Sunday, November 18, 2012

Santa v Jesusland: Critiquing Mitt Romney's Post-Election After-action Report

Mitt Romney is one of those guys whose "gaffes" are in the category "inadvertant utterance of the truth" rather than simple misstatements or mispronunciations. (I thought his "corporations are people, my friend" was one of his best moments despite the ignorant caterwauling that arose in response). Even in defeat, the "gaffes" keep coming as Romney has sought to blame his loss on Obama giving "gifts" to certain targeted constituencies.
In a conference call with fund-raisers and donors to his campaign, Mr. Romney said Wednesday afternoon that the president had followed the “old playbook” of using targeted initiatives to woo specific interest groups — “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.” 
“In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said, contrasting Mr. Obama’s strategy to his own of “talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.” 
Mr. Romney’s comments in the 20-minute conference call came after his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, told WISC-TV in Madison on Monday that their loss was a result of Mr. Obama’s strength in “urban areas,” an analysis that did not account for Mr. Obama’s victories in more rural states like Iowa and New Hampshire or the decrease in the number of votes for the president relative to 2008 in critical urban counties in Ohio. 
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,” Mr. Romney said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.” 
The president’s health care plan, he said, was also a useful tool in mobilizing black and Hispanic voters. Though Mr. Romney won the white vote with 59 percent, according to exit polls, minorities coalesced around the president in overwhelming numbers: 93 percent of blacks and 71 percent of Hispanics. 
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”
This has inspired a furious counter-reaction from some Republicans who have have accused Romney of dividing the country and engaging in some kind of corporatist politicking that excludes the lower half. John Podheretz probably came up with the best summation of this latest attitude du jour:
Romney didn’t say on that call that the election had come out as it did because Obama’s team had outplayed and outfoxed his. He should have, because that’s the truth. 
Rather, he said that Obama had won the second term essentially through bribery — or what he called “gifts.” According to The New York Times, Romney said Obama had pulled out an “old playbook” to woo “the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.” 
Obama and his team, Romney said, were“very generous in what they gave to those groups.” He mentioned certain immigration reforms the White House designed without the need for congressional vote and ObamaCare policies mandating free contraception and extending a child’s ability to stay on his parents’ insurance to the age of 26. 
By contrast, Romney said, he talked about “big” national issues: “military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.” So, compared to the “gifts,” he just couldn’t compete. 
Aside from being bad sportsmanship — Romney basically said Obama won by cheating — he was displaying the same obtuseness about the wants and needs of ordinary people that did more to torpedo his campaign than any goodies Obama might have had to dole out.
Podheretz is a Serious Thinker (who writes for the New York Post, but still) or at least is descended from Serious Thinkers,  so you'd think he'd know what he's talking about. I mean, is there any doubt that what Romney said was true? Podheretz seems to have forgotten that Obama just won a national election, in large part, by motivating the constituent parts of his base with gifts or with outsized claims about the efficacy of his various bailouts. Not only that, these groups came relatively cheap. Remember how restive Hispanics complained about the absence of comprehensive immigration reform? All he had to do was sign a constitutionally dubious executive order authorizing the DREAM Act. Don't tell me that didn't satisfy most Hispanics.

Even better was his "evolution" on gay marriage. Obama was calling for legalizing gay marriage back in the 1990's, then cynically switched positions to say his "religious beliefs" told him marriage was between a man and a woman. Everyone knew he was lying - about gay marriage and about his having religious beliefs that had any influence on his "evolution" on marriage. The Left was especially aware of the lie, and simply waited for an electorally motivated evolution in their direction, and then voted accordingly. Let's see a conservative get away with this.

Most important, there was the Democrat Convention, which featured speeches offering one "gift" after another. As I said at the time, if a Libertarian (or serious conservative) saw any part of that convention, they would be overcome with despair at their philosophy's bleak prospects in the face of millions of voters for whom such gifts are highly prized and worth their vote. To deny this is to deny reality, not to mention experience.

Podheretz points to Gov. Bobby Jindal as a Young Turk who knows how the world works:
Bobby Jindal, the brilliant and effective governor of Louisiana, raged against Romney in response. The former candidate was “absolutely wrong,” he said. Romney was “dividing the American voters.” Republicans, Jindal asserted, “need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American Dream.”
Sorry, is that a joke? The governor of Louisiana has trouble understanding how Democrats use pay-outs and patronage to win elections? And thinks that discussing such matters is out of bounds?! If true, then he literally should not run for president, but should stay in the Pelican State. The man clearly does not know the enemy, and that has to be a foundational requirement for any serious conservative presidential contender.

Is Romney over-selling the "gift" spin? Absolutely. There were a lot of other factors involved in his loss including the catostrophic failure of his GOTV, and his hesitant campaigning style that saw him ease off the throttle in the last debate and in the final 3 weeks of the campaign. Romney is, unsurprisingly, not ready to admit to his own failures.

But, Democrats have been winning elections since Andrew Jackson's time by running against moneyed interests and offering gifts to their supporters. This is basic stuff! I assume Podheretz, Jindal, et al. would recognize this dynamic if they saw it play out somewhere like Argentina and France (and it has played out in both countries in the last 18 months). That they can't see it in the good ol' US of A tells me that they, and many other Republicans, are woefully unprepared to compete in the current environment.

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