Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

What the presidents read

The literary site Full Stop has just posted my short piece on presidential reading lists:

In this golden age of American polarization, it is no surprise that even one’s reading is subject to the scourge of partisan bickering. During this year’s presidential campaign, Amazon.com actually produced an interactive map detailing which states’ customers were buying conservative versus liberal titles and coloring those states red and blue, respectively.

Even politicians are now just as often producers as consumers of the written word: today, penning a flag-waving bildungsroman-esque memoir is nearly a prerequisite for launching a presidential campaign. Obama authored Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope; Mitt Romney wrote No Apologies. If Herman Cain fends off his circling sexual harassment accusers in the dually relevant courts of law and public opinion, perhaps he will release a recipe book of pizza toppings.

Glen Hubbard gets knocked around

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2Z7Ds4tzco]

Columbia Business School dean and former Mitt Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard was hit by some piece of the CNBC set today…while on live TV. Truly bizarre. Dylan Matthews’ take? “When not getting hit in the face by a set piece, Hubbard has sensible ideas about pairing short-term stimulus with a progressive consumption tax.”

The media’s free pass to the Republican Party

On Friday, the Huffington Post‘s Dan Froomkin posted an article on how the media whiffed on “the single biggest story of the 2012 campaign:”

But according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.

Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital’s media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

The 2012 campaign further proved their point, they both said in recent interviews. It also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides.

“The mainstream press really has such a difficult time trying to cope with asymmetry between the two parties’ agendas and connections to facts and truth,” said Mann, who has spent nearly three decades as a congressional scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution.

“I saw some journalists struggling to avoid the trap of balance and I knew they were struggling with it — and with their editors,” said Mann. “But in general, I think overall it was a pretty disappointing performance.”

“I can’t recall a campaign where I’ve seen more lying going on — and it wasn’t symmetric,” said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who’s been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, “but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top.”

Lies from Republicans generally and standardbearer Mitt Romney in particular weren’t limited to the occasional TV ads, either; the party’s most central campaign principles — that federal spending doesn’t create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit — willfully disregarded the truth.

“It’s the great unreported big story of American politics,” Ornstein said.

After banging around on the blogosphere over the weekend, Froomkin’s piece received renewed attention today, when the New York Times‘ public editor, Margaret Sullivan (most recently seen taking her own employer to task — twice — for its lack of coverage of the Bradley Manning trial), highlighted it:

I find Mr. Ornstein and Mr. Mann’s observations smart, provocative and on target in many, though not all, places.

I disagree, for example, that the move toward fact-checking has made the press’s performance worse. On that subject, I agree with The Times’s political editor, Richard Stevenson, who told me last September in a column I wrote on this subject that he saw the move toward “truth-squading” as “one of the most positive trends in journalism that I can remember.” But to take it one step further, I believe that fact-checking should be more integrated into every story and not treated as a separate entity off to the side.

And I think the two commentators fail to see the progress that The Times and other newspapers are making – away from false equivalence and toward stating established truths and challenging falsehoods whenever possible.

That progress, granted, isn’t happening fast enough or – more important — sweepingly enough. And their point of view ought to provoke some journalistic soul-searching.

Probably not the best post-election approach

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch clarifies Mitt Romney’s 47% comments:

Mitt Romney got it wrong: It’s not 47 percent of the nation that is not paying federal income taxes.

“It’s 51 percent!” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Wednesday.

Hatch, who often talks about the percentage of Americans who don’t have to pay Uncle Sam — aside from payroll taxes — offered that clarification after he was asked whether he has concerns about fallout from a losing presidential campaign in which Romney’s use of the 47 percent figure played a prominent role. Romney argued at a secretly recorded fundraising event that he wasn’t concerned about the 47 percent because they wouldn’t vote for him.

Hatch argued that Romney’s comments “had an effect, but I don’t think much of an effect,” so he was not worried.

He also clarified what he thinks Romney meant and should have said.

“It was distorted because Romney did not explain it right,” Hatch said. “All he had to say was ‘Look, when 51 percent of all households — not just individuals — don’t pay a penny in income taxes, it shows that we’ve got too many people riding in the wagon.’ What he should have said is, ‘I want to get them out of the wagon in good jobs where they can also help pull the wagon.’

“That’s what he meant to say, but he didn’t say it,” added Hatch, who once suggested the poor should pay more taxes. He later clarified that he did not want to tax the “truly poor.”

My humble suggestion to the Republican Party: kindly drop the percentages talk. For a group of people so preoccupied with enumeration, you’d think they’d understand the drop in their own polling percentages.

Irrational exuberance?

[hulu http://www.hulu.com/watch/423753]

Frank Rich thinks so. Echoing his comments from mid-October (which I covered here), Rich insists that the post-election Democratic triumphalism is misguided, and that nothing has substantially altered the long-term prospects for Tea Party-style conservatism:

More seriously, if you look at the GOP’s suicidal talk right now, and the Democratic and liberal triumphalism, it’s very much a replay of what I wrote about in last month’s piece. After LBJ beat Goldwater in a far bigger victory, an out-and-out landslide, in 1964, Republicans moaned about being consigned to minority party status and possibly oblivion; Democrats talked about having won the war of ideas and demographics as well as the politics. (Goldwater only carried his home state of Arizona and a swath of the Confederate South.) Two years later, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, and four years later Richard Nixon became president. The core small-government credo of conservatives has been remarkably consistent and resilient ever since and still commands a majority following according to last week’s exit polling. What’s more, the GOP bench — Rubio (who’s very slick by the way), Ryan, Christie, Jindal, etc — is far younger than that of the Hillary-Biden post-Obama Democrats. This new Republican generation will find a way to put a kinder, gentler, Hispanic, female face on the GOP soon enough.

This is a depressing forecast. But it’s a useful counterpoint to jubilant predictions of Republican moderation (which I’ve expressed as recently as yesterday). Jonathan Cohn is on roughly the same page regarding the mindset of the American right:

It’s basically another version of the 47 percent argument—i.e., that 47 percent of the country is dependent on the rest of the taxpaying public. It was kicking around in conservative circles even before Mitt Romney invoked it at that now-infamous Florida fundraiser. And judging by recent commentary, it’s going to keep kicking around for a while longer. Last week, National Review’s Kevin Williamson concluded that “offering Americans a check is a more fruitful political strategy than offering them the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives.” Just today, Washington Post conservative writer Jennifer Rubin wrote that the Democratic Party won by “feeding its base cotton candy.”

It’s true that Americans, on the whole, are more enthusiastic about receiving public services than they are about paying for them. They always have been. And it creates real policy dilemmas, particularly as an aging population makes services more expensive. Do we scale back these programs or raise taxes to pay for them? Do we trust the marketplace to find efficiencies, or turn to the government? Conservatives need to be more forthright than they have been about their proposed answers to these questions: We can’t cut Medicaid by a third, as Paul Ryanproposed to do, without seriously harming low-income people. But liberals also need to confront some unpleasant realities. Over the long run, we can’t sustain the current level of benefits without asking the middle class to pay at least a little more in taxes.

But sometimes the argument about free stuff has a more insidious meaning—and you don’t have to strain to hear it. During the Fox News broadcast on Election Night, Bill O’Reilly declared, “It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.” In case the reference to “traditional America” was too subtle, O’Reilly went on to talk about Obama’s strong support among blacks, Latinos, and women.

Tangentially, this “maker vs. taker” paradigm is no longer restricted to the United States: it’s taken on a global appeal. Fellow blogger Max Marder notes a very 47%-esque comment coming from a member of Israel’s new Yisrael Beiteinu-Likud party:

An article from Haaretz this afternoon quoted Likud-Beiteinu Knesset member Faina Kirshenbaum  Romneyesque’s diatribe against Israeli-Arab citizens:

“The Arabs are an economic burden on the state. They barely pay taxes and receive enormous budgets from the state,” Kirshenbaum told a German-Israeli sister cities conference held in Jerusalem by the Union of Local Authorities in Israel.

“The Arabs in the State of Israel pay NIS 400 million in taxes, but receive benefits worth at least NIS 11 billion,” she said.

“The Arabs in the State of Israel want equal rights, but they don’t contribute to the state. In order to receive equal rights, they must contribute to the state like every other citizen and serve three years, either in national service or in their communities.”

“Only 38 percent of Israeli citizens pay taxes, and a small portion of them are minorities. Tax-paying citizens of the state are carrying the rest of the population on their backs,” she added.

Kirshenbaum’s comments doubly mirror defeated presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said both that a lack of Palestinian economic success vis-a-vis Israel was the result of cultural inferiority and that 47% of Americans were essentially moochers off of the state. What both Romney and Kirshenbaum miss, obviously, is that Israeli-Arabs are at best second-class citizens in the Jewish State. Israeli-Arabs, like African-Americans, are worse off than the majority because of historic discrimination, not laziness.

It’s a bitter irony that, following on the heels of one of the worst global recessions in modern history, the emerging narrative is that class warfare is being waged by the poor against the successful and wealthy. This seems odd, given the enormous bailouts staged in the United States and elsewhere simply to save this very same Team Successful from irreparable financial ruin. Clearly, no good deed goes unpunished.

I am becoming gradually convinced that one of the chief problems preventing genuine financial and tax reform in the U.S. is the massive blindspot that lower- and middle-class Americans have about…themselves. No one thinks of himself as a taker, but millions think that half the rest of the country is. How convenient, then, that all these nameless, faceless takers all turned out to have voted for Barack Obama. Maybe Frank Rich has a point.

(Video at the top is only marginally related to anything in this post, but I couldn’t let the opportunity to sneak it in slip away.)

The corrective: Obama’s victory and a return to reality

Last night, at 11:18 PM Eastern time, FOX News called Ohio — and thus the presidency — for Barack Obama. The announcement followed closely on the heels of ones by NBC, MSNBC, and CBS, and appeared almost simultaneously with a similar declaration from CNN.

But before Mitt Romney would deliver his brief but gracious concession speech, and before the confetti would rain down in Chicago on a thrilling night for the Democratic Party, a minidrama was taking place on FOX News. Karl Rove, the mastermind of George W. Bush’s campaign strategies and the chief fundraiser of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (an organization that spent approximately $300 million this election cycle in an almost entirely unsuccessful series of advertising campaigns), insisted that the network had called Ohio too early.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we’ve got to be careful about calling things when we have, like, 991 votes separating the two candidates and a quarter of the vote yet to count,” Rove said. “Even if they have made it on the basis of select precincts, I’d be very cautious about intruding into this process.”

Rove, of course, had a big dog in the fight: the near-total failure of his organizations’ efforts over the course of these past two years (echoing the dismal record of fellow Republican tycoon Sheldon Adelson) threatens his credibility as a savvy strategist and, thus, his ability to raise money in the future.

Even so, Rove’s impassioned opposition to the statistically-based consensus was startling in its self-certainty. It was as if, by the mere act of delaying the final announcement for just minutes or seconds more, Rove thought it possible to stave off — or even alter — reality itself. But at long last, the empirical world would wait no longer, and his fever dream finally met its bitter end.

It is precisely because Rove’s delusions echo the larger fantasies of the Republican Party that his earnest entreaties should rattle the moderate voices within a GOP struggling to make sense of its post-election blues. Indeed, his blunt refusal to accept the rapidly descending reality was not an exception, but the norm. Dick Morris predicted a landslide for Romney. George Will similarly forecasted a 321-217 electoral vote triumph. Michael Barone envisioned a nearly identical result of 315-223.

Meanwhile, the New York Times‘ Nate Silver — who first rose to stardom in 2008, when he correctly predicted the electoral outcomes in 49 of 50 states — had been steadfastly forecasting an Obama victory for months. As his stated probability crept steadily closer to 90% and then beyond, Silver’s detractors on the right multiplied. Examiner.com’s Dean Chambers infamously wrote, “Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice…” And MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough lambasted Silver as well, proclaiming, “Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they’re jokes.”

Unlike the analysis conducted by many of his conservative counterparts — to the extent that he has peers at all — Nate Silver’s predictions were grounded firmly in empirical data. He meticulously averaged, weighted, and adjusted polls based on data recency, the historical accuracy of the various polling firms, “house effects,” and so on. While not every aspect of his evaluations was made entirely transparent — every whizkid needs his secret sauce, after all — he explained the bulk of his seemingly alchemical methodology in column after column.

It is useful, then, to transpose the lessons of this Triumph of the Nerds onto the broader political struggle that just culminated in Barack Obama’s reelection last night. Just as Silver’s coolheaded, reason-based analysis prevailed over the flamboyant provocations of right-wing pundits in the months leading up to the election, it was the centrist and well-balanced vision for America that won over the majority of citizens in the voting booths yesterday.

Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are both deeply flawed (and often infuriating) entities, for a variety of reasons that could fill entire volumes of books. But their lack of conviction and courage was dwarfed by the monumental denialism of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, whose deeply entrenched rage at the president was predicated on an increasingly tenuous grasp of reality.

No, there was no apology tour. Obama is neither a socialist, nor Muslim, nor Kenyan. Romney’s tax plan is not mathematically possible. Chrysler did not sell Jeeps in China at the expense of American jobs. Obama is not “ending Medicare as we know it.” We are not, in fact, in danger of losing our status as a free economy.

The list could continue ad nauseum. But it is not simply the misstatement of fiction as fact that characterizes the Mitt Romney-era Republican Party; after all, one could easily compile an impressive list of whoppers told by Obama and his political supporters as well. What Mitt Romney failed to understand was that a platform of extremism — ranging from the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants to his support of a constitutional ban on gay marriage to his pledge to reject even a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes — is not in line with the views of the American public.

On this issue, the fault lines within the Republican Party are already starting to widen. It is likely that a civil war of sorts is looming within the party, with the moderate wing led by Jeb Bush and Chris Christie facing off against the Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann types for the ideological future of their party.

Today, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard has written, “No doubt the media will insist that Republicans must change, must sprint to the center, must embrace social liberalism, must accept that America is destined to play a less dominant role in the world. All that is hogwash, which is why Republicans are likely to reject it. Their ideology is not a problem.”

It is this brand of thinking that the Republican Party must bury if it wishes to emerge from the throes of an eminently avoidable defeat. As Joel Benenson wrote in today’s New York Times, “The president’s victory was a triumph of vision, not of demographics. He won because he articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in: A nation that makes the investments we need to strengthen and grow the middle class. A nation with a fair tax system, and affordable and excellent education for all its citizens. A nation that believes that we’re most prosperous when we recognize that we are all in it together.”

Mitt Romney was never able to peer beyond the narrow passions of an inflamed base for long enough to understand that the country, as always, is changing. Gone are the days of sole reliance on older white voters. Similarly, a slow national metamorphosis has eliminated the Republican Party’s once-solid, but now anachronistic and non-existent, competitive advantage on social issues. Even on foreign policy, the baton has largely been ceded to a president once derided as naive and unprepared.

The Republican Party of 2012 must see its decisive defeat as an opportunity. Making inroads with Latinos and African-Americans should be a priority. Abandoning its puritanical image — including some truly appalling perspectives on rape — is just as important, especially as the younger generation comes of age in a country of broad diversity in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and many other facets of life. (As Matthew Dowd so eloquently put it, Republicans have become a “‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America.”) Reasserting the GOP’s hegemony on economic and fiscal responsibility will take much work after its free-spending Bush years and its ideological rigidity during the Obama era, but it is not impossible.

Already, there are signs of a Republican thaw. House Speaker John Boehner, appearing today at the Capitol, signaled an openness to raising revenues in exchange for reform of entitlements and the tax code. “Mr. President, this is your moment,” he said. “We’re ready to lead, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.” This is a far cry from Mitch McConnell’s notorious statement in an October 2010 interview: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Now that the GOP has failed at this singular task, perhaps it can take a further step away from the precipice by cleansing its ranks of the vitriol and stubbornness that so characterized its behavior in President Obama’s first term. Today, Jon Huntsman’s strategist, John Weaver, seemed to grasp the significance of this necessary transformation: “We have a choice: we can become a shrinking regional party of middle-aged and older white men, or we can fight to become a national governing party. And to do the latter we have to fix our Hispanic problem as quickly as possible, we’ve got to accept science and start calling out these false equivalencies when they occur within our party about things that are just not true, and not tolerate the intolerant.”

Such a reformation will require the elimination of the type of epistemic closure suffered by Karl Rove on Election Night. It will require a reorientation away from 1950s-style conservatism and towards a more modern variant that embraces our nation’s diversity and encourages the expansion of marriage to include same-sex couples. And it will require the implementation of a form of self-policing to prevent the party of conservatism from devolving into an aspiring theocracy.

In this sense, Barack Obama’s reelection has done the GOP a favor. It has acted as a natural corrective of a national party gone astray, and it establishes in precise numerical terms the unease with which Americans viewed an increasingly unhinged Republican Party. It serves as a reminder that, while we will tolerate all sorts of folly in the name of entertainment and politics, we draw the line at ideological insanity. For the sake of all American citizens, one can only hope the Republican reincarnation will begin in earnest today.

My goal this Election Day

Today, America goes to the polls. Mercifully, nearly two years of incessant campaign coverage (including nearly 30 presidential debates in total) will come to an end, assuming no last-minute recounts or hijinks. But barring a surprise wave election, in which one of the two major parties suffers massive defeats in the presidential race as well as in both houses of Congress, our bipartisan gridlock is likely to continue.

That even the apportionment of blame for this sad state of affairs is hotly debated is proof positive of the lengths to which we’ve entangled ourselves into partisan herds. Republican obstinacy faces off against Democratic radicalism in the eyes of their respective adherents. Most problematically, one of the few remaining points of bipartisan coordination is seen in the increasing trend towards ideological rigidity – on both sides.

I have seen this in my own relationship to the political sphere over the last four years. In 2008, I was an undergraduate student voting, without overwhelming enthusiasm, for Barack Obama. I was never able to locate in myself the passionate embrace of the Illinois senator that had so enraptured many of my peers. I respected John McCain and would not have been severely disappointed had he won.

Four years later, I admit to frequent panic at the thought of a Mitt Romney presidency. My discomfort with the Republican platform has morphed into a visceral disgust for most of its standard-bearers. I mock the minor gaffes committed by the tireless tag-team of Romney and Paul Ryan while largely excusing Obama’s as mere faux pas. I deride the elitism of Romney’s “47%” commentary while allowing Obama’s mention of “[clinging] to guns and religion” to fade into the past.

To be clear, I am not peddling false equivalency. Anyone who has followed my blog on a casual basis for the past several months would have little doubt as to where I lay the vast majority of the blame for the current state of American politics. But my mounting distaste for Republican policy and rhetoric has perceptibly nudged me further in the opposite direction. My own views have solidified, less the result of conducting painstaking research and more a visceral reaction to what I viewed as inflammatory and bitter actions from my ideological opposites.

It seems clear that this division is infecting all aspects of our political culture. Mitt Romney has been downright evasive regarding the release of his tax returns, but Harry Reid’s absurd claim that Romney may not have paid any taxes at all for a decade was greeted with cheers by many on the left. Would this have happened before: a party so decrying the missteps of its opponents that it gleefully fights unreasonableness with rhetorical extremism of its own?

A similar vortex has swallowed the debate over national healthcare. When Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act devolved into absolutist obstructionism without any hint of compromise, many of us (including myself) gradually moved from cautious support of the bill to full-throated endorsement. Unfortunately, a real debate is sorely needed to determine what exactly can reduce the skyrocketing costs associated with healthcare coverage in this country. But the decision by one party to halt all discussions need not be met with equivalent foot-stomping by its counterparts.

How, then, should we respond? And by “we” I refer not only to liberals and others who share my dismal outlook on the collective Republican identity: I include also Republicans whose own more sensible positions have shifted slowly rightward under the rising pressure of a red-vs.-blue war. If the opposing party is truly as denialist or radical or obstinate as we believe, what options do we have?

On a practical level, there may be little that can be achieved. But ratcheting down hyperbolism and the most abrasive rhetoric will certainly help. Whatever competitive advantage the expression of vitriol may once have facilitated in shaping public perception has certainly evaporated in the face of equally irate counterattacks.

More crucially, detaching ourselves from the entrenched binary mentality that handcuffs us to our respective parties will allow us to reevaluate our elected leaders from a more clear-headed standpoint. All too often, a unified and angry opposition has compelled many of us to move from a mild preference for a certain party platform to an enthusiastic embrace of even its more dubious propositions – including policies that we once opposed.

This is how, for example, President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program was rightly castigated by liberals as an existential threat to the public’s constitutional freedoms, while Barack Obama’s extrajudicial assassination of American citizens has prompted little more than muted protests. It’s how many Democrats scoffed at Bush’s muscular use of drones while praising Obama’s decision to then ramp up the rate of drone strikes.

As liberals, our primary responsibility is to a set of ideals, not to a thoroughly vetted, compromised, and stripped-down document attempting to represent the broad tent that is the Democratic Party. Conservatives, too, must remember that their own principles of lean government and open markets should trump the narrow interests of a Republican Party still beholden to the incoherence of Tea Party demagogues and xenophobic agitators.

For the next four years, regardless of who wins tonight, my goal is to avoid the reflexive castigation of conservative proposals that has steadily crept into my decision-making process. A nation with two healthy parties is a far stronger one than a nation with none. But it’s up to all of us to subject our ideological compatriots to the same degree of thoughtful critique as we extend to our political opposites.

A comedian’s take on Hurricane Sandy

Nato Green gives it a shot for The Rumpus:

Disasters are live-action infomercials for big government. A crisis will flex and strain the muscles and tendons of big government until government’s nipples bleed under their racing tank-top: the taut glutes of regulation, the shredded abs of infrastructure investment, the rippling quads of highly-trained and well-paid unionized workers with real safety standards.

At one extreme you have the ripped, disciplined, and prepared Michael Phelps of government springing into action. At the other extreme you have the malnourished, drug-addled, and skittish government wholly unable to prepare or respond to a disaster. Think Haiti after the earthquake.

There are plutocrats who in their pillow talk believe that if you are poor enough to be hurt by a storm, then that is the natural consequence of your foolish choice to be poor. If natural disasters create the occasional Malthusian spike in immiseration and death, then it will be good for dividends. At best, human suffering that doesn’t affect me is not my problem. The stalwarts of the 1% would gladly replace FEMA with the Federal Country Club Maintenance Administration.

Right now the merit of big, burly, over-reaching, centralized, government contrasts sharply with the exuberant villainization of all things public by both parties. Both parties love austerity while loathing debt, spending, regulation, public workers, and taxes. Both candidates wring their hands about the debt and compete over who is most on the free enterprise system’s nuts. The difference between Obama and Romney is in degree.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman urges us to consider the case of FEMA:

Like Mr. Clinton, President Obama restored FEMA’s professionalism, effectiveness, and reputation. But would Mitt Romney destroy the agency again? Yes, he would. As everyone now knows — despite the Romney campaign’s efforts to Etch A Sketch the issue away — during the primary Mr. Romney used language almost identical to Mr. Allbaugh’s, declaring that disaster relief should be turned back to the states and to the private sector.

The best line on this, I have to admit, comes from Stephen Colbert: “Who better to respond to what’s going on inside its own borders than the state whose infrastructure has just been swept out to sea?”

Look, Republicans love to quote Ronald Reagan’s old joke that the most dangerous words you can hear are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Of course they’ll do their best, whenever they’re in power, to destroy an agency whose job is to say exactly that. And yes, it’s hypocritical that the right-wing news media are now attacking Mr. Obama for, they say, not helping enough people.

Back to the politics. Some Republicans have already started using Sandy as an excuse for a possible Romney defeat. It’s a weak argument: state-level polls have been signaling a clear and perhaps widening Obama advantage for weeks. But as I said, to the extent that the storm helps Mr. Obama, it’s well deserved.

The fact is that if Mr. Romney had been president these past four years the federal response to disasters of all kinds would have been far weaker than it was. There would have been no auto bailout, because Mr. Romney opposed the federal financing that was crucial to the rescue. And FEMA would have remained mired in Bush-era incompetence.

So this storm probably won’t swing the election — but if it does, it will do so for very good reasons.

Watching the polls

Or more specifically, Nate Silver. The New York Times‘ resident stats wizard now has Barack Obama at an 85.1% chance of winning the election on Tuesday:

There are not really any recent precedents in which a candidate has led by something like 49 percent to 46 percent in the final polling average, as Mr. Obama does now in Ohio, and has wound up losing the state. That does not mean such misses cannot or will not occur: there have only been a few elections when we have had as much state polling data as we do now, which is why the model allows for the possibility of a 1980-type error based on how the national polls performed that year.

But the reasonably high level of confidence that the model expresses in Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio and other states reflects the historical reality that the polling average normally does pretty well.

That brings us to Pennsylvania — where the forecast model puts Mr. Obama’s chances at better than 95 percent.

One poll of Pennsylvania on Saturday, from Susquehanna Polling and Research, showed a different result, with the two candidates tied at 47 percent. But in context, this is not such a great poll for Mr. Romney.

The polling firm has had a very strong Republican lean this cycle — about five percentage points relative to the consensus, a much larger lean than firms like Rasmussen Reports and Public Policy Polling that are often criticized for having partisan results. Susquehanna is the only pollster to have shown Mr. Romney ahead in Pennsylvania at any point in the race, as they did on one occasion in February and another in October (Mr. Romney led by four points in their previous poll of the state). Perhaps they will be proven right, but it is usually a bad bet to bank on the one poll rather than the many.

Still, Mr. Romney’s campaign is making a late play for Pennsylvania with advertising dollars and a visit there on Sunday.

That is probably a reasonable strategy, even though Mr. Romney’s chances of pulling out a victory in Pennsylvania are slim. What makes it reasonable is that Mr. Romney’s alternative paths to an Electoral College victory are not looking all that much stronger.

Chris Christie veers off-message

Could be just Chris Christie continuing his role as the GOP’s Bill Clinton: the hell-raisin’, charismatic star that articulates his candidate’s vision more clearly and convincingly than the guy himself can. Or maybe it’s a sign of some as-yet-unknown rift between Mitt Romney and the New Jersey governor. Either way, Christie’s effusive praise of Barack Obama for his role in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts has raised some eyebrows:

Chris Christie was supposed to be one of Mitt Romney‘s most aggressive surrogates, constantly attacking President Obama in the waning days of the presidential campaign.

Instead, Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has spent the last several hours repeatedly heaping praise on Mr. Obama as effectively leading the federal government’s response to the huge storm that slammed into his state on Monday.

Eight days ago, Mr. Christie described Mr. Obama as “blindly walking around the White House looking for a clue.” On Tuesday morning, he was effusive about Mr. Obama’s administration, calling the storm response “wonderful,” “excellent” and “outstanding.”

The overnight transformation of Mr. Christie from political slasher to disaster governor is a reflection of the magnitude of the devastation in New Jersey. Asked on Fox News whether Mr. Romney might tour damage of the state, Mr. Christie was dismissive.

“I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I have a job to do in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics,” Mr. Christie said. “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”

Meanwhile, in the too-good-to-resist department, WorldNetDaily‘s Drew Zahn went there:

Journalist and White House correspondent William Koenig explained to WND that some of the United States’ most catastrophic storms and events have correlated closely with the nation’s God-defying attempts to divide the land of Israel.

“When we put pressure on Israel to divide their land, we have enormous, record-setting events, often within 24 hours,” Koenig told WND. “Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 – we have experienced over 90 record-setting, all-time events as we have acted against Israel. And the greater the pressure on Israel to ‘cooperate,’ the greater the catastrophe.”

Some of Koenig’s examples are startling.

“Hurricane Sandy is expected to come ashore in the Northeast on the 21st anniversary of the ‘Perfect Storm,’” Koenig related. “That record-setting storm devastated the New England coast as President George H.W. Bush co-sponsored the Madrid Conference from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, 1991.”

At the Conference, Bush broke from President Reagan’s more pro-Israel policies in the attempt to forge an Arab-Israeli “peace” plan that included recognizing a Palestinian “right” to biblically Jewish lands. But while Bush was in Spain advocating a division of Israel, the “Perfect Storm” – so named for the ferociously destructive way in which a cold nor’easter combined with Hurricane Grace – was lashing the U.S. seaboard at home.

“The Perfect Storm sent 30-foot ocean waves into Bush’s Kennebunkport home as he was calling on Israel to give up the West Bank (Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem),” Koenig told WND. “The Madrid ‘land for peace’ Conference began the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that Mitt Romney advocated in the debates, even as yet another ‘perfect storm’ is brewing offshore.”

The original Perfect Storm formed on Oct. 28, 1991, and dissipated on Nov. 4 – correlating almost perfectly with dates of the Madrid Conference. The storm was blamed for 13 deaths and over $200 million in damages, including those to Bush’s vacation home.

Similarly, Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest and costliest hurricane in U.S. history, hit Aug. 29, 2005; the storm began the day President George W. Bush congratulated Israel for evacuating Gaza and called on the Israelis and Palestinians to move onto his two-state plan.

So what national iniquity specifically caused Hurricane Sandy, then?

“Both political parties have now accepted, specifically, a two-state solution to peace in the Mideast, dividing Israel’s land between Israel and a Palestinian state,” Koenig told WND. “And now this hurricane story is going to disrupt political campaigning and possibly affect voter turnout for both parties.

“There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes pressure on Israel by the Obama administration, to not act on Iran prior to the election,” Koenig continued, “but the most succinct correlation is that both parties have officially endorsed the two-state solution.”

Koenig also pointed to Romney’s statements at the last presidential debate, when the Republican declared, “Are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement? No, they haven’t had talks in two years. We have not seen the progress we need to have.”

Koenig, however, warned that making “progress” on the land-for-peace talks, which would see Israel surrender land to a Palestinian state, is exactly what could be prompting these catastrophic weather “acts of God.”

Nice to see Hurricane Sandy spared the nut jobs. Carry on as usual, gentlemen.