The Oddest Week

Strike the Halloween set! Here in Hollywood, and everywhere else, that’s over, and it’s a quiet Friday night one block up from the Sunset Strip. All the wild stuff happened Wednesday night – Halloween – with tens of thousands of folks down at the bottom of the hill for the West Hollywood bash. Given that West Hollywood is the largest gay community south of San Francisco the costumes were beyond flamboyant – everyone had a fine time. Over on Hollywood Boulevard they had a bash for the straight folks, a few thousand in the street with the young a-list sort-of-stars, in costume, popping in and out of the Roosevelt Hotel and the exclusive clubs no one else can get into – but there three people were shot in street – proving once again it’s not the gays who are a threat to civil society in America. Don’t tell your Republican friends. It will only make them grumpy.

They’re grumpy anyway. This week was the last full week before the presidential election and one thing after another broke the wrong way for them, which probably explains this – Poll: Most Republicans Believe in Demonic Possession. How else do you explain the week’s events? It must be that the Devil is sly, so sly that he must have possessed Chris Christie’s ample body. After all, back east, the week opened with everything from South Carolina to Maine and on out to Chicago a total mess – underwater or snowed in and no one seemed to have power – after the biggest and worst storm anyone has ever seen. Many died. Then there was the visit of President Obama to New Jersey, the center of it all and the worst off now – where he toured the damage with that state’s governor, the loud and crude and rude Chris Christie, the bully-hero of the Republican Party. The surprising news was that they got along famously, with Christie repeatedly saying Obama and FEMA were doing a wonderful job, and insisting that Obama was a fine fellow and an impressive leader. This was the man who gave the keynote speech at the Republican convention in Tampa – delayed for a day because of a hurricane there oddly enough – saying Obama was a fool who had proved to the world that he couldn’t lead anyone or anything at all. Christie had been saying that a lot, and now there was this. Democrats were pleased and Republicans flummoxed, and Fox News was stunned into silence. Ronald Reagan once said that the nine scariest words in the English language were these – “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Not this Halloween. This was about saving lives and fixing things – everything else was bullshit.

Many found that refreshing – big government actually works and should work if we’re going to get through crises. Maybe we should have more of it. On the other hand, Christie betrayed his party, and Mitt Romney. The party has argued the opposite since the days of Barry Goldwater, and Romney in the primaries had said FEMA should probably be dismantled and each state do what it wants about disasters, or even better, disaster response should be handled by private enterprise alone. Maybe open and unregulated competition for the massive profits to be made by handing out bottled water and blankets would make everything far more efficient. The tape of him saying that to John King in that CNN debate was shown over and over, juxtaposed with images and Obama and Christie and the head of FEMA – a Republican first chosen for such work by Jeb Bush – assessing the damage and working out the details of how to get things fixed as soon as possible, and seemingly best buddies. So they lost Chris Christie – but maybe it was demonic possession.

They lost the argument against big government there – and it only got worse as one of Romany’s themes for the last full week was that Obama was arrogant and divisive, unable to work with anyone who disagreed with him in the slightest. All you had to do was watch the news. That argument fell apart too. Then there was shifting one of his campaign events into a “relief event” – a shallow and cynical idea staged incompetently – all in all a bit of a fraud. It was a bad week for Republicans.

Then there were the Obama endorsements late in the week – one, from the world’s most respected financial publication, the Economist, was stunning – even if it was no more than saying Romney is a delusional clown and Obama isn’t quite there yet. It may matter more what the billionaire mayor of New York City thinks. The Economist is a specialty publication but Michael Bloomberg is a big gun. They both said Obama should be reelected – Bloomberg saying to save the planet and the Economist saying to save the economy, from Romney’s delusions about how he thinks things work.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC’s resident conservative, had previously said this – “I think Bloomberg has been bitterly disappointed by President Obama. And I think he may be offended by the President trying to use NYC as a backdrop for a final week for a campaign where I’m not so sure he wants him to be re-elected.”

Oops. It must have seemed like the week would never end, and then, Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its report on the October job figures – the one thing that might show Obama was just not up to the job and things were not only terrible, but getting worse. Disappointing job growth and the unemployment rate spike back over eight percent would surely sink Obama – that would be the knockout punch. The Romney team was hoping and praying for bad news and misery for us all, but it just didn’t work out that way. The report was pretty good – 171,000 new jobs in October, when the consensus of all the analysts who say they know about such things was that it would only be a so-so 125,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate edged up slightly but didn’t hit eight percent, damn it, and to top it all off, revisions from the last two monthly reports added 84,000 jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics had missed.

This wasn’t helpful at all, although Andrew Sullivan offers a quite helpful compilation of all the reactions to this – some saying this is good news on the economy, others saying no it isn’t if you look closely, and still others saying yes it is if you look even more closely. There was also talk of how this should vindicate Obama and shame Romney, and talk of how it should do the opposite. Take your choice. It’s all at the link. Go see, if you care – but it was a wash. The October job figures weren’t bad enough for Romney to use as a weapon, save for some halfhearted comments that he’d do better were he in charge, and not good enough for Obama to go around bragging. Romney’s advisors had been hoping for a miracle – the economy definitively collapsing. They got steady and substantial real growth, even if it was sluggish. At the end of a bad week this just didn’t seem fair. And the late Friday polls were dismal too – the momentum from that first debate is long gone.

Friday night was no better:

New Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi joined Sting, Christina Aguilera and other music stars on Friday in a televised benefit concert to raise funds for victims of Sandy, the superstorm that has killed nearly 100 people in the United States and devastated large sections of the Northeast.

The commercial-free one-hour telecast organized by NBCUniversal, “Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together,” included appearances by Billy Joel, Jimmy Fallon, Steven Tyler, Mary J. Blige, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny DeVito and NBC News’ Brian Williams. TODAY show co-anchor Matt Lauer was host.

Alex Seitz-Wald reports on the only possible response to that:

A heartwarming case of some American icons coming together in a time of need to help out and rock out, right? Not so fast. The paranoid crew at Fox and Friends uncovered what’s really going on here: Secret Obama propaganda. “Good intention, raise some money for victims, but the timing is more than suspect,” guest host Eric Bolling said this morning. “Is this more political? Is this more let’s get this thing on TV before the election to help President Obama look more presidential? Or is it more to help out victims?”

Steve Doocy chimed in: “Keep in mind that there you’ve got Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. Both supported the president of the United States.” And because Fox apparently does not support affirmative action for people of color, but does support ideological quotas for benefit concerts, Doocy asked earnestly, “Where are the conservative performers?”

Conservative performers believe in personal responsibility. They’d sing songs about good folks who take care of themselves, and then get all weepy about how they love the good old USA, but then gleefully shout out that they hate its government, and all government – keep your damned bottled water and blankets.

That would confuse people, but Seitz-Wald adds this:

Well, you know what they say: One man’s Bruce Springsteen charity concert is another man’s secret plot to exploit a tragedy for nefarious political gain.

There had to be a way to make this bad week better and maybe Romney found it Friday:

In what his campaign billed as his “closing argument,” Mitt Romney warned Americans that a second term for President Obama would have apocalyptic consequences for the economy in part because his own party would force a debt ceiling disaster.

“Unless we change course, we may well be looking at another recession,” Romney told a crowd in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Romney said that Obama “promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan” and that his bitter relations with the House GOP could threaten the economy. As his chief example, he pointed to a crisis created entirely by his own party’s choice – Republican lawmakers’ ongoing threat to reject a debt ceiling increase. Economists warn that a failure to pass such a measure would have immediate and catastrophic consequences for the recovery.

“You know that if the President is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress,” Romney said. “He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.”

Brian Beutler offers this:

Pay close attention to this, because it speaks directly to how Congressional Republicans’ destructive legislative strategy in 2011 and Mitt Romney’s last minute shuffle to the center are actually a singular strategy. Mitt Romney’s final pitch to voters is that an Obama victory assures another debt limit standoff – eliding, for obvious reasons, that the debt limit standoff in 2011 was a Republican contrivance, and a debt limit standoff in 2013 will be a Republican contrivance as well. Elect him, he says, and the crisis won’t happen.

Beutler argues that this is no idle threat:

If he wins, does anybody imagine John Boehner will enter brinksmanship with Romney to cut programs Romney doesn’t want to cut? Absolutely not.

Sadly a number of newspaper editorial boards around the country have been snookered by this appeal – seemingly blind to the cynical nihilism underlying it.

But setting aside questions and comments about the appropriateness of campaigning on and governing under the threat of economic calamity, I don’t actually think this is an accurate forward reading of the situation. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are interested right now in speculating about their guy losing, or creating the impression that they’re preparing for that contingency. So this is inherently speculative. But if anything, I imagine that a Romney victory would result in a worse debt limit standoff than we’re likely to see under Obama.

Dan Savage Tweets this – “We are no longer a democracy. We’re a hostage situation.”

Yes, but as the week began, long before Romney’s veiled threat, Ezra Klein already saw the bigger picture:

While it’s true that President Romney could expect more cooperation from congressional Republicans, in the long term, a vote against Obama on these grounds is a vote for more of this kind of gridlock. Politicians do what wins them elections. If this strategy wins Republicans the election, they’ll employ it next time they face a Democratic president, too, and congressional Democrats will use it against the next Republicans. Rewarding the minority for doing everything in their power to make the majority fail sets up disastrous incentives for the political system.

Actually it ends the political system, but David Frum, in an odd way, is okay with Romney’s argument:

The question over Romney’s head is not a question about him at all. It’s a question about his party – and that question is the same whether Romney wins or loses. The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won’t reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP – and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment. A Romney election will at least discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013. Added bonus: a Romney presidency likely means that the congressional GOP will lose seats in 2014, as they deserve.

In short, give them what they want or we’ll all die, to which Kevin Drum responds with this:

Holy cats! First of all, this is almost certainly wrong. A Republican win would embolden congressional Republicans. They’d take it as a sign that they were right all along, that America really is a conservative nation and really does want to be governed according to tea party principles. They’d be over the moon with faith in their own righteousness and would demand absolute fealty from Romney. Sure, they’d ease up on things like debt ceiling hostage taking, but not on much of anything else. The tea party wing of the GOP would be reenergized and in no mood to feel like they had to compromise their principles even a little bit.

A loss, on the other hand, might have a salutary effect. It’s no sure thing, but it just might start some real grumbling among the business class that bankrolls the GOP and the moderate class that’s never gotten along with the tea party in the first place. It’s really the only hope there is of provoking the Republican Party to eventually deal with its crackpot wing.

He wonders why Frum does not see this:

Frum makes the most overt form of the surrendering-to-terrorists argument that I’ve seen yet. If Obama wins, congressional Republicans will go completely ape and destroy the country. They will deliberately tank the economy and then impeach the president. Therefore, we have to give into them and turf Obama out of office.

It’s appalling that people are seriously making this argument. What’s worse, it’s the relatively sensible people who are making it. This is simply nuts. No country can survive with this attitude. If congressional Republicans are truly a destructive and irrational force in American politics – and God knows, I agree with Frum about that – the answer is to fight them, not to surrender to them.

Paul Krugman puts it this way:

The starting point for many “vote for Romney or else” statements is the notion that a re-elected President Obama wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything in his second term. What this misses is the fact that he has already accomplished a great deal, in the form of health reform and financial reform – reforms that will go into effect if, and only if, he is re-elected.

But would Mr. Obama be able to negotiate a Grand Bargain on the budget? Probably not – but so what? America isn’t facing any kind of short-run fiscal crisis, except in the fevered imagination of a few Beltway insiders. If you’re worried about the long-run imbalance between spending and revenue, well, that’s an issue that will have to be resolved eventually, but not right away. Furthermore, I’d argue that any alleged Grand Bargain would be worthless as long as the GOP remained as extreme as it is, because the next Republican president, following the lead of George W. Bush, would just squander the gains on tax cuts and unfunded wars.

So we shouldn’t worry about the ability of a re-elected Obama to get things done. On the other hand, it’s reasonable to worry that Republicans will do their best to make America ungovernable during a second Obama term. After all, they have been doing that ever since Mr. Obama took office.

Yes, and now as the campaign comes to a close, with everything going wrong in the last week, it comes down to Romney saying this. Elect me or my party will destroy this country, and you’ve already seen what they can do. You don’t want to mess with them. It’s a nice little country you have there. It’d be a shame (grin) if anything happened to it.

They might lose of course – all the statistical models show that Romney’s chance of winning is less than twenty percent – which is not zero percent but still dismal.

Aside from working hard to destroy the country, how would they handle that? Marc Ambinder has many ideas, but argues that this is most likely:

It’s the liberal/drive-by/lamestream media’s fault. It always is. They covered for President Obama’s lapses in Benghazi, failed to hold him to account for his obvious failures, generally failed to vet him properly in 2008, and ignored the scandals during his first term. They tipped the scales. And in the last week, they covered his response to Hurricane Sandy as if he were a conquering hero. They hated Mitt Romney because they were jealous of his success. They ignored Chicago’s relentless negative campaign.

MSNBC’s First Read says no – “Sandy will get the blame from the losing side, period.”

Jonathan Bernstein is fine with that:

Thinking they were on their way to victory when a massive storm derailed them would be a relatively healthy response, the way that deciding that you lost because your candidate’s TV ads stunk or because he didn’t have the best zinger in the debates is a mostly non-destructive response.

And it sure beats blaming everything on demonic possession, but maybe they will. That goes with Halloween week after all.

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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.
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