The Obama Uncertainty

They all laughed at Clint Eastwood when he winged it at the Republican convention in Tampa and improvised that conversation with an empty chair, representing a wholly imaginary Barack Obama. That could have been brilliant but it was just strange. No one knew what to make of it, even those in the hall – but it was emblematic of the mindset of any number of Republicans. The left, or what’s left of it, has been frustrated because Obama has turned out to be such a careful pragmatist, not changing much in the nation save for that Affordable Care Act, which moves us toward having most everyone in the nation having some form of health insurance. But think about it. Obamacare is basically a way for everyone to have a chance to buy some sort of healthcare policy on the private market, from the big insurance companies, those who insure folks in order to make scads of money, reluctantly paying out what they must, when they absolutely have to, or when they’re sued. This is not socialized medicine – the government taking over the system. This is the giant for-profit insurance companies accepting a few new rules in exchange for tens of millions of new customers, who will of course have the money to pay whatever premiums they feel like charging, and those premiums will be guaranteed to them by the full faith and credit of the federal government. They’ll make out like bandits and Obama set that up – the best he could do with opposition he faced.

There’s no reason this should upset Republicans, but they have to be upset. Some people don’t deserve health insurance. They haven’t earned it, and by the way Obama hates all big business, which he has crushed, with corporate profits now at an eighteen-year high and the stock market also nearing its all-time high at the moment. Go figure. And Obama loves high taxes, with personal taxes now at a thirty-year low and no one at all paying the nominally high corporate tax rate – Exxon and the rest find a way to pay a negative corporate tax, getting their billions in refunds each year. And of course Obama was born in Kenya, as both the short-form and long-form birth certificates must be clever forgeries – just ask Donald Trump. And Obama is a devout Muslim and a godless atheist too – at the same time no less. And he’s in over his head and not too bright, a man who can’t even speak without a teleprompter – and at the same time he’s a nefariously clever man, carefully and intricately plotting the end of America as we know it. It’s one or the other, or both at the same time. And yes, Obama killed that Osama fellow and orders endless drone strikes killing countless others, but he’s weak and sides with the terrorists all the time, and he keeps apologizing for America, even if no one can find anything he ever said where he did that. It gets confusing and that’s why Eastwood was in a bit of trouble. He was having a conversation with that imaginary Obama that exists in a state of quantum uncertainty. You remember Heisenberg and that famous uncertainty principle – the act of looking at something changes it. It’s like that. There’s no way Eastwood was ever going to make sense.

That changed with Obama’s disastrous first debate. Suddenly the empty chair made sense, as a metaphor. The New Yorker ran an iconic cover – Romney at the podium, the moderator, Jim Lehrer, and his desk, and an empty chair where Obama should be. He kind of didn’t show up, and Saturday Night Live had a great deal of fun with that:

“Mr. President, Governor Romney has just said that he killed Osama bin Laden. Would you care to respond?”

“No, you two go ahead,” Obama says before looking down to his notes.

It was brutal, but Romney suggested that one thing he’d do to balance the budget is end all funding for PBS, adding that he liked Big Bird, but sorry, Sesame Street had to go. That led to this Mike Lukovich cartoon – President Romney and his team in the war room watching the live video feed of the raid on Big Bird’s compound. Everyone was having fun, except Newt Gingrich:

Newt Gingrich called out Mitt Romney on Sunday for backing off his promise to cut taxes on the wealthy after winning the Republican nomination.

“I think it’s clear he changed,” Gingrich said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” roundtable, admitting that Romney had shifted from wanting to lower taxes on all Americans to promising that his reform plan would not lower taxes paid by the wealthy.

The whole idea is to protect the wealthy, but Newt gave Mitt a pass:

Gingrich said Romney’s inconsistency was “good politics” but violates a conservative belief. “What he said is something that, frankly, true supply-siders don’t necessarily love, but it is good politics – he said, ‘I will close enough deductions that wealthy Americans will not get a net tax cut,'” the former House speaker said.

Newt hates that last part – true supply-siders recognize that real economic growth only comes from the very rich being freed from all burdens and having lots of free money handed to them by the government – but he recognizes it’s not wise, right now, to go all-out for massively lower taxes for the millionaires and billionaires when their taxes are at an all-time low and everyone else is a bit grumpy and just scraping by. It’s something that can be taken care of later. There’s commonly accepted economic theory, on his side, and then there’s general political reality. It may be that the economy stinks because millionaires and billionaires don’t have enough money, even if they have most of it now, more than any time since the late twenties – but Romney can explain that to the whining poor and middle-class once he’s in office.

The problem is that the economy doesn’t stink that much now:

The economy added 114,000 jobs in September and unemployment declined to 7.8 percent. Not great numbers, but paired with major upward revisions to previous monthly reports and taken in the context of a slowly recovering economy, the report was viewed as good news for America – unless, of course, you were hoping for bad news. And apparently quite a few of President Obama’s critics were – so much so that they suggested the Bureau of Labor Statistics was part of a vast conspiracy.

The leader of the “job truther” movement: former GE CEO Jack Welch.

“Unbelievable jobs numbers… these Chicago guys will do anything… can’t debate so change numbers,” he said on Twitter.

The rest of this item, from Talking Points Memo, goes on to report how that idea swept the nation, or at least those on the right. Fox News ran with it all day long, and Jim Cramer, on CNBC, who said this whole conspiracy theory was bullshit, was hammered by his fans all day long. It made for and interesting Friday. Obama got a boost from that. Romney had to stop talking about how we were stuck with unemployment over eight percent under Obama and how it would never get better. It got better, and there was this:

Betsey Stevenson, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor under President Obama, said in a phone interview with TPM that the conspiracy theories were misguided in just about every way possible. For starters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics isn’t currently run by a political appointee. For most of Obama’s term, the commissioner was a holdover appointed by President Bush. The current acting commissioner John Gavin is a career BLS economist, not an Obama appointee.

The underlying data behind the BLS reports is also publicly released and used by analysts across the private sector and academia, meaning a conspiracy would have to survive scrutiny from trained economists of all political stripes.

Nor is there much time to cook the books at the top level if they wanted to.

There’s more but the notion is nuts and Kevin Drum adds this:

There may be an unappreciated irony at work here. Although BLS didn’t cook the unemployment books, there’s no question that the headline number, which is derived from a telephone survey of households, can be fairly noisy from month to month. There was a big spike upward in September’s employment figure, and that could be real or it could be a statistical outlier.

Or there might be a third option: In a little-noticed part of yesterday’s report, BLS announced that it had systematically undercounted jobs by 386,000 from April 2011 through March 2012. So maybe it’s continued to undercount jobs since then… If so, then not only is the September number accurate, it’s making up for an undercount over the past six months…

So here’s the irony: if BLS really has been undercounting, it means that the jobs picture has looked overly gloomy during the first half of the year, which is exactly when it hurt President Obama the worst. What this means is that the wingnuts might be more than merely wrong. They might have things 180 degrees backward. It’s quite possible that far from being unfairly favorable toward Obama, the BLS numbers have been unfairly hurting him. September’s spike corrected that, but probably too late to do him very much good.

Drum earlier noted this about the Jack Welch:

Apparently Neutron Jack has become a truther. Not a 9/11 truther or Kenyan birth truther: he’s become, fittingly enough for a guy who got famous for his layoffs, an unemployment truther. …

The wingers have gone from complaining about the liberal media to complaining about liberal Hollywood to complaining about liberal pollsters and now, finally, to complaining about liberal technocrats in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The conspiracy is everywhere.

This is really sad. When do they finally get the intervention they so desperately need?

That would be when they’re all talking to empty chairs.

Still, the polls show a Romney bounce – sort of. Romney is closing in on Obama in Wisconsin, but Obama is hammering him in Colorado, of all places. It’s fragmentary information. It’s a mess – Obama’s mess. Romney used the first debate to move to the center, which no one expected, unless, as Ed Kilgore maintains, he didn’t do that at all:

Before it becomes a kind of Fact-Made-Fact-By-Repetition, I’d like to challenge the much-assumed idea that in the first presidential debate Mitt Romney “moved to the center” in a real, substantive way. This seems to be the conclusion of many Democrats, many in the MSM, and of those few Republicans who occasionally object to the endless rightward drift of the GOP.

Sure, his rhetoric sounded more moderate. But when you look at the details, nothing changed.

Kilgore demonstrates that and Kevin Drum adds this:

Romney was never all that far to the right in the first place. Sure, he’s adopted all the standard positions of the modern tea-party-ized GOP, but during the primaries he was always pretty careful not to go any further than that. On actual policy, he never tried to move to the right of Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry.

What he did do was adopt a “severely conservative” rhetorical style, highlighted by his almost comically harsh attacks on Barack Obama. He was content to let the other candidates offer up redder meat than he did, but he always insisted on making sure that everyone knew his contempt for Obama was second to none. At the time, I figured this was deliberate: he didn’t want to take any insane positions that might hurt him in the general election, but he still wanted to do something to show tea party voters that he was one of them in his heart. The way he did that was by never letting five minutes go by without launching yet another over-the-top verbal volley against Obama.

Drum think’s this was a good strategy:

It’s easy to ditch attacks like that after the primary is over, and for the most part he has. Ever since spring, Romney’s shtick has been an almost sorrowful acknowledgment that Obama is a good man, an honorable man, but in over his head. The harshness is mostly gone, and hardly anyone has even noticed that his attacks on Obama changed course rather abruptly as soon as he became the consensus nominee in April. And since then he’s also solidified his standing with the tea party base strongly enough that he can get away with some rhetorical concessions on policy as well.

Heck, pundits love this sort of thing, but it’s a head-fake:

Romney hasn’t changed a thing. He still won’t accept a dime in revenue increases; he still plans to cut taxes substantially on the rich while claiming he’s doing no such thing; he still wants to voucherize both Medicare and education spending; he still wants to turn Medicaid over to the states and slash its funding; he still wants to increase the defense budget; he still wants to repeal both Obamacare and Dodd-Frank; and he still claims to be a deficit warrior even as he refuses to provide any details about just how he’d actually cut the deficit.

The new, more bipartisan Romney should be taken for what it is: a campaign stratagem, not a real change. He isn’t moving to the center, he’s just trying to sound like he’s moving to the center.

And there’s this:

My guess is that it won’t work, but given the obsession of the Washington press corps with optics and conflict, it might. You never know.

The act of looking at something changes it, so Obama’s mess will continue, with lame defenses like this:

Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod on Sunday said Republican Mitt Romney delivered a “very good performance” at the first presidential debate that was “completely un-rooted in fact” and the president was “taken aback at the brazenness” of the Republican nominee’s answers.

That’s his story and he’s sticking to it:

“The president showed up with the intent of answering questions and having a discussion, an honest discussion of where we will go as a country, and Romney showed up to deliver a performance, and he delivered a very good performance,” Axelrod said. “It was completely un-rooted in fact, it was completely un-rooted in the positions he’s taken before and he spent 90 minutes trying to undo two years of campaigning on that stage, but he did it very well.”

There’s also this:

As for why Obama did not address Romney’s “47 percent” comments at the debate, Axelrod said “the president obviously didn’t see the appropriate opportunity.” “The president was earnestly trying to answer questions that were asked on the topics that were being discussed, and he didn’t find the opportunity to raise it, and it’s obviously well known,” Axelrod said. Obama, Axelrod said, “was a little taken aback by the brazenness with which Gov. Romney walked away” from his past positions and his record.

In fact, since Obama didn’t bring it up, Romney had to walk back his “47 percent” comments the next night on Fox News – he had been completely wrong to say that and the idea was completely wrong so forget he ever said all that stuff – “My life has shown that I care about 100 percent, and that’s been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.” He really doesn’t despise the forty-seven percent of the country he had said love to play victim and have no sense of personal responsibility and don’t even try to take charge of their own lives. He doesn’t know why he ever said that – and that’s what he would have said at the debate. Obama just didn’t give him the opening. He assumes people will understand it was just… words or something.

Perhaps they will understand, and Andrew Sullivan comments:

Lehrer’s decision to allow the candidates free-style answers gave Obama carte blanche. The first question was about their differences on the economy. The obvious first answer from Obama should have been that he’s trying to help all Americans, while Romney is on record saying he doesn’t care about 47 percent of them. Bang. You’re off on the offense. And if Axelrod had not prepped Obama that Romney is capable of lying massively with total sincerity, or that, for Romney, truth is simply a utilitarian construct, then Axelrod failed to do due diligence. If Obama was rattled by Drudge, Carlson and Hannity yelling “Remember he’s a nigger!” the days before, then the Romney campaign has gotten into Obama’s usually impermeable head. [Previously explained here.]

To lose a debate is one thing. To default on it is quite another. To default on it in a way that reveals you cannot explain to anyone what your agenda is for the next four years is close to disqualifying.

Sullivan is not a happy camper:

I think the entire election has been recast on Romney’s centrist terms, terms which Obama allowed to get away from him a while back, and which suddenly makes Romney – once again – the favorite.

Not because the economy sucks – but because Romney provided a much clearer, if utterly dishonest, plan for the next four years, while Obama offered nothing. His closing statement was nothing. …

Perhaps by the next debate, the president will have a clue what he wants to do for the country and the world – and be able to communicate it. But I’m also angry. If Axelrod couldn’t see the Etch-A-Sketch coming, when Romney’s campaign all but told us they were cynical enough to do and say anything to win, then he truly is incompetent.

This is dismal:

The only solace is that Obama is best when up against it. I remember how he just threw away the primary race in New Hampshire, rather than fighting. I recall how he allowed Obamacare to languish in the Congress for months, almost lost it with Scott Brown’s election, and finally brought it home. I remember how he let DADT drift for months, only to pull it from the fire in the nick of time in a lame-duck Congress. He does this. He works your last nerves. But I have never seen him phone it in as weakly as he did last week, and I can see no strategy behind it.

Yes, but that takes us back to Heisenberg and that uncertainty principle he proposed – the act of looking at something changes it, at least in terms of quantum mechanics, those subatomic particles, the little bits. Perhaps that applies to political strategies as well. What you see has arranged itself to be what you see, or the act of seeing is all the reality you’re ever going to get, not the thing itself, which might not exist. We’re not seeing the real Obama, and we’re certainly not seeing the real Obama. What we see changes as we see it. Clint Eastwood was onto something. There’s just an empty chair, or two empty chairs. Now go vote for the uncertain unknown.

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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, Obama Boring, Obama Disappoints the Left, Obama the Pragmatist, Obama the Underdog, Obama Too Cool, Political Momentum and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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