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Posts For: August 9, 2012

Dems Release Oppo Books on Potential VPs

Pro-Obama super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has released opposition research books on five of Romney’s most likely VP choices, and the messaging is as predictable as you’d expect. Rob Portman’s file ties him to Bush’s economic policies, Tim Pawlenty’s rehashes his anti-Romney attacks during the primaries, Marco Rubio’s targets his autobiographical errors, Bobby Jindal’s hits him about tax cuts for the wealthy, and Paul Ryan’s is one long Mediscare attack. And that’s just the beginning; the booklets are hundreds of pages long and cover everything from the candidates’ statements about contentious social issues to their remarks on the Ryan plan, and (in Rubio’s and Pawlenty’s cases) an entire section on their “neoconservatism.”

Democrats obviously have attack plans lined up for each of them, so there’s no such thing as a completely “safe” pick. Not that it matters — as we’ve seen from the disgraceful Priorities USA ad, if the Obama campaign runs out of attacks, their backers have no problem just making things up.

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Pro-Obama super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has released opposition research books on five of Romney’s most likely VP choices, and the messaging is as predictable as you’d expect. Rob Portman’s file ties him to Bush’s economic policies, Tim Pawlenty’s rehashes his anti-Romney attacks during the primaries, Marco Rubio’s targets his autobiographical errors, Bobby Jindal’s hits him about tax cuts for the wealthy, and Paul Ryan’s is one long Mediscare attack. And that’s just the beginning; the booklets are hundreds of pages long and cover everything from the candidates’ statements about contentious social issues to their remarks on the Ryan plan, and (in Rubio’s and Pawlenty’s cases) an entire section on their “neoconservatism.”

Democrats obviously have attack plans lined up for each of them, so there’s no such thing as a completely “safe” pick. Not that it matters — as we’ve seen from the disgraceful Priorities USA ad, if the Obama campaign runs out of attacks, their backers have no problem just making things up.

But the booklets are a good reminder that the Ryan plan assault can and will happen whether or not Ryan is on the ticket — even if Romney chooses a running mate who hasn’t endorsed the plan, the media will hound him until he takes a position. As Rich Lowry wrote in a column for Politico:

The Democrats’ assault over Medicare will be ferocious — not to mention lowdown and dishonest. Hell, they’ve already all but accused Romney of killing someone, and they haven’t even gotten around to Medicare. When the barrage starts, Romney won’t be able to duck and cover or look at his shoes. He’ll have to win the argument — or at least hold his own.

This is the broader point. Romney has to carry the argument to President Barack Obama. The state of the economy alone isn’t enough to convince people that Romney has better ideas to create jobs. Neither is his résumé. Romney needs to make the case for his program, and perhaps no one is better suited to contribute to this effort than Ryan.

The fight is coming, whether or not Romney invites it forward.

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Romney’s Five Campaign Themes

I went to hear Mitt Romney this morning in New York, and he gave what I assume is his standard stump speech. He is now emphasizing five points, which is a vast improvement on his 59-point economics plan of last year. First is to exploit America’’s vast new energy resources unlocked by fracking and potential new areas now off-limits to create a large number of new, well-paying jobs, greatly improve our balance of payments, and improve our geopolitical position in the endless game of international politics.

Second is to reform the education system so as to put the interests of children ahead of the interests of teachers in order to prepare them with the skills needed in the 21st century. Third, pursue foreign trade. Fourth, cut the deficit and put the federal budget on a path towards balance. Fifth, repeal ObamaCare.

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I went to hear Mitt Romney this morning in New York, and he gave what I assume is his standard stump speech. He is now emphasizing five points, which is a vast improvement on his 59-point economics plan of last year. First is to exploit America’’s vast new energy resources unlocked by fracking and potential new areas now off-limits to create a large number of new, well-paying jobs, greatly improve our balance of payments, and improve our geopolitical position in the endless game of international politics.

Second is to reform the education system so as to put the interests of children ahead of the interests of teachers in order to prepare them with the skills needed in the 21st century. Third, pursue foreign trade. Fourth, cut the deficit and put the federal budget on a path towards balance. Fifth, repeal ObamaCare.

It was an impressive performance, and it made me even more optimistic about the outcome in November. That optimism is based on reasoning very similar to Professor Paul Rahe’’s reasoning, although I would add Glenn Reynolds’’s caveat: “Don’’t get cocky.” Karl Rove in this morning’’s Wall Street Journal thinks it will be a close election, decided by the undecided, and the Romney campaign should certainly act as though that’’s the case.

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Are Bag Laws About Money or Litter?

Several months ago, after Montgomery County, Maryland imposed a bag law taxing both paper and plastic bags, I questioned whether the new law would be a money loser for retail establishments. The tax gap between Maryland (where I live) and Virginia (where I shop) has never been so large. Since the bag law past, I have easily taken several hundred if not a couple thousand dollars worth of grocery and other purchases out of the county, not only to save money but also to gather the bags which I use for trash can liners, throwing away diapers, and cat litter disposal. If I can avoid an irritating shopping experience, driving an extra ten minutes (and saving $0.50/gallon on gasoline while I’m there) is well worth the price.

Proponents of the bag law and the overwhelmingly Democratic Montgomery County government say that the law is about reducing litter and promoting a cleaner environment. Few people believe police departments when they say that quotas and revenue do not play into speed limit enforcement, and the County’s bag explanations also strike a false note. Let’s put aside that there are litter laws already on the book, so the bag tax is effectively punishing the innocent rather than the guilty. In the last couple of days, I received a glossy flier in the mail promoting Montgomery County green initiatives. The flier didn’t look like it was made out of recycled paper and mailing it was a waste of money; I’d be willing to bet far more will end up in the trash than anywhere else.

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Several months ago, after Montgomery County, Maryland imposed a bag law taxing both paper and plastic bags, I questioned whether the new law would be a money loser for retail establishments. The tax gap between Maryland (where I live) and Virginia (where I shop) has never been so large. Since the bag law past, I have easily taken several hundred if not a couple thousand dollars worth of grocery and other purchases out of the county, not only to save money but also to gather the bags which I use for trash can liners, throwing away diapers, and cat litter disposal. If I can avoid an irritating shopping experience, driving an extra ten minutes (and saving $0.50/gallon on gasoline while I’m there) is well worth the price.

Proponents of the bag law and the overwhelmingly Democratic Montgomery County government say that the law is about reducing litter and promoting a cleaner environment. Few people believe police departments when they say that quotas and revenue do not play into speed limit enforcement, and the County’s bag explanations also strike a false note. Let’s put aside that there are litter laws already on the book, so the bag tax is effectively punishing the innocent rather than the guilty. In the last couple of days, I received a glossy flier in the mail promoting Montgomery County green initiatives. The flier didn’t look like it was made out of recycled paper and mailing it was a waste of money; I’d be willing to bet far more will end up in the trash than anywhere else.

Perhaps before election season, it would also make sense for the Montgomery County politicians who say that the bag fees are about putting the environment first to forego the ugly and wasteful political fliers and posters with which they litter our roads, mailboxes, and byways. They should not legislate against them—free speech is paramount—but they might show they stand consistently for principle. That is, of course, unless money and personal ambition trumps principle.

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Obama’s Silent Support for Steelworker Ad

We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.

Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.

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We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.

Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.

Remember the outrage after the New York Times report that a conservative super PAC was considering an ad proposal that revived the Reverend Wright controversy? Here was the response from the Obama campaign:

“Stunning! Will Mitt stand up, as John McCain did? Or allow the purveyors of slime to operate on his behalf?” David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser to Mr. Obama, wrote on Twitter early Thursday morning. …

“This morning’s story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and Super PACs apparently are willing to go to tear down the president and elect Mitt Romney,” Mr. Messina wrote.

He added: “It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics. Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”

The Wright ad was never even in the works, it was simply one proposal out of many. And unlike Priorities USA, the super PAC in question wasn’t run by a former Romney staffer.

Unlike Priorities USA, the super PAC in question wasn’t run by a former Romney staffer. And yet the Obama campaign held Romney responsible for an ad campaign that never even made it past the proposal stage. Even when Romney quickly condemned the ad proposal, the Obama campaign blasted his response as too tepid and jeered that he wasn’t even willing to stand up to his conservative supporters.

Note also that Obama actually sat in Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years, so that ad would have been far more fair and accurate than the Priorities USA commercial.

At Fox News, Chris Stirewalt also flags a 2007 quote from Obama, calling on John Edwards to ask a supporting outside group to stop running an attack ad:

“If [then-Obama communications director] Robert Gibbs started running a [independent political expenditure group] and I called Robert Gibbs and said, ‘Stop running ads on my behalf,’ are you suggesting I would have no influence over Robert Gibbs?”

– Then Sen. Barack Obama, as quoted by Politico, in West Des Moines, Iowa in December of 2007 attacking opponent John Edwards for negative ads being run by an outside group run by a former Edwards aide.

Judging from past comments from both the president and his campaign, if Obama remains silent on the Priorities USA ad, it should be assumed  he approves of it.

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Getting Obama Out of the Bubble

There is much to mock in the New York Times report on how President Obama’s obsession with his own press coverage has convinced him the media is not biased quite enough in his favor. But I come not to mock, but to offer some unsolicited advice to the president. The Times writes:

While former President George W. Bush and his aides liked to say they ignored the Fourth Estate, Mr. Obama is an avid consumer of political news and commentary. But in his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him….

Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.

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There is much to mock in the New York Times report on how President Obama’s obsession with his own press coverage has convinced him the media is not biased quite enough in his favor. But I come not to mock, but to offer some unsolicited advice to the president. The Times writes:

While former President George W. Bush and his aides liked to say they ignored the Fourth Estate, Mr. Obama is an avid consumer of political news and commentary. But in his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him….

Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.

That, to me, contains both the diagnosis and the cure. Obama’s campaign has been constructed almost entirely around petty issues and drummed-up controversies in an attempt to win each day or week’s news cycle without any substantive debate on many of these topics. We’ve seen this with the ridiculous “war on women” to the pro-Obama super PAC’s casual accusations of murder to the president’s refusal to disown Harry Reid’s debasing both the Senate and the presidential election with McCarthy-style rumormongering that apparently had the president’s blessing.

In other words, Obama’s “voracious” appetite for reporting he thinks to be utterly shallow has locked him into a behavioral pattern that mimics the mindset and attitude he swears he deplores. Though the Times doesn’t mean it as a compliment, the remark about Bush ignoring them is exactly that. Bush understood the media was not just biased against him, but militantly so, and conducted in a pack mentality that drained day-to-day reporting of any understanding of the larger picture.

So he read. A lot. Not the Times’s legendarily awful reporting, but hundreds of books instead. As Karl Rove recounted here, Bush was constantly reading–he read 95 books in 2006, apparently–and his reading list included a ton of non-fiction: history, politics, biography, etc.:

The reading competition reveals Mr. Bush’s focus on goals. It’s not about winning. A good-natured competition helps keep him centered and makes possible a clear mind and a high level of energy. He reads instead of watching TV. He reads on Air Force One and to relax and because he’s curious. He reads about the tasks at hand, often picking volumes because of the relevance to his challenges.

It’s beneficial to pay attention to the news, obviously. But Obama needs to get his head out of the horse race and into something substantive that can give him a bit more perspective. It might elevate his campaign too.

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Serious Misfire by Romney Staffer

Mitt Romney’s Press Secretary Andrea Saul was hit with a biblical flood of conservative outrage yesterday, after she mentioned that the steelworker’s wife in the Priorities USA ad would have had health insurance under Romneycare if she had been living in Massachusetts. Calls for Saul’s firing (and eulogies for the Romney campaign) commenced immediately.

In an interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Andrea Saul invoked Massachusetts’s expansion of health coverage as a defense to a harsh new ad funded by a super PAC supporting President Obama. In the spot, a former steelworker whose plant was closed by Bain Capital blames Romney, who co-founded the firm, for his family’s loss of health insurance and his wife’s subsequent death from cancer.

“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said in the interview. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.”

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Mitt Romney’s Press Secretary Andrea Saul was hit with a biblical flood of conservative outrage yesterday, after she mentioned that the steelworker’s wife in the Priorities USA ad would have had health insurance under Romneycare if she had been living in Massachusetts. Calls for Saul’s firing (and eulogies for the Romney campaign) commenced immediately.

In an interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Andrea Saul invoked Massachusetts’s expansion of health coverage as a defense to a harsh new ad funded by a super PAC supporting President Obama. In the spot, a former steelworker whose plant was closed by Bain Capital blames Romney, who co-founded the firm, for his family’s loss of health insurance and his wife’s subsequent death from cancer.

“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said in the interview. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.”

Saul’s comment was accurate; the worker would have been insured under Romney’s plan. And as both TNR’s Noam Scheiber and TPM’s Benjy Sarlin have noted, her remark may not have been as off-message as it initially sounded.

That being said, this was still a serious misfire. The Obama campaign and Priorities USA are getting shredded in the media for the Joe Soptic ad. Conservatives are leaping to Romney’s defense. Why trample all that by reminding the right of the one issue that made them reluctant to support Romney in the first place?

Saul’s comment was also irrelevant. She didn’t need to debate the ad on its “merits.” Just point out what virtually every fact-checker has noted — that the story in the ad crumbles under scrutiny. Joe Soptic was laid off years after Romney left Bain; his wife continued to have health insurance through her own job; and his wife passed away five years after Soptic lost his job. There was absolutely no reason to inject Romneycare into the debate.

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Will Turkey Lose its Fight to the PKK?

A few days ago, I speculated in my occasional Kurdistan Tribune column that Turkey might be losing its fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known by its acronym, the PKK. Considered by the United States, European Union, and Turkey to be a terrorist group, the PKK has waged a bloody insurgency since 1984, which has claimed the lives of 45,000.

I have been a vocal critic of the PKK in the past, and was held up at gunpoint by the group once in Iraqi Kurdistan. The PKK—like many Kurdish political parties—trends toward the personality cult and is intolerant of dissent. Make no mistake: I still find the group to be noxious and, so long as the U.S. government considers the PKK to be a terrorist group, I will as well. But, as an analyst rather than an advocate, it is important to consider what events bode. Frankly, it seems as if Turkey could now lose its fight against the PKK:

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A few days ago, I speculated in my occasional Kurdistan Tribune column that Turkey might be losing its fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known by its acronym, the PKK. Considered by the United States, European Union, and Turkey to be a terrorist group, the PKK has waged a bloody insurgency since 1984, which has claimed the lives of 45,000.

I have been a vocal critic of the PKK in the past, and was held up at gunpoint by the group once in Iraqi Kurdistan. The PKK—like many Kurdish political parties—trends toward the personality cult and is intolerant of dissent. Make no mistake: I still find the group to be noxious and, so long as the U.S. government considers the PKK to be a terrorist group, I will as well. But, as an analyst rather than an advocate, it is important to consider what events bode. Frankly, it seems as if Turkey could now lose its fight against the PKK:

  • The Turkish government has legitimized the PKK both by negotiating with it and also by embracing Hamas, a group which likewise justifies terrorism in rhetoric of resistance and national liberation.
  • While the PKK could never defeat Turkey in a head-on fight and so the Turkish Army will never formally lose, the PKK seeks only a stalemate. Insurgencies prioritize asymmetric warfare.
  • The Turkish military is a shell of its former self. Largely for political reasons, Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made the military his public enemy number one. One-in-five generals now sit in prison, even though no court has found them guilty. Because the Turkish conscripts do most of the dying in the fight against the PKK, their morale is also low.
  • Even with Predators, Turkish intelligence is poor. It has failed to head-off recent profile attacks against Turkish border posts, and often fails to differentiate between PKK fighters and ordinary villagers.
  • In recent weeks, the PKK has grown so bold as to establish shadow governors not only in isolated mountain districts, but also for Van, a major city in eastern Turkey.
  • Whereas the fight between the PKK and the Turkish Army was isolated to southeastern Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s, the Turkish destruction of villages during this period led to a massive flight of Kurds into major cities in central and Western Turkey: Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. Today, the PKK strikes with impunity in the West as well.
  • De facto autonomy in largely Kurdish eastern Syria also gives the Kurds momentum and space to organize. According to private conversations with Kurdish journalists, Iraqi Kurdish residents, and European NGO workers, up to 90 percent of Syrian Kurds support the PKK’s local front group.
  • With their oil gains, Iraqi Kurds have greater resources than ever before, and don’t hesitate to fund Kurdish movements in neighboring states, even as they reach out to Turkey.

American policy is famously reactive. A de facto Kurdistan, however, is unfolding before us. Washington will never abandon Ankara. Still, there is no reason why the United States should fight Turkey’s PKK battle if the Turks themselves legitimize the group, and seem unwilling to apply the same definition of terrorism abroad which they seek to at home. Perhaps a starting point would be to work with Kurdish groups in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey to encourage greater transparency and commitment to democracy. Kurdish nationalism and good governance should not be mutually exclusive.

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Strike Two for Bill Burton?

Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

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Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

Burton could not have come off looking worse. This has to be a headache for President Obama, who isn’t officially tied to the super PAC but has publicly endorsed the super PAC. Campaign and White House officials have also attended fundraising events for Priorities USA, which means the campaign is going to have a hard time arguing that it has no association with the super PAC.

But Burton’s reprehensible ad, and his inability to defend it in interviews, aren’t his only problems. While Priorities USA was intended to compete with Republican-supporting super PACs like American Crossroads, its fundraising efforts have flopped since the beginning. It has been so weak in this area that the group signed onto a joint fundraising committee with Media Matters founder and head of the American Bridge 21st Century PAC David Brock in April. Committee for Justice President Curt Levy writes:

Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton founded the Obama-approved super-PAC Priorities USA Action last April, and his track record to date has been miserable. According to Federal Election Commission, or FEC, data, Burton and company raised just $4.4 million in 2011 — a paltry figure compared with counterpart American Crossroads’ $18.4 million haul for the same year. This year isn’t going so well for Burton, either. Crossroads raised $9.7 million through the first quarter of 2012; Priorities took in just $4.6 million.

And, Bill Burton is the least of the president’s problems. Consider David Brock, founder and CEO of Media Matters and founder of the American Bridge 21st Century liberal super-PAC. Brock has been embroiled in controversy. …

According to FEC disclosures, Burton’s and Brock’s outfits established a joint fundraising committee this April, after months of private talks. There’s enough fundraising desperation in the Obama camp to override any concerns they might have had about Brock’s scandal-plagued past.

You have to imagine that interviews like the one above won’t help Burton’s dismal fundraising efforts. Obama can’t legally coordinate with Burton or stop him from running the ad. But he must be starting to regret he gave the flailing super PAC his seal of approval in the first place.

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