Harry Reid Plays The Lying Game

Like most, I doubt that Harry Reid actually has the goods on Mitt Romney’s taxes. He of course says a source at Romney’s Bain Capital told him Mittens didn’t pay a dime’s worth of taxes for a decade. While a multi-multi-millionaire like Romney avoiding all federal taxation is far from improbable — just look at General Electric — the issue is whether Reid actually knows this, or whether, as most think, he’s bluffing to force Romney to release the tax forms and prove him wrong.

Now, old Harry many not be many things, among them a silky slick media operator. The guy is more dogged than artful. But he must have decided he’ll risk the hit if Romney ever does release his tax information — for a decade, not just an estimate for the past quarter — and proves that, yes, by god, he did pay as much in total taxes as a Target check-out clerk. So take that Harry, you slimy liar!

But of course the controversy over Reid’s claim — which he has shamelessly repeated — is that it is proof of the rancid gutter politics regularly practiced by liberals (Harry Reid raging liberal … ) against righteous defenders of America’s moral core, which is to say entrepreneurial, job-creating patriots like Romney and Karl Rove and … well, you know the suspect line-up as well as I do. Even Jon Stewart ripped Reid, as has every conservative blogger who hasn’t had their electricity turned off for non-payment.

Stewart and other non-echo chamber ideologues were disappointed that so prominent a figure in the dwindling adult caucus of Congress had descended to the same level of well, lying your ass off for headlines and cash, as the … entire GOP presidential field and all their SuperPAC managers. “Liberals”, Stewart implied, are supposed to be playing a more noble game.

This dichotomy of standards is of course germane to us here at The Same Rowdy Crowd as we furiously make notes for Wednesday’s inaugural book club. (Scroll down for details). It will be a (polite and collegial) discussion of “It’s Even Worse Than It looks”, Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann’s unequivocating indictment of the reckless insurgent games today’s conservative movement regularly plays with the truth and the function of government. (Warning: Please arrive on time and with your cell phones off. The Great and Wonderful Austin will deduct full points for tardiness and texting during his lecture.)

The problem that Reid’s ploy creates for anyone who still has some respect for truth, is that it offers ideal cover for journalists — who, in tough economic times, have an aversion to over-playing “the truth thing”. With Reid most likely lying/bullshitting for tactical effect, journalists can exhale and repeat with great confidence that, “You see, both sides are doing it.”

A quick personal story. A few weeks ago an otherwise fine local TV station asked me to come out and regale their audience with my deep thoughts on a matter of grave importance. I forget now what the hook was, but the questioning went immediately to the poisonous atmosphere in politics today with both sides saying so many silly and terrible things about each other. Having been through the punditry thing a time or two I understood that my role was to play some kind of Solomonic Master of Balance, commiserating with the anchor about the squalid state of affairs, decrying the overall debasement of civil discourse and wringing hands over the unlikelihood of anything changing … at least until the asteroid strikes.

But I wasn’t into it that day, and I had just finished reading a chunk of Ornstein and Mann’s book. So, instead of the ritual commiseration, I suggested to the anchor that if journalists’ concern about the corrosive effect of so much lying on American life was as sincere as they made it seem, they held in their hands a fairly simple mitigator … which would be … the truth. Point being, instead of “reporting” the latest asinine tactical attack by one side or the other as though that was the beginning and end of the story, take on as a responsibility, and a journalistic standard, ascertaining what was true and reporting both the facts of any claim AND the name of the person or group filling the airwaves with flagrant falsehoods. I also added, for effect, that while it is true both sides engage in eye-rolling “untruth”, the fact is the modern Republican party engages in it far … far …more often and egregiously than liberals, and until an editorial decision is made to ID the worst perpetrators and make them own their deceits, nothing much is going to change.

The anchor’s response to this was to warn against a descent into “opinion journalism”. Mine to that was that it was the anti-thesis of “opinion” if it was factually accurate.

When the five-minute interview ended I told the young producer, “I’ll be interested to see how much of that makes the final cut”, and of course very little did. Post-editing, I was reduced to another concerned, commiserating hand-wringer lamenting the debased nature of America’s public dialogue. That being the narrative that fits most comfortably with commercial news.

Not Intended to be a Factual Statement.

Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and others have been merciless towards Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl’s assertion — on the Senate floor mind you, not over cocktails at The Phoenician — that “90% of Planned Parenthood” funding goes for abortions, when it is really only 3%. The merciless meter buried its needle though with the “explanation” from Kyl’s office that his remarks — on the Senate floor, I repeat — “were not intended to be a factual statement”.

You can’t make it up … other than when you are just, you know, making it up.

If ever there was a gift-wrapped present to merciless satirists it was that one.

But what the Kyl incident says about the Grand Old Party, and what Team Obama has clearly calculated, is what makes it so truly, deeply, lover-ly … delicious. It is well known that Obama was preparing a speech on the “debt crisis” for sometime this spring, but wanted the Republicans, in the form of their guru du jour, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, t0 lay out their “plan” first. Why? Well, because obviously it meant that at long, long last the Tea Party-driven new Republican majority would have to get into … details. And those details would be coming from a guy the Republicans are touting as their best-est, deepest thinker on really serious adult thingies, like money.

Having won a big victory last fall on a campaign strategy of blaming Democrats for the ’08 recession and promising to “cut spending” and get a grip on the “debt crisis” (while ignoring it was largely a crisis of their own making) they never at any point hinted at whose spending they were going to cut. Just “government waste”. Which of course could be anything and nothing. What Obama, a supernaturally patient character, understood/understands is that at some point they’d have to get into the hows and the whats. The Tea Party rabble would demand actual numbers, actual blood in the dirt. He also knew that the “how” of the Republican solution would be anathema to the vast majority of voters, even the huge chunk of them that sat out the off-year election.

It is pretty clear that far from shrinking from a fight over national finances, Obama relishes it. This is it. This is the central issue for 2012. His speech in Tuesday, with its campaign-perfect tone and “bring it on” rhetoric about how no one’s going to gut the social safety net, “while I’m president”, along with its emphatic defense of a liberal-progressive vision of society clearly rattled the GOP’s young Turks. (Ryan himself was in the audience at George Washington University.)  They may genuinely believe that their victory last fall gave them a mandate to eviscerate all sorts of social programs. (All of them created by liberals and all of them opposed at the time of their creation and ever since by conservatives). But outside their caucus bubble they had to know — or had to be warned by guys like John Boehner — that  there lurked a far, far different reality. A reality where the brittle rubber of “not intended to be a factual statement” hits the hot asphalt of every day life and disintegrates.

Given The Sixteen Stooges-cast of characters poised to compete against him, I doubt Obama is losing a lot of sleep worrying about any one-on-one debates. Hell, in the rally-the-base realm where, “not intended to be a factual statement” is a completely viable campaign strategy, where Donald Trump can spike to the top of the “likely Republican voters” poll by covering himself in birther lunacy, where Michele Bachmann has to be regarded as a contender because her cred with “values voters in Iowa” and where a profoundly creepy character like Rick Santorum can make news with his “exploratory committee”, Obama would have more serious competition from Larry, Moe and Curly Joe.

Still, he needed the crucible issue defined … by his opposition. The Tea Party’s late-dawning obsession with the “debt crisis” — long, long after the two unpaid for Bush-era wars, the Bushies’ unpaid for prescription drug benefit and the Bushies’ unpaid-for multi-trillion dollar tax cuts for Warren Buffett, Jay-Z and the Wall Street sharks — is the perfect issue to win reelection on. It is made even better by the haplessness — the let’s not even bother with “intended as a factual statement” — of the Tea Party tail, which is wagging the Republican dog.

A debate on money, social programs and who pays for it is perfect because it invites a serious, highly-relevant choice every voter can understand. If Ryan and the GOP candidates want to actually engage Obama on the specifics of what a voucher system means to Medicare as we know it … bring it on … please. Every pensioner in every Ft. Lauderdale condo will have their hearing aids on high gain. Likewise, those tax cuts — without which there would be no “crisis” in “debt crisis” — if you really want to go out in public again shrieking about Democrats raising “your taxes” and/or “stifling our job providers” — let us prepare a red carpet for your appearances. We’ll even do a sound check on the equipment and touch-up your eye shadow.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about John Kyl’s “Dubious Achievements”-worthy lapse into comical demagoguery is that he, like John McCain, was once regarded as a respectable, rational, albeit old school professional country club Republican.  But now, under the irresistible influence of the Tea Party zealots, for whom “factual statements” are anything that sounds good on Sean Hannity and gets a roar out of the crowd at a Tucson gun show, even he feels obligated to publicly debase himself with instantly demonstrable idiocy. (How much do you think the John Kyl of five years ago ever thought about Planned Parenthood, much less confused it as an all-abortion service?)

The “not intended as a factual statement” crowd is the controlling influence on today’s Republican party, and they have pushed out into the bright light of day a “reality-based” issue that every average voter can easily understand and on which they have clear, well-documented opinions. Barack Obama could not be happier.

And as a liberal who has been waiting for Obama to take on the big fight, I thank them.

Pawlenty’s Youth Movement Plans Revealed

Item: Minnesota’s ex-Governor Tim Pawlenty insists that he, not President Obama, will win the coveted youth vote in the 2012 presidential race.

Not only that, Pawlenty revealed his secret weapon for winning over young adults. Policies to make higher education affordable? The mullet? The adorable “TPaw” self-branding? His cheeky TV ad showcasing his oh so hot “34-inch waist?”

No, the 50-year old candidate explained to the Vanderbilt University (no not that) Hustler that he had developed a special bond with 18-24 year olds because he — wait until you here this, kids — uses Facebook and accepts invites to The Daily Show!!!

Of course, that would be a bit more dope if 15 million senior citizens weren’t already using Facebook, and the other folks accepting Daily Show invitations these days weren’t senior citizens like Bob Dole, Madeline Albright, Zell Miller, Mario Cuomo, Allan Greenspan and Henry Kissinger.

– Loveland

“Dithering” Doublespeak

Decisions have you really thought it throughOne of the things that uncredentialed fake journalist Jon Stewart does on Comedy Channel that many credentialed real journalists don’t do is connect the dots of recent events. Stewart and his writers don’t just regurgitate the news of the day and look at events in isolation. They dig until they uncover the larger story, and then Stewart speaks sleuth to power.

I wish Stewart could do more of that kind of probing in Minnesota. Among many other things, Minnesota Congressman John Kline’s recent statements might be of interest.

For instance, in a recent Star Tribune commentary about Afghanistan, Congressman Kline demanded fast decisionmaking from Democrats. Like Vice President Cheney, Congressman Klein was deeply troubled by President Obama’s alleged “dithering.”

But in a news release just a few months earlier, Congressman Kline was highly critical of fast decisionmaking by Democrats on the health care reform bill.

Let me see if I have this straight. Deliberation on a life and death issue like war is traitorous, but deliberation on a life and death issue like health care is a must? In one instance pondering is due deliberation, but in another it is deadly dithering?

Politicians like Kline often want to force decisions when they think the likely decision will go their way, and slow decisions when they think the likely decision will go against them. But they frame each position in self-righteous terms.

Where is that Jon Stewart when you need him?

– Loveland
payables nice

Great NY Times story on Daily Show

Wonderful story on Jon Stewart and The Daily Show in Sunday’s New York Times. Well worth a read. Looks at how the show keeps public officials accountable and at Stewart’s ability to spot and slap down bullshit.

Stewart aims to be entertaining and provocative without being strident. Man — could I use a stridencyectomy. That’s a hard mix to achieve, and part of why the show makes you laugh and think at the same time.

Great Stewart line: He’s looking forward to the end of the Bush administration “as a comedian, as a person, as a citizen, as a mammal.” tax consultants fine