Saturday, January 14, 2012

Comrade Obama?

By Capt. Fogg

I must disagree with Bill Maher that Rick Santorum thinks of gay sex more than a dildo salesman but only because Rick Santorum doesn't actually think, unless one defines that word very loosely. He doesn't remember things too well either and I say that in all generosity since one might interpret the things he says he remembers as outright lies. They aren't even up to date lies or original lies or good lies, yet there are always enough misinformed, low intelligence dung flingers in fatuously faith based America to believe them and make this country seem like the primate house at the world's largest zoo.

Take Santorum's tired repetition of John McCain's 2001 attempt to sell the embarrassingly ridiculous notion that President Obama wants to redistribute the nation's wealth in some Socialistic way, a bit like Jed Clampett arriving at the Royal Wedding in his beat up old truck . Coming from a Republican, whose party has engineered what might be one of the largest upward redistribution of wealth, that's already laughable but Mr. Rick seems to be the last man standing who is still driving that rusty jalopy -- the idea that Our president, beset by critics calling him a corporate whore and a sell-out to Wall Street is a radical socialist and perhaps a communist to boot. What Santorum claims to remember is that Obama supported a constitutional amendment to give your money to the poor ( read black people) when what the president really said in a 2001 interview was that the
"Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution. . .”

Essential constraints -- it sounds very little like a man who is deploring those constraints. Indeed when Obama said the court had limited itself to insuring that he could eat at a lunch counter as long as he could afford to pay for his lunch, only a stupid man who thinks other people are even more stupid would interpret, or should I say twist, this as a quote from the Communist Manifesto.

"In the interview, Obama went into extensive detail to explain why the courts should not get into that business of ‘redistributing’ wealth. Obama’s point — and what he called a tragedy — was that legal victories in the civil rights led too many people to rely on the courts to change society for the better. That view is shared by conservative judges and legal scholars across the country."

said Obama spokesman Bill Burton during the 2008 campaign. Certainly no development since then has given credibility to McCain's sad attempt or justification for Santorum's calumnies.

I'm finding it difficult, even without the waves of nausea and loathing, to accept that any candidate could have got as far as Santorum has without being laughed out of town as a cheap, incompetent liar and unscrupulous scoundrel. I can only blame the media ringmasters who continue to provide this charlatan with his own ring in this sad and tawdry circus we call a campaign. Have we forgotten that the purpose of news reporting is to sort truth from rumor, slander and lies? Perhaps we have and it's certainly been a long time since the news was anything but a way for big news corporations and their sponsors to make money. Perhaps we should stop making them richer by occupying Wall Street and start occupying CNN and Fox and the rest instead.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Is Gingrich taking Bain off the table for Romney?

Guest post by Dan Fejes 

Dan Fejes is a blogger at Pruning Shears. He lives in northeast Ohio.

(Ed. note: This is Dan's third guest post at The Reaction. His first two, on the Arizona massacre and on the Egyptian protests, appeared early last year. It's great to welcome him back. -- MJWS)


Newt Gingrich's recent (and apparently brief) flirtation with attacking Mitt Romney for his time at Bain Capital is already being discussed in traditional election-year terms. Some on the right are spinning it as a benefit to Romney because it will inoculate him against those attacks in the general election. Conventional wisdom fonts like Joe Klein are making similar noises (via) as well.

The thinking goes like this: There's some bad bit of news about a candidate out there. Ideally it stays buried and no one ever talks about it. But if it's going to come out, better that it comes out early; that way the candidate can address it when there is a smaller audience than in September or October. It also gives the candidate the chance to develop a politically effective canned response, usually ending with something like "this is old news, we've already discussed it extensively, and only a desperate campaign or an irresponsible news outlet would keep flogging this dead horse."

That works best with something like a personal frailty or a relatively minor but inconvenient political position. In Gingrich's case, reconciling his multiple divorces with the moral expectations of GOP primary voters is an example. It looks bad, so he goes on TV with a televangelist and says he cheated a lot because of his boundless passion for America, problem solved. Sure his opponents might bring it up again, but he can say he's already covered it, pivot, and counterattack them for being craven opportunists. Textbook political strategy.

There are some cases where the textbook gets thrown out the window, though. Not all political missteps can be dismissed with a little boilerplate on the hustings. Some votes are iconic; just ask Bob Bennett or Hillary Clinton. A big enough vote -- a vote on something that has lasting impact or that touches on something considered of fundamental importance -- can become very firmly attached to a candidate and resist all attempts to shake it off.

Romney's career at Bain is more like that than it is some minor gaffe. Libby Spencer thinks it's a line of attack that will stay relevant through election day, and I agree with her. (More from Libby here.) It will remain fresh because Romney's tenure at Bain literally personifies exactly the kind of soulless and greedy big-money capitalism that has increasingly suffocated communities around the country.

One of the great domestic anxieties of the last few decades for most Americans is the specter of some high-finance vampires swooping in, extracting the lifeblood of a perfectly good company, and leaving some dangerously weakened remnant to fend for itself. For an awful lot of people, that is the central economic narrative of our time; anyone who thinks it will go away because some candidate mouthed some words about it is crazy.

And of course, it also won't go away because Mitt Romney is Mitt Romney. His entire life has been so thoroughly steeped in wealth and privilege that he cannot speak off-the-cuff for very long without saying something that reveals just how wildly, offensively out of touch he is with the lives of citizens he aspires to lead. Even if he would like to put the subject behind him, all a reporter needs to do is stick a microphone in front of him and say, "Mitt, say some stuff." You don't need to do much digging to get some gold from that one. (I could save the old boy a fortune in consulting fees. My plan: Have someone type up a long list of bland talking points, put them in a three ring binder, and hand it to him with a note reading, "You may recite any of the enclosed verbatim during a debate. In all other circumstances, keep your mouth shut.”)

Now, the attacks may go away or soften for other reasons. In noting the milder attacks coming from Democrats, mistermix wrote that Gingrich is "putting Bain in the same boat as the rest of the hated Wall Streeters who almost took this country to ruin and haven't been punished for their actions." But the president has actually outraised Romney at Bain, and if 2008 is any indication, he will once again receive lavish funding from the likes of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley. So if the president decides to lump Bain in with Wall Street, that might mean taking it easier on them. But that isn't relevant to whether Romney is somehow protected from those attacks by virtue of facing them now. It's still a hell of a punch, a haymaker, should someone want to throw it.

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Priscilla Ahn: "Dream"

After a busy week of blogging, with our attention focused on ugly things like vulture capitalism and the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, let's slow things down tonight with the very lovely Priscilla Ahn, a young singer-songwriter with one of the most ethereally beautiful voices I've ever heard.

This song, "Dream," is from her debut album, 2008's A Good Day. I'd say it's the best song (and it's my favourite of her songs), but the album, an exceptionally mature combination of confidence and vulnerability, has a lot to recommend it. Her iTunes Live Session, which also features "Dream," is excellent. I don't quite like her second album, 2011's When You Grow Up, as much as her first, but it is nonetheless a strong effort showing her to be maturing artist with enormous talent.

Ahn isn't widely known, perhaps, but she has appeared on The Tonight Show and her songs have been featured on numerous TV shows, including Grey's Anatomy, and in numerous films, including Disturbia. She deserves a wider audience. Let's hope she gets one.

Enjoy. And have a good night. We'll be back to the ugly in the morning.


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Friday, January 13, 2012

Romney the (faux) right-wing extremist

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Via twitter: 

Romney touts anti-abortion, anti-gay positions in South Carolina radio ad (link)

-- ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress)

Is he really a right-wing extremist? Is he really anti-choice? Is he really an anti-gay bigot?

Maybe not. In fact, probably not.

But there's Mitt Romney (the real person) and "Mitt Romney" (the candidate who will do and say anything to get elected), and I'm not sure anyone can tell the difference anymore. He's such a shameless panderer, such a suck-up to any and every constituency he needs to win over, and in South Carolina, with Newt hot on his tail and playing up his Reaganite bona fides, he's gone into full extremist mode.

Basically, it's just Mitt being Mitt. And it's not clear at all if he has a soul or if he's just an automaton who has programmed, by himself, to sell himself for votes.

I suspect the latter. Don't let yourself be fooled. He's as faux as they come. And the only thing truly genuine about him would appear to be his penchant for destroying jobs and ruining lives through his vulture capitalism. The rest of it is all for show.

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Romney's devastation: Bain, vulture capitalism, and massive profiteering off human suffering

Romney may be defending his extremist vulture capitalism, capitalism that destroys jobs and ruins lives, and Republicans may be rallying to his side, aghast that anyone should dare question even capitalism at its worst, but there's no doubt one of his core weaknesses has been exposed. As Andrew Sullivan, hardly one to advance a left-wing take on capitalism, writes:

I just watched the Bain documentary featured below and being broadcast throughout South Carolina by Newt Gingrich's SuperPac in full. It's loaded with out-of-context quotes and heavily biased; it focuses on the specific human suffering of the necessary "creative destruction" of capitalism not its general benefits to the economy. It does so through the voices and stories of ordinary Americans. And, as an emotional bludgeon, it's devastating.

But what makes it so dangerous to Romney, it seems to me, is that the Bain Brahmin didn't just fire thousands of working class people in restructuring and in closing companies. He made a fucking unimaginable fortune doing it. That's the issue. Other Republicans can speak about the need for free markets in a sluggish economy. But with Romney, we have a singular example of someone who made a quarter of a billion dollars by firing the white middle and working class in droves in ways that do not seem designed to promote growth or efficiency, but merely to enrich Bain.


I simply cannot imagine a worse narrative for a candidate in this climate; or a politician whose skills are singularly incapable of responding to the story in any persuasive way. This ad is powerful. Romney has already seen a drop in South Carolina. I suspect he'll drop some more. And I suspect once the potency of this line of attack is absorbed by the GOP establishment, there will be some full, if concealed, panic.

I'm not exactly as fond of the "creative destruction" of capitalism as Sullivan is, nor do I think it as "necessary" as he does, and I'm not sure this video is quite as twisted as he says it is, but otherwise I'm in agreement. It's a pretty "devastating" line of attack. And one based on Romney's actual record, not one just made up to make him look bad.

I suspect he'll still go on to win the Republican nomination, not least because many Republicans (particularly the elites) applaud his brand of capitalism and the immense wealth he made at the expense of others, but the long-term damage to his electability could be immense.


In case you haven't seen it yet, here's the preview for the documentary. It's pretty powerful.

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Gingrich on the offensive

Following up on my post from yesterday on Newt's "chickening out" on Romney and Bain, retreating from his justifiable comments about Romney's "vulture" capitalism, I must say that it does look at if Gingrich is following through on his pledge to attack Romney. He's just making his line of attack broader, and less anti-Republican, and less dangerous to himself, than questioning capitalism.

As Conor Friedersdorf reported at The Atlantic, Newt sent out a "blast" to National Review's e-mail list that hits Romney hard and asks for conservative support to take him down:

We can either nominate a timid Massachusetts moderate Republican to take on a secular socialist who threatens to turn us into a nation like the decrepit Republics of Western Europe, or we can nominate a bold Reagan conservative who will take the fight to Barack Obama in the Fall. Will you join me?

There's no more time for talking about stopping Mitt Romney. We're going to do it next week in South Carolina or he's almost certain to be the Republican nominee, whether conservatives like us want it or not. It's up to you, right now.


As Speaker of the House, I forced Bill Clinton to accept welfare reform, four straight balanced budgets, and extensive tax cuts. Since then, Republicans have governed like moderates. My 21st Century Contract with America is the boldest, most conservative plan put forward. We will get America back on the path to job creation and economic growth with conservative principles. If that's the kind of President you want in the Oval Office, then I need your help today because the mainstream media and Republican establishment absolutely cannot wait to nominate Mitt Romney.

You can have a conservative nominee for President if you want one, but you have to stand up and fight for it. Not next week or next month, but right now. I hope you will stand with me today.

So much of this is ridiculous -- Obama as "secular socialist"? Dubya as "moderate"? Newt pushing Clinton around all by himself? -- but, then, Newt himself is pretty ridiculous, an egomaniac with a rather delusional sense of self and rather dubious ideological rhetoric. And yet he's making the anti-Romney case that we've been waiting for these many long months.

His problem is that while he can be an effective messenger there's just no way Republicans are going to let him be their nominee. Even if he would be able to stand up far more forcefully than Romney ever could to Obama, particularly in the debates (another of his current selling points), he's just too egomaniacal and too unstable, too much of a renegade, too much of a risk.

Romney is extremely vulnerable, to be sure, not least with so many prominent conservatives (e.g., Limbaugh, Will, Kristol) refusing to back him, but he continues to benefit from the lack of effective opposition, from the lack of a credible alternative. Newt will give it a run in South Carolina, where he's doing fairly well in the polls, but that will likely be that.

Romney will go on to win the nomination, likely with all of these attacks clinging to him like gonorrhea. That will turn out to be Newt's great contribution to the 2012 presidential race.

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Sorry, Glenn Greenwald, but Ron Paul's no diamond in the rough

(Ed. note: For my part, I'll just say that I like Glenn a lot and admire his strong positions in support of civil liberties and against American militarism. But I also dislike Ron Paul a great deal and find it rather difficult to approve of any sort of liberal / progressive admiration for him, even if he's right on a number of key issues, more so even than most Democrats. He's just so terribly wrong on so much else. -- MJWS)


Barack Obama is running unopposed for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Admittedly, that may be the single most obvious observation made thus far in the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Sadly, it's one that deserves some attention -- particularly for politically plugged-in progressives who've willingly subjected themselves to the broken record of purely ideological, unabashedly partisan, and intellectually vacuous sound bites that comprise the score of torturous GOP debates held over the last eight agonizing months.

The blindly faithful Obamabots who initially cursed the bleeding hearts for even suggesting that another Democrat should challenge Obama for the presidency are now regretting that someone didn't step in. At least it would have elevated the national dialogue above the monotonous (and backward) calls for further deregulation, even lower tax rates, and the end of "Obamacare" that all of the GOP candidates have used as the foundation of their presidential platforms.

In the absence of a real Democratic primary, the party of sanity has been drowned out by the angry slurs of anti-government Republicans who've held a monopoly on the past year's mainstream political news coverage with more than 20 debates held so far -- and eight more scheduled before a GOP nominee is chosen and a Democrat is finally allowed to jump into the ring.

In the mean time, we can't allow the intellectual deprivation of 24/7 GOP primary news to turn us into conservatives.

I'm talking to you, Glenn Greenwald, and whoever stumbled upon your two-part, 8,500-word series on the superiorly progressive platform of Ron Paul.

Greenwald doesn't explicitly or implicitly endorse Paul. The blogger makes that quite clear in a novella-length clarification column dedicated to those who drew that fallacious and ridiculous conclusion from his original Paul piece, which touted the "anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate" and therefore "progressive" credentials of the Texas congressman.

"[I]t is indisputably true," Greenwald states, that Paul is "the only political figure with any sort of national platform... who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial." He is "the only major candidate from either party advocating crucial views on vital issues that need to be heard." 
By "vital issues," Greenwald almost assuredly isn't referring to Paul's promise to abolish the Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, and Interior departments during his first year in office.
By "vital issues," we can all assume he's not talking about the libertarian stance of completely deregulating the financial sector or upending decades-old equality laws forbidding schools and businesses from discriminating against students and customers based on race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
He's talking mostly about Paul's staunch opposition to military intervention of any kind, in any case, for any reason, in any part of the world -- an idea, given the costly and embarrassing debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, that most Americans, particularly liberals, can support.

To that I say this: Hitler may have a non-alcoholic recipe for Manischewitz wine that's to die for, but that doesn't mean you should invite him to your bar mitzvah.

If Greenwald, or anyone else for that matter, is so desperate to find a candidate who is unequivocally, philosophically, morally, practically, and theoretically opposed to war, he doesn't need to scan the deserts of Texas with a metal detector looking for a bomb shelter full of libertarians.

Ralph Nader still lives in D.C. Chris Hedges lives in Princeton. According to Democratic Underground, Dennis Kucinich lives in a cardboard box somewhere in downtown Cleveland.

These guys may not be running for president, but each of them has as good a chance as Paul of being elected. Paul may get stage time, but what does that matter when only three percent of eligible voters tune in?

The American masses know the name "Ron Paul." They may have seen a "Ron Paul Revolution" T-shirt or heard his fans call in to morning radio talk shows and yell "Ron Paul" before abruptly hanging up, but other than the radical policy positions hyped by the media -- legalizing heroin and prostitution, calling economic sanctions against Iran an "act of war," abolishing "the Fed" (as if most Americans know what that means) -- he's just a cantankerous old man ranting about a fantastical conspiracy theory to castrate the government.

Rick Santorum believes children should grow up with two parents. I happen to agree, but sharing one idea about one issue isn't enough for me to write a 8,500-word screed touting Santorum as "the only political figure with any sort of national platform."

Besides that, the "vital issues" aren't war policies, transparency, or due process, and to claim that they are only perpetuates the decades-old notion that progressives are out-of-touch puritopians -- the reason why they've failed to live up to their namesake over the past 40 years. ("Terrorism" and "Afghanistan" rank just below "illegal immigration" on the American people's list of top concerns -- at four percent and three percent, respectively.)

Opposing war doesn't require that you morph into a gun-toting, deregulation-touting free-market libertarian. If you want to herald an anti-war viewpoint, progressive readers would be better off with a history lesson on Howard Zinn, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., or John Lennon. Leo Tolstoy might work, too. Nor do you have to make a hero out of a radical just because his policy position differs ever-so-slightly from the other dunces with whom he shares a stage during a primary.

President Obama may consider using this mind-numbing Republican primary election as a torture technique for all the U.S. citizens he indefinitely detains thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act, but we shouldn't let the fatigue we've suffered from this GOP freak show break us down to the point of praising a kooky libertarian's very unprogressive platform.

Ron Paul is appealing in theory because he has about the same record of advancing his libertarian views as liberals have of advancing theirs.

So he opposes war.

Whoopty-fuckin'-doo. So does Martin Sheen.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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President Obama requests $1.2 trillion debt ceiling increase

President Obama on Thursday made an official request that Congress raise the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion over the objections of several House Republicans.

Obama's formal notification gives both chambers 15 days to vote on whether to approve the hike. The House plans to vote on this request on Jan. 18, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said.

The United States reached the $15.194 trillion debt limit on Jan. 4, according to Treasury statements. Since that time, Treasury has employed the "extraordinary measure" of tapping into its Exchange Stabilization Fund to avoid exceeding the limit.

Uh-oh. Another opportunity for Republicans to try to push America (and the global economy) off the cliff.

Thankfully, the Senate would need to vote against it as well, and the Senate, still under Democratic control, isn't about to vote for economic Armageddon.

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Newsflash: Social conservatives don't like Mitt Romney

Tony Perkins
It seems that 150 or so social conservatives are going to get together in Texas over the weekend to consider presenting a united front in the race to crown a Republican presidential candidate.

In one report, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins says that:

Many of the evangelical, Catholic and fiscal conservatives are looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney, but fear their influence will be diluted if they remain divided.

Surrogates for all the campaigns will speak to the gathering before, according to Perkins, conservative leaders discuss whether or not they should get behind one candidate.

While Romney certainly has the momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, it is amazing how ambivalent so much of the conservative base remains about his candidacy.

I don't know how many times we can say this, but just the fact that social conservatives are getting together this late in the campaign would suggest that, even should Romney get the nod, there won't be a lot of love for him from this key constituency. In fact, for someone most people think is going to win the nomination, he's not very popular.

Good thing for Romney so many of his opponents are too pig-headed to get out or he might actually have real difficulty securing the nomination against a challenge by one credible conservative. But, as we know, that person doesn't exist.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Is it wrong for U.S. troops to urinate on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters?

Well, of course.

But I thought the troops could do no wrong. Ever. Isn't that what we hear constantly from the armchair militarists on the right (not just in the U.S. but here in Canada as well)?


In all seriousness, this is, needless to say, horrible:

A video showing four United States Marines urinating on three dead Taliban fighters provoked anger and condemnation on Thursday in Afghanistan and around the world, raising fears in Washington that the images could incite anti-American sentiment at a particularly delicate moment in the decade-old Afghan war. 

(I'm not going to post the video here. You can find it by clicking on the links below.)

Look, I do generally respect the men and women in the armed forces, even if I usually don't agree with the missions they're on, nor with the warmongering political leadership that directs them, and even if I don't their generally right-leaning political views and outlook. And I certainly wouldn't hold the deplorable actions of a small handful of them against the rest of them. There are rotten apples everywhere.

But I think it's fair to ask: How much of this sort of thing is going on? If not urinating on corpses, how about violence against innocent targets? I understand that anything can happen in a war zone, and that it's unfair to expect those in combat to behave completely as if they were at home, but there are lines that just mustn't be crossed. And both the military and its civilian leadership would do well to do everything they can to prevent this sort of thing from happening. (Not just from being made public, from ever happening.)

Thankfully, the Pentagon is reacting strongly to the incident, with Secretary Panetta "condemn[ing] it in the strongest possible terms" and ordering an investigation. Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, has also ordered an investigation.

And it's not just a horrible incident in and of itself. As Yochi Dreazen writes at The Atlantic:

The Afghan video is of particular concern because it has the possibility of becoming one of the dominant images of the war. U.S. night raids of Afghan homes, and inadvertent killings of Afghan civilians, are the primary sources of anti-American feelings within the country, but they've never been captured on film. The laughter and smirking of the Marines as they urinate on the corpses is also likely to further offend Afghans already disenchanted with the U.S.-led war effort in their country.

For all this, though, including the obvious damage to America's credibility and moral standing, as well as to the military generally, it's hardly surprising that some conservatives are actually cheering this on, defending the Marines. Talk about deplorable.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reporting truth, exposing lies: The New York Times and the responsibility of journalism

Arthur Brisbane, the Times's public editor, writes:

I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge "facts" that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had "misunderstood" a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife's earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas "misunderstood," and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches "apologizing for America," a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the "post-truth" stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

Well, I'm a reader, so here's my answer:

Do you even have to ask this question? Of course reporters at the Times, and every other "news" publication with any credibility at all, should call out lies. And not just because Republicans happen to lie a lot. The Times should expose the lies of Democrats as well -- in fact of anyone it wishes to quote, cite, or report on.

As Joe Romm puts it at ThinkProgress: "Obviously any paper, but most especially the New York Times, has little value to society if it knowingly prints lies — or if it fails to do the minimal investigative reporting and fact-checking needed to determine if a statement by a newsmaker or, say, a global warming denier, is false."

Sure, there may occasionally be good reasons for not doing this, such as the need to cultivate good sources (as Booman notes). But it's really just about being accurate, as Steve Benen says. And while "neutrality" might be a good idea in some utopia where everyone tells the truth or has equally credible opinions, it seems to me that the consumers of news (i.e., us) deserve more, and better:

If an article is supposed to provide news consumers with the something more meaningful — offering context, scrutiny, and analysis that helps make sense of the arguments, giving the public a sense, not only of what the arguments are, but whether they're accurate — then media professionals, including beat reporters and their editors, have a broader responsibility to help the public separate fact from fiction.

And more often than not, they don't even try.

This generally draws howls from the right, in part because Republicans seem to lie more frequently and shamelessly, and in part because reality has a well-known liberal bias. Indeed, the constant, baseless accusations about "the liberal media" helped create the forced-neutrality dynamic in the first place.

But the result is a media that fails the public. By publishing falsehoods without scrutiny, for fear of being accused of "bias," the media is effectively leaving news consumers with the impression that lies and the truth deserve equal footing, which is ultimately untenable.

There you go. Now, New York Times, if you have any self-respect at all, go out and do something about it. In a democracy especially, where the rulers (i.e., the people) must be able to make informed decisions, is it essential that the media function not as a mouthpiece for competing spin but as a vehicle for truth. And to do that, they must tell you who's lying.

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Gingrich chickens out on Romney/Bain, but "Armageddon" still on the way in South Carolina

What is it with Newt? For all his bluster, when push comes to shove, as they say, he backs down and collapses like a house of cards. We saw this when he referred to GOP wunderkind Paul Ryan's "radical" budget plan as "right-wing social engineering" and then, humbled and humiliated, came crawling back. And we're seeing it now as he's retreating from his recent comments about Mitt Romney's job-destroying tenure at Bain Capital:

Newt Gingrich signaled Wednesday that he believes his criticism of Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital is a mistake — and that he’s created an impression that he was echoing Democratic rhetoric.

Gingrich conceded the problem when pressed by a Rick Santorum supporter at a book signing here Wednesday.

"I'm here to implore one thing of you. I think you've missed the target on the way you're addressing Romney's weaknesses. I want to beg you to redirect and go after his obvious disingenuousness about his conservatism and lay off the corporatist versus the free market. I think it's nuanced," said Dean Glossop, an Army Reservist from Inman, S.C.

"I agree with you," Gingrich said. "It's an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect... I agree with you entirely.

The anti-Obama comment is ridiculous, of course. Obama has proven to be a middle-of-the-road technocrat, not a class warrior, and indeed a great deal of what he's done so far has been about rescuing capitalism from itself and otherwise trying to relieve some of the excesses around the edges. As for the rest of his response, Gingrich may just have been unwilling to be as blunt as he usually is when challenged face-to-face. But his point was never about corporatism or the free market, as if those two absolutes are the only options. Rather, it was about ethical capitalism (to the extent capitalism can ever really be called ethical) or unethical "vulture" capitalism (making money at all cost with no regard for the consequences).

But it's not clear how far he's willing to do, in either direction, and Newt seems to want to have it both ways. On the one hand, he doesn't want to come across as anti-capitalist, which is how anyone who dares say a bad word about capitalism comes across to conservatives, not least because he still has a highly profitable future as a leading conservative public figure but also because going too far could lose him valuable conservative support in South Carolina and, should he stay in the race, beyond. On the other hand, he sees a huge opening and wants to bring down Romney, whom he seems to loathe for both personal and political / partisan / ideological reasons. So what to do? Well, play both ends, in the typical Newt way, and try to shift the debate away from capitalism generally, which is where it's gone, and more towards Romney personally. Hence this, from a Gingrich spokesman:

This issue at hand is neither about Bain Capital, private equity firms, nor about capitalism. It is about Mitt Romney's judgment and character. It was Governor Romney's decision to base his candidacy, in large part, on his background as a portfolio manager. Thus, it is entirely legitimate to ask questions about whether he is accurately presenting how he conducted himself during that career.

In a broad sense, it's still about Bain Capital, private equity firms, and capitalism, of course. But that won't work, because Republicans have generally recoiled in horror at Gingrich's (and Huntsman's and Perry's) populist attack on "vulture" capitalism. So it has to be about Romney, about his "judgment and character," about his specific role at Bain, about what he did there, about the consequences. No matter that all he did there was act like (and profit like) the sort of capitalist Republicans hold in high regard -- which is why Santorum, who certainly has no great love for Romney, is arguing that an attack on Romney/Bain is an attack on capitalism.

All of which is to say, Newt, who is running neck-and-neck with Romney and who has only this shot left to save his campaign, has to walk a very fine line here. And while he appears to be retreating from the Bain line of attack, he also appears to be broadening his overall line of attack on Romney with a clear message that he hopes will resonate with a Republican electorate in South Carolina that is far more conservative than the one in New Hampshire:

"This is going to be Armageddon – they are going to come in here with everything they've got, every surrogate, every ad, every negative attack," Gingrich said. "At the same time we'll be drawing a sharp contrast between a Georgia Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate who's pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-tax increase, pro-liberal judge, and the voters of South Carolina will have to look and decide."

Gingrich framed the attacks on the former Massachusetts governor as a gauntlet any candidate must face if they expect to succeed against President Barack Obama.

"The last thing you want is to nominate somebody who collapses in September because they can't answer the questions," Gingrich said. "I mean, so you better answer - you know, people want to attack me for my past, that's fine. I either will answer it and be ready to be the nominee or I won't. Romney ought to have to meet the same test."

Gingrich, who has sparred with Romney frequently at debates, said he had no personal opinion of his opponent.

"No, I have no view," Gingrich said when asked his personal judgment of Romney.

Really? No view? But I thought this was now all about Romney's "judgment and character." (Again, we see that Newt wants to have it both ways. The lesson is to question the honesty of everything Newt says. Always.) Regardless, it's finally happening. After months of the non- and anti-Romneys turning their guns on each other, Newt at least is taking the fight straight to Romney and saying, assuming he follows through on this (which may not be a safe assumption given his tendency to chicken out), what many, if not most, conservatives, and hence most Republicans, think of their current frontrunner.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ruthless vulture capitalism as Romney's ultimate conservative cred

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Via twitter: 

Attacks on Bain do ultimately seem like a deadend in GOP primary. Bain is Rom's most authentic credential as a (contemporary) conservative.

-- Noam Scheiber (@noamscheiber)

A good point, but one that highlights Romney's potential problems down the road with independent voters and the new generation of "Reagan Democrats" in the general election.

For all his shameless efforts to pander to the right-wing GOP base to secure three nomination, on any number of issues including health care, abortion, and Iran, his great appeal to conservatives is that he made himself sinking rich as an unethical and unregulated capitalist. But it's precisely his proud record of destroying jobs and ruining lives that could turn out to be his ultimate undoing, even more than the flip-flopping and seeming lack of authenticity -- and even more than the fact that non-elite conservatives generally loathe him.

But what Scheiber misses here, at least in this one tweet, is that his plutocratic vulture capitalism, his looting, is unpopular with many on the right as well, and Gingrich and Perry have been trying to exploit that populist opposition on the right.

In the end, other than party and media elites connected to the GOP, it's hard tho imagine anyone liking Romney at all.

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That Vatican Rag

By Capt. Fogg

People have argued that Science is just another kind of faith, or at least another but equally valid way of telling truth from fiction; establishing fact from a confusing universe. I suppose that Pope Benedict would be suggesting such a 'fair and balanced' approach by suggesting that same sex marriage would be a "threat to the future of humanity itself."

I would argue that science is the best method we have of keeping our beliefs honest by constant examination of the data -- and that data as concerns the cohabitation of couples, or triples for that matter does not in any way suggest that the Holy Father's predictions are based on what happens in this world when such things are not prohibited by law or even custom.

“This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,”

he said to some 180 diplomats at the Vatican yesterday
. The education of children needs proper “settings” and “pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman.” I'm not quite sure that personal pride in being traditional and obedient to dogma constitutes justification for regulating private life in a free society, but then a free society is the definition of a heretical society and it wasn't long ago that Catholics were threatened with excommunication for voting for political leaders. I'm sure the rationalization for that was much the same farrago of gold embroidered, incense scented rubbish as was the persecution of Galileo and the scientists of the Renaissance -- to cite the less egregious examples.

The fact is, that children raised by gay couples can't be shown to have turned out as Benedict predicts and since gay people have been around since the dawn of humanity and a bit before -- and long before the shaman, that oldest of professions, told them they were evil -- we can assume that human dignity hasn't been much affected. The indignities of the Crusades and Inquisitions and centuries of war and tyranny might have done some harm, but I won't go into that here.

As I said, science rejects propositions, predictions and proclamations that do not produce the results claimed. I might suggest Mein Herr, that there's a bit of egg on your face and blood on your robes from trying to stifle that heresy with force of arms, torture and murder, but so far, nothing you or your predecessors have predicted has ever been demonstrated to be the truth. So how long caro padre, will you go on predicting that if we do A, then B will happen, because we've been doing A for a hell of a long time and there's no sign of you being right so far.

(Cross posted to Human voices)

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Behind the Ad: Newt Gingrich hits "Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney" over abortion

(Another installment in our new "Behind the Ad" series.)

Who: Newt Gingrich attacks Mitt Romney

Where: South Carolina.

What's going on: Well, he said it was coming, an all-out offensive against Romney in South Carolina, a last-ditch effort to tear down the frontrunner and likely nominee and to resurrect his campaign.

Assuming it really does materialize, a lot of it will be about Bain Capital, where Romney set about making millions destroying jobs and ruining lives, but of course that leaves open the charge -- a huge problem in a hyper-capitalist party like the GOP, where the slightest bad word about capitalism amounts to indefensible heresy -- that Gingrich is anti-capitalist. (What he's really doing is advocating an ethical capitalism inimical to the unregulated capitalism that Romney exploited and is defending now, but Republicans like their plutocrats to be self-aggrandizing looters with no regard for the consequences.).

In South Carolina, though, the opening against Romney is really on the social conservative front, and Newt and others, like Santorum, will no doubt focus a great deal of their energy in the coming days on Romney's fairly progressive (at least by Republican standards) past, including on key wedge issues like abortion. Hence this ad, which accuses Romney of having "governed pro-abortion" in Massachusetts:

Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney: He can't be trusted.

That's a powerful message that hasn't gotten much of an airing so far in the Republican race, what with the various non- and anti-Romneys so often turning their fire on each other instead of on Romney. It may not be enough to knock Romney off his perch, what with the conservative opposition deeply divided and with neither Gingrich nor Santorum possessing the broad appeal or clear electability that one would need to mount a serious challenge at this point in the campaign, particularly with most of the party elites in Romney's corner, but if pressed enough it could resonate strongly with the many Republicans uncomfortable with the thought of Romney as their party's nominee, particularly in a state like South Carolina.

If nothing else, though, it highlights one of Romney's glaring weaknesses, one that Democrats will no doubt seek to exploit come general election time. If he embraces or even acknowledtges his progressive past, he picks up independents but loses vital conservative support. But if he continues to run to the right, as he will have to do as long as this conservative challenge continues, he risks further alienating the center and losing whatever lingering credibility he may have with non-Republicans. One thing he'll try to do is avoid having to talk about issues like abortion altogether, focusing instead on jobs and the economy (while lying about his ugly record at Bain) and smearing Obama as an anti-American socialst Europhile (while playing up American exceptionalism in a shameless appeal to knee-jerk, delusional patriotism), but there's not much he can do as long as these conservative efforts to expose him as a faux conservative continue.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 New Hampshire primary: Does it really mean anything at all?


6:42 pm - Okay, we did it with Iowa last week, now let's do it with New Hampshire. How 'bout some live-blogging, baby?! (I'll do frequent updates throughout the evening (and into the early-morning hours), reporting on the results but also breaking off into tangents about the race generally, and Richard will add some additional commentary.)

6:45 pm - BREAKING NEWS: The Reaction declares Willard "Mitt" Romney the winner of the 2012 New Hampshire Republican primary. Take that, Wolf Blitzer!

6:47 pm - The polls don't close until 8 pm, but the outcome is in absolutely zero doubt. Romney will win easily in his "backyard," neighboring Massachusetts being his "home," and that will be that. So let's move on to South Carolina, where a much more meaningful vote is scheduled for Saturday, January 21. Okay? No? No. I suppose we do need to work our way through tonight's results, to derive some sort of meaning them (or to impose meaning on them, rather). Here are the key questions: How much of the vote will Romney win (and by how much will he win)? How will the non- and anti-Romneys finish (and is there any possibility of any one of them picking up some momentum heading towards South Carolina)?

6:56 pm - Just going to have some dinner. Be back shortly. Stay tuned. And feel free to add your comments if you so desire.

7:47 pm - Alright, here we go... But first, let me tell you what I'm drinking tonight. I'm just polishing off a nice Creemore Springs pilsner from one of the best Ontario craft breweries. We'll go darker and deeper as the night goes on.

7:49 pm - The polls over the last few days show Romney with about a 20-point lead in New Hampshire. Again, there's no question he's going to win. But what will the numbers be? I tend to think that the inevitability of his win could dampen his support somewhat. He's been polling in the range of 35 to 41. Let's say he ends up with 37 percent of the vote. And then let's say Paul finishes second at 19, then Huntsman at 17, Santorum at 12, Gingrich at 10, and Perry way back at 1.

What would all that mean? Actually, I'd say that wouldn't be all that impressive for Romney, who should at this point, and with divided opposition, be able to win well over 40 percent of the vote. Paul will likely stay in the race until the very end, but even a second-place finish here wouldn't give him much of a bump. This is Huntsman's big shot at respectability, and he's put a lot of energy into New Hampshire, but the Republican Party is no place for him these days and he'll fall off badly in South Carolina. Gingrich is done. His role now is to try to knock off Romney in South Carolina. So it falls to Santorum to be the leading anti-Romney. Even a fourth-place finish here wouldn't be all that bad considering where he was just a couple of weeks ago. But he'll have his work cut out for him to build support over the next 10 days. It's possible that he'd emerge as a viable alternative to Romney were Gingrich to drop out, but there's just no way he has the staying power to mount a serious challenge over the long term. He might finish second in South Carolina but then fall off again in Florida.

But it's all about expectations, as you know, and about "narrative." And the problem for Romney tonight is that he has nothing to gain and much to lose. And if he underperforms, particularly with all the battering he's been taking over his destructive work at Bain Capital, he could emerge even from a decisive victory as a still-very-weak frontrunner, even if his ultimate victory is all but assured given his money, his organization, and his support from Republican elites.

RKB: Does anyone doubt that Huntsman is playing for the next time, that this is all about 2016? What else could he be doing? I can't imagine he really sees a path to win the nomination now. Maybe if Romney failed to meet expectations in New Hampshire there might be some room for another "electable candidate," but that's not going to happen. Romney will do well enough in New Hampshire to pretty much lock this thing up. And after he wins South Carolina, it really will be over. No surprises tonight. 

8:01 pm - Yes, CNN (and I assume everyone else) declares for Romney. Done.

8:02 pm - Exit polls, according to Wolf, show Romney at 36, Paul at 23, Huntsman at 18, Gingrich and Santorum at 10. A result closer to 35 than 40 would be even worse for Romney, obviously. Possible strong showing for Paul, though I suspect he'll fall short of the exit polls. (Results here.)

RKB:  Woo-hoo. CNN projects that Romney wins. Never saw that one coming. Carville just said that Huntsmann has implied he would drop out if he didn't do well in New Hampshire. It looks like a distant third for Hunstmann, and Paul is still hanging in. Santorum isn't going anywhere, currently at 10%. CNN exit polls has Romney at 36, Paul at 23 and Huntsman at 18. If that holds, this thing is over, and not just NH.

8:11 pm - I'm not disagreeing with Richard. The race is pretty much over. It's Romney. Conservatives find him "acceptable." Hardly a huge endorsement, but they're obviously willing to living with him. The question is whether the lack of enthusiasm on the right, and really within the new right-wing GOP mainstream (with Dear Leader Rush as one of the key spokesmen), will hurt Romney in the general election. Even if most on the right come around, hold their noses, and vote for Romney as anyone-but-Obama, that general lack of enthusiasm could translate into somewhat lower turnout among conservatives, particularly with the spotlight on Romney's relatively progressive past (at least in terms of social policy) that will come with him being the nominee.

But I think there's more going on here. Romney currently has just 35 percent of the vote (with 17 percent of precincts reporting) in a state that is perfect for him: close to home, socially liberal or libertarian, economically conservative, where he's been campaigning since before the '08 primaries, where he has an extensive ground campaign and huge name recognition, where, as a clear frontrunner, he should be able to win over 40 percent easily, if not over 50 percent. Am I overstating the expectations? Look, even with 35 percent he'll be able to declare a decisive victory and head on as the clear frontrunner to South Carolina. But I think we're still seeing just how weak he is, not to mention just how weak and divided the opposition is. Put a credible conservative in here and you'd get a much closer race and anything but a decisive victory for Romney.

RKB: Paul in second place is more than Romney could have hoped for. It effectively marginalizes the other real contenders because Paul can't win. Wow. Perfect for Mitt.

8:22 pm - Indeed. Romney certainly has luck on his side. Or a horseshoe up his ass. Or something.

CNN declares Paul second and Huntsman third. So no surprises whatsoever.

RKB: Huntsman people are now saying that Huntsman is not getting out. In fact, it appears that no one is getting out, which is good news for Romney. His opposition remains fractured.

8:25 pm - What position do you think he'd get in a Romney administration? Secretary of state?

8:26 pm - "Tonight we made history." -- Romney. Yup, he's already giving his victory speech. Let's see if this is any better than his disaster of a speech in Iowa. Oh, already attacking Obama. Surprise, surprise. It makes him appear to be the nominee already, as if he's already running against the president. "We still believe in that shining city on a hill." More meaningless bullshit. Romney is a plutocrat and a panderer to the right. And so he resorts to attacking Obama with lies and distortions.

"President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial." And, he adds, he's been joined by some Republicans (looking at you, Newt). This, of course, is ridiculous. The president has proven to be nothing but a free enterpriser, rescuing Wall Street and industry and refusing to do anything serious about the havoc the American capitalist system is wreaking on most Americans. And I assume by defending free enterprise he's defending the right of unregulated capitalists to make millions destroying jobs and ruining lives. 

Yes, yes, Obama is a European-style socialist. Has Romney ever been to Europe? Seriously, in what world can this be taken at all seriously? Right -- in the world of Republican insanity.

"He passed Obamacare, I'll repeal it." No mention that Obamacare is based almost entirely on Romneycare.

Obama's "appeasement" strategy around the world... no need for American military superiority. Right, like how Obama refuses to use drones to take out terrorists, or how he refused to approve that mission to take out Osama bin Laden, or how he's pulled out of Afghanistan. Funny, eh? There appears to be no connection whatsoever between Romney's rhetoric and reality.

"We still believe in the America that is the land of opportunity and a beacon of freedom." There's a line with absolutely no substance to it.

What a massive pile of bullshit.

RKB: Just listening to Romney's speech. Is anyone going to believe that Romney gives a damn about middle-class Americans? What a phony bastard. He is one cringe-making politician. I almost can't wait for Romney to secure the nomination so the Dems can focus on him and hang him by his own pathetic cliches. He is so embarrassing. So full of shit. What an ass. 

9:04 pm - "President Paul!... President Paul!... President Paul!" So chant Paul's supporters, who prove once against just what utterly delusional nutjobs they are. (Okay, they're not all nutjobs. Just a lot of them.)

9:05 pm - Am I completely anti-Paul? No. I respect and for the most part agree with his views on civil liberties, American militarism and foreign wars (including the military-industrial complex), the war on drugs, etc. It's quite admirable that he's willing give voice to some harsh truths that most Americans would rather not hear, to speak out against some of the most dominant and most destructive forces in American life (and politics). But he's quite mad, raving against the Fed (and paper money), as if gold is the answer, as if somehow America could really withdraw from the global financial system. And don't be fooled. He's an extremist right-wing libertarian who would gut government and subject everyone to the forces of the unregulated market. He says he wants to protect liberty, but there's a dark side to that, is there not? What "liberty" would there really be for most people in Ron Paul's utopia? (And on capitalism and the economy, he's certainly siding with Romney.)

Fine, fine, it's good to have him in the race, good that he's doing fairly well, good that someone is talking about civil liberties and the follies of American militarism, but let's not give him a free pass just because he happens to be more sensible on these issues that pretty much every other Republican and even many (if not most) Democrats.

"We will restore freedom to this country." Yeah, good luck with that.

9:19 pm - How about an update? With 46 percent reporting, it's:

-- Romney: 34,702 (37%)
-- Paul: 21,956 (24%)
-- Huntsman: 16,124 (17%)
-- Gingrich: 9,324 (10%)
-- Santorum: 9,227 (10%)
-- Perry: 679 (1%)

Paul is doing a bit better than I expected, but he's being helped by independent / Democratic support in an open primary. A lot of his support, in other words, is non-Republican.

Santorum is doing worse than I expected. Will he be able to regain his footing, and recapture the attention he got after Iowa, when the focus shifts to South Carolina?

Gingrich is doing about as I expected. Will he carry through with his threats to go after Romney in South Carolina? Can he recover at all in a state where he's fairly strong? Will he and Santorum continue to divide the conservative vote?

Remember when Perry mattered?

9:26 pm - Romney's now up to 38 percent, with 49 percent reporting. 

9:29 pm - Now down to 37 again, with 50 reporting.

Huntsman at the podium: "Ladies and gentlemen, I think we're in the hunt." Uh, no you're not. "I say, third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen." I just lost a ton of respect for him. Does he really believe this? He was all-in on New Hampshire, a state receptive to his old-school brand of conservatism. Of course he's done well -- by his lowly standards. If he stays in the race, he'll do well in Vermont and Maine as well. That doesn't mean he has a shot at winning the nomination, just that he's a moderate (relatively speaking) who can do well in liberal/moderate parts of the country.

Afghanistan is not America's future. Iraq is not America's future. He's talking economy, and the challenges America faces, particularly in the Pacific. Look, I can't say I agree with him on most issues, but I do respect him and his positions. I did once upon a time call him "Huntsman the Formidable." In a saner time, the GOP would hand him the nomination. But Republicans are too crazy and too stupid and too extreme to know what's good for them.

Term limits for Congress? Really, we're back to that after all these years? What is this, 1995?

End the war in Afghanistan? Wait, is Ron Paul still speaking?

His speech is a bit disjointed, all over the place, a bit like Romney's last week but without all the anti-Obama nonsense and hyper-nationalist bullshit. Though Huntsman did just pull out the "greatest nation on earth" line. Uh-huh. Sure. Whatever. This is when much of the rest of the world laughs at American arrogance even from its more thoughtful public figures.

"We have the greatest and most courageous armed forces this nation has ever seen." Um, what about those who fought in World War II? Wait... so we'll have another Greatest Generation now, helping to rebuild the country? I wouldn't bet on that.

On to South Carolina... (He's running either for a top spot on Romney's administration, assuming he doesn't destroy Romney in the process, or for 2016, when the GOP may be more receptive to him.)

9:41 pm - Did you know that CNN's election coverage tonight is being brought to us by... fossil fuels? Yes, by propaganda from the oil and gas industry, by "clean" coal, by global warming and the destruction of our world as we know it, by the mass murder of potentially hundreds of millions. Good times.

9:46 pm - I was going to follow up the pilsner with a smoked stout from Iceland, but I'm not sure I can do that. Just too heavy. Maybe some bourbon. With a toast to Obama for winning the Democratic primary. In case you were wondering.

Waiting on Newt and Rick... Just going to take a break. Be back in a bit.

10:21 pm - Quick reflections on Santorum and Gingrich: 

Santorum: Decent speech, if rather more muted than last week's in Iowa. He said what had to be said. On the one hand, he hasn't done well, battling it out for a distant fourth with Newt. On the other hand, he'd done really well, moving up to 10 percent support after being in the low single digits not so long ago. He was never going to do all that well in New Hampshire, but he actually downplayed his presence in the state. Last week he bragged about how much time he'd spent there. Tonight he treated the state like an afterthought. But he's on to South Carolina, where his social conservatism should allow him to do significantly better.

Gingrich: Give him credit, he talks ideas (even if they're unpalatable right-wing ones). His speech was sober and, from a conservative perspective, sensible. He presented himself on the one hand as a uniter of all Americans and on the other as a Republican with a record of getting things done even when faced with intractable Democratic opposition. He talked about his indebtedness to Reagan and Thatcher, and even, succumbing to his usual egomaniacal self-aggrandizement, took credit for the economic success and job creation of the Clinton years. His selling point is that he's the best candidate to debate and defeat Obama. But what of his recent attacks on Romney's unethical capitalism? In the speech, he defended capitalism as the be-all and end-all but didn't draw that distinction between "true" capitalism and the job-destroying venture capitalism of Bain Capital. And as much as he's been talking of an all-out assault on Romney in South Carolina, I just don't see it coming.

Basically, if anyone is to beat Romney, either Gingrich or Santorum has to withdraw and endorse the other, uniting the conservative vote against Romney and Paul. As of right now, with everyone's attention turning to South Carolina and with optimism still high, that doesn't look like it's going to happen. Which means that Romney's path to the nomination remains clear. How fortunate he is not to face any truly serious and credible conservative opposition.

10:33 pm - Not much new to report. With 74 percent reporting, it's Romney at 38, Paul at 23, Huntsman at 17, and Gingrich and Santorum at 10. 

12:12 am - Just watched Stewart and Colbert... Alright, let's wrap this up. Romney is now at 39 percent, with 92 percent reporting, followed by Paul at 23 and Huntsman at 17. Gingrich appears to have finished fourth, at 10, with Santorum declining to 9. All this as votes came in from the more populous, Romney-oriented parts of the state.

So what are to make of this? I still think Romney continues to be an extremely weak candidate, though there's no denying his clear victory here. There's no doubt he's the favorite to win South Carolina and that this win will help build the aura of inevitability that seems to be engulfing his campaign. The question is whether anyone will emerge to challenge him not just in South Carolina but in Florida. Everyone was talking big tonight, but at some point either Santorum or Gingrich is going to have to get out of the race is conservatives are to have a shot at taking down Romney. As it is, it looks more and more like Republicans are resigning themselves to a Romney candidacy that will have a hard time arousing much enthusiasm on the right. The overwhelming desire to beat Obama will likely bring most conservatives into the fold, but Romney is still a tough sell, and he'll have to balance securing conservative support with moving back to the left to try to win independents and the new generation of "Reagan Democrats."

12:19 am: Stay tuned for extensive coverage of the Republican race as we now turn our attention to South Carolina. Keep coming back. You'll find a lot to like, or a lot to infuriate you.

12:22 am: Good night, everyone. We'll be back at it in the morning.

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