Obama’s Attack On Romney Enters Phase II

As a few rather clever journalists (Jonathan Chait and Greg Sargent come immediately to mind) have long foretold, the President’s reelection campaign has begun “Phase II” of its anti-Romney strategy.

Phase I was to highlight Romney’s politically problematic career at Bain, as well as his opaque finances and tax filings. The goal: Lodge in undecided voters’ minds a portrayal of Romney as hyper-wealthy, detached, and consummately self-interested. Above all else, Chicago hoped low-information voters would see in Romney an unreflective beneficiary of a system whose inequities and hypocrisies would only worsen under his stewardship.

To sum it up by repurposing one of Reagan’s most celebrated lines, Romney’s not the solution — he’s the problem.

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Mean Girls

Cheney:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said it was “a mistake” for Arizona Senator John McCain to pick Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate in 2008. […]

Palin was “an attractive candidate” but the fact that she’d served as Alaska governor for less than two years raised questions about her “being ready to take over” as president, Cheney said.

“I think that was a mistake,” he said.

McCain:

“I’m always glad to get comments four years later,” McCain told Fox News, laughing. “Look, I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.”

As to which one is Cady and which one is Regina, that’s your call.

Mitt Romney, Celery, And A Whole Bunch Of Monkeys

Before turning to the issues of the day, I’d like to highlight this — my favorite study ever:

Researchers studying brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) have found that the highly social, cooperative species native to South America show a sense of fairness, the first time such behavior has been documented in a species other than humans. […]

The new finding suggests evolution may have something to do with it. It also highlights questions about the economic and evolutionary nature of cooperation and its relationship to a species’ sense of fairness, while adding yet another chapter to our understanding of primates.

To test whether or not such behavior is found in other species, [lead author] Brosnan designed an experiment for brown capuchin monkeys, a species well-known for strong social bonds and relatively cooperative behavior, particularly in shared food-gathering activities like hunting squirrels and locating fruit trees.

Individuals were drawn from two large, well-established social groups of captive brown capuchins from colonies at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and paired with a partner. Pairs were placed next to each other and trained to exchange with human handlers a small granite rock within 60 seconds to receive a reward, in most cases, a piece of cucumber. […]

Partners of capuchins who made the swap either received the same reward (a cucumber slice), or a better reward (a grape, a more desirable food), for the same amount of work or, in some cases, for performing no work at all.

Brosnan said the response to the unequal treatment was astonishing: Capuchins who witnessed unfair treatment and failed to benefit from it often refused to conduct future exchanges with human researchers, would not eat the cucumbers they received for their labors, and in some cases, hurled food rewards at human researchers.

Those actions were significant. They confirmed that not only did capuchins expect fair treatment, but that the human desire for equity has an evolutionary basis.

It’s just one paper, and confirmation bias is no doubt to blame for my fondness for it. But I’d guess that most of us — even conservatives — would find the results intuitive, if not quite expected. Fairness looms large in our species’ ethical framework. How many children are first introduced to the ineradicable savagery of existence with that awful phrase, Life Isn’t Fair? And as this study indicates, unfairness doesn’t just bother us; inequity really, really pisses us off.

Now let’s look at two news stories that are getting a lot of attention. One’s been in the news for weeks now, the other is brand new. The old’un is the rightwing outrage sprung from the President’s now-infamous “You didn’t build that” harangue; the new’un is Romney’s comments yesterday in Israel, during which he not-so-subtly implied that Palestinians — not a nearly half-century-long occupation and sundry economic sanctions — are to blame for the Palestinian Authority’s lowly economic station. In both cases, the subtextual debate is about whether Life is Fair.

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How To Give A Damn About Climate Change

When it comes to the politics of climate change, there’s one question I’ve never been able to answer satisfactorily: Where’s the outrage?

It’s not entirely missing. I remember the Keystone Pipeline protests, the largest act of civil disobedience at the White House since Vietnam. But, impressive a display as it was, the Keystone protests were dwarfed by Occupy; and worse still the pipeline’s proponents may yet win the war.

My point is not to criticize those who’ve worked to force our political system to seriously address the climate crisis — far from it, in fact. I don’t blame them for the public’s indifference. It’s not their fault; it’s mine. Or at least people like me. I know my bit about climate change, but I confess that I approach the subject in much the same way I would a doctor’s physical or a plate of steamed cabbage. I do it so I can say I’ve done it. It’s passionless. A weak foundation for effective action, to say the least.

Obviously, I’m not the only person who feels this way. So I hope a new paper by two University of Oregon professors “Climate Change and Moral Judgment,” which I found via Dave Roberts of Grist, gets some attention. The paper’s an examination of just why it is that folks like me (and those who are even less inspired) struggle to care about climate change in a personal way. According to the authors, the reasons are multiple (screen grab courtesy of Roberts):

Nature climate moral judgment1

If you want more, you can either fork over $32 to buy the article or you can be cheap like me and read Roberts’ great synopsis instead. But do try to give this one a go, even if you’re the kind whose eyes glaze over once the charts and graphs start a-flying. As Roberts concludes, “Climate change is not only the economic and ecological crisis of our time, it’s also a moral crisis. What we are doing to our descendants is a moral crime. Finding ways to help people get that, feel it in their guts the way they would if someone threatened their own families, is a precondition for serious, sustained action.”

 

Update: In the comments, the estimable Sir Nose’D shares a free and easy way to read the article.

Everything You Hate About Political Journalism In One Post

This post, from The Washington Post‘s “The Fix” blog, is nearly laudable for its complete and utter disregard for any traditional understanding of what it means to be a journalist. Blake’s writing about the aforementioned “It worked” lie, and in the process of writing 300 or so words of nothing, journo Aaron Blake distills everything contemptible about vacuous horse race coverage into one radioactive post:

There’s a lot of controversy these days about campaign tactics and what crosses the line. Obama’s team has been crying foul for two weeks now that “You didn’t build that” has been taken badly out of context by Republicans.

The problem is, the gray area is just too gray. Fact-checkers are great (especially our Glenn Kessler), but as long as either side has an argument to justify its attacks, the history of politics dictates that it’s all fair game.

Romney’s team is exploiting that fact — to the credit of its political acumen, if not its strict adherence to accuracy.

OK. Right off the bat we have the frivolous “the game inside the game” version of analysis that is the raison d’etre of “The Fix” and, just by the way, the reason I feel slightly unclean every time I end up there. What Blake’s doing here is professionalizing, intellectualizing, romanticizing, what have you, a “tactic” being implemented by Team Romney that most rational people would describe rather simply: lying. There’s nothing special about it, and recognizing its being done does not make you some kind of savvy insider. It’s lying; it’s been around since Krog first ran against Urk for the Presidency of Cave 193.

So not only is Blake engaging in vacuous, post-modern wankery — he’s doing so in service of what’s a rather ho-hum development.

It gets worse.

Things really go off the rails once Blake attempts to parse a new Republican ad, one that takes the President’s “It worked” wildly and predictably out-of-context. Now even though most observers sympathetic to the President found the whole “You didn’t build that” kerfuffle to rest on a patent distortion, I think that at my most charitable I could imagine someone honestly thinking Obama more or less said what Republicans claimed. But “It worked” is another story. He’s clearly talking about tax policy — specifically raising taxes to Clinton-era rates on the top 2% of earners — and no amount of pretzel logic or sophistry can even half-convincgly turn “It worked” into an endorsement of the economic status quo. Lucky for Obama’s antagonists, then, that they’ve Blake around to bullshit for them:

If you’re a Democrat, Romney’s [“It worked”] ad will look wildly out of context and irresponsible.

But if you’re a Republican, you can make a credible case that the ad is completely justified.

It goes like this: Obama was contrasting two different tax policies — one being the Republican policy, and the other being the Democrats’ policy. Obama was talking about how the Democrats’ policy is better. But Democrats have been in the White House for four years now, and things are still bad. So obviously Democrats’ policies — on taxes or otherwise — aren’t that great.

If you’re predisposed against Romney, that sort of justification will seem ludicrous and make your skin crawl. But it paints just enough of a gray area over the whole matter to justify the attack.

In case your brain started hemorrhaging around “things are still bad,” here’s what Blake — despite his “if you’re a Republican” sock-puppetry — is arguing: Obama wants to return to Clinton’s tax program. Clinton, like Obama, is a Democrat. Obama has been President during a time of economic distress. Therefore, it is “credible” and “completely justified” to argue that all Democratic policies, even the ones that are not in effectare responsible for the present crisis. The Civil Rights Act? Social Security? S-CHIP? The Camp David Accords? They’re all utterly discredited because the unemployment rate is above 8 percent. Or something.

I guess if you’re writing something this bad, you better finish strong (i.e., terribly); so Blake wraps things up with a weirdly condescending finish, one that leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Blake thinks himself some clear-eyed teller of hard truths:

Romney may be attacked in the days ahead for running an out-of-context campaign, and some objective reporters might even say it has gone too far.

But the fact is that these two comments further clarify a picture (or caricature, depending on where you stand) of Obama that’s already out there. And plenty of — nay, almost all — people who don’t dissect this stuff as much as we do are going to take the pulled quotes at face value.

Is it warm and fuzzy? No. Does it work? Yes. And that’s why they do it.

Let’s not even bother untangling whether his claim that these ads “work” is true. It strikes me as profoundly in need of further definition — what does “it work” even mean in this context? That Romney will win the Presidency because voters heard Obama say a silly thing? — but that would require a degree of thought on our part that Blake clearly didn’t expend for himself. Instead, let’s just thank Yahweh that the only people who take this kind of crap seriously are likely small in number and certainly well beyond saving.