WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Mitt Romney's campaign stops are quick and efficient. When his bus tour ended yesterday in a supermarket parking lot here, Romney, his wife, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stormed onto a platform; gave short, crisp speeches; and then moved on. What was notable about the remarks by both Romneys was how much emphasis each put on asserting and reasserting their patriotism. Ann Romney described the couple's love of America as "something deep in my heart." Mitt Romney, in a 12-minute speech, described childhood trips to national parks in his family's Rambler, as part of his parents' effort to make him "fall in love with America."
It's hard to say how such lines help undecided Iowa Republicans -- who aren't questioning Romney's patriotism to begin with -- in distinguishing Romney from his intraparty rivals. This rhetorical approach may well foretell a GOP general-election strategy depicting the Obamas as big-city elitists. (Other Republicans are hitting similar notes; in Rick Santorum's hour-long remarks in Marshalltown later yesterday, the former Pennsylvania senator laid into Michelle Obama for saying in 2008 that she was "finally" proud of her country.)
Still, the Romneys' approach stands an old adage -- "tell 'em, don't show 'em" -- on it's head. In a similar spirit, Romney has made explicit the
conventional wisdom that the more optimistic candidate almost always wins; his stump speech calls Obama a "pessimistic president." What's not yet clear is whether this approach is too direct. Will Romney move voters here or elsewhere by simply asserting his own patriotism or Obama's pessimism again and again -- or will these lines, on repetition, sound like lines from a campaign consultant's script?
MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa -- Rick Santorum styles himself as a man who is big on personal responsibility -- and yet the former Pennsylvania senator apparently doesn’t feel any particular responsibility to the facts. Not, at least, when it comes to repeating ridiculous right-wing falsehoods about President Obama.
Speaking in Marshalltown on Friday, Santorum repeated the conservative canard that Obama had gone around the world apologizing for America. Here’s his quote: “When he went out around the world in his first trip and apologized for America, it was because he thinks that America needed to apologized for,” Santorum declared.
That charge is a favorite trope of conservative polemicists, but it simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The Washington Post has examined the record in detail, comparing what Obama has said on his foreign trips with what other presidents have said. The Post’s conclusion: “The claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the facts …. Republicans may certainly disagree with Obama’s handling of foreign policy or particular policies he has pursued, but they should not invent a storyline that does not appear to exist.” It rated the apology claim a whopper.
The Associated Press has also examined the “apologized for America” charge. The news organization concluded: “Obama has not apologized for America. What he has done, in travels early in his presidency and since, is to make clear his belief that the US is not beyond reproach… But there has been no formal – or informal – apology. No saying ‘sorry’ on behalf of America.”
Politifact.com, the Pulitzer Prize-winning truth-squad website, has also called the accusation false, saying that it was “incorrect … to portray these early speeches as part of a global apology tour,” and adding that, using the conservative standard, “you could argue that any change in foreign policy that’s undertaken after a presidential transition an announced to the world would constitute an ‘apology’ for the previous policy.”
So after the event, I noted to Santorum that fact-checkers had examined the charge exhaustively and labeled it untrue and asked why, that being the case, he was repeating it.FULL ENTRY
DES MOINES -- What would a Mitt Romney victory in Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa, where he has downplayed expectations, do to his chances in New Hampshire, which his campaign has all but promised a win? A big Hawkeye turnout for Romney should, by conventional measures, give him the "Big Mo" -- momentum -- to turn his large poll leads in New Hampshire into a Granite State rout. But, of course, that very phrase, "Big Mo," was invented by George H.W. Bush to describe his Iowa caucus victory over Ronald Reagan in 1980 -- and he went on to lose New Hampshire.
In fact, history suggests that relatively few non-incumbents have been able to score victories in both of the first two nominating contests. That's partly because New Hampshire and Iowa have different electorates, but also, perhaps, for another reason: New Hampshire voters hate the Iowa caucuses, and still resent their intrusion on the Granite State's "first in the nation" status.
"Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents," is still heard among dedicated primary voters from Nashua to Berlin, even though recent evidence (Clinton in 2008, McCain in 2000, Tsongas in 1992) shows that New Hampshire has missed the boat on the last three presidents.
But Iowa's record isn't stellar, either, and in fact the two states seem to work as a tag team, winnowing the field to two contenders. When Iowa opts for the conventional, preseason frontrunner (Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984, Republican George W. Bush in 2000), New Hampshire tends to respond with a tidal-wave victory for a lesser-known challenger, Gary Hart in '84 and John McCain in '00. But when Iowa goes out on a limb for a back-of-the-pack contender (Mike Huckabee in '08, Bob Dole in '88, George H.W. Bush in '80), New Hampshire seems to pride itself on restoring the original frontrunner. The same thing happened on the Democratic side in '08, when Barack Obama's big Iowa win was followed by a shocking loss to Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, though Obama eventually prevailed.FULL ENTRY
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- If Ron Paul finishes first in Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa, it won't just be a speed bump in Mitt Romney's path to the GOP presidential nomination. It'll also be a powerful statement about the last Republican president. In a speech in a jam-packed auditorium here last night, Paul laid out a platform that's at odds with virtually every policy, other than tax cuts, that George W. Bush pursued. The Texas congressman criticized military spending, the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, the killing of US citizens abroad without trial, and even restrictions on the Internet.
In the last year, Paul hasn't changed his message, which moves seamlessly between small-government libertarianism and some strange paleoconservative tropes. (The gold standard again?) This time, the field is just as crowded, but Paul is polling far better now than in late December of 2007. Rhetorically, it helps Paul that President Obama has continued, even extended, anti-terror policies that he inherited; Paul's riff on targeted assassination calls out Obama, not Bush. Yet the bottom line is that Republican voters are now free to cut Bush's policies loose without repudiating a sitting president of their own party.
Obviously, not all will. At least in his "town hall" in Council Bluffs last night, the Texas congressman didn't engage the question of why an undecided GOP voter who supported Bush should vote for Ron Paul now. (He didn't take questions, which makes one wonder what he means by "town hall.") It's also noteworthy that 4 in 10 likely caucus-goers deem Paul "unacceptable." Yet there may be plenty of other reasons for that -- the strange rhetoric about Fort Knox, his fixation on the Federal Reserve, and a stance on drug issues that puts him far to the left of Obama. What's clear is that some GOP voters are rethinking issues that were off the table four years ago.
DES MOINES -- Newt Gingrich is striking a statesman-like post: that of self-sacrificing, substance-oriented, determinedly high-minded practitioner of positive politics.
Only one of those roles is remotely accurate. Which one? Read on, Macduff.
Speaking to an early morning Rotary Club breakfast here in Des Moines, Gingrich lamented the barrage of negative ads in this race -- a barrage that has helped deflate his campaign balloon, if not his enormous ego.
"The young people who are here is really what this is all about," he says. "It is useful to remind ourselves that this isn't just a game. This isn't just a cynical contest between people who hire consultants to see who can be nastier. ... We ought to run campaigns that are worthy of the children. And we ought to have the courage to have an honest dialogue about ideas." Concluding his speech, he returned to the same theme: "This ought to be a campaign about ideas and solutions between people who have thought about it and are prepared to stand on what they believe in, not on the defaming of their competitors."
But wait: In the very same speech, Gingrich denounced President Obama's politics as "class warfare" and "Saul Alinksy's radicalism." That, apparently, because Obama thinks the USA will survive if the top income tax rates return to the level they were during the Clinton years -- years that, lest one forget, saw an economic boom that Gingrich now takes campaign-trail credit for.FULL ENTRY
After watching Texas Governor Rick Perry speak in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale this week, Globe columnist Scot Lehigh confronted the candidate about a portion of his speech in which he relayed the story of a cancer patient who believes ObamaCare would -- literally -- kill her.
The exchange wasn't too flattering for Perry:
Earlier in the day, Perry proved as patchy as Romney was polished. In one instructive moment, he underscored his determination to repeal ObamaCare by telling listeners that “I had a talk yesterday to a cancer patient; she came up to me and she said, “Governor, if you don’t get rid of ObamaCare, I’m dead.’ She said, ‘They will never take care of me.’ And that’s a powerful testimony by that lady.’’
Afterward, I asked Perry how, exactly, ObamaCare would spell the end of her cancer treatments. He said he didn’t know. “I was just relay[ing] to you what she said,’’ he told me. But was he aware of any provision of the law that would mean the end of her cancer care? “You’d have to go find her and ask her,’’ he concluded.
Perry might have asked her himself. Or, provided that he’s familiar with the law, which contains no such provisions, he might have disabused her of her misplaced anxieties. Instead, he chose to repeat them as though they were justifiable fears.
DES MOINES -- Was it betrayal or just politics as usual? Most of the surprises in this GOP primary season have occurred when candidates surged or faltered during televised debates, not from any skulduggery behind the scenes. That changed yesterday, when the state campaign chief for Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann -- whose campaign already seemed to be taking on water -- showed up at a Ron Paul rally last night and endorsed his bid.
While electoral politics can be a ruthless business, sudden defections like these are notable for their rarity. It really was jaw-dropping during last year's governor's race in Massachusetts, where independent candidate Tim Cahill's consultants -- and worse still, his running mate -- deserted him for a rival candidate. Today, Bachmann isn't taking it easy; she's accusing her ex-ally of being paid off. But on the stump, she soldiered on. In appearance at the statehouse before a group of mortgage bankers -- and, let's admit it, a hefty contingent of journalists -- she didn't mention the betrayal. Instead, she stuck to the combination of conservative policy wonkery and straight-up red meat that once made her a strong contender.
DES MOINES -- When police in New York, Boston, and other cities broke up Occupy encampments in public parks, sympathetic commentators expressed some hope that the movement would take the opportunity to transform itself into a conventional political force. If that's going to happen anywhere, it should happen here in Iowa, whose storied presidential caucuses are built on a certain ideal of grass-roots organizing.
And sure enough, there's now an initiative called Occupy the Caucus, which has some of the trappings of a conventional Iowa campaign. For one thing, it's more organized than other Occupy groups; it's an offshoot of Occupy Des Moines (whose encampment remains in place), which in turn is part of Occupy Iowa. And as of last Friday, there's a central headquarters, with handmade political signs lining the walls. When I happened by this morning, a couple of dozen people were milling about -- the official events schedule described the activity as "affinity group planning." Far from trying to disrupt conventional politics, says Jessica Mazour, 24, an organizer at Occupy the Caucus headquarters, "We're encouraging people to engage in the political process."
There are still stark differences between Occupy the Caucus and a conventional campaign. Rented for $1,500 for just the week and a half before the caucuses, the group's headquarters are in the hip East Village area, not an outlying office park, and you can't help but think it would be a great place for a bar or a nightclub. (In fact, it used to be one.) Furthermore, the Occupiers are still protesting; cheers erupted this morning when a member who'd been arrested at Ron Paul's campaign office yesterday showed up after getting out of jail.
Even so, Mazour, who works full-time in marketing, is eager to dispel the idea that Occupiers don't have jobs and don't take showers. And to her, the idea of setting up a bricks-and-mortar headquarters just makes practical sense. "When you're out in the elements," she said, "it's hard to have a good office space."
It may be well known that Newt Gingrich is somewhat erratic as a politician. But the former House speaker’s spotty command of details extends to his sideline career as a novelist as well.
In a piece that I wrote for Capital New York, I chronicled Gingrich’s three-part alternate history of the Civil War, predicated on a turning point where the South wins the Battle of Gettysburg. Gingrich’s books are a unique effort to shape a history of the Civil War that launders out the racism from the Southern cause, and to simultaneously make modern-day Southerners with an instinctive sympathy for the Confederacy feel comfortable supporting the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. The article covers a number of the peculiar inventions in Gingrich’s trilogy, including a scene in which Robert E. Lee is converted to the anti-slavery cause by a Baltimore rabbi.
However, it doesn’t address another quirk of Gingrich’s books: despite being a historian, the former speaker’s books are rife with factual errors.
Although Gingrich’s books are fiction, they are supposed to be historical fiction — that is, rooted in the historical truth. Lincoln still has to be president of the United States and the Confederate Army still must wear gray. Otherwise, it’s not historical fiction at all, but science-fiction or fantasy.
However, Gingrich makes a number of embarrassing historical mistakes. Some are relatively minor: for instance, he refers to an old fort atop a hill in Baltimore where there had in fact been no fortifications prior to the war.
Others are more significant: Admiral David Dixon Porter’s name suddenly becomes John, and a controversial proposal by Confederate General Patrick Cleburne to free the slaves is referred to as introduced in 1862, when it was not actually made until 1864.
But perhaps the most glaring is that Gingrich gives Lincoln a new Vice President and somehow replaces Hannibal Hamlin with James G. Blaine. While both Blaine and Hamlin were, at one point, Republican Senators from Maine, their political careers barely overlapped and Blaine, unlike Hamlin, never held the vice presidency. It would be like suggesting Deval Patrick ran for president in 1988 because both he and Michael Dukakis were both Democratic Governors of Massachusetts.
Gingrich may be an historian — but he certainly is not much of a fact checker.
Last spring, in cities across North America, women staged a series of marches called “Slut Walks.” They were protesting a common sentiment about rape, voiced by a police officer in Toronto: that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid being victims of assault. Apparently, the Pennsylvania Liquor Board didn’t get the message. True, the board’s “Control Tonight” public service ad campaign, which has now been pulled after an outcry, didn't blame rape victims for what they wear. It just blames them for drinking too much. A controversial new ad, which was yanked this week after a flood of complaints, shows a women’s legs on a bathroom floor, underpants pulled to the ankles, with the words: “SHE DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT, BUT SHE COULDN’T SAY NO.”
There they go, focusing on the behavior of the victim, effectively letting the rapist off the hook — as if he couldn’t help himself, since she was just so… there. How about focusing public-awareness ads, instead, on men who would take advantage of incapacitated women? Who wouldn’t even bother with the question of consent?
This week, the Centers for Disease Control released a survey with disturbing new data on sexual assault: Nearly one in five American women reports being raped sometime in her life. More than half of those women say they were raped by an intimate partner; 40 percent say they were raped by an acquaintance. We could go down the roster of those alleged victims and point out all sorts of supposed risk factors: wearing close-fitting clothes; having one too many vodka tonics; living in the wrong neighborhood, dating the wrong guy. None of them change the fact that rape is a crime, and that the responsibility for that crime lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. Better that a liquor board send a message to potential rapists, instead: Rape is illegal, no matter how much the victim may have drunk.
Let's stipulate a few things up front: That the Pennsylvania ad was a crude scare tactic. That when a woman is raped (or a man, for that matter), only the rapist is at fault. That women (or men) should be able to drink socially, even to excess, even at frat parties, without being subjected to sexual assault.
Still, the statistics connecting sexual aggression and binge drinking are beyond awful. While even stone-cold sober people can be victims of sexual violence, one recent study found that, "of women who'd ever consumed 10 or more drinks at a sitting since starting college, 59 percent said they were sexually victimized by the end of their first semester, which included anything from unwanted sexual contact to rape."
Public-health campaigns have to deal with the world as it is, not as it should be. There's a useful parallel between efforts to discourage date rape and efforts to combat HIV. As a legal matter, many states (although perhaps not Massachusetts, a quick Google search suggests) make it a crime to knowingly transmit HIV; at the least, it's morally reprehensible to do so. Yet HIV educators have still cautioned gay men: For your own safety, don't get so wasted that you can be cajoled — or pressured or forced — into doing something you don't want to do. This isn't blaming the victim; it's enlisting people in their own protection.
The best way to remind men that date rape is a form of violence is to prosecute it aggressively. Asking would-be binge drinkers to keep their own interests in mind isn't retrograde; it's smart.
In the wake of the youth-directed “Arab Spring,” which rocked the Middle East to its core and felled autocratic governments in several countries, Islamic political parties are poised for an historic resurgence across the region — and that is neither surprising nor necessarily alarming.
Popular mass demonstrations, “Days of Rage,” have been the hallmarks of the season that dislodged dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and exposed the fragility of fierce but unpopular regimes across the Arab world. Youthful demonstrators in quest of dignity, hungry for jobs, and fed up with corruption formed the vanguards.
But because Arab rulers did not allow serious opposition parties, the best organized opposition groups were often Islamist movements. While they did not launch the Arab Spring, they lent resilience and discipline to the demonstrations. These movements are deeply insinuated in the contours of daily life in Arab societies, and now are emerging as early victors in what Arabs are calling al-sahwa (the revival).
The successes of Islamic parties inspire consternation and alarm in some US policy circles. Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution worries that these parties will not embrace democracy. Like former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens, he suggests that the Arab Spring is likely to become a long Arab Winter as Islamic parties gain power and then thwart hopes for substantial reforms and freedom. But these groups are not the extremists that critics fear, and Islamist political parties deserve the opportunity to deliver on the mandate they’ve been granted at the polls.FULL ENTRY
Any kind words from me about Tiger Woods violates the cardinal rule of the First Wives Club, namely, that we side with each other. I have no idea what Woods’ Swedish ex-wife is like, but she faced a pretty bad public humiliation. I do not blame her for chasing him with a bat upon discovery that he had multiple mistresses.
Two years ago, we learned that Tiger Woods' perfect life, puritan work ethic and overall nice guy-ness were a total fraud. Last weekend, 749 days after his last win, Woods finally took home a trophy at the Chevron World Challenge golf tournament. And strangely, I'm sort of happy about it.
I know his horrible play the last two years had much to do with extensive injuries to his knee and Achilles heel. But, at some stage, watching his tremendous plummet into golf oblivion & until this weekend, Woods was ranked number 52 worldwide and his Chevron victory only gets him to number 21 & I began to think that the guy was spiraling out of control and that it was having an effect on the thing that mattered to him most: golf. And I liked that. Sure he had issues & he was a tightly wound player with a competitive and overbearing dad & but Woods was one of the few athletes who seemed better than the rest, and he was responsible for changing the image of a sport that has long been the favorite of older white guys. And he blew it all.
But then he kept losing. Sadly, pathetically, he looked like he was trying so hard. He became more and more sympathetic because, and only because, he just couldn’t win. The public got a perverse pleasure in the "will he or won't he" get the title aspects of each game.
Has he paid his dues? His ex-wife may not think so, but if one believes in punishment, surely there has to be ways to redemption. 749 days is a long time.
Now, Woods has a new jacket. I just can't help feeling a little tinge of guilt by liking the fact he is back.
Globe file photo: Tiger Woods tees off during the Australian Open last Friday.