Monthly Archives: September 2012

UMiami Candidate Interviews: Romney Stacked the Crowd, Obama Did Not

How Romney Packed The Univision Forum:

Salinas told BuzzFeed that tickets for each forum were divided between the network, the respective campaigns, and the University of Miami (which hosted the events) — and she said both campaigns initially agreed to keep the audience comprised mostly of students, in keeping with the events’ education theme.

But after exhausting the few conservative groups on campus, the Romney camp realized there weren’t enough sympathetic students to fill the stands on their night — so they told the network and university that if they weren’t given an exemption to the students-only rule, they might have to “reschedule.”

The organizers relented. One Democrat with ties to the Obama campaign noted that Rudy Fernandez, the university official charged with coordinating the forums, is a member of Romney’s Hispanic steering committee. Fernandez did not respond to BuzzFeed’s questions about whether he gave preferential treatment to Romney’s campaign.

In any case, Romney’s team was allowed to bus in rowdy activists from around southern Florida in order to fill the extra seats at their town hall.

Obama’s campaign, meanwhile, stuck to the original parameters and allowed a large chunk of the tickets to be distributed to interested students on campus. The result was a quiet, well-behaved crowd — and a lot of no-shows. Minutes before Obama’s forum was to begin, producers began frantically directing university staff and volunteers to sit in the empty seats.

From a national campaign view, should we understand this as an example of the Romney campaign’s superior tactical skill, as showing Team Obama’s greater honesty, or both?

From a local perspective, I think Mr. Rudy Fernandez, or whoever else was in charge, should be willing to answer reasonable questions from the press about the logistics and whether the University was even-handed or not.

(And I guess I should have gone to see Obama even though Univision wouldn’t give me a press pass.)

Posted in 2012 Election, U.Miami | 1 Comment

Welcome to Fall

Fall starts today at 10:49 East Coast Time.

And it’s still really hot here.

Day – Overcast with a chance of a thunderstorm and a chance of rain, then thunderstorms in the afternoon. High of 88F. Winds from the ENE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%. Night – Overcast with thunderstorms and rain, then a chance of a thunderstorm and a chance of rain after midnight. Low of 77F. Winds from the ENE at 5 to 15 mph shifting to the West after midnight. Chance of rain 40%.

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Independent Voter Research Strikes Again! (Updated)

After leaving me alone for about a month,1 the robocall from Independent Voter Research struck again during dinner. Male voice, same script as before, except they asked about the Florida Senate race too. Candidates for both President and Senate were presented in alphabetical order by last name, so Obama was 1, Romney 2 but Mack was 1 and Nelson was 2.

I wonder if they will call again tomorrow?

Previously: The (866) 540-3140 Mystery (8/15/12) and “Independent Voter Research” Mystery Continues (9/12/12).


  1. Update (9/21): It seems family members read my blog. I’m told that Independent Voter Research didn’t leave me alone at all — they’ve just been calling when I’m out. []
Posted in 2012 Election | 6 Comments

Brass Tax

Willard Mitt Romney is quite convinced that the contents of a person’s tax returns are defining evidence of their character. He is equally insistent that he does not want anyone to see his own. It would be remiss to assume there is no connection between the two beliefs.

Daily Kos: Open thread for night owls: The Great Mittsby.

Although I agree that Romney’s elitism and apparent failure to understand basic statistics about the economy are fair game, it’s also the case that gaffe-fixation is a lousy way to run an election. The tax return question seems more substantive to me: Just what is Mitt Romney hiding? Why are the Romneys adamant that they will not release the traditional number of annual tax returns?

The three most plausible guesses I’ve heard so far are:

  • Romney did a stint as a 47%er — there’s a year in which he paid either almost no tax at all, or no income tax at all. Since he had years with no salary but large capital gains, this seems highly likely — but is it nearly embarrassing enough to take all this grief for non-disclosure?
  • Romney had some run-in with the IRS and had to pay back taxes for participation in some complex tax avoidance scheme even the IRS couldn’t stomach. Not an uncommon event for people who engage in high-stakes tax avoidance behavior, but it doesn’t look good — especially if it involved participation in a scandal with a name like Son of Boss.
  • In some year Romney’s residence for tax purposes differed from his residence for electoral purposes — highly embarrassing and probably illegal. Just heard this one recently, don’t know what to make of it.

Got any other good ones?

Posted in 2012 Election | 7 Comments

Anatomy of a Self-Deception

The second half of Brad DeLong’s The Republican Noise Machine and Mitt Romney: The Con Artist Conned is really excellent, so in tribute I’m going to do a DeLong and quote it well beyond the ordinary bounds of fair use:

Then Romney gives what he thinks is the ultimate argument for why the rich-envying Democratic base will not vote for him:

These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about “tax cuts for the rich”. That’s what they sell every four years.

Then Romney’s brain is supposed to say: “I cannot get the Democratic base to vote for me: they won’t. I need to focus on the swing voters”. It begins to pivot:

And so my job is not to worry about those people.

But it doesn’t succeed. When Romney’s brain hits the phrase “those people”, it goes off message. It switches tracks. It jumps from what it is supposed to say–“I can’t worry about getting their votes: I need to focus on the undecideds”–to what it actually, deep down, believes:

I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives.

Then Romney realizes what his brain has done, and wrestles it back onto the message track:

What I have to do is convince the 5% to 10% in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon, in some cases emotion–whether they like the guy or not. What it looks like. When you ask those people–we do all these polls. I find it amazing. We poll all these people to see where you stand in the polls…

What Mitt Romney has just said is that 47% of Americans pay no taxes, subsist off of government benefits, take no responsibility for their lives, are moochers, and make up a solid Democratic Party base. He has just said that he cannot worry about them for two reasons: (i) they will never vote for him, and (i) they will never straighten up and fly right.

Now Romney was never supposed to say or think this.

Romney was–along with those at the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere who made up the “lucky duckies” meme–supposed to know that it was not true. It was supposed to be what the writers at the WSJ call “boob bait for the bubbas”: misinformation that has two purposes: (i) to get some low-information voters to open their wallets to Republican candidates; and (ii) to confuse others, so that they will vote for Republican politicians who will cut programs they rely on for their place in the middle-class, and use the money to fund more tax cuts for the rich.

We know this because of the care with which the 47% talking point was constructed:

Last year 47% of tax units paid no net federal income taxes.

Low-information voters are supposed to hear this and process it as “47% pay no taxes” and conclude “they–not me–are moochers!”

Republican operatives and candidates are supposed to know that almost every word in “last year 47% of tax units paid no net federal income taxes” is necessary for the deception. “Last year” because right now the share of taxpayers is far below normal because of the lesser depression–and that is a good thing. “Tax units” because we are talking not about a share of Americans but rather of pieces of paper flowing through the IRS. “Federal” because lots of people pay state and local taxes. “Income” because lots of people pay payroll taxes. “Net” because for historical reasons we channel our Child and Earned Income Tax Credits–programs loved by, among others, Ronald Reagan–through the IRS rather than through HHS.

Omit any of those words, and the 47% figure becomes a lie.

And in the form that it was intended to be received–as “47% pay no taxes, the moochers!” it is a lie.

Of the 47%, 7% points are there because of the Lesser Depression. Of the remaining 40% points, 6% points are non-elderly with incomes under $20,000/year–people who are not supposed to be paying income taxes. Of the remaining 34% points, 8% are elderly–people who are also simply not supposed to be paying income taxes at all. Of the remaining 26% points, 24% points are workers paying payroll and other taxes who are receiving the CTC and the EITC, and hence not owing “net taxes” to the IRS. That leaves 2% points.

Romney’s claim that the Republican message of income tax cuts focused on the rich does not resonate for these 47% seems to me to be largely wrong.

But Romney’s claim that these 47% are “moochers” who will never have personal responsibility or care for their lives is simply insane.

So how did Romney come to think that:

  • The Democratic base is 47%.
  • These 47% are the same 47% who don’t pay taxes.
  • These 47% will never have a sense of personal responsibility.
  • These 47% will never care for their lives.

?

I am thinking that there were lots and lots of conversations over the years about “those people”, and how they do not care about their lives, and about how they have no sense of personal responsibility, and about how they envy the rich. I am thinking of right-wing science fiction novels that preach about how by the middle of the 21st century the United States was divided into “citizens” and “taxpayers”–with the unproductive, lazy, uneducated masses of the first penned into their ghettoes and living off of the second. I am thinking that, as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it: we are all welfare queens now. I am thinking that Romney and his speechwriters have spent much, much, much too much time at the American Enterprise Institute where, the General Theory of Moocherhood, as Mark Schmitt puts it, is being developed.

As Mark Schmitt writes, Arthur Brooks and Nicholas Eberstadt of the AEI paint a fake picture in which:

receipt of benefits makes people “dependents,” that people are becoming “chiselers,” choosing to maximize benefits, that the expansion of entitlements was a political effort by the left that slowly overcame “resistance” from real Americans…

while in fact:

people who receive benefits are no more or less “dependent” than corporations that get tax breaks or legal protections, that the expanding costs of major entitlements are about rising health care costs and, to a lesser extent, the demographics of an aging nation rather than more people becoming “takers,” and that the expansion of some benefits to the lower rungs of the middle class was a bipartisan project in which conservatives should take pride…

We are, overwhelmingly, both contributors to and drawers on the national treasure–that is what it is to be a citizen.

There should have been people to deprogram Mitt Romney when he began to fall victim to this AEI cult. Wall Street Journal editorialists should have warned him not to confuse the “prolefeed” they distribute with the way the world actually works. Economic advisors like Eddie Lazear ought to have straightened him out about the state of the labor market, while Harvey Rosen and Greg Mankiw ought to have convinced him that you would not expect Social Security recipients to pay income taxes. Somebody should have told Mitt Romney that roughly half of those who are currently paying no income taxes will vote for him in November.

Does Romney spend so little time talking to real policy advisors that these issues never came up?

Does Romney suffer from CEO disease to such an extent that pointing out that he believes something that is not true is such a career-limiting view that nobody dares do it?

Whatever: in this case one of the con artists has managed to get himself conned.

Still, this has made me unhappy. This episode has raised the chances of an Obama administration, and that is good. But this episode has also greatly lowered my expectations of what a Romney administration would be like, and we still might well have a Romney administration.

So it is more important than ever to work very hard to make sure that we do not.

Posted in 2012 Election, 99% | 1 Comment

Our Neighbors Are Hungry

Thomas Edsall reminds us of the strangely hidden state of food security in the wealthiest country in the world:

Hunger has grown sharply since the financial collapse of 2008, although it is felt acutely by a relatively small percentage of the population. In 2007, 12.2 percent of Americans experienced what the Department of Agriculture describes as “low food security,” including 4 percent who fell into the category of very low food security. By 2011, the percentage of those coping with low food security rose to 16.4 percent, and those experiencing very low food security went up to 5.5 percent.

The U.S.D.A. defines “low food security” as a lack of access “at all times to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life.” It defines “very low food security” as individuals going without or with very little food “at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.”

Looked at through the calculus of contemporary partisan politics, the U.S.D.A. data demonstrates that in 2011 low food security was a problem for just under one in eight whites — a matter of concern but for many white voters, a virtually invisible issue. Very low food security affects the lives of only one in 24 whites.For African Americans, low food security is a problem affecting one in four, and one in ten experience very low food security. The percentage of Hispanics who experience low food security is higher than the percentage of blacks, although the percentage of Hispanics suffering very low food security is slightly lower.

Cf. Susie Madrak, Why Can’t Democrats Talk About Poverty? for more on this.

Posted in Econ & Money | Leave a comment