In my Think Again column, I get a little tired of these stupid Time magazine “Most Influential People in the World” issues where they invite famous people (or their publicists) to lie about one another and pretend that this has something to do with journalism. This year’s highlight: Rush Limbaugh on Michelle Bachmann. More felicitations for Time, here.

In my Daily Beast column, I worry that Barack Obama is turning into Jimmy Carter, here.

Bruce and Steve playing records and talking about the music of the early sixties for, like five hours: Hard to beat

Two pet peeves: 1) Martin Amis has an affectionate tribute to his famous friendship with Christopher Hitchens in honor of the publication of The Quotable Hitchens. In it, he writes, “Here are some indecorous quotes from The Quotable Hitchens. ‘Ronald Reagan is doing to the country what he can no longer do to his wife.’ Now when that quote appeared in The Nation a long, long time ago, a bunch of Nation writers wrote in to complain about either its tastelessness or its sexism, or both, I forget which. There was actually a petition of sorts. I was offended, however, by the fact that the line was directly lifted from Alvy Singer, who uses it about Dwight Eisenhower at a Stevenson rally in a flashback sequence of Annie Hall. It’s a rather obvious place from which to steal a line and Hitchens was appropriately shame-faced when I told him how easily identifiable it was and how he should apologize for that, and not the other stuff. He agreed. But here it is again. And both Christopher and Amis are acting like Christopher thought it up in the first place. But really, Annie Hall? If you’re going to steal, boys, I wouldn’t begin with a movie that won the Academy Award for best picture (or best director, or both, I forget which…)

2) This one’s purely personal. The political scientist John Mearsheimer has written a nice little book, published by Oxford, about political lying. In it, he is good enough to credit yours truly, who wrote a rather big, eleven-years-in-the-making-originally-a doctoral-dissertation book about presidential lying as the only other book on the topic, and he says something nice, I forget what, but allows that because I am not a social scientist, and do not engage in much theorizing, his book is necessary OK, fine. His little book gets a nice big review in the Washington Post.

Mine was never reviewed in the Post because the person who was assigned to do it kept promising it and promising it over the course of a year and never delivered the review. And the person who reviews Mearsheimer’s book acts like it’s the first book on the topic. Sheesh.

Now here’s Reed:

Don’t Call it a Comeback


First, before we get to the main event, a bit of good news. Several months ago, I made the humble prediction on this very blog that repealing DADT would occasion a fairly rapid reacceptance of ROTC programs onto Ivy League campuses. This turn of events, I argued, would, in the long term, help to enrich the intellectual diversity of an officer corps that has grown substantially more politically conservative over the past four decades.

Since DADT’s repeal in December, some have continued to express doubts about ROTC reestablishing itself at these schools. Still others, like self-described talking warhead Jed Babbin of The American Spectator, have gone even further and, in a fit of snide, third-grade logic, suggested that—twist!—it should be the military who instead bans Ivy League schools from hosting ROTC programs. What’s behind his churlish reasoning? ROTC is “still unwelcome” at the Ivies, where students believe “they are so superior to everyone else,” Babbin says, absent any evidence, of course.

Well, it turns out, the talking warhead is wrong and ROTC is, in fact, being welcomed back by both administrators and students at Ivy League schools, as even Fox News now acknowledges. That the military would be interested in reciprocating the renewed interest of schools like Princeton, Harvard and Columbia isn’t surprising either, despite Babbin’s ramblings to the contrary. After all, for lo these past few decades it has continued to maintain a relationship with these supposed bastions of liberal dogma, sending many of our country’s elite officers, like CIA Director-designate Gen. David Petraeus (Princeton Ph.D.) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen (Harvard Business School alum) into their ranks to earn advanced degrees. Consider the re-opening up of ROTC programs on these college campuses one more side benefit of the long overdue civil rights victory that was repealing DADT.

OK, now that I’m flush from reveling in my earlier predictive success, I’ll go out on a limb and make another not-so-risky prognostication about the 2012 election. Based on the events of the past few weeks, and particularly the past few days, I can’t help but believe that the Republican presidential nomination is, simply put, Mitt Romney’s to lose.

First off, there’s the money. This cycle, the GOP looks to have a larger financial tailwind than in 2008 thanks to Wall Street financiers, a group that Romney knows all too well. Moreover, it’s become increasingly clear that, thanks to the Citizens United decision, banking on lots of small-dollar, grassroots donations to carry the day represents an outdated approach to presidential fundraising. And of all his potential competitors, Romney is the one who seems to have already adapted to this new fundraising landscape, “rais[ing] more than $1.5 million from just 38 individuals in 2009 and 2010, more than double the combined donations of the rest of the prospective GOP field.”

Compare this to the only other GOP candidate who regularly polls in the double digits, Mike Huckabee, who has a reputation as a rather lackluster fundraiser and it shows. Which is also why Huckabee has to issue statements like this one from Wednesday that say, essentially, “Hey, I might still maybe run, I think, but I’m not sure until the weather turns nicer, OK?” As for Gingrich, he just seems to be using all his talk of a possible candidacy as cover to feather his think tank nest, while Tea Party-favorite Michelle Bachmann has proven that, despite her extreme views, her impressive fundraising skills can challenge all comers, even Romney’s. Of course, using flagrant misstatements and manipulation to successfully solicit millions of dollars from Americans doesn’t necessarily mean someone is serious presidential material. If it did, the GOP might have to nominate one of those recently deposed Nigerian princes, the ones who just need you to email them your credit card information to pay a small wealth transfer fee so you can then collect your vast unclaimed inheritance.

OK, even if you set aside his obvious financial advantages, Romney also enjoys a pretty significant historical one—Republicans just don’t nominate newcomers very often. In fact, in the 16 presidential elections since the end of World War II, the GOP has only chosen three top-of-the ticket candidates who have never run for president before or weren’t already a member of the incumbent administration (as president or vice president): Eisenhower (’52), Goldwater (’64), and Bush (’00).

Clearly, Republicans prefer to vet their potential presidential candidates across multiple campaigns, getting to know them in a slow, methodical manner. Eisenhower and George W. Bush, it might be argued, were only able to break the cycle because their unique circumstances—national war hero and namesake son of a former president, respectively—already gave them broad name recognition among Republican primary voters. As a result, Goldwater stands out as the only true dark horse candidate able to claim the GOP nomination the first time out. (Democrats, on the other hand, have nominated seven first-timers since 1948.) This track record doesn’t augur well for that out-of-nowhere Mitch Daniels run to the nomination.

Moreover, this fairly reliable historical trend is why, as Nate Silver points out, an early favorite in GOP primary polling is very likely to have run before, and, additionally, is very likely to turn out to be the eventual nominee. That the only two holdovers from the 2008 GOP campaign, Huckabee and Romney, consistently poll the highest right now supports this theory and strongly suggests one of them will be the eventual nominee. Add to this the fact that Romney very publicly fell on his sword early in 2008 to help clear the path for McCain (while Huckabee continued to, in some Republicans’ eyes, selfishly hang around) and you now have a candidate whose goodwill during a previous campaign neatly dovetails with the preferences of his party when it comes to choosing a nominee.

Granted, Romney’s been pushed into the media background recently while Donald Trump has been inhaling all of the campaign trail oxygen with his ridiculous birther machinations. But as President Obama was right to (subtly) characterize him, Trump and his shtick are all about shameless self-promotion rather than any serious attempt to address real policy issues. Issues, I might add, that he has absolutely no grasp of whatsoever, as his vague, incoherent comments and flat-out lies demonstrate. But these few, commendable examples of the press knocking down Trump’s absurd behavior and pointing out that he has absolutely no chance of winning the nomination even if he does run (which I highly suspect he won’t) are the exception. Most of the media instead predictably chases his tail in a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle, one that justifies covering him by citing Trump’s rising poll numbers, which can be largely attributed to a pliable press corps’ willingness to give this charlatan unwarranted amounts of attention.

In the long run, however, all this will, I believe, redound to Romney’s favor, as Trump and his outlandish claims provide the perfect foil for a “serious” business-background candidacy. P.T. Barnum can briefly put on a good show for the suckers, in other words, but if you want someone who can supposedly create jobs and save the economy, you’ll need a J.P. Morgan instead. Once Trump’s boomlet eventually dissipates into the atmosphere like so much hot air, Romney will be there, ready to be rediscovered by the press even though he never really left.

But when looking back from the vantage point of next summer, I believe nothing will have fed the convenient storyline of a Romney resurgence quite like the draconian health care plan put forward earlier this month by Rep. Paul Ryan—the one that the House Republican caucus overwhelmingly embraced last week. With its heavy reliance upon private health exchanges, Ryan’s plan not only kills off the guaranteed coverage of Medicare, it also quite effectively undermines the conservative rank-and-file’s primary policy beef with Romney—that the mandatory coverage aspects of Obama’s Affordable Care Act essentially mirror those of Romney’s enacted universal health care plan for Massachusetts.

Indeed, for someone who’s been saddled with figuring out how to finesse the seemingly unsolvable political equation of “RomneyCare = ObamaCare” when facing antagonistic GOP primary voters, Romney must not believe his good fortune when he now reads headlines like: “How the GOP Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Obamacare” or “GOP to propose Obamacare for Seniors.” Having this Gordian knot cut for him leaves little in Romney’s way. Yes, his actual business acumen relied mostly upon sucking companies dry, his job creation record as Massachusetts governor stunk, he’s an inveterate flip-flopper on numerous social issues, like abortion, and his Mormon religion remains problematic for some evangelical Christians. But when it comes down to it, beating Obama will outweigh all of Romney’s personal and political baggage to Republican voters.

Just take a look at the early part of the 2008 Republican presidential primaries for reference, when several notable conservatives from James Dobson to Tom Tancredo to fellow senator Thad Cochran boldly stated in no uncertain terms they would not support McCain were he to be the nominee, only to do a complete 180 when faced with the prospect of an Obama presidency. For members of the GOP establishment, such an epiphany would again be all too easy, but if you don’t think that by next spring even the most die-hard Tea Partiers will bend to same electability argument, I have a Bridge to Nowhere I can sell you.

Of course, it’s tempting to become complacent and believe the Republicans will simply self-destruct over the next 12 months, consumed by an internecine fight that encourages the various candidates to out-crazy one another. But history and common sense say this is an unwise bet. More likely is the scenario that, in 2012, a handsome, hail-fellow-well-met former businessman and governor will quickly emerge from the pack, tamping down the extreme culture war rhetoric in an attempt to portray himself as a reasonable, experienced economic savior to both angry Republicans and a significant slice of undecided independents. It’s a familiar tale, one we’ve lived through before and the consequences were, as we experienced, disastrous. That’s a comeback our nation cannot afford again.

The mail:

Nathan Earhart
Wow. I was hoping you maybe could have been around as an apologist for Hitler. That maybe could have gotten you a better audience than what you were hoping for. I would imagine your book, and therefore your lifestyle were based on the fact that the only people buying it are leftwing numbnuts. But you do an excellent job, as all liberals do, of blaming, and also apologizing for, the others. Crisis number one is the actual fact that you have a voice. I can’t even watch you as a person. It actually makes me sick. You lie, and tell it how you wish. CBS, ABC, NBC, C-SPAN actually allow morons like you to have a voice. But of course, you are right, FOX lies because they actually say something other than what liberals want everyone to hear. CNN loses money because they actually are liars you rat fink!!!!!!!!!   I can’t believe you even have an audience. Does the "laugh" light come on to make it seem like people are laughing at your leftwing jokes. Oh, and by the way, people want to pay for what THEY want to pay for, NOT what the government wants them to pay for which is why the Socialist form of healthcare does not go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Tell you what, get some dire form of disease, let ME tell you where you can go for help, and then speak what you speak is good. How many Obama books did you buy? Why don’t you talk about all of the inconsistencies of the liberals? Doesn’t fit your agenda? Maybe you should be smarter than a 5th grader.   Right, keep apologizing for the dumb. Here is a break. Get a life. You are more of a horror than Bush. And if Barack was what YOU say he is, he should be able to rise above what the other did. But thanks for the apology. It makes this mistake okay!!!!!!! Get a f"in life

Maybe if 9% of the GNP was based on apologists and excuse makers for the Obama administration, the country would be fine. Hope your book doesn’t sell a lick!! But in the end at least everyone who isn’t a brainwashed liberal moron realizes YOU have an angle, and its your shit book and money. Wow!!! Can’t think of anything more hypocritical than the crap you spew. Maybe you should run for president. Wait a minute, Nazi Socialists actually aren’t welcome. Bye!!!!!


Pat Healy

Vallejo, CA

Annie Hall not only won Best Picture AND Best Director, it won Best Original
Screenplay.  Not a suitable subject for subtle plagiarism, which is why I
always attribute it when I steal from it.


Editor’s Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.