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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 06:39 PM
Number of posts: 15,579

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In facing the “Fiscal Cliff”, what exactly does “Shared Sacrifice” mean?

I know the obvious definition, which goes something like; “to get our economic house in order, everyone has to share the burden”. OK, fine, so we share the burden. But what does that really mean? Are Americans being asked to share “the burden” equally? And just what constitutes a burden anyway? A light backpack is hardly burdensome to a healthy adult hiker, but most four year olds couldn’t handle carrying it for long. Cut the caloric intake of an overweight individual and most would call it dieting. Cut the caloric intake of someone severely malnourished and starvation becomes the more accurate term. But hey, both individuals are giving up something. That is what passes for “shared sacrifice” in Washington lately, at least in Republican circles.

All Americans are supposed to ante up “some skin in the game.” of fighting our budget deficits. Whether that is through liposuction or through amputation is of secondary concern. What matters now is making “the numbers add up”. So long as each side “gives up something” it’s supposed to be “fair”. Split the baby down the middle. Isn’t that what compromise is all about?

The Republican position during the fiscal cliff negotiations is not just totally discredited (the entire 2012 election campaign centered on the question of “fair taxes” and Republicans came up short), it is also morally obscene. The added pain that they now propose fall most heavily on many of our nations most vulnerable citizens was entirely of their own doing

The George W. Bush tax cuts were designed originally to be temporary. Bush campaigned in 2000 arguing that the government was hoarding way too large a surplus, and that much of it should be given back to tax payers in the form of a temporary tax cut. Polling at the time showed most Americans disagreed with Bush’s tax proposal. It was viewed even then as a giveaway to the rich and a reckless potential budget buster. Americans preferred that more of the surplus That Bush inherited from Clinton be used to shore up social security than what Bush chose to allott for that purpose

Though he ultimately won the presidency with a controversial “assist” from the Supreme Court, no one disputes that George Bush lost the popular vote in the 2000 election to Al Gore. Bush was not Americans first choice for President. The Bush tax cuts only became law because his running mate Dick Cheney was in place to cast a tie breaking vote in the Senate to make them into law.

The irony here is hard to miss. In 2000 Polls showed that Americans opposed Bush’s tax plans, Al Gore won more votes for President that George Bush did, yet Bush forced his tax plan through a Senate that was bitterly divided on partisan lines. That is how Republicans traditionally define “compromise” Fast forward to 2012. President Obama campaigned for reelection by strenuously arguing that the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans should be allowed to expire, as originally intended, on all income over $250,000. Polls show that the American people agree with the President’s position on this issue, and Obama received over 4 million more votes than his Republican opponent.

So naturally the Republicans in Congress now propose Mitt Romney’s campaign platform as their idea for a budget compromise. I called their position morally obscene above, and I meant it. On one hand Republicans argue that “painful cuts” must be made to entitlement spending because even if Bush’s tax cuts for the rich are allowed to expire the Trillion dollars in revenue that would generate still falls well short of stanching the red ink of our future deficits. Then Republicans turn around and advocate a plan that raises 20% less in actual revenue than the lapsed Bush tax cuts on the wealthy by themselves would bring in.

An additional 200 Billion dollar shortfall, do you know what that could pay for? When all is said and done its close to an even trade – Republicans want to give those dollars back to the wealthy and offset that cost by raising the age of Medicare to 67 to balance the ledger.

There are many differences between the wealthiest Americans and most of their fellow citizens, but the ability to plan for a comfortable retirement and the means to afford quality health care are prominent among the advantages they typically enjoy. Medicare was created to address Senior Poverty, specifically the inability of aging Americans to afford health insurance in their retirement years when their incomes typically are most limited. Most Americans may be living longer today than when Medicare was first established, but millions of us are becoming poorer sooner.

There is no such thing as reliable employment for life any longer. Pensions are going the way of wind up watches, and few of us are earning gold ones, wind up or not, from grateful employers these days. Pink slips are far more likely, especially for workers over 50 with seniority generated higher wages and benefits. It is a rapidly shrinking percentage of older Americans who can count on retiring from a well paid job when 65 rolls around, with or without an employer provided pension. It’s increasingly more common for late middle age Americans to burn through their retirement savings trying to stay afloat during the decade before they can finally qualify for Social Security and Medicare.

Allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to finally expire is the least the wealthiest Americans can do for their fellow countrymen and women now after well over a decade of sustained and dramatic income growth within their ranks during a time when real income for the vast majority of Americans has stagnated or actually fallen. That doesn’t qualify as a sacrifice, it is merely justice delayed. Only then can we begin negotiating what burdens each of us as Americans are reasonably in a position to bear in order to put our nation’s finances on sounder footing.

Romney Forfeited His Closing Argument

It’s a tradition when Election Day looms, candidates for President fashion their closing argument to voters. Even when they have nothing new to offer they attempt to make a definitive case. On a deeper level they are asking for the confidence and trust of the American people in the final hours before the last votes are cast. Mitt Romney is no different than other presidential candidates in this regard, but he has no closing argument to make, though he no doubt has much to say.

A closing argument presupposes a prior dialogue; a closing argument concludes a social contract. A closing argument summarizes what had been an ongoing discussion in a final powerful appeal to reason that extends beyond emotions alone. Mitt Romney chose not to pursue an open and probing exchange with the American people during his campaign for President, so he can’t now present a closing argument for a conversation that never happened. What he concludes with now instead is a mere exhortation, and a naked appeal for loyalty that he refused to make the effort to legitimately earn.

We are proud of our Democracy and democracy for us means much more than a methodology for establishing a government. It is a reoccurring covenant between those who seek to lead us and the citizenry who seek those who best represent us. Democracy rests on our ability to make informed decisions about those who we literally must choose to govern us. Mitt Romney failed his part of the essential social contract. He consistently errs on the side of sharing what he wants us to hear as opposed to revealing what we have a valid need to know. Romney has done so in ways both small and large. He has done so by commission as well as by omission. He has done so by indifference, and he has done so by intent. In so doing he has failed a basic test of leadership.

It is not the only failing Mitt Romney has exhibited, but it is the central one. He systematically restricts our ability to know both how and where he would lead us if given that opportunity. For one thing Romney is a commiserate cherry picker of the past He embraces the personal success of his business career but evades responsibility for the dark side of Bain Capital, a company he created and charted the course for. It’s a company that Romney still massively profits from, yet when confronted by politically unpalatable business choices Bain made while he remained its C.E.O. he called his legal title then a technical formality only, and washed his hands of consequences. When now pressed about substantial ongoing investment income from companies that outsource to China he says his hands are clean because his holdings are in a blind trust. Yet in 1994 he said, “The blind trust is an age old ruse, if you will, which is to say you can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do.”

Mitt Romney brags about “saving the Olympics” but neglects to note that he did so in large part by successfully begging for a massive bail out from Congress. Yet he daily belittles the role of the public sector in keeping our nation great. Mitt Romney takes great pride in having served as Governor of Massachusetts, but he disavows the platform that won him his single term there. He boasts about “not raising taxes” as Governor but is silent about the hundreds of millions of dollars in new “fees” that he introduced instead. Romney selectively (depending on the audience) takes credit for his primary bipartisan achievement in Massachusetts, Romneycare; while continually pledging to destroy that same model on a national scale, while promising to later restore popular aspects of it, but refusing to say how.

Mitt Romney is the son of another Governor who once ran for President himself, a father who he expresses great love and admiration for. When George Romney ran for the Presidency he set the gold standard for transparency and self disclosure. When he released 12 years of personal tax returns George Romney remarked “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show,” Though Mitt Romney released 23 years of past full tax returns to the McCain campaign when he was vetted as a possible VP choice in 2008, he now says most of two years of actual returns and a summary report from prior years is all that voters need to know. This from a man who admittedly has secret Swiss bank accounts and off shore tax havens and an army of personal accountants skilled at exploiting arcane tax dodges that most Americans don’t even know exist.

Mitt Romney routinely passes off politically popular goals for America that sound suspiciously like a free all you can eat lunch buffet, as if they were real plans for actually achieving them. When pressed, once again, details are scant. The voters, Romney says, don’t need them before Election Day. Like Nixon and the Viet Nam war, we should content ourselves with knowing that he has a plan.

Republicans of course do have a detailed economic blueprint, albeit a politically unpopular one. It is called the Ryan budget, and Mitt Romney personally picked its author as his running mate, even though Paul Ryan had no prior foreign policy or executive experience to speak of. Paul Ryan’s rose to prominence because of that budget plan. Romney chooses to distance himself from the math that plan depends on, despite choosing to make Paul Ryan next in line for the presidency.

This list, unfortunately, could go on for pages but the pattern is abundantly clear. Like the punch line from a popular perfume ad from many years past, Romney will promise us anything, but he will give us… what?

For better or worse, Barack Obama is the incumbent in this election, and he has an actual record to run on that voters have access to weigh when they ponder who to reward with their trust. As the challenger Mitt Romney was tasked with presenting a credible alternative to voters, not just an opportunity to choose “other”. Mitt Romney never made his case to be President. Time is up, and his arguments remain hollow.

For Democrats the Short National Nightmare is Over

On October 4th 2012 we woke up to a chilling prospect. A man who hired for his advisors most of the foreign policy team that thrust America into a disastrous Iraq war; a man who pioneered the outsourcing of American jobs to China; a man who stashed away untold millions of his personal fortune in secret Swiss bank accounts; that man could actually become the next President of the United States. By steamrolling through the first Presidential debate and denying his own positions on key issues, Mitt Romney for several weeks was promoted as the likely next American President.

The media class in America, our political sportscasters, suddenly had that horse race they were always dying to cover, and they guarded it like a dog would a steak bone, lest someone try to take it away from them. In the process they redefined the political vocabulary. Momentum was no longer a vague and transitory phenomenon. Now it could be measured precisely. When it came to the 2012 Presidential race, momentum was determined by comparing the poll numbers for each respective candidate from mid September 2012, after Obama’s high water Democratic Convention bounce peaked; with whatever polling numbers were henceforth recorded daily.

No other poll fluctuations mattered. If Obama went up and Romney went down from one day to another it was immaterial to political reporting on Mitt Romney’s “continued momentum”, So long as Romney showed any continuing sign of retaining more support now then he dad back when pundits were calling his campaign a total train wreck, Romney was said to “have momentum”. Three subsequent nationally televised debates occurred after October 3rd; two more Presidential debates and a Vice Presidential debate. Polling pretty clearly established that the Democrats won all three of them, but no matter said the talking heads. The public was no longer effected by updated public perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama because, they assured us, though President Obama may or may not win “a small bounce”, Mitt Romney had momentum. And momentum trumped anything even “The Donald” could do to change the dynamics of the race.

There was plenty of data indicating that Mitt Romney maxed out his much reported on popularity surge long before the Atlantic Ocean stormed into people’s homes and lives during Hurricane Sandy. Coming into the last two weeks a presidential race that had been predicted to be tight for at least a year previously turned out to be, surprise surprise, tight. With all of the endless talk about “bounces” and “momentum” the pundits neglected the most blatant poll move of all. Call it “the dip”.

For a month or so there between the Republican National Convention and the first Presidential debate, the Mitt Romney campaign almost imploded. For that brief political period Barack Obama’s presidential prospects seemed, in hindsight, artificially strong. Obama’s unexpected strength coincided with that temporary Romney dip. That was the real story, just an aberration from the close race always expected . By fixing on that brief skewed period as the basis for all subsequent comparisons, an ongoing political narrative was born: the myth of Mitt Romney’s potentially unstoppable political momentum. Far more unstoppable than whatever momentum Romney came out of the first debate with however was that myth itself.

Inside the media bubble, “buzz” feeds back on itself until virtually nothing can be heard above the resulting screech: Not a sharp drop in the unemployment rate, not a sharp rise in Consumer Confidence, not an improving housing market, and certainly not a stubborn pattern of swing state polling that showed Barack Obama holding on fast to the leads he needed in enough of them to secure a second term. That “buzz” of course was Romney’s continually referenced momentum. We all have experienced that shrill feedback spike that happens after microphones go ballistic. That loop continues to amplify until someone or something intercedes and cuts off the volume. That something was Hurricane Sandy.

The incessant chorus of pundits amplifying a self reinforcing meme was finally drowned by a force more primal than their mono-tone drone. It was a force that many, including New York City’s Mayor, believe is a harbinger of global climate change, any real discussion of which was itself drowned out during this election by “white noise” emanating from the Tea Party. All of that has receded now, faster than the flood waters that changed the North East coast and the lives of millions of citizens

This week the fever broke and reality set in. America witnessed the legitimate purpose of government in a way mere words can never quite convey. And we watched President Obama once again take charge during a time of real crisis. That is how his first term began. That is how his first term is ending. And it reminds the electorate that we already have the leader we will need to face the next four years. The momentum now belongs to Obama.

Sandy Drowned Any Significant Chance of Election Theft

For those who worry about such things as potentially vote flipping electronic voting machines, I suspect that threat has receded now from whatever level it was at just one week ago. Hurricane Sandy saw to that.

There is no longer a plausible narrative that can be spun invoking an under appreciated late breaking surge for Romney that could be used to explain Romney at the last minute winning states that most observers and pollers expected him to lose. In truth whatever momentum Romney got from the first debate stalled weeks ago, but that wasn't enough to drive a stake through the heart of Romney's Momentum Myth. Sandy was though.

Sandy stopped the campaigns and shut down whatever election expectation programs had been running. Now America are turning to a fresh rebooted screen. On it we see government aiding its citizens and President Obama clearly in command, and just about everyone expects Obama to benefit from a positive "bounce" in voter support as a result. Romney can't change the new narrative between now and Tuesday. He is going to have to lose this election all on his own.

An Opportunist Candidate.

It’s not subtle, it’s stark. Rarely has a major party candidate for President so positioned himself to ride any and all prevailing currents, regardless of the facts, the way that Mitt Romney has during this presidential run. His is a full spectrum candidacy, a self proclaimed “severe conservative” now waxing poetic on bi-partisan rule; a man who swore fidelity to Grover Norquist on taxes now pledging to end gridlock in Washington by “reaching out” to Democrats.

Not in living memory has any Party in Congress pursued such an obstructionist agenda as have Republicans against the current President. Obama took office with a strong popular mandate during a near catastrophic national economic crisis, while our nation was fighting two foreign wars. His political honeymoon wasn’t short, it was nonexistent. On the same day Obama was inaugurated, Republican leaders secretly gathered in D.C. plotting how to best sabotage his presidency. Not just this or that aspect of it, but how to thwart everything Obama might attempt to accomplish, calculating that the President’s failure was the surest path to a Republican return to power. This isn’t a matter of conjecture; it has all been fully documented. You can ask Paul Ryan, he was there.

By choosing Paul Ryan, a key member of the Republican Congressional leadership, as his Vice Presidential choice Mitt Romney not only wed himself to Ryan’s economic budget, but to Congressional Republican obstructionism as well. While the Republican House of Representatives kept busy holding dozens of symbolic votes to repeal Obamacare, Republicans in the Senate easily smashed all previous records for use of the filibuster to block Obama’s agenda.

Romney’s current homage to the spirit of bi-partisanship is just the latest of his efforts to reap the benefits of voter dissatisfaction caused by Republican Party actions, and as such it is illustrative of his opportunistic nature. It is hardly the most significant example though. For that just look to the economy: The current misleading ads that Romney is airing regarding Jeep moving production to China captures his methodology in a Mitt shell. Chrysler’s Jeep division actually just invested over 1.7 billion dollars to expand U.S. production, with 1,000 new jobs slated for Toledo Ohio and another 1,000 workers already added producing new Jeeps in Detroit.

Romney conveniently leaves all that out with his latest disinformation campaign, focusing instead on the fact that Jeep is increasing production in China also, to keep up with rising demand there.. Romney used one piece of data pointing to an international economic recovery, which is beneficial to Americans,, and twisted it around to play to voter fears about outsourcing American jobs to China. This coming from the man who founded Bain Capital which pioneered the actual outsourcing of American jobs to China.

Outsourcing American jobs was beneficial to Mitt Romney then, but blaming it on the President is politically expedient for Romney now, even while he continues to reap political rewards from outsourcing today.. How you might ask? Simple; just look at Mitt Romney’s political campaign contributions (to the extent that today’s Republican Supreme Court’s bastardized campaign contribution laws allow you to anyway). The same corporate order that reaped huge profits from the outsourcing American jobs is the one financing Mitt Romney today. They now which side their bread is buttered.

But controversy over one misleading Romney campaign ad barely hints at the full opportunistic nature of his entire Presidential campaign. Romney used a national Presidential debate to warn the American people that:

"If you re-elect President Obama, you know what you’re going to get. You're going to get a repeat of the last four years”.

In so doing either Romney was predicting another catastrophic global financial system meltdown, or he was expecting the electorate to develop amnesia. Count on it being the latter. The Great Recession, the greatest international economic crisis in over 80 years, happened on the last Republican watch, and was aided and abetted by Republican economic and regulatory policies virtually indistinguishable from the ones that Mitt Romney now champions. But America’s suffering produced a political opportunity for Mitt Romney.

Yes, he says, it’s been a rough four years, but don’t dwell on why it happened. Instead blame it on the man who inherited the crisis from day one, faced it to a stand still, and then turned the tide toward a full recovery with precious little help from Republicans, and constant gale force opposition from the Congressional G.O.P. leadership. Almost all current economic indicators now are looking up, but Mitt Romney will never acknowledge that while another man remains President. Right on cue, for now all good news for America stays stubbornly “disappointing”.

Which is only what should be expected from a presidential candidate whose much self proclaimed business success was, literally, firmly rooted in opportunism. Bain capital didn’t make products, they made “strategic investments”, and the strategy employed was always the same, to take advantage of whatever opportunity presented itself, to advance the financial interests of the principals. If that meant taking control of an undervalued asset to expand on and profit from, fine. If that meant bleeding another asset dry, bankrupting it, shedding “liabilities” like worker pension funds, and then dismantling it for parts, that too was fine. So long as Mitt Romney and his fellow travelers profited from the deed., it made no difference. Money could be made betting against America just as easily as it could by betting on it.

Mitt Romney can changes his positions on issues weekly, and the public tone he takes hourly, but one thing does not change. He stays an opportunist.

Obama Courts the Motherlode of Undecideds

When you can't see the forest for the trees it becomes easier to get lost. President Obama's swing state scramble has sent a number of political analysts off barking up the wrong tree, failing to grasp the larger picture.

They view the President's current hectic travel plans as an indicator of electoral anxiety, an admission that a second term might be slipping away from Obama, swept away by an incoming Romney tide. Though basic facts don't actually support that view, political pundits as a lot are addicted to tea leaves; they just can't read enough of them. Reporting from the bottom of their cups, a narrative has emerged. Fearful of losing, Barack Obama is now scrambling for every vote, with his re-election chances seen hanging by a slender thread. It's not just the President's travel schedule that is being used to buttress that viewpoint. It's also Obama's campaign ads themselves, most notably the one that reminds us all of the breath taking closeness of the 2000 Florida vote that could have kept the Supreme Court out of it had just 538 more Florida Democrats voted for Al Gore in that election.

Conventional punditry sees all this as plausible proof that Barack Obama is anxious about his chances against Mitt Romney, more so than Mitt Romney is about his own Presidential chances. Hogwash, to use the polite way of putting it. No doubt neither side will be sleeping easy at night until this election is finally settled, but in private both sides exude at least equal confidence in the outcome. There is nothing coming out of Chicago to indicate a pessimistic outlook (nor should there be but more on that later). So why the seeming difference in the public tenor of the race?

The answer is straight forward. Obama, not surprisingly, is courting undecided voters, but that isn't just the tiny indecisive sliver of the electorate that polling outfits assign such importance to. Obama is reaching out to a much bigger group of potential supporters, one that lately has slipped below the primary polling radar. He is calling out registered voters who are not yet fully committed to voting. He is appealing to people who are undecided on whether they will actually cast any ballot at all. Not only does this demographic lean more heavily toward Obama than do those deemed "likely voters', it holds a much bigger reservoir of potential votes than do the ranks of those more typically viewed as "undecided" or uncertain.

The best way to reach those voters is to ratchet up the stakes. The way to motivate them is to heighten the sense of drama that this election elicits. That follows a long evidenced political truism; Democrats traditionally do best when voter turn out is high, and voter turn out is traditionally highest during high stakes Presidential Election years. So the single most effective way for President Obama to increase his likely margin of victory during the time remaining in this election campaign is to goose voters, who are undecided about voting itself, off of their butts and into the polling booth. Obama can't accomplish that by sitting on a lead and employing a prevent defense. Obama must instead convey a sense of urgency about this election, and his words and actions are now calibrated to do just that. Romney on the other hand does not benefit by ramping up tension about the outcome, nor does he benefit by stressing the point that 2012 is an extreme3lya pivotal election to anyone outside his core base . Romney believes they will show up on election day, driven by their fervor for an extremist ideological agenda that Romney would rather not draw further attention to now, and by the hatred of the President. It is moderates and liberals who Romney hopes to leave sleeping with soothing noises about relative continuity, only better yet.

Forget any narrative that shows Romney favored to win, because the facts show that Obama is clearly ahead in this Presidential Election, where the winner will ultimately be declared by the Electoral College. Sure it is obviously still possible for Romney to win but the odds are against it. Romney consistently still trails in too many states that he needs to take in order to have a chance. Yes Mitt Romney had a spurt of momentum after the first Presidential debate. President Obama had his own after the Democratic National Convention. Those spurts are history now, both of them. They have run their course. We are back to where we were earlier in the Summer, when Barack Obama was favored to win. Time is running out for Mitt Romney. Barring some very dramatic unexpected event, all the potential game changing moments have come and gone.

We always knew what they were: Romney making his VP choice, two National Political Conventions, one VP debate and three Presidential debates. All lie in the past now and Barack Obama remains a popular incumbent President. There was one other potential game changer that the pundits all used to repeatedly cite before we ran the board on the others. They used to talk about the unemployment rate, specifically they mused on whether or not it would drop below 8% before election day. That used to be considered the ultimate game changer in this Presidential race. If that rate rose at all, Romney became the odds on favorite. If it held fast it would then be a toss up race. But if the unemployment rate fell below 8%, an Obama second term became much more likely. That is where we are at now and there is nothing predictably left to change the fundamentals of the race, which broke in the President's favor. Since "winning" Debate One, the Republican team lost the three that followed. The last bounce, whether big or small, went to the Democrats.

Obama no doubt is taking nothing for granted, but he is fighting for a mandate now, and a governing majority. He is fighting for Democrats in down ticket races who all become more likely to win if Obama can motivate the true undecideds, his secondary pool of supporters who may or may not decide to vote in the 2012 Presidential Elections. That is how to measure his remaining words and actions

Romney Was Afraid of Something Last Night

It wasn't so much his policy shifts, which pretty much left him endorsing Obama's foreign policy agenda - though there certainly was that too. It was the personality transplant that Romney underwent before the last debate. Gone was Romney the assertive dominating bully who stalked the first two debates, replaced for the season finale by "nice guy" Mitt instead. Nice guy Mitt made sure to give the President ample credit for a plethora of correct strategic moves, but even more striking, nice guy Mitt was dutifully respectful to the debates' moderator. This Mitt Romney left his bulldozer parked at home.

At no point was that more striking than when Romney checked his bullying instincts in the face of a gentle Bob Schieffer reprimand. After momentarily reverting to aggressive form by demanding a chance to respond to what he characterized as a long list of Obama's objectionable assertions, Romney meekly folded his cards when Schieffer noted that he too had previously rattled off a similar litany of charges against the President, to which Romney conceded that the moderator had a point. This wasn't the same Romney who nearly engaged in hand to hand combat with Candy Crowley. Something was clearly amiss. Once again, the chameleon’s skin has turned.

Over the last few years, Mitt Romney has become the archetype of the political chameleon, morphing how he displays himself to blend into a changing political landscape. But rarely has he changed colors as quickly and dramatically as he did in front of America last night. Less anyone forget for a moment, Mitt Romney is after all a card carrying Republican, and Republican’s always go on the offensive against Democrats in whatever area they perceive the Democrat to be strongest. Both Romney and Ryan have tried that this year in areas of traditional Democratic strength like Medicare and Social Security. Confronted with a Democratic President who actually got Bin Ladin, Mitt Romney had consistently played true to form, attacking hard from the Right; that is until last night.

Last night Mitt Romney embraced humanity and earnestly promised to give peace a chance. That line change was clearly manifest on the policy front, but it was even more starkly evident in Mitt Romney’s new pleasantly compliant persona. So what exactly was going on during this last Presidential debate? Well, in politics there is always more than one theory. Some would argue that the electorate was simply were given another dose of “Moderate Mitt”, the proverbial and much anticipated move toward the center that Romney came perilously close to never getting around to this year. That fails to pass the smell test however.

Republicans have traditionally been viewed as suspect by much of the middle class when it comes to economic allegiances. A move toward the center on economics is understandable, and sure enough, belatedly, they made one there. National Security is a different matter. Republicans long reveled in being the “Daddy” Party in America. Their ace card repeatedly is to make Democrats seem week. Last night Mitt Romney made President Obama look strong Democrats can make a damn good campaign ad if they want to out of snippets of Romney praising the President’s foreign policy

It could also be argued that Mitt Romney was trying for a repeat of his “throw the President off stride” strategy used in the first debate, when he unexpectedly denied supporting almost everything he had vehemently supported over the last few years. In a word to that one; Nah. Barack Obama is a smart man. His debate prep team is not made up of slouches. Whether or not Romney chose the debate stance most expected, he no longer had recourse to an element of surprise. Obama was not caught off guard, nor could Romney have expected him to be. Changing one’s positions on the cusp of a national election comes with a real set of risks. Romney would not attempt it simply on the off chance to throwing Obama off.

The most plausible theory offered in any way favorable to Mitt Romney goes something along these lines. Mitt Romney was playing prevent defense, trying to avoid any mistakes that would blunt his supposed electoral momentum that has him on an alleged trajectory to win. Americans it appears are overall comfortable with the Obama foreign policy, so if Mitt Romney is comfortable with that too, well then Americans should be comfortable with Romney also. No scary new world order to worry about from Romney, just Barack Obama’s policies without Barack Obama.

If Mitt Romney had a clear and easy path to an Electoral College majority, perhaps a prevent defense strategy could be tempting, but the lay of the land doesn’t bear that scenario out. At best it can be argued that there is a path possible to 270 votes for Romney but there is nothing clear and easy about it. There is no way it can be argued that Mitt Romney is attempting to sit on a “safe” lead. Projecting mildness is not a winning strategy for unseating a personally popular President.

I think the real answer lies in the nature of real chameleons. They don’t change colors because they are frustrated art majors; they change colors to protect themselves from danger. When a political campaign senses trouble there is usually some shake up at the top. In this case the shake up was in Mitt Romney himself. The sudden emergence of “Nice guy Mitt”, and make no mistake it has been sudden, indicates a problem, some type of political threat. I don’t have access to the Romney team’s focus groups, or to their own internal polling, but I suspect there is something going on there that made them change their stripes.

Mitt Romney was down right passive during the final Presidential debate, and we all saw what that did for Barack Obama during the first one. Why play that roll now, especially on foreign policy, where so much emphasis is routinely placed on the ability to face down real or potential adversaries? My guess is that Mitt Romney’s negatives were rearing their ugly heads. My guess is a lot of voters feel leery about electing a bully to be President, especially one who represents a party that shouts loudly and carries a big gun, with a long standing inclination for starting new Middle East wars.

During the second Presidential debate Americans saw Mitt Romney try to run over Candy Crowley. This time he backed down and let Bob Schieffer scold him. The chameleon changed again. That’s because he had something to fear.

A Proposal to Prevent Election Theft

This is something that we collectively can accomplish, starting now, to ensure that the results of 2012 Presidential election are consistent with the expressed will of the voters who participate in this critical election. There is a way for us to expose any willful systematic effort to manipulate the tallying of the actual votes cast by the American people for our next President, for illegal partisan ends. We can do this nationwide at very little actual cost. We can do it with complete transparency using data available as public record with methods that can be replicated and independently verified by any organization, public or private, concerned about the validity of our findings. With a large, multi-talented, and widely dispersed national membership, the Democratic Underground can take the lead in protecting a fair 2012 Presidential election. Here is what I propose, it has several basic elements.

We require a database that includes every election precinct in the nation. That database should include the means being used by each precinct to record and tally the votes cast within that precinct. That needs to be as specific as possible. Where voting machines are used the manufacturer of the machines being used should be recorded. Those who are given the legal responsibility to service those machines, and to physically secure them, should also be recorded. How the precinct vote tallies of votes that were cast at the precinct level gets transferred for central tallying should be recorded as well. All of this is public record. So, of course, are the precinct level vote totals themselves as they are initially recorded. As they get announced we need to enter those precinct records into our database. And it is also public record which political party in every precinct controls the government oversight of elections function. That too needs to be recorded into the database.

How votes are recorded in America varies from locality to locality, from State to State certainly, but often the technology used is mixed within States as well. This provides acute observers with an ideal opportunity to detect statistical anomalies among voter returns as they become public. Lots of raw data is available for “crunching”. Not just the voting results, but also the percentage of “spoiled ballots” and of “over votes” etc. In a fair election, the percentage of “problem votes” should be tiny and there should be no pattern of deviation between precincts using the same methodologies.

When and where recounts are conducted, deviations from original announced results should evidence no partisan distortion, in other words mistakes tallying Republican and Democratic votes should happen in both directions at a frequency consistent with the proportion of votes each side initially received. That should hold true between precincts, counties, and even states, just as much as it holds true within individual precincts.

If we compile a thorough enough database, not only can we cast a light on the integrity of the voting process in an individual precinct, county, or State, but we can do so nationwide. It becomes statistically noteworthy, for example, how vote tallies obtained through one voting technology in one area of the nation compare with those recorded in a different area using either the same technology or a different one. Either way comparisons can be insightful, or even potentially explosive if systematic vote manipulation actually is attempted, be that in a handful of precincts in a key swing state, or nationwide through manipulation of the software used in voting machine from certain vendors.

The amount of raw data available to statisticians to work with in America today is staggering, with so much of it readily accessible by computers. For example, a socio-economic region like Appalachia crosses county and state lines. This is well documented in census records and the like. So a cross check that shows counties with very similar socio-economic demographics, very similar party identification rates in registered voters rolls, and virtually identical media markets, registering starkly differing voter preferences in tallied votes in a clear partisan pattern that collates tightly with a difference in the manufacturer of the e-voting machines used, could be eye opening.

Even a pattern of divergences from exit polls, or even from predictive polls, can prove meaningful if that divergence manifests unevenly based on variables (such as voting technology) that should be value neutral.

If our goal is primarily to PREVENT election theft, and only secondarily to expose it after the fact should it occur, then this effort needs to be high profile IN ADVANCE of the actual election. In other words anyone who might consider screwing around with the vote count needs to be put on notice NOW that we will have the capacity to expose them if they attempt anything on a scale likely to effect the outcome of the Presidential election. That would require some help beyond the Democratic Underground in getting the word out – media allies like some hosts on MSNBC and organizations like Organized Labor and national advocacy groups like Move On cooperating in getting advance word out on this.

DU Members having skills that I personally lack would need to design a comprehensive but straight forward database for compiling the information we would need to record. All of us would need to do our homework gathering the info needed both before and after the vote Data analysis is a world in itself but collectively I know DU and our allies have the skill set to document any patterns that may emerge from voting results that would point to election theft occurring.

Yes this would be an ambitious undertaking, but not one beyond our collective means. And the stakes could not be higher.

The one change I think Obama should make from last night.

Seriously, it's just a single word. Obama should retire the use of the word "mess" from his description of the economy he inherited from Bush. That word should replaced by "disaster" or another word closer to that magnitude. A "mess" is something that happens on a personal scale that can be tidied up with a little effort. A disaster is what befell New Orleans due after hurricane Katrina. At the very least, eight years of Republican rule brought this nation and the world to the brink of an economic catastrophe. President Obama does himself a disservice to describe what he was asked to deal with from day one as simply "a mess".

That's it, my entire inventory of armchair quarterbacking critiques of the Presidents performance in the second debate . Obama was brilliant. Simply put, he showed why America why we were right to choose him to be President of the United States in the first place.

Romney is a one trick elephant. His whole case comes down to his assertion that a second Obama term means America settling for another four years like the last four. That is of course blatantly absurd. The degree of economic growth America has experienced during Obama's first term in office is a direct consequence of the Republican calamity Obama inherited when he stepped into the Oval Office. It's hard to reach the surface after you fall down a mine shaft. Even Mitt Romney, as craven as he is, doesn't predict for this country another four years like the last four. Obama's first term in office began during a global economic panic, a total meltdown of the world's financial systems,

The Republicans did far more than leave you with a mess to clean up, Mr. President. They almost plunged the world into another Great Depression. It is remarkable that you pulled us all the way back from that AND ended the war in Iraq AND hunted down the terrorists who attacked America AND put us on a glide path out of Afghanistan AND overhauled health care in America AND re-invested in America's technological future and so much else, virtually simultaneously. It was more than a mess that you inherited from Republican misrule. It was a package of epic challenges that only confront most nations two or three times a century. Call it like it was.

I think Americans will be reminded tonight that they really don't like Romney all that much

At the last debate a lot of voters woke up to see an actual human being on stage there debating Obama, rather than the cartoon villain version of Romney lodged in a lot of voters minds. The real Romney was able to speak in full paragraphs without sounding like he was on drugs (well, maybe speed but not hallucinogenics). People realized Romney actually had a case he could make for himself, and that he could do so forcefully. Obama kind of seemed a bit listless by comparison, and so it all went.

A lot of post debate discussion focused on the theme of two Romneys, the severely conservative one who had been campaigning for President over the last year and the newly reinvented so-called Moderate Mitt who showed up to debate Obama that night. Yes there were those two Romneys, but the true odd couple really was flesh and blood Mitt vs cartoon caricature Mitt , and flesh and blood Romney wildly surpassed his cartoon version. That was the gut take away for most people about Romney, not whether they actually liked him or could warm up to having Romney address our nation as President for four full years.

Now that Mitt Romney is seen as having a plausible chance of actually winning the election voters will, once again, see him differently tonight. They will ponder Romney being President, and that thought will not seem all that appealing. To turn an old conventional wisdom on its head, I think what President Obama has to do tonight, when all is said and done, is give people a good enough reason to vote against the flesh and blood Mitt Romney.

On edit let me add: I am not trying to imply that Obama just has to come across as a nice guy tonight, compared to Romney, in order to win. Obama has to display strength, he needs to show confidence, he needs to defend his record and attack Romney; all of the standard stuff. Clearly Obama has to hold his own, but if he does so he will win, because most Americans are innately comfortable with Barack Obama and not at all so with Mitt Romney.
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