Yawn

At least the Republicans are interesting – outrageous, but interesting. After the latest debate – where Newt Gingrich was oddly subdued and methodically torn apart by Mitt Romney’s surprisingly focused ridicule of him – he did fire back:

Newt Gingrich says he won’t “allow” the moderators of future GOP presidential debates to keep the crowd out of it. Speaking on Tuesday to Fox News, Gingrich took the opportunity that was denied him at Monday night’s debate, and blasted the media. …

He said it wasn’t fair, and it proves the media is out to get him, and so forth and so on… and he actually framed it as a free speech issue. The press was out to silence the people, or something. But there was also this:

NBC also noted that the eventual GOP nominee will debate President Obama in front of a completely silent audience, per the instructions from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

And in an email shot off to here in Hollywood, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta added this:

Since the Commission is a joint-venture of the two major parties, I suspect if Newt is the nominee, he will try to overturn that, and might even succeed.

Now that’s interesting. Unless Gingrich can whip a crowd into a wild frenzy with his smirks and sneers about shiftless black folks who just want all your money, and all sorts of other minorities expecting the put-upon responsible white folks to bail them out, and about how the press mocks real conservatives and he’s not going to take it anymore – he’s got nothing. Saying those things all by himself, without a large live audience of supporters, makes those things his alone – and they sound nasty and mean and kind of whiney and stupid. He’d rather share responsibility for all this everyone’s-always-picking-on-me petulant whining – you know, whip up the crowd and then hide behind them. He seems terrified of standing alone and speaking for himself. Cool. And that’s interesting.

And also interesting was Mitt Romney’s campaign, as promised, releasing his 2010 tax returns, as well as an estimate for his 2011 returns, and now we can see why he wasn’t eager to share the details:

Mitt Romney offered a partial snapshot of his vast personal fortune late Monday, disclosing income of $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year – virtually all of it profits, dividends or interest from investments. None came from wages, the primary source of income for most Americans. Instead, Romney and his wife, Ann, collected millions in capital gains from a profusion of investments, as well as stock dividends and interest payments.

And his effective tax rate was under fourteen percent, far lower than the rate of those who actually work for a living, and the overseas accounts were interesting:

His 2010 return also showed that he had a financial account in Switzerland that was closed in 2010 and that he generated income from overseas investments. He also reported financial accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

And Reuters reported here that Romney’s Swiss bank account was closed in 2010 “after an investment adviser decided it could be politically embarrassing to Romney.”

No kidding! And Duncan Black sums up the situation nicely:

Romney has said he was unemployed. He’s right. He actually does nothing to earn most of his income. He’s just in possession of a giant pile of cash. He pays some people to do stuff with that giant pile of cash so it earns a rate of return. And because we are ruled by horrible people who think the lives of the 1% are more important than everyone else, the tax rate on any money that pile of cash earns is much lower than it is on the money earned by people who actually work.

And Scott Galupo piles on:

A sizable chunk of the electorate – maybe the decisive chuck – simply will not believe that the tide that lifted Bain lifted them – or will ever lift them again. This bloc of voters is going to hear Obama’s critique and nod in agreement. And there’s very little that Romney will be able to say in his own defense that will change their mind.

In a way, Romney’s dilemma is the unhappy result of about 50 years’ worth of capitalism-as-populism rhetoric catching up with the conservative movement.

And Digby is quite blunt:

Now the .01% like Romney will tell you that they work actually work much harder than the rest of us and as a result they should be allowed to keep all of their money. After all, if they didn’t work harder they wouldn’t be rich, right?

Indeed, Romney likes to say that his father gave him nothing and he pulled himself up by his bootstraps. If you believe that growing up with a very famous family name in both the world of business and politics – in a world made up of other people with vast wealth and famous family names in business and politics – counts as up from nothing, I suppose that might be true. But Mitt was born with every advantage – many more than his father who really did work his way up the ladder of success. It’s insulting that he even tries to relate to average people in this way.

There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy and running for office. But if you are nothing but a privileged plutocrat, without any sense of noblesse oblige, everyone will rightly see your self-serving policies for what they are: a chance to enhance your own wealth, that of your wealthy peers and, most importantly, that of your heirs. In other words you are just another in a long line of would-be aristocrats trying to game the system for your own.

We’ve had many wealthy presidents in America, but never one as rich as Mitt whose policies were so blatantly geared to make himself even wealthier at the expense of the rest of the nation. If he wins this election we will know once and for all that deep down, Americans really want to be subjects, not citizens.

A long line of would-be aristocrats trying to game the system for their own – that’s an interesting way to frame the Republican agenda. That seems about right, and Greg Sargent offers the larger political context here:

I’m not sure the Obama campaign could have scripted this more perfectly. In a remarkable bit of good timing, President Obama is set to deliver a State of the Union speech focused on income inequality and tax unfairness on exactly the same day that Mitt Romney will reveal that he made over $40 million in the last two years – all of it taxed at a lower rate than that paid by middle class taxpayers. …

Romney doesn’t just disagree with Obama on these fundamental issues; he personally symbolizes virtually the entire 2012 Democratic message. He is the walking embodiment of everything Dems allege is wrong with our system and the ways it’s rigged in favor of the wealthy and against the middle class. Yet this is the standard bearer the GOP seems set to pick.

And Romney and his crew thought that releasing these tax returns would end the discussion, or so they hoped. They just made things more interesting.

And of course this was the perfect chance for Obama to hit it out of the park with his State of the Union speech – to put it all in perspective – the guys who want his job are just wrong for the job – one is an angry and somewhat cowardly lobbyist for the One Percent and the other a would-be aristocrat trying to game the system for folks like him and no one else. They threw Obama a high hanging curveball that didn’t break, the perfect pitch right down the middle of the plate – and he bunted and settled for a single. His speech was a laundry list of things to do, soon, if possible, and short on fire and game-changing ideas.

But maybe that tortures the baseball metaphor too far. The New York Times opens their summary with this:

President Obama pledged on Tuesday night to use government power to balance the scale between America’s rich and the rest of the public, trying to present an election-year choice between continued leadership toward an economy “built to last” and what he called irresponsible policies of the past that caused an economic collapse.

Declaring that “we’ve come too far to turn back now,” the president used his final State of the Union address before he faces the voters to showcase the extent to which he will try to contrast his core economic principles with those of his Republican rivals in a time of deep economic uncertainty. While many Americans remain disappointed with the state of the economy and the president’s handling of it, Mr. Obama nonetheless tried to bring into relief the difference between where the country was when he took over and where it is now.

“The state of our union is getting stronger,” he declared in time-honored tradition. “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs.” He pointed to renewed hiring by American manufacturers and – borrowing the “built to last” phrase from the auto industry he helped save – he sketched out, albeit vaguely, what he called a blueprint for economic growth in which the wealthy play by the same rules as ordinary Americans.

The vagueness had to do with the long list of tweaks to the tax code and to this policy and that – all quite specific and rather dull. And no one much felt like fighting:

Republicans challenged Mr. Obama’s assessment of the economy, and asserted that his policies had made the situation worse. But with their own poll numbers diving Congressional Republicans were subdued in their response to the speech, careful not to boo or seem disrespectful. And the president disputed their claim that he was practicing the politics of division.

“You can call this class warfare all you want,” Mr. Obama said of his call to create a more even economic playing field. “Most Americans would call that common sense.” He characterized the choice as one between whether “a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by” or his own vision – “where everyone gets a fair shot.”

There was nothing much new here, and this wasn’t exciting stuff:

Many of his proposals centered on changes to the tax code, including limiting deductions for companies that move jobs overseas, rewarding companies that return jobs to the United States and increasing taxes on wealthy Americans.

Taking aim at financial institutions that engaged in risky lending practices that many believe tipped the country into financial crisis, Mr. Obama said he was asking Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and state attorneys general to expand investigations into abusive lending. The new unit, he said, “will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.”

Mr. Obama also proposed a new trade enforcement unit that would add to the number of government investigators pursuing unfair trade practices and that would be responsible for filing lawsuits against foreign countries, namely China. He called for new legislation to make it easier for Americans to refinance their homes if their interest rates are above market rates. And he proposed a bound-to-be-contentious way to allocate any savings from ending the war in Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan: by using half of the war savings on infrastructure projects and the other half to reduce the deficit.

It was all specific and sensible, and as far from dramatic as possible. But you can win a baseball game with a long series of back-to-back-to-back singles. It’s not exciting but it gets the job done. And much of the speech was simply nice-sounding generalities:

Reflecting the heavy emphasis on the economy in an election year, the president’s speech was relatively short on national security, where most political observers and indeed his own aides believe his performance has been much stronger than on the economy. In fact, Mr. Obama ended his speech with the American assault last year that finally, after 10 years, killed Osama bin Laden, and talked of that fateful day last May when he monitored the attack from the White House.

He called on the country to emulate the unity of the Navy Seal team that conducted the raid. “When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you,” the president said, “or the mission fails.”

But what does that mean? What are we supposed to do, specifically? And the Time magazine summary was much the same:

Declaring the American dream under siege, President Barack Obama called Tuesday night for a flurry of help for a hurting middle class and higher taxes on millionaires, delivering a State of the Union address packed with re-election themes. Restoring a fair shot for all, Obama said, is “the defining issue of our time.”

Obama outlined a vastly different vision for fixing the country than the one pressed by the Republicans challenging him in Congress and fighting to take his job in the November election. He pleaded for an active government that ensures economic fairness for everyone, just as his opponents demand that the government back off and let the free market rule.

Obama offered steps to help students afford college, a plan for more struggling homeowners to refinance their homes and tax cuts for manufacturers. He threw in politically appealing references to accountability, including warning universities they will lose federal aid if they don’t stop tuition from soaring.

He offered lists, and as for the Republican rebuttal from Mitch Daniels, see Andrew Sullivan:

It was that rare event when the GOP response surpassed the actual State of the Union. It was what a sane Republican critique of this presidency would be. It began with a grace note on Obama’s courageous assault on bin Laden and the quiet dignity of his family life – avoiding the personal demonization of a well-liked president. There were several shrewd and helpful criticisms of his own side. And there were only a couple of off-notes. I don’t believe the administration has divided Americans or sought to. I don’t think it’s fair to describe a stimulus in a potential depression as wasteful or irresponsible.

But Sullivan is pleased that Daniels spoke about the national debt, one of Sullivan’s major issues, but still it wasn’t enough:

One day, maybe I’ll be able to vote for such a conservative again. They know they have no chance in the roiling circus that Rove and Ailes built. I just remain deeply depressed by the tedium of the president’s speech, its mediocrity, its unreconstructed micro-paleo-liberalism, its lack of imagination, its political cowardice. When, for example, will this president actually make the case for his own healthcare reform – a moderate, sane, historic reform that is the centerpiece of his first term – and which he didn’t mention tonight? When will he be honest about the structural problems facing this country’s economic competitiveness – which cannot be solved by more people going to community colleges?

Look: I still love the guy and wish him well. But this speech shows how he has become captive to the calculators and strategists and world-weary Washingtonians. There was nothing new here, except the mortgage relief, nothing fresh, nothing inspiring, no reason given to re-elect him, except that things are improving and the alternatives are insane. It was also an artlessly written speech that felt as if a committee – still hovered over by Bill Daley – had written it. And the one joke was awful.

It may well be enough come November. But I expected more. And the country deserves more.

Well, life is hard. The world isn’t going to change. There are just the insane alternatives and the careful and pleasant centrist, who will take what he can get, given the circumstances.

Still Sullivan says this:

I was hoping for a vision. I was hoping for real, strategic reform. What we got was one big blizzard of tax deductions, wrapped in a populist cloak. It was treading water. I suspect this will buoy liberal spirits, but anger the right and befuddle the independents. It definitely gives the Republican case against Obama as a big government meddler more credibility. I may be wrong – but the sheer cramped, tedious, mediocre micro-policies he listed were uninspiring to say the least.

We voted for Obama; now we find we got another Clinton.

But one of Sullivan’s readers chides Sullivan:

C’mon man. The speech was a political masterstroke. … It did exactly what it needed to do, which was to make him sound like the reasonable adult in a town full of insolent children. So… what? He should have proposed another hopeless grand vision that would proceed to go nowhere and play right into a Republican narrative about his ineffectual, overreaching nature? Or he should frame himself, and Democrats at large, as the sober party in Washington.

My 84 year old grandmother, who has been taking a 20 minute break from Fox news every week to call me and comment bitterly on what “that boy” (yeah she goes there) is doing to this country, just told me that she found it refreshing after listening to the Republican candidates’ insanity for 7 months. “He’ll get the job done,” she tells me! If she votes for him, the Republicans are in more trouble than they know.

You know when the grand vision will come? A year from today, when Obama’s back in office with, Newt willing, a Democratic majority and Republicans who may finally see that rank obstructionism isn’t a key to electoral success. …

Buck up, Andrew!

But E. D. Kain offers this:

The point of a speech like this one – an election year State of the Union Address – is not to lay out a grand vision. To be honest, the time for grand visions is over. What the president needs to do – and what he didn’t do enough tonight – is lay out in stark terms why his presidency is important and distinct from the hypothetical presidency of Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

Ah, another bunt, and he could have hit a home run here. But there’s Will Wilkinson’s take on this:

Obama’s speech, in its particulars, seemed fairly rote. I’m left with the idea that the economy’s getting better, Obama’s keen to do something about jobs, and that bin Laden is fish food. If he can get just that much to stick in the electorate’s collective mind, it’s probably enough to win reelection.

Yep, that’s settling for the bunt single, that actually wins the game. What did everyone expect? It wasn’t interesting, like Mitt and Newt are always interesting. But sometimes you don’t really want interesting.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Obama as the Grown-Up, Obama Boring, Obama the Pragmatist, Obama's State of the Union Address, Republican Drama Queens and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Yawn

  1. Dick Bernard says:

    I watched the Presidents speech, and I just read your analysis, and my first thought was to the 2011 film “Moneyball” about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. In your post I most identified with the “masterstroke” comment including the 84-year old grandmother’s take. Last night BEFORE the President had even entered the House chambers, I posted this little piece about the apparently rather dismal state of the left-to-right electorate at this point in American history: http://www.outsidethewalls.org/blog/?m=20120124. I think the President was talking to we doofuses who, in our own small ways, are going to have to step up to the plate in the coming months and do amazing things that will seem boring to the pundit class. The scratch singles and mis-judged fly balls in near left or right or center field are what will be important while some sit around and wait for the home runs. Thanks as always for your useful columns.

  2. Katherine says:

    i agree with Mr Bernard / the speech was right on / well done, Mr President !

    all us doofuses will have your back

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