Bobo has decided it’s all about “The Generation War.” He gurgles that the vice-presidential debate provided a look at two different eras in American family life. It was “The Honeymooners” versus “Family Ties.” Yes, he is a horse’s ass, and yes, he’s being taken to task in the comments. Mr. Cohen, in “Multiple-Choice Romney” says that nobody cares about flip-flops. What matters is to be quick on your feet, not to walk in a straight line. No, it doesn’t make any sense at all, to the point that not a single soul has bothered to leave a comment. It’s better not to try to reason with someone who’s gibbering… Prof. Krugman sends us “Triumph of the Wrong?” and says politically good things may be about to happen to very bad ideas. Here’s Bobo:
So it was “The Honeymooners” versus “Family Ties”; Ed Norton versus Alex Keating. What we saw Thursday night in the vice-presidential debate wasn’t only an argument about policy, it was a look at two different eras in American family life.
Vice President Joe Biden, of course, could stand on Neptune and distract attention away from the sun. He entered the Senate in 1973, back when the old Democratic giants from the New Deal era still roamed the earth. Every sentimental tone of voice, every ebullient and condescending grin brought you back to the kitchen tables in working-class Catholic neighborhoods of places like Scranton, Pa., Chicago, San Francisco, Providence, R.I., and Philadelphia.
That was a time, much more so than now, when there were still regional manners, regional accents and greater distance from the homogenizing influence of mass culture. That was a culture in which emotion was put out there on display — screaming matches between family members who could erupt in chest-poking fury one second and then loyalty until death affection the next.
Biden gave America the full opera Thursday night, and I suspect there will be as many reactions as there are partisan flavors. Democrats will obviously be cheered by his aggressive, impassioned and offensive performance.
It will be the crowning irony of the No Drama Obama campaign that it took a man who exudes more drama than a decade of Latin American soap operas to get Democrats out of their funk.
Biden clearly ended the psychic slide. He took it to Representative Paul Ryan on the inexplicability of the Republican tax plan. He had his best moments on the subjects in which Ryan is strongest, like budgets.
At the same time, my in-box was filled with a certain number of people who would be happy if they could spend the next few weeks delivering some punches to Biden, and not just Republicans. What do independents want most? They want people who will practice a more respectful brand of politics, who will behave the way most Americans try to behave in their dealings: respectfully, maybe even pausing to listen for a second. To them, Biden will seem like an off-putting caricature of the worst of old-style politics.
This is not just an issue of manners. It is: How are we going to practice the kind of politics that will help us avert the so-called fiscal cliff? How are we going to balance the crosscutting challenges, like increasing growth while reducing long-term debt?
A lot of people will look at Biden’s performance and see a style of politics that makes complex trade-offs impossible. The people who think this way swing general elections.
Ryan hails from a different era, not the era of the 1950s diner, but the era of the workout gym. By Ryan’s time, the national media culture was pervasive. The tone was cool, not hot. The meritocracy had kicked in and ambitious young people had learned to adopt a low friction manner. Ryan emerges from this culture in the same way Barack Obama does.
This is a generation armed with self-awareness. In this generation, you roll your eyes at anyone who is quite so flamboyantly demonstrative as the vice president.
In addition, Ryan was nurtured by the conservative policy apparatus, and he had a tendency Thursday night to talk about policy even when he was asked about character. I would not say he defined a personality as firmly as he might have, but he did an excellent job of demonstrating policy professionalism. This debate was excessive in its attention to foreign policy — an arena that is a voting issue for very few. Ryan demonstrated amazing fluency, given how little time he has spent working in these areas.
He was strong on Obama’s economic failures, strong on the Libya debacle (though why do candidates always cram too many topics into their answers early in any debate), and he did have a few chances to highlight the Obama campaign’s crucial weaknesses: the relative absence of any positive agenda and the relative absence of any large plans for the next four years.
By the end, voters will have noticed one large irony. Emotionally, Biden dominated the night. Democrats were wondering if the Obama administration was a spent force, too exhausted to carry on. They don’t have to wonder about that anymore. But, substantively, it is the Romney-Ryan proposals that were the center of attention. Some of those proposals are unpopular (Medicare, which was woefully undercovered). Some are popular (taxes). But most of the discussion was on Romney plans because the other side just doesn’t have many.
This was a battle of generations. The age difference was the undercurrent of every exchange. The older man had the virility, but, in a way, that will seem antique to many.
Christ, what a schmuck Bobo is. Now here’s Mr. Cohen, who apparently had to produce something whether or not it made any sense at all:
It is almost a quarter-century since George H.W. Bush, accepting the nomination at the 1988 Republican Convention, uttered the now famous words: “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
Bush, as president, went on to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, a flip-flop seized upon by Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign — and the rest is history.
It is getting on for a decade since John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in the 2004 election, declared of an $87 billion supplemental funding bill for U.S. troops that, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” Kerry’s image as a flip-flopper was seized upon by President George W. Bush, who ridiculed his opponent and won a second term.
How times change. Everything is situational these days. I don’t think people expect consistency any longer. It’s considered quaint. What matters is to be quick on your feet, not to walk in a straight line.
After all, if your life is on view and being recorded 24/7, the current zeitgeist, how can anyone be expected to avoid some form of inconsistency, if not flagrant contradiction? Most people, to some degree, will adjust their remarks to their audience; and a digitized, hyperconnected world rewards instantaneous adaptation rather than the hard principled slog.
There is just so much out there — such a mass of information and opinions — that people tend to shrug if something is demonstrated to be fact-lite, contradictory or plain wrong. “Whatever” is not an overused word for nothing.
How else to account for Mitt Romney’s apparent ability to float over his numberless flip-flops to a position where, less than a month from the U.S. election, he has a serious chance of winning. His debate performance was first-rate — lively, challenging and human to Obama’s somber impassivity. The president offered a weird Yoda-like delivery apparently designed to be taught for many years in schools of communication as an illustration of what to avoid. But, as ever, Romney veered all over the place (mainly toward the middle). The fact he has said one thing is no obstacle to his saying another.
For example, in the primary debates he said, “We’re going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent.” In the Obama debate, he said, “But I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high income people.”
The nation shrugged. Polls show Romney with an average gain of some 3.6 percent on Obama since the debate. Some lines of attack stick against Romney. That he’s rich and ruthless. That he does not care about the poor. That he plans to eviscerate entitlements. But that he’s a flip-flopper? Nobody cares.
I don’t think this is a peculiarly American phenomenon. Nick Clegg, Britain’s Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, has been widely ridiculed for an apology last month in which he said he was sorry for having said he would vote against any increase in university tuition fees only to fail in that pledge. His apology, set to music, has gone viral, with the refrain of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry” (some 2 million YouTube views). Clegg is viewed as weak, hapless, pliant, ridiculous — but not particularly untrustworthy (or no more than anyone else).
As for Romney, the best summation of his flip-flopping was provided by Ted Kennedy in a 1994 debate in Massachusetts: “I am pro-choice,” Kennedy said, before adding of Romney, “My opponent is multiple-choice.”
The subject then was abortion and Romney declared, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.” In response to Kennedy’s jibe, he shot back, “You will not see me wavering on that or being multiple-choice.”
The subsequent wavering has, of course, been more of a volte-face. Romney is now pro-life. His Web site says he believes “the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade” — the 1973 Supreme Court decision affirming a woman’s right to abortion.
Got it, Mitt — at least I think so, maybe.
As for his recent foreign-policy speech, it was a case of the audacity of contradiction. He said in a primary debate that, “It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.” He said at a private fund-raiser that he saw the Palestinians “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel” and had concluded that “there’s just no way” and that Israel-Palestine would “remain an unsolved problem.”
Then he suddenly declares: “I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the president has failed.”
Well, which one is it? Is this acute Romnesia or what? As Kerry has commented on Romney’s foreign policy proposals, “Talk about being for it before you were against it!”
I wish I thought people cared. They don’t. Flip-flopping is so 20th century as an issue.
Performance trumps persistence. The president had better step up his.
Now here’s Prof. Krugman, still a voice crying in the wilderness:
In these closing weeks of the campaign, each side wants you to believe that it has the right ideas to fix a still-ailing economy. So here’s what you need to know: If you look at the track record, the Obama administration has been wrong about some things, mainly because it was too optimistic about the prospects for a quick recovery. But Republicans have been wrong about everything.
About that misplaced optimism: In a now-notorious January 2009 forecast, economists working for the incoming administration predicted that by now most of the effects of the 2008 financial crisis would be behind us, and the unemployment rate would be below 6 percent. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Why did the administration get it wrong? It wasn’t exaggerated faith in the power of its stimulus plan; the report predicted a fairly rapid recovery even without stimulus. Instead, President Obama’s people failed to appreciate something that is now common wisdom among economic analysts: severe financial crises inflict sustained economic damage, and it takes a long time to recover.
This same observation, of course, offers a partial excuse for the economy’s lingering weakness. And the question we should ask given this unpleasant reality is what policies would offer the best prospects for healing the damage. Mr. Obama’s camp argues for an active government role; his last major economic proposal, the American Jobs Act, would have tried to accelerate recovery by sustaining public spending and putting money in the hands of people likely to use it. Republicans, on the other hand, insist that the path to prosperity involves sharp cuts in government spending.
And Republicans are dead wrong.
The latest devastating demonstration of that wrongness comes from the International Monetary Fund, which has just released its World Economic Outlook, a report combining short-term prediction with insightful economic analysis. This report is a grim and disturbing document, telling us that the world economy is doing significantly worse than expected, with rising risks of global recession. But the report isn’t just downbeat; it contains a careful analysis of the reasons things are going so badly. And what this analysis concludes is that a disproportionate share of the bad news is coming from countries pursuing the kind of austerity policies Republicans want to impose on America.
O.K., it doesn’t say that in so many words. What the report actually says is: “Activity over the past few years has disappointed more in economies with more aggressive fiscal consolidation plans.” But that amounts to the same thing.
For leading Republicans have very much tied themselves to the view that slashing spending in a depressed economy — “fiscal consolidation,” in I.M.F.-speak — is good, not bad, for job creation. Soon after the midterm elections, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives issued a manifesto on economic policy — titled, “Spend less, owe less, grow the economy” — that called for deep spending cuts right away and pooh-poohed the whole notion that fiscal consolidation (yes, it used the same term) might deepen the economy’s slump. “Non-Keynesian effects,” the manifesto declared, would make everything all right.
Well, that turns out not to be remotely true. What the monetary fund shows is that the countries pursing the biggest spending cuts are also the countries that have experienced the deepest economic slumps. Indeed, the evidence suggests that in brushing aside the standard view that spending cuts hurt the economy in the short run, the G.O.P. got it exactly wrong. Recent spending cuts appear to have done even more harm than most analysts — including those at the I.M.F. itself — expected.
Which brings us to the question of what form economic policies will take after the election.
If Mr. Obama wins, he’ll presumably go back to pushing for modest stimulus, aiming to convert the gradual recovery that seems to be under way into a more rapid return to full employment.
Republicans, however, are committed to an economic doctrine that has proved false, indeed disastrous, in other countries. Nor are they likely to change their views in the light of experience. After all, facts haven’t gotten in the way of Republican orthodoxy on any other aspect of economic policy. The party remains opposed to effective financial regulation despite the catastrophe of 2008; it remains obsessed with the dangers of inflation despite years of false alarms. So it’s not likely to give up its politically convenient views about job creation.
And here’s the thing: if Mitt Romney wins the election, the G.O.P. will surely consider its economic ideas vindicated. In other words, politically good things may be about to happen to very bad ideas. And if that’s how it plays out, the American people will pay the price.