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.

Quote of the Day

“Paul Ryan, what he did in his speech, I think, so stretched the truth, and I like Paul Ryan, I have a lot of great respect for Paul Ryan, but [what] he said about closing the GM plant, which closed before Barack Obama took president, about the Simpson-Bowles bill which — Simpson-Bowles, which he opposed, and then all of a sudden you see faults Barack Obama for. At some point the truth should matter. ”

Matthew Dowd, Republican strategist, on ABC’s This Week

So patently insincere Mitt puts this shameless liar on his ticket.  Yeah, that’ll help.

Keep This in Mind

You’ll be hearing Paul Ryan criticize President Obama for not supporting the Simpson-Bowles Plan.

When you hear this, remember that Ryan was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and he voted against the plan because it included tax increases.  He was one of those who kept it from going to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

You’re going to hear Ryan talking about the deficit, but that’s just a smokescreen.  He couldn’t care less about the deficit, he just cares about more tax cuts for the rich.

Mitt is slick and sleazy, but in an awkward way.  Ryan is slick and sleazy, but in a much smoother, more graceful way.  Mitt knows he’s a duckling who’s never going to become a swan, so he hired himself one.

In the past, the GOP has won by convincing middle-class people that the Dems don’t care about them, they care about the poor.  But all Americans need to understand that this GOP ticket cares only about the rich and would be a disaster not just for the poor, but for the middle class as well.

Look, you can’t get over 50% of Americans to vote for a ticket that benefits 1% of us, so their mission is to lie.  Our mission is not to fall for it.