Fighting the Last War

 Posted by at 2:46 pm  National Politics
Sep 032012

One of the recurring warnings/lessons/pitfalls in military history and strategic training is the propensity for armies to prepare and plan for the last war they fought, rather than the next.

This is natural in humans: we learn based on experience and plan our future actions based on what we learned. It’s our one big evolutionary advantage.

Well, and thumbs.

The problem, of course, is that conditions and technology continue to evolve between the last conflict and the next. Since the 19th century they have done so at a breakneck pace. Yet those in positions of authority—often convinced by their long experience that they have understanding of what is coming—continue to make plans based on what they learned in the last conflict, much of which may no longer be applicable.

And so you get horse cavalry riding into machine-gun fire in World War I. You get France pouring resources into the Maginot Line to prevent a recurrence of World War I…and Hitler just going right around it by invading Belgium. You get years of senseless slaughter of American troops fighting to “take the hill” in Vietnam, only to lose it the minute they go back to base, because the brass doesn’t understand that they are in a guerrilla war, not a front-line war. And today, you get insane amounts of American money going into maintaining military presences in places like Japan and Germany where they have long since been unnecessary.

This brings me to Republican Presidential campaign strategy in 2012.

Since Ronald Reagan’s campaign, GOP Presidential campaign strategy has boiled down to this:

  1. Publicly, paint a glowing, nostalgic fantasy of what you’ll make of the country, avoiding specifics and sticking to platitudes;
  2. Make private promises to social conservatives you feel no particular commitment to keeping;
  3. Make private promises to wealthy donors you absolutely intend to keep;
  4. Do everything you can to load the dice: make it difficult for minorities and the poor to vote, promote cynicism about voting, etc.

That strategy worked for a long time. The coalition of the wealthy and the socially conservative remained aligned, solidified and grew: so much so that by 2000, Karl Rove decided that it was big enough that he could ignore swing voters entirely, and win simply by galvanizing the base with a hard-right message. And with the help of some vote suppression, Ralph Nader and five members of the Supreme Court, it worked.

It continued to work in 2004, even as the shine was coming off the Republican brand. As the economy became increasingly untenable for any but the very rich, the Iraq War proved itself to be both unwarranted and not the slam-dunk that had been promised, we bogged down in Afghanistan and the last of Bush’s post-September-11 poll resurgence faded away, it was a narrow thing. But he won, promptly tanked again in popularity, and control of Congress was wrested away by Democrats in 2006.

It took decades, but the Shrub finally broke the spell of the Republican brand for many reasonable Americans, who had watched the GOP get crazier and more and more unwilling to listen or govern since 1980.

The problem with having a culture based on unquestioning faith in dubious principles is that by definition, you don’t learn. Instead, you just tell yourself you already know everything, and any who disagree must be wrong.

So Rove & Co. didn’t learn that things had changed. They just kept running the only plays they knew: tell a happy-making story, game the system as much as you can, and work the base into a foaming lather so they’ll turn out.  But it failed in 2008. The GOP base had shrunk, the party’s constituencies were at one another’s throats, and an unexpected surge of young voters upended the smugly assured “real numbers” of Bush’s Brain.

They’re running exactly the same playbook in 2012. And thus we get voter ID laws and voter roll purges and Citizens United and busting of public employee unions, and the Platform of Hammurabi.

Other than in his snipes at the President, Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention was in all pertinent particulars Ronald Reagan’s in 1980 and 1984: an invocation of a mythical postwar suburban America where all was safe and good for white men, women knew their place, and minorities were silent and invisible except when they were cleaning your house, shining your shoes or carrying your golf clubs. “Morning Again In America” all over again, 32 years after the first time this sanitized lie was sold to the American voter.

Of course, this fantasy describes a world that never existed, but I’m not talking about the content. I’m talking about the applicability of that message to the problem at hand, which is winning the election. With an electorate composed of today’s proportion of women who believe they should be treated as equals, minority voters, plus younger voters who don’t even know what he is talking about when he invokes the days of vanilla malteds at the drive-in with Peggy Sue, Romney and his handlers have developed yet another retread of a campaign plan designed to fight the last war.

No candidate has tried harder than Mitt Romney to obscure, deny, and obfuscate what his party really stands for. He and campaign strategists in his party understand that they cannot sell their policies on the merits (even zealot Paul Ryan is now doing a cute little dance around his plans to gut social safety net programs). But they believe that the Reagan/Bush Just-Keep-Telling-The-Pretty-Story-to-The-Believers strategy will once again sweep them into office, as it did those past Presidents.

My read is that it can’t work, and will work less and less going forward. So long as Republican strategists feel locked into trying to sell a vision of America as a White Man’s Suburban Christian Paradise to an increasingly urbanized and diverse country, their percentage of the vote will shrink.

They’re fighting the last war. The country has changed. If we have Happy Days ahead of us, the malteds come in a rainbow of flavors, the burgers are served with salsa, and Peggy Sue is the CEO of the drive-in chain.

At publication, the Dragon was SANGUINE

Aug 312012

Here is your post-Republican-convention Presidential race thumbnail, as viewed by Your Tavernkeeper:

Two national polls were released today. CNN has Obama by 7 points nationally, and FOX-fer-gods-sake News by 9. Those numbers are identical to where they were three weeks ago, before Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Of course, these polls only measure the national horse race, and what really matters are the battleground states. But perception is huge in national elections, and Americans hate to back a loser. Reports from Tampa are that after Romney’s speech, even delegates to the convention appeared dispirited and glum as they filed out of the arena. The more Obama looks like an inevitable winner, the more likely he is to become an actual one.

These polls were conducted prior last night’s…um…unique climax to the RNC, so they don’t reflect any possible convention bounce, but I don’t expect Romney to get much, if any such help. Here’s why:

Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan earlier than he should have, because he was desperate to shift the national conversation away from his tax returns and record at  Bain Capital. Given that Romney isn’t exciting or particularly liked in the first place, the VP pick was probably going to be the biggest driver of any convention-driven improvement in his numbers.

Because he announced his selection early, it’s been long enough that any such bounce would already have shown up in the polls. Yet with the exception of Wisconsin, where the GOP ticket has seen slight improvement—but the President still leads—there has been no sign that Paul Ryan has much helped Romney’s prospects.

Now we are done with a convention that is perceived by many as having been a disaster for the GOP. The big takeaways from this year’s RNC are that Paul Ryan is a lying lying liar and Clint Eastwood lost an argument with an empty chair; the more insider-baseball stories which will undermine GOP voter enthusiasm are the suppression of Ron Paul delegates through passage of a rather Stalinist rule change, and the fact that Romney himself does not support the party’s platform plank on abortion, which certainly can’t be pleasing social conservatives. Of course, that position could change, because with Romney, it usually does.

TV ratings for Ryan’s big speech were only slightly more than half what they were for Palin on the same night in 2008, even though Ryan—being unfamiliar to many voters—should arguably have been the biggest draw of the convention besides Eastwood. Sarah Palin may be a dim bulb, but she’s charismatic to conservatives. You don’t tend to find “Paul Ryan” and “charismatic” in the same sentence; he just ain’t no Sarah Palin. And that’s another serious problem for the GOP ticket, because given the sharply reduced audience, those who were watching this convention were almost certainly the Republican base, rather than undecided voters.

Maybe, given its content, that’s a plus for them, actually.

The upshot of all this is that Romney’s last real opportunity to make a positive impression on the American people is over, and unless I am very much mistaken, he failed in that task. Which is a serious problem for him, because America really, really doesn’t like him.

Meanwhile, Nate Silver notes that economic indicators are improving somewhat, undermining the GOP argument and strengthening the incumbent. His model now shows Obama over 70% likely to win.

The DNC is up next, and we know that one speaker, at least, has the chops to draw and retain viewer attention. Like it or not, America smells like teen spirit, and the incumbent President knows how to make his case while entertaining us.

It’s still a long way to November, but the Romney/Ryan ticket is running out of options. Looks like they’re stuck with spend that money and lie, baby, lie.

At publication, the Dragon was ANALYTICAL

Aug 292012

So…since the recent flurry of attention over my lament at the completely unfunny Republican Clown Car of Darkness, celebration of Team Obama’s aikido mastery, identification of the Romney campaign’s death spiral, and frank character assessment of the presumed Republican nominee, folks have noticed that I have an opinion or two on matters political.

Yep, it’s a fact.

Many of them have been asking me, “say, there, Green Dragon bartender, sir, how would you propose to render into small and inoperable pieces the Republican national campaign of 2012?”

Honestly, yes, they do, just like that. Then they want more pretzels.

So here, let me refill that tankard for you, and journey with me into the terrifying landscape of Mark’s Political Mind for Eight Strategies for Kicking Republican Butt in 2012.

Let me say at the outset that some of this is pretty obvious stuff, and we’re already seeing it. The Obama campaign team has proven itself the smartest strategic campaign outfit I’ve seen in my lifetime, and if one of my thoughts below isn’t happening in the actual campaign, it’s probably because they know something I don’t and saw a reason it’s not worth doing.

I should also note that I’m not really addressing targeted demographic strategies here, but rather those targeted at that tiny group of independents and swing voters who are going to decide the election. The Obama campaign will and must, of course, also pursue target strategies to secure and mobilize constituencies the GOP has in essence abandoned: active GOTV for minorities to overcome Republican voting obstruction; Spanish-language outreach; a hard press for women’s votes.

So…here, with no further ado, are Mark’s Eight Footprints as Applied to Republican Butt:

  1. Highlight Obama’s record. This one is self-evident, but I mention it because Romney’s early strategy was to make the election a referendum on Obama. That clearly didn’t work. Most of the people in the country still—correctly—blame George W. Bush for the condition of the economy. Trot out the heartwarming testimonials of the auto workers whose jobs were saved, the parents of ill children now covered by Obamacare (which is now polling in the black), and seniors who benefited by closing the donut hole. Allude—without being too crass about it—to the death of Osama bin Laden. And be sure to point out that all he has accomplished has been with the flat opposition of Republicans.
  2. Keep working the trust and likeability wedge. The Obama campaign has succeeded in framing Romney as secretive and untrustworthy, and Romney’s own campaign ineptitude has established him as the most disliked Presidential nominee ever. Keep pushing on the tax question, and use what you find in the Gawker dump to continue questioning Romney’s credibility. Add to that the cascade of flip-flops: use jump-cut ads showing Mitt Romney taking every policy position under the sun. The key points here are uncertainty and dislike: Romney is a cold and selfish man who doesn’t stand for anything, running on a radical vision of how America should be transformed, the only certain beneficiaries of which are people like himself. That is too scary of a bet for most voters.
  3. Keep after Romney’s history at Bain Capital like a terrier in a rat hole. The factory closings, offshore tax shelters to avoid paying income tax, and vampire capitalism are all negatives except to voters Obama is never going to carry anyway. Make sure voters keep seeing the human faces of what happens when the Suits go wild. (Hey! Some third party person should do a Suits Gone Wild YouTube ad!)
  4. Hammer on Romney’s job creation record in Massachusetts. By the time he was done, MA was ranked 47th in job growth. Hiring this guy to fix your unemployment situation is like hiring a gas station attendant to do brain surgery. We already know whether he has the chops to create jobs: he doesn’t. Make sure voters know it, too.
  5. Get Romney mad. Romney is a gaffe machine anyway, but he is at his worst when his entitlement and ego come to the fore. He is a man accustomed to getting what he wants, and he completely believes that he can buy the Presidency just as he has bought everything else in his life. As that goal moves out of reach, he will become more and more brittle, reactive, imperious and angry. He will say things he will regret. This strategy is particularly important during the debates: Romney can’t do anything to get a rise out of Long-Fuse Barack unless the President makes a deliberate decision to show a little heat. But the reverse is definitely not true.
  6. Characterize Romney as hopelessly out of touch. Contrast Cayman Islands tax shelters and $77,000 “business” deductions for dancing horses with the struggles of ordinary Americans. Be careful to avoid “attacking success”, but make the point that a guy whose solution to high college costs is to tell people to “borrow $20,000 from their parents” is simply clueless about the challenges facing the average American.
  7. Highlight the scary nature of the Ryan budget, and use the “R-word”: Radical. Most Americans don’t know much about Ryan yet, and there is an opportunity to define him for swing voters. The Ryan budget is radical in every sense, and Congressional Republicans have all signed on in lockstep support, so this is a golden opportunity for downballot coattails. There are many components of Ryan’s budget to be scared of: demolition of Medicare for seniors, the likely ending of the tax deduction for mortgage interest in order to deliver yet another tax cut for the rich, the ending of the popular provisions in Obamacare like the ending of exclusion for pre-existing conditions. That is a lot of ammunition, some of it state-specific: Romney’s hostility to wind energy in Iowa, for example, and of course, Medicare in Florida. Make them wear all of it.
  8. Call out the cowardice of Republican “can’t-do” policies, and contrast with the American tradition of courage.

On this last point, I think there is an opportunity to galvanize the Democratic base and show how genuinely shabby the Republican agenda really is. An effective way of characterizing Republican hostility to programs that benefit ordinary Americans and prepare us for the future is that they’re just a bunch of surrender monkeys. If it were me, my stump speech would end something like this:

“I know it’s tough to say, but when I listen to Republicans these days, they sound like they’ve given up on a better future. There is opportunity right in front of us, but they don’t want us to take it.  We’re still better positioned than any nation on Earth to be the leaders and innovators on clean energy, addressing climate change, and building the economy of the 21st century. We can return to good jobs, a healthy middle class and greater national security if we choose that path. But Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan seem to believe that all America is capable of doing any more is to give rich people more money and hope it works out for the best…even though we know from 30 years’ experience that it won’t.

“They’re the ‘Can’t-Do’ ticket. They think we can’t provide Medicare for our seniors or cutting-edge educational opportunities for our young people any more. They think we can’t build the infrastructure we need to be competitive in the global marketplace. They think we can’t become independent from foreign oil. The only thing they believe we can do any longer is to cut taxes for people like themselves, while the rest of Americans’ lives get harder.

“I look at Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and Congressional Republicans, and it honestly looks as though they have thrown in the towel. They don’t seem to have any confidence that America can succeed, and they don’t have any new ideas. They want to fold the tent on our elderly and our young people and our country’s economic future.  Their idea is kind of like what Mr. Romney did at Bain Capital: they see the federal government as something they can strip of resources for their own benefit, instead of applying those resources so we can all be successful together in the future. Their vision is of a future America where unless you’re rich, you’re an illness or a paycheck away from desperation.

“Don’t we have any better choices than just to surrender to a downhill slide? Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don’t seem to think so.

“Well, I think we do. Joe Biden thinks we do. And [local-district Democratic Congressional candidate _____] thinks so, too. We haven’t given up. We know that this country has risen to challenges before, and it can this time, too.

“We are citizens of the United States of America. We went to the Moon. We invented the airplane, recorded sound, jazz, rock and roll and the computer chip. We cured polio, decoded the genome and created the Internet. We inspired the world with a revolution based in principles of liberty and tolerance, and we have led the world in breaking down barriers of prejudice and fear.

“We are not so short-sighted as to embrace Mitt Romney’s vision of America’s future, where the comfortable avoid the taxes the hard-working must pay. We are not so timid as to shrink from the demands the coming world makes of us. We are not so small as to avoid the responsibilities our future generations place before us.

“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress want us to give up on trying to solve the problems their party created, and instead just to double down on failed policies that happen to make them money. They want us to keep repeating their mistakes, because it works great for rich people like themselves and their donors.

But I–and Joe Biden, and [local-district Democratic Congressional candidate _____] have a message for Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan and Republicans in Congress: America DOESN’T QUIT. If all you can come up with is giving up and grabbing what you can out of the mess you made of our economy, get out of the way, because the American people have never surrendered, and we’re not going to start now.

“Thank you, god bless you, and god bless the United States of America.”*

I’m Mark Green, and I approve this message.


*Final line necessary because it’s traditional. Does not indicate credulity on my part.


At publication, the Dragon was LOADED FOR BEAR

Is Romney Cursed?

 Posted by at 4:49 pm  National Politics
Aug 212012

You kind of have to wonder.

Mitt Romney certain brings a lot of his own disadvantages to the party. He’s unlikeable, demonstrably avaricious, dishonest, and a political “Etch-a-Sketch”, and his track record is littered with juicy bits of ugly testimony to his cold and predatory character. He is so burdened, in fact, that it is only because he was the one candidate that the Plutocratic wing of his party—the gang that really calls the shots—had confidence would do their bidding that he survived the primary campaign.

Now, on the eve of the convention, he is still trying to solidify his base, doing so with the cowardly selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate.

The idea was to change the subject from Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns, with which he was being hammered flat, to Ryan’s radical proposal that the United States government cease to serve its people, but instead become a fully-functioning profit center for the very rich.

That isn’t the spin, of course, but for five minutes, anyway, the gambit worked and the subject was successfully changed. I have argued this is a temporary reprieve, but for a moment, Romney got to enjoy it. He and his new pal Gomer Pyle went to work on confusing the public about their position on Medicare, and it seemed like the road to the White House, though rough, might be navigable.

But what happens? Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin changes the subject again…to abortion. A divisive and polarizing topic on which the GOP takes a position decidedly out of step with the opinion of a majority of Americans.

To make matters worse, Akin does this with an outrageous claim certain to offend every last American voter who isn’t a right-wing nut: the claim that a “legitimately” raped woman can’t get pregnant.

These are the sorts of vile rationalizations that have circulated among anti-choice conservatives for years, but the wink-and-nudge rule is that you don’t articulate them in public. Having blurted what he and many anti-abortion zealots really think, though, Akin has spotlighted three issues: the GOP’s extremist opposition to choice even in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the health of the mother; the fact that Republicans are trying to assert distinctions over who has “really” been raped; and the sheer looniness of the current state of Republican scientific beliefs.

So now, Two-Faced Mitt is in the spotlight on abortion policy—the last place he wants to focus attention. He must somehow take a position on Akin’s obscene claim that will both keep happy the right-wingers he has only recently mollified, and leave him some chance of gaining the support of voters—particularly women—who are rightfully appalled by Akin’s inadvertent candor.

Today in the midst of this scheissesturm, the Republican Party approved a platform plank which supports banning abortion and makes no exceptions.

Front and center, Mitt.

It isn’t as though Republicans have many strategies that can win them this election. Blanketing the airwaves with falsehoods is about all they’ve got. But they need, at minimum, to make the debate about topics they can win on if they are successful in deceiving voters. Abortion is not such an issue, and it carries with it the association of the Christian right’s deep influence within the Republican Party…a fact with which the American electorate—especially independentshas become increasingly fed up.

Akin’s statement echoes far beyond Missouri; it brings back into high relief the barbarism of Republican policies regarding women’s health and rights. It is a major blow to Republican hopes to take the Senate this year, and will force GOP candidates in every contested seat to navigate the very minefield in which Romney now finds himself.

You could almost—almost—feel sorry for the guy.

At publication, the Dragon was: GIGGLING