The Romney dividend

The Presidential debates are three-quarters of the way through, and all sides are bracing for Monday’s foreign policy clash in Boca Raton.  A lot has happened since the transformative first debate on October 3.  The election is far from over, but at the moment the likeliest candidate for the mythic “October surprise” is Mitt Romney himself.

The governor’s numbers have improved on several fronts this month.  His likeability ratings are above water for the first time, showing an ability to beat back this Summer’s flood of negative ads and spin from the Obama campaign.  On October 17, Gallup had Romney besting Obama by seven points (+7) among likely voters nationally.  And looking at recent electoral map changes, it’s obvious President Obama’s September swing state advantage has effectively evaporated.  RealClearPolitics’s electoral projection even broke in Romney’s favor for the first time this cycle.

What impact will the vice presidential and second presidential debates have on the polls? One might conclude that Romney’s momentum has dissipated upon meeting renewed energy in Obama’s executive.  Biden and the president brought vigor to their exchanges, garnering an arguable draw and an arguable win respectively.  But the take away from these middle two contests won’t help their ticket.

More likely to be remembered than any policy point ticked off were the impressions of character: Biden’s dismissive, cartoonish grin and Obama’s finger-pointing truculence.  Yes, Romney was a fighter in round two too.  But aggression comes off better from the challenger than the incumbent, who should be cheerfully defending a good record.  Through three debates now, the Obama presidential ticket has looked unpresidential.

Meanwhile, Romney has benefited from exceeding long-lowered expectations.  He has risen as a sleeper candidate, one who seemed dogged by a failure to galvanize a devoted base in the primaries.  But recalling his GOP rivals–among them Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, and Cain–could we imagine one delivering on the debates with such a combination of discipline and amiability as Romney?  The October boost we’re seeing redounds to the credit of early Romney supporters.  It is the Romney dividend.

In the pivotal October 3 debate, Americans glimpsed a dedicated work horse who knew what to say and when to say it.  But more importantly, they saw an actual human being, not a robot, or some combination of cardboard, wood, and plastic.  The meme of a stiff and aloof Romney will persist as much as Cowboy Bush did among the hard left, and it will be just as untrue.  Still, Aloof Romney will continue to be exploited where the media find it profitable.

But like a raja who parades at the head of a princely procession, Romney has been broadcasting an image of genuine likability, conviction, and competence onto the masses.  This mutual energy between Romney and the electorate was evident at Thursday’s Al Smith dinner, a neutral forum where elites from both sides of the aisle gathered to civilly toast and roast the two candidates.  Romney was very much in his own skin delivering scripted barbs of humor.   The president, while also good, couldn’t help but evince a bit of his trademark professorial unease.  If only for the laughs, it’s worth watching both routines (Romney and Obama).

Surveying the aftermath of October 3, it appears that Mr. Romney is the Happy Warrior and the president is a bit beleaguered.  Of course, the race remains close. But if all goes well, Romney will continue to connect with and persuade voters, capitalizing on a growing desire to send Mr. Obama packing to an early Hawaiian island retirement.

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GOP bombs Womenistan

The other day after work I heard a report by Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered.  He was gauging voter sentiment in the swing state of Colorado.  One interviewee who made the cut was a female business owner.  She expressed her indecision thusly (emphasis mine):

“I don’t know that I can, in good conscience, vote for the Republican Party. I mean, it just – it seems to me that they don’t think much of women. But I don’t know if I can vote for the Democrats, because I don’t know that they think much of small business people. So, you know, the things that I hear from both sides, they do affect me. But there is, you know, it’s like a tug of war at this point. I don’t know who to vote for.”

I wish Ari Shapiro would have had the mind or maybe the time to pursue the vague yet provocative claim that Republicans “don’t think much of women.”  What must GOP women make of this statement?  The real story should be how Democrats’ continue to cobble their coalition with the same shopworn, cartoonish tropes for the past four decades.

It’s my fervent hope that voters such as the woman interviewed will think clearly and come to shake off the manipulative “war on women” narrative when they enter the booth come November.

Dependency and entitlement: whose head stuck in the sand?

The 47% video has highlighted a sharp difference in worldview between conservatives and advocates of fairness/social justice.  The deep outrage we’ve seen within the latter group suggests an unwillingness to accept that entitlement and dependency are real phenomena stemming from human experience.

Just as with Mr. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” snippet, we could get lost in parsing what Mr. Romney meant.  But the stakes are different here.  If Mr. Obama is culpable for his quote, it is more a matter of worldview than of character.  But if Mr. Romney is guilty in the way sensationalists claim, then we must believe that he has a shriveled heart that is little more than a black lump of coal.  This is just absurd given his sacrifices and dedication to family, church, and country.  So we can and ought to dismiss this cartoon version of Romney.

The real question is not whether all of the 47% feel entitled and are dependent, but whether anyone in the group could be characterized as such.  Of course no one really thinks grandma or a worker retired on disability suffer from a sense of entitlement.  But this is precisely the interpretation mainstream journalists have been running with all week.

Such a hard prosecution is one half an insidious double standard.  On the one hand, the commentariat is completely okay suggesting that affluent Mr. Romney is out of touch, doesn’t care or relate to everyday struggles, or even that he wants to “pull the ladder up” behind him.  On the other hand, it’s utterly unthinkable to suggest that even one poor or working class person might be beholden to entitlement or dependency.  Per the dictates of political correctness, to do so would be an unconditional surrender to the worst bias and stigma.

This rule cannot persist.  Lest we go the way of Greece, our public discourse must accommodate some way of talking about these very real problems.  Rich, poor, and middle class folks are created equal in a real sense.  Across the dividing lines, all have intuition and faculties of reason.  The discipline of economics operates on the assumption that we are all rational creatures, agents who, whether consciously or not, respond to incentive.  We couldn’t escape it even if we tried.  Yet, big government politicians and guilt-ridden journalists would rather ditch this common sense understanding of humanity for the comfortable materialist fantasy that they took up at university and never quite abandoned.

There are all sorts of ways to describe the perils of incentive that effect the wide umbrella of welfare and entitlement transfers the federal government offers: rent seeking, moral hazard, tragedy of the commons, crowding out, rising expectations.  People’s behavior changes in response to conditions.  The sputtering, moribund economies of many European social democracies attest to what happens when workers secure the right to too generous a menu of entitlements.

Those who have seized on the 47% comments have highlighted a dangerous state of denial in our country.  Dependency and entitlement are heavy clouds that threaten to burst cultural and economic disaster on us.  The way some react to these words though make it seem as if their heads are stuck in the sand.

Carter’s Turn

You may recall that a couple of years ago President Barack Obama reached out to claim a piece of the Reagan legacy.  TIME even declared that 44 had a “bromance” with the Gipper.  How sweet.

Just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama was buoyed by Bill Clinton’s fiery, crowd-winning speech at the DNC.  But now with several U.S. embassies besieged or breached in recent days, it’s the memory of Jimmy Carter’s presidency that’s sticking to our present commander-in-chief.

President Obama’s recent Egypt-is-neither-ally-nor-enemy gaffe is especially remarkable given that Egypt’s allegiance to the U.S. has been a cornerstone of Middle East peace since the Carter administration.

Yes, Carter’s tenure was pretty awful.  But we should not forget that he deregulated some American industries in his time.  If you’ve enjoyed an affordable airline flight or a tasty microbrewery beer lately, you can be thankful for the few pro-market decisions he made.

In Obama’s three and a half years, we’ve seen a stiff reluctance to help American enterprise.  And in the foreign policy realm, he really hasn’t made the world like America any better.  His Nobel Peace Prize is still waiting for its justification.

Instead of leaving our economy or our national security to chance, let’s opt for a surer hand in November.  Let’s elect Mitt Romney.

The Gipper on Obama’s Cold War mind warp

How about that Democratic National Convention?  While the Left heaped praise on Bill Clinton’s speech, media generally opined that President Obama’s was muted and relatively unimpressive.  No promise of a sweeping agenda, but a plea to hang on because things are moving in the right direction.  Never mind that, per the historical record, the recovery should be moving much more briskly.

One of the most memorable moments of the President’s speech came when he attacked Mitt Romney for being “stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”  As he tells it, Governor Romney wants to return to a time of “blustering and blundering.”  This is a rather unfortunate way for President Obama to describe the most significant–and a greatly triumphant–chapter in American history.

Think of the man who had the biggest role in leading America to victory in that nearly five decade showdown between freedom and tyranny: Ronald Reagan.  His greatest speech (transcript and YouTube) was called “A Time for Choosing.”  In it, he reminded Americans of their country’s exceptional worth and the tremendous stakes of a prolonged conflict with the Soviet Union.  In retrospect, Americans today can rightly claim a fulfillment of what Reagan called “our rendezvous with destiny.”

But for the media and Democrats, “blustering and blundering” suffice for a label.  The tendency on the Left has always been to trivialize national security concerns.  At the heart of the liberal worldview, communists, jihadis, and so on are ultimately well-meaning, misunderstood types.  But Reagan had it right.  There have been and will continue to be dire times when serious foes will work to end our way of life.  Appropriately, these moments are “a time for choosing.”

This past Spring, Mr. Obama made a choice of sorts when he announced his flexibility for Mr. Putin after the election.  Granted, Russia is not the committed ideological foe it once was, but it has hardly been a global Boy Scout either.

There is another way in which Obama erred by his “mind warp” comment.  The Cold War was not just an arms race, but the ultimate game of statist one-upmanship.  Recall Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.”  The world’s superpowers were out to win prestige in every arena, including who could build the biggest, shiniest welfare state.  In large part, the heavy expenditures and extensive central planning required for this contest buried the Soviet bloc.  Even social democracies like the once mighty Great Britain had to change their tack.

In America, the 1970s shocks of the OPEC crisis and stagflation disabused many of the welfare state utopia.  President Reagan proclaimed the following decade: “In this crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  And in the 1990s President Clinton conceded, “the era of big government is over.”  And in the time since, conservative governments from Scandinavia to Canada have improved their economic fortunes by shifting policy to the right.

Of course there are those who still haven’t gotten the memo.  It would seem that President Obama, who has yet to demonstrate meaningful concern for the debt, is one such person.  When it comes to engorging the superstructure of the welfare state, Mr. Obama has shown himself to be the one stuck in a Cold War mindset.

Fearing the rhesus revolution

It’s an exciting time.  The Republican National Convention is about to start.  This is Romney’s chance to shine.  But the press has been stuck on the narrative that unwelcome events keep the GOP off message.  This is where media malfeasance has steered us, to meta-news, news about news.  Who is responsible for determining what the media covers?  Whoops, we’re not supposed to ask that kind of question.

The New York Times Magazine commemorates the advent of the Republican convention with a dour examination of the host city, Tampa, Florida.  Writer John Mooallem brings us the saga of a renegade rhesus macaque.  As he tells it, this indomitable monkey has become a sort of resistance symbol and a focal point for anti-government sentiment.

From start to finish, he peppers the piece with liberal complaints.  Opening up, he finds fault with the American flag flying over a local restaurant.  It’s “preposterously large.”  He reveals that, en route to covering the story, he tortured himself by listening to conservative talk radio.  From what I can tell, he’s done this for no other reason than to complain about it in writing afterward.

With respect to the monkey controversy itself, Mooallem makes his sympathies very clear.  He’s supportive of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, who the locals see as “the Gestapo.”  The writer’s sentiment crystallizes in this assessment of the state officers:

But they took a somewhat traditional view: the American people had a right to be protected by their government from wild monkeys. It was disorienting to watch the people of Tampa Bay champion the monkey’s rights instead.

That an idea like freedom might trump the public order deeply troubles him.  To counter such libertarian exuberance,  he quotes one man’s stern warning: “Sometimes, freedom isn’t necessarily a good idea.”  In true liberal fashion, the writer is most at home expressing his convictions as an equivocal miasma.

Nonetheless, he seems to advance a genuine concern about public order and safety.  Mooallem unmistakably condemns Tampans’ refusal to cooperate with the animal control agency.  But I suspect he doesn’t feel the same way about the Holder Justice Department’s bitter reluctance to enforce federal deportation laws.  Per his metric, why shouldn’t the prospect of fellow humans living an uncertain, shadow existence elicit the same kind of concern?

At any rate, pieces like Mooallem’s are the Sunday afternoon grist that Northeastern cultural elites relax by.  Harper’s, Atlantic, The New Yorker, anything that will allow them to look with detached pity and concern upon their benighted countrymen in the far flung regions.

I recall a long-running TV ad from some years ago.  In an effort to get the viewer to subscribe to the weekend edition of the New York Times, a woman would exclaim, “For me, that’s what Sundays were made for!”  Back then, I suspected this woman’s compatriots would profess that Sunday was “made” with a nobler purpose in mind.

With aching essays like the Tampa monkey expose, the folks at the Times demonstrate they are just as aloof of Middle America today as they’ve ever been.

Desperation drives divisive “War on Women” narrative

The Todd Akin controversy has buoyed Democrats’ “War on Women” narrative to a prominence not seen since last winter.  But even prior to Representative Akin’s “legitimate rape” utterance, the party and its allies have been stoking an unfounded fear that Republicans are out to take women’s reproductive rights away.

Consider this 30 second Moveon.org TV spot from a couple weeks ago.  Go ahead and click, it’s a must-see.  The theme is class war, but there’s an out-of-the-blue jab about birth control at the end.  If the NRA is guilty of drumming up a fear of “gun grabbers,” MoveOn.org has one-upped them with the invention of the “pill grabber.”  The childish tone and groundless substance of the ad–it cites a recent, highly speculative Tax Policy Center study–insult the intelligence of all but the most ardent leftists.

Another ad from early August, approved by President Obama, features a montage of women who “think” Romney is “out of touch” and “extreme.”  One chides, “this is not the 1950’s.”  All the while a wind instrument registers gentle yet overwrought notes of concern.  A woman concludes the ad by saying “I think Romney would definitely drag us back.”  With these words, what else can the viewer envision but a grunting troglodyte, club in hand, taking women forcibly to his patriarchal cave?

And now with the Akin kerfuffle, Sandra Fluke has egged on Obama supporters with the idea that Romney and Ryan are in “lockstep” with the Missouri Representative.  But this allegation cannot stand after a Factcheck.org refutation of a recent Obama “Truth Team” claim.

Yet a real undercurrent of popular fear exists.  We glimpse it in Virginia Heffernan’s recent piece on Akin’s comments.  She offers this take on John Edward’s divisive “two Americas” rhetoric:

The twist is that in this election year one America is female and the other male. In the female one, rape—nonconsensual sex as designated by the party that didn’t give consent—is everywhere, wrecking lives and making sexual harmony impossible. In the male America, “rape” is a subject of jokes and pontification. It’s a trope to be employed wantonly with the boys and judiciously when you’re trying to seduce women.

Herein Heffernan amalgamates the gross offense of comedian Daniel Tosh with that of politician Todd Akin.  She condemns American men to the prevalent stereotype of the perennial adolescent.  Anything they say on the matter of rape must be a joke or mere “pontification.”  For the sake of civil discourse, we must refuse the implication that race, sex, or any other status can on its own disqualify one’s views from consideration.

For those who would transcend sensationalism in an attempt to understand what Akin said, The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto has shed some light.  Here at least is an effort by a brave man to do more than call Akin’s remarks “antediluvian” or reflexively blame “junk science.”  Taranto does better to label the doomed Senatorial candidate “Middle Ages Man.”

Make no mistake.  Akin went beyond his ken of understanding and properly merited a massive rebuke from his own party.  Given the swift and wide disowning this week, is there really some greater malevolent shadow at work among men, Republicans, or whoever else Democrats have being pointing fingers at?

The AP has been excessively charitable in interpreting Democrats’  fear-based, divide-and-conquer strategy as “pointillist” in nature.  But when the party and those who imbibe their views regularly invoke images of cavemen, boorish adolescents, and pill grabbers, it’s not out of line to conclude that, far from “Hope and Change,” it is desperation that drives today’s Democratic party.

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