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Bruce Springsteen wrote the essential song of the 2012 campaign before he or anyone else knew what the year’s political landscape would look like, or the extent to which it would be influenced by shocking violence at a movie theater in Colorado and a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy or Mitt Romney’s dismissal of 47 percent of Americans as dependent class unworthy of his concern.
But Springsteen recognized something in the America discourse, a longing for a touchstone theme. “I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home…” he wrote.
That search led him back to the most basic of American premises, the most patriotic of American premises: “We take care of our own.”
But Springsteen did not dare suggest that it would simply happen. In fact, he warned that it was a promise often left unfulfilled:
From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
We yelled “help” but the cavalry stayed home
here ain’t no-one hearing the bugle blown…
Springsteen “got it,” perhaps even before he knew he “got it,” that the 2012 election would answer core questions: “Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me? Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea?”
And he answered for progressive America:
Wherever this flag’s flown
We take care of our own
We take care of our own…
Those words were destined to become the soundtrack for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
That destiny was confirmed when Americans heard Mitt Romney tell his big-dollar donors:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it… My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Then Romney picked as his running mate Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who had for years sought to turn Americans against one another — as “takers versus “makers.” Romney might preach a crudely divisive politics, but Ryan practiced it, and promised to codify it in a roadmap to an American future where America would not take care of its own.
Romney and Ryan made the 2012 election a test of whether America would be a “We Take Care of Our” country or a nasty and brutish place where any hope for prosperity who rely on the generous good spirits of millionaires and billionaires who, like Romney, had offshored their money to Swiss banks and Cayman Island hideaways.
After taking care of his own by leading a fundraiser that collected $23 million to aid the people of New Jersey, New York and other states devastated by Hurricane Sandy, Springsteen hit the road Monday with President Obama, on a remarkable final journey across the political promised lands of Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa.
“For the last 30 years I’ve been writing in my music about the distance between the American dream and American reality,” the singer told the crowds in Madison, Columbus and Des Moines. “I’ve seen it from inside and outside: as a blue-collar kid from a working class home in New Jersey – where my parents struggled, often unsuccessfully – to make ends meet… to my adult life, visiting the 9th Ward in New Orleans after Katrina, or meeting folks from food pantries from all around the United States, who work daily to help our struggling citizens through the hard times we’ve been suffering.”
Then Springsteen spoke of the referendum: “The American Dream and an American Reality: Our vote tomorrow is the one undeniable way we get to determine the distance in that equation. Tomorrow, we get a personal hand in shaping the kind of America we want our kids to grow up in.”
On the night before the day, on a street in the middle of America, Springsteen expressed his deepest fears about the direction of the republic, and his highest hope.
“I am troubled by thirty years of an increasing disparity in wealth between our best off citizens and everyday Americans,” he said. “That is a disparity that threatens to divide us into two distinct and separate nations. We have to be better than that.
Then, with a hug from Springsteen, the president of the United States took the stage, each stage, on the last day of his last campaign and spoke of being “focused on one of the worst storms of our lifetimes.”
“Whenever I talk to folks in the region,” he said, “I tell them the same thing that I say whenever a tragedy besets the American family, and that is, the American people come together and make a commitment that we will walk with these folks whose lives have been upended every step on the hard road ahead and the hard road to recovery. We’ll carry on. No matter how bad the storm is, we will be there, together. No matter how bad the storm is, we recover together.”
No one missed the metaphor. He was not speaking just of one storm, not just a physical threats. He was speaking of the economic and social storms that whip a land where crude politicians imagine citizens as "makers" and takers. He was speaking of disparities that threaten to divide us into two distinct and separate nations. And, yes, he was saying we have to be better than that.
As the long campaign gave way to Walt Whitman's day of quadrennial choosing, it was Barack Obama, not Bruce Springsteen, who sang the last line of “We Take Care of Our Own.”
“We’re all in this together,” the president said. “We rise or fall as one nation and as one people.”
Obama is already doing well among early voters. Check out George Zornick's coverage here.
Toledo—Paul Ryan is really upset with Barack Obama about that auto bailout.
Which means that Ryan is upset with himself.
In a campaign where the standard for what constitutes the “big lie” keeps getting adjusted upward, Ryan is trumping even Mitt Romney by attacking President Obama and Vice President Biden for backing policies that Ryan backed.
Picking up on the Romney campaign’s closing claim that the moves taken to rescue General Motors and Chrysler somehow damaged the auto industry—despite the fact that GM and Chrysler say different—Ryan has been banging away on the bailout.
“The facts, they speak for themselves. President Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, taxpayers still stand to lose $25 billion dollars in the president’s politically managed bankruptcy,” the Republican nominee for vice president claimed at a rally in Racine, Wisconsin. “These companies, Chrysler in particular we know this story, are now choosing to expand manufacturing overseas.”
In the final days of a campaign that has taken the shine off his “golden boy” status, Ryan was going all-in on the Republican ticket’s biggest lie: a claim that Obama’s policies had somehow endangered the sprawling Jeep plant in Toledo, a critical battleground in the critical battleground state of Ohio.
That’s not true.
Yes, Ryan says, “These are the facts. These facts are inconvenient for the president but no one disputes them. The President and the Vice President, the problem is they simply can’t defend their record.”
That’s remarkably tough talk about the auto bailout that polling suggests is very popular, especially with voters in battleground states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It is, as well, remarkably dishonest talk, which tries to obscure the facts that—in addition to saving an industry with 1 million jobs—the bailout is credited with spurring an auto manufacturing resurgence that has seen the creation of almost a quarter=million jobs and a pattern of profitable quarters for the Big Three.
That may be why GM officials, frustrated by the Republican campaign’s attempts to create a false impression among voters, took the rare step of issuing a statement that said Romney and Ryan appear to be getting their information from a “parallel universe.”
Even as he was fact-checked into a corner, Ryan kept up the (in the words of the Cleveland Plain Dealer) “flailing”—seemingly convinced that constant repetition can spin fantasy into reality.
“GM and Chrysler are expanding their production overseas,” Ryan said in a statement circulated by the Romney campaign, which conveniently neglected to note that they are expanding in the United States, as well.
“These are facts that voters deserve to know as they listen to the claims President Obama and his campaign are making,” continued Ryan. “President Obama has chosen not to run on the facts of his record, but he can’t run from them.”
But records are funny things.
Obama and Biden aren’t the only candidates on this year’s ballot who supported the auto bailout.
The Wisconsin congressman was one of thirty-two Republicans who backed the bailout, and his support was critical, as he was the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee—which he now chairs. Ryan’s support gave conservative credibility to the bailout at a time when Romney was writing a New York Times op-ed headlined: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
In its response to the Romney’s attempt to create the false impression that Jeep production in Toledo might be shifted to China, Jeep’s parent company, Chrysler, dismissed Romney’s line as a “leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”
But the Republican vice presidential candidate has outdone the Republican presidential candidate.
Ryan’s condemning President Obama for arranging an auto bailout that Ryan supported.
That’s not the work of an acrobat.
That’s the work of a contortionist.
Unfortunately, few in the mainstream media are holding Romney and Ryan accountable for their campaign falsehoods. Check out Eric Alterman's latest on the failed fact-checking of this election.
Paul Ryan was in Wisconsin Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday during the week before the election. And he’ll be back again on Monday.
Ultimately, the Republican nominee for vice president will have made more than a half dozen major campaign appearances around his home state in the seven-day period leading up to the November 6 election is done.
The House Budget Committee chairman even stooped to visit his own congressional district, for a high-profile rally at Racine’s Memorial Hall. He then returned to his hometown of Janesville for some trick-or-treating with the kids—which the Republican contender turned into a minor media event, as television camera crews were invited to tag along.
Considering the polls, which suggest that the Romney-Ryan ticket is having a hard time gaining traction in Wisconsin, it’s entirely understandable that the vice presidential nominee from Wisconsin would be putting in some extra time in the state.
But Ryan is also a candidate for re-election to his US House seat representing southeastern Wisconsin’s first congressional district. And he is in a serious race for the seat. To be sure, Ryan retains advantages. He’s never won re-election with under 62 percent of the vote. And thanks to partisan redistricting, the congressman’s district is more relaibly Republican.
But Ryan seems to think he’s in a real race. His re-election committee has poured money into a television advertising campaign that, so far, has cost $2 million. Why? Rob Zerban, a successful businessman and local elected official, is mounting what certainly looks to be the most credible challenge in years to the incumbent.
Zerban has raised a reasonable amount of money—more than Ryan in the most recent quarter—and that’s put him on television in the district.
More importantly, Zerban’s raised all the right questions about the incumbent’s extreme policies and even more extreme reliance on big-money donations from special-interest groups tied to the insurance industry and the Wall Street traders that would benefit most from Ryan’s schemes to radically restructure Medicare and Medicaid while beginning the process of privatizing Social Security.
Zerban has run as a progressive in the Wisconsin tradition, calling out the incumbent for his ties to special interests, and calling for real reform of the campaign system—as an advocate for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
The two men could have a great debate.
Unfortunately, while Ryan is more than willing to spend piles of money to fend off the challenge from Zerban, the congressman is unwilling to debate the most credible challenger he has ever faced in a re-election race.
Ryan has more than enough time to attend fund-raising events in Wisconsin and other states.
Ryan has more than enough time for rallies and photo opportunities.
But supposedly he does not have enough time to debate his opponent, and to offer his congressional-district constituents an honest accounting of his positions.
Ryan’s refusal to debate has clarified issues going into Tuesday’s election. Voters have the option of re-electing a career politician, Ryan, who seeks the congressional seat as a way to hedge bets if his national ambitions are dashed. Or they could elect a new congressman, Zerban, who says he’s ready and willing to participate in hometown debates, to listen to voters and to represent them.
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.