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Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital How the GOP presidential candidate and his private equity firm staged an epic wealth grab, destroyed jobs – and stuck others with the bill by: Matt Taibbi Mitt Romney illustrationIllustration by Robert Grossman The great criticism of Mitt Romney, from both sides of the aisle, has always been that he doesn't stand for anything. He's a flip-flopper, they say, a lightweight, a cardboard opportunist who'll say anything to get elected.
The critics couldn't be more wrong. Mitt Romney is no tissue-paper man. He's closer to being a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky, with tweezed nostrils instead of a beard, a half-Windsor instead of a leather jerkin. His legendary flip-flops aren't the lies of a bumbling opportunist – they're the confident prevarications of a man untroubled by misleading the nonbeliever in pursuit of a single, all-consuming goal. Romney has a vision, and he's trying for something big: We've just been too slow to sort out what it is, just as we've been slow to grasp the roots of the radical economic changes that have swept the country in the last generation.
The incredible untold story of the 2012 election so far is that Romney's run has been a shimmering pearl of perfect political hypocrisy, which he's somehow managed to keep hidden, even with thousands of cameras following his every move. And the drama of this rhetorical high-wire act was ratcheted up even further when Romney chose his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – like himself, a self-righteously anal, thin-lipped, Whitest Kids U Know penny pincher who'd be honored to tell Oliver Twist there's no more soup left. By selecting Ryan, Romney, the hard-charging, chameleonic champion of a disgraced-yet-defiant Wall Street, officially succeeded in moving the battle lines in the 2012 presidential race.
Like John McCain four years before, Romney desperately needed a vice-presidential pick that would change the game. But where McCain bet on a combustive mix of clueless novelty and suburban sexual tension named Sarah Palin, Romney bet on an idea. He said as much when he unveiled his choice of Ryan, the author of a hair-raising budget-cutting plan best known for its willingness to slash the sacred cows of Medicare and Medicaid. "Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party," Romney told frenzied Republican supporters in Norfolk, Virginia, standing before the reliably jingoistic backdrop of a floating warship. "He understands the fiscal challenges facing America: our exploding deficits and crushing debt."
Debt, debt, debt. If the Republican Party had a James Carville, this is what he would have said to win Mitt over, in whatever late-night war room session led to the Ryan pick: "It's the debt, stupid." This is the way to defeat Barack Obama: to recast the race as a jeremiad against debt, something just about everybody who's ever gotten a bill in the mail hates on a primal level.
Last May, in a much-touted speech in Iowa, Romney used language that was literally inflammatory to describe America's federal borrowing. "A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation," he declared. "Every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love." Our collective debt is no ordinary problem: According to Mitt, it's going to burn our children alive.
And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a "turnaround specialist," a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.
By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions – placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you'll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It's almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House.
The unlikeliness of Romney's gambit isn't simply a reflection of his own artlessly unapologetic mindset – it stands as an emblem for the resiliency of the entire sociopathic Wall Street set he represents. Four years ago, the Mitt Romneys of the world nearly destroyed the global economy with their greed, shortsightedness and – most notably – wildly irresponsible use of debt in pursuit of personal profit. The sight was so disgusting that people everywhere were ready to drop an H-bomb on Lower Manhattan and bayonet the survivors. But today that same insane greed ethos, that same belief in the lunatic pursuit of instant borrowed millions – it's dusted itself off, it's had a shave and a shoeshine, and it's back out there running for president.
Mitt Romney, it turns out, is the perfect frontman for Wall Street's greed revolution. He's not a two-bit, shifty-eyed huckster like Lloyd Blankfein. He's not a sighing, eye-rolling, arrogant jerkwad like Jamie Dimon. But Mitt believes the same things those guys believe: He's been right with them on the front lines of the financialization revolution, a decades-long campaign in which the old, simple, let's-make-stuff-and-sell-it manufacturing economy was replaced with a new, highly complex, let's-take-stuff-and-trash-it financial economy. Instead of cars and airplanes, we built swaps, CDOs and other toxic financial products. Instead of building new companies from the ground up, we took out massive bank loans and used them to acquire existing firms, liquidating every asset in sight and leaving the target companies holding the note. The new borrow-and-conquer economy was morally sanctified by an almost religious faith in the grossly euphemistic concept of "creative destruction," and amounted to a total abdication of collective responsibility by America's rich, whose new thing was making assloads of money in ever-shorter campaigns of economic conquest, sending the proceeds offshore, and shrugging as the great towns and factories their parents and grandparents built were shuttered and boarded up, crushed by a true prairie fire of debt.
Mitt Romney – a man whose own father built cars and nurtured communities, and was one of the old-school industrial anachronisms pushed aside by the new generation's wealth grab – has emerged now to sell this make-nothing, take-everything, screw-everyone ethos to the world. He's Gordon Gekko, but a new and improved version, with better PR – and a bigger goal. A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we'll all end up paying for the acquisition.
Willard "Mitt" Romney's background in many ways suggests a man who was born to be president – disgustingly rich from birth, raised in prep schools, no early exposure to minorities outside of maids, a powerful daddy to clean up his missteps, and timely exemptions from military service. In Romney's bio there are some eerie early-life similarities to other recent presidential figures. (Is America really ready for another Republican president who was a prep-school cheerleader?) And like other great presidential double-talkers such as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Romney has shown particular aptitude in the area of telling multiple factual versions of his own life story.
"I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there," he claimed years after the war. To a different audience, he said, "I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam."
Like John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush, men whose way into power was smoothed by celebrity fathers but who rebelled against their parental legacy as mature politicians, Mitt Romney's career has been both a tribute to and a repudiation of his famous father. George Romney in the 1950s became CEO of American Motors Corp., made a modest fortune betting on energy efficiency in an age of gas guzzlers and ended up serving as governor of the state of Michigan only two generations removed from the Romney clan's tradition of polygamy. For Mitt, who grew up worshipping his tall, craggily handsome, politically moderate father, life was less rocky: Cranbrook prep school in suburban Detroit, followed by Stanford in the Sixties, a missionary term in which he spent two and a half years trying (as he said) to persuade the French to "give up your wine," and Harvard Business School in the Seventies. Then, faced with making a career choice, Mitt chose an odd one: Already married and a father of two, he left Harvard and eschewed both politics and the law to enter the at-the-time unsexy world of financial consulting.
"When you get out of a place like Harvard, you can do anything – at least in the old days you could," says a prominent corporate lawyer on Wall Street who is familiar with Romney's career. "But he comes out, he not only has a Harvard Business School degree, he's got a national pedigree with his name. He could have done anything – but what does he do? He says, 'I'm going to spend my life loading up distressed companies with debt.' "
Romney started off at the Boston Consulting Group, where he showed an aptitude for crunching numbers and glad-handing clients. Then, in 1977, he joined a young entrepreneur named Bill Bain at a firm called Bain & Company, where he worked for six years before being handed the reins of a new firm-within-a-firm called Bain Capital.
In Romney's version of the tale, Bain Capital – which evolved into what is today known as a private equity firm – specialized in turning around moribund companies (Romney even wrote a book called Turnaround that complements his other nauseatingly self-complimentary book, No Apology) and helped create the Staples office-supply chain. On the campaign trail, Romney relentlessly trades on his own self-perpetuated reputation as a kind of altruistic rescuer of failing enterprises, never missing an opportunity to use the word "help" or "helped" in his description of what he and Bain did for companies. He might, for instance, describe himself as having been "deeply involved in helping other businesses" or say he "helped create tens of thousands of jobs."
The reality is that toward the middle of his career at Bain, Romney made a fateful strategic decision: He moved away from creating companies like Staples through venture capital schemes, and toward a business model that involved borrowing huge sums of money to take over existing firms, then extracting value from them by force. He decided, as he later put it, that "there's a lot greater risk in a startup than there is in acquiring an existing company." In the Eighties, when Romney made this move, this form of financial piracy became known as a leveraged buyout, and it achieved iconic status thanks to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Gekko's business strategy was essentially identical to the Romney–Bain model, only Gekko called himself a "liberator" of companies instead of a "helper."
Here's how Romney would go about "liberating" a company: A private equity firm like Bain typically seeks out floundering businesses with good cash flows. It then puts down a relatively small amount of its own money and runs to a big bank like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup for the rest of the financing. (Most leveraged buyouts are financed with 60 to 90 percent borrowed cash.) The takeover firm then uses that borrowed money to buy a controlling stake in the target company, either with or without its consent. When an LBO is done without the consent of the target, it's called a hostile takeover; such thrilling acts of corporate piracy were made legend in the Eighties, most notably the 1988 attack by notorious corporate raiders Kohlberg Kravis Roberts against RJR Nabisco, a deal memorialized in the book Barbarians at the Gate.
Romney and Bain avoided the hostile approach, preferring to secure the cooperation of their takeover targets by buying off a company's management with lucrative bonuses. Once management is on board, the rest is just math. So if the target company is worth $500 million, Bain might put down $20 million of its own cash, then borrow $350 million from an investment bank to take over a controlling stake.
But here's the catch. When Bain borrows all of that money from the bank, it's the target company that ends up on the hook for all of the debt.
Now your troubled firm – let's say you make tricycles in Alabama – has been taken over by a bunch of slick Wall Street dudes who kicked in as little as five percent as a down payment. So in addition to whatever problems you had before, Tricycle Inc. now owes Goldman or Citigroup $350 million. With all that new debt service to pay, the company's bottom line is suddenly untenable: You almost have to start firing people immediately just to get your costs down to a manageable level.
"That interest," says Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, "just sucks the profit out of the company."
Fortunately, the geniuses at Bain who now run the place are there to help tell you whom to fire. And for the service it performs cutting your company's costs to help you pay off the massive debt that it, Bain, saddled your company with in the first place, Bain naturally charges a management fee, typically millions of dollars a year. So Tricycle Inc. now has two gigantic new burdens it never had before Bain Capital stepped into the picture: tens of millions in annual debt service, and millions more in "management fees." Since the initial acquisition of Tricycle Inc. was probably greased by promising the company's upper management lucrative bonuses, all that pain inevitably comes out of just one place: the benefits and payroll of the hourly workforce.
Once all that debt is added, one of two things can happen. The company can fire workers and slash benefits to pay off all its new obligations to Goldman Sachs and Bain, leaving it ripe to be resold by Bain at a huge profit. Or it can go bankrupt – this happens after about seven percent of all private equity buyouts – leaving behind one or more shuttered factory towns. Either way, Bain wins. By power-sucking cash value from even the most rapidly dying firms, private equity raiders like Bain almost always get their cash out before a target goes belly up.
This business model wasn't really "helping," of course – and it wasn't new. Fans of mob movies will recognize what's known as the "bust-out," in which a gangster takes over a restaurant or sporting goods store and then monetizes his investment by running up giant debts on the company's credit line. (Think Paulie buying all those cases of Cutty Sark in Goodfellas.) When the note comes due, the mobster simply torches the restaurant and collects the insurance money. Reduced to their most basic level, the leveraged buyouts engineered by Romney followed exactly the same business model. "It's the bust-out," one Wall Street trader says with a laugh. "That's all it is."
Private equity firms aren't necessarily evil by definition. There are many stories of successful turnarounds fueled by private equity, often involving multiple floundering businesses that are rolled into a single entity, eliminating duplicative overhead. Experian, the giant credit-rating tyrant, was acquired by Bain in the Nineties and went on to become an industry leader.
But there's a key difference between private equity firms and the businesses that were America's original industrial cornerstones, like the elder Romney's AMC. Everyone had a stake in the success of those old businesses, which spread prosperity by putting people to work. But even private equity's most enthusiastic adherents have difficulty explaining its benefit to society. Marc Wolpow, a former Bain colleague of Romney's, told reporters during Mitt's first Senate run that Romney erred in trying to sell his business as good for everyone. "I believed he was making a mistake by framing himself as a job creator," said Wolpow. "That was not his or Bain's or the industry's primary objective. The objective of the LBO business is maximizing returns for investors." When it comes to private equity, American workers – not to mention their families and communities – simply don't enter into the equation.
Take a typical Bain transaction involving an Indiana-based company called American Pad and Paper. Bain bought Ampad in 1992 for just $5 million, financing the rest of the deal with borrowed cash. Within three years, Ampad was paying $60 million in annual debt payments, plus an additional $7 million in management fees. A year later, Bain led Ampad to go public, cashed out about $50 million in stock for itself and its investors, charged the firm $2 million for arranging the IPO and pocketed another $5 million in "management" fees. Ampad wound up going bankrupt, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs, but Bain and Romney weren't crying: They'd made more than $100 million on a $5 million investment.
To recap: Romney, who has compared the devilish federal debt to a "nightmare" home mortgage that is "adjustable, no-money down and assigned to our children," took over Ampad with essentially no money down, saddled the firm with a nightmare debt and assigned the crushing interest payments not to Bain but to the children of Ampad's workers, who would be left holding the note long after Romney fled the scene. The mortgage analogy is so obvious, in fact, that even Romney himself has made it. He once described Bain's debt-fueled strategy as "using the equivalent of a mortgage to leverage up our investment."
Romney has always kept his distance from the real-life consequences of his profiteering. At one point during Bain's looting of Ampad, a worker named Randy Johnson sent a handwritten letter to Romney, asking him to intervene to save an Ampad factory in Marion, Indiana. In a sterling demonstration of manliness and willingness to face a difficult conversation, Romney, who had just lost his race for the Senate in Massachusetts, wrote Johnson that he was "sorry," but his lawyers had advised him not to get involved. (So much for the candidate who insists that his way is always to "fight to save every job.")
This is typical Romney, who consistently adopts a public posture of having been above the fray, with no blood on his hands from any of the deals he personally engineered. "I never actually ran one of our investments," he says in Turnaround. "That was left to management."
In reality, though, Romney was unquestionably the decider at Bain. "I insisted on having almost dictatorial powers," he bragged years after the Ampad deal. Over the years, colleagues would anonymously whisper stories about Mitt the Boss to the press, describing him as cunning, manipulative and a little bit nuts, with "an ability to identify people's insecurities and exploit them for his own benefit." One former Bain employee said that Romney would screw around with bonuses in small amounts, just to mess with people: He would give $3 million to one, $3.1 million to another and $2.9 million to a third, just to keep those below him on edge.
The private equity business in the early Nineties was dominated by a handful of takeover firms, from the spooky and politically connected Carlyle Group (a favorite subject of conspiracy-theory lit, with its connections to right-wingers like Donald Rumsfeld and George H.W. Bush) to the equally spooky Democrat-leaning assholes at the Blackstone Group. But even among such a colorful cast of characters, Bain had a reputation on Wall Street for secrecy and extreme weirdness – "the KGB of consulting." Its employees, known for their Mormonish uniform of white shirts and red power ties, were dubbed "Bainies" by other Wall Streeters, a rip on the fanatical "Moonies." The firm earned the name thanks to its idiotically adolescent Spy Kids culture, in which these glorified slumlords used code names, didn't carry business cards and even sang "company songs" to boost morale.
The seemingly religious flavor of Bain's culture smacks of the generally cultish ethos on Wall Street, in which all sorts of ethically questionable behaviors are justified as being necessary in service of the church of making money. Romney belongs to a true-believer subset within that cult, with a revolutionary's faith in the wisdom of the pure free market, in which destroying companies and sucking the value out of them for personal gain is part of the greater good, and governments should "stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in the free economy."
That cultlike zeal helps explains why Romney takes such a curiously unapologetic approach to his own flip-flopping. His infamous changes of stance are not little wispy ideological alterations of a few degrees here or there – they are perfect and absolute mathematical reversals, as in "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country" and "I am firmly pro-life." Yet unlike other politicians, who at least recognize that saying completely contradictory things presents a political problem, Romney seems genuinely puzzled by the public's insistence that he be consistent. "I'm not going to apologize for having changed my mind," he likes to say. It's an attitude that recalls the standard defense offered by Wall Street in the wake of some of its most recent and notorious crimes: Goldman Sachs excused its lying to clients, for example, by insisting that its customers are "sophisticated investors" who should expect to be lied to. "Last time I checked," former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack sneered after the same scandal, "we were in business to be profitable."
Within the cult of Wall Street that forged Mitt Romney, making money justifies any behavior, no matter how venal. The look on Romney's face when he refuses to apologize says it all: Hey, I'm trying to win an election. We're all grown-ups here. After the Ampad deal, Romney expressed contempt for critics who lived in "fantasy land." "This is the real world," he said, "and in the real world there is nothing wrong with companies trying to compete, trying to stay alive, trying to make money."
In the old days, making money required sharing the wealth: with assembly-line workers, with middle management, with schools and communities, with investors. Even the Gilded Age robber barons, despite their unapologetic efforts to keep workers from getting any rights at all, built America in spite of themselves, erecting railroads and oil wells and telegraph wires. And from the time the monopolists were reined in with antitrust laws through the days when men like Mitt Romney's dad exited center stage in our economy, the American social contract was pretty consistent: The rich got to stay rich, often filthy rich, but they paid taxes and a living wage and everyone else rose at least a little bit along with them.
But under Romney's business model, leveraging other people's debt means you can carve out big profits for yourself and leave everyone else holding the bag. Despite what Romney claims, the rate of return he provided for Bain's investors over the years wasn't all that great. Romney biographer and Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Arends, who analyzed Bain's performance between 1984 and 1998, concludes that the firm's returns were likely less than 30 percent per year, which happened to track more or less with the stock market's average during that time. "That's how much money you could have made by issuing company bonds and then spending the money picking stocks out of the paper at random," Arends observes. So for all the destruction Romney wreaked on Middle America in the name of "trying to make money," investors could have just plunked their money into traditional stocks and gotten pretty much the same returns.
The only ones who profited in a big way from all the job-killing debt that Romney leveraged were Mitt and his buddies at Bain, along with Wall Street firms like Goldman and Citigroup. Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, says the criticisms of Bain about layoffs and meanness miss a more important point, which is that the firm's profit-producing record is absurdly mediocre, especially when set against all the trouble and pain its business model causes. "Bain's fundamental flaw, at least according to the math," Ritholtz writes, "is that they took lots of risk, use immense leverage and charged enormous fees, for performance that was more or less the same as [stock] indexing."
'I'm not a Romney guy, because I'm not a Bain guy," says Lenny Patnode, in an Irish pub in the factory town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. "But I'm not an Obama guy, either. Just so you know."
I feel bad even asking Patnode about Romney. Big and burly, with white hair and the thick forearms of a man who's stocked a shelf or two in his lifetime, he seems to belong to an era before things like leveraged debt even existed. For 38 years, Patnode worked for a company called KB Toys in Pittsfield. He was the longest-serving employee in the company's history, opening some of the firm's first mall stores, making some of its canniest product buys ("Tamagotchi pets," he says, beaming, "and Tech-Decks, too"), traveling all over the world to help build an empire that at its peak included 1,300 stores. "There were times when I worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day," he says. "I opened three stores in two months once."
Then in 2000, right before Romney gave up his ownership stake in Bain Capital, the firm targeted KB Toys. The debacle that followed serves as a prime example of the conflict between the old model of American business, built from the ground up with sweat and industry know-how, and the new globalist model, the Romney model, which uses leverage as a weapon of high-speed conquest.
In a typical private-equity fragging, Bain put up a mere $18 million to acquire KB Toys and got big banks to finance the remaining $302 million it needed. Less than a year and a half after the purchase, Bain decided to give itself a gift known as a "dividend recapitalization." The firm induced KB Toys to redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans – $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain's owners and investors, including Romney. "The dividend recap is like borrowing someone else's credit card to take out a cash advance, and then leaving them to pay it off," says Heather Slavkin Corzo, who monitors private equity takeovers as the senior legal policy adviser for the AFL-CIO.
Bain ended up earning a return of at least 370 percent on the deal, while KB Toys fell into bankruptcy, saddled with millions in debt. KB's former parent company, Big Lots, alleged in bankruptcy court that Bain's "unjustified" return on the dividend recap was actually "900 percent in a mere 16 months." Patnode, by contrast, was fired in December 2008, after almost four decades on the job. Like other employees, he didn't get a single day's severance.
I ask Slavkin Corzo what Bain's justification was for the giant dividend recapitalization in the KB Toys acquisition. The question throws her, as though she's surprised anyone would ask for a reason a company like Bain would loot a firm like KB Toys. "It wasn't like, 'Yay, we did a good job, we get a dividend,'" she says with a laugh. "It was like, 'We can do this, so we will.' "
At the time of the KB Toys deal, Romney was a Bain investor and owner, making him a mere beneficiary of the raping and pillaging, rather than its direct organizer. Moreover, KB's demise was hastened by a host of genuine market forces, including competition from video games and cellphones. But there's absolutely no way to look at what Bain did at KB and see anything but a cash grab – one that followed the business model laid out by Romney. Rather than cutting costs and tightening belts, Bain added $300 million in debt to the firm's bottom line while taking out more than $120 million in cash – an outright looting that creditors later described in a lawsuit as "breaking open the piggy bank." What's more, Bain smoothed the deal in typical fashion by giving huge bonuses to the company's top managers as the firm headed toward bankruptcy. CEO Michael Glazer got an incredible $18.4 million, while CFO Robert Feldman received $4.8 million and senior VP Thomas Alfonsi took home $3.3 million.
And what did Bain bring to the table in return for its massive, outsize payout? KB Toys had built a small empire by targeting middle-class buyers with value-priced products. It succeeded mainly because the firm's leaders had a great instinct for what they were making and selling. These were people who had been in the specialty toy business since 1922; collectively, they had millions of man-hours of knowledge about how the industry works and how toy customers behave. KB's president in the Eighties, the late Saul Rubenstein, used to carry around a giant computer printout of the company's inventory, and would fall asleep reading it on the weekends, the pages clasped to his chest. "He knew the name and number of all those toys," his widow, Shirley, says proudly. "He loved toys."
Bain's experience in the toy industry, by contrast, was precisely bupkus. They didn't know a damn thing about the business they had taken over – and they never cared to learn. The firm's entire contribution was $18 million in cash and a huge mound of borrowed money that gave it the power to pull the levers. "The people who came in after – they were never toy people," says Shirley Rubenstein. To make matters worse, former employees say, Bain deluged them with requests for paperwork and reports, forcing them to worry more about the whims of their new bosses than the demands of their customers. "We took our eye off the ball," Patnode says. "And if you take your eye off the ball, you strike out."
In the end, Bain never bothered to come up with a plan for how KB Toys could meet the 21st-century challenges of video games and cellphone gadgets that were the company's ostensible downfall. And that's where Romney's self-touted reputation as a turnaround specialist is a myth. In the Bain model, the actual turnaround isn't necessary. It's just a cover story. It's nice for the private equity firm if it happens, because it makes the acquired company more attractive for resale or an IPO. But it's mostly irrelevant to the success of the takeover model, where huge cash returns are extracted whether the captured firm thrives or not.
"The thing about it is, nobody gets hurt," says Patnode. "Except the people who worked here."
Romney was a prime mover in the radical social and political transformation that was cooked up by Wall Street beginning in the 1980s. In fact, you can trace the whole history of the modern age of financialization just by following the highly specific corner of the economic universe inhabited by the leveraged buyout business, where Mitt Romney thrived. If you look at the number of leveraged buyouts dating back two or three decades, you see a clear pattern: Takeovers rose sharply with each of Wall Street's great easy-money schemes, then plummeted just as sharply after each of those scams crashed and burned, leaving the rest of us with the bill.
In the Eighties, when Romney and Bain were cutting their teeth in the LBO business, the primary magic trick involved the junk bonds pioneered by convicted felon Mike Milken, which allowed firms like Bain to find easy financing for takeovers by using wildly overpriced distressed corporate bonds as collateral. Junk bonds gave the Gordon Gekkos of the world sudden primacy over old-school industrial titans like the Fords and the Rockefellers: For the first time, the ability to make deals became more valuable than the ability to make stuff, and the ability to instantly engineer billions in illusory financing trumped the comparatively slow process of making and selling products for gradual returns.
Romney was right in the middle of this radical change. In fact, according to The Boston Globe – whose in-depth reporting on Romney and Bain has spanned three decades – one of Romney's first LBO deals, and one of his most profitable, involved Mike Milken himself. Bain put down $10 million in cash, got $300 million in financing from Milken and bought a pair of department-store chains, Bealls Brothers and Palais Royal. In what should by now be a familiar outcome, the two chains – which Bain merged into a single outfit called Stage Stores – filed for bankruptcy protection in 2000 under the weight of more than $444 million in debt. As always, Bain took no responsibility for the company's demise. (If you search the public record, you will not find a single instance of Mitt Romney taking responsibility for a company's failure.) Instead, Bain blamed Stage's collapse on "operating problems" that took place three years after Bain cashed out, finishing with a $175 million return on its initial investment of $10 million.
But here's the interesting twist: Romney made the Bealls-Palais deal just as the federal government was launching charges of massive manipulation and insider trading against Milken and his firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert. After what must have been a lengthy and agonizing period of moral soul-searching, however, Romney decided not to kill the deal, despite its shady financing. "We did not say, 'Oh, my goodness, Drexel has been accused of something, not been found guilty,' " Romney told reporters years after the deal. "Should we basically stop the transaction and blow the whole thing up?"
In an even more incredible disregard for basic morality, Romney forged ahead with the deal even though Milken's case was being heard by a federal district judge named Milton Pollack, whose wife, Moselle, happened to be the chairwoman of none other than Palais Royal. In short, one of Romney's first takeover deals was financed by dirty money – and one of the corporate chiefs about to receive a big payout from Bain was married to the judge hearing the case. Although the SEC took no formal action, it issued a sharp criticism, complaining that Romney was allowing Milken's money to have a possible influence over "the administration of justice."
After Milken and his junk bond scheme crashed in the late Eighties, Romney and other takeover artists moved on to Wall Street's next get-rich-quick scheme: the tech-Internet stock bubble. By 1997 and 1998, there were nearly $400 billion in leveraged buyouts a year, as easy money once again gave these financial piracy firms the ammunition they needed to raid companies like KB Toys. Firms like Bain even have a colorful pirate name for the pools of takeover money they raise in advance from pension funds, university endowments and other institutional investors. "They call it dry powder," says Slavkin Corzo, the union adviser.
After the Internet bubble burst and private equity started cashing in on Wall Street's mortgage scam, LBO deals ballooned to almost $900 billion in 2006. Once again, storied companies with long histories and deep regional ties were descended upon by Bain and other pirates, saddled with hundreds of millions in debt, forced to pay huge management fees and "dividend recapitalizations," and ridden into bankruptcy amid waves of layoffs. Established firms like Del Monte, Hertz and Dollar General were all taken over in a "prairie fire of debt" – one even more destructive than the government borrowing that Romney is flogging on the campaign trial. When Hertz was conquered in 2005 by a trio of private equity firms, including the Carlyle Group, the interest payments on its debt soared by a monstrous 80 percent, forcing the company to eliminate a third of its 32,000 jobs.
In 2010, a year after the last round of Hertz layoffs, Carlyle teamed up with Bain to take $500 million out of another takeover target: the parent company of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Dunkin' had to take out a $1.25 billion loan to pay a dividend to its new private equity owners. So think of this the next time you go to Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee: A small cup of joe costs about $1.69 in most outlets, which means that for years to come, Dunkin' Donuts will have to sell about 2,011,834 small coffees every month – about $3.4 million – just to meet the interest payments on the loan it took out to pay Bain and Carlyle their little one-time dividend. And that doesn't include the principal on the loan, or the additional millions in debt that Dunkin' has to pay every year to get out from under the $2.4 billion in debt it's now saddled with after having the privilege of being taken over – with borrowed money – by the firm that Romney built.
If you haven't heard much about how takeover deals like Dunkin' and KB Toys work, that's because Mitt Romney and his private equity brethren don't want you to. The new owners of American industry are the polar opposites of the Milton Hersheys and Andrew Carnegies who built this country, commercial titans who longed to leave visible legacies of their accomplishments, erecting hospitals and schools and libraries, sometimes leaving behind thriving towns that bore their names.
The men of the private equity generation want no such thing. "We try to hide religiously," explained Steven Feinberg, the CEO of a takeover firm called Cerberus Capital Management that recently drove one of its targets into bankruptcy after saddling it with $2.3 billion in debt. "If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person," Feinberg told shareholders in 2007. "We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it."
Which brings us to another aspect of Romney's business career that has largely been hidden from voters: His personal fortune would not have been possible without the direct assistance of the U.S. government. The taxpayer-funded subsidies that Romney has received go well beyond the humdrum, backdoor, welfare-sucking that all supposedly self-made free marketeers inevitably indulge in. Not that Romney hasn't done just fine at milking the government when it suits his purposes, the most obvious instance being the incredible $1.5 billion in aid he siphoned out of the U.S. Treasury as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake – a sum greater than all federal spending for the previous seven U.S. Olympic games combined. Romney, the supposed fiscal conservative, blew through an average of $625,000 in taxpayer money per athlete – an astounding increase of 5,582 percent over the $11,000 average at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. In 1993, right as he was preparing to run for the Senate, Romney also engineered a government deal worth at least $10 million for Bain's consulting firm, when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. (See "The Federal Bailout That Saved Romney")
But the way Romney most directly owes his success to the government is through the structure of the tax code. The entire business of leveraged buyouts wouldn't be possible without a provision in the federal code that allows companies like Bain to deduct the interest on the debt they use to acquire and loot their targets. This is the same universally beloved tax deduction you can use to write off your mortgage interest payments, so tampering with it is considered political suicide – it's been called the "third rail of tax reform." So the Romney who routinely rails against the national debt as some kind of child-killing "mortgage" is the same man who spent decades exploiting a tax deduction specifically designed for mortgage holders in order to bilk every dollar he could out of U.S. businesses before burning them to the ground.
Because minus that tax break, Romney's debt-based takeovers would have been unsustainably expensive. Before Lynn Turner became chief accountant of the SEC, where he reviewed filings on takeover deals, he crunched the numbers on leveraged buyouts as an accountant at a Big Four auditing firm. "In the majority of these deals," Turner says, "the tax deduction has a big enough impact on the bottom line that the takeover wouldn't work without it."
Thanks to the tax deduction, in other words, the government actually incentivizes the kind of leverage-based takeovers that Romney built his fortune on. Romney the businessman built his career on two things that Romney the candidate decries: massive debt and dumb federal giveaways. "I don't know what Romney would be doing but for debt and its tax-advantaged position in the tax code," says a prominent Wall Street lawyer, "but he wouldn't be fabulously wealthy."
Adding to the hypocrisy, the money that Romney personally pocketed on Bain's takeover deals was usually taxed not as income, but either as capital gains or as "carried interest," both of which are capped at a maximum rate of 15 percent. In addition, reporters have uncovered plenty of evidence that Romney takes full advantage of offshore tax havens: He has an interest in at least 12 Bain funds, worth a total of $30 million, that are based in the Cayman Islands; he has reportedly used a squirrelly tax shelter known as a "blocker corporation" that cheats taxpayers out of some $100 million a year; and his wife, Ann, had a Swiss bank account worth $3 million. As a private equity pirate, Romney pays less than half the tax rate of most American executives – less, even, than teachers, firefighters, cops and nurses. Asked about the fact that he paid a tax rate of only 13.9 percent on income of $21.7 million in 2010, Romney responded testily that the massive windfall he enjoys from exploiting the tax code is "entirely legal and fair."
Essentially, Romney got rich in a business that couldn't exist without a perverse tax break, and he got to keep double his earnings because of another loophole – a pair of bureaucratic accidents that have not only teamed up to threaten us with a Mitt Romney presidency but that make future Romneys far more likely. "Those two tax rules distort the economics of private equity investments, making them much more lucrative than they should be," says Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel at the Center for Tax Justice. "So we get more of that activity than the market would support on its own."
Listen to Mitt Romney speak, and see if you can notice what's missing. This is a man who grew up in Michigan, went to college in California, walked door to door through the streets of southern France as a missionary and was a governor of Massachusetts, the home of perhaps the most instantly recognizable, heavily accented English this side of Edinburgh. Yet not a trace of any of these places is detectable in Romney's diction. None of the people in any of those places bled in and left a mark on the man.
Romney is a man from nowhere. In his post-regional attitude, he shares something with his campaign opponent, Barack Obama, whose background is a similarly jumbled pastiche of regionally nonspecific non-identity. But in the way he bounced around the world as a half-orphaned child, Obama was more like an involuntary passenger in the demographic revolution reshaping the planet than one of its leaders.
Romney, on the other hand, is a perfect representative of one side of the ominous cultural divide that will define the next generation, not just here in America but all over the world. Forget about the Southern strategy, blue versus red, swing states and swing voters – all of those political clichés are quaint relics of a less threatening era that is now part of our past, or soon will be. The next conflict defining us all is much more unnerving.
That conflict will be between people who live somewhere, and people who live nowhere. It will be between people who consider themselves citizens of actual countries, to which they have patriotic allegiance, and people to whom nations are meaningless, who live in a stateless global archipelago of privilege – a collection of private schools, tax havens and gated residential communities with little or no connection to the outside world.
Mitt Romney isn't blue or red. He's an archipelago man. That's a big reason that voters have been slow to warm up to him. From LBJ to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin, Americans like their politicians to sound like they're from somewhere, to be human symbols of our love affair with small towns, the girl next door, the little pink houses of Mellencamp myth. Most of those mythical American towns grew up around factories – think chocolate bars from Hershey, baseball bats from Louisville, cereals from Battle Creek. Deep down, what scares voters in both parties the most is the thought that these unique and vital places are vanishing or eroding – overrun by immigrants or the forces of globalism or both, with giant Walmarts descending like spaceships to replace the corner grocer, the family barber and the local hardware store, and 1,000 cable channels replacing the school dance and the gossip at the local diner.
Obama ran on "change" in 2008, but Mitt Romney represents a far more real and seismic shift in the American landscape. Romney is the frontman and apostle of an economic revolution, in which transactions are manufactured instead of products, wealth is generated without accompanying prosperity, and Cayman Islands partnerships are lovingly erected and nurtured while American communities fall apart. The entire purpose of the business model that Romney helped pioneer is to move money into the archipelago from the places outside it, using massive amounts of taxpayer-subsidized debt to enrich a handful of billionaires. It's a vision of society that's crazy, vicious and almost unbelievably selfish, yet it's running for president, and it has a chance of winning. Perhaps that change is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps Mitt Romney is the best man to manage the transition. But it seems a little early to vote for that kind of wholesale surrender.
This story is from the September 13, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare
September 7, 2012 An Open Letter to Wikipedia Posted by Philip Roth
I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.
Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”
Thus was created the occasion for this open letter. After failing to get a change made through the usual channels, I don’t know how else to proceed.
My novel “The Human Stain” was described in the entry as “allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard.” (The precise language has since been altered by Wikipedia’s collaborative editing, but this falsity still stands.)
This alleged allegation is in no way substantiated by fact. “The Human Stain” was inspired, rather, by an unhappy event in the life of my late friend Melvin Tumin, professor of sociology at Princeton for some thirty years. One day in the fall of 1985, while Mel, who was meticulous in all things large and small, was meticulously taking the roll in a sociology class, he noted that two of his students had as yet not attended a single class session or attempted to meet with him to explain their failure to appear, though it was by then the middle of the semester.
Having finished taking the roll, Mel queried the class about these two students whom he had never met. “Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?”—unfortunately, the very words that Coleman Silk, the protagonist of “The Human Stain,” asks of his classics class at Athena College in Massachusetts.
Almost immediately Mel was summoned by university authorities to justify his use of the word “spooks,” since the two missing students, as it happened, were both African-American, and “spooks” at one time in America was a pejorative designation for blacks, spoken venom milder than “*****” but intentionally degrading nonetheless. A witch hunt ensued during the following months from which Professor Tumin—rather like Professor Silk in “The Human Stain”—emerged blameless but only after he had to provide a number of lengthy depositions declaring himself innocent of the charge of hate speech.
A myriad of ironies, comical and grave, abounded, as Mel had first come to nationwide prominence among sociologists, urban organizers, civil-rights activists, and liberal politicians with the 1959 publication of his groundbreaking sociological study “Desegregation: Resistance and Readiness,” and then, in 1967, with “Social Stratification: The Forms and Functions of Inequality,” which soon became a standard sociological text. Moreover, before coming to Princeton, he had been director of the Mayor’s Commission on Race Relations, in Detroit. Upon his death, in 1995, the headline above his New York Times obituary read “MELVIN M. TUMIN, 75, SPECIALIST IN RACE RELATIONS.”
But none of these credentials counted for much when the powers of the moment sought to take down Professor Tumin from his high academic post for no reason at all, much as Professor Silk is taken down in “The Human Stain.”
And it is this that inspired me to write “The Human Stain”: not something that may or may not have happened in the Manhattan life of the cosmopolitan literary figure Anatole Broyard but what actually did happen in the life of Professor Melvin Tumin, sixty miles south of Manhattan in the college town of Princeton, New Jersey, where I had met Mel, his wife, Sylvia, and his two sons when I was Princeton’s writer-in-residence in the early nineteen-sixties.
As with the distinguished academic career of the main character of “The Human Stain,” Mel’s career, having extended for over forty years as a scholar and a teacher, was besmirched overnight because of his having purportedly debased two black students he’d never laid eyes on by calling them “spooks.” To the best of my knowledge, no event even remotely like this one blighted Broyard’s long, successful career at the highest reaches of the world of literary journalism.
This “spooks” event is the initiating incident of “The Human Stain.” It is the core of the book. There is no novel without it. There is no Coleman Silk without it. Every last thing we learn about Coleman Silk over the course of three hundred and sixty-one pages begins with his unwarranted persecution for having uttered “spooks” aloud in a college classroom. In that one word, spoken by him altogether innocently, lies the source of Silk’s anger, his anguish, and his downfall. His heinous, needless persecution stems from that alone, as do his futile attempts at renewal and regeneration.
All too ironically, that and not his enormous lifelong secret—he is the light-skinned offspring of a respectable black family from East Orange, New Jersey, one of the three children of a railroad dining-car porter and a registered nurse, who successfully passes himself off as white from the moment he enters the U.S. Navy at nineteen—is the cause of his humiliating demise.
As for Anatole Broyard, was he ever in the Navy? The Army? Prison? Graduate school? The Communist Party? Did he have children? Had he ever been the innocent victim of institutional harassment? I had no idea. He and I barely knew each other. Over more than three decades, I ran into him, casually and inadvertently, maybe three or four times before a protracted battle with prostate cancer ended his life, in 1990.
Coleman Silk, on the other hand, is killed malevolently, murdered in a planned, prearranged car crash while driving with his unlikely mistress, Faunia Farley, a local farmhand and lowly janitor in the very college where he has been a highly esteemed dean. The revelations that flow from the specific circumstances of Silk’s murder stun his survivors and lead to the novel’s ominous conclusion on a desolate, iced-over lake where a showdown of sorts occurs between Nathan Zuckerman and Faunia and Coleman’s executioner, Faunia’s ex-husband, the tormented, violent Vietnam vet Les Farley. Neither Silk’s survivors nor his murderer nor his janitor mistress found their source anywhere other than in my imagination. In Anatole Broyard’s biography there were no comparable people or events as far as I knew.
I knew nothing of Anatole Broyard’s mistresses or, if he ever had any, who they were or if a woman like Faunia Farley, injured and harassed by men from the age of four, had ever come along to help savagely seal his ghastly fate as she does Coleman Silk’s and her own. I knew nothing at all of Broyard’s private life—of his family, parents, siblings, relatives, education, friendships, marriage, love affairs—and yet the most delicately private aspects of Coleman Silk’s private life constitute practically all of the story narrated in “The Human Stain.”
I’ve never known, spoken to, or, to my knowledge, been in the company of a single member of Broyard’s family. I did not even know whether he had children. The decision to have children with a white woman and possibly be exposed as a black man by the pigmentation of his offspring is a cause of much apprehension for Coleman Silk. Whether Broyard suffered such apprehension I had no way of knowing, and I still have none.
I never took a meal with Broyard, never went with him to a bar or a ballgame or a dinner party or a restaurant, never saw him at a party I might have attended back in the sixties when I was living in Manhattan and on rare occasions socialized at a party. I never watched a movie or played cards with him or showed up at a single literary event with him as either a participant or a spectator. As far as I know, we did not live anywhere in the vicinity of each other during the ten or so years in the late fifties and the sixties when I was living and writing in New York and he was a book reviewer and cultural critic for the New York Times. I never ran into him accidentally in the street, though once—as best I can remember, in the nineteen-eighties—we did come upon each other in the Madison Avenue men’s store Paul Stuart, where I was purchasing shoes for myself. Since Broyard was by this time the Times’s most intellectually stylish book reviewer, I told him that I would like to have him sit down in the chair beside me and allow me to buy him a pair of shoes, hoping thereby, I forthrightly admitted, to deepen his appreciation for my next book. It was a playful, amusing encounter, it lasted ten minutes at most, and was the only such encounter we ever had.
We never bothered to have a serious conversation. Badinage in passing was our specialty, with the result that I never learned from Broyard who were his friends or his enemies, did not know where or when he had been born and raised, knew nothing about his economic status in childhood or as an adult, knew nothing of his politics or his favorite sports teams or if he had any interest in sports at all. I did not even know where he was presently living on that day when I offered to buy him an expensive pair of shoes. I knew nothing about his mental health or his physical well-being, and I only learned he was dying of cancer many months after he’d been diagnosed, when he wrote about his struggle with the disease in the New York Times Magazine.
I had never been a guest in his house or he in mine, I knew him only as—unlike Coleman Silk, a revolutionary dean at Athena College in western Massachusetts, where he is the center of controversy over standard college matters like the curriculum and requirements for tenure—a generally generous reviewer of my books. Yet after admiring for its bravery the article about his imminent death, I got Broyard’s home number from a mutual acquaintance and called him. That was the first and last time I ever spoke to him on the phone. He was charmingly ebullient, astonishingly exuberant, and laughed heartily when I reminded him of us in our prime, tossing a football around on the lifeguard’s beach in Amagansett in 1958, which was where and when we first met. I was twenty-five then, he thirty-eight. It was a beautiful midsummer day, and I remember that I went up to him on the beach to introduce myself and tell him how much I had enjoyed his brilliant “What the Cystoscope Said.” The story had appeared in my last year of college, 1954, in the fourth number of the most sterling of the literary magazines of the era, the mass-market paperback Discovery.
Soon there were four of us—newly published writers of about the same age—bantering together while tossing a football around on the beach. Those twenty minutes throwing the ball around constituted the most intimate involvement Broyard and I ever had and brought to a total of thirty the number of minutes we would ever spend in each other’s company.
Before I left the beach that day, someone told me that Broyard was rumored to be an “octoroon.” I didn’t pay much attention or, back in 1958, lend much credence to the attribution. In my experience, octoroon was a word rarely heard beyond the American South. It’s not impossible that I had to look it up in the dictionary later to be sure of its precise meaning.
Broyard was actually the offspring of two black parents. I didn’t know this then, however, or when I began writing “The Human Stain.” Yes, someone had once idly told me that the man was the offspring of a quadroon and a black, but that unprovable bit of unlikely hearsay was all of any substance that I ever knew about Broyard—that and what he wrote in his books and articles about literature and the literary temper of his time. In the two excellent short stories Broyard published in Discovery—the other, “Sunday Dinner in Brooklyn,” appeared in 1953—there was no reason not to believe that the central character and his Brooklyn family were, like the author, a hundred per cent white.
On the other hand, over the years, not a few people had wondered if, because of certain seemingly Negroid features—his lips, his hair, his skin tone—Mel Tumin, who was adamantly Jewish in the overwhelmingly Waspy Princeton of his era, might not be an African-American passing for white. This was another fact of Mel Tumin’s biography that fed into my early imaginings of “The Human Stain.”
My protagonist, the academic Coleman Silk, and the real writer Anatole Broyard first passed themselves off as white men in the years before the civil-rights movement began to change the nature of being black in America. Those who chose to pass (this word, by the way, doesn’t appear in “The Human Stain”) imagined that they would not have to share in the deprivations, humiliations, insults, injuries, and injustices that would be more than likely to come their way should they leave their identities exactly as they’d found them. During the first half of the twentieth century, there wasn’t just Anatole Broyard alone—there were thousands, probably tens of thousands, of light-skinned men and women who decided to escape the rigors of institutionalized segregation and the ugliness of Jim Crow by burying for good their original black lives.
I had no idea what it was like for Anatole Broyard to flee from his blackness because I knew nothing about Anatole Broyard’s blackness, or, for that matter, his whiteness. But I knew everything about Coleman Silk because I had invented him from scratch, just as in the five-year period before the 2000 publication of “The Human Stain” I had invented the puppeteer Mickey Sabbath of “Sabbath’s Theater” (1995), the glove manufacturer Swede Levov of “American Pastoral” (1997), and the brothers Ringold in “I Married a Communist” (1998), one a high-school English teacher and the other a star of radio in its heyday. Neither before nor after writing these books was I a puppeteer, a glove manufacturer, a high-school teacher, or a radio star.
Finally, to be inspired to write an entire book about a man’s life, you must have considerable interest in the man’s life, and, to put it candidly, though I particularly admired the story “What the Cystoscope Said” when it appeared in 1954, and I told the author as much, over the years I otherwise had no particular interest in Anatole Broyard. Neither Broyard nor anyone associated with Broyard had anything to do with my imagining anything in “The Human Stain.”
Novel writing is for the novelist a game of let’s pretend. Like most every other novelist I know, once I had what Henry James called “the germ”—in this case, Mel Tumin’s story of muddleheadedness at Princeton—I proceeded to pretend and to invent Faunia Farley; Les Farley; Coleman Silk; Coleman’s family background; the girlfriends of his youth; his brief professional career as a boxer; the college where he rises to be a dean; his colleagues both hostile and sympathetic; his field of study; his bedeviled wife; his children both hostile and sympathetic; his schoolteacher sister, Ernestine, who is his strongest judge at the conclusion of the book; his angry, disapproving brother; and five thousand more of those biographical bits and pieces that taken together form the fictional character at the center of a novel.
MOTHERHOOD begins as a tempestuously physical experience but quickly becomes a political one. Once a woman’s pregnancy goes public, the storm moves outside. Don’t pile on the pounds! Your child will be obese. Don’t eat too little, or your baby will be born too small. For heaven’s sake, don’t drink alcohol. Oh, please: you can sip some wine now and again. And no matter how many contradictory things the experts say, don’t panic. Stress hormones wreak havoc on a baby’s budding nervous system.
Enlarge This Image Paul Blow Readers’ Comments Share your thoughts. Post a Comment » Read All Comments (84) » All this advice rains down on expectant mothers for the obvious reason that mothers carry babies and create the environments in which they grow. What if it turned out, though, that expectant fathers molded babies, too, and not just by way of genes?
Biology is making it clearer by the day that a man’s health and well-being have a measurable impact on his future children’s health and happiness. This is not because a strong, resilient man has a greater likelihood of being a fabulous dad — or not only for that reason — or because he’s probably got good genes. Whether a man’s genes are good or bad (and whatever “good” and “bad” mean in this context), his children’s bodies and minds will reflect lifestyle choices he has made over the years, even if he made those choices long before he ever imagined himself strapping on a Baby Bjorn.
Doctors have been telling men for years that smoking, drinking and recreational drugs can lower the quality of their sperm. What doctors should probably add is that the health of unborn children can be affected by what and how much men eat; the toxins they absorb; the traumas they endure; their poverty or powerlessness; and their age at the time of conception. In other words, what a man needs to know is that his life experience leaves biological traces on his children. Even more astonishingly, those children may pass those traces along to their children.
Before I began reading up on fathers and their influence on future generations, I had a high-school-biology-level understanding of how a man passes his traits on to his child. His sperm and the mother’s egg smash into each other, his sperm tosses in one set of chromosomes, the egg tosses in another, and a child’s genetic future is set for life. Physical features: check. Character: check. Cognitive style: check. But the pathways of inheritance, I’ve learned, are subtler and more varied than that. Genes matter, and culture matters, and how fathers behave matters, too.
Lately scientists have become obsessed with a means of inheritance that isn’t genetic but isn’t nongenetic either. It’s epigenetic. “Epi,” in Greek, means “above” or “beyond.” Think of epigenetics as the way our bodies modify their genetic makeup. Epigenetics describes how genes are turned on or off, in part through compounds that hitch on top of DNA — or else jump off it — determining whether it makes the proteins that tell our bodies what to do.
In the past decade or so, the study of epigenetics has become so popular it’s practically a fad. Psychologists and sociologists particularly like it because gene expression or suppression is to some degree dictated by the environment and plays at least as large a role as genes do in the development of a person’s temperament, body shape and predisposition to disease. I’ve become obsessed with epigenetics because it strikes me as both game-changing and terrifying. Our genes can be switched on or off by three environmental factors, among other things: what we ingest (food, drink, air, toxins); what we experience (stress, trauma); and how long we live.
Epigenetics means that our physical and mental tendencies were not set in stone during the Pleistocene age, as evolutionary psychology sometimes seems to claim. Rather, they’re shaped by the life we lead and the world we live in right now. Epigenetics proves that we are the products of history, public as well as private, in parts of us that are so intimately ours that few people ever imagined that history could reach them. (One person who did imagine it is the French 18th-century naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who believed that acquired traits could be inherited. Twentieth-century Darwinian genetics dismissed Lamarckism as laughable, but because of epigenetics, Lamarckism is staging a comeback.)
The best-known example of the power of nutrition to affect the genes of fathers and sons comes from a corner of northern Sweden called Overkalix. Until the 20th century, Overkalix was cut off from the rest of the world, unreachable by road, train or even, in wintertime, boat, because the frozen Baltic Sea could not be crossed. Thus, when there were bad harvests in Overkalix, the children starved, and when there were good harvests, they stuffed themselves.
More than a decade ago, three Swedish researchers dug up records from Overkalix going back to 1799 in order to correlate its children’s health data with records of regional harvests and other documents showing when food was and wasn’t available. What the researchers learned was extremely odd. They found that when boys ate badly during the years right before puberty, between the ages of 9 and 12, their sons, as adults, had lower than normal rates of heart disease. When boys ate all too well during that period, their grandsons had higher rates of diabetes.
When the study appeared in 2002, a British geneticist published an essay speculating that how much a boy ate in prepuberty could permanently reprogram the epigenetic switches that would govern the manufacture of sperm a few years later. And then, in a process so intricate that no one agrees yet how it happens but probably has something to do with the germline (the reproductive cells that are handed down to children, and to children’s children), those reprogrammed switches are transferred to his sons and his sons’ sons.
A decade later, animal studies confirm that a male mammal’s nutritional past has a surprisingly strong effect on his offspring. Male rats that are starved before they’re mated produce offspring with less blood sugar and altered levels of corticosterone (which protects against stress) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (which helps babies develop).
Southeast Asian men who chew betel nuts, a snack that contains a chemical affecting metabolic functioning, are more likely to have children with weight problems and heart disease. Animal studies have shown that the effects of betel nut consumption by a male may extend to his grandchildren.
Environmental toxins leave even more florid traces on grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Vinclozin, a fungicide that used to be sprayed all over America (it’s less common now), is what’s known as an endocrine disrupter; it blocks the production of testosterone. Male rats whose mothers receive a fat dose of vinclozin late in their pregnancy are highly likely to be born with defective testicles and reduced fertility. These problems seem to reappear in up to four generations of male rats after the mother is poisoned.
THAT food and poison change us is not all that surprising, even if it is surprising how far down the change goes. What is unexpected are the psychological dimensions of epigenetics. To learn more about these, I visited the Mount Sinai Medical Center laboratory of Dr. Eric Nestler, a psychiatrist who did a discomfiting study on male mice and what he calls “social defeat.” His researchers put small normal field mice in cages with big, nasty retired breeders, and let the big mice attack the smaller mice for about five minutes a day. If a mean mouse and a little mouse were pried apart by means of a screen, the torturer would claw at the screen, trying to get at his victim. All this subjected the field mouse to “a horrendous level of stress,” Dr. Nestler told me. This process was repeated for 10 days, with a different tormentor placed in each cage every day. By the time the torture stopped, about two-thirds of the field mice exhibited permanent and quantifiable symptoms of the mouse equivalents of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers then bred these unhappy mice with normal females. When their pups grew up, they tended to overreact to social stress, becoming so anxious and depressed that they wouldn’t even drink sugar water. They avoided other mice as much as they could.
Dr. Nestler is not sure exactly how the mouse fathers’ trauma communicates itself to their offspring. It may be via sperm, or it may be through some more complicated dance of nature and nurture that involves sperm but also other factors. When instead of letting the “defeated” mice mate, Dr. Nestler’s researchers killed them, harvested their sperm and impregnated the female mice through artificial means, the offspring were largely normal. Perhaps the sperm was harvested at the wrong stage in the process, says Dr. Nestler. Or maybe the female mouse picked up some signal when she had sex with the dysfunctional male mouse, some telltale pheromone or squeak, that made her body withhold nutrition and care from his pups. Females have been known to not invest in the spawn of non-optimal males, an outcome that makes perfect evolutionary sense — why waste resources on a loser?
When it comes to the epigenetics of aging, however, there is little question that the chemical insults and social setbacks of everyday life distill themselves in sperm. A woman is born with all the eggs she’ll ever carry. By the time a man turns 40, on the other hand, his gonad cells will have divided 610 times to make spermatozoa. By the time he’s in his 50s, that number goes up to 840. Each time those cells copy themselves, mistakes may appear in the DNA chain. Some researchers now think that a percentage of those mistakes reflects not just random mutations but experience-based epigenetic markings that insinuate themselves from sperm to fetus and influence brain development. Another theory holds that aging gonad cells are more error-prone because the parts of the DNA that should have spotted and repaired any mistakes have been epigenetically tamped down. In any case, we now know that the children of older fathers show more signs of schizophrenia, autism and bipolar disorder than children of younger ones.
In a meta-analysis of a population study of more than a million people published last year, Christina Hultman of the Karolinska Institute of Sweden concluded that children of men older than 50 were 2.2 times as likely to have autism as children of 29-year-olds, even after the study had factored out mothers’ ages and known risk factors for autism. By the time the men passed 55, the risk doubled to 4.4 times that of 29-year-olds. Can the aging of the parent population explain the apparent spike in autism cases? A study published last month in Nature that used whole-genome sequencing on 78 Icelandic families made the strongest case to date that as fathers age, mutations in their sperm spike dramatically. Some of the mutations found by the researchers in Reykjavik have been linked to autism and schizophrenia in children.
In his Washington Heights laboratory at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Jay Gingrich, a professor of psychobiology, compares the pups of young male mice (3 months old or so) to those of old male mice (12 to 14 months old). The differences between the pups, he told me, weren’t “earth-shattering” — they weighed about the same and there weren’t big gaps in their early development. But discrepancies appeared when the mice grew up. The adult offspring of the older fathers had less adventuresome personalities; they also reacted to loud noises in unusual ways that paralleled reactions evinced by schizophrenics who heard similar sounds.
Still, Dr. Gingrich said, “the differences were subtle” until he decided to pool the data on their behavior and graph it on a bell curve. A “vast majority” of the children of the older mice were “completely normal,” he said, which meant their score fell under the upside-down parabola of the curve. The real differences came at the tails or skinny ends of the bell curve. There was about a sixfold increase in likelihood that one of the “abnormal outliers,” mice with cognitive or behavioral handicaps, “would come from an older father.” Conversely, the super-high-performing mice were about six times more likely to come from a younger father. “I’m an inherently skeptical person,” Dr. Gingrich told me, but he was impressed by these results.
One unanswered question about autism and schizophrenia is how they crop up in generation after generation; after all, wildly dysfunctional individuals don’t usually flourish romantically. “I think we’re going to have to consider that advanced paternal age, with its epigenetic effects, may be a way of explaining the mysteries of schizophrenia and autism, insofar as the rates of these disorders have maintained themselves — and autism may be going up,” Dr. Gingrich said. “From a cruel Darwinian perspective, it’s not clear how much success these folks have at procreating, or how else these genes maintain themselves in the population.”
When you’re an older mother, you get used to the sidelong glances of sonogram technicians, the extra battery of medical tests, the fear that your baby has Down syndrome, the real or imagined hints from younger mothers that you’re having children so late because you care more about professional advancement than family. But as the research on paternal inheritance piles up, the needle of doubt may swing at least partway to fathers. “We’re living through a paradigm shift,” said Dolores Malaspina, a professor of psychiatry at New York University who has done pioneering work on older fathers and schizophrenia. Older mothers no longer need to shoulder all the blame: “It’s the aging man who damages the offspring.”
Aging, though, is only one of the vicissitudes of life that assault a man’s reproductive vitality. Think of epigenetics as having ushered in a new age of sexual equality, in which both sexes have to worry about threats to which women once felt uniquely exposed. Dr. Malaspina remembers that before she went to medical school, she worked in a chemical plant making radioactive drugs. The women who worked there came under constant, invasive scrutiny, lest the toxic workplace contaminate their eggs. But maybe, Dr. Malaspina points out, the plant managers should have spared some concern for the men, whose germlines were just as susceptible to poisoning as the women’s, and maybe even more so. The well-being of the children used to be the sole responsibility of their mothers. Now fathers have to be held accountable, too. Having twice endured the self-scrutiny and second-guessing that goes along with being pregnant, I wish them luck.
Judith Shulevitz is the science editor for The New Republic.
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18 and Under September 10, 2012, 5:20 pm10 CommentsEarly Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits By PERRI KLASS, M.D. Joyce Hesselberth
Facebook Twitter Google+ E-mail Share PrintWhen children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills. Recent studies suggest that these benefits extend all through life, at least for those who continue to be engaged with music.
But a study published last month is the first to show that music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop.
Researchers at Northwestern University recorded the auditory brainstem responses of college students — that is to say, their electrical brain waves — in response to complex sounds. The group of students who reported musical training in childhood had more robust responses — their brains were better able to pick out essential elements, like pitch, in the complex sounds when they were tested. And this was true even if the lessons had ended years ago.
Indeed, scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning — for instance, reading. Learning to play an instrument may confer some unexpected benefits, recent studies suggest.
We aren’t talking here about the “Mozart effect,” the claim that listening to classical music can improve people’s performance on tests. Instead, these are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline. This kind of musical training improves the brain’s ability to discern the components of sound — the pitch, the timing and the timbre.
“To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.”
Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not just for a child learning to understand speech and written language, but also for an elderly person struggling with hearing loss.
In a study of those who do keep playing, published this summer, researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.
“We often refer to the ‘cocktail party’ problem — or imagine going to a restaurant where a lot of people are talking,” said Dr. Claude Alain, assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and one of the authors of the study. “The older adults who are musically trained perform better on speech in noise tests — it involves the brain rather than the peripheral hearing system.”
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are approaching the soundscape from a different point of view, studying the genetics of absolute, or perfect, pitch, that ability to identify any tone. Dr. Jane Gitschier, a professor of medicine and pediatrics who directs the study there, and her colleagues are trying to tease out both the genetics and the effects of early training.
“The immediate question we’ve been trying to get to is what are the variants in people’s genomes that could predispose an individual to have absolute pitch,” she said. “The hypothesis, further, is that those variants will then manifest as absolute pitch with the input of early musical training.”
Indeed, almost everyone who qualifies as having truly absolute pitch turns out to have had musical training in childhood (you can take the test and volunteer for the study at http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/study/).
Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Dr. Kraus’s lab and one of the authors of a paper published this year on auditory working memory and music, was originally trained as a concert pianist. Her desire to go back to graduate school and study the brain, she told me, grew out of teaching at a French school for musically talented children, and observing the ways that musical training affected other kinds of learning.
“If you get a kid who is maybe 3 or 4 years old and you’re teaching them to attend, they’re not only working on their auditory skills but also working on their attention skills and their memory skills — which can translate into scholastic learning,” she said.
Now Ms. Parbery-Clark and her colleagues can look at recordings of the brain’s electrical detection of sounds, and they can see the musically trained brains producing different — and stronger — responses. “Now I have more proof, tangible proof, music is really doing something,” she told me. “One of my lab mates can look at the computer and say, ‘Oh, you’re recording from a musician!’ ”
Many of the researchers in this area are themselves musicians interested in the plasticity of the brain and the effects of musical education on brain waves, which mirror the stimulus sounds. “This is a response that actually reflects the acoustic elements of sound that we know carry meaning,” Professor Kraus said.
There’s a fascination — and even a certain heady delight — in learning what the brain can do, and in drawing out the many effects of the combination of stimulation, application, practice and auditory exercise that musical education provides. But the researchers all caution that there is no one best way to apply these findings.
Different instruments, different teaching methods, different regimens — families need to find what appeals to the individual child and what works for the family, since a big piece of this should be about pleasure and mastery. Children should enjoy themselves, and their lessons. Parents need to care about music, not slot it in as a therapeutic tool.
“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music,’ ” Ms. Parbery-Clark said. “Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”
Sweetness And Light by Frank Deford NFL's West Coast Teams Have An Edge: The Sandman by Frank Deford
September 12, 2012
Listen to the Story Morning Edition
[3 min 31 sec] Add to Playlist Download Transcript Enlarge Rick Osentoski/AP Quarterback Matt Stafford and the Detroit Lions will travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers Sunday night. Because their body clocks are set to the Eastern time zone, the Lions could be at a disadvantage.
Rick Osentoski/AP Quarterback Matt Stafford and the Detroit Lions will travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers Sunday night. Because their body clocks are set to the Eastern time zone, the Lions could be at a disadvantage. text size A A A September 12, 2012 Hi! Are you a gambler? Do you like to bet football? Then this is your lucky day, for if you'll just stay tuned, I'm gonna offer you a free money-back guarantee: how you, too, can pick an NFL winner. Just don't turn that dial, and listen to this important message.
You know, folks, it ain't easy betting the NFL. Just look at any newspaper where so-called insiders pick games against the spread. Very few of these, uh, experts are even right half the time — and you really need to hit 55 percent winners to break even, because the house, or the bookie, needs his vigorish. No, to win betting against the spread, you need a real edge.
Like ... sleep. As I said, stay tuned.
The point spread was created by a former math teacher named Charles K. McNeil, who opened a bookmaking operation in the 1940s, offering what he called "wholesaling odds." Instead of taking bets on a team to win as you would a horse in a race — getting 6 to 1, or 7 to 2 — McNeil, in effect, borrowed the handicap from golf, giving so many imaginary points to the underdog, so the gambler could eschew complicated odds and make an even bet on any game — in the vernacular, taking the points, or giving them. Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder popularized what had become known as "the spread" on TV in the '70s.
OK: Stay awake. In his book about sleep, Dreamland, author David Randall reports on a football study at Stanford. Now what we know is that, typically, human energy flags during the day — but, for some primordial reason, picks up again around 6 p.m. By 10, though, the sandman has started his siren song.
Now, a few times each NFL season, an Eastern team plays a Western team in a night game. For television reasons, all the games start around 8:30 p.m., Eastern Time.
That means for an East Coast home game, the West Coast players still have their body clocks set at 5:30 — ready to perk up, as the Eastern boys will soon run down. If the West Coast team is home, same thing: It's 5:30 for the Pacific boys, but the Atlantic guys' body clocks say it's 8:30.
Follow me? It doesn't matter where the game is played. The West Coast bodies are coming to life as the East Coast bodies are feeling nature's circadian cues to sleep.
And guess what the researchers found? Over a quarter-century span, the West Coast teams beat the East an amazing 70 percent of the time against the spread. Hello! Seventy percent!
OK, write this down and call your bookie. This Sunday night, Detroit plays at San Francisco. On Dec. 16, the Forty-Niners play at New England. On Dec. 23, San Diego plays the New York Jets.
Hey, I'm giving you people winners. So Sunday, take San Francisco and give 6.5 points — then stay awake and cash in.
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Maraniss wrote the definitive Vince Lombardi book, "When Pride Still Mattered,'' and used Sabol and NFL Films as resources. Sabol was on the ground in Green Bay as a cameraman and producer of several long Lombardi pieces, including a movie about the Packers in 1967 that got Lombardi very emotional. Sabol, at the time, was 25.
"Steve believed Lombardi's voice was something that separated him from others in history, and gave him his character. With NFL Films, the voice was central to the myth-making. They used John Facenda, and he was called the voice of God. But there was a practice in Green Bay once, and a dog got on the field and was interfering with practice. They couldn't get the dog to leave. All the players were laughing it up with this dog on the field, and Vince saw it, and he just yelled over, 'What the hell's going on here? Get that dog off the field!' The dog scampered away. That really did happen. Sabol witnessed it, and he thought it said something about Lombardi -- that his voice was so powerful, so controlling.''
In "When Pride Still Mattered,'' Maraniss wrote: "To Steve Sabol ... the secret of Lombardi was not so much what he said but the sound of it. 'It was all the voice,' Sabol said. 'The great leaders in history -- Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Roosevelt, Hitler -- all had these unique voices. And Lombardi's voice was so unique, so strident, so resonant, it could cut through anything.' The story of the little dog, in Sabol's opinion, revealed the power of Lombardi's voice.''
"After the [championship] '67 season, when Steve went to Green Bay to show Vince and a few of the players the film of their season, they ran it on the projector in Vince's rec room in his house. And they showed the film with that great NFL Films flair to it, and at the end of it, all you heard in the room was the film flapping over and over because Lombardi didn't turn off the projector. He was crying."
The Conservative Case for ObamacareBy J. D. KLEINKE Published: September 29, 2012 IF Mitt Romney’s pivots on President’s Obama’s health care reform act have accelerated to a blur — from repealing on Day 1, to preserving this or that piece, to punting the decision to the states — it is for an odd reason buried beneath two and a half years of Republican political condemnations: the architecture of the Affordable Care Act is based on conservative, not liberal, ideas about individual responsibility and the power of market forces.
This fundamental ideological paradox, drowned out by partisan shouting since before the plan’s passage in 2010, explains why Obamacare has only lukewarm support from many liberals, who wanted a real, not imagined, “government takeover of health care.” It explains why Republicans have been unable since its passage to come up with anything better. And it explains why the law is nearly identical in design to the legislation Mr. Romney passed in Massachusetts while governor.
The core drivers of the health care act are market principles formulated by conservative economists, designed to correct structural flaws in our health insurance system — principles originally embraced by Republicans as a market alternative to the Clinton plan in the early 1990s. The president’s program extends the current health care system — mostly employer-based coverage, administered by commercial health insurers, with care delivered by fee-for-service doctors and hospitals — by removing the biggest obstacles to that system’s functioning like a competitive marketplace.
Chief among these obstacles are market limitations imposed by the problematic nature of health insurance, which requires that younger, healthier people subsidize older, sicker ones. Because such participation is often expensive and always voluntary, millions have simply opted out, a risky bet emboldened by the 24/7 presence of the heavily subsidized emergency room down the street. The health care law forcibly repatriates these gamblers, along with those who cannot afford to participate in a market that ultimately cross-subsidizes their medical misfortunes anyway, when they get sick and show up in that E.R. And it outlaws discrimination against those who want to participate but cannot because of their medical histories. Put aside the considerable legislative detritus of the act, and its aim is clear: to rationalize a dysfunctional health insurance marketplace.
This explains why the health insurance industry has been quietly supporting the plan all along. It levels the playing field and expands the potential market by tens of millions of new customers.
The rationalization and extension of the current market is financed by the other linchpin of the law: the mandate that we all carry health insurance, an idea forged not by liberal social engineers at the Brookings Institution but by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. The individual mandate recognizes that millions of Americans who could buy health insurance choose not to, because it requires trading away today’s wants for tomorrow’s needs. The mandate is about personal responsibility — a hallmark of conservative thought.
IN the partisan war sparked by the 2008 election, Republicans conveniently forgot that this was something many of them had supported for years. The only thing wrong with the mandate? Mr. Obama also thought it was a good idea.
The same goes for health insurance exchanges, another idea formulated by conservatives and supported by Republican governors and legislators across the country for years. An exchange is as pro-market a mechanism as they come: free up buyers and sellers, standardize the products, add pricing transparency, and watch what happens. Market Economics 101.
In the shouting match over the health care law, most have somehow missed another of its obvious virtues: it enshrines accountability — yes, another conservative idea. Under today’s system, most health insurers (and providers) are accountable to the wrong people, often for the wrong reasons, with the needs of patients coming last. With the transparency, mobility and choice of the exchanges, businesses and individuals can decide for themselves which insurers (and, embedded in their networks, which providers) deserve their dollars. They can see, thanks to the often derided benefits standardization of the reform act, what they are actually buying. They can shop around. And businesses are free to decide that they are better off opting out, paying into funds that subsidize individuals’ coverage and letting their employees do their own shopping, with what is, in essence, their own compensation, relocated to the exchanges.
Back when the idea of letting businesses and consumers pick their own plans — with their own money on an exchange — first floated around Washington, advocates called them “association health plans.” They, too, would have corrected for the lack of transparency, mobility and choice in local insurance markets by allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines. They were the cornerstone of what would have been the Bush administration’s reform plan (had the administration not been distracted by other matters). After the rejection of “Hillarycare” in the mid-’90s, association health plans emerged as the centerpiece of pro-market, Republican thinking about health reform — essentially what would become Romneycare, extended via federal law to cover the entire country. So much for Mr. Romney’s argument that his plan in Massachusetts was an expression of states’ rights. His own party had bigger plans for the rest of the country, and they looked a lot like Obamacare.
But perhaps the clearest indication of the conservative economic values underlying the act is its reception by many Democrats. The plan has few champions on the left precisely because it is not a government takeover of health care. It is not a single-payer system, nor “Medicare for all”; it does not include a “public option,” a health plan offered by a federal insurer. It is a ratification of market ideas, modified to address problems unique to health insurance.
Mr. Obama’s plan, which should be a darling of the right for these principles, was abandoned not for its content, but rather for politics. Neither side is blameless here. The White House could not have been more ham-fisted in the way it rammed the bill through Congress. The Republicans in the House and Senate lashed back with a vengeance, sifting through the legislative colossus for boogeymen like “death panels,” and when they could not find things sufficiently alarmist, they simply invented them.
Clear away all the demagogy and scare tactics, and Obamacare is, at its core, Romneycare across state lines. But today’s Republicans dare not own anything built on principles of economic conservatism, if it also protects one of the four horsemen of the social conservatives’ apocalypse: coverage for the full spectrum of women’s reproductive health, from birth control to abortion.
Social conservatives’ hostility to the health care act is a natural corollary to their broader agenda of controlling women’s bodies. These are not the objections of traditional “conservatives,” but of agitators for prying, invasive government — the very things they project, erroneously, onto the workings of the president’s plan. Decrying the legislation for interfering in the doctor-patient relationship, while seeking to pass grossly intrusive laws involving the OB-GYN-patient relationship, is one of the more bizarre disconnects in American politics.
Obamacare draws fire from this segment of “conservatives” because it fortifies the other side in their holy war. Coverage for birth control and abortion has not been introduced by the law; but it has been neutralized economically across all health plans, as part of the plan’s systemic effort to streamline fragmented health insurance markets and coverage.
The real problem with the health care plan — for Mr. Romney and the Republicans in general — is that political credit for it goes to Mr. Obama. Now, Mr. Romney is in a terrible fix trying to spin his way out of this paradox and tear down something he knows is right — something for which he ought to be taking great political credit of his own
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What the Big 1960s Debate in Anthropology Can Tell Us About Mitt Romney
The idea of transactionalism helps explain why the candidate is having trouble selling his world view.
Nancy Scola - Nancy Scola is an Atlantic correspondent based in New York City, whose work focuses on the intersections of politics and technology. She has written for Capital New York, Columbia Journalism Review, GOOD, New York, Reuters, Salon, and Seed, and is a frequent contributor to The American Prospect. More
Previously, Scola was an aide on the U.S. House of Representative's Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a tech-policy staffer for a short-lived presidential campaign, and a nonprofit research designer in Washington, D.C.
For three years, she wrote and edited techPresident, a popular daily blog and email newsletter produced by the Personal Democracy Forum. While at techPresident, she co-created and helped to lead Vote Report '08, an early use of mobile technologies to conduct election monitoring.
Her passions include women's soccer, New York City history, cheese, copyright law, the genius of Lauryn Hill, New York State politics, long-form non-fiction, amateur radio, sharks and bears, political boundaries, magazines, maritime culture and waterfronts, how institutions work, typography, the African continent, and public parks.
Scola has two degrees in anthropology, was born in northern New Jersey, and, after about a decade in the nation's capital, now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
All PostsEmail Scola Share Share on facebookShare on linkedinShare on twitter « Previous Politics | Next Politics » Email Print Close What the Big 1960s Debate in Anthropology Can Tell Us About Mitt Romney By Nancy Scola inShare.0Oct 1 2012, 3:45 PM ET 16
The idea of transactionalism helps explain why the candidate is having trouble selling his world view.
Reuters Nicholas Lemann's new New Yorker profile of Mitt Romney is the portrait of a man for whom life is a series of outcome maximizations:
George Romney was an organization man. Mitt Romney became a transaction man: someone who moves assets around with a speed and force that leaves many of the rest of us bewildered. The insurrection in business has profoundly affected the lives of most people who work, pay taxes, and get government benefits. It's the backdrop of this Presidential election.
And, as Lemann fleshes out Romney, this isn't just about Bain, and it's not just about capital. It's about the Salt Lake City Olympics, the Massachusetts' governorship, his work as an elder in the Mormon church. Lehmann quotes one of the people Romney hired to run his gubernatorial bid: "If he's elected, he'll do an adequate job of dealing with the issues of the day. He's not a vision guy. He's not policy-driven. He thinks he'll do a good job." Process is where Mitt Romney puts his faith, and he's a man who holds up his end of transactions. That means political power should be flowing his way.
Of course, there's a very good chance that 2012 won't end up that way. And Lemann's framing of the issue hints, albeit in a distant way, at why it might not.
The Romney "transaction man" quip echoes the fiery debate over transactionalism kicked off by the 1959 monograph Political Leadership among Swat Pathans by Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth. Anthropology had for decades been dominated by structural functionalism's focus on society's forms and norms. Barth instead focused on the role of the individual's rational self-interest in northern Pakistan's Swat Valley.
If Obama's "You didn't build that" is structural functionalism, Romney's "We built it" is Barthian transactionalism.
The sprawling academic debate that ensued is detailed here, but a sketch of it gives a different perspective on why people might be having trouble relating to Romney, and Romney to people.
Transaction, stated Barth, is "the process which results where the parties in the course of their interactions systematically try to assure that the value gained for them is greater or equal to the value lost." Reflecting back on his work later, Barth explained that "not all social relations are constructed in this way, but many certainly are." Not for nothing was transactionalism also known as "methodological individualism."
Transactionalism has implications for leadership. In places where there's free choice, at least, there's no real reason to stick to your group. The Pathans were more tied to their khan, or caste leader, than one another. "Many of the politically active individuals in Swat clearly recognize the distinction between private and group advantage," wrote Barth, "and when faced with a choice they tend to consider the former rather than the latter."
Boiled down, authority "is built up and maintained through the exercise of a continual series of individual choices." A leader, in other words, has to constantly display his worthiness. From there easily flows the idea that, because everything's a free transaction, power ends up where it belongs.
Moreover, transactionalism suggests that societies are the most stable and harmonious when groups don't compete to make their livings, instead occupying their own economic niches. It's a construction that sheds light on why Romney's comfortable taking about the poor and middle class as "them." There's nothing wrong with them, necessarily; they're just doing their own thing.
A History of Anthropological Theory explains further: "Social relationships are 'generated,' sustained, and changed as a result of the economic choices made by individuals, each of whom has learned to play and manipulate the 'rules' of a social 'game.'" It also helps explain Romney's disdain for the 47% of Americans who, in his flawed thinking, refuse to play the game. He literally has no way to understand them.
At the height of its influence, transactionalism had its followers, but also its strong critics. Barth would argue that transactions aren't everything. But by reading his work -- and, frankly, listening to him lecture; he was a professor of mine -- they sure seemed to be the key to understanding why societies exist as they do. Barth's critics argued that he was wrongly reducing humans to transaction-executing machines. And that he was doing it because be was mistaking the perspective of a few in Swat Valley for the lives of people writ large.
Anthropologist and former Pakistani administrator Akbar Ahmed, for one, argued that Barth had bought into a "khan's-eye-view of the world," accepting the framing of society that the landowners fed him and seeing in that the whole of Swat Valley. (Barth, who was widely credited as an excellent fieldworker, found that ridiculous.) In Barth's work, "the particular has become the general," Ahmed argued.
Another transactionalism critic was anthropologist Talal Asad, who went after the idea that political power among the Pathans rested in its natural place. Instead, argued Asad, power came from control over land, the valley's most valuable and limited resource, not from winning the favor of the landless. What really happens, wrote Asad, is that the leader "acquires his political authority by virtue of his membership in a politically dominant class, not by persuading freely consenting individuals to become his political followers."
Of course, persuading freely consenting individuals to become his political followers is exactly what Romney has to do now -- and what's giving him some trouble.
The discomfort with Barth is part of the discomfort with Romney. The rejection of transactionalism often seems rooted in the idea that understanding the world that way misses too much of its magic and meaning. It's not crazy to think that whether you see life as the product of give-and-takes or the fruit of society's complexities determines somewhat whether you're a Romney fan or an Obama fan. Barthian thinking has fallen out of favor, to some extent.
It turned out that it makes people uncomfortable to think about the world reduced to a series of transactions.
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We live in a culture in which saying the wrong words in the wrong place—“binder,” “optimal,” “that”—seems to have become more important than doing the right thing at the right time. And so, as the Yankees shockingly went down swinging—well, not swinging, rather—pinstripe G.M. Brian Cashman said something that he will likely come to regret. “These guys are better than this. And you’ve seen it, and we’ve seen it,” Cashman said to the New York Post the other morning. “It is just a very poor short sample. We have a lot of guys that got cold at the wrong time, and it looks bad. But … this is not a reflection of who they are.”
You never know—the Yankees have an improbable cushion of credibility—but I suspect that “short sample” will become one of those mocked, oft-repeated phrases. (“Shawt sample!” Mike Francesca on WFAN will snort, “How can he… that wasn’t a shawt sample! It was a flat out quit! It was total fail-yuh!”) But Cashman’s point was probably sound: a seven-game series, much less a four-game slice, is a very poor and short sample of a baseball hitter’s ability. A lot of guys just did have the bad luck to get cold at the same time—as in earlier years a lot of Yankees had the good luck to get hot at the same time. Every ball player and baseball analyst and statistician knows that this is so. But this truth runs so hard against the immutable laws of narrative, in which a season is a moral lesson in character or its absence, that it is still taboo to say it. It’s by now established that there are no hot hands—no clutch hitting, and no such thing as momentum, in sports. It doesn’t matter. The Yankees, everyone will insist, disgraced themselves because A-Rod is a quitter and Robinson Cano is unworthy of his name—and anyway, why’d they rather flirt with women in the stands then bear down and do all for the team? In a random sample, after all, someone will be lucky twice just as someone—I name no names, think green and white and football—will be unlucky for forty years. The samples in sports—a championship game, that seven-game series—are just too small in size, and too shaken by contingency, to be conclusive evidence for anything. (There’s a wonderful cartoon by XKCD that captures this truth about sports and sports-writing beautifully.)
What is true of sports narratives is yet truer, and yet still less accepted, of elections. The Bill James revolution has come to politics and polling now, thanks to Nate Silver and Nate Cohn and the rest—but not, one might say, the Henry James revolution that ought to go with it, where we stand in awe of how chance events can seem in retrospect like fated certainties. We still make primitive narratives of nemesis—we are making them today, and shall make more and more—out of what are, at heart, contingencies of accident and economic cycles. If Romney should win, we will be told that Obama’s Presidency was doomed by fatal flaws evident to all from the beginning, and all that he has done will be tainted. His isolation, his inability to reach out to his partners, his creation of hopes which could never be fulfilled, his failure to coax and wheedle and court the Congresses as Lincoln and Johnson are now imagined to have done—the result in Ohio was predestined. If, on the other hand, say, minorities in Cleveland should turn out in big numbers, and Obama wins by a narrow margin… why, then Obama will be like Lincoln, a battler who pulled it out, kept his cool, saw it through, and remade his country in his own image. What happens in the next three weeks will not just shape what happens next—it will dictate all that is said about all that had happened before. It could never have turned out any other way. The recovery that is already obviously under way—doubtless more through the cruel but inevitable up and down cycles of the market than anyone’s will, or incompetence—will become Obama’s vindication, or else it will become the Romney Recovery, and only a handful will bleat impotently that it was bound to happen anyway.
We are so addicted to these narratives that the truth that our public life is almost wholly contingent, the result of oddities and accidents that could easily have turned out many other ways, is still one that gives us allergies. It makes us sneeze. Jimmy Carter, for instance, is now a byword for failure and fecklessness; Republicans still try and get elected by mentioning this God-fearing family man’s name as Democrats once mentioned Herbert Hoover’s. Carter was always doomed; a model of a bad President, as Reagan always was a force of nature. But Carter was mostly courageous at the wrong time—he took his recession late instead of taking it early, as Reagan did—and unlucky: had the helicopters at Desert One worked, and saved the hostages, no one could have called him dithering. George Bush the Elder had in retrospect an almost magically successful Presidency: he stage-managed his Middle Eastern war with an aplomb that his son’s true fecklessness made all the more evident, and also helped usher in something that a decade before would have seemed manifestly impossible—the political (and economic and military) reunification of Germany on terms dictated exclusively by the West—and did it peacefully. Even his recession was over as we voted. It’s hard to be sorry that a once-in-a-lifetime character like Bill Clinton became President, but, after all, that could have happened in 1996, and very possibly no one would have been worse off. Indeed, had Bill Clinton been early in his second term in September, 2001, facing a crisis that called on his gift for empathy and international leadership, while forcing him beyond his often ineffectual use of power—well, it doesn’t bear thinking of. But Ross Perot’s implacable anti-Bush enmity kicked in, and he looked at his watch, and there we were.
We don’t like to hear this. We don’t want to hear it. Indeed, we refuse to hear it. “The American people decided to fire Obama,” or “the American people decided to rehire the President because they couldn’t trust Romney,” will be the clichés of the commentariat the day after. But “the American people” really have nothing to do with it. Tens of millions of American people believe passionately in either case, and the small sample that will decide is hardly evidence of some kind of uber-arching, Jungian-unconscious unanimity of opinion. That’s true even when the margin is large, in political terms. First Bush defeated Dukakis by fifty-three per cent to forty-six per cent, and the Dukakis campaign is recalled as a catastrophe—but if you were in a room of a hundred people, and called for a voice vote, and fifty-three shouted Aye and forty-six Nay, you would have no idea who had won.
People have a hard time with this simple concept because we prefer stories to uncertainties. More precisely, it’s because non-essentialist reasoning is always counter-intuitive. We want things to be always the same things, with a single inherent character from the word go. Carter was always doomed; Reagan always a force of nature.
It is always easy to confuse contingency, the truth that nothing is fated, with randomness, the idea that anything might happen. Baseball playoffs are not random in the sense that your daughter’s little-league team might win the World Series; they’re contingent in the sense that, among the reasonable candidates for winning it, no one can safely predict which one will rule. Not everything can happen—the Green candidate isn’t going to become President, and the Jets, I suspect, will not win this year’s Super Bowl. But within the realm of the possible, the actual remains more or less a mystery. We tell our public life as though it were the epic of El Cid, when in truth it is as ambiguous as “The Golden Bowl.” Shoulda, woulda, coulda … If only! … Who’da thunk it—these phrases are not the phrases of regret alone. They are also the voicings of a wider wisdom.
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People now remember McGovern as going down in one of the biggest defeats in history, losing every state but Massachusetts (and the District of Columbia) to Richard Nixon. But many forget that he made a gallant effort to present Kennedy's idealism -- and anti-war and domestic reform policies -- to an increasingly tired, racially divided, and increasingly conservative electorate.
I arrived at the campaign post-Eagleton. When the Vice Presidential nominee revealed that he had suffered from depression and been treated with electroshock, McGovern first said he was "1000 percent" behind Eagleton and then, under pressure, dumped him from the ticket on August 1st. The election was probably decided definitively then. But young people, like me, had been inspired by John Kennedy, grown up during the civil rights revolution and anti-Vietnam war turbulence of the sixties, and were deeply attracted to Robert Kennedy in 1968. The steepness of the hill McGovern had to climb after the Eagleton fiasco didn't matter. I pocketed a handful of "McGovern-Eagleton" buttons (soon to be replaced ones emblazoned with "McGovern-Shriver"), and in my mid-twenties became a "senior" person on the issues staff.
At the national campaign headquarters (1972 K Street in Washington), the youth corps admired McGovern for his solid personality, his great record in WWII as a bomber pilot, his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, and his position as heir to Kennedy's legacy (because Teddy wouldn't run). But we knew that he lacked essential qualities of the Robert Kennedy of 1968: charisma and the ability to inspire. The much-discussed flat, "reedy" mid-Western accent would not excite crowds. We knew that his policies on both foreign and domestic matters were strong statements of sixties liberalism, lacking in balance that would appeal to the great middle of American politics, which had been chastened by events and was removed in time from the aura of the Kennedys. We could feel that he wasn't connecting with the electorate.
But we also felt that the issues, in the broad, were right: stopping the war; completing the civil rights revolution; extending that revolution to other groups in society, especially women; starting to focus on environmental protection. Although the Democratic presidents who followed, Carter and Clinton, were much more centrist than McGovern, his articulation of the aspirations of the 1960s in the doomed campaign of 1972 remain important not just for the Democratic party but for the nation. Somehow, we knew that would happen, even as we felt the weight of impending defeat every day.
Increasingly, the really "senior" people on the staff -- those in their 30s and 40s who had been through presidential campaigns -- could not hide from younger colleagues their intuitive sense that the national polls could not be turned around. By Labor Day, we knew we could fight the good fight, but to no avail.
The inevitable gallows humor began to affect K Street. "Did you hear about the great result of the new poll?" "No, what was it?" "We're only behind 55-45 at headquarters."
The campaign also gave birth to one of the great campaign one-liners of all time. Late in the campaign, outside a plant early one morning, McGovern was heckled by a Nixon supporter. Tired and frustrated, he shot back, "Kiss my ass." Soon this comment ricocheted across the nation, and the media was pressing for a comment.
A few hours later, Frank Mankiewicz, communications director, went before the cameras. "McGovern's a Democrat. What did you expect him to say, 'Kiss my elephant?'" That quote, of course, led the evening news, leavening an otherwise grim campaign.
Ironically, one of my most vivid memories of that presidential contest came from an elderly, moderate Republican who was a friend and mentor. He told me that he was glad I was working for McGovern. In fact, he told me he was going to vote for McGovern. I asked him why.
He answered: "Richard Nixon has no moral compass. If he wins an electoral landslide it will be bad for the country. The famous dictum applies here: 'Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.'"
We had this conversation just a few days after a break-in at the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate. It was given modest press coverage.
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LAST week, Twitter shut down a popular account for posting anti-Semitic messages in France. This came soon after the firing of blanks at a synagogue near Paris, the discovery of a network of radical Islamists who had thrown a hand grenade into a kosher restaurant, and the killing of a teacher and young pupils at a Jewish school in Toulouse earlier this year. The attacks were part of an escalating campaign of violence against Jews in France.
Today, a sizable section of the European left has been reluctant to take a clear stand when anti-Zionism spills over into anti-Semitism. Beginning in the 1990s, many on the European left began to view the growing Muslim minorities in their countries as a new proletariat and the Palestinian cause as a recruiting mechanism. The issue of Palestine was particularly seductive for the children of immigrants, marooned between identities.
Capitalism was depicted as undermining a perfect Islamic society while cultural imperialism corrupted Islam. The tactic has a distinguished revolutionary pedigree. Indeed, the cry, “Long live Soviet power, long live the Shariah,” was heard in Central Asia during the 1920s after Lenin tried to cultivate Muslim nationalists in the Soviet East once his attempt to spread revolution to Europe had failed. But the question remains: why do today’s European socialists identify with Islamists whose worldview is light-years removed from their own?
In recent years, there has been an increased blurring of the distinction between Jew, Zionist and Israeli. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militant group Hezbollah, famously commented: “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli.”
Whereas historically Islam has often been benevolent toward Jews, compared to Christianity, many contemporary Islamists have evoked the idea of “the eternal Jew.” For example, the Battle of Khaybar in 629, fought by the Prophet Muhammad against the Jewish tribes, is recalled in victory chants at Hezbollah rallies: “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return,” and the name Khaybar sometimes graces Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel.
Many contemporary Islamists see little difference between the Jewish opponents of the prophet in seventh-century Arabia and Jews today. Importing old symbols of European anti-Semitism — depictions of Jews as enemies of God or proclamations of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy — has helped cement such imagery. If there is a distinction between Islamic anti-Judaism and modern anti-Semitism, it has been lost on French Islamists.
The fear of Jewish domination of the Middle East has become a repetitive theme in the Islamist media — which has become more influential as religious parties have gained ground in the wake of the Arab Spring. This is a factor in the general refusal of the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas to publicly meet members of the Israeli peace camp — a far cry from when Palestinian nationalists willingly negotiated with dovish Israelis before the 1993 handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat on the White House lawn.
The old left in Europe was forged in the struggle against local fascists in the 1930s. Most of Europe experienced a brutal Nazi occupation and bore witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust. The European left strongly identified with Jewish suffering and therefore welcomed the birth of the state of Israel in 1948. Some viewed the struggle for Israel in the same light as the fight for freedom in the Spanish Civil War.
But the succeeding generation of the European left did not see things this way. Its frame of reference was the anticolonial struggle — in Vietnam, South Africa, Rhodesia and a host of other places. Its hallowed icon was not the soldier of the International Brigades who fought against Franco in Spain, but Che Guevara — whose image adorned countless student bedrooms. Anticolonialism further influenced myriad causes, from America’s Black Panthers in the 1960s to Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela today.
It began with Israel’s exclusion from the ranks of the nonaligned nations more than 50 years ago, when Arab states refused to attend a 1955 nonaligned conference in Indonesia if an Israeli delegate was present. The Jewish state was snubbed in favor of such feudal kingdoms as Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen. And Israel’s collusion with imperial powers like Britain and France during the Suez crisis the following year cemented its ostracism.
Given the deep remorse for the misdeeds of colonialism, it was easier for the New Left of the 1960s to identify with the emerging Palestinian national movement than with the already established social democratic Israel. This deepening hostility toward Israel was present in Europe before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and before the rush to build settlements on the West Bank.
AMID this rising hostility toward Israel, the French philosopher and political activist Jean-Paul Sartre advocated a different way forward. He was scarred by the memory of what had happened to France’s Jews during World War II — the discrimination, betrayals, deportations and exterminations. He understood the legitimacy of Israel’s war for independence and later commented that the establishment of the state of Israel was one of the few events “that allows us to preserve hope.” Yet Sartre also strongly supported Algeria’s fight for independence from France.
This double legacy of supporting Israel and the Algerian struggle symbolized the predicament of the entire postwar European left. Sartre argued that the left shouldn’t choose between two moral causes and that it was up to the Jews and the Arabs to resolve their conflict through discussion and negotiation. Sartre tried to create a space for a dialogue, lending his name and prestige to private and public meetings between the two sides such as the Comité Israël-Palestine in the 1970s. His approach reached its apogee with the many quiet meetings between Israelis and Palestinians in Europe that eventually led to the Oslo accords. But Sartre’s vision was stymied as Israeli settlements proliferated after 1977, strengthening the left’s caricature of Israel as an imperialist power and a settler-colonial enterprise. Some prominent voices on the European left have mouthed time-honored anti-Semitic tropes in their desire to appear supportive of the Palestinian cause. Ken Livingstone, a former newspaper editor and mayor of London, has a long history of insensitive remarks about Jews — from publishing a cartoon in 1982 of Menachem Begin, then Israel’s prime minister, in Gestapo uniform atop a pile of Palestinian skulls to likening a known Jewish reporter to “a concentration camp guard” 20 years later. Today, he contributes to Press TV, the English-language outlet for the Iranian government.
Sometimes the left distinguishes between vulnerable European Jews who have been persecuted and latter-day “Prussians” in Israel. Yet it is often forgotten that a majority of Israelis just happen to be Jews, who fear therefore that what begins with the delegitimization of the state will end with the delegitimization of the people.
Such Israelophobia, enunciated by sections of the European left, dovetailed neatly with the rise of Islamism among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world. The Islamist obfuscation of “the Jew” mirrored the blindness of many a European Marxist. Despite the well-intentioned efforts of many Jews and Muslims to put aside their differing perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the offensive imagery of “the Jew” has persisted in many immigrant communities in Western Europe. Islamists were willing to share platforms with socialists and atheists, but not with Zionists.
The New Left’s profound opposition to American power, and the convergence of reactionary Islamists and unquestioning leftists was reflected in the million-strong London protest against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was organized by the Muslim Association of Britain, the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain. When some Muslims voiced apprehension about participating in the protest with non-Muslims, the M.A.B. leadership decreed that it was religiously permissible if halal food was provided and men and women were given separate areas. Such displays of “reactionary clericalism,” as the early Bolsheviks would have called it, were happily glossed over.
Sartre understood that the conflict was not simply between Israelis and Palestinians, but between those advocating peace on both sides and their rejectionists. This conflict within the conflict is something that many on Europe’s left, as they ally themselves with unsavory forces, still fail to comprehend.
Instead, the swallowing up of both the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps by political polarization has accelerated the closing of the progressive mind. And static fatalism has allowed the assailant of synagogue congregants and the killer of young children to fill the vacuum.
An emeritus professor at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies and the author of “Israel and the European Left: Between
Solidarity and Delegitimization.”
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Vince Lampert grew up in the Haughville community on Indianapolis' west side. He said he saw a lot of things in his neighborhood as a boy, but nothing like he saw on a trip to Rome for study at the Vatican in 2006.
“Probably the most bizarre thing I witnessed in an exorcism was in Rome when I saw somebody actually levitate who possessed during the prayers of exorcism,” said the catholic priest. “The priest was not amused by anything going on and he just pushed the person back down and he continued to pray. My jaw might’ve hit the floor at that time, like, 'What in the world is going on here?’
“In the years I’ve been an exorcist I’ve witnessed many bizarre accounts that would lead me to believe I was in the genuine presence of evil.”
In 2005, Father Vince Lampert was approached by Archbishop Daniel Buechlein after the exorcist for the Indianapolis archdiocese passed away.
“The archbishop told me he selected me because he viewed that I was somebody who was well balanced enough, who believed in the reality of evil but would not be too quick to believe that everybody is possessed by evil because the exorcist is trained to be a skeptic.”
Lampert receives dozens of emails and phone calls seeking his guidance every week at SS. Francis & Clare in Greenwood. He said most of those calling him need counseling or psychiatric care or medication. But some need an exorcist.
“I worked with another priest here in Indiana with a person that identified seven demons inside of this person and the demons even named themselves,” said Lampert, “and usually if evil is present, it's sometimes clustered together so it's not just a question of one demon. It’s a question of many.
“In this particular person, the weaker demons, through the ritual, were quick to leave. They departed but it was the one more dominant one that identified itself as the demon Leviathon mentioned in the Book of Revelation that was the last to go.”
Lampert said it is in the Book of Revelation in the Bible that the story of Satan is told.
“And there was a war in heaven,” reads the scripture. “The great dragon was hurled down... His number is 666.”
“The devil wants to be God,” said Lampert, describing how Satan is the original fallen angel. “His own version of his own incarnation, if you will, is to take on human form by possessing a human person.”
The priest described four types of demonic presence: possession; demonic oppression, physical attacks against the host; demonic obsession, mental attacks against the host; and infection, presence in a location or object.
“The person is eyes rolling back in the head, foaming at the mouth, growling, snarling, swearing at me, doing anything to distract me from what it is I am doing,” said Lampert, describing the typical reaction of a host during an exorcism.
“The church says there are certain things you would look for such as aversion to the sacred... crucifix, holy water, Bible, these type of things.
“The ability to speak in languages the person should not be able to know,” he continued. “It could be superhuman strength beyond the normal capacity of the person or just their perception about things that the person shouldn’t otherwise know.
“There can be a drop in room temperature. There can be awful smells and then you see manifestations.”
Father Lampert said commercial films do a fair representation of some of the reactions he’s witnessed during exorcisms.
“Hollywood uses a little bit of license. They really want to scare you and give you the gory details,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody’s head come spinning around or pea soup come flying out.”
Lampert said locations can’t be infested with evil.
A Carmel woman named Maggie believes Lampert’s accounts. As a paranormal investigator, she’s seen evidence that can’t otherwise be explained.
“I’ve heard some things like voices or just noises,” she said. “We’ve got photographs and audio recordings and some of the most amazing audio recordings I’ve ever heard.”
Among those are tapes recorded by Maggie’s husband and an associate inside a rural home in Southern Indiana where a family said its been tormented for years by a disembodied voice.
“The people that live in the house converse with it.”
Maggie said the family told investigators that the voice and entity began communicating with it in the aftermath of a son’s car accident death. The first communication appeared on a television screen as the elderly couple was watching a movie on its satellite system. What followed over the years is an on-going conversation that was repeated as recently as this past June.
“I’ve never heard another case like it where people just go back and forth.”
Maggie said her husband and his associate were aware of the family and its locations in the home and checked for any speakers or other devices when they tape recorded the encounter.
“That wasn’t nobody. That was God,” said a high-pitched voice audible on the tape after a scream. “I’m a monster. Every day is Halloween.”
The owner of the home argued with the voice.
“Why don’t you gather up all your goons and go back where you belong?”
“Why don’t you go to hell?” said the voice.
“There’s nobody bothering you, holding you here except yourself,” said the owner. “You can leave anytime you want to.”
“Yeah, I’d like to but you’re wasting my time, bitch,” said the voice.
“How do you do that, bitch?” asked the owner’s wife.
“I’m amazing,” said the voice. “Super amazing.”
In a whisper, the woman told her adult daughter, “Oh, now we’re in trouble. I’m in here and he’s out there and he just pulled my shirt.”
“If its an actual spirit in the room, I think they just want someone to recognize that they are there,” said Maggie, who prefers not to use her last name to protect her husband’s small business. “If its an evil spirit or demon, I think they are just out to ruin people’s lives.
"We’ve seen families torn apart, arguing, fighting. People moving out, people breaking up their families, just, I think, general chaos is what they’re trying to cause.
“When people have conversations, you’re inviting it in. You’re asking it questions and you're inviting it to communicate with you. You’re basically opening up your life to it.
“You really don’t want to open yourself up to that.”
Maggie and Father Vince said often the hosts have dabbled with a Ouija board before the presence was detected.
As an angel, albeit a fallen one, answerable to God, Lampert said demonic entity is bound by God’s rules.
“The prayers of the exorcism call for the demon to reveal itself because once it reveals itself then the battle will ensue.”
Lampert relies on holy water, a crucifix, a book of prayers and rites of exorcism and a conscience cleansed by confession before he enters into an exorcism.
“When we confess our sins, we place them in the hands of God. When we don’t confess them, the devil can use them against us.
“Anybody that does this type of ministry cannot allow themselves to be afraid of evil because if it's true evil, it will show itself, but you have to stand firm.”
Lampert said often family members or well-meaning amateurs attempt to tackle a possession on their own but can soon find themselves over their head and battling an entity they don’t understand.
“In the name of Jesus Christ you command the demon to name itself because once it names itself then its submitting to the power and the authority of God.
KETTERING, Ohio (The Borowitz Report)—Hitting the campaign trail one day after the arrival of Superstorm Sandy, Republican nominee Mitt Romney tweaked his position on abortion today, saying he now supports it in cases where it makes people vote for him.
“I would make an exception for abortion in cases where the life of my campaign is at stake,” he told a crowd in Kettering, Ohio.
Sandy, which slammed into the East Coast last night, was such a powerful weather system that it prevented Mr. Romney from changing his position on abortion for twenty-four hours.
“It was important for Mitt to come up with a new position on abortion today,” said his campaign manager, Matt Rhoades. “It sends a message to the American people that in the aftermath of Sandy, things are getting back to normal.”
Mr. Romney made no reference to his comments about eliminating FEMA, which have been declared a disaster area.
Commentary: Why the Electoral College System Makes Little Sense Today
As yet another presidential election comes down to a mad scramble for a relative few undecided voters in Ohio and Florida (and a few other "swing states"), it's OK to ask ourselves why and whether it's really good for democracy. Specifically, is it a good thing that, as usual:
We are looking at the possibility that the candidate who gets the most votes could lose the election as has happened four times in U.S. history.
And we are looking at the somewhat more far-fetched possibility that Election Day will produce an electoral vote tie, throwing the election into Congress where it will be decided (if Congress is able to reach a decision) by a mechanism that -- when you hear how it actually works -- will make you want to laugh or cry.
The presidential preferences of the vast majority of Americans have become irrelevant to the outcome.We're talking about the Electoral College system, of course, a gift from the framers of the U.S. Constitution that functions in ways they never intended, was designed to solve problems that no longer exist, and works in ways that seriously offend against modern understandings of how democracy should work.
The system makes so little 21st (and really 19th or 20th) century sense that as scores of new nations have made the transition to democracies, and as they studied the varieties of democratic systems already in existence, none have adopted the Electoral College model for choosing a president.
In fact, if the Electoral College system wasn't in the Constitution, it would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional because the apportionment of electoral votes violates the principle of one-person, one-vote.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the framers wanted to create a powerful new executive branch -- something that had been missing from the first national American government organized under the Articles of Confederation in the middle of the War for Independence. But the Philadelphia convention was stymied over how to choose a president.
The solution that would seem obvious to modern eyes -- hold a national election and whoever gets the most votes take office -- seemed unimaginable to most of the framers. The framers were smart and well-intentioned, but had plenty of blind spots. They were leery of too much democracy, which is why only one of the four power centers they created (the House of Representatives) was to be directly elected.
The more often overlooked blind spot that led to the Electoral College system was the framers' thoughts -- or lack of thoughts -- about political parties. The framers didn't foresee the development of national political parties (even though the first two-party system took shape almost immediately after ratification). Without parties to nominate candidates and organize their supporters, without a national media, without a tradition (which didn't come for more than 100 years) of candidates traveling around the country begging for votes, the framers couldn't picture how, after George Washington left the scene, there would be political leaders with sufficient national reputations among ordinary voters to support a national election.
The presidential electors were meant to solve that problem. They would be chosen (not directly by the voters but by the state legislatures) as members of the better-informed elite who would be more likely to know if there was a new but lesser-known leader of Washington's caliber. In ways that might be difficult for modern Americans to grasp, even the well-informed electors might not know that much about political leaders from other states. And the framers (especially the ones from smaller states) worried that the process would lead to the election of presidents from big states.
So the framers' original plan required each elector to vote for two men for president -- one of whom had to be from a state different from the elector. That provision, although modified by the 12th Amendment to allow electors to indicate which of their two choices is meant to be president and which vice president, is still in the Constitution. In fact, if it were strictly enforced, it would have prevented the Texas electors of 2000 and 2004 from voting for both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, both of whom were really Texans at the time. Of course, the party system came along and electors are no longer chosen for their wisdom or knowledge but for their loyalty to those parties. And they are not expected to exercise judgment about the relative merits of potential presidents (although every so often, one of them attempts to and is labeled as "faithless elector.")
The framers also left it up to the states to decide whether to hold a popular election for president at all. In fact South Carolina, one of the 13 original states, never did so until after the Civil War.
The framers, by the way, did not impose the absurd winner-take-all system by which all but two states currently operate and which automatically awards all of a state's electors to whichever ticket wins the popular. If (as Maine and Nebraska now do) states awarded an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district and two bonus votes (representing the U.S. Senate seats of the state) to the statewide winner, the whole swing-state obsession would go away. It's the winner-take-all aspect that leads the presidential campaigns to pay attention only to states that might go either way.
The framers, of course, weren't thinking about tickets, or political parties and certainly not the mind-numbing complexities of the campaign finance system and the challenge of apportioning the onslaught of late spending across TV markets to maximize the impact of 30-second attack ads. But the system they gave us, as amended and especially as evolved, leads directly to that spectacle.
Polls for many years have reliably shown that a majority of Americans would prefer a straightforward popular vote for the presidency. But that can't happen without a constitutional amendment. A group called National Popular Vote has figured out a scheme to get around the problem by encouraging states to pass a law in which they pledge to award all of their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. So far, nine states -- including California, the biggest prize -- have done so. The nine account for a combined 132 electoral votes, almost half of the 270 necessary to win an election.
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare
The Polarizing Michael Vick Unknowable. Infuriating. Impossible to pigeonhole. Is there any way to define the legacy of the Eagles $100 million quarterback? By Bill Simmons on November 2, 2012 Vick's career is like football Play-Doh — an amorphous hunk that you can shape however you want. You could craft a Vick-centric essay about redemption just as easily as one about squandered potential. You could unleash a "Vick was totally and tragically underrated!" argument with the same gusto as a "Vick was the most overrated football star ever!" rant. You could borrow certain statistics to plead his case as an elite quarterback, and other numbers to bury that same case. You could declare with complete authority that "nobody is ever winning a Super Bowl with Michael Vick," or you could veer the other way and say, "If Michael Vick finds the right team, maybe he could thrive like Steve Young did in San Francisco."
Vick didn't need a dogfighting scandal to retire as the most polarizing NFL quarterback ever — it would have happened anyway. Even the process of drafting Vick was polarizing. When Vick declared for 2001's NFL draft after just two Virginia Tech seasons, Peter King wrote a Sports Illustrated piece headlined "Risky Business," with the subhead "Snakebitten San Diego will likely cast its lot with Michael Vick, who's making a perilous leap from college sophomore to No. 1 pick in the NFL draft." It's an uncanny piece to reread, like someone sneaked into SI's Vault and updated the piece to foreshadow what happened. Certain experts like Phil Simms, Bill Walsh and Steve Young openly worried about Vick's lack of accuracy, lack of patience, lack of maturity, and his ability to hold up physically throughout an NFL season. Meanwhile, former QB James Harris was gushing, "He could well become one of the greatest playmakers in NFL history."
The final consensus? Everyone begrudgingly agreed, Yeah, the Chargers can't risk passing on him, but I'm not sure I'd want him, either.
When Vick couldn't agree to contract terms with the Chargers, they flipped that pick to Atlanta for the no. 5 and no. 67 picks, a 2002 second-rounder and receiver Tim Dwight, then rebuilt by using no. 5 on LaDainian Tomlinson and a second-rounder on Purdue's Drew Brees. At the time, we thought Atlanta fleeced the Chargers. Within a few years, we thought San Diego fleeced the Falcons. Really, that was par for the course this century — thanks to sports blogs, message boards, Internet columns, 24-hour radio stations, talking-head shows, three-hour pregame shows and instant tweets, we've entered something of an Instant Flip-Flop Era. It doesn't matter what you thought, just what you think right now (and how swiftly and aggressively you can express that opinion).
Take me, for example. After Vick managed a spectacular playoff upset win over Green Bay in 2003, I wrote that "he threw for 121 yards in Lambeau and it felt like 350," adding, "Vick officially seized the Barry Sanders Memorial 'Never bet against him under any circumstances ever ever EVER' torch from Brett Favre." After a convincing 2005 playoff victory (his last), I wrote, "The Michael Vick Era always carries the 30-percent chance that something special could happen, like Vick slapping together three straight Pantheon-level performances and carrying the Falcons to a title. Now we're one-third of the way there." By December of 2006, I had given up: "Tell me when we're all agreeing to stop making excuses for Michael Vick. Give me a date."
I probably changed my opinion on Vick 10 times, and only because Vick's ceiling dramatically dwarfed the actual results. He carried himself with Iverson's swagger, threw lefty on the run like Steve Young, scampered around like an All-Pro tailback. We just hadn't seen anyone remotely like him. Two years ago, a reader e-mailed that a friend had texted during a Giants game, "Michael Vick is Michael Vicking. If you turned off the Eagles game, turn it back on now." The reader added, "That's all it took for us to switch the channel in time to see a ridiculous comeback. What other athletes could have their name turn into a verb?" That's all you ever needed to know about Michael Vick.
You used the word "if" with him more than most. If only he could stay healthy. If only he could be more athletic accurate. If only he had better receivers. If only he had better friends around him. If only. Because of his prodigious athletic gifts, we judged Vick by a higher standard — like we did with Barry Sanders before him, or even Josh Hamilton and Russell Westbrook right now. Anyone blessed with the "deluxe car wash package" gets treated that way; if we don't like the way you're taking care of it, you're going to hear from us.
By the start of his fourth season, Vick was bristling about skeptics and vowing to thrive in a new offensive system. One year later, those same skeptics were lambasting his $130 million extension and saying he wasn't a real quarterback. After a profoundly unhappy 2006 season marred by a bizarre airport incident — Vick tossing away a water bottle that had a secret marijuana compartment in it — everyone acknowledged that something had gone drastically wrong. Something had to change. We had no way of knowing one of the worst sports scandals ever was looming.
Looking back, there was no better athlete for the Internet era, someone who generated an instant argument whenever we wanted.1 Michael Vick, pick a side … go! Even the legal fiasco that ended his Falcons career, imprisoned him for 19 months, bankrupted him and turned him into a national pariah couldn't have been more polarizing. People lose their poop when it comes to dogs. When I wrote a 2010 column defending Vick's post-prison comeback with the Eagles — not his crimes, but his constitutional right to contritely rebuild his life while recapturing a special talent — naturally, it ended up being one of the most polarizing pieces I ever wrote. People either loved it or hated it, with no middle ground. You could have said the same about Vick. Either you considered him a game-breaking, franchise-altering talent or (waving hands robotically) someone who cannot help you contend consistently in the National Football League.
Race hovered over Vick's career more than we ever wanted to admit. Fellow Newport News native Allen Iverson pushed similar boundaries in the NBA, where certain fans struggled to identify with an African American iconoclast who covered himself in tattoos (a radical look in the late 1990s), braided his hair (that too) and carried himself so defiantly during games. Iverson never wanted to be anyone's hero, and he certainly never wanted to play "the game" like some of the league's more marketable stars — he only wanted to play 44 minutes a night, on his terms, in his style, looking the way HE wanted to look, acting the way HE wanted to act, and if you didn't like it, then eff you. That's what I loved about him.2
Even if Vick lacked Iverson's force of personality, he tapped into a similar prejudice — for the first time, football's best athlete was playing quarterback and inventing things as he went along, and for the first time since Joe Namath, that same person was tapping into a larger cultural phenomenon (this time, hip-hop culture) as he did it. Was the position changing color? Were more Michael Vicks coming? Was that why people seemed to be holding Vick to a higher standard — especially old-school experts, football lifers and talking heads — and holding on to a certain ideal of how that position should be played? Whatever that ideal was, it wasn't what Michael Vick was doing. He didn't help the cause by coasting on those same natural gifts — by 2006, he had abandoned any pretense of becoming a pocket passer, rushing for over 1,000 yards and turning himself into a glorified running back. It didn't work. The Falcons finished 7-9.
You know what happened next: Vick's life turned into a walking 30 for 30 episode. After hitting rock bottom multiple times, he pieced his life back together, reentered football as something of a pariah, showed real dignity with how he handled his comeback, and eventually redeemed his career with a phenomenal 2010 season (running the West Coast offense flawlessly for Philadelphia, something that seemed inconceivable during his rockier Atlanta days). And just as quickly, things disintegrated again — he crashed to earth last season and struggled mightily these last two months. After another more-than-wobbly performance in Week 8 against Atlanta, everyone expected Andy Reid to bench him for good in the latest episode of "Eagles Scapegoat Roulette." But with Philly playing indoors in New Orleans this weekend, Reid couldn't resist giving Vick one more chance.
Did it make 100 times more sense for Philly to start promising rookie Nick Foles he would play so he could build early confidence against that über-dreadful Saints defense? Of course!!!!! What, you thought Reid would make the right move here? He's been hitting on 16s against 6s for two solid years. (Another reason: You can't think ahead to 2013 with another quarterback if you're not going to be there in 2013. Reid needs to win right now. It's a classic case of a coach putting his own interests ahead of the franchise's best interests.) But what if that porous Saints defense gets Vick going? Would you rule it out? The reason Reid should definitely start Foles is the same reason Vick might save his career. He might throw for three scores and run for two more. He might lose his job once and for all. He might single-handedly win your fantasy week for you. He might murder the 2012 Eagles season. He's keeping us on our toes until the bitter end.
Week 9 Picks My Week 9 NFL Picks.
(Home team in caps).
Broncos (-4) over BENGALS The Noodle vs. The Ginger? Come on.
PACKERS (-10.5) over Cardinals TEXANS (-10) over Bills More blowout potential than Milton Berle Potential.
BROWNS (+3.5) over Ravens TITANS (+3.5) over Bears JAGUARS (+4.5) over Lions Three tasty home dogs - at least two of them cover.
Dolphins (-2) over COLTS Ladies and gentlemen, your No. 5 playoff seed in the AFC … the Dolphins of Miami.
Panthers (+3) over REDSKINS Agree with my illegitimate son Bill Barnwell — the Panthers aren't nearly as bad as you think.
RAIDERS (-1) over Bucs SEAHAWKS (-4) Vikings Your best bets for the midseason's "late bloomer" teams. Five home games left for each. I wish I could quit you, Russell Wilson.
Steelers (+3.5) over GIANTS Pittsburgh's official "We're a Super Bowl contender" statement game.
Cowboys (+4) over FALCONS SAINTS (-3) over Eagles Possible last stands for Romo and Vick. I think we go 1 for 2.
This Week: 0-1 Last Week: 7-7 Season: 61-55-3 All right, so let's say everything ends on Sunday in one of those Michaelvickian clunkers: two picks, a backbreaking fumble, a last-second drive that falls short, with Vick scrambling around and evading two sacks before sailing a last-ditch pass over someone's head. What will this mean? What will you say to yourself as Vick limps off the field, still untwisting his skinny body from the two 275-pound guys who fell on him? Was he not nearly good as we thought? Was he better than we thought? Was he both?
Before you answer that question, just for the hell of it, here are 20 things you may or may not know about Michael Vick:
1. He's one year younger than Drew Brees and one year older than Eli Manning.
2. He's the only player in NFL history to average seven yards per carry for his entire career. Only three others topped 6.0: Bobby Douglass (6.5), Randall Cunningham (6.4) and Greg Landry (6.2).
3. He's been sacked on 8.6 percent of his pass plays, ranking 151st out of the 194 quarterbacks that Pro-Football-Reference measured. Some other numbers: Peyton Manning (3.13 percent), Drew Brees (3.67 percent), Eli Manning (4.53 percent), Tom Brady (4.89 percent), Donovan McNabb (7.09 percent), Steve Young (7.94 percent ), Randall Cunningham (10.14 percent).
4. Vick was drafted 31 spots ahead of Brees. When they play on Sunday, it will be Vick's 100th NFL start … and Brees's 161st NFL start.
5. Vick's 2010 passer rating (100.2) was the 60th-highest ever and didn't account for his superior rushing season (100 carries, 676 yards, nine TDs in just 11 starts) or his creation of the 3,000-675-30 Club (3,000+ passing yards, 675+ rushing yards, 30 combined rushing/passing TDs), which Cam Newton joined last year. It's a two-member club.
6. Vick's career passer rating? 80.7 … good for 53rd all time. And yet, 18 current starting QBs have a higher career QB rating than 80.7, including Matt Hasselbeck (82.3), Josh Freeman (81.1) and Matt Cassel (80.9).
7. He's the only quarterback to rush for more than 5,000 career yards (5,466, actually). Only one other quarterback has rushed for more than 4,000 career yards (Young — McNabb came close with 3,459). Vick has run for almost as many yards as Daunte Culpepper (2,652) and Kordell Stewart (2,874) combined.
8. He's fumbled the ball 85 times, which ranks him 24th all time. Of the top-25 fumblers (all quarterbacks except Tony Dorsett and Franco Harris), he's the only one who didn't start at least 100 games.
9. In 2006, Vick became the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards (1,039) and tied Beattie Feathers's single-season record for yards per carry (8.4). He also holds the fourth-highest single-season yards-per-carry mark (2004: 7.5), the eighth-highest (2004: 7.5) and the 10th-highest (2010: 6.8).
10. As far as I can tell, he's about to become the first NFL player to sign two different $100 million extensions — one with Atlanta in 2004 ($139 million), one with Philly in 2011 ($100 million) — that both fell through within two years.
11. Vick never threw for 3,000 yards during an Atlanta season. Which seems inconceivable until you remember …
12. Vick's leading Atlanta receivers by season: Brian Finneran (2002: 838 yards, 6 TDs), Peerless Price (2003: 838 yards, 3 TDs), Alge Crumpler (2004: 774 yards, 8 TDs), Crumpler (2005: 877 yards, 5 TDs) and Crumpler (2006: 780 yards, 8 TDs). In 2010, DeSean Jackson (1,056 yards, 6 TDs) and Jeremy Maclin (964 yards, 10 TDs) were the best receiving targets Michael Vick has EVER had.
13. If he throws for 265 yards on Sunday, Vick creates the 20/5 Club for QBs who threw for 20,000 yards and rushed for 5,000 yards. It's never happened before.
14. Those 19,735 career yards rank him 97th overall, less than Jay Cutler, Aaron Brooks, Gus Frerotte, Bobby Hebert and Jake Delhomme, and a few thousand yards less than Bernie Kosar, Brian Sipe, Jeff Garcia and Culpepper.
15. He's thrown for 120 touchdowns, ranking him in a dead heat for 102nd place with Neil O'Donnell, barely edging Brian Griese (119) and somehow trailing Brooks (123) and Chris Miller (123). Of the seven most famous modern "running QBs" (not counting the new guys), Vick's touchdown/interception differential (+40) ranks behind Young (+125), McNabb (+117), Cunningham (+73), Steve McNair (+55) and Culpepper (+43), beating only Kordell Stewart (minus-7).
16. He's rushed for 34 touchdowns, ranking him 150th all time and trailing the leading QB (Young) by nine.
17. Of everyone since 1960, Vick ranks 87th in "Game-Winning Drives" with 14, trailing the likes of Jeff Blake (16), Hebert (16), David Garrard (18), O'Donnell (19), Jon Kitna (22) and Jake Delhomme (25).
18. Out of everyone since 1960, Vick ranks 67th in "Comebacks" with 13, trailing the likes of Trent Dilfer (14), Jay Schroeder (16), and yes, Jake Delhomme (19).
20. In Vick's two playoff wins, he threw for 199 yards combined. Michael Vick hasn't won a playoff game since January 15, 2005, the same month Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston separated.
So it's all a matter of perception. Comparing him to other no. 1 overall picks, he comes off surprisingly well: If you made a list of the top-five picks from 1986 through 2010, Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman, Eli Manning and Drew Bledsoe would be the first four (in that order), but Vick might actually beat Orlando Pace, Keyshawn Johnson, Vinny Testaverde, Matt Stafford and Jake Long for the fifth spot. Vick also accomplished something relatively dubious that remains somewhat amazing: spending nearly two years in jail, not starting a professional football game for four solid years, then shaking off the rust for his greatest season. When will we see THAT again?
Vick's 2010 evisceration of the Redskins (333 passing yards, 20 of 28 completions, eight carries for 80 yards, four passing TDs and two rushing TDs) goes down as (a) one of the most electric QB games ever, and (b) along with Bo/Seattle, Favre/Raiders, Campbell/Dolphins and a few others, one of the most unforgettable Monday-night performances ever. In a nutshell, that's why we always cared about Michael Vick more than he probably deserved — when Vick had it going, it was like watching someone catch fire in a basketball game, only if the player was killing 11 guys instead of five. I loved the symmetry of Robert Griffin III entering the NFL during the same season as Vick's possible farewell, a mulligan of sorts for everything we ever loved about Vick. For the true football fans, it was never about color, more about someone making us rethink the boundaries of every game we'd ever watched. Third and 10, everyone's covered … and a quarterback could just take off like it was a delayed sweep and scamper 76 yards down the sidelines like it was preordained? This was possible? This could happen?
Both Griffin and Vick made you feel like you were watching a video game, and really, that's a bigger part of Vick's legacy than anything. Even if Tecmo Bo Jackson will always be the most unstoppable video game football character ever, Madden Michael Vick came damn close. Back when I played Madden seasons, I always played the Patriots — always, always, without fail — except for one time in 2004 when I couldn't resist playing one Falcons season. I wanted to be Michael Vick. And it was like opening up a whole new world. You could throw the ball 60 yards, run like the wind, escape four defenders at once, save any play. You were never out of the game. You could score from anywhere on the field. I remember playing six or seven Falcons games and putting up absolutely outrageous Vick stats — he was leading the league in rushing AND passing — before Video Mike went down on one of those padding-your-stats plays when the Madden computer takes it personally and decides to cripple one of your players.
After the game, they told me Video Mike was out for the year. I sulked for about 20 seconds, eventually pressing the RESET button and pretending the game never happened. Vick finished with the fake rushing and fake passing titles. We went 14-2 and won the fake Super Bowl. You're probably wondering why I remember something this mundane, and here's the answer: You always remember being immortal, even when it isn't real.
And no, the real Vick doesn't get a RESET button on Sunday. It's the only thing we know for sure about that Saints-Eagles game. Like everything else that happened during the Michael Vick era, you will be prepared for anything and everything. Maybe it's not the greatest legacy, but it's something.
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare
Sandy, Fukushima, and the Nuclear Industry Posted by Evan Osnos
When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, it forced three nuclear reactors to shut down, including the Indian Point 3 plant along the banks of the Hudson, about twenty-five miles north of New York City. Three more reduced their output as a precaution. At the nation’s oldest nuclear plant, the Oyster Creek facility, about thirty-three miles north of Atlantic City, operators faced an unusual event: wind, a rising tide, and the storm surge sent more water than normal into the plant’s water-intake system. At the same time, the plant, which was already down for maintenance, lost its electrical power from the grid. Operators called an “alert” that escalated the plant a step up from the lowest emergency level, and they turned to backup generators to keep cooling the reactor.
Nobody was ever in danger, and, all in all, America’s hundred-and-four nuclear reactors handled the storm with far less trouble than other parts of the power grid. Nobody was quicker to applaud the nuclear industry than the nuclear industry. “Hurricane Sandy once again demonstrates the robust construction of nuclear energy facilities, which are built to withstand extreme flooding and hurricane-force winds that are beyond that historically reported for each area,” said Marvin Fertel, president of the industry lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The enthusiasm was not unanimous. Arnie Gundersen, an industry critic who is the chief engineer of the non-profit Fairewinds Energy Education Corp, told Bloomberg that if Oyster Creek had been operating, flood waters just six inches higher could have knocked out pumps and caused a disaster—a claim that a spokesman for the plant’s operator, Exelon, called “unequivocally false.” Who’s right? I asked David Lochbaum, a former nuclear-plant engineer who directs the nuclear-safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He said, “I disagree with Exelon’s statement that Arnie was ‘unequivocally false.’ It’s precisely that kind of closed or narrow mindedness that allowed Fukushima to happen.”
Fukushima, of course, was the site of the triple meltdown in Japan, in March of 2011, which was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami beyond anything that Japanese nuclear officials had planned for. It became the world’s largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. And one of the clearest lessons from Fukushima was that the vagaries of the future have a way of confounding the comforts of the past. When the nuclear industry says that it can withstand conditions “beyond that historically reported,” we should want to know a lot more, according to three researchers at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford. Phillip Lipscy, Kenji Kushida, and Trevor Incerti measured the vulnerability of nuclear plants built near water, by comparing their defenses to historical data on earthquakes, landslides, and hurricanes. In the Washington Post this week, they assessed the effects of Sandy and said their data “suggested that several U.S. nuclear power plants are unprepared for high waves.”
In our database, the United States came in second, behind Japan, as the country with the largest number of inadequately protected nuclear power plants. The 1938 New England hurricane triggered a storm surge as high as 25 to 30 feet, considerably higher than waves generated this week by Sandy. A wave that tall would easily overtake many nuclear plants on the East Coast, which on average lie about 20 feet above sea level, with minimal sea wall protection.
They found vulnerable plants on the New Jersey/Delaware border, in Connecticut, and in New Hampshire—each less than fifty miles from a big city. (During the Fukushima disaster, the United States urged its citizens to stay at least fifty miles from the plant.) Part of the problem is that the United States is simply too young to know much about its physical past. In Japan, seismologists had warned that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was acutely vulnerable to tsunamis based on records of a wave in the year 869 that historians, at the time, described as so large that it left “no time to get into boats or climb the mountains.” The plant ignored the advice, and the rest, as they say, is history. As for the United States, the Stanford team wrote, “the risk to plants in this country is probably understated” because American records go back only about three hundred and fifty years, so in “the United States, we don’t even know what a once-in-a-thousand-years wave looks like.” One of the curious things about disasters is how short our memory is for them. After years of warnings about New York’s growing vulnerability, a flood wreaked havoc on New York subways for a few hours in 2007, and transit officials spent thirty-four million dollars on flood protections. But that was the end of it. “No additional state money has been forthcoming for an overhaul,” the Times reported this week, quoting a former transit official who said: “We’ve just been lucky. We need hardening for the risk we’ve always faced. Until things happen, people aren’t willing to pay for it.”
In endorsing President Obama’s reëlection, in part on the basis of his dedication to fighting climate change, Michael Bloomberg lent his name to the recognition that history is moving faster than some would like to admit. Coastal waters in New York rose roughly an inch a decade for the last century; they are on track to climb as fast as six inches per decade in the years to come. The regulatory fallout from the Fukushima meltdowns is still very much being felt. Last March, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission imposed new rules on plants, including reassessing flood protections and keeping emergency equipment in place to survive an indefinite blackout.
Some advocates think they fell short. (The Stanford team calls for more and higher sea walls, and other measures.) For Lochbaum, the key now is not to pretend that the nuclear grid is a house of cards—it is not, and Sandy proved that—but to prevent a non-disaster from begetting a disaster. “Some plants have already found that existing protection levels were insufficient. More homework is ongoing,” he said. “But safety I.O.U.s protect no one. We need to continue this effort and reach its destination—all shortcomings identified and fixed. Then, the N.R.C. and the nuclear industry can honestly tell the public that all reasonable measures have been taken to protect them from severe acts of nature. Until then, luck is playing a larger role—not the entire role, but a larger role than necessary.”
Congressional Republicans: Meet the President Who Suddenly Has the Upper Hand By James Fallows inShare7Nov 8 2012, 1:15 PM ET
While I was enmired earlier today in the world of Atlas Shrugged-ism, my current Atlantic colleague Robert Wright highlighted an article by our former Atlantic colleague Joshua Green that sets out the realities of the upcoming tax and budget negotiations with admirable clarity.
Please print out this passage from Green's Bloomberg Businessweek article so that you can refer to it each time you read a story about Obama's showdown with the Republican forces in the House.
Despite their post-election tough talk, Republican leaders have dealt themselves a lousy hand. Obama can propose a "middle-class tax cut" for the 98 percent of American households earning less than $250,000 a year -- while letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning more -- and dare the Republicans to block it. If they do, everyone's taxes will rise on Jan. 1.
It's true that going over the fiscal cliff, as some Democrats believe will happen, would set back the recovery and could eventually cause a recession. But Democratic leaders in Congress believe the public furor would be too intense for Republicans to withstand for long.*
During last year's insanely reckless and unnecessary debt-ceiling showdown, President Obama really did have his back against the wall. Enough members of the super-energized Tea Party contingent were knowingly or ignorantly willing to bring on a technical sovereign-debt default** -- in hostage-drama terms, they were willing to shoot the hostage -- that in the end Obama had to ensure that did not occur.
This time his position is more like Bill Clinton's, during his government-shutdown test of wills with Newt Gingrich's super-energized "Contract With America" contingent in 1995. Clinton said: You're willing to close down everything people rely on, because of your pet theory? Bring it on!*** As Green explains, Obama's position is closer to that today. And, on the heels of the 2012 election results, it is hard to imagine such responsible leadership as the Republican party has inviting an tax increase for everyone, in the name of protecting the over-$250,000 class. __ * More from Green: "The expiration of those cuts and the automatic reductions set to take effect at year's end -- the so-called fiscal cliff -- mean that Obama and the Democrats can gain a huge source of new revenue by doing nothing at all. Republican priorities are the ones suddenly in peril. The combination of tax increases on the rich, higher capital-gains taxes, and sharp cuts in defense spending have congressional Republicans deeply worried. To mitigate these, they'll have to bargain."
** There are all sorts of debates about whether or when the federal government would actually have "defaulted," how consequential that would have been, etc. The point is: Obama knew that the terrain was unclear enough and the potential risks so great that he couldn't just say, "Ok, I dare you." The upcoming situation is different.
*** As students of the Clinton administration know, the government-shutdown episode, while eventually turning into a political success for Clinton, also led to his biggest self-induced near-disaster, since it was then that he came across one young intern on his staff.
Mitt Romney lost because he was too conservative. Mitt Romney lost because he wasn't conservative enough. He lost because of union vote in Ohio. He lost because of the youth vote in Colorado. He lost because he backtracked on abortion and reproductive rights. He lost because he is a rich man who ran during rough economic times pledging to give tax breaks to other rich men. He lost because he didn't turn over his tax receipts. He lost because he is a Mormon. He lost because of Barack Obama. He lost because of Hurricane Sandy.
May I suggest instead a simple, elegant overriding theory on why we won't have a Romney Administration in 2013? No serious political party in America -- no legitimate party in any viable democracy -- can win an election by suppressing votes. So long as the Republican Party endorses (and enacts) voting laws designed to make it harder for registered voters to vote, so long as Republican officials like Ohio's Jon Husted contort themselves to interpret those laws in a restrictive fashion, the Republicans will continue to play a loser's game.
That's my theory, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. Having covered for the past two years the voting rights front in this epic election cycle, I have come to believe that the Republicans will begin to win presidential elections again only when they start competing for votes with the substance of their ideas. Instead of legislating on the theory that some people are too poor or too old or too lazy to vote, and for all their talk about freedom and the Tea Party, they should try to find ways to encourage the franchise in America, to nurture and protect it.
But I don't want to talk about the losers. There will be plenty of time for that. I want to talk instead about the winners of the election of 2012. They aren't just the returning members of Congress and the president and his cabinet. They aren't just the donors and functionaries who helped fund and operate the massively expensive reelection campaign. They are, to cite just one example, the tens of thousands of citizens all over the country who fought back against the greatest threat to civil rights since the 1960s.
If there is one thing this election has proven, if there is one thing I have come to know, it is that Americans don't like it when their right to vote is threatened. The very people whose votes the Republicans sought to suppress came out to vote. In places like Akron and Orlando and Denver and Milwaukee, they came. They waited in long lines and endured the indignities of poll workers. Yet they were not cowed. Today is their day. A day when they can look at one another and appreciate that they are truly a part of the history of civil rights in this country.
And they aren't just winners for enduring the systemic challenge to their voting rights. They are winners also because President Obama's reelection guarantees that the federal judiciary in four years will be far less conservative than it is today. This means, among many other things, that when the next generation of voter suppression laws come down the road, our nation's judges will be even more suited to stop them than they were this cycle. Just think about how many legitimate votes were saved in 2012 by federal judges.
And just think about how many more votes will be protected in 2014 and 2016 because of Tuesday's election. And how many more women will enjoy reproductive rights, and how many more consumers will have a break in court against big corporations, and how many more of our children will have cleaner air to breathe or water to drink because our environmental regulations will survive, and how many more of our fellow citizens will have health insurance. These are the winners of this election, whether they know it, or can accept it, or not.
In his first term, President Obama nominated 204 judges and the Senate approved 158 of them. There is no reason to think those numbers will be lower during the coming four years (in fact, I suspect they'll be higher). This means a judiciary that for the first time in a generation in this country will be slightly more Democratic in its appointments than it is Republican. As the Reagan appointees retire or die, in other words, they'll be replaced by Obama appointees. This is what this election means -- the absence of gridlock -- if it means nothing else.
What else does the Obama reelection mean? What does a more progressive judiciary mean? Let's get back to the winners. Jacqueline Kane is a winner today. She is an elderly woman in an assisted-living facility in Pennsylvania, a beloved mother who voted first in 1952 and still remembers the day. GOP lawmakers in her state tried to take away her right to vote this year with a photo identification law that would have required her, at age 82, to take a bus and wait in a line. Her daughter stood up for her. So did thousands of other Pennsylvanians.
You know who else is a winner today? Vietnam veteran Craig Debose, a longtime resident of South Carolina. Debose traveled 11 hours by train this summer to testify in Washington in the federal civil rights lawsuit brought against South Carolina for its restrictive photo identification law. A friendly lawyer asked him, "And why did you come all this way to tell the Court your story?" And Debose said: "So I can vote." This is a statement and a sentiment as American as any you can conceive. The Republicans cannot suppress this. Why would they even try?
I couldn't call Debose Tuesday night. He doesn't have a phone. Or a computer. Or a car, which is why he didn't have a driver's license, which is why South Carolina was trying to take away his right to vote. I'd like to think that Debose voted this year. And that he voted for the man who will appoint federal judges who will in turn vote to preserve our right to vote against the whims of the majority. But whether he did or he didn't, Debose's story has a happy ending. Fifty years after the war, his country had called him to serve once again. And, again, he had answered the call.
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare
Related StoriesBarack Obama wins Florida, topping Romney in final tally .Readers sound off on Romney and Sandy .Christie congratulated Obama by phone on election night victory .Mitt Romney had transition website that momentarily went live — even though he didn't win .. .In a campaign defined by both party and class warfare, there was always going to be just a small segment of the American electorate up for grabs on Election Day.
Indeed, an overwhelming majority of self-described partisans voted with their candidate. Almost all Democrats — 92% — supported the President, and they turned out in unexpected numbers. On the other side, 93% of Republicans supported Mitt Romney.
Those figures left a crucial group to capture — the independents and moderates who, indeed, decided an election where the President won the popular vote by just over two percentage points, 50.4%-48.1%.
Self-described moderates and independents — groups separated by the fact that moderates are generally more liberal than independents — were a large portion of the electorate in this election. There were 48.9 million self-described moderates and 34.7 million self-described independents.
There is overlap within these groups — they are not mutually exclusive identifications. But within that big number, there was only a minority, 5% to 7% of each, that was truly undecided heading into the election. It is this small segment of moderates and independents that helped deliver a second term for Obama.
That’s because, while Romney won independents, he won them by a much narrower margin than expected. And among self-described moderates — 41% of the electorate, according to exit polls — Obama prevailed by a significant 15 points.
It didn’t always look like these voters were going to break for Obama. In preelection estimates, Romney had been consistently leading by double digits among independents. Yet on Election Day, Romney only managed to win them by five points (in 2008, John McCain lost independents by eight points).
Why was Obama’s loss with independents so narrow or, put another way, why wasn’t Romney able to close the deal with these voters more decisively?
The Obama campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort surely deserves credit. Its aggressive campaign sprung into action over a year ago, opening field offices, making calls and knocking on doors while Romney was still slugging it out in the primaries.
Obama’s campaign never fully left places like Ohio and Iowa after the 2008 election. Its voter registration drive was even more successful than 2008, registering 1.8 million new voters in battleground states.
To be sure, many new registrants were hardcore Democrats — but there were substantial numbers of moderates and independents that they also registered. The key variable for the Obama campaign in its registration drive was not party identification, but likeliness to support the President, a strategy that paid off on Tuesday.
In all these areas, the Romney campaign started from a major disadvantage.
But beyond these factors, which certainly played a part in Obama’s success, the reason that moderates and independents generally stuck with Obama was that he was able to campaign as one of them. To appeal to a broader audience of Americans, Obama ran as the same moderate liberal that we elected in 2008.
He was consistently strong on social issues but moderate and balanced on the economy — the key issue to majority of voters — proved the winning combination for the electorate.
Romney missed out on an available opportunity to capture moderates and take a double-digit percentage of independents by being too extreme. His campaign, and admittedly Obama’s, too, was one of the most divisive in history.
Romney’s one good debate performance was not enough to make up for a campaign that didn’t offer a consistently positive vision for the future.
Indeed, the Republican extremism on social issues was sure to turn off many moderate and independent voters who did not want to vote for Obama again in 2012, but were unwilling to support such a conservative agenda.
For instance, Paul Ryan’s stance on abortion — and the comments made about rape by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock — could certainly have affected a nonpartisan voter’s decision on Tuesday.
That Obama carried moderates, and lost independents by a much smaller margin than predicted, is a repudiation of the extremism of Romney’s campaign. A traditional Republican, especially in the era of the Tea Party, does not offer the kind of thinking and policies that these voters look for.
From here on, candidates who are not moderate and bipartisan will find very little luck at the polls.
Schoen, a pollster and political commentator, is author of the books “Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What it Means for 2012 and Beyond” and “Mad as Hell
November 10, 2012 Romney Is PresidentBy MAUREEN DOWD WASHINGTON
IT makes sense that Mitt Romney and his advisers are still gobsmacked by the fact that they’re not commandeering the West Wing.
(Though, as “The Daily Show” correspondent John Oliver jested, the White House might have been one of the smaller houses Romney ever lived in.)
Team Romney has every reason to be shellshocked. Its candidate, after all, resoundingly won the election of the country he was wooing.
Mitt Romney is the president of white male America.
Maybe the group can retreat to a man cave in a Whiter House, with mahogany paneling, brown leather Chesterfields, a moose head over the fireplace, an elevator for the presidential limo, and one of those men’s club signs on the phone that reads: “Telephone Tips: ‘Just Left,’ 25 cents; ‘On His Way,’ 50 cents; ‘Not here,’ $1; ‘Who?’ $5.”
In its delusional death spiral, the white male patriarchy was so hard core, so redolent of country clubs and Cadillacs, it made little effort not to alienate women. The election had the largest gender gap in the history of the Gallup poll, with Obama winning the vote of single women by 36 percentage points.
As W.’s former aide Karen Hughes put it in Politico on Friday, “If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue.”
Some Republicans conceded they were “a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world” (although “Mad Men” seems too louche for a candidate who doesn’t drink or smoke and who apparently dated only one woman). They also acknowledged that Romney’s strategists ran a 20th-century campaign against David Plouffe’s 21st-century one.
But the truth is, Romney was an unpalatable candidate. And shocking as it may seem, his strategists weren’t blowing smoke when they said they were going to win; they were just clueless.
Until now, Republicans and Fox News have excelled at conjuring alternate realities. But this time, they made the mistake of believing their fake world actually existed. As Fox’s Megyn Kelly said to Karl Rove on election night, when he argued against calling Ohio for Obama: “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”
Romney and Tea Party loonies dismissed half the country as chattel and moochers who did not belong in their “traditional” America. But the more they insulted the president with birther cracks, the more they tried to force chastity belts on women, and the more they made Hispanics, blacks and gays feel like the help, the more these groups burned to prove that, knitted together, they could give the dead-enders of white male domination the boot.
The election about the economy also sounded the death knell for the Republican culture wars.
Romney was still running in an illusory country where husbands told wives how to vote, and the wives who worked had better get home in time to cook dinner. But in the real country, many wives were urging husbands not to vote for a Brylcreemed boss out of a ’50s boardroom whose party was helping to revive a 50-year-old debate over contraception.
Just like the Bushes before him, Romney tried to portray himself as more American than his Democratic opponent. But America’s gallimaufry wasn’t knuckling under to the gentry this time.
If 2008 was about exalting the One, 2012 was about the disenchanted Democratic base deciding: “We are the Ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Last time, Obama lifted up the base with his message of hope and change; this time the base lifted up Obama, with the hope he will change. He has not led the Obama army to leverage power, so now the army is leading Obama.
When the first African-American president was elected, his supporters expected dramatic changes. But Obama feared that he was such a huge change for the country to digest, it was better if other things remained status quo. Michelle played Laura Petrie, and the president was dawdling on promises. Having Joe Biden blurt out his support for gay marriage forced Obama’s hand.
The president’s record-high rate of deporting illegal immigrants infuriated Latinos. Now, on issues from loosening immigration laws to taxing the rich to gay rights to climate change to legalizing pot, the country has leapt ahead, pulling the sometimes listless and ruminating president by the hand, urging him to hurry up.
More women voted than men. Five women were newly elected to the Senate, and the number of women in the House will increase by at least three. New Hampshire will be the first state to send an all-female delegation to Congress. Live Pink or Dye.
Meanwhile, as Bill Maher said, “all the Republican men who talked about lady parts during the campaign, they all lost.”
The voters anointed a lesbian senator, and three new gay congressmen will make a total of five in January. Plus, three states voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, told The Washington Post’s Ned Martel that gays, whose donations helped offset the Republican “super PACs,” wanted to see an openly gay cabinet secretary and an openly gay ambassador to a G-20 nation.
Bill O’Reilly said Obama’s voters wanted “stuff.” He was right. They want Barry to stop bogarting the change.
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On Tuesday night, as I watched the election returns roll in, there were moments of great joy – but one of the happiest moment came after the losing candidate delivered his concession speech and disappeared through the backstage curtains at the Boston Convention Center. I realized at that moment that I would likely never again have to write or even, for that matter, think about Mitt Romney.
Now, I understand that, as a general rule, you don’t hit a guy when he’s down. Romney suffered a crushing defeat, one that according to aides he was completely unprepared for.
But at the end of the day, Romney’s campaign should be assessed in the most accurate possible manner. Its failings should not be sugarcoated or glossed over. Instead, it should be described precisely as it was: One of the most cynical, dishonest and disreputable presidential campaigns in modern American history.
From the Republican primaries to practically the final days of his failed presidential campaign, Romney was either blatantly lying about his opponent’s record, adopting policy positions of convenience that ran counter to his past positions, regularly misleading Americans about his own plans or stirring racial acrimony. I don’t feel sorry that Romney lost on Tuesday night; I feel sorry that a great nation had to be subjected to his presidential campaign.
Think I’m being too harsh? Well, harken back to the GOP primaries and the ad run by Romney ran against Rick Perry. It attacked Perry for allowing illegal immigrants to attend Texas state universities and then used a supporting statement from former Mexican President Vincente Fox as a bludgeon to castigate Perry – as if being endorsed by Mexico’s president were a scarlet letter.
Over the summer, he produced an ad attacking President Obama for lifting work requirements for those on welfare – a charge that not only wasn’t true but was almost certainly intended to promulgate the notion that Obama was providing government benefits to people who didn’t work. Anyone who questions the racial implications of this charge is severely unfamiliar with decades of Republican welfare politics.
Later, when toxic curmudgeon and Romney campaign surrogate John Sununu went on television and insinuated that Obama needed to “learn how to be a real American” he wasn’t upbraided by the Romney campaign - he was sent back out on television to make such cheery arguments like the only reason Colin Powell endorsed Obama was because they both were black.
Then there was the “you didn’t build it” charge – an out-of-context statement uttered by Obama but in the hands of Romney and his minions became proof positive that Obama hates the free market and entrepreneurship.
This was all at pace with Romney’s regular assaults on the truth, such as his oft-repeated charge that Obamacare would lead to government-run health care; that the President had doubled the deficit; that he intended to cut more than $700 billion from Medicare; or that Obama had ventured on a global apology tour. All were untrue, but none of this stopped Romney from repeating them over and over and over again on the campaign trail.
Indeed, Romney finished his campaign on yet another lie – an ad claiming that Chrysler was intending to move its Jeep production to China. Once again, even after being called out by reporters who pointed out that the assertion wasn’t true, Romney was unfazed – as he ran another radio ad that made the exact same false charge.
Now to be fair, President Obama had his share of truth-stretching assertions, but it was hardly endemic to his campaign. For Romney, daily assaults on the truth were not simply par for the course; they were reflective of his campaign’s overall political strategy. Over the past several years, conservatives have created their own alternate reality with their own set of “facts” about President Obama and the federal government. Romney regularly fanned the flames of conservative delusion, recognizing that an angry, misinformed yet enthusiastic GOP electorate was key to his political aspirations. It was a cynical ploy – and in the hands of a more competent politician it might actually have succeeded.
Finally, there was Romney’s extraordinary and unprecedented refusal to engage in traditional campaign transparency. He never released his tax returns. He refused to reveal the names of people who raised money on behalf of his campaign. He was even less forthright about his plans of he were to be elected. The cornerstone of his economic plan was a proposal for a 20% across-the-board tax cut, which he claimed would not explode the deficit and would be paid for by closing loopholes and capping deductions. Never once did he detail what those loopholes or deductions might be.
Quite simply, Romney and his campaign were simply allergic to truth, veracity and openness.
Now as Romney fades off into the sunset he will likely be little remembered. Democrats feel no affection toward him, but neither do Republicans. Romney was a distinctly unloved presidential nominee. During the GOP primaries he was forced into a protracted political struggle against a motley collection of cranks, also-rans and mediocrities. In the end Republicans accepted him as the party standard bearer because frankly they didn’t have much of a choice.
He was just a means to an end for Republicans desperate to defeat the President they hated, a warm body that if he was lucky enough to win the presidency could sign the legislation they pined to enact.
Beyond that, Republicans had little use for Mitt Romney.
Like Michael Dukakis in 1988, Romney will almost certainly fade into political oblivion, rarely to be heard from again in the realm of national politics. In the end, I’d like to feel a little sorry for a man who suffered such a public defeat and humiliation. But sometimes in life, you get what you deserve.
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare
In winning re-election, Barack Obama secured more electoral votes than any Republican presidential candidate in the last 24 years. As of this writing, President Obama also won the popular vote. President Obama also yet again won in states such as Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Iowa — states that Republicans won with equal ease in prior elections.
It is stunning to hear Republicans, who mere months ago boasted about how likely the president was to be defeated, now minimize the significance of the president's victory and suggest he does not have a mandate.
As conservatives frequently and loudly trumpeted throughout the campaign season, no president since FDR has won re-election with unemployment over 7.2%. Now that one has, they want to deny the magnitude of that victory and the reality it reflects — that the American people, nonetheless still frustrated by our stagnant economy, endorsed a continuation of the Democratic policies that are pulling us out of the mess and rejected the Republican ideology that caused it in the first place.
Republicans would be wise to acknowledge the president's very clear and strong mandate and get on board — or else risk alienating the American public even further. -
Republicans can do all the finger pointing they want — at Mitt Romney, his campaign, Hurricane Sandy, whatever — but the fact is that with a weak economy and sagging approval ratings, President Obama was highly vulnerable for defeat if Republicans could propose popular alternatives. But this election proved those Republican alternatives wildly unpopular.
The president now has the wind at his back, propelling a Democratic vision that balances a strong private sector with a supportive government and invests in the middle class while asking the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share.
Republican leaders have a choice. They can decide yet again to attack and obstruct the president on day one, or they can work toward bipartisan solutions that keep American on the path to recovery.
Yet while Republicans retained control of the House because of factionalized district elections, make no mistake about it — House Republicans have a dreadfully low approval rating and polls show Americans are more likely to blame Republicans than Democrats for gridlock in Washington.
Further, Tuesday's widespread defeat of Tea Party extremists — from Reps. Joe Walsh (IL) and Allen West (FL) to GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in Indiana (a state that still voted 54% for Romney) — signals that the GOP's rigid adherence to social conservativism and trickle down economics just does not resonate with the American electorate.
Much has been made about the shifting demographics of our nation and the resulting crisis that looms for the Republican party. Indeed, while George W. Bush won 44% of Latino voters in 2004 and John McCain won 31% of Latinos in 2008, Mitt Romney garnered a mere 27% of the Latino vote. And young voters, who actually improved on their already-record turnout numbers in 2008, by and large voted Democrat.
These trends, and the fact that voters in three states (Washington, Maine and Maryland) voted for marriage equality while voters in one state (Minnesota) defeated an anti-marriage ballot measure, suggests that the electorate is moving further and further away from core Republican Party policies that are hostile toward immigration reform, gay rights, the environment and other issues about which these voters deeply care.
But while Republicans certainly have a big problem in the fast-approaching new demographic climate, the fact is that Republicans already have a big problem now. They lost abysmally in the current demographic environment. After Tuesday's election, anyone who still thinks America is a center-right nation should have their head examined.
My colleague Dick Morris notably predicted that Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama in a “landslide” winning 325 electoral votes to a projected 213 for Obama. Now that the president won with 303 to Romney's 206 electoral votes, Morris calls Obama's victory "a squeaker." But if Florida is declared for President Obama — which at this writing looks likely — the president's 332 electoral votes will make his already wide margin of victory even larger than what Morris considered would be a landslide for Romney.
That ain't no squeaker, folks.
Conservatives would have readily insisted on a Romney mandate even in the face of a smaller margin. But after four years of extraordinarily baseless and nasty attacks against the president, conservatives can't even bring themselves to simply acknowledge that the president won and that his victory is not the result of voter fraud or Chris Christie but the basic fact that the American voters chose liberalism over conservativism. Period.
Republicans would be wise to acknowledge the president's very clear and strong mandate and get on board — or else risk alienating the American public even further.
Months before the election, the conservative radio host made a prediction: "If Obama wins, the Republican Party is going to try to maneuver things so conservatives get blamed."
And that's exactly what's happening.
(Also on POLITICO: Tea party leader: Stop blame game)
On the night of Nov. 6, shortly after President Barack Obama won reelection, Steve Schmidt went on NBC News and called on GOP leaders to "stand up" against the extreme elements in the party that the Republican strategist believes are leading it down the wrong path, even singling out Limbaugh by name. Days later on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough criticized Republicans for taking cues from unnamed pundits "who make tens of millions of dollars engaging in niche marketing" that the host complained provides a misleading picture of the nation's electorate. Columnist David Frum last week slammed the "conservative entertainment complex" that had "fleeced, exploited and lied to" Republicans, ensuing doom on Election Day.
"These people have made politics a theater for identity politics for a segment of America, rather than a way to solve collective problems," Frum told POLITICO, referring to conservative media commentators. "What is happening now, and it's disturbing, is that this complex has sold the idea that conservatives are the real majority in America. That claim has been exposed as false. But they are turning on the country and leading their viewers toward alienation and rejection."
These were the opening salvos in a larger and escalating civil war playing out now between moderate and far-right-wing pundits. After a disastrous performance in the 2012 elections, the Republican party has come face-to-face with the new demographic reality: "The white establishment is now the minority," as Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said on election night. Republican support among old, white men can no longer offset their lack of support among women, the young, African-Americans, Asians and the fast-growing Hispanic populations -- all key groups in Obama's victory, some observers say.
But which path to take for the GOP toward broader appeal -- doubling down on a core economic and family values conservative message that transcends identity politics or polishing the party's image by recruiting more women and minority candidates and adopting more moderate positions, particularly on immigration reform -- has exposed a sharp rift in the conservative media.
As moderates see it, the "conservative entertainment complex" of talk radio, Fox News, and right-wing blogs has an outsized and potentially fatal influence over the party, alienating Latinos with crass solutions to illegal immigration ("self-deportation") and insulting women with disrespectful remarks about abortion and birth control.
"If you look at the Republican Party over the last couple of years, it is a tail-wag-the-dog story with the power and the influence of the conservative entertainment complex over elected leadership," Schmidt, the senior campaign strategist on Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, told POLITICO. "Ronald Reagan would have been appalled by this uncivil tone. Conservatism with a smile has appeal. Conservatism with a snarl is a voter repellent."
Far from accepting this premise, the far right is retrenching.
The principles of conservatism are as strong as ever, they say, it's just that an out-of-touch Massachusetts moderate like Mitt Romney didn't know how to sell it. As a result, misinformed "entitlement mentality" voters looking for government handouts turned out for Obama. Conservatives certainly need to make a stronger case, they argue, but the last thing they should do is abandon their basic beliefs and "pander" to minority groups to win elections.
"Contrary to what the usual suspects on the Left and mushy middle are saying, Romney's loss is not an indictment of conservatism," Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk radio host and Fox News guest host, wrote on her blog.
"Conservative talk radio continues to thrive, moderate Republican candidates continue to lose," Ingraham later told POLITICO. "Blaming talk radio for the problems in the GOP elite is hilarious and typical of people who want to continue to get paid to give bad advice to campaigns."
The very public argument under way -- after all, the players have media platforms that give them a megaphone for their views -- has significant implications for the future of the GOP. The right has a deep, diverse, and highly influential bench of opinion makers, and its pundits are moving to expand their influence in a sphere suffering from a lack of political leadership from its elected officials and organizational figures.
"There are no Republican party leaders," John Podhoretz, the conservative New York Post columnist and editor of Commentary magazine, told POLITICO. "Leaders are self-appointed now."
As long as figures like Limbaugh command large audiences and media attention, they can wield more power from their studios than many lawmakers can from Capitol Hill -- which is part of the reason why so few Republicans spoke out against the radio show host when he called Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke "a slut." But it's these and other controversial remarks -- as when Limbaugh associates "appealing to Latinos" with "illegal immigration," or "appealing to women" with "abortion and birth control" -- that have GOP media moderates calling for a different approach.
"For too many swing voters, conservatism has come to mean crazy statements, intolerence and loony candidates -- and too often, the elected leadership is afraid of a talk radio industry where the hosts define who is and is not a conservative," said Schmidt.
"When people in politics had real connections with voters ... 15 minutes of Rush Limbaugh -- a little porn never hurt anybody," Frum said. "But when he becomes the king-maker of the party, then you have a problem."
Indeed, after election night, it was conservative pundits, not lawmakers and party powerbrokers, who led the charge this week for a more tolerant immigration policy. Charles Krauthammer, the syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor, said Wednesday that "Republicans can change their position, be a lot more open to actual amnesty with enforcement -- amnesty, everything short of citizenship -- and make a bold change in their policy." In a surprise move that drew widespread notice among conservatives, Fox News host Sean Hannity went a step further the next day, telling his wide audience of radio listeners that his views on immigration have "evolved" and he now supports a "pathway to citizenship."
But if demographics are forcing the right's hand on what Krauthammer calls "the Latino problem," he and others -- Hannity, Limbaugh, and Ingraham included -- remain staunchly opposed to the suggestion that demographic changes and Republican losses in 2012 require those on the right to slide toward the middle.
"[Republicans] lose and immediately the chorus begins,"Krauthammer wrote in a column on Thursday. "Republicans must change or die. A rump party of white America, it must adapt to evolving demographics or forever be the minority. The only part of this that is even partially true regards Hispanics."
"The usual suspects are out, and they're saying, 'Rush, we gotta reach out now to the Hispanics and reach out to the minorities, blacks,'" Limbaugh said on his radio program last week. "Everybody says that we need to reach out to minorities, but we have plenty of highly achieved minorities in our party, and they are in prominent positions, and they all have a common story."
Romney's failure, Limbaugh argued, wasn't because of the far right. It was because of this: Obama "successfully painted Romney's policies as caring primarily about the rich ... successfully convinced roughly half the country that his policies will favor the middle class," the radio show host said.
Ingraham's staff made a similar argument on her blog. "Are the defeats the fault of the GOP and its candidates, and do they now need to pander to minorities and update their platform to make it more appealing?" they wrote. "What exactly is wrong with conservative principles? Anything? No. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. We don't need to change to appeal to voters. We need voters and their mindsets to change."
Behind the right's retrenchment is a belief that they shouldn't "pander" to those demographic groups that voted heavily for Obama simply because, some of those on the right claim, many of the president's supporters were drawn by the promise of continued government handouts.
"The voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff," O'Reilly said on election night. "You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?"
(Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Krauthammer and Hannity could not be reached for comment.)
"Until the entitlement mentality is destroyed, the Democratic Party of Redistribution will always win," Ingraham's staff wrote on her blog. "If voters put the good of the country ahead of their personal wants, they will see everyone benefiting, themselves included. Let's implement some trickle-down patriotism before it's too late."
Frum, Schmidt, and other Republican moderates see this rhetoric as poisonous and, more importantly, false.
"The federal government spends seven times as much money on people over 65 as it does on people under 19. The Republican base are the people who get the most from the federal government," Frum said. "You can't think if you reject facts. You can't refer to minority groups as mendicants or moochers simply because they want the economy to function. We need to insult fewer people."
"When Gen. Petraeus took over Iraq, he said his goal was to wake up every morning with fewer enemies and more friends. Our goal should be to wake up with more friends and less opponents," Schmidt said. "Political parties should not be in the business of picking fights with the gay community, we should not be picking fights with Latinos. We should talk about how the free enterprise system works. We should make a value statement about conservatism, that our path is the best way to advance your family and community."
Podhoretz described "a middle path between Steve Schmidt and Rush Limbaugh."
"If you look at all the data, close to half of the U.S. considers itself pro-life. It's nonsensical to argue that positions that stand at a parity with their opposing views should be eliminated from the national stage -- it's a perverse idea, and it won't happen," he argued. "That's not the way things are. This is a representative system, and those voices will be heard, not silenced."
But, he added, "The ultimate truth about this election is that if you do things that convince voters you are deliberately insulting them, then they are not going to like you. Middle ground means holding firm to basic principles while finding a way to talk about them that will not only appeal to more people but will actually convey the justice, moral power, strength and elevating quality of these ideas."
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who now hosts his own radio show, echoed the sentiment.
"The real conservative policy is attractive to minorities," Huckabee told POLITICO. "Our problem isn't the product, it's the box we put it in. Our message should not be 'tailored' to a specific demographic group, but presented to empower the individual American, whatever the color, gender or ethnicity."
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare
When historians look back on Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, one trend will be clear: no Republican candidate ever ran a similar campaign again. For four decades, from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan through the two Bush Presidencies, the Republican Party won the White House by amassing large margins among white voters. Nixon summoned the silent majority. Reagan cemented this bloc of voters, many of whom were former Democrats. Both Bushes won the Presidency by relying on broad support from Reagan Democrats. In that time, Republicans transformed the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, and they held the White House for twenty-eight out of forty years. Last Tuesday, Romney won three-fifths of the white vote, matching or exceeding what several winning Presidential candidates, including Reagan in 1980 and Bush in 1988, achieved, but it wasn’t enough. The white share of the electorate, which was eighty-seven per cent in 1992, has steadily declined by about three points in every Presidential election since then. At the present rate, by 2016, whites will make up less than seventy per cent of voters. Romney’s loss to Barack Obama brought an end not just to his eight-year quest for the Presidency but to the Republican Party’s assumptions about the American electorate.
Some interpretations of the election results by conservatives were particularly dark. Mary Matalin, the Republican commentator, wrote that Obama was a “political narcissistic sociopath” who “leveraged fear and ignorance” to win. On Tuesday evening, before the race was called, Bill O’Reilly, after acknowledging that “the demographics are changing,” offered the following explanation for an Obama victory: “It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty per cent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. Whereby twenty years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority.” He added, “You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama.”
But far from Fox News Channel’s newsroom in Manhattan and the insular world of the Beltway’s conservative commentariat, one significant element of the Republican Party has for the past two years been grappling with and adapting to the demographic future that was so starkly revealed by last Tuesday’s outcome. On Halloween, less than a week before Election Day, I rode with Ted Cruz, now the senator-elect from Texas, who was folded into the back seat of a Toyota Corolla as an aide drove him from San Antonio to Austin. Cruz, who has a thick head of pomaded, neatly combed hair, is a former college debate champion and Supreme Court litigator, and is a commanding public speaker. That morning, he had addressed a small crowd of employees eating Kit Kats and candy corn at Valero, a major oil refiner whose headquarters are in San Antonio. As he told the story of his father’s journey from Cuba to Texas, the room fell silent. Cruz, who is forty-one, eschews teleprompters, instead roaming across the stage and speaking slowly and dramatically, with well-rehearsed sweeps of his hands. He is one of several political newcomers who offer hope to Republicans after a disappointing election.
from the issue cartoon bank e-mail this In the car, sipping a Diet Dr Pepper while he talked about his background and discussed the future of the Party, Cruz was more down to earth than his Hermès tie and Patek Philippe watch suggested. He said that he had relaxed the previous evening at his hotel by watching “Cowboys and Aliens.” “It is every bit as stupid as it sounds,” he said. “But it actually has a really good cast.”
Cruz, a lawyer who was solicitor general of Texas from 2003 to 2008, combines a compelling personal biography with philosophically pure conservatism. He won his Senate primary in an upset, earlier this year, partly by adhering to the secure-the-borders mentality popular with most Texas Republicans. He promised to triple the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and to build a larger border wall than his opponent proposed. In January, when he is sworn in, he will become one of the most right-wing members of the U.S. Senate. A Tea Party favorite who also happens to be Hispanic, Cruz is viewed by many as a key figure in helping to transform the Party. According to exit polls, Hispanics, one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, made up ten per cent of the electorate, their highest share in American history, and Romney lost the Hispanic vote to Obama by a margin of seventy-one per cent to twenty-seven per cent, the lowest level of support for a Republican since 1996.
Cruz is a first-generation citizen. His father, Rafael, as a teen-ager in Cuba, fought alongside Castro’s revolutionaries against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was jailed and beaten by the regime. “My grandmother said that his suit, which had started out bright white, you couldn’t see a spot of white on it,” Cruz said. “It was just stained with blood and mud, and his teeth were dangling from his mouth.” Rafael left for the United States, and in 1957 started at the University of Texas on a student visa. He continued to support Castro. “He learned English very quickly and began going around to local Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs and speaking about the Revolution and raising money for Castro,” Cruz said. “He was a young revolutionary. He would get Austin businesspeople to write checks.”
When Castro came to power, in 1959, the elder Cruz quickly grew disillusioned. His younger sister fought in the counter-revolution and was tortured by the new regime. Rafael returned to Cuba in 1960 to see his family, and was shaken by what Castro’s Communist dictatorship had wrought. “When my father got back to Austin,” Cruz said, “he sat down and made a list of every place he’d gone to speak, and he made a point of going back to each of them and standing in front of them and saying, ‘I owe you an apology. I misled you. I took your money and I sent it to evil ends.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t do so knowingly, but I did so nonetheless, and for that I’m truly sorry.’ When I was a kid, my dad told me that story over and over again. To me, that always defined character: to have the courage to go back and apologize.”
Rafael made sure that his son entered politics from the opposite side of the political spectrum. In high school, Ted became involved with a group known as the Free Market Education Foundation, which introduced him to the writings of conservative economic philosophers such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Frédéric Bastiat, and Ludwig von Mises. Cruz travelled to Rotary and Kiwanis groups in Texas as his father had a generation earlier. But, instead of expounding on Castro, he competed against other teen-agers in speech contests; the contestants delivered twenty minutes of memorized remarks about free-market economics. He soon joined a spinoff group, the Constitutional Corroborators, and learned a mnemonic device for memorizing an abbreviated version of the Constitution, which he and other club members would write out on easels for lunchtime crowds of Rotarians or local political groups around Texas. By the time he graduated from high school, he had given several dozen speeches across the state.
“It was transformational,” Cruz said. “The two strongest influences on my life were that experience and the personal experience of my family’s story and my father’s flight from Cuba.”
Cruz already has had a remarkably successful career in law and politics. He is the first to point out that he has excelled at almost everything he has set out to do: the early speech contests (“I was one of the city winners all four years when I was in high school”); academics (“I was the first person from my high school ever to go to any Ivy League college”); his Princeton debate career (“I was the No. 1 speaker”); his time at Harvard Law School (“I was on three different law journals, was a primary editor of the Harvard Law Review, and an executive editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, and then a founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review”); his clerkship, from 1995 to 1996, for Judge Michael Luttig (“widely considered the top conservative federal appellate judge in the country”) and, from 1996 to 1997, for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist (“he and I were very, very close”); his five and a half years as solicitor general (“ended up over the years really winning some of the biggest cases in the country—year after year after year”); and his record of arguing nine cases before the Supreme Court (“it is the most of any practicing lawyer in the state of Texas”).
Cruz’s coming challenge is his biggest yet. As with other Hispanic Republicans elected recently—New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez; Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval; Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida—his last name and heritage, along with his conservative leanings, assure that Republicans will look to him to help lead them out of the demographic wilderness. He might even run for President in 2016. Though he was born in Canada, he informed me that he was qualified to serve. “The Constitution requires that one be a natural-born citizen,” he said, “and my mother was a U.S. citizen when I was born.”
As a senator from Texas, the largest and most important state in the Republican firmament, Cruz has a special role in the post-Romney debate. At the Presidential level, Texas has thirty-eight electoral votes, second only to California, which has fifty-five. It anchors the modern Republican Party, in the same way that California and New York anchor the Democratic Party. But, Cruz told me, the once unthinkable idea of Texas becoming a Democratic state is now a real possibility.
“If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community,” he said, “in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state.” He ticked off some statistics: in 2004, George W. Bush won forty-four per cent of the Hispanic vote nationally; in 2008, John McCain won just thirty-one per cent. On Tuesday, Romney fared even worse.
“In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat,” he said. “If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’ ”
At the headquarters of the Republican Party of Texas, in Austin, an observer finds it difficult to take Cruz’s warning seriously. One wall of the waiting room is plastered with framed photographs of Republicans who hold statewide office in Texas. Governor Rick Perry’s face is in the center; surrounding him is the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, various commissioners—which are powerful positions in Texas—and numerous judges. Every one of the twenty-seven statewide offices is held by a Republican, as are both U.S. Senate seats and twenty-four out of thirty-six House seats. At the state capitol, across the street from the G.O.P. headquarters, Republicans control the State Senate and House. Texas is essentially a one-party state.
But others share Cruz’s alarm that this could quickly change. Steve Munisteri, the fifty-four-year-old chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, whose father was an Italian immigrant, grew up in Houston and has been involved in state Republican politics since 1972, when Texas was solidly Democratic. Munisteri saw how racial politics transformed Texas, which gradually shifted from one party to the other when conservative white Democrats fled to the G.O.P. The exodus began in 1964, the year President Lyndon Johnson, the former Texas senator, passed the Civil Rights Act. “There goes the South for a generation,” he is said to have remarked, as he signed the bill into law.
Texas was slower than the other Southern states to see its politics invert. When George H. W. Bush was elected to Congress from Houston, in 1966, he was one of only two Republicans in the House delegation. Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976. But in 1978 Bill Clements became the state’s first Republican governor in a hundred and four years. A young operative named Karl Rove worked on his campaign and joined his administration as a top adviser. Clements was voted out of office four years later, but, with Rove at the helm of his next effort, he returned in 1986. Since then, the state has become steadily more Republican. The election of the Democrat Ann Richards, who won the governorship in 1990 and served just one term before being defeated by Rove’s next gubernatorial candidate, George W. Bush, was something of a fluke. She had a narrow victory against a weak candidate, who, among other campaign missteps, made a joke about rape and during one encounter refused to shake Richards’s hand.
In 2010, Munisteri, a lawyer who has had stints in real estate and as a color commentator for boxing matches, took over the state Party, winning the chairmanship from an establishment that had all but given up on appealing to Hispanics in the methodical way that George W. Bush did as the state’s governor from 1995 to 2000. Munisteri has the look that most political operatives seem to attain in middle age: rumpled, and filled with nervous energy. “I’m a natural worrywart,” he said.
He was suffering from an allergy attack, and while fighting back a fit of coughing he searched through heaps of papers strewn behind his desk and handed me some charts that foretold the demise of the Republican Party, first in Texas and then nationally. One graph showed four lines falling from left to right, measuring Republican voting trends in Texas. “Look at that; it’ll show you the decline of the Republican Party over ten years,” he said. Actually, there was a significant bump up in 2010, a gift from President Obama, who helped reverse the slide by energizing the Tea Party movement, but what frightened him was the downward slope of the lines from 2000 to 2008. There were fewer and fewer white voters as a percentage of the electorate.
“If I say to you, your life depends on picking whether the following state is Democrat or Republican, what would you pick?” Munisteri asked. “The state is fifty-five per cent traditional minority. Thirty-eight per cent is Hispanic, eleven per cent is African-American, and the rest is Asian-American, and two-thirds of all births are in a traditional minority family. And if I was to tell you that, nationwide, last time, Republicans got only roughly four per cent of the African-American vote and about a third of the Hispanic vote, would you say that state is Democrat or Republican? Well, that’s Texas. We are the only majority-minority state in the union that people consider Republican.”
Immigration from Mexico only partly accounts for the change. More than a million Americans have moved to Texas in the past decade, many from traditionally Democratic states. More than three hundred and fifty thousand Californians have arrived in the past five years; since 2005, over a hundred thousand Louisianans permanently relocated to Texas, mostly in Houston, after Hurricane Katrina. The population is also skewing younger, which means more Democratic. But Munisteri is more preoccupied by the racial and ethnic changes. He turned to a chart showing Texas’s population by ethnic group over the next few decades. A red line, representing the white population, plunged from almost fifty-five per cent, in 2000, to almost twenty-five per cent, in 2040; a blue line, the Hispanic population, climbed from thirty-two per cent to almost sixty per cent during the same period. He pointed to the spot where the two lines crossed, as if it augured a potential apocalypse. “This shows when Hispanics will become the largest group in the state,” he said. “That’s somewhere in 2014. We’re almost at 2013!” He added, “You cannot have a situation with the Hispanic community that we’ve had for forty years with the African-American community, where it’s a bloc of votes that you almost write off. You can’t do that with a group of citizens that are going to compose a majority of this state by 2020, and which will be a plurality of this state in about a year and a half.”
He told me that he had a slide that he wouldn’t show me, because he didn’t want Democrats to know about his calculations. He said that it depicted the percentage of the white vote that Republicans would have to attract if they continued to do as poorly as they have among Hispanics.
“By 2040, you’d have to get over a hundred per cent of the Anglo vote,” he said.
“Over a hundred per cent is not possible,” I offered.
“That’s my point!”
Munisteri travels around the country with his slide show, urgently arguing that Republicans will wither away if they don’t adapt. In the spring, he briefed Republican members of Texas’s congressional delegation. After half an hour, a congressman rose to summarize the material.
“What you’re saying is that if the Republican Party is not doing its job attracting Hispanics to the Party, the Party in a very short time nationally and in Texas will be toast?” Munisteri replied, “That’s it, Congressman.”
Munisteri has been doing all he can to begin to alter the trajectory of Republicans in Texas. One of his first projects has been to rebrand the Party. For years, Texas delegates to the Republican National Convention have worn cowboy hats and loud shirts paid for by the state G.O.P., making them instantly recognizable on the Convention floor and the subject of a disproportionate number of photographs. It’s not the image that Munisteri wants to project. “This state has a population that’s so much more diverse than the rest of the country is aware of,” he said. “Other people think there are cowboys down here and horses and it’s a bunch of Billy Bobs.” This year, he refused to fund the attire that his delegates regularly wore. “I said, ‘We’re not buying hats and shirts, because I’m tired of having to go to the R.N.C. and have everybody think we dress like that in Texas,’ ” he said. But the delegates rebelled, and some Republican donors decided to buy the outfits for them anyway.
Munisteri, who as chairman is not supposed to push his own policy ideas on the Party, has spent a lot of time trying to get Republicans to sound more welcoming to Hispanics. In one sense, he is simply returning to his party’s recent past. As governor, George W. Bush was a zealous advocate of reaching out to Hispanics. He supported bilingual education and was in favor of government services, like health care and education, for unauthorized immigrants. As President, he strongly supported an immigration-reform proposal that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally. He saw it as both business-friendly and as a way for the Party to attract Hispanic support and build a more durable coalition than relying disproportionately on white voters.
By 2006, the proposal had become anathema to most conservatives, who ridiculed it as “amnesty for illegals.” When Bush tried to push it through Congress, conservatives defeated it, following an often toxic debate that reversed all of Bush’s gains among Hispanics. In 2008, McCain, who had sponsored the Bush legislation, lost Hispanics by sixty-seven per cent to thirty-one per cent. In 2012, Romney, who had once seemed to support the Bush legislation, moved far to the right on immigration, calling on undocumented citizens to “self-deport” and attacking Governor Perry for signing legislation, in 2001, that allowed unauthorized immigrants in Texas to qualify for in-state tuition rates.
Munisteri advises Republicans in Texas to talk about Hispanics as an integral part of the state’s history, whose ancestors, in many cases, arrived in Texas long before those of much of the Anglo population. On immigration, he says, the Republican base needs “reëducating,” so that conservatives understand that immigration is essential to the country’s prosperity.
In his effort to tug the Texas G.O.P. into the future, Munisteri hired David Zapata, a young evangelical Christian from a border town, as his Hispanic-outreach director. And he has embarked on a micro-targeting project that uses consumer data to find Hispanics who don’t vote for Republicans but exhibit buying patterns that suggest they might be conservative, such as subscribing to Guns & Ammo or giving money to pro-life causes. Since 2010, he has succeeded in getting Republicans elected in some of the most Hispanic areas of the state.
Munisteri’s interest in making the Party a home for Hispanics and thus saving his party is partly a result of his own experience. He grew up in the state in the nineteen-sixties, when it was overwhelmingly white. “There was very little diversity at Anglo high schools,” he said. “And I’m not Anglo. When I was younger, not often, but enough, I was subjected to people who didn’t like me just because I was Italian. You don’t ever get to find common ground with other people if they think you’re prejudiced or racist against them.” He added, “If I overhear you tell a Wop joke . . . I mean, personally, I won’t vote for people that I think are prejudiced against Italian-Americans.”
Even though many Republicans agree that the Party must become more hospitable to Hispanics, there is little consensus on how best to do so and still qualify as conservative. Ted Cruz argues that Hispanics can be won over by appeals to traditional values of hard work. “I’ve never in my life seen a Hispanic panhandler,” he said, as we rode out of San Antonio. “In the Hispanic community, it would be considered shameful to be out on the street begging.” He added, “They have conservative values. Hispanics don’t want to be on the dole. They’re not here to be dependent on government.” He rejected the idea that Republicans needed to go back to the Bush-era policies on immigration. “I think those that say that, for Republicans to connect with the Hispanic community, they need to adopt amnesty and not secure the borders, I think that’s foolishness.”
Many Republicans in Texas suggested that the fact that Cruz is Hispanic is enough for him to win votes in that community. To prove the point, some mentioned Quico Canseco, a Republican who won a Texas House seat in 2010 in a Democratic district by running as a Tea Party conservative, and whose reëlection bid this year was closely contested. His district is sixty-six per cent Hispanic and spreads some six hundred miles, from San Antonio to the western edge of Texas. It includes most of the state’s border with Mexico. Like Cruz, Canseco, both in 2010 and in 2012, ran as an opponent of the kind of immigration reforms championed by George W. Bush. A few days before the election, when I interviewed Canseco, who is the son of Mexican immigrants and was born in Laredo, a border town that is ninety-six per cent Hispanic, he gave no hint of moderation on any of the immigration issues that have become so important to conservative Republicans in the past few years.
Canseco told me that he didn’t have any problem with how Romney talked about immigration, and he said that he opposed the Obama Administration’s policy on protecting some unauthorized immigrants from deportation. “I’m very much against open borders, because we are a sovereign nation, and I’m against amnesty,” he said. Instead of running on immigration reform, Canseco emphasized social issues. In the final stretch of the campaign, he mailed a bilingual flyer to voters which asserted that Democrats “said no to God” at their Convention, “want to provide abortions for underage girls,” and “want marriage to be between man & man.” The three accusations were illustrated with a picture of Jesus, one of a baby, and a photograph of two men kissing passionately.
But to speak of the “Hispanic population” is an oversimplification, akin to collectively describing the waves of immigrants that arrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as European-Americans. In Florida, Cuban-Americans tend to vote for Republicans and Puerto Ricans tend to vote for Democrats. In Texas, the Tejanos have deep roots in the state and tend to be more open to the Republican Party; the more recent immigrants from across the border are known simply as Mexican-Americans, who largely came to the United States after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, when Mexico established a robust welfare state, and are more commonly Democrats.
While Cruz and Canseco embrace a Tea Party approach to the G.O.P.’s Hispanic problem, elsewhere in Texas a different strategy is being tested. One afternoon, I met with Art Martinez de Vara, the mayor of Von Ormy, a town of thirteen hundred residents, southwest of San Antonio, which dates to the eighteenth century. His ancestors arrived in San Antonio, from colonial Mexico, in the seventeen-nineties. “I have family that fought at the Alamo,” he said proudly, as we sat in a local campaign office in a strip mall. Martinez de Vara is thirty-seven, with a Chris Christie-size midsection, and he has arguably been more influential within the Party than any other immigration reformer of the past few years.
In 2008, Martinez de Vara co-founded the Latino National Republican Coalition of Texas, now called the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans. “A lot of people don’t like the word ‘Latino,’ ” he said. “They find it offensive, or too Californian.” The group recruits and supports Hispanics to run at the local level in South Texas. In our conversation, he criticized both Cruz’s and Canseco’s approaches to their campaigns. When I asked whether Cruz’s Latin surname was enough for him to win over Hispanics, one of Martinez de Vara’s friends, Gina Castañeda, a political activist who manages local campaigns, interrupted us. She said, “In the Hispanic or Mexican community, there’s some—” She hesitated. “How can I say it nicely? They don’t like Cubans. Or Puerto Ricans.” Martinez de Vara agreed. “Even within Mexico, they look down upon Caribbean Hispanics,” he said.
But his real problem with Cruz and Canseco was their view on immigration. During Cruz’s primary against the state’s lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, Martinez de Vara and his group stayed out of the race. “We didn’t endorse,” he said. “They both competed over who was the most extreme on immigration, which we weren’t that interested in. It was about who was the most conservative.” He mentioned that among the jobs on Cruz’s long résumé was campaign adviser to Bush. “Cruz was part of the Bush team when it proposed immigration reform,” he said, noting with frustration how Republicans have flipped on the issue in recent years. “He was one of his chief policy advisers.”
Martinez de Vara argued that jobs, education, and crime ultimately are more important issues than immigration to Hispanics in Texas. Still, he insisted that Republicans have to move back to the pro-reform positions of the Bush years. “There’s a small faction of the Republican Party that opposes this at every level,” he said. “What are they proposing? A border wall? That’s massive confiscation of private property. We oppose that in every other context. It’s a big-government, big-spending project. We oppose that in every other context. Arming the government with greater police powers? We oppose that in every other context. This is big-government liberalism, and for conservatives it just makes no sense.”
In 2010, the platform of the Republican Party of Texas included some of the country’s most restrictionist language on immigration. It referred repeatedly to “illegal aliens” and called for an “unimpeded deportation process,” elimination of all government benefits to unauthorized immigrants, and the adoption of policies that would mirror the controversial “Show me your papers” provision of Arizona’s immigration law.
Early this year, Martinez de Vara and his allies from the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans decided that they would rewrite the state Party platform on immigration. “There was a minority in the Party that was vocal and basically hijacking that issue,” he said. “And so we took it to the convention.” The Republican Party of Texas’s convention includes some nine thousand delegates. They met in early June, in Fort Worth. Martinez de Vara pushed new language through a subcommittee on immigration that he chaired and then through a full committee. Munisteri, the Party chairman, made sure that the issue received a thorough hearing, a move that angered a significant faction of his party. The debate came down to a contentious floor fight in which the new language was challenged four times. Martinez de Vara rose at one point and delivered the soliloquy that he gave me about how building a wall and confiscating property was big government. “When I said that on the floor of the Republican Party of Texas convention,” he said, “with nine thousand of the most diehard conservatives, people who paid two or three thousand dollars to go to Fort Worth and participate, I got seventy-five per cent of the vote. Because they all know it’s true!”
The platform no longer refers to “illegal aliens” and no longer has any language that could be construed as calling for Arizona-style laws. Instead, it proposes a “common ground” to find market-based solutions and “the application of effective, practical and reasonable measures to secure our borders.” Rather than expelling eleven million immigrants, it says, “Mass deportation of these individuals would neither be equitable nor practical.” Most significant, Martinez de Vara won adoption of language calling for a temporary-worker program. At around the time that Mitt Romney was winning the primary by attacking his opponents for being too soft on immigration, the largest state Republican Party in America was ridding its platform of its most restrictionist immigration language and calling for a program to allow unauthorized immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally and work.
A few months later, Martinez de Vara and his group took the fight to the national Convention, in Tampa, where he knew almost nobody. His main antagonist there was Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state and the leader of the movement to spread Arizona-style laws. Martinez de Vara wasn’t on the national committee, so he buttonholed sympathetic members in any way he could. “We had to hustle,” he said. “We were following people to the bathroom.” Although it was little noted at the time, Martinez de Vara and his national allies won the adoption of language saying that Republicans would “consider” a new guest-worker program. That language sits uneasily beside language about building a double-layered fence, stopping all federal funding for benefits for “illegals,” and dismissing the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona’s law. “You have Kobach’s language alongside our language of a national guest-worker program,” Martinez de Vara said. “Which is huge. It was a massive shift. We got it in there.”
The victories have emboldened him. While Cruz and Munisteri and many other Republicans fret about losing the Hispanic vote, Martinez de Vara sees a future in which he and Hispanic Republicans like him inevitably take over the Party. He already talks about the Anglo population as a minority, one that will have to adapt to what’s coming in Texas politics. “If you’re coming from the Anglo community, you may be seeing the death of your party and your political power and the way you understand things,” he said. “You step on our side, the future looks bright. We know that we have so much in common with the Anglo community; we’re not going to alienate it. And in 2040 Texas will be ten per cent African-American, twenty-five per cent Anglo, roughly ten per cent Asian, and the rest is going to be Hispanic. We can build a governing coalition of conservatives among all those people. It’s just a different Republican Party than exists today.”
Back in the headquarters of the Republican Party of Texas, I visited with David Zapata, the state Party’s liaison to Hispanics. His parents are from Mexico. (When I asked him the name of their town, he said that he didn’t want it published. “The cartels,” he explained.) Zapata, who is thirty, didn’t learn English until high school; he speaks with an accent. His office was decorated with a photograph of George W. Bush and a Bush-Cheney campaign sign. There was no similarly prominent Romney memorabilia. “I’m a big Bush fan,” he told me with a smile. “Not for everything else—just for the emphasis that he gave to the Hispanic population.”
The Bush-family legacy looms over the Party’s relationship with Hispanics and may yet play a role in shaping it. As governor, George W. Bush won half the Hispanic vote when he was reëlected, in 1998. In Florida, his brother Jeb, the former governor of that state, who is frequently discussed as a potential Presidential candidate, was also popular. “Look at the Jeb Bush model, which is what we try to follow,” Munisteri said. “Jeb Bush got a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote in Florida than Marco Rubio, who is of Hispanic descent.” Next spring, Jeb is scheduled to publish a book outlining his views on immigration reform. In Texas, Jeb’s thirty-six-year-old son, George P., whose mother, Columba, grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, has recently become a rising voice on the issue of Hispanic outreach. In 2010, he started the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a group similar to Martinez de Vara’s, which recruits, trains, and funds Hispanic Republicans to run for office. Bush works at a private-equity firm that invests in the oil and gas industry, but his allies in the state told me that he would likely run for statewide office in 2014, and the day after the election he filed the paperwork to do so. “He’s got the talent, and the name, and he’s Hispanic,” said George P.’s friend Juan Hernandez, a Republican consultant who works closely with him. “What a combination! A Hispanic Bush! And he’s moreno—he’s dark.” Bush’s policy views are opaque, but he has surrounded himself with immigration reformers. For instance, Hernandez has come under attack from conservatives for his liberal views on the issue. On the other hand, Bush endorsed Cruz in his contentious primary. He could serve as a bridge between diehard conservatives and immigration reformers in the way that his uncle and his father did.
Despite the doomsday scenarios outlined by people like Munisteri, the Texas G.O.P. is far ahead of the national Party in dealing with the future. Two strategies are being tested. One is the kind of Republican identity politics exemplified by Cruz: the Party can continue its ideological shift to the right, especially on immigration, and appeal to Hispanics with candidates who share their ethnicity and perhaps speak their language. The more difficult path would see the G.O.P. retreat from its current position on immigration and take the direction advocated by Martinez de Vara and the Bush family.
If neither of these strategies succeeds, the consequences are clear. California was once a competitive state, the place that launched Ronald Reagan, but the G.O.P. there has now been reduced to a rump party, ideologically extreme and preponderately white. Republicans hold no statewide offices. After Tuesday, the Democrats also have a super-majority in the legislature, making it easier to raise taxes and overcome parliamentary obstacles like filibusters. In most accounts, the beginning of the Republican decline in California is traced to former Governor Pete Wilson’s attacks on benefits for unauthorized immigrants, which sounded to many voters like attacks on Hispanics. Farther east, in 2000 and 2004, New Mexico was one of the closest states in Presidential politics. In 2008, Obama won it by fifteen points. By 2012, it was no longer contested. Similarly, Nevada, which was fought over by both candidates this year, and which Obama won by six points, seems to have gone the way of California and New Mexico and will likely be safe for Democrats in 2016. The states aren’t identical: for example, California is more culturally liberal than Texas. But they all have growing nonwhite populations that overwhelmingly reject Republicans.
Demography is not necessarily destiny, however. The Democratic Party in Texas is leaderless and disorganized, ill-equipped to capitalize on the Republicans’ fear of their own extinction. Hispanic turnout is much lower in Texas than in other states with large Hispanic populations, such as California, and nobody seems to be moving aggressively to change the situation. “You don’t have one person trying to unify the collective energies of the Democratic Party with a goal toward putting a Democrat on the map statewide,” said Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic state representative who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
“There’s groundwork that needs to be done in Texas that simply hasn’t been done,” Julián Castro, a Democrat and the mayor of San Antonio, told me during an interview on CNN. He noted that whereas in California Hispanics vote at rates that are ten per cent lower than those of the rest of the electorate, in Texas Hispanics are twenty-five per cent less likely to vote. But he insisted that change was coming. “Within the next six to eight years,” he said, “I believe Texas will be at least a purple state, if not a blue state.”
Last Tuesday, the Democrats showed some signs of life. Zapata had given me a list of thirteen Hispanic Republicans I should watch on Election Day in Texas. Eleven of them lost, including Canseco. Cruz won, but his margin in Texas was the same as Romney’s, suggesting that he had no crossover appeal to Hispanic Democrats.
Like the G.O.P.’s contradictory language on immigration in its party platform, the two strategies for courting Hispanics co-exist uneasily. The debate in Texas is about to seize Washington. Obama has strongly indicated that he intends to see immigration reform—likely some version of the so-called DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants—passed in 2013. Before the election, Obama told the Des Moines Register that he was “confident” he could get it done, because “a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.” Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Republican senator from Texas whom Cruz is replacing, told me after the election, “A compromise on the DREAM Act should be easy to get done now.”
If Romney had won, his party would have been able to figure out this vexing issue from a position of strength. Instead, it will have to respond to the Democrats, who are certain to play the tensions within the G.O.P. One person who understands this is Cruz. When we arrived in Austin, at the end of our trip together, he revealed his simple recipe for success.
“I think every case in litigation and every argument in politics is about the fundamental narrative,” he said. “If you can frame the narrative, you win. As Sun Tzu said, every battle is won before it is fought. And it is won by choosing the field of terrain on which the fight will be engaged.” For now, the field belongs to Obama and the Democrats, and the storyline on immigration is theirs to lose
I Lived a CIA Conspiracy Theory Did I accidentally force David Petraeus to resign? No. Do people believe I did? Maybe. By Chuck Klosterman on November 13, 2012PRINTI had an interesting weekend. Maybe you did, too. It's always a mixed bag, you know? Some Friday nights are drunken and exhilarating; other Friday nights are empty and reserved. And then, of course, there are those Friday nights when random people believe you accidentally forced the resignation of the head of the CIA.
We've all been there.
I'm not sure what I should write about the previous 72 hours of my life, or even if I should write anything at all. Technically, nothing happened. But I've been asked to "explain" how and why a certain non-event occurred, and I will try my best to do so. If you already know what I'm referring to, you will likely be disappointed by the banality of the forthcoming details. If you have no idea what I'm referring to, I will now attempt to explain what a bunch of other people desperately wanted to believe, mostly for their own amusement. It's a good story (not a great one, but a good one).
On Friday evening, I started watching a movie in my living room just after 9 p.m. This particular movie was 184 minutes long. I didn't want to be distracted, so I turned off my phone. When the film was over, my wife mentioned that she had just received an odd, alarmist e-mail from a mutual friend of ours. I subsequently turned on my phone and instantaneously received a dozen text messages that ranged from the instructional ("You're on the Internet") to the inscrutable ("This totally makes up karmically for that time you caused Billy Joel to go to rehab"). I had no idea what any of this meant (or even what it could mean). But what had transpired was this: At 9:09 p.m., the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine had tweeted the words "interesting letter" to his 48,000 followers, along with a link to an article published in the New York Times Magazine on July 13. What happened after that is totally bizarre and stupidly predictable.
It was an honor to be involved.
First, some necessary background: Since June, I've been writing a column for the New York Times Magazine called "The Ethicist." The existence of this column predates my involvement by many years (I'm now the third person who's occupied this particular title). "The Ethicist" is structured like a conventional advice column, but that's not really what it is; it's more like a collection of nonfictional thought experiments based on questions from the public. The ongoing goal is to isolate moral dilemmas within the day-to-day experience of modern life and to examine the potential ramifications of those quandaries in a readable, objective way.
On July 13, this was one of the letters we published:
My wife is having an affair with a government executive. His role is to manage a project whose progress is seen worldwide as a demonstration of American leadership. (This might seem hyperbolic, but it is not an exaggeration.) I have met with him on several occasions, and he has been gracious. (I doubt if he is aware of my knowledge.) I have watched the affair intensify over the last year, and I have also benefited from his generosity. He is engaged in work that I am passionate about and is absolutely the right person for the job. I strongly feel that exposing the affair will create a major distraction that would adversely impact the success of an important effort. My issue: Should I acknowledge this affair and finally force closure? Should I suffer in silence for the next year or two for a project I feel must succeed? Should I be "true to my heart" and walk away from the entire miserable situation and put the episode behind me? NAME WITHHELD
It's a compelling letter. Who it was specifically about wasn't something I even considered at the time (because these questions are supposed to be examined in a vacuum). This was my response:
Don't expose the affair in any high-profile way. It would be different if this man's project was promoting some (contextually hypocritical) family-values platform, but that doesn't appear to be the case. The only motive for exposing the relationship would be to humiliate him and your wife, and that's never a good reason for doing anything. This is between you and your spouse. You should tell her you want to separate, just as you would if she were sleeping with the mailman. The idea of "suffering in silence" for the good of the project is illogical. How would the quiet divorce of this man's mistress hurt an international leadership initiative? He'd probably be relieved.
The fact that you're willing to accept your wife's infidelity for some greater political good is beyond honorable. In fact, it's so over-the-top honorable that I'm not sure I believe your motives are real. Part of me wonders why you're even posing this question, particularly in a column that is printed in The New York Times. Your dilemma is intriguing, but I don't see how it's ambiguous. Your wife is having an affair with a person you happen to respect. Why would that last detail change the way you respond to her cheating? Do you admire this man so much that you haven't asked your wife why she keeps having sex with him? I halfway suspect you're writing this letter because you want specific people to read this column and deduce who is involved and what's really going on behind closed doors (without actually addressing the conflict in person). That's not ethical, either.
On November 9, Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus was forced to resign his post as result of an extramarital relationship with Paula Broadwell, his likewise married biographer. It appears that Broadwell broke into Petraeus's Gmail account on the suspicion that Petraeus was having a second affair with a third woman (and that this third woman became so alarmed she contacted the FBI). These details can be better explained elsewhere, and they obviously have nothing to do with me. But the rediscovery of this curious letter did prompt a lot of political obsessives to ask a speculative (but not implausible) question: Was the anonymous man who wrote that July 13 letter Paula Broadwell's husband?
It's important to remember that there is no evidence whatsoever that this was the case. None. It is 100 percent conjecture. The generic details in the letter fit the circumstances of the affair, and — because the writer is so adamant about the government executive's import — it does seem like it could feasibly apply to a man of Petraeus's stature. Other intersections were less meaningful but equally strange (for example, Broadwell and I both grew up in North Dakota).1 In fairness, it should be noted that — technically — the connection between the letter and Petraeus was always framed as a rumor. Nobody claimed to have proof of anything. The only problem is that rumors are now reported with the same tone and structure as hard news, and modern readers (no matter what they claim) have been trained to consume gossip and fact in the exact same way.
I went to bed on Friday very late. When I awoke on Saturday, I got the strong sense that most people aware of this theory assumed it was (probably) true. The various media reports were all roughly identical: To his credit, David Haglund of Slate was the one reporter who did attempt to immediately e-mail me for comment (but by the time I received the message he had already published the story). The Atlantic wrote a nice follow-up and noted that Slate had unsuccessfully tried to contact me, thereby defining me as "notoriously hard to get ahold of."2 There was a sidebar in the New York Daily News that compared the "Ethicist" letter to Penthouse and claimed I had advised the victimized spouse to suffer in silence, which is the polar opposite of what I told him to do. Oh well. I know how cookies crumble.
Late Saturday morning, the New York Times reinvestigated the origin of the letter and concluded it was not written by Broadwell's husband (I was not involved in that process and can't comment on what was discovered). That, in many ways, is the whole story: People believed a rumor, and then they were informed that it was a coincidence. Certainly, some goofballs continue to think this is a conspiracy, which is going to happen in every situation involving the CIA (and with most situations involving the New York Times). Outside of being discussed by strangers, my personal involvement was negligible (which is why I'm reluctant to write about it now). But here are the main questions about this business, just in case you're still curious about an imaginary controversy that was the social-media equivalent of noting how Abe Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater and John Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln automobile manufactured by Ford:
Q: Do I know who sent the original letter? Yes and no. The New York Times still has the original e-mail and I know the guy's e-mail address — but that doesn't mean much, unless I decide to befriend this dude on Facebook. It takes about 45 seconds to create a false address. The letter went through the fact-checking process when the article ran in July; the man was proven to exist and confirmed that the details in his letter were an accurate representation of his predicament. I know what he says his name is, and I don't think he's lying. But I don't know what he looks like or to whom he's married. I'm guessing he had an interesting weekend, too.
Q: When the news broke on Friday night, did I immediately think this letter was about David Petraeus? Here's my honest response — I did not, until so many other people expressed such certainty that it was. I just had a gut feeling that these events were not connected (a few of the coincidences were remarkable, but the language in the letter seemed slightly off-center). That said, my gut is wrong all the time. I have learned not to trust it.
Q: What would it mean if the letter were about David Petraeus? I thought about this question quite a bit. Those speculating about the level of connection between the "Ethicist" column and the secret life of Petraeus often seemed to be working from the position that (perhaps) it was this very letter that spurred the FBI's initial investigation. And I knew that was virtually impossible. That made no sense at all. This was, at best, an ancillary relationship and a historical footnote. It was an "interesting letter," which is why I selected it in the first place. But that's all it was, even if it had been precisely what others imagined. I suppose I had some mild fear that the letter could have been planted as a creative form of blackmail against Petraeus, but that would have been impossible for me (or anyone) to anticipate.
Q: If the letter had indeed been about Petraeus (and if I had somehow known this in July), would I have answered the question differently? No. If I had to answer this letter today, I would provide an identical response.
Q: Was I contacted by the CIA or the FBI? I was not. Although I've heard about 200 jokes about Homeland.
Q: Since I openly expressed doubt about the motives of the letter writer, why did I publish this letter at all? Because my personal suspicions don't matter within the context of what I'm trying to do here. To a degree, I'm skeptical of all the letters I receive (the reason I so specifically noted that skepticism in this response was because it felt relevant to the content). People have all kinds of personal, subterranean motives for wanting their private problems analyzed in public; for the most part, those motives fall outside my purview. I'm interested in the ethical, metaphorical value of the problems themselves.
Q: How did I feel while all this was happening? I was fascinated. It was fascinating. I spent a lot of time refreshing my browser. But — of course — it was happening to me, so how else was I going to feel? It's weird to be inside the news. Moreover, following any event on Twitter radically amplifies the illusion of its import. It makes you believe things matter far more than they do.
Q: What can be learned from all of this? We've now reached the part of the essay where I'm supposed to write something clever and insightful and at least 51 percent true. I'm supposed to express a sentiment like "Information is only as credible as the source that reports it" or "Reality continues to remain imaginary" or "All I know is what I read in the papers." I suppose I could theoretically turn this into some dark commentary about the Internet, or about how every thought in a mediated culture becomes equal, or how nothing is ever as interesting as the sex lives of strangers, or that this situation reminded me of Karl Rove's reaction on election night, or that this situation reminded me of something that happened to me in eighth grade, or that nothing reminds me of anything (and that this realization is very, very existential).
But you know what I learned from this? Nothing. I learned nothing. It's just something that happened (and it just so happens that it happened to me). Life is crazy. But I already knew that last Thursday, and so did you.
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare
In an interview for the Website Songfacts, Bill Withers said that his first hit record, the lush soul ballad “Ain’t No Sunshine,” was inspired by the 1962 film Days of Wine and Roses, about the toxic relationship of an alcoholic couple. It’s perhaps an unlikely source for such a loving song, but it’s not the only unusual story behind this month’s Classic Track.
Born in 1938, Withers spent his childhood in West Virginia. He lived in the mining town of Slab Fork and then in Beckley with his mother and grandmother; his father died when Withers was only 13. Withers stuttered as a child. He did not develop any musical ambitions until he became an adult. In the 2010 documentary about Withers, Still Bill, the artist’s Navy shipmates recall Withers singing and playing piano while they were stationed in Guam in the late ’50s and early ’60s. It was during this period that Withers began to write songs and think about a music career.
After his discharge from the Navy in 1965, Withers moved to L.A., where he worked assembling airplane toilets for Douglas Aircraft. Meanwhile, he spent his own earnings to record song demos, and looked for a label deal.
Withers was eventually signed to Sussex Records, and the great Booker T. Jones was enlisted to produce the new artist’s debut album, Just as I Am in 1971. Also on the session were two members of the MGs—drummer Al Jackson and bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn—plus singer/songwriter Stephen Stills on guitar. The recordings were made in Wally Heider’s Studio 3, then situated in L.A. at the corner of Cahuenga and Selma. The engineer was Bill Halverson, whose credits at that point included such essential records as Crosby Stills and Nash’s massive self-titled debut, Cream’s “Badge,” Tom Jones Sings “She’s a Lady” and CSNY’s Déjà Vu.
“It was Stephen Stills’ studio time that we were using,” Halverson recalls by phone from his home in Nashville. “I was working with Stephen on his first solo record, and he came to me a couple nights before this and said, ‘I’ve got this guy who needs a night of studio time.’ Stephen was hanging with Rita Coolidge, and Booker was marrying [Rita Coolidge’s sister] Priscilla Coolidge, and somehow Booker asked Stephen for some studio time. We just spent the one night.”
In preparation for the session, Halverson had set up Studio 3 so that Withers would be in the center of the room, which Halverson says was an unapologetic re-creation of United Western Studio 3.
“Heider and [United Western owner] Bill Putnam had had a falling out, and tried to one-up each other in different ways,” Halverson says. “United Western Studio 3 was the busiest studio in town, and when Wally sorted out that space was available [next door to his Studio 1], he hired his studio builder and they rented an hour of studio time in Western 3 and measured it. Then they came back and built Heider Studio 3 to be a copy. It was a little longer, a little narrower, but it had a lot of the same wall treatments and the booth was the same. And keep in mind, Wally never had a Studio 2. Just to rub it in, he named his second studio, Studio 3.
“Where I really benefited in that studio was, Wally Heider went to Bones Howe, who was a really busy engineer/producer at the time and was one of Western’s best clients,” Halverson explains. “He said to Bones, ‘What type of equipment do I need to put in here to get you to come over and try the studio?’ So Bones made almost a flip remark that Wally later told me: He wanted 16 UA equalizers, 16 filters, four 1176 limiters, a couple of Pultecs... He gave him this long list, and Wally went out and bought it.
“It was really a wonderful, forgiving studio where I could do stacks of Marshalls on 10 with Cream, but also do acoustic stuff,” Halverson continues. “You could do vocals in the room with a hand mic—I did that with Tom Jones—and get away with it. I didn’t know how good it was till I started using other studios. But that’s also the room where I did the first CSN record and parts of Déjà Vu. I got to use it a lot.”
On Withers’ session, Halverson placed Jackson’s kit near the control room glass, under an overhanging soffitt—again, an emulation of United Western 3—that held the studio playback speakers. “If you tucked the drums as close as you could under that overhang of the big speakers, you were out in the room but you had really good isolation,” Halverson says.
Next to Jackson, along the same wall, was Dunn’s bass rig, and then the studio’s Steinway grand piano. Across the room was Stills’ electric guitar. Halverson says that because Booker T. was in the house, a B3 had been dropped off earlier in the day, but the organ master didn’t play any B3 on “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
“When Bill Withers showed up,” Halverson says, “he comes walking in with his guitar and a straight-back chair, like a dining room chair, and asks, ‘Where do I set up?’ I showed him right in the middle of the room, and then he left and he came back in with this platform, a kind of wooden box that didn’t have a bottom. It was about four inches tall, and was maybe 3 foot by 4 foot; it was a fairly large platform, and he set it down in the middle of the room. Then he put his chair on it and got his guitar out, and he’s sitting on top of this box. So I miked him and I miked his guitar, and then I was doing other things—getting sounds together
“But then he calls me over and he points down to the box and says, ‘You gotta mike the box.’ Well, the way I was trained, you serve the artist, whatever the artist needs. So I got a couple other mics and I miked the box, the place down near the floor, next to this platform.
“And now, when you listen to ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ you know that all that tapping that goes on [while Withers sings] ‘I know I know I know’ all through it, actually, that’s him tapping his feet on the box, which is actually more intricate than the guitar on that track. He had evidently rehearsed that in his living room, maybe for years.”
Speaking of the “I know I know” parts, a widely circulated story asserts that Withers, at least at one time, thought he should replace that bit with additional lyrics, but his producer and band convinced him that the song is more powerful with the “I know”s. Halverson has no recollection of this conversation going on in the studio, however. Nor does he remember any discussion about the song’s lack of an intro, which is another unique aspect of the arrangement. In Still Bill, Withers talks about the fact that being green as an artist may have worked for him on that score; he didn’t know the unspoken rules that he may have broken by simply launching into “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone...”
Back in ’71, Halverson’s go-to mics in Heider Studio 3 were Shure 546s, the precursor to the SM57. He used a Shure on Withers’ vocal, with an EV windscreen. “My normal setup was to run the Shure through a [Universal Audio] 1176 and just limit it a little bit, and no extra outboard EQ. The EQ on the console was really good, and I may have added a little on the top end.”
The console in Heider Studio 3 was a custom board designed by Frank DiMedio. With twenty-twenty hindsight, Halverson says, “You didn’t know what you had until years later, when we didn’t have all that punch of old analog and tube stuff. But actually, even later as Frank used less tubes and went along with the times, he was still always able to keep really fat, open consoles.”
The session was tracked live to a 3M 24-track machine, using Scotch tape, which Halverson says has generally held up really well over time. Most of the other mics were Shures as well: on the kit, on Dunn’s amp supplementing a DI, and yet another on Stills’ guitar amp, though Stills’ playing is difficult to hear over the strings on the final track. “He’s playing really jazz, Wes Montgomery-type fills,” Halverson says. “You can hear just a little bit of Stephen’s chords toward the end.”
After that one-night session, which also included the more spare-sounding R&B hit “Grandma’s Hands,” Withers’ sessions happened in fits and starts, with a six-month break somewhere in the middle because the label was short on funds. Some time after the live band recording of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the string parts, arranged by Jones and recorded by Terry Manning, were overdubbed onto the track.
“When I hear it now, I can still tell that most of it is live,” Halverson says. “You can hear the roominess of the drums. You can tell that the box and Withers and the guitar are probably 5 feet from the drums, with no baffling in between. Leakage can be your friend, and it’s a nice room sound. It’s just a gathering in somebody’s living room to me...with loud strings.”
Strings and all, “Ain’t No Sunshine” was a massive debut for Withers. It went to Number 3, and won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Song. Withers scored several more Top 40 hits in subsequent years, including, of course, the Number One “Lean on Me” in ’72. However, Withers’ talent and love of music were eventually overtaken by his growing distaste for the record business. He hasn’t released an album since 1985.
Bill Halverson, however, has had a long, fruitful career. He continued to engineer and produce into the 2000s, and has served as a lecturer for the Recording Workshop (Chillicothe, Ohio) for 30-plus years, sharing the benefit of his experience with new engineers.
“One of the points that I continue to make when I lecture is that, no matter how much technology we have, you need to get in there and record a group of people singing and playing together—whether it’s rock ’n’ roll or bluegrass or a church choir or a symphony,” Halverson says. “That’s what moves me. Get in there with that magic; you won’t understand it until you try.”
-------------------- establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare