Robert Stein 1924-2014

Contact Information

If anyone has comments, questions or condolences, please feel free to send a private message to the family at robertstein@optonline.net.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Intermediate Mitts Disappear

Accepting the nomination he chased rightward for two years, Mitt Romney tacked hard to the middle last night, leaving behind all those versions of himself who had gone head to head with Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann and Cain in spewing Obama hatred.

Prime-time viewers met this swell guy, great family man, patriot who had been wishing Barack Obama well in restoring American prosperity but had been by gosh so disappointed when the President failed that he felt compelled to do the job himself:

“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.” (Romney’s regrets would be hard to square with the attack of his running mate who led the Tea Party Congress in wall-to-wall obstruction, but that was yesterday’s speech.)

Romney’s Jimmy Stewart impersonation is, of course, only the next step in the Etch-a-Sketch evolution of the man for whom nothing is permanent. As always, last night’s Romney will have a short shelf life as he goes back on the campaign attack and tries to sell what David Brooks describes as a faulty vision:

“Today’s Republican Party may be able to perform useful tasks with its current hyperindividualistic mentality. But its commercial soul is too narrow. It won’t be a worthy governing party until it treads the course Lincoln trod: starting with individual ambition but ascending to a larger vision and creating a national environment that arouses ambition and nurtures success.”

Next week Democrats would be well-advised to show a highlight reel from the GOP debates to put into context the umpteenth version of a new, improved Romney who appeared last night to “show the deepest part of his soul” to independent voters.

There will be more of them coming along soon.

Eastwood as 2000-Year-Old Man

The GOP convention’s surprise act turns out to be Clint Eastwood, partnering with an empty chair to do his X-rated version of a Mel Brooks routine, Dirty Harry as a potty-mouthed comic.

Who knew? The formerly dignified icon engages an imaginary Barack Obama with such banter as “What do you want me to tell Mr. Romney? I can’t tell him that. He can’t do that to himself. You’re getting as bad as Biden.”

The 82-year-old Eastwood’s cringe-worthy endorsement does serve one useful purpose, making the 55-year-old Romney look like a kid when he appears 15 minutes later.

Watching them both makes a nostalgic viewer wish that Eastwood, like Romney, had an aging portrait hidden somewhere in a cellar.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paul Ryan's Very Red Meat

When I came home from World War II, someone persuaded me to attend a Communist lecture where the speaker listed everything wrong in America from high prices to flat feet, then proclaimed, “All this, of course, is a result of the capitalist system.”

Listening to the GOP VP nominee last night brought back the same sensation that caused my brain to slam shut back then, but with an added dimension. In tossing red meat to convention goers, the clean-cut American boy outdid even that Red agitator of yore.

Paul Ryan blames Barack Obama for everything wrong in America, including the havoc he and his Tea Party comrades have been wreaking for four years.

The economic crisis, he says, “began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America,” omitting only that it resulted from a phony debt-ceiling crisis he and his intransigent followers created.

In this inverted Ryanworld, where supporters wear cheese slabs on their heads, the would-be VP smirks that “by his own decisions, President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined...

“Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue.”

The “reforms and solutions,” of course, were Ryan’s own extremist proposals to gut social programs for the old and poor while preserving tax cuts for the richest, a philosophy he no longer attributes to his fallen idol Ayn Rand but former pro quarterback Jack Kemp of the Reagan era.

And so on and on. In this topsy-turvy time, Ryan and Romney can propose to save Medicare while planning to gut it and reap temporary gains in the opinion polls.

After Ryan’s performance, where does Mitt Romney go tonight? The only place left (or rather, right) is to join Rush Limbaugh and blame Hurricane Isaac on Obama.

Update: The morning after brings a frenzy of reactions to Ryan’s lies, distortions and omissions. Those with strong stomachs can find some of them here, here and here. And here.




Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mitt Romney Escapes Identity Search

After a night devoted to bringing him into focus, the newly minted Republican candidate remains gauzier than ever, hidden behind speeches of his closest rival, a wound-up keynoter and even his loving wife.

Rick Santorum leads off with the usual stump turn about his own family as if he were accepting the nomination, only to remember finally that he lost and embrace the winner into his worldview, which Romney has been at pains to avoid.

Chris Christie gives a barrelhouse keynote, talking more about his New Jersey accomplishments than Romney’s qualities without mentioning the sitting President at all, that he ends by bringing the crowd to its feet, commanding them to “stand up for America.”

These efforts bracket Ann Romney, a woman of abundant charm and political savvy, who starts with the promise of telling a love story but goes on to deliver a rousing touch-all-bases case for her husband to attract the votes of women he has been unsuccessfully courting.

As Romney joins her in the hall, a déjà vu moment brings an image from 1968 when his father was the GOP front runner. Around a conference table, George Romney talks in genial platitudes; when his wife, Lenore, a former actress, joins in, the conversation brightens. The Romney women have all the political star quality.

Now, a New York Times reporter observes, “Ann Romney is so gifted at politics, she may actually make her husband look a little bad. Their personality gap--her ease, his discomfort--has been evident in most of the many joint interviews they have given television reporters.

“But it really stood out during her bold, boisterous testimonial to him at the Republican convention on Tuesday night. She was electric-- when Mitt Romney came to her side at the end, he somehow sapped the energy from the moment."

In 1968, until a gaffe about being “brainwashed” in Vietnam, the senior Romney was headed for the nomination, but Republican colleague Gov. James Rhodes of Ohio remarked, “Watching Romney run is like watching a duck trying to [expletive deleted] a football.”

When he takes the stage for his acceptance speech tomorrow night, Willard Mitt Romney will still be under pressure to pick it up and show Americans who he is by carrying it over the goal line.

That answer may also come from 1968, when Gloria Steinem wrote about the GOP candidate, “When Richard Nixon is alone in a room, is anyone there?”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Barometers

This weird August brings images of a nation holding its breath.

TV screens show politicians and pundits above barometric crawls tracking Hurricane Isaac and switch over to news people on stormy beaches atop windy political pronouncements.

In this surreal atmosphere, dependable Rush Limbaugh explains it all, blaming the President for both sources of anxiety: “I’m not alleging conspiracies here. The Hurricane Center is the regime; the Hurricane Center is the Commerce Department. It’s Obama.”

This American August is traditional silly season news to the umpteenth degree. The month of guilty best-selling beach reading, backyard barbecues and grumbling about vacationing therapists has morphed into a reality meltdown, reflecting widespread psychic unease.

A New York Times editorial sees it all as “a powerful reminder both of Republican incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, and the party’s no-less-disastrous plans to further cut emergency-related spending.”

From the other political direction, the Wall Street Journal whistles in the dark that “Tampa Republicans are a party in better shape than they might have expected after 2008, and one with a new reform mission. Mitt Romney is not the most natural standard-bearer for such a movement given his political record, but he adapted to win the nomination and his choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate reinforces the reform message. Their agenda fits the urgent needs of the country, and we'll find out in November if it also meshes with the mood of the American public.”

The President will be rallying voters in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia as Mitt Romney’s coronation battles the Florida headwinds for national attention.

Those who long for a hammock and a trashy novel will have to make their own arrangements.

Update: Republicans hint at a mystery speaker. Sarah Palin is warming up, accusing Democrats of being addicted to “H-opium.” Game Change, anyone?

Monday, August 27, 2012

GOP Remakes "Gone with the Wind"

Convention planners reveal some supporting actors will end up on the cutting room floor but that Nikki Haley, Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush will keep their roles Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, Isaac willing.

Not exactly Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel and Leslie Howard, but then again producers won’t have to torch back lots to simulate special effects like the burning of Atlanta.

Nature is giving the Republican Convention unexpected suspense, but beyond the official site, political artistry is still hard at work on behalf of the uninvited, unwanted and unwelcome.

To spare Tampa first responders, Joe Biden will not be there as planned to make faces at the delegates from outside the hall, but Herman Cain is already on hand to rally diehard Tea Party addicts who did not get enough of 9-9-9 before “lies and dirty politics” distracted them. “It’s not about me,” Cain tells them, “it’s about the grandkids.”

Former GOP Florida Gov. Charlie Christ has left his calling card, a local OpEd endorsing Barack Obama and excoriating his own party for being “pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they've proven incapable of governing for the people.”

Ron Paul addresses Libertarians in Tampa, rallying them to resist Republican orthodoxy without endorsing the ticket. “Seems to me,” he tells a cheering crowd, “they would be begging and pleading for us to come into the party,” but he refuses to give them what they want.

Other fringe Scarlett O’Haras are in the wings, but the GOP’s shrunken version of Rhett Butler this year is in no position to tell them he doesn’t give a damn.

Update: Waiting for weather reports, GOP delegates ruminate about “forging a post-Bush identity.”

From the musty past Dan Quayle and George Pataki worry that “the big tent with principles” is turning into a hotbed of “antigovernment,” but the new generation shrugs off their concern.

It’s all a “transition,” says one of them, “the Senate is like a country club and the House is like having a breakfast at a truck stop.”

Where the drivers are drunk on power, brawling in the parking lot and going nowhere.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beyond America's Smart/Dumb Divide

On a weekend lull before new political storms, what poet Randall Jarrell called “the sad heart at the supermarket” is filled with mixed emotions over American life, a tangle of instinctive knowing and willed ignorance he evoked 50 years ago.

“If we meet an honest and intelligent politician,” Jarrell wrote, “a dozen, a hundred, we say that they aren't like politicians at all, and our category of politician stays unchanged; we know what politicians are like.”

In that era, JFK would say, “You can’t beat brains.” But his own experience proved you sometimes could. David Halberstam devoted an ironically titled book, “The Best and the Brightest,” to how Kennedy intellectuals led the country into a Vietnam quagmire.

Now, in a time of overflowing opinions, the question comes back in haunting new forms, in dispiriting debate over elitism vs. common sense, rigorous analysis vs. raging prejudice, sophistication vs. aggressive ignorance.

As Todd Akin makes Mitt Romney look like an intellectual giant, Romney’s own emptiness becomes an irresistible target. Willingly or not, we are dragged into new versions of the old argument.

Why can’t we have better? Even, as in the VP contest, the lines of demarcation break down to mislabel Paul Ryan wonkiness and Joe Biden emotional outbursts, the categories don’t hold their own contradictions.

If we reduce national discussion to liberal soft-headedness/conservative common sense or liberal smarts/conservative stupidity, we broaden the national breach and narrow any ground for connection, let alone consensus.

That may be our inevitable fate but, as liberals relish the final installment of HBO’s “Newsroom,” it may be worth remembering that Aaron Sorkin’s “cri de coeur at the uncivil state of America in the digital age” is an entertainment, not a religious revelation.

Those who cannot keep up with the characters’ rapid-fire references are not inferior to viewers who do, only less attuned to the show’s lonely-hearts glaze over legitimate issues of media, politics and morality. William F. Buckley would have appreciated it.

Half a century ago, Randall Jarrell wrote, “The climate of our culture is changing. Under these new rains, new suns, small things grow great, and what was great grows small; whole species disappear and are replaced.”

John F. Kennedy once wryly quoted a distraught mother’s complaint, “My son wants to be a politician and they’re teaching him poetry.”

Not too many have that problem today.



Friday, August 24, 2012

Romney's Death-Wish Birther Joke

With a tin ear and perfect mistiming, the GOP nominee-to-be makes an Obama birth joke to set up Democratic howls about Donald Trump, who is scheduled to make a “really amazing revelation” at the GOP convention Monday night.

“Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” Romney tells a Michigan crowd, while standing with his wife and running mate Paul Ryan. “Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”

Trump may or may not stir up nervous GOP delegates with renewed bilge about Obama’s origins, but Romney multiplies the stupidity of having him at his anointment to stir up a “a disturbing tolerance for disturbing ideas,” in the words of former W speechwriter Michael Gerson.

The man with a death certificate of his own seems to have an unconscious political instinct for his own jugular.

His handlers must be writhing in agony.

Update: If there’s anything worse than making a lame jest that backfires, it’s trying to explain it away. Right on schedule, Romney compounds the gaffe by trying to parse it.

Now he adds that “there's no question about where he [Obama]was born. He was born in the U.S. This was fun about us, and coming home. And humor, you know--we've got to have a little humor in a campaign."

Romney’s right about that, but Jon Stewart he isn’t.



The Comeback Kid Keeps Coming

He’s back, and a grateful nation turns its lonely eyes to...Bill Clinton?

Not quite Joe DiMaggio but, in an era of Todd Akin et al, the Comeback Kid will have to do as a most admired icon to remind us of better days, stained dress and all, when the nation’s economy was not collapsing.

In a new ad, the former President looks voters in the eye seductively to say ““This election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.”

Those who never succumbed to Bill Clinton’s charm may just as well give up and realize that, “in trouble” or not, he won’t go away—-as Barack Obama’s knight in shining armor this year or Hillary’s husband in 2016 or Chelsea’s proud father in a run for Congress then or later.

He has ascended into that American pantheon of bad boys who, with enough longevity, start to look good.

There is a 1943 movie, “Heaven Can Wait,” in which Don Ameche cheerfully presents himself at the gates of Hell to review his dissolute life from unbridled young buck to aging roué, only to discover that Lucifer finds him unqualified and directs him to an elevator going up.

Give the devil his due. He’s probably a better judge of character than we are.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Blame Gap for Hard Times--and Hope


The economy will go off a financial cliff and take us into deeper recession if Congress and the White House don’t stop bickering to negotiate a sane settlement over expenditures and taxes. So says the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

No surprise in that, just confirmation of what Tea Party naysaying and opposition impotence have done to America for over two years, holding government hostage to manufactured ideological crises like the debt ceiling rather than allowing negotiations to strengthen economic growth and lessen pain.

If the impasse continues, says the CBO, it would shrink the economy by almost 3 percent in the first half of next year and raise unemployment back to 9 percent plus.

“We can't fix the long-run problem of the deficit by just cutting spending,” says former CBO director Alice Rivlin. “And we can't fix it by just raising taxes.

“We have got to do some of each, but in a gradual way over time, and in a much more intelligent way than this actually ridiculous thing which is about to hit us.”

In an otherwise ridiculous election year, little intelligence is on the horizon but there are glimmers, as in a new Pew Research Center survey of self-described middle-class families in economic pain and who they blame for their difficulties. 

The results: Congress, 62 percent; banks and financial institutions, 54; large corporations, 47; Bush administration 44; foreign competition, 39; Obama administration, 34; middle-class people themselves, 8.
 
More than half (52 percent) believe Obama’s policies in a second term would help the middle class, 42 believe Romney’s election would; 71 percent say Romney’s policies would help the rich. As for Obama, 38 percent believe his policies would help the wealthy, 62 percent say they would help the poor.

Such news offers hope that voters are not entirely deceived by what’s going on and won’t be taken in by the tendentious explanation of bankers and politicians spouting nonsense.

We’ll know in November.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Is No Split Ticket Year

Bracing for two weeks of convention goo, voters must face up to the hardest fact of 2012—-that every name on the ballot has become an ideological test.

In that sense, Republicans and their Tea Party masters have succeeded in transforming American politics from rational choices among human beings into litmus tests for wall-to-wall prejudice.

Those with old-fashioned sensibilities may see a difference between Scott Brown and Todd Akin in the Senate next year. Indeed Brown has called for Akin to quit his race, but Brown’s opponent Elizabeth Warren makes a hard-to-dispute point:

“What he [Akin] said was dangerously and deliberately ignorant. But it did not fall out of the sky.

“There’s a large Republican agenda here that has to do with access to birth control, with access to health care screening, to the ability of women to determine control over their bodies, to the definition of rape.

“He [Brown] is part of that agenda. He is working to get Republicans in control of the United States Senate so they can pursue that agenda.”

Warren’s contention gets instant credibility from the Republican Platform Committee’s stand against abortion even in cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother. Even if he disagrees, reelection of Scott Brown will be another vote to give such people control of the Senate.

As we reach that point this election year, it is the saddest commentary of all on the state of American democracy.

Update: To confirm the dilemma, Tom Friedman muses over what might happen if “conservatives” retook the Republican Party from Tea Party “radicals” and started real debate on policy.

His “conservatives” include Sen. Tom Coburn on fiscal policy, along with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch on immigration.

In this world, there are no centrists.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

GOP Convention Weather Report

Where the Missouri mule leaves off, the Republican platform committee takes up the fight against America’s most pressing problem.

In language that would not dismay Todd Akin, GOP sages call for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

The only threat to Republican unanimity may come from a Higher Power as the Weather Service reports a tropical storm that could become a hurricane by Thursday, reach Cuba Sunday and affect the Tampa conclave by opening day on Monday.

The storm, suitably enough, would be named Isaac, a biblical figure associated with human sacrifice.

GOP Plays the Trump Card

Now that conventions are TV miniseries with no suspense, politicians desperately need big-name cameos for ratings. On opening night Republicans reach for the master of hype,  the Donald himself.

Trump promises to be “really amazing,” but may, as usual, just grab attention and embarrass his hosts. Ann Romney is the featured speaker of the evening, but can she compete with shameless Trumpery?

The only suspense is over what direction Trump’s self-promotion will take. Suggestions that he may parody Celebrity Apprentice and fire Obama don’t do the man justice--much too tame and predictable.

As a public service for bored TV watchers, herewith a suggested stunt that would be more in character. To match his unending zeal over Presidential birth history, Trump could reveal results of tracking down Mitt Romney’s death certificate and proving that, counter to rumors, the GOP nominee is alive and well rather than a robotic Manchurian candidate.

That service to Romney would more than offset worry warts like ex-W speechwriter Michael Gerson that “Trump’s appearance at the Republican convention represents a disturbing tolerance for disturbing ideas...

“What does it say about the modern GOP that the leading advocate of the theory that Obama is Kenyan is on the convention schedule, while the leading advocate of, say, mainstream climate science would risk being booed off the stage?”

Climate science? Are we talking about 2012 Republicans?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Can Congress Get Any Crazier?

In a word, yes. A Tea Party wannabe for Senate, Todd Akin of Missouri, opines on abortion that in cases of “legitimate rape...the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

His pronouncement sets off a GOP scramble to distance Romney-Ryan and eventually even Akin himself from such loony tunes medicine but succeeds only in raising doubts about the national standard bearers themselves.

A campaign spokesperson says flatly that “a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” but the record shows Ryan publicly against all except those to save the life of the mother and co-sponsoring a House bill last year to define human life as beginning with fertilization and grant “personhood” rights to embryos, which zealots believe would outlaw all abortions and even some birth control.

Embarrassments for Romney-Ryan surface almost daily, but the focus here should be on the kind of crazy people competing relatively unnoticed for Congressional seats on the Republican down-ticket.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are out of the political spotlight and will likely hang back during the convention, but voters should understand what Tea Party control of both houses would mean with a veto-proof president in the White House.

In thrall to their zealots even now, Congressional leaders would have no way of setting limits for them then. As all the noise and passion of the season are focused on national nominees, more serious threats to the American future are relatively out of sight, inmates preparing to take over the asylum.

Who will stop them then?
 
Update: Even after the uproar, Akin is hanging on, leading in polls by a point and praying for rape victims in a repentance ad:

 "Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them."

Prayer, yes. Abortion, no.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Politics and Paul Ryan's Mom

Long ago, after a particularly nasty legislative maneuver, I asked a political boss, “Does your mother know what you do for a living?” He tapped my elbow and smiled. “Politics, kid,” he explained.

Paul Ryan’s mother not only knows but helps him do it. At her Florida retirement village, she is his prop as the VP wannabe who wants to gut the program tells an ogling crowd,  “Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then, and Medicare is there for my mom while she needs that now, and we need to keep that guaranteed.”

His whopper comes in the face of a New York Times editorial charging that Romney and Ryan have “twisted themselves into knots to distance themselves from previous positions, so that voters can no longer believe anything they say. Last week, both insisted that they would save Medicare by pumping a huge amount of money into the program, a bizarre turnaround for supposed fiscal conservatives out to rein in federal spending.

“The likelihood that they would stand by that irresponsible pledge after the election is close to zero.”

Romney and Ryan would give retirees vouchers to buy a private plan or current Medicare. Sounds good, but then Medicare would be left with the sickest patients, driving up premiums and making it unaffordable—-a version of the old saw about freedom of housing, that the poor have the same options as the rich, hotel rooms or sleeping under bridges.

The Times editorial generously concludes that “the choice is between a Democratic approach that wants to retain Medicare as a guaranteed set of benefits with the government paying its share of the costs even if costs rise, and a Republican approach that wants to limit the government’s spending to a defined level, relying on untested market forces to drive down insurance costs.”

Perhaps, but old people would be well-advised to get out blankets and prepare for slumber under bridges.  Needless to say, Paul Ryan’s mother won’t be one of them.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Real Issue of Romney's Returns

“We don’t pay taxes,” sniffed Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley two decades ago before she went to jail for tax evasion. “Only the little people pay taxes.”

The Romney refusal to release returns has become an issue beyond their actual content, evoking an attitude that did not work out well for a real estate mogul who ran the Palace Hotel, let alone someone trying to take over the White House.

A whiff of noblesse oblige is in the air, a sense that the very rich play by different rules than the rest of us, never a vote-getter in national elections (see John Kerry wind-surfing on his wife’s fortune in 2004).

We are tantalized by Romney’s release of a 2010 return showing he paid 13.9 percent on $21.7 million in income but put off by the annoyance he and his wife express over questions about their estimated quarter of a billion dollar fortune.

“The more we get attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed,” Ann Romney tells an interviewer this week. “Mitt is honest. His integrity is just golden.”

Such umbrage is not attractive in the couple known for a car elevator in one of their many homes and breeding show horses to compete in the Olympics with a running mate who looks like a miniature version of themselves. Do they find it unthinkable that honesty is not the point but a lifestyle that keeps a potential President from understanding the plight of less privileged people?

The very rich are different, F. Scott Fitzgerald told Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s. Yes, they have more money, Hemingway replied. But Fitzgerald spent a brilliant career writing about the unusual state of mind of people who feel they have a right to eat the world and everyone in it.

He would have been fascinated by the Romneys. As are we. 
 
They see no irony in a campaign that hides their own wealth while pushing voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to keep poor people from voting against their candidacy.

Class warfare, anyone?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Romney Game Change Going Awry

Palin all over again? Paul Ryan hasn’t made a Soccer Mom speech at the Convention yet, but GOP strategists are moving to repair damage by another Game Change candidate.

Their worries emerge in a decision to keep Romney and Ryan together until Tampa. The spin suggests a younger partner providing emotional Viagra for a standard bearer beaten down by a year of bashing in Republican debates.  

“They really like each other and they feed off of each other,” burbles campaign manager Matt Rhoades. “There’s an energy, there’s a chemistry.”

Yet, just as Palin provided zest last time, Ryan’s campaign refueling comes with distinct downsides. This week he is being pummeled by going-rogue questions about taxes and Medicare as Romney tells reporters, “We’ll take a look at the differences.”

Moreover, Ryan’s own inconsistencies lead to admission he was wrong in claiming he didn’t ask for Obama stimulus money for his district after voting against the 2009 bill. He did.

As Democrats start rehearsing for the post-Convention debates, we learn that John Kerry will be playing Romney, a sad reminder of how stiffs are more likely than fully rounded human beings to survive the presidential nominating process these days.

Campaigning in retirement villages, Romney and Ryan will no doubt paper over their differences on a safety net for the elderly, but the VP nominee’s long record of voting and speechifying in Congress will be a time bomb ticking away from now until November.

Palin brought ignorance to the fore last time, Ryan may provide too much savvy. Which will be worse? 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swiftboating Obama, Giving Romney Cancer

It’s official. Like pork factories that use every part of a pig but the squeal, Romney and Obama supporters are scraping the bottom of the political trough.

A smear group headed by a former Bushie and Tea Party compatriots is running “educational” ads denouncing the President for “recklessly leaking information” about the raids that killed Osama bin Laden.

Swiftboat, anyone? The tactic that torpedoed John Kerry in 2004 now has Barack Obama in its crosshairs. If you have an opponent who served his country honorably, do what Karl Rove did then: trot out veterans to discredit him while your own man’s shortcomings go unnoticed.

Ironically, the commercials come right after an HBO “Newsroom” episode highlighting how tightly news of the bin Laden raid was controlled until the White House announced it that Sunday night. But in this kind of campaign warfare, facts don’t matter.

Respected Washington Post columnist Dan Balz observes that “all restraints are gone, the guardrails have disappeared and there is no incentive for anyone to hold back. The other guy does it, so we’re going to do it, too...

“Neither side has had to look far for an excuse to attack or cry foul. Obama’s allies took the campaign over the edge last week and his team did nothing to stop it. The most egregious example of a campaign out of bounds was an ad prepared by Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting the president.

“The ad linked Romney to the cancer death of the wife of Joe Soptic, who lost his job and health insurance when a steel company that Bain Capital took over while Romney was at the firm later went bankrupt, after Romney left Bain...

“Obama campaign advisers at first tried to distance themselves from it by saying they didn’t know the details of Soptic’s situation. In fact, they had used him in an ad earlier this year and put him on a conference call with reporters at the time.”

Cancer, bin Laden, whatever. Pick a subject and start improvising a narrative from it. Facts don’t matter. After Citizens United, anyone can get away with saying anything.

Meanwhile in the media slaughterhouse the pigs are squealing louder than ever.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Women Who Never Had Children

Helen Gurley Brown was the only person I ever knew who batted her eyes at me over the phone.

For the first meal we ever shared, Julia Child burned my breakfast toast.

The only time I was ever threatened with rejection for laughing out loud during a serious movie was while watching Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”

A confluence of events—-the death of the 90-year-old Cosmo girl, a hundredth anniversary celebration of the French Chef’s birth and the VP nomination of a Rand devotee—-conspires to recall those iconic women of the past century who made their mark in the world without leaving behind children of their own despite contentions at the time that they “could have it all.”

Add to the list the most famous feminist of all, Gloria Steinem, unless you count getting Christian Bale as a stepson late in life as motherhood.

Even now, in an era of pregnant CEOs, I am still haunted by such unfairness, which began to trouble me half a century ago when I was editing magazines for women and that, late in life, strikes home even more forcibly as I am literally sustained by children and grandchildren.

Life may be unfair, as JFK contended, but this kind of choice for an entire gender of human beings still seems unspeakable.

There is no social remedy on the horizon, but it is irresistible not to see meaning arising from this in women’s persistent political tendency to support liberal Democrats rather than conservative Republicans.  

Like any other disadvantaged group, no matter what their material circumstances, they are sensitive to others whom society has not treated well.

As a man, I am both pained and grateful. 

Cue In the Mock Outrage Stage

Never before in a modern presidential campaign have the clanking gears been so visible: Joe Biden comes up with a hoof-in-mouth metaphor and the Romney team winds up RoboMitt to fulminate about Obama:

"His campaign and his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the Presidency...And the White House sinks a little bit lower.”

Romney claims the President is “intellectually exhausted, out of ideas, and out of energy. And so his campaign has resorted to diversions and distractions, to demagoguing and defaming others.”

All this comes after Biden’s flip Iowa remark about GOP efforts to gut Dodd-Frank financial regulation: “Unchain Wall Street. They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”

VP oratorical eloquence aside, Romney’s outburst is timed to energize supporters as a Reagan predecessor wonk David Stockman bashes Paul Ryan for “preaching the same empty conservative sermon,” making Biden look tame by comparison:

“The greatest regulatory problem...is that the giant Wall Street banks remain dangerous quasi-wards of the state and are inexorably prone to speculative abuse of taxpayer-insured deposits and the Fed’s cheap money. Forget about ‘too big to fail.’ These banks are too big to exist...”

As the rhetorical cycle unwinds, little comfort comes from yesterday’s primary results.

In Florida 12-term Republican Rep. Cliff  Stearns loses to Tea Party-backed veterinarian Ted Yoho, who has never held public office.

Wrestling mogul Linda MacMahon’s cash overwhelms Republican veteran Chris Shays for the Connecticut Senatorial nomination, while her Tea Party supporters shake their heads to bewail his actual experience in legislating: “He’s a career politician. He’s been in government a long, long time.”

If they applied that kind of longevity-is-bad logic to airline pilots, we would all be in for some bumpy rides in the future.

As we probably are.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Romney Scrambles to Offset Ryan

In that alternate universe inhabited by the GOP standard bearer, the next move after taking a stand is to neutralize or reverse it. So it appears with the“bold” Paul Ryan choice.

At the Republican Convention,  featured roles are handed to non-Ryans who would have brought other qualities to Romney’s ticket: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with his street-fighter style, will deliver the keynote, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce Romney.

Instead of scaring the elderly with Ryan Social Security and Medicare threats, Rubio would have appealed to Hispanic voters and helped carry his own state, which houses so many of both.

The question here is less whether Romney has politically suicidal instincts but whether, from his sheltered tax-haven life, he has any at all. He goes from one step to the next, with no apparent awareness that there is any connection.

Abortion? Gay rights? Ryan? Christie? Rubio? Romney sees politics as an endless Chinese menu. Order one now, and have the others later.

Or all at the same time. As he chooses Ryan, Romney takes on a new “senior adviser,” a Karl Rove protégé who denounced Ryan’s Social Security fixes during the Bush years:

“(A)small number of conservatives...prefer to push only for investment accounts and make no effort to adjust benefits--therefore making no effort to address this fundamental structural problem. In my judgment, that's a bad idea. We simply cannot solve the Social Security problem with Personal Retirement Accounts alone. If the goal is permanent solvency and sustainability...Personal Retirements Accounts, for all their virtues, are insufficient to that task.”

But not to worry. In Romneyworld, they will find others to go in the opposition direction and back Ryan.

It’s one approach to running a three-month political campaign, but it would be a hell of way to run a country for four years.