Mr. Kristof says “It Takes One to Know One,” and that extremism in opinions is one thing, but the Republican Party is becoming extremist in its facts. Ms. Collins looks at “Mitt’s Snake-Bit Season” and has a question: Could it get any worse for Mitt Romney and the Republicans? Just when you think not, it does! Here’s Mr. Kristof:
As I watched a video of Mitt Romney scolding moochers suffering from a culture of dependency, I thought of American soldiers I’ve met in Afghanistan and Iraq. They don’t pay federal income tax while they’re in combat zones, and they rely on government benefits when they come back.
Even if they return unscathed, most will never pay lofty sums in federal income taxes. No, all they offer our nation is their lives, while receiving government benefits — such as a $100,000 “death gratuity” to their wives or husbands when killed.
Maybe I’m being unfair, for I’m sure that when Romney complained in that video about freeloaders, he didn’t mean soldiers. But the 47 percent (more accurately, 46 percent) of American families whom he scorned because they don’t pay federal income taxes includes many other modestly paid workers or retirees who have contributed far more meaningfully to America than some who can shell out $50,000 to attend a fund-raiser like the one where Romney spoke in May.
What about the underpaid kindergarten teacher in an inner-city school? What about young police officers and firefighters? What about social workers struggling to help abused children?
One lesson is the narcissism of many in today’s affluent class. They manage to feel victimized by the tax code — even as they sometimes enjoy a lower rate than their secretaries and ride corporate jets acquired with the help of tax loopholes.
While self-pitying Republicans focus on federal income taxes (mostly paid by the rich), what’s more relevant is the overall tax bill — including state, local and federal taxes of all kinds. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the majority of American families pay more than one-quarter of incomes in total taxes — and that may be more than Romney pays.
Romney is a smart man and, his friends say, a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, so what possessed him to say these things? There’s an underlying truth there — we do have a problem with entitlements and with freeloaders — and he inflated it beyond recognition. Perhaps he has passed so much time in a Republican primary bubble, hearing moans about the parasitic 47 percent, that he didn’t appreciate how obtuse and arrogant such comments appear.
The furor also reflects the central political reality today: the Republican Party has moved far, far to the right so that, on some issues, it veers into extremist territory.
Jeb Bush noted earlier this year that even conservative icons like President Ronald Reagan wouldn’t fit easily into today’s Republican Party. President Richard Nixon, who founded the Environmental Protection Agency, would be a lefty. This year, Republican primary voters have been further purging the party of centrist remnants, like Senator Richard Lugar, a foreign policy heavyweight who deserves America’s thanks for helping make us safer from loose nukes.
When I was growing up in Oregon, it was Democrats who were typically the crazies. Gov. George Wallace (“segregation forever”) tapped into populist resentments in his presidential campaigns. Lyndon Larouche was a cult leader seeking the Democratic nomination.
Oregon’s senators then were Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, both Republicans of a kind that barely exist today. Hatfield was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War, and Packwood supported abortion rights. Oregon’s governor at the time, Tom McCall, was a Republican and a leading environmentalist.
I called up Packwood and asked him if he and Hatfield would be Republicans if they were starting over. “We both wondered about that,” he said.
Packwood noted that the Republican Party once attracted union support, black support, urban and bicoastal support. “Historically, the Republicans have been geniuses at throwing away advantages,” he said.
The Republican shift shows up in polling. In the 1960s, more than two-thirds of Democrats and Republicans alike expressed trust in government. That has fallen to about one-third for Democrats — and to just 5 percent for Republicans.
For me, the saddest polls are those about facts. A Dartmouth poll this year found that Republicans believe, by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, that “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.”
The same poll found that Republicans believe, almost by a 3-to-1 ratio, that President Obama was born in another country. Democrats also suffer from self-deception (such as a reluctance to credit improvements under a Republican president), but today’s Republicans seem disproportionately untethered to reality.
Another illustration of radicalizing self-delusion comes when the son of a governor and corporate chief executive says that “everything that Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by hard work.”
Romney has proved himself right: We manifestly do have a problem with people who see themselves as victims even as they benefit from loopholes in the tax code.
One is running for president.
Now here’s Ms. Collins:
Our topic for today is: When Bad Things Happen to Mitt Romney.
Really, it’s been the worst run of disasters this side of the Mayan calendar. The Republicans’ woes started last Friday, when Ann and Mitt filmed a TV interview in which they entertained the kind of personal questions that most candidates learned to avoid after Bill Clinton did that boxers-versus-briefs thing. Asked what he wears to bed, Mitt said: “I think the best answer is: as little as possible.”
Then, over the weekend, Romney aides began spilling their guts about how other staffers had screwed up the Republicans’ bounce-free convention. In an attempt to change the conversation, the campaign announced that it had just realized the nation wants Romney to say what he’d actually do as president. Voters “are eager to hear more details about policies to turn our economy around,” said an adviser, Ed Gillespie.
In search of just such specificity, the scoop-hungry Christian Broadcasting Network asked Paul Ryan if he would continue refusing to identify exactly what tax loopholes the Romney administration would close in order to turn our economy around.
“Yes,” said Ryan, who then veered into a disquisition about something that once happened to Tip O’Neill.
You may be wondering whatever became of Ryan, who was such a big sensation when Romney first picked him as a running mate. Since Tampa, he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, resurfacing every now and then to put up another ad for re-election to his House seat in Wisconsin.
It’s not all that unusual for a vice-presidential candidate to go low-profile. And it is totally not true that Mitt Romney strapped Paul Ryan to the top of a car and drove him to Canada. Stop spreading rumors!
Next, Mother Jones published that video of the fund-raiser in Boca Raton in which Romney said that 47 percent of the country is composed of moochers who want to confiscate the earnings of hard-working stockbrokers and spend it on caviar and dialysis treatments.
“So my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney decreed, undoubtedly more in sorrow than in anger.
Then, Republican Senate candidates in tight races began distancing themselves from the top of the ticket.
Ann Romney suggested Mitt was “taken out of context,” in what was undoubtedly meant as a helpful comment.
“All of us make mistakes,” said President Obama, in what probably wasn’t.
“Obviously inarticulate,” decreed Paul Ryan, popping up from a gopher hole somewhere in Nevada.
The fund-raiser, a $50,000-a-pop sit-down dinner, was hosted by Marc Leder, a financier who The New York Post reported as having a “wild party” last summer in the Hamptons “where guests cavorted nude in the pool” while “scantily dressed Russians danced on platforms.” You cannot blame Romney for that. If presidential candidates had to avoid all multimillionaires who held parties with naked guests and Russians on platforms, there would be no money for misleading TV commercials.
The video was a reminder of how ghastly this business of running for president can be. The guests seemed more interested in the breadbasket than the candidate. Romney was blathering away in the manner of somebody trying to stay awake during the 12th hour of a cross-country drive.
On Tuesday, moving to tamp down criticism that he was a conversational disaster area, Romney told Fox’s Neil Cavuto: “Well, we were, of course, talking about a campaign and how he’s going to get close to half the votes. I’m going to get half the vote, approximately. I hope — I want to get 50.1 percent or more.”
With that out of the way, Romney explained that his real point had not been to criticize people who don’t pay income taxes, but merely to point out that he wanted them to make more money. “I think people would like to be paying taxes,” added the quarter-billionaire whose own eagerness to be part of the solution is a matter of public record.
How did he let things slip out of control? Maybe the answer lies back with that Ann-and-Mitt interview, which was on “Live With Kelly and Michael.” Asked about his preferences when it came to heroines of low-end reality TV shows, the future presidential candidate enthusiastically announced: “I’m kind of a Snooki fan. Look how tiny she’s gotten. She’s lost weight and she’s energetic. I mean, just her sparkplug personality is kind of fun.”
It could be worse. He could have announced that he enjoys spending his free hours watching “Hoarders” marathons. But, still, it’s weird that Mitt Romney appears to think a lot about Snooki. Is it possible that while he’s being dragged around from one fund-raiser to the next, he spends his spare time watching “Jersey Shore” reruns in the limo?
That would explain so much.