greg Kaufmann on "What We Talk About When We Talk About Poverty."
Paul Wellstone was a movement progressive. From the farm crisis days when he was organizing rural Americans to fight back against corporate agribusiness to the last days of his final campaign, Wellstone worked to forge a left that was muscular enough to win elections, to govern and to bend the arc of history toward justice.
But the senator from Minnesota was not afraid to stand alone, if that was what principle demanded. Just days before his death on October 25, 2002, he was the only US senator facing a seriously competitive reelection race to vote against authorizing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to launch an invasion of Iraq.
Ten years after America lost the great progressive populist in a plane crash that claimed his remarkable wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, two pilots, a driver and two campaign staffers, it is Wellstone’s courageous anti-war vote that is best recalled. And rightly so. Paul called me when he announced that he would oppose the Bush-Cheney administration’s rush to war. He was upbeat, proud and confident. He knew he had taken what Washington insiders believed to be a political risk, but he was betting on the common decency and the common sense of Minnesotans. And the polls circulating at the time of his death confirmed Wellstone’s political instincts were every bit as sound in 2002 as they had been in 1990—when he bet that a quirky, low-budget campaign run from the back of a green school bus and relying on a television ad that mimicked Michael Moore’s anti-corporate documentary Roger and Me could unseat a millionaire Republican senator.
That was Paul’s genius. He understood that, sometimes, perhaps most times, Americans respect a stand on principle. And he recognized that time often turns the isolated concern of the true believer into popular sentiment. Paul disliked the suggestion that he was a “maverick.” He might break with presidents of his own party, with Democratic leaders in the Senate, but he did not do so for headlines. He did so because he felt it was morally and practically necessary for what he called “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party” to be heard.
This was particularly the case when it came to defending the interests of the working poor. Paul did not anger easily. But he truly, totally, despised the notion that budgets could, or should, be balanced on the backs of the poor and the working class. When the privileged exploited their economic advantages and lobbying connections to write the laws of the land, Wellstone was more than willing to stand alone in opposition.
That was the case in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Senate was considering bankruptcy law “reforms” designed by bankers and credit company CEOs to take away protections that were essential to the working poor. Wellstone fought the corporatists and the politicos to make the law more humane and responsible. And when his fellow senators refused to rewrite it, he rejected it. Ninety-seven senators voted on September 23, 1998, for a noxious version of bankruptcy reform. One senator, Wellstone, voted “no.” (There were more “no” votes in the House, coming from, among others, Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders and Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown, both future senators.)
Over the next few years, Wellstone would emerge as the champion of a humane and responsible approach to reform that understood, as he said, that “the bankruptcy system is a critical safety net for working families in this country. It is a difficult demoralizing process, but for nearly all who decide to file, it means the difference between a financial disaster being temporary or permanent. The repercussions of tearing that safety net asunder will be tremendous, but the authors of the bill remain deaf to the chorus of protest and indignation that is beginning to swell as ordinary Americans and members of Congress begin to understand that bankrupt Americans are much like themselves, and that they are only one layoff, one medical bill, one predatory loan away from joining the ranks.”
At his side through the struggle was an initially little-known Harvard Law professor, Elizabeth Warren, who had developed an expertise on bankruptcy issues as an adviser to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission. As legal scholar Kristin Brandser Kalsem notes, Warren was “engaged in a pathbreaking campaign to call attention to the fact that those concerned about women and women’s issues should be paying attention to bankruptcy reform and other economic legal issues.”
Wellstone introduced me to Warren in those days, and constantly referenced her academic studies and her activism. He cherished her as an ally in a lonely struggle. Indeed, when he cast those lonely votes, he would joke about his political isolation, saying he could use ten more progressive senators—or, at the least, one Elizabeth Warren.
That was how Paul thought. He could imagine college professors becoming senators. After all, he had made the leap.
Now, a decade after Wellstone’s death, his old partner in the fight for justice for working families, laid-off workers and struggling homeowners is running for the Senate from Massachusetts. It is hard to imagine any political development that would have delighted Paul more. Wellstone loved to campaign, not just for himself but for others. He’d surely be campaigning this fall for old friends Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Bernie Sanders in Vermont this year, as he would be for his frequent ally Tammy Baldwin, who is seeking a Wisconsin Senate seat. And you can bet that the happy warrior of modern American progressivism would be working Massachusetts, from Pittsfield to Provincetown, for Elizabeth Warren. After all, he recognized, long before the rest of us did, that she was needed in the Senate.
Check out Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel on the legacy of Paul Wellstone.
Mitt Romney’s just not that into foreign policy.
The hapless Republican nominee for president spent most of the only foreign-policy debate of the 2012 fall campaign mumbling lines like:
“I want to underscore the—the same point the president made…”
“That was something I concurred with…”
“I supported his—his action there…”
“I don’t blame the administration…”
“…do as the president has done…”
“… and feel the president was right…”
“I congratulate him for what he has done.”
On drones, on Syria, even on Libya, Romney agreed with the president. Romney even appeared to shift his stance on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, steering toward a position that suddenly parallels the administration plan for a 2014 exit strategy. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, described Romney as an “inexperienced” “Etch-A-Sketch candidate” who is not ready to be president.
Brent Bozell, an iconic and well-regarded conservative who serves as president of the Media Research Center, messaged forty-five minutes into the debate: “Something is wrong with Romney tonight. He’s refusing to challenge Obama’s failed policies. He’s sounding LIKE Obama. This is terrible.”
Undecided voters surveyed by CBS agreed, indicating in a snap poll that Obama had won the commander-in-chief test by a staggering 53-23 margin. That was a wider margin than Romney got after the first debate that was broadly seen as his big win.
All of this was good news for Obama, if not necessarily for the national discourse. In too many senses, Monday night’s debate was a confirmation of the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy that so frustrates Americans who want a broader debate on fundamental questions of war and peace, globalization and human rights. And it was a reminder that alternative candidates, such as Green party presidential nominee Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson, should have been included in these debates.
But there were only two candidates on stage. And one of them, the guy who was supposed to be making a case for removing the incumbent, kept echoing the president.
Again and again, Romney agreed with Obama’s approaches to international issues. Sometimes, he did so explicitly. Sometimes, he simply restated Obama administration policies as if he had developed them himself.
In case anyone missed the point, the president was at the ready with lines like: “I’m glad that Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we’re taking” and “I’m pleased that you are now endorsing our policy…”
But Obama was not satisfied to rest on the laurels from Romney.
The Democratic president knew he needed as strong showing in the last of a cycle of debates that began with an Obama performance so weak that it renewed Romney’s run. And Obama got it.
Midway through the debate, Romney repeated the right-wing talk radio fantasy that Obama began his presidency with “an apology tour” of the Middle East. He griped that the president “skipped Israel” on his 2009 trip to the region.
Obama was so ready for that one:
When I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem—the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself [about] the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.
Romney did not respond because, of course, Obama was right.
Romney did use his trip last summer to Israel as a vehicle for fundraising, organizing money-raising events and flying in wealthy donors from the United States.
It was one of several points throughout the evening where a pointed one-liner from the president shut down a Romney line of attack.
Romney ripped Obama on the size of the US Navy, making comparisons with the 1916 fleet size.
You mention the Navy, and the fact that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. It’s not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s "What are our priorities?"
Romney, so famous for demanding more time to respond, just let that one go, and made no more mention of the Navy.
But the line that may resonate the longest from an otherwise uninspired debate came when the two men sparred over how to “get tough” with China when it comes to trade policy, currency manipulation and offshoring concerns.
Obama was again prepared for Romney.
The Republican went through his litany of complaints about how the president was not doing enough to address the trade deficit and other issues with China.
Then, with just the slightest grin, Obama said:
Governor Romney’s right. You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas, because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas. And, you know, that’s your right. I mean, that’s how our free market works.
But I’ve made a different bet on American workers. You know, if we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China. If we take your advice with respect to how we change our tax codes so that companies that are in profits overseas don’t pay US taxes compared to companies here that are paying taxes, now, that’s estimated to create 800,000 jobs. The problem is they won’t be here; they’ll be in places like China.
In a presidential race that is likely to be decided in manufacturing states such as Ohio and Wisconsin, where too many jobs have been offshored to China, that’s what voters want to hear in a presidential debate. And Obama was saying it.
Who's advising Mitt Romney on his flailing foreign policy? Check out Ari Berman's coverage of Mitt's necon war cabinet.
If tonight’s third and final debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney follows pattern, it will not be the foreign policy debate that has been advertised. Rather, it will be a narrowly defined discussion of national security, with lots of the usual cheapshots, unsubstantiated charges and style-over-substance positioning.
The absence of Green Party nominee Jill Stein and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, both of whom have met the reasonable threshold of gaining enough state ballot lines to be elected president, will reduce the likelihood of a serious discussion on fundamental issues.
But it should not take a third-party candidate to raise concerns about how failed international trade policies have led to the offshoring of millions of US jobs. The issue is ripe at the moment, as Romney’s old firm is preparing to shutter a high-tech auto sensor plant in Freeport, Illinois, in order to ship the plant’s equipment to China.
Obama could raise the issue; and those of us who have followed the broad fight for fair trade rather than free trade, and the narrow fight on behalf of the workers at Freeport’s Sensata plant, certainly hope he will.
Of course, the political and media elites who make it their business to keep debates from getting interesting, or meaningful, would object. They don’t like it when foreign policy discussion turn to trade issues, and they especially don’t like it when the focus turns to the way in which bad trade policies harm American workers and communities.
They even claim that critics of current trade policies are abandoning their internationalism and engaging in “China bashing.”
What the elite proponents of free trade don’t get is that the critics of our current trading relations with China are the real defenders of oppressed Chinese and Tibetan citizens. And of union organizers in Colombia and small farmers in Korea and exploited child laborers in Africa.
Trade policy is about economics. But it is also about human rights—and whether countries that claim to support freedom and fairness really do.
When the United States approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China in 2000—at the behest of Democrats in the Clinton White House and Republicans in the leadership of the Congress—the move dramatically reduced the ability of US officials to pressure China with regard to the maltreatment of its own citizens and the brutal suppression of Tibet.
According to Human Rights Watch:
Against a backdrop of rapid socio-economic change and modernization, China continues to be an authoritarian one-party state that imposes sharp curbs on freedom of expression, association, and religion; openly rejects judicial independence and press freedom; and arbitrarily restricts and suppresses human rights defenders and organizations, often through extra-judicial measures.
The government also censors the internet; maintains highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia; systematically condones—with rare exceptions—abuses of power in the name of “social stability” ; and rejects domestic and international scrutiny of its human rights record as attempts to destabilize and impose “Western values” on the country. The security apparatus—hostile to liberalization and legal reform—seems to have steadily increased its power since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China’s “social stability maintenance” expenses (for rigid control of the population) are now larger than its defense budget.
It is even worse in Tibet, which China invaded and occupied more than sixty years ago.
According to Human Rights Watch, Tibet is currently experiencing a “Human Rights Crisis.” Since 2008, the circumstance has been steadily worsening, as basic rights have been denied and Tibetans have experiencing violent crackdowns, forced relocations and an aggressive assault on religion.
The circumstance is so dire that dozens of Tibetans have protested the brutality of the Chinese occupation by setting themselves on fire in the streets of Tibetan cities.
“The many years of restricting Tibetans’ fundamental rights have led to acts of desperation that have escalated a crisis that shows no sign of abating,” says Sophie Richardson, who serves as China director for Human Rights Watch.
Richardson argues that “the response of governments to the Chinese government’s renewed crackdown in Tibet is hardly commensurate to the scope and scale of the crisis. Concerned governments should set aside fears of irking Beijing and press China to respect Tibetans’ basic rights.”
US free-trade policies have failed America workers, to be sure. But they have failed international human rights even more surely.
The candidates should not be allowed to get through tonight’s debate without devoting significant time to a real debate about how bungled trade policies encourage outsourcing and, yes, about how those same bad trade policies undermine the cause of human rights.
Check out more of John Nichols's trade policy coverage with "Obama Outsources Romney." And be sure to join Nation writers for live fact-checking and commentary during tonight's foreign policy debate. RSVP to a live chat here.
Senator George McGovern. Courtesy: Warren K. Leffler, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
For the better part of his American century, George McGovern was America’s most prominent advocate for peace with the world and justice at home,a progressive internationalist and prairie populist—from the cold war era when he grabbed a South Dakota congressional seat from Dwight Eisenhower’s Republicans, to the Obama era when he prodded a young president from his own Democratic Party to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.
McGovern, who has died at the age of 90, was an uncommonly human and humane national figure. It was that aspect of the man that made his 1972 presidential campaign as the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party less of a political endeavor than a popular crusade.
As with all crusades, the measure of defeat or victory comes not in the moment but on the arc of history that assesses the value of the vision and determines whether it will remain vibrant for generations to come.
McGovern had that perspective, impishly recalling the people who stopped him in airports and on the street after the man who won in 1972, Richard Nixon, resigned in the Watergate disgrace of 1974. They all said they had backed the Democrat two years earlier. “If they actually had,” McGovern joked, “I would have been the one with the landslide.”
McGovern mounted his 1972 run as established champion of liberal causes who had served in the House and Senate before he carried the banner of his friend Robert F. Kennedy’s candidacy into the traumatic 1968 Democratic National Convention. And McGovern followed his 1972 defeat with another forty years campaigning as the elder statesman of an American left for which his name became a touchstone—even as right-wingers made “McGovernism” the name for the politics they most feared.
Today, of course, America has accepted—or is in the process of rapidly accepting—basic tenets of McGovernism, from the principle that it is smarter to feed the world and treat diseases than to wage wars to the premise that a broad civil rights commitment must promote the progress of women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and lesbians and gays. But McGovern was never satisfied; just weeks before the final illness that would take his life Sunday morning, he was traveling the country, rallying the faithful and preaching a prairie populist vision of full employment and healthcare for all.
I knew McGovern for nearly half of his years and almost all of mine. We met in 1971, when my parents took me to see “the peace candidate” campaigning in Racine, Wisconsin. We spent a great deal of time together over the decades after he first entertained my adolescent questions; talking politics but also contemplating our shared passion for American history and literature. I remember an afternoon in Keene, New Hampshire, when I was supposedly interviewing McGovern about his under-appreciated campaign for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination; we spent several hours trying to determine where Henry David Thoreau had stopped in the region during the week on the Concord and Merrimack rivers that would form the basis for one of the author’s finest books.
McGovern was delightfully, and I dare say uncommonly, familiar with Thoreau’s canon. As he was with many of the other great American writers of the American Renaissance. Though his fellow anti-war senator and presidential candidate Gene McCarthy was better known for his poetic affiliations, McGovern was no slouch when it came to the writings of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Emily Dickinson and the Alcotts. This was a soldier-scholar who as a decorated bomber pilot during World War II would pass time between missions reading the copy of Charles and Mary Beard’s 2,000-page The Rise of American Civilization that he had lugged into combat. And it was one of the great pleasures of our acquaintance to know that, even in the most heated of political moments, George McGovern can be drawn into a reflection on American history and letters.
Perhaps if he was driven only by political ambition, McGovern’s presidential campaigns of 1968, 1972 and 1984 would have been more conventionally successful. Yet it was because of McGovern’s rich humanity and broad range that those who aligned themselves with his politics decades ago continued to cherish him—not just for his position papers but for the whole of the man.
McGovern’s campaigns remain definitional political experiences for millions of Americans because they were about more than politics. They were about a deep vision of the republic’s past, present and future; so much so that his 1972 campaign slogan was “Come home, America.” Generations of Democrats recognized McGovern as a North Star hero, just as generations of Republicans made him the face of what they fear: a politics of compassion and decency that would, in the words of one of McGovern’s heroes, former Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler, “place humanity above the dollar.”
McGovern took it all in with a humility that was uncommon in American political life. He was always on a mission. He appreciated accolades but did not slow down to accept them. To the last, McGovern remained engaged, still mixing politics, history, literature and humanity in ways that only a handful of American presidential contenders—Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Eugene Victor Debs (about whom McGovern the historian wrote), Henry Wallace (whose advocacy for international cooperation inspired McGovern the young World War II), Adlai Stevenson (with whom McGovern campaigned) and his dear friend John Kennedy—dared attempt.
In the last recent of his many fine books, What It Means to Be a Democrat (Blue Rider Press, 2011), McGovern maintained that mix. In my favorite passage, McGovern says, “During my years in Congress and for the four decades since, I’ve been labeled a ‘bleeding-heart liberal.’ It was not meant as a compliment, but I gladly accept it. My heart does sometimes bleed for those who are hurting in my own country and abroad.”
“A bleeding-heart liberal, by definition, is someone who shows enormous sympathy towards others, especially the least fortunate.” he continued. “Well, we ought to be stirred, even to tears, by society’s ills. And sympathy is the first step toward action. Empathy is born out of the old biblical injunction ‘Love the neighbor as thyself.’ ”
McGovern always practiced a politics that ran deeper than what we get from most Republicans, and most Democrats. It was a purer politics, a better politics, because it was so rooted in his love of America’s history, its literature and its possibility.
For more in memory of George McGovern, check out "George McGovern: American Patriot and Truth-Teller."
George McGovern for The Nation:
Questions for Mr. Bush | April 4, 2002
The Reason Why | April 3, 2003
Patriotism Is Nonpartisan | March 24, 2005 Gene McCarthy | December 15, 2005
The Legacy of Four Women with Rep. Jim McGovern | December 21, 2005
An Impartial Interrogation of George W. Bush | January 17, 2007
The Nation Profile:
McGovern: The Man, the Press, the Machine, the Odds by Arthur I. Blaustein and Peter T. Sussman | October 16, 1972
The unfortunate truth is that when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debate Monday night on foreign policy, they will seek to outgun each other.
Even as many of the most conservative Republicans have joined liberal Democrats in acknowledging that out-of-control Pentagon spending is a deficit issue, the presidential nominees of the two major parties remain exceptionally cautious about speaking the blunt truth that spending on unnecessary wars and unworkable weaponry costs the country financially, structurally and morally.
Obama is a good deal better on the issue than the increasingly bombastic Romney, who with his running mate, Paul Ryan, is campaigning for a return to neocon military adventurism. But Obama does not want to be painted as “soft” on defense. For forty years now, Democrats have sought to avoid the label that was attached to George McGovern, the World War II hero who recognized the folly of squandering America’s human, moral and fiscal prospects on war-making in Vietnam.
It is true that McGovern lost his 1972 presidential race. But he did not lose because he was wrong. He lost because of the wrong politics of a moment when his own party was divided and his opposition was ruthless.
The vision McGovern, who died Sunday at age 90, articulated as his party’s nominee for the presidency, and as one of its ablest and most honorable senators, is as correct as ever. And it is a good deal more politically viable, as even conservatives are talking about the need to make deep cuts in Pentagon spending and the attendant policing of the world; last year, in the midst of the wrangling over deficits and debts, conservative Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, proposed a $1 trillion reduction in military spending over the next ten years.
That echoes George McGovern’s vision.
Which is appropriate, as George McGovern’s vision makes even more sense now than it did in 1972.
When McGovern ran for president in 1972, his slogan was “Come Home, America.”
The South Dakota senator’s message was a necessary and appropriate one for that moment, when the United States was mired in what seemed to be a war without end in Southeast Asia—a war that emptied the US treasury into the coffers of a military-industrial complex that demanded resources that could have been spent on job creation, education and healthcare.
And it still resonates:
Together we will call America home to the ideals that nourished us from the beginning,” McGovern told the convention that nominated him almost four decades ago.
From secrecy and deception in high places: come home, America.
From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation: come home, America.
From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle lands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick: come home, America.
Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.
The wisdom and hope that was inherent in McGovern’s call that year was not sufficient to defeat Richard Nixon. In a matter of months, however, polls would reveal that Americans regretted their decision, as they came to recognize the extent of Nixon’s corruption.
Forty years on, McGovern’s vision that America might come home to the ideals that had nourished it from the beginning is less a matter of hope than necessity.
The United States can no longer afford the madness of the defense and security spending that, according to the National Priorities Project, have cost this country $7.6 trillion since September 11, 2001.
Our priorities are out of sync with our challenges and our needs. And those priorities need to change.
America would not be defenseless with smaller Pentagon budgets. Conservatives like Coburn recognize that. Even with deep spending cuts, this country will maintain the most sophisticated and effective military in the world.
Downsizing the Pentagon would not be an abandonment of America ideals. It would be a return to the founding promise of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, all of who warned against entangling alliances and spoke of the threat that military adventurism posed to domestic tranquility.
That is the promise the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. affirmed when he called Americans to “love peace and sacrifice for it.” It is the promise George McGovern refreshed when he uttered the wise words “Come Home, America!”
For more on the U.S.'s out-of-control military spending, check out "America's Warfare Welfare State."
Mitt Romney did himself no favors with his claim that he turned to “binders full of women” to find appointees for his gubernatorial administration in Massachusetts.
Even his own aides and allies acknowledge that, like his “47 percent” talk, the “binders” reference was—to borrow a phrase form Paul Ryan—“inelegant.”
Social media makers are lampooning Romney. Able journalists such as The Nation’s George Zornick referenced it in highlighting the bogus nature of the former governor’s claims about his “accomplishments” in Masscahusetts. And President Obama is having a field day with the line.
But the worst part about bindergate is that the underlying story Romney told—of a new governor giving the order to find qualified women for top jobs in his administration—is a fantasy.
In Tuesday night’s debate, Romney responded to a question about pay equity by saying:
[This is] an important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.
And I—and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are—are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we—can’t we find some—some women that are also qualified?”
And—and so we—we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.
I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.
There’s just one problem with that story. Newly elected Governor Mitt Romney wasn’t the one who launched the “concerted effort” that filled those binders with the résumés of qualified women.
What Romney said is “not a true story,” according to veteran Massachusetts political writer David S. Bernstein.
What actually happened was that in 2002—prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration—a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than forty organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.
They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.
I have written about this before, in various contexts; tonight I’ve checked with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as I’ve just presented it is correct—and that Romney’s claim tonight, that he asked for such a study, is false.
Talk about post-truth politics!
Mitt Romney’s takes it to a new level. He’s not just rewriting his opponent’s record. He’s rewriting his own history.
What next? The story of how he created a healthcare reform plan that was just like Obamacare, only different?
For more of Romney's lies about women, check out Bryce Covert on his falsely claimed support for contraception and pay equity.