Monday, May 7, 2012

Romney and the Crazy

I'm not sure which is worse: the idea that we're all supposed to care whether or not Mitt Romney adequately knocks down the crazy every time it's thrust in his face...or the fact that the crazy is constantly thrust in his face (and that he and other Republican leaders encourage it).

As you may have heard, the latest is that at a Romney rally today someone mentioned (sort of as an aside, in response apparently to someone else shouting it out) that Barack Obama should be tried for treason, and Romney responded by entirely ignoring it.

I think Greg gets it about right in the post I linked to there. Both parties are going to do this sort of "gotcha" game in response to stupid things their supporters say. Given the current state of things, Republicans are saying more stupid things, just as they did in 2008. The gotcha game is silly, and "winning" a news cycle over it is probably a complete waste of time. But at the same time, yeah, this stuff doesn't come out of nowhere -- and Republican party elites who foster it, encourage it, and tolerate it do deserve to be called out.

And meanwhile, what Romney did say in answering the question was just about as goofy as what he didn't say. The question was about Obama supposedly not governing within the Constitution, and Romney, in answering that, made sure to say that in his view the Constitution and the Declaration were "not just brilliant, but probably inspired." Which is standard rhetoric these days within the GOP -- it used to be good enough to just emphasize the Declaration (because it specifically invokes God), but now one has to pretend to believe that the United States is all special and all (that is, "exceptional") because God wanted it that way. You know -- in the old days, we would call that a "dog whistle" and move on, but I watched an awful lot of GOP debates this year, and the truth is that the presidential nomination was about 90% dog whistle and 10% substance. And that's probably a generous reading.

So the gotcha stuff is junk politics; no one cares, or should care, whether Romney is quick on his feet in denouncing slurs that his supporters make. But pointing that the Republican Party actively encourages the crazy, and that Romney's campaign rhetoric is often thinly translated versions of the crazy, whether it's the "apology tour" or, as Greg points out, the loony claim that "Obama favors government enforced 'equal outcomes' and wants to ensure that everyone in American society reaps the 'same rewards'?" Yes, the press should be doing pointing that out.

After all, if everything that Mitt Romney, Republican Members of Congress, and the other Republican presidential candidates say about Barack Obama was true, then Obama should be tried for treason. It's that kind of rhetoric that's the problem, not Romney's immediate response to what someone says at a rally.


  1. I disagree. I think there's a basic decency threshold that isn't cleared if the candidate clearly hears the slur, responds to the comment and fails to call out the bigotry or defamation. If it were done once or twice, hotheads would restrain themselves more.

  2. How hard can it be to rebuke a supporter who says something crazy? McCain did it in 2008 to the woman who said "He's an Arab." His response wasn't perfect (he said "He's a decent family man" as if that were in contradiction to being an Arab), but at least it was a response. If Romney were in the same situation, does anyone seriously believe he'd say a word against the person's statement? Most likely he'd just launch into boilerplate about how Obama is wrecking the economy and so forth, without giving the slightest hint that he disagrees with a thing the person said.

    Sorry, I'm not buying it. There is nothing difficult about distancing oneself from a nutty supporter except that Romney knows a lot of his supporters hold this nutty view, and he lives in fear of them--unlike John McCain, who had some point where he drew the line.

  3. How do you think Obama would respond to a questioner who called for Romney to be arrested (for tax evasion, let's say)?

    1. purusha -

      First off, you're changing the subject, and second you're groping for false equivalence. Pretty compact, stuffing two logical errors into so few words.

      The points are 1) this type of insanity comes exclusively from the right, and 2) that Republican pols and especially influential talkers actively encourage it.

      Without 2), 1) wouldn't amount to much.


    2. My point was that I think that Obama would have had the courage, as well as the independence from the crazy wing of his party --- both of which Romney lacks --- to explicitly dismiss craziness on the part of the questioner.

  4. Oh joy, 6 more moths of this stuff. I do have to say that the streak of craziness in the conservative movement is actually quite important to understanding conservatism in general. For example, before he became a super lobbyist Jack Abramoff tried to prove the Nuclear Freeze movement was a Soviet front. People really do believe some of this crazy stuff. I remember one GOP activist told me in McLeod County Minnesota-I was volunteering on the 2010 recount for the Governor's race-that the UN was trying to take over Glencoe Minnesota via new zoning restrictions. She really believed that, but reassured me that the city council passed an ordnance to stop said UN power grab. Rick Perlstein has written some great stuff on what you might call the "nut factor" comparing tea party antics to stuff in the 50's and 60's. I know there are crazy people over on the Dem side with me, but if someone stood at a event with say Joe Biden or Chuck Schummer and started yammering on about how 9/11 was an inside job, or any other such silliness, Joe or Chuck would probably tell them to shut up. Probably in those word.

  5. One question that interests me, although I have no idea who would be in a position to create an unbiased answer: Is there any reason to think the Democrats pursue policies that are any less constitutional than the Republicans?

    1. In my own unbiased view, Constitution-worship is based on the fallacy that the Constitution has some intrinsic or immanent meaning, whether put there by God or the Founders or the Spirit of the Ages or whatever. The Constitution expresses a broad political philosophy (republicanism, representation, coordinated powers, etc.), but basically it creates mechanisms, not specific policies, and the mechanisms include institutions that make and administer policies and settle disputes. Whatever those mechanisms produce -- whatever ultimately results from all the debates, campaigns, elections, statutes, resolutions, agency actions, appointments, lawsuits, and court rulings put together -- is by definition "constitutional," because it's a product of the Constitution's mechanisms. There's no point outside the totality of the institutions that the Constitution creates from which you can point to something and say it's unconstitutional.

      So no, neither party's policy preferences are more constitutional than the others. The only way that could be true, I would think, is if tehre was a party that actually called for abolishing the Constitution -- but even that group would be acting "constitutionally" if it competed for power within the current mechanisms.

    2. Pete Stark has stated that the federal government can do most anything it wants to. When asked whether there might be constitutional limits on the ACA, Pelosi (who said that we'd have to pass the bill to learn what's in it) responded "are you serious?" And liberal legal scholars claim that there are no real limits on congress. Many democrats simply don't see the plain-English enumerated powers stuff.

  6. The craziest force in politics is the Obama-lauded, Obama-voting Occupy movement. Mile-long rap sheet. So drenched in human waste, some referred to it as 'Occupy Bowel Street.' Endless screaming about evils of capitalism, exhortations to nationalize any- and everything. For some reason, liberals don't consider this large group of malcontents and useless people to be part of the liberal crazy. It is... and it's not that different from the liberal intellectuals who say 'Gini' every other sentence.

    1. Yeah, but the lefty fringe generally doesn't line up dutifully and vote Democratic. Instead you're more likely to hear them say that Dems are corporate sellouts, different from Republicans mainly in being more hypocritical about it. Certainly, the Occupy folks are not Dem party activists; but note that the nutball whom longwalk met fretting over UN takeovers of small towns in Minnesota was a GOP activist active in party politics. The right fringe is inside its party; the left is outside.


      Standard liberals are real fans of Occupy. Obama is campaigning on Occupy's principal issue: inequality. Liberal darlings like Elizabeth Warren glue themselves to the movement:

      I don't see much separation.

    3. There are two different issues here, backyard. One is whether "liberal darlings" endorse some version of the Occupy movement. Sure, they express general philosophical agreement with the protest it represents against growing inequality. Obama, being president (and not very "left" at all by the standards of most leftists), is the most tepid; in the article you link to, his spokesman just says, "I would simply say that, to the extent that people are frustrated with the economic situation, we understand." From there it's just standard talking points about the agenda the administration was already pursuing before Occupy ever materialized.

      But Occupy, as a movement, did not officially call for nationalizing everything or denounce capitalism as evil. That was one of its early tactical successes: It kept the people who inevitably show up at any leftist rally saying such things from becoming its public face. I imagine the people who emerged as its leaders and organizers were aware of long experience that has taught that protest movements are in danger if they become defined by their angriest or most extreme elements. The Civil Rights movement succeeded by being associated with Martin Luther King and calls to end obvious injustice; there were individuals at Civil Rights marches who turned up later wearing bandoliers and talking about "killing Whitey," but they didn't define the movement and were not its bridge to mainstream politicians. Hence the Civil Rights movement gave those politicians something they could safely and sympathetically endorse.

      Turning all that around, there were undoubtedly some people at the Occupy encampments who do or will vote Democratic. But those probably weren't the ones screaming to end capitalism. People of that sort, if they vote at all, cast protest votes for Nader or the Greens. But mostly they feel that neither party represents them. That's why they go for "direct action" like taking over parks: because they haven't taken over a political party, and do not feel they have a real political vehicle.

      Again, I note that by contrast, longwalk tells of meeting a UN conspiracy theorist who was active in GOP politics. In '08, McCain encountered the woman who called Obama an "Arab" (see Kylopod's post above) because she was at one of his rallies -- NOT off somewhere occupying a park, but sitting in the thick of a GOP presidential campaign. That's not to say that all Republican voters are as clueless as those two. It is to say that the GOP has managed to bring more of its nuts inside the party tent. As opposed to being off in Zucotti Park living in tents.


      I think the nuts are in the tent; they are the explicitly racist CBC and AA voters in general who tend to support things like reparations.

      Sheila Jackson Lee's mind is gone. Watching her grill cabinet members, etc. is agony. She doesn't know the most basic relevant facts about her job. Cynthia McKinney was a rage addict in Congress... as a democrat. Andre Carson and John Lewis lied about Tea Party members and the N-word over and over to incite racial hatred for a little political gain. The psychotic Farrakhan regularly shares the stage with CBC members.

      The only way to believe that (R)s are more crazy prone than (D)s is to excise the CBC, et al. You can't, because they are the bedrock of your party.

      And avowed socialist Bernie Sanders doesn't even have the highest liberal rating according to National Journal. The Occupy movement has plenty of representation in Congress.

    5. Jeff,

      If you want a more realistic view of Occupy, you can google "zombie pjmedia occupy" to see how awful these clowns are, how closely tied to Democrats they are, and what other nutty organizations are in solidarity with them. You're getting a screwy image because only right-wingers and libertarians have any interest in making this look like what it is.

      Funny example:

    6. The projection is palpable.

    7. I'm always open to further information, even if it comes from Freedomworks or Pajamas Media. But look, at the risk of going around in circles, this whole thread is a response to a post about Romney's (characteristic lack of) views on whether the incumbent president should be charged with treason. As our host, in commenting on this, aptly put it:

      But pointing that the Republican Party actively encourages the crazy, and that Romney's campaign rhetoric is often thinly translated versions of the crazy, whether it's the "apology tour" or, as Greg points out, the loony claim that "Obama favors government enforced 'equal outcomes' and wants to ensure that everyone in American society reaps the 'same rewards'?" Yes, the press should be doing pointing that out.

      True, there are some whacked-out Dems here and there, including a few in the House, but they're not the party leadership and have no apparent influence on its presidential candidates. Dem candidates are not going around "dog-whistling" to Cynthia McKinney's fellow conspiracy theorists. The same cannot be said on the other side. This is a point that's been made so often, with such copious documentation, that I'm starting to wonder if there's much point in continuing to say it; those who don't want to see it at this point presumably never will.

    8. Jeff,

      What positions encompass leadership and (because primaries make every party nuttier) how many years are we including?

    9. The leadership includes the people pictured here:

      I would leave out the ceremonial Senate leaders, i.e. the veep and the president pro tem, but would also include the chairs of each party's Congressional (i.e. House) and Senatorial Campaign Committees. I would also include prominent committee chairs and "ranking members" or other influential members. These would include those whose endorsements are sought by others in the party -- for example, for the current Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Jim DeMint -- and/or who appear frequently on TV as party spokesmen, i.e. saying things that by and large their party colleagues want them saying (e.g. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz). Included in that same group, generally, are the members most influential in actual legislating, i.e. the ones who craft bills that actually have a chance at passing (or that the minority is prepared to vote for en bloc in order to make a point). So, for instance, Sen. Max Baucus, who took a leading a role in crafting the Affordable Care Act.

      Outside Congress, party leadership includes the national party chairmen and the parties' presidential and vice-presidential nominees. There are also a few "kingmakers" who are thought to speak for large factions or constituencies within the party. Sarah Palin was one of these, at least potentially, and I believe qualified as a party leader at least up until she declared she wasn't running for president in '12. Whether she remains one from here on probably depends on events, like the outcome of this year's election.

      Perhaps JB could chime in if he sees this on how he would define party leaders and/or how political scientists in general do. IIRC, this is right in his area of professional expertise.

    10. Actually more interested in the other issue, so I'm going to rudely ignore the "party leaders" question and talk about Cynthia McKinney.

      McKinney in my view is in fact an excellent comp for, say, Michele Bachmann -- McKinney totally brings the left-wing version of the crazy. And for that, she's been basically kicked out of the party. She draws heavily-backed primary opponents any time she runs for office, and as far as I know virtually everyone around (Democrats, that is) has either explicitly condemned things she's done or at least won't have anything to do with her.

      Michele Bachmann is not treated that way.

      McKinney is, I believe, really the only Democrat in Congress over the last twenty years or so to really bring the crazy. Bachmann is one of...I don't know. Half a dozen? Dozens? You do have to be careful about these things -- "the crazy" is not, IMO, about issue positions or general ideological stance. Nor is it about general ignorance, laziness, or any of the other things that we've always had plenty of on the Hill. The crazy is about saying numerous things that not only are not true, but are conspiracy theories or the like.

      And there's just no question about it. There are far more of these in elected or other leadership positions on the Republican side, and they are tolerated in a way that they are not on the Dem side.

    11. By the way, I'd say a claim that Democratic Members of Congress or any subset of them "tend to support things like reparations" is a good example of the crazy. The Dems ran the House for four years (and have run the Senate for six). Where are the bills? Where are the hearings? Where's the platform plank? Where is the issue on Member web sites, in campaign ads...anywhere?

      If Dem Members actually did support reparations, I wouldn't consider that, in itself, evidence of craziness among liberals, just as I don't consider plenty of issue positions among conservatives evidence of the crazy on that side. But a belief that Democrats are plotting to implement something which they plainly have no interest in (and not just that -- gun confiscation, nutty UN takeover stuff, our old friend the Fairness Doctrine, Islamic law, etc. etc. etc.)...yes, that in fact is evidence of the crazy.

    12. Jonathan Bernstein,

      "McKinney is, I believe, really the only Democrat in Congress over the last twenty years or so to really bring the crazy."

      Andre Carson gave us this:

      This provocative language follows his "n-word" lies from the Obamacare signing days. He dragged John Lewis and Emanuelle Cleaver into the same BS story, getting them to claim hearing something that no white person or Asian has been able to hear or see any evidence of whether there on that day or viewing the many videos.

      Do you consider the hanging-tree language about the Tea Party or obvious lying about the n-word to be crazy... or something else? Is there a Tea-Party Derangement Syndrome among some Democrats in Congress?

  7. Agree 1000%, JB.
    This game of "you have to correct the crazy on your side" is just plain silly.
    AND the underlying point of "stop encouraging the crazy!" is a valid and important point.

  8. I am pretty sure I remember reading that it's part of Mormon doctrine to believe that the founding documents were inspired. Not sure how the Articles of Confederation did or didn't fit into that.

  9. I think that the idiocy on the right will get so nuts that Romney will eventually have to disavow it, much like McCain did, in order to not look completely stupid to independents. This, of course, will not hurt him with the racists and professional conspiracy-mongers on the right. The question then becomes: how crazy is too crazy for Romney?

  10. I was going to leave this one alone, but for some reason I was reminded of Jason Zengele's recent Barney Frank profile, in which (IIRC) Frank noted that liberals sometimes get into Kumbaya-mode imagining progressive revolutions, which feels really good, though the actual process by which said changes occur usually entails miserable work.

    Frank's insight probably explains why all of us are deeply partisan, even as we protest otherwise. We come to conclusions that we claim are objective (e.g. the "other" wing is crazy) and convince ourselves that the little rush of emotional happiness associated with said partisan thoughts are not at all influencing our rational judgment.

    Earlier, Jeff said that "whacked-out Dems...have no apparent influence on (Dem) Presidential candidates". Because my little happy feelings don't come from the same place as Jeff's, I instantly thought: Van Jones. In fact, the whole Truther movement is a) mostly liberal and b) a special kind of nutty, to the extent that those lunatics took a perfectly reasonable, affirmative poll reply ("Do you think the Bush Admin had enough info to stop 9/11?") and transmogrified it into something ghastly.

    I suppose to liberals the Truthers don't count here, for whatever reason is the overlay placed on top of the unpleasantness associated with recalling them. My second thought was a different kind of nutty: we all realize that the overwhelming lingering crisis in Obama's first term is the crisis of quality jobs.

    Many of us may not realize that a significant contributor to this crisis is the fact that, where labor is concerned, MNCs don't age well; its hard to rehire employees or suppliers once they've been canned. Trust me on this: if that isn't intuitive, it isn't hard to demonstrate - the back of one envelope and three income statements is easily enough to do the trick.

    So even if President Obama didn't intuitively grasp this jobs drag arising from aging conglomerates, he is certainly surrounded by enough intelligent folks to illustrate the point for him. In spite of this, his vaunted (and obviously useless) Presidential Council on Jobs and Competitiveness was chaired by GE CEO Jeff Immelt, which really is putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

    Again, the liberal excuses write themselves: Obama trying to look businessy...Obama's hand forced by the reactionary right...Councils are for show and meaningless anyway...etc etc etc.

    Whatever makes you feel good, I guess. Really, though, Immelt as chair of that council is not even in the same nutty ballpark as the GOP staffer longwalk met. That GOP staffer is low-minor-league nutty. Given the backdrop of the jobs crisis, Immelt chairing that committee is Hall of Fame wolf-faced crazy.

    1. CSH, I don't know too many rank-and-file Democrats who would disagree with you about Immelt. Certainly the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," as Howard Dean called it, has been sharply critical of Obama -- and establishment Dems in general -- for their coziness with finance and big business. They agree that this is putting foxes in chicken coops.

      Using more recent terminology, the basic left critique of American politics is that there are two major parties, one of which openly advocates for the interests of the 1%, and the other of which would like to help out the 99% but only as long as it's OK with the 1%. Obama has seemed all along like an almost perfect embodiment of the latter tendency.

    2. I didn't mention this at the time, but I thought the bit about the pain of change, from Barney Frank, was really inspired. As an aside, I'm gonna miss that guy...he does wrap himself in a bit of shame where the financial crisis is concerned (i.e. calling the meltdown an example of "tail risk" - as if the implosion of collections of mortgages that were all crap was a one-in-a-million event).

      Nevertheless, his point about anything worthwhile probably hurting is a great warning for our age. It is way too easy, for all of us, to hear the memes we like, usually framed in the context of the other guy sucking, which has a certain addictive appeal, but as Frank noted, amounts to nothing.

      In the interest of being sporting, here's a clip of John Boehner interviewed by Maria Bartiromo that aired yesterday. After Boehner started with the dog-whistle of deficit catastrophe, Bartiromo asks him about specific cuts. At 1:40 Boehner responds.

      You really should watch for yourself...Boehner has two targets: Solyndra and GSA conferences. He looks really pissed. No doubt that stuff is grist for the mill for the predominantly Republican audience of Bartiromo.

      And as this audience obviously knows, its total and utter horseshit in response to the issue of runaway government spending.

      Once more to Barney Frank: that horseshit predictably feels really good to whichever large constituency is its target audience. Which is why our public discourse sucks. (And, fwiw, why I futilely advocate for self-policing, which is just screaming into the wind).


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