A Short, Stark Reality Check

Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast on Obama and the GOP:

“He inherited an economy in free-fall; he put a bottom on it and over 4 million private sector jobs have been created since and the unemployment rate is actually lower than when he took office. It would be much lower if Republican governors had not been slashing government payrolls. He ended the war in Iraq; he has brought the Iranian economy to its knees; he decimated al Qaeda and found and killed Osama bin Laden; he enacted universal healthcare – an historic change that eluded even that political master, Bill Clinton.

“What he didn’t imagine… is that the party that drove this country into the biggest fiscal, moral, diplomatic and military ditch since the 1970s would immediately turn around and, instead of constructively attempting to help in the worst recession since the 1930s, opted for total obstructionism and party before country. I think the GOP recognized the profound threat Obama represented, the magnitude of their failure, and have done all they could to stop him getting the second term he always needed to fulfill his promise and check them for a generation.”

Quote of the Day

“I just want to reiterate a few things: that I still firmly believe it is essential for global stability and economic recovery that Obama be re-elected; that his record is about as good as anyone could expect given the circumstances; and that I have seen the alternative to him lie and shape-shift so much in the last couple of weeks, he is even less principled and more ruthless than I feared.

“Obama let him get away with it for one devastating night. The Dish won’t for a second from now until the election. I haven’t given up. I’ve just been given an electric prod to get back into the arena. And fight back.”

Andrew Sullivan, “The Media Right And the Dish,” The Daily Beast

Andrew Sullivan Goes from Despair to Rage

“Obama needs to get off his fucking pedestal and get some work done: have crisp answers to what he wants to do; sharp exposures of Romney’s constant inconsistencies and lies; and a reminder of how massive a task he faced four years ago and how he has largely helped us turn the corner. The next Romney-Obama debate requires an Obama come-back of heroic proportions. That’s where your narrative ends, Barack, doesn’t it?”

“Non-Dissent of the Day,” Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast

I’m waiting to see where we stand at 10:30 PM on October 16 before I freak out.  That’s when we’ll know if we should still have hope or if we’re heading for a change in the Oval.

Andrew Sullivan Despairs

From “Did Obama Just Throw The Entire Election Away?,” Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast:

“Look: I’m trying to rally some morale, but I’ve never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week – throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement? And after Romney’s convincing Etch-A-Sketch, convincing because Obama was incapable of exposing it, Romney is now the centrist candidate, even as he is running to head up the most radical party in the modern era.

“Maybe if Romney can turn this whole campaign around in 90 minutes, Obama can now do the same. But I doubt it. A sitting president does not recover from being obliterated on substance, style and likability in the first debate and get much of a chance to come back. He has, at a critical moment, deeply depressed his base and his supporters and independents are flocking to Romney in droves.

“I’ve never seen a candidate self-destruct for no external reason this late in a campaign before.

“I’m trying to see a silver lining. But when a president self-immolates on live TV, and his opponent shines with lies and smiles, and a record number of people watch, it’s hard to see how a president and his party recover. I’m not giving up. If the lies and propaganda of the last four years work even after Obama had managed to fight back solidly against them to get a clear and solid lead in critical states, then reality-based government is over in this country again. We’re back to Bush-Cheney, but more extreme. We have to find a way to avoid that. Much, much more than Obama’s vanity is at stake.”  Emphasis added.

I’m not as down-in-the-dumps as Sullivan.  But the President can’t do this again — I won’t say one and done, but I would say two and through.  The debate on October 16 really will be the most significant ninety minutes of his career.

Andrew Sullivan on Mitt’s Performance Art

From Andrew Sullivan, “The Master,” The Daily Beast:

If you are a salesman and you see life and politics as about the sell, you adjust the sell every time to a different customer-base. Most people find this perfectly natural in a business setting, and it makes a lot of sense. It’s called marketing.

But we often find the same strategy a little ethically dubious in politics and religion. Why? Because the product you are selling, in these contexts, is something in the future, not something we can see now, touch and examine and test. When you change both the pitch and the product for different audiences, and refuse to tell people what the final product may be, you need a lot of chutzpah and salesmanship to do the job. You need to have a facility for lying, while seeming utterly sincere. You need to have a face that can be re-set constantly to assess and sell to every door you knock on, especially if what you are selling does not, in normal reality, add up.

Now I’ve slept on it, that seems to me what happened last night. It was such a mesmerizing sales job and so relentless, checked at no point by Lehrer, and at no point checked by past reality or facts, Obama was left with two options: say this pleasant-seeming guy next to him is a shameless weather-vane and liar (wouldn’t work in a debate, is just against Obama’s character) or to try and remind the country of Romney’s actual policies as he has laid them out, and rebut the facts relentlessly. Obama tried the latter really, really badly, but the obvious retort to Romney’s smiling total pivot was: what on earth are you talking about? Who are you? Who will you be tomorrow?

But here’s the key political-policy point, it seems to me. In the last few days, Romney has said he will keep the DREAM executive order, keep all the good things in Obamacare, while getting rid of “Obamacare” (impossible); he will protect Medicare from Obama’s $700 billion “raid” and keep it as an option for seniors for ever, if they choose; and he will enact his version of Simpson-Bowles, because he is more moderate and bipartisan than Obama. Lehrer…was simply a facilitator for the Romney sales job, which flummoxed Obama, in the worst public performance bar none of his campaign….

More fatally for the president, the argument works. And it works precisely because of GOP extremism. If one party simply refuses to support anything a president of another party proposes and is primarily devoted to obstructionism on everything, then they can, if they are reckless enough both to create a credit crisis and prevent any further stimulus, succeed in essentially blackmailing the country by destroying its political system and then blaming it on the president. It’s cynical and corrupt and contemptible and unpatriotic – but lethal.

So in reality, we recall that Obama actually set up a Simpson-Bowles Grand Bargain, but Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, vetoed it… and made sure it never got to a Congressional vote. Obama, in the worst mistake of his presidency, decided then to bob and weave on this, rather than risk embracing it alone. That’s what gave Romney his opening last night. He simply lied and said Obama killed S-B and Romney will resurrect it, but in line with his plan. So the obvious policy mix for now – a short-term stimulus, a long-term bipartisan debt-reduction deal on S-B lines – can only be passed in this scenario by a Republican president so long as he has a Republican House. A Democratic president cannot even hope that in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, a single person from the GOP will compromise on anything. The Senate Democrats, however, are not like the House Republicans. They compromise. And the fiscal crisis keeps worsening. So Romney last night stole the key centrist argument of the economic debate from Obama’s weak hand – the hand he refused to seize S-B with when he could have.

So in terms of debate prowess, it was a knock-out. But from the strategic political argument, it was a very canny and dramatic move to the center, if, of course, utterly without consistency or principle.

So the obvious response to this new Romney is to say: now you’ve gone into a debate and denied you are lowering taxes on the wealthy: prove it. Show us where the new revenues come from or at least which are on your chopping block (sorry, PBS won’t solve the problem). More to the point, you have to provide much more savings in the tax code than Simpson-Bowles, if you are also going to take us to higher-than-Cold-War “defense” spending, as you have also promised.

If I were Obama, I’d focus now entirely on Romney’s new plan. What is it? How is it paid for? What is he hiding from us? And why?

Italics in original; emphasis added.


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Sullivan Says Go Big, Win Big

“Embracing Bowles-Simpson for a second term would be news. It would highlight the utter fiscal unseriousness of Paul Ryan, and the 1981-style policies of Romney. It would win back the center. And it would, in my view, win the election. If he plays safe this week, which will be his instinct, or if the convention is a tired attack on Romney’s wealth or aloofness, or if it reeks of class war or racial resentment, he will lose. If he takes a risk and embraces his own commission – and dares the GOP to support him on it, he could win big. Yes, I still think that’s possible. The sheer weakness of the Republican non-arguments last week – their gaping intellectual contradictions and cultural obsessions – gives the president an opportunity to inspire us now as he did four years ago. He told us then it wasn’t going to be easy to change Washington. But by embracing Bowles-Simpson now, he will show he remains serious about that kind of radical change.”  Emphasis added.

Andrew Sullivan, from “Yes He Can,” The Daily Beast

There’s kind of a game of chicken going on in both campaigns, with Mitt thinking he can win without detailed, coherent (i.e., numbers that add up) policy simply because the economy is still bad, and he’s not Obama.  Obama thinks he too can win without detailed, coherent policy because Mitt is so unlikable and the Dinosaur Riders surrounding him are so scary.  Each is hoping to find glory without having to display any guts.

Andrew Sullivan Weighs in on Mitt and Ric Grenell

From “The Muzzling of Ric Grenell,” Andrew Sullivan, The Dish:

“He’d been part of organizing a conference call to respond to Vice President Biden’s foreign policy speech,now known best for the “big stick” remark. So some reporters were puzzled as to why Grenell…was not introduced by name as part of the Romney team at the beginning of the call, and his voice completely absent from the conversation. Some even called and questioned him afterwards as to why he was absent. He wasn’t absent. He was simply muzzled. For a job where you are supposed to maintain good relations with reporters, being silenced on a key conference call on your area of expertise is pretty damaging. Especially when you helped set it up.

“Sources close to Grenell say that he was specifically told by those high up in the Romney campaign to stay silent on the call, even while he was on it. And this was not the only time he had been instructed to shut up. Their response to the far right fooferaw was simply to go silent, to keep Grenell off-stage and mute, and to wait till the storm passed. But the storm was not likely to pass if no one in the Romney camp was prepared to back Grenell up. Hence his dilemma. The obvious solution was simply to get Grenell out there doling out the neocon red meat – which would have immediately changed the subject and helped dispel base skepticism. Instead the terrified Romneyites shut him up without any actual plan for when he might subsequently be able to do his job. …  And it’s a mark of Romney’s fundamental weakness within his own party that he could not back his spokesman against the Bryan Fischers and Matthew Francks.

“A couple other thoughts. How many gay conservatives oppose marriage equality – now, apparently, a litmus test (though it wasn’t for Cheney)? I cannot think of any. … So if all gay Republicans who support marriage equality are banned even from speaking on other topics entirely (like Iran or Afghanistan, where Grenell is a fire-breather), who’s left? The answer, I’m afraid, is no one. Grenell was prepared to stay silent on gay issues entirely and do his job. But that wasn’t enough. Romney’s anti-gay agenda is therefore deeper and more extreme than Bush’s.

“I might add that the private conversation among many Republicans in this town is that this was unjust and unfair. The Romneyites are correct when they say they tried to talk him out of it. But they kept and keep their views quiet. The gay-inclusive elements in the elites simply do not have the balls to tackle the religious right. And this is particularly true of Romney, as this case now proves. The Christianists gave Bush a pass on social issues because of his born-again Christianity. They trust Mormon Romney not an inch. And this week demonstrates without any doubt that Romney will therefore not be able to deviate from their wishes an iota. He has no room to maneuver. The notion that he could be a moderate on social issues in office is, alas, a pipe dream.

“Remember: Grenell was told to be silent solely because he was gay. He was accused in National Review of being a potential fifth columnist for Barack Obama, simply because of his support for marriage equality, which he was never going to speak in public on anyway. His job was to speak on national security, a job for which he was very well prepared and very, very neoconservative.

“But the bigots won.”  Emphasis added.