2012 - %3, January

Santorum Trashes Public Colleges, Then Stumps at One

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 12:35 PM PST

Between a morning prayer breakfast with state Republican leaders in Tallahassee and tonight's primary debate in Jacksonville, dark-horse presidential candidate Rick Santorum stopped at a half-full auditorium at Florida State University to deliver his anti-Obama message to young conservatives. But at this hard-hit public college in a capital racked with budget woes, Santorum sidestepped the biggest issues facing the school's students.

A small grouping of sign-carrying protesters gathered outside the student union, while even more students circulated unawares through the nearby campus Chili's, as Santorum told the crowd of aboout 200 that the "foundational premise of America" is "the belief in God."

After a brief exposition on the differences between France, with its guillotines, and the United States, with its freedom and vest-pocket-sized copies of the Constitution (one of which he brandished), Santorum knocked Newt Gingrich's latest space-colonization plan and said the former House speaker "wants to spend money like Obama." He added: "The idea that anybody's going out and talking about grand new very expensive schemes to spend more money at a time when we do not have our fiscal house in order, in my opinion, is plain crass politics."

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Newt Finally Fesses Up to Brazen Debate Lie

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 12:04 PM PST

One week ago today, CNN's John King asked Newt Gingrich if it was true that in 1999 he asked his then-wife Marianne Gingrich for an open marriage so that he could continue having an affair with his girlfriend Callista. On national TV, in front of a huge audience, here was his answer:

Now, let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They [i.e., ABC] weren't interested, because they would like to attack any Republican.

This, it turns out, was a lie. Today, after a full week of badgering, Gingrich's campaign has finally admitted what ABC knew perfectly well all along: Gingrich hadn't suggested any personal friends to them at all. Nor, obviously, had they refused to interview any of these personal friends. They didn't exist.

There's an odd de facto standard for political lying: you can mislead people to almost any degree and it doesn't really count against you. It's he-said-she-said. But if there's a clear, smoking gun fact that you plainly misrepresent, no matter how trivial, then it's a scandal. By that standard, Newt ought to be in trouble. His dealings with ABC News may not be all that important in the cosmic scheme of things, but by DC standards this is a flat-out, premeditated fabrication and therefore a scandal. Gingrich told a bald-faced lied and he knew he was lying when he did it.

This all fits Newt's personality. He's always been more brazen than even your usual hardened politico because he knows that nobody really cares about fact checking. But he went over the line this time. I wonder if he'll pay a price?

Newt Gingrich vs. Ronald Reagan: A Brief History

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 10:55 AM PST

Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan in 1985.: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan LibraryNewt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan in 1985.: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan LibraryOn Wednesday, Republicans took aim at Newt Gingrich for his past criticisms of Ronald Reagan. The Drudge Report featured 10 anti-Newt stories as of yesterday, none more prominently than Elliot Abrams' takedown of Gingrich at the National Review. The former speaker, Abrams wrote, "spewed insulting rhetoric" and "was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan's policies would fail."

Set aside, for a minute, the fact that Nancy Reagan considered Newt to be the torch-carrier for her husband's legacy. The problem with Newt Gingrich's 1980s criticism of Ronald Reagan is that it presents today's Republicans with an uncomfortable truth: Gingrich attacked Reagan from the right because there was room to do so. Reagan wasn't always the tax-cutting arch-conservative Republicans make him out to be. He was often a military hawk but not always. He wasn't, frankly, the Ronald Reagan that Republicans speak of with so much reverence today.

Here's a quick guide to Newt's 1980s Reagan bashing (via Lexis and newspaper clippings):

  • 1982: Carter II: From the New York Times: '''It has all the things that Jimmy Carter used to propose that we used to beat up on,' observed Representative Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican prominent in the Congressional revolt against the President's $98.9 billion tax bill. That revolt within the President's own party, he added, ''is really a grass-roots rebellion over wrong policy.''' Elsewhere, he publicly bashed Reagan's budget as a "Jimmy Carter tax bill."
  • c. 1982: Failed economic policies: "Really, Reaganomics has failed. We must regroup. The national government is running amuck. Without a freeze, I don't see breakout out of higher and higher deficits."
  • 1983: Soft on drug abuse and crime: "Beyond the obvious indicators of decay the fact is that President Reagan has lost control of the national agenda."
  • 1985: Appeasement! Gingrich calls Reagan's summit with Gorbachev, ''the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.'
  • 1986: Soft on the Soviet Union: "Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire's challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic fundamental change in strategy will continue to fail."
  • 1987: Betrayed public trust: Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "'There were two things that people felt they knew about Ronald Reagan. That he was fundamentally honest and that he was a strong America leader who would stand tall and not deal with terrorists,' Gingrich said. The Iran-Contra affair 'violated' both parts of the trust, Gingrich said, 'and it has sahaken people's beliefs.'"
  • 1987: Reagan's legacy is dubious: "The sense of our overpowering belief in Reagan as the most effective president since FDR is probably not retainable."

Chart of the Day: The Great Depression Repeats Itself

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 9:56 AM PST

Via Paul Krugman, this is kind of fascinating. Jonathan Portes provides us with this chart, which shows the trajectory in Britain of both the Great Depression and the current Great Recession. The red and black lines at the bottom are the ones to look at:

Now, there's a bit of cherry picking going on here, I think, since Britain had a nasty recession following World War I and sluggish growth throughout the 1920s, which meant they simply didn't have as far to fall during the 30s as we did. Unemployment was also worse during the 30s than it is today. So take this with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, it's sobering: in Britain at least, the Great Recession of 2008 is, in some ways, arguably worse than the Great Depression was.

Obama Defense Plan: Fewer Troops and More Drones

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 9:45 AM PST

Kevin Baird/FlickrKevin Baird/FlickrOn Thursday, the Pentagon's top leaders are expected to release new details on how they'll scale back military programs to meet President Obama's goal of $487 billion in defense cuts over the next decade. But Republicans in the House and Senate are already plotting how to blunt the impact of the proposed cuts.

At a briefing Thursday afternoon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will announce they're slashing Army troop levels by 80,000 soldiers, or 14 percent of the force, while expanding bases for drones and increasing spending on the types of special forces that killed Osama bin Laden and rescued an American hostage in Somalia this week, according to the Wall Street Journal. "The administration has done a very good job of drafting a budget that meets our strategic needs. The budget reflects a sound understanding of the threats we face, and matches the resources to meet those threats," Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told Politico after being briefed on the defense plan.

Romney Strays From the Pure Faith

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 9:41 AM PST

James Pethokoukis is pretty upset that President Obama is coming around to the idea of mass refinancing of mortgages, and I'm upset too. The difference is that he's upset Obama is thinking about this at all while I'm upset that Obama didn't think harder about it three years ago. But now there's something new to be upset about: it's possible that Mitt Romney is in favor of mass refinancing too as long as it "doesn't add additional government obligation." Pethokoukis:

Now, Romney could have said something like, “The way to boost housing is to boost the economy and speed up the foreclosure process so the market can clear.” But he didn’t say that. He said this: “Clearly, if there is a way of providing a break to homeowners to get lower interest rates, that is something which has always been part of the refinance story. If it can be done in a way that doesn’t add additional government obligation, that’s one thing.”

My guess is that mass refinancing isn't going to happen in any significant way no matter who's president, so on a substantive level I can't get too excited about all this. But it does demonstrate just how unrealistic our rhetorical expectations have gotten. Just as many on the left would like Obama to announce some kind of mass repudiation of debt that would be political poison, Pethokoukis is upset that Romney didn't basically tell homeowners to all fuck off. Romney 2012!

In practice, allowing foreclosures to work their will on the market has been bipartisan policy ever since the housing bubble burst, but everyone sort of pretends otherwise. That's politics. If you want people to vote for you for president, you avoid rubbing people's noses in bad news and then putting your boot on their neck. Even for a guy like Romney, there's a limit to just how much he's willing to shoot himself in the foot to please the purists and the fanatics.

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Peak Gingrich Now A Historical Fact

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 9:05 AM PST

So, how about that Newt Gingrich fellow? He's down, he's up, he's down, he's up, and now he's down again. Quite frankly, you'd almost think he had some kind of fundamental stability problem.

Of course, I guess what he really has is a Super-PAC problem. Spend a gazillion dollars telling voters that Newt is a lunatic, and the voters listen. Either that or the Marianne Gingrich interview on Nightline was a bigger deal than we jaded sophisticates thought. In any case, it now looks like the course of history is reasserting itself and Mitt Romney is likely to win Florida after all.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 26, 2012

Thu Jan. 26, 2012 8:01 AM PST

US Army Pfc. Eric Guzman, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Spartan, provides security alongside Afghan Border Police officers while patrolling a village in Khowst province, Afghanistan on January 18, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

Romney Rejects Personhood Group, Again

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 6:00 AM PST

On Saturday, Personhood USA–the group behind the flood of bills that define life as starting at conception—will co-host its third forum of the GOP presidential primaries, at Aloma Church in Winter Park, Florida. And, for the third time, Mitt Romney won't be in attendance.

Personhood USA has been busy working its model zygote-is-a-person law around the country, most recently in Mississippi. And it has won endorsements from Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul, who signed the group's pledge. But Romney has neither signed their pledge nor come to their previous events in Iowa or South Carolina.

While Romney has waffled on the question of whether he actually thinks fertilized eggs should be granted the same rights as people, he's at least been consistent in not supporting the explicit demands of Personhood USA. And this has roiled the extreme anti-abortion crowd:

Governor Romney, again expressly invited, has again neglected to notify organizers of his willingness or disinclination to participate.
"Following President Obama's statement celebrating the Roe v. Wade decision – effectively celebrating the deliberate killing of 54 million innocent American citizens – Personhood USA recognizes the urgency of ensuring that we know where our candidates stand,” stated Keith Mason, President of Personhood USA. "We need a president who values life, and will defend the innocent in word and in deed. We certainly don’t need a candidate who cares nothing for the Sanctity of Life, nor one who will join President Obama in celebrating the deaths of millions."

It's quite interesting that Romney, who has struggled to establish his pro-life cred in this primary, has not been willing to bend on this so far.

Prosecutor: Campaign Worker's Arrest Not Obama's Watergate

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 4:00 AM PST
But how do we know that the Clintons aren't behind all of this?

On Friday, Zachary Edwards, who worked as the Iowa new media director for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, was arrested in Des Moines and charged with attempting to impersonate Matt Schultz, Iowa's Republican secretary of state. Edwards, who had been working for a Des Moines political consulting company with close ties to Iowa Democrats, was promptly fired.

To several right-wing news sources, not only was Edwards' guilt immediately obvious, so was the fact that his arrest likely represented one small piece of a conspiracy reaching straight to the top. "Much like Watergate, which began with a seemingly simple (if puzzling) burglary and ultimately unraveled the Nixon administration, it is impossible to say how far the trail of criminality will go," wrote Powerline's John Hinderaker.

"The big question is how far up it goes," pondered the notoriously conservative editorial board of Investors Business Daily, before speculating about Edwards' supposed ties to "the secretive rich-man's club known as The Democracy Alliance, and the loud crazies of MoveOn.org, both funded by socialist billionaire George Soros" and "a conspiracy to defraud democracy" involving "some of the highest political crimes ever."

Newsbusters, the site dedicated to "exposing and combating liberal media bias," speculated that the lack of coverage of the Edwards story meant it wasn't "safe" for the mainstream media to cover and insinuated that the Associated Press had purposely "avoided the damning details." (Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a Instapundit, promoted Newsbusters' coverage of the story.) And Hot Air wondered "what connections Edwards has to Democratic Party leadership" and "how many more Zach Edwards we can expect to find in Barack Obama's campaign this time around." 

Since every journalist worth his salt would love to expose something "much like Watergate," I decided to try something the right-wingers hadn't thought of: reporting. The criminal complaint against Edwards (PDF) has a case number associated with it, so when I couldn't hunt down a number for Edwards himself, I tried the Polk County court clerk's office and Edwards' bail bondsman to see if he had an attorney. As it turns out, it was a dead end—Edwards apparently hasn't hired a lawyer yet or had one appointed for him. No one, at least, has made court appearances on his behalf.

But I didn't have to go to a defense attorney to find out that Edwards probably isn't part of a grand conspiracy. John Sarcone, the county attorney in charge of prosecuting the Edwards case, couldn't say much about the details because of Iowa ethics rules. But when I told him what Hinderaker and IBD had been saying about Edwards, he laughed. "People have got imaginations, I'll tell you that," he said. "I don't think that's the case at all. They ought to give those jobs to creative writers, because that's fiction."

The White House and the Obama 2012 campaign declined to comment as to whether the president might be involved in an obscure campaign worker's alleged plot against the Iowa secretary of state. I smell a cover-up!

Front page image: Pete Souza/White House