Kevin Drum - September 2012

Why Are the Rich So Damn Angry?

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 2:58 PM EDT

Earlier this morning I suggested that Mitt Romney's real problem with his secret fundraising video would come from the tea party zealots on the right demanding that his reaction to all the criticism should be to double down on his disdain for the moochers. If he listens to them, he'll be stuck defending a pretty unpopular position, as Greg Sargent points out:

In July, Pew asked Americans what they think about the amount lower income people pay in taxes. Only 20 percent think they pay too little, versus 34 percent who say they pay a fair amount and 37 percent who say they pay too much — a total of 71 percent.

Pew also tells me that only 23 percent of independents, and 18 percent of moderates, say low income people pay too little in taxes, while big majorities of both say they pay a fair amount or too much.

The vast majority of the 47% who pay no federal income tax are either elderly, very poor, or families with low-incomes. Most people — including moderate, middle-class independents — simply don't agree that it's right to characterize them as layabouts who refuse to take "personal responsibility and care for their lives."

As it turns out, this reality is obvious to a lot of conservatives too. Although a few of the mouth breathers are indeed urging Romney to stick to his guns, a pretty fair sample of conservatives are telling Romney that he's wrong and urging him to back off. This appears to be partly for political reasons (do you really want to piss off elderly people on Medicare?) and partly for ideological reasons (tax credits for the poor are a conservative idea designed to make low-paying jobs more attractive). Either way, it suggests that maybe Romney won't have quite the tea party problem that I thought. It all depends on which wing of the conservative movement turns out to be more powerful.

On another note, David Frum writes today about something I was chatting about on the phone with my sister last night:

The background to so much of the politics of the past four years is the mood of apocalyptic terror that has gripped so much of the American upper class....And what makes it all both so heart-rending and so outrageous is that all this is occurring at a time when economically disadvantaged Americans have never been so demoralized and passive, never exerted less political clout.

....Yet even so, the rich and the old are scared witless! Watch the trailer of Dinesh D'Souza's new movie to glimpse into their mental universe: chanting swarthy mobs, churches and banks under attack, angry black people grabbing at other people's houses.

It's all a scam, but it's a spectacularly effective scam. Mitt Romney tried to make use of the scam, and now instead has fallen victim to it himself.

The last 30 years in the United States have been better for the rich than any other time or place in human history. High-end incomes are up spectacularly. Tax rates are down. Welfare reform has been the law of the land for 15 years. Private sector unions are all but extinct. The wages that business owners pay to their employees have been virtually flat for more than a decade. For the rich, it's been a golden age. And yet, America's wealthy class nonetheless seems to be in an absolute fury. The looters want their money, the government is embracing socialism, the president who rescued the banking industry hates them, and their tax dollars are all going to support a bunch of freeloaders and shirkers.

Where does this come from? Why are the very people who have done the best so angry? It's mystifying.

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A Final Look at the Convention Bounce: It's All Obama

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 2:09 PM EDT

It's now been nearly two weeks since the end of the conventions, and before long the polls will start to show the effects of the secret Romney video. So this seems like a pretty good time to check in on Sam Wang for a final look at what kind of convention bounce we saw. And luckily for me, Sam fixed a technical glitch in his polling feeds today, providing us with a corrected look at his estimated electoral vote count. Here it is:

Bottom line: The net effect of both the RNC and DNC appears to be a bounce from about 300 electoral votes for Obama to 322 electoral votes. That's a pretty big bounce.

By the way: Some of you might be wondering why I usually use Sam Wang's forecast rather than all the others that are out there. The reason is that back in 2008 I ran a pool to predict the results of the election, and Sam was one of the co-winners. For now, then, I consider him the official election forecaster for this blog. This is, needless to say, a tenuous position, and requires him to predict really well this year too if he wants to hold on to this prestigious post. But that's life in the free market, no? Red in tooth and claw and all that. For now, though, he's top dog.

What the Secret Romney Video Tells Us About His People Skills

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 12:41 PM EDT

Here's an interesting side note about what Mitt Romney's secret fundraiser video tells us: he's not very good at handling his supporters.

Here's the thing: political fundraisers are full of true believers. Those are the kind of people willing to give big bucks to campaigns, after all. What's more, these true believers often have fairly extreme political views, and they want you to have those extreme views too. No namby-pamby candidates for them! They always think you should get tougher, more aggressive, that you should really fight back against those swine on the other side. It's like being buttonholed in a bar by a guy who's had a few beers and insists on telling you what's really wrong with America.

This is the case on both left and right. And a politician with even a tenuous grasp on how to handle this kind of pressure knows what to do: you redirect. You can't tell these folks they're crazy, of course. They're true believers! And they're rich! You need their money. But you can't really agree with them either. That's too dangerous. Word gets around, even if nobody there is secretly recording the event. So you soothe. I get where you're coming from. And then you back away. Maybe you blame it on polling data ("our focus groups show that voters don't respond well to that, and you do want to win, don't you?") Maybe you change the subject. Maybe you introduce some interesting new fact that they've never heard of. Maybe you appeal to authority. Or you outsource your response to a surrogate later on so that you're not personally connected with it. Whatever.

But you handle them. Except that apparently Romney can't. And that's pretty weird, isn't it? He has more experience handling the titanic egos of rich people than anyone in politics. If anyone should be able to stroke big-dollar donors without saying anything stupid, it ought to be Mitt Romney.

But he can't. Outside the business world, his people skills are apparently so poor that even when he's faced with truly harebrained ideas, his only defense is to simply agree. He seems to have no idea how to handle strong-minded people whose support he needs. This is, needless to say, not an especially good character reference for someone who's running for president of the United States.

Romney: We Should Just Kick the Can Down the Road in the Middle East

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 11:58 AM EDT

In the latest episode of the Secret Romney Tapes™, our hero decides to tackle the Middle East. Basically, he trashes a two-state solution because he thinks the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace." This is not really surprising. These days, it's a fairly standard GOP position. But national candidates usually aren't quite so raw about what that implies. Romney is:

So what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem....and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.

In its way, this is actually sort of refreshing. If, as current Republican orthodoxy holds, the Palestinians just flatly can't be dealt with, but you aren't quite willing to go the full monty and agree that Israel should simply annex the West Bank permanently, what's left? Nothing. You simply ignore the whole thing and let Bibi Netanyahu do whatever he wants.

This doesn't sound very presidential, though. That's why Romney's official position sounds like this:

As president, Mitt will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He will make clear to the Palestinians that the unilateral attempt to decide issues that are designated for final negotiations by the Oslo Accords is unacceptable. Etc.

Actually, these two statements are exactly the same. "Direct negotiations" means that nothing happens. The Israelis and the Palestinians don't have the slightest chance of reaching an agreement without outside help. And while the reference to the Oslo Accords sounds nicely multilateral, it's actually a dead letter. You don't have to read very far between the lines of the official statement to come up with the blunter version that Romney gave to the millionaire donors in Boca Raton.

The only difference is that until now, you had to argue that doing nothing was the obvious implication of Romney's position, and the Romney folks could reply with an explosion of word salad suggesting that their guy really did have a plan. Now they can't do that. In private, he's now admitted straight up that he just plans to ignore the whole thing. In fact, he's so completely determined to ignore the whole thing that when a former secretary of state told that there might actually be a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, "I didn't delve into it."

Presidential? Not really. Perfectly in sync with the modern Republican Party? You betcha!

Mitt Romney is Now Road Kill, Caught Between the Center and the Fever Swamps

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 10:53 AM EDT

Ed Kilgore makes a point about yesterday's Romney's video that's been bouncing around in my mind too:

I don't know whether the greatest danger to Romney's campaign right now is the video (and there are more segments from it rolling out today) or the "Hell yes!" reactions to it from the rawer elements of the conservative chattering classes.

I'm not a mind reader, so I have no way to know if Romney truly believes the sentiments he expressed yesterday or if he was just pandering to the tea party sensibilities of the rich donors at the fundraiser he was attending. But it almost doesn't matter, because Romney's big problem right now is exactly those sensibilities. He's dealing with a base that (a) believes deep in its gut that moochers and freeloaders really are the core of the Democratic Party, (b) has never really trusted Romney, and therefore (c) won't tolerate any sign that he's backing down. Romney has no choice but to stick to his guns. Here's Dave Weigel:

Back on Friday, I trudged around the Values Voter Summit in D.C. and asked conservatives why they thought Barack Obama might win. (The polls, then and now, suggest that he's in the position to do it.) The single most common answer? Well, Obama's Democrats have been pumping up the ranks of the poor with free goodies, and those saps might be numerous enough to vote for him. They'd been hearing that on talk radio for, well, years. "We have 47, 48 percent who pay no income taxes," said Rush Limbaugh in July. "We have 3 million more off the unemployment rolls and on the disability rolls, and they all vote!"

The damage Romney did to himself by privately pandering to this sentiment is bad enough already. But the most unhinged segment of his supporters is going to make it even worse, repeating his argument endlessly in far cruder terms than Romney did. For at least the next few days, we're going to be consumed with a very public debate about whether America really is in a battle for its soul between the makers and the takers, and that's not a debate that can possibly help Romney. Even if he handles the situation decently himself, he's going to be undone by his own fever swamps.

But it gets even worse for Romney, because the opposite side of his base of supporters is made up of moderates and practical politicians. David Brooks is an example of the first, and he's all but given up on Mitt. Bill Kristol is an example of the second, and he's pretty much given up too. Yet again, Republicans are learning the downside of handing their party over to the fanatics.

Help Us Expose the Right-Wing Agenda. Donate $47 Today.

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 1:02 AM EDT

Want another look at that secret Romney fundraising video that MoJo uncovered today? It's down below. Enjoy! But why should Romney be the only guy who can raise money from claptrap like this? Why not us too? After all, this is what we do. This is the whole reason we exist: so we can blow the whistle on venomous conservative rubbish like this.

Your contributions are what keep us in business and keep this blog going. So how about this: since Mitt Romney apparently believes that 47% of us don't count, show him just how much we do count by donating $47 to help Mother Jones continue its fight to expose right-wing deception and sleaziness. Make a difference. Do it now. It only takes a minute.

Thanks! Whether you can afford 47 dollars or a thousand — or even five or ten — every dollar helps.

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Joint U.S.-Afghan Military Operations Suspended

| Mon Sep. 17, 2012 9:29 PM EDT

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC's Pentagon correspondent, reports that in the aftermath of the insider attacks that killed six NATO troops yesterday, all joint U.S.-Afghan military operations have been suspended:

“We’re to the point now where we can’t trust these people,” a senior military official said. So far this year, 51 NATO troops have been killed in these so-called blue-on-green attacks.

"It's had a major impact on our ability to conduct combat operations with them, and we're going to have to back off to a certain degree," the official said. The suspensions of the joint operations are indefinite — according to one official, they “could last three days or three months.”

If it's three days, this might not be too big a deal. If it's three months it's a very big deal indeed. After all, Obama's whole justification for doubling up in Afghanistan was to provide enough support to fight the Taliban and train Afghan troops at the same time. If the training isn't working, then the whole plan isn't working. Remember this conversation from Jonathan Alter's The Promise?

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, "David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?"

"Sir, I'm confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame," Petraeus replied.

"Good. No problem," the president said. "If you can't do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?"

"Yes, sir, in agreement," Petraeus said.

This was at the end of 2009. It's been 30 months since then, and I think it's pretty safe to say that our training of the ANA has not been a rousing success. And yet, we stay. Why?

Why the Poor Pay No Federal Income Tax: A Wee Tutorial

| Mon Sep. 17, 2012 6:45 PM EDT

Is it true, as Mitt Romney says, that 47% of Americans don't pay federal income tax? Yes! That's mostly because they're either poor, elderly, or take advantage of tax credits for low-income workers. Details here. But why do these people pay no income tax? Ezra Klein breaks it down into Twitter-sized chunks:

  • Rs have spent years cutting income taxes and increasing things like the Child Tax Credit. This means fewer people pay income taxes.
  • So whenever you hear a stat like "47% don't pay income taxes," remember: Reagan and Bush helped build that.
  • These tax cuts for the poor were partly in order to make further tax cuts for the rich political palatable.
  • But now that fewer people pay income taxes as a result of GOP policies, they’re being called lazy and dependent.
  • And thus the GOP's tax cuts are being used to make a case that the rich are overtaxed and that the less-rich are becoming dependent.
  • Which thus leads to a policy agenda of tax cuts for the rich and cuts to social services for the non-rich.

Yep, that's about it. Also worth noting: the poor often pay higher state tax rates than the rich. Add in payroll taxes and excise taxes, instead of cherry picking only a single tax, and it turns out that the poor and the working class end up paying a fair chunk of their income in taxes. Not as big a chunk as the rich, it's true, but then, it strikes most of us as perfectly fair that the poor should pay lower tax rates than the rich. I wonder if this strikes Romney as fair too?

Quote of the Day: Obama Voters Are All a Bunch of Moochers

| Mon Sep. 17, 2012 5:54 PM EDT

Here is Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraiser recently. At least, it was a fundraiser he thought was private. Turned out somebody had a camera rolling and caught him explaining what really animates Obama supporters:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what....who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it....These are people who pay no income tax.

....And so my job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

The video is below. David Corn has more clips from Romney's pitch here.

The Remarkable Martyrization of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

| Mon Sep. 17, 2012 2:51 PM EDT

Over at Power Line, Steven Hayward says the picture on the right "ought to cost Obama this election." In case you haven't been following events in wingnut land, this is a picture of LA sheriff's deputies taking in Nakoula Basseley Nakoula for questioning a few days ago. Nakoula is the guy behind the anti-Islam YouTube video that supposedly sparked all the recent turmoil in the Middle East. Adam Serwer explains what's going on:

As Roy Edroso documents in the Village Voice, conservatives are now claiming that Nakoula's recent arrest for potentially violating the terms of his probation is proof the Obama administration is caving to violent protests around the world. Popular conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds demanded Obama resign for "sending — literally — brownshirted enforcers to engage in — literally — a midnight knock at the door of a man for the non-crime of embarrassing the President of the United States and his administration[.]" The "brownshirts" are the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, whom Reynolds is comparing to militia of the Nazi Party in Germany. Powerline blogger Scott Johnson declared "I am Nakoula Basseley Nakoula," (a reference to the anti-Red Scare film Spartacus). Pajamas Media blogger Roger Simon wrote "Hillary Clinton, I insist that you have me arrested. I am thinking of making a movie about Mohammed."

Speakers at the annual Values Voters gathering of mostly Christian religious conservatives on Saturday were drawing similar conclusions. "The big headline this morning is 'federal authorities investigate Christian filmmaker because of this film," Fox News commentator Todd Starnes told attendees during a panel on religious freedom.

It is, of course, vanishingly unlikely that the Obama administration had anything to do with Nakoula's questioning. But it's certainly been fascinating to watch Nakoula morph into a right-wing hero within a matter of days. Initially, even the most zealous conservatives merely claimed that the Obama administration wasn't defending free speech strongly enough. The reasons were slightly obscure, but when pressed they usually said that a defense of free speech should have been in the first sentence of some statement or other, rather than the second. Or something. But they didn't actively defend Nakoula.

But now he's a conservative martyr. Not because the Obama administration did anything to him, but because they can weave some kind of weird conspiracy theory linking probation officers in Los Angeles County to the White House. Within a heartbeat, Obama was Hitler and Nakoula was a "Christian filmmaker" who was being persecuted.

What makes this all the more bizarre is that, as Adam points out, the Obama administration actually has done a couple of things that are pretty iffy:

Some of the Obama administration's decisions do raise free-speech concerns, however. The government's inquiry to YouTube about whether the video violated the site's terms of service was potentially coercive. So was the call that Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made to a fringe Florida pastor to urge him to stop supporting the film.

You'd think this would be enough of a hook for conservatives to attack Obama. But no. Obama's got to be Hitler and Nakoula has to be a martyr to his thuggish politics. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the modern conservative movement at work.