Political Animal


October 08, 2012 11:08 AM More On the “Moderate Mitt” Meme

By Ed Kilgore

As I am sure you know, there is a rapidly congealing MSM meme that in last week’s first presidential debate, Mitt Romney shook himself loose of his reactionary party and revealed himself as the Massachusetts Moderate he’s always really been, just in time to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

I issued a strong protest against this meme on Friday, noting that with the arguable exception of points of emphasis on his convoluted tax proposal, and perhaps a howlingly incredible pledge to govern in a bipartisan manner, Romney didn’t move an inch in the debate. But if you don’t believe me, here’s Ezra Klein today:

Romney promised he wouldn’t raise a cent in taxes to retire a debt far larger than the one George H. W. Bush faced. He had nothing at all to say about climate change. He said health-care reform should proceed state-by-state, but he proposed Medicaid cuts that would make it impossible for any other states to do what Massachusetts did in 2006. He offered no short-term help to the unemployed, proposing instead to concentrate on long-term initiatives like energy independence. He again proclaimed allegiance to his budget promises, which would mean a 40 percent cut in everything but Medicare, Social Security and defense spending by 2016, though the only specific cut he mentioned was to PBS.
The list of Mitt’s moderate moments, meanwhile, goes something like this. “Regulation is essential,” he said. “You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation.” He also swore fealty to Medicare — though he wants to move it into a premium support system in which seniors use a capped voucher to choose between Medicare and private insurers. He forswore any intention to give tax cuts to the rich, or really to anybody, though he didn’t explain how that would work given his promise to cut tax rates by 20 percent across-the-board.
As the Republican party has moved to the right in recent years, so too has our standard for what counts as a moderate Republican. These days, if you’re willing to admit that President Obama was probably born in the United States, that the U.S. Treasury probably shouldn’t default on its debts, and that someone, somewhere, might occasionally have to pay taxes, then congratulations, you’re a moderate Republican!

Ezra goes on to say that the reason today’s “moderate Republican” is yesterday’s “arch-conservative” is that the former fears a right-wing primary challenge more than the loss of potential voters outside “the base.” That’s true as far as it goes, and is particularly true with respect to Mitt Romney, who had to prove his fealty to The Cause to win the nomination over a hilariously inept set of nomination rivals, even as he successfully challenged their own orthodoxy.

But at a deeper level, the new, strange definition of “moderation” in the GOP is the product of three big developments: (a) the culmination of the slow but steady conquest of conservative media, grass-roots Republicans all across the country (not just, as in the past, the South and West), and key elements of the National Party Establishment by the same “movement conservative” ideology that undergird Barry Goldwater’s premature revolution in 1964; (b) a radicalization of the conservative movement itself in the wake of Barack Obama’s election (dramatized by the rise of the Tea Party Movement, itself nothing more than the same old conservative activists wearing tri-corner hats), reinforced by the 2010 midterm victory; and (c) the acceptance by the MSM (and perhaps more than a few low-information “swing” voters) of a definition of “moderation” that is entirely relative to the rightward lurch of the GOP and is now based on the kind of empty rhetorical gestures Romney shrewdly made in Denver.

All three trends were pretty accurately plotted by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their 2006 book Off Center. You can argue all day long about the complicity of Democrats in this phenomenon, and/or what they might have done to forestall or at least expose it. But at the moment, it’s become urgent for the Obama campaign to get back to what it was trying with considerable success to accomplish during the Charlotte convention before Mitt’s “Boca Moment” misled it into thinking Romney had definitively painted himself into a corner: draw constant attention to the actual GOP agenda, as reflected in the Ryan Budget and a host of blood oaths to wealthy donors and the Christian Right. Joe Biden will have a fresh opportunity to do that in this week’s debate with the real leader of the GOP, Ryan himself. And for all the talk about how Biden just needs to be “aggressive” and “populist” on Thursday night, some simple and pointed truth-telling needs to be in the mix.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on October 08, 2012 11:21 AM:

    And so here we are with the corporate media, yet again, creating the necessary lies, deceptions, and propaganda about pathological liar Romney 'really being a moderate' ....

    All the further the corporate interests of course which starts with profit. Remember the 'territorial tax' crap from Ryan's budget that allows corporations, like GE, Disney, CBS, to avoid paying any federal income tax as all ?

    These corporate media is a clear and present danger to what is left of our country ...

  • c u n d gulag on October 08, 2012 11:29 AM:

    The MSM is doing its best to make this a close horserace.

    And now they're painting Mitt as a moderate Republican. That's like saying Blackbeard was a moderate Pirate.

    In the old USSR, the people were smart enough to realize that their news was nothing but propaganda.
    Sadly, we Americans aren't. Too many people get their news from FOX and Right Wing Radio Rushwanda. And it's come to the point that anyone who doesn't frame their debate in FOX or Rush speak, is some godless socialist, bent on destroying this country.

    FOX and Right Wing Radio Rushwanda have done more damage to this country than any of the much feared "Fifth Columnist" boogeymen could have dreamed - if they were real, that is, and not an earlier version of Conservative paranoia.

  • T2 on October 08, 2012 11:29 AM:

    I don't think Biden will hesitate to call Ryan out on his lies (which are the cornerstone to Ryan's "Plan") like Obama failed to do with Romney. But I expect the Media will be rough on Biden if he's too "mean" to Wonderboy. And I'll expect plenty of "both sides" baloney the next day in the Media to prove that Biden lies also. It's just a circus designed to keep the electorate confused about "who to believe", and its run by the likes of Jack Welch and FOX news to hide the real agenda of the GOP. Because time after time, when the public actually understands the real GOP agenda, they do not like it.

  • stormskies on October 08, 2012 11:32 AM:

    exhibit A......the nature of the corporate media and it's invested interests that dictate the story lines and narratives that further the corporate agendas ..

    October 08, 2012 08:00 AM
    Why Is David Gregory the Keynote Speaker at GOP Group Event?
    By Nicole Belle

    Do you remember when MSNBC took Keith Olbermann off the air for making donations to three Arizona congresspeople without disclosing it first? Or when elder statesman Tom Brokaw took thinly veiled swipes at the appearance of liberal bias within MSNBC's line-up?

    Apparently, those same rules don't apply to NBC News hosts, especially when the bias appears conservative. Because otherwise I'm sure that the news that David Gregory has agreed to be the keynote speaker for NFIB would be much bigger deal:

    The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which calls itself “the voice of small business,” is one of the Republican party’s strongest allies. The group spent over $1 million on outside ads in the 2010 campaign — all of it backing Republican House and Senate candidates (and, Bloomberg News reported last month, “another $1.5 million that it kept hidden and said was exempt” from disclosure requirements). The group is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Obamacare law and bankrolled state governments’ challenges to the law. The NFIB has also taken stances against allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, opposing regulations on businesses, and supporting curtailing union rights.

    Given the group’s obvious Republican alliance, it comes as little surprise that the NFIB’s three-day 2012 Small Business Summit, which begins Monday, will feature headliners Karl Rove and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

    But the first name and photo on the invitation for the $150-per-person event — Tuesday’s “keynote address” speaker — is NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory. He is marketed by NBC as an anchor and “trusted journalist.”

    According to an NBC spokesperson, Gregory is donating his fee (which typically runs about $40,000 per appearance), so there is no impropriety.

    Except that it, you know, confirms his bias. But hey, we know the drill NBC, IOKIYAR, right?
    Tags: David Gregory, Media

  • John on October 08, 2012 11:38 AM:

    He had nothing at all to say about climate change.

    This seems, dare I say it, a bit unfair to Mitt. Did Obama have anything at all to say about climate change? Did any of Lehrer's questions even hint in the direction of the environment?

  • SadOldVet on October 08, 2012 11:50 AM:

    The next presidental debate is about 'social issues'.

    While the reich wing is just fine with Mitt's 180 degree changes on economic policies during the last debate, it is not likely to be as well accepted (as a price of winning) if he does flip flops on social policies. Would be interesting if he does. See if The Obomination plays milktoast again and if the religious reich wing go apeshit.

  • sorenreport on October 08, 2012 12:17 PM:

    As someone from Massachusetts, Romney's lies about his bipartisanship made me gag. From http://www.npr.org/2012/06/13/154583216/romney-as-governor-confrontation-one-big-deal:

    "Romney issued some 800 vetoes, and the Legislature overrode nearly all of them, sometimes unanimously."

    Yeah, he was effective. Not.

    In truth, Romney tried to be governor for two years. Then, he decided to run for president. One of his last actions was to veto the funding for his own health care bill. It was promptly overridden. Pretty much the entire state said don't let the door hit you on the way out.

  • yellowdog on October 08, 2012 1:49 PM:

    Romney has a big problem telling the truth. He will not come clean about what he really believes or what he really wants to do as president. We can be sure, though, that, whatever Romney really thinks, he will not be 'moderate' in any way as president. There is no way for anyone 'moderate' to exist in the current GOP. The agenda the right-wing sets is the one he will follow.

  • gregor on October 08, 2012 3:21 PM:

    Mitt is moderate.

    In another piece of earth shattering news, Anne Hathaway has run away from her new husband, and is crying in my lap as I write, while she is desperately trying to convince me to let her shack up with me.

  • Mitch on October 08, 2012 4:35 PM:

    On Saturday I had a conversation with an old friend about this that truly shook me to the core.

    First a little background: My friend is a young, homosexual male, with two degrees (one in political science), living in a conservative state and professionally involved with politics. My friend is very liberal, and does endless work for the Democratic Party in his state. In short, my friend has exactly ZERO reasons to be fond of Romney.

    And, yet, this friend was extremely impressed by Romney during the debate. He's relieved that Mitt is "moving to the center" now. He has high hopes that if Romney wins, he will govern as a moderate. My friend believes that Mitt moved to the Right to secure his base, but "couldn't possibly" try to run this country along the lines of the modern GOP. "The nation is in the center, and you can't be President of only one party," my friend said.

    I explained that, as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney wasn't as "centrist" as he may seem at first glance. And that, frankly, he had to appear to be further to the left in Mass, just due to the nature of that state. But with the GOP in control of the House, and able to lock down everything in the Senate (not to mention controlling the Judicial branch), Romney has no choice and even less incentive to be a moderate President. Hell, the GOP practically runs the show NOW, under a Democratic President. I reminded him that George W. Bush also ran as a moderate in 2000, and we all saw how that turned out. I explained the extreme nature of the policies being promoted by the GOP, the draconian and destructive Ryan "budget" and the fact that Romney has agreed with all of that trash.

    But my friend still doesn't get it. He totally bought Romney's double-talk during the debate, and seems happy as a clam that the Mitt's gone "moderate" after all.

    And this from someone who literally works with the Democratic Party in his state, someone whose personal life could be affected by Republican policies and someone who has a degree in Politicial Science for God's sake.

    How much worse must it be for those who have no education in politics beyond what they see on television?

    Dems, from Obama on down, need to make educationg the people their number one priority, and not just in ads that play mostly in the swing states. Little guys like me can only do so much, though by the gods, I am trying to sway as many individuals as I can. It's truly a sad state of affairs when extremely liberal individuals, like my friend, buy into the GOP/MSM spin.

  • bcinaz on October 08, 2012 6:33 PM:

    I am not a low information voter and believed I was fairly aware of Mitt Romney's positions on tax policy, education,and medicare/medicaid; I have no idea what he was talking about in the debate, none of what he said matched up with his stated positions. It was word salad. So forgive me if I do not believe what I am hearing now and do not take him seriously.

    Does anyone think that in the next debate, a townhall format, by the way, that if he is questioned directly about his shift on taxes by a Republican that he will answer like a moderate?

  • Altoid on October 08, 2012 11:45 PM:

    mitt romney is like Harold Hill, the Music Man-- a flim-flam artist and grifter with a ready line of double-talk-- several ready lines of double-talk-- out to con the rubes. But his Marian the librarian is his accomplice, not his healer, and there's no redemption.

    I was originally going to say that romney is like Eisenhower, except there are two things wrong with that one. First, Ike was completely conscious of his double-talk and able to decide when to throw it out and when not. Second, Ike had (mostly) benign and even progressive goals and intentions. romney is completely malign. So it's Harold Hill. Except mitt can't sing.