Stories by Ruth
Sputtering adjectives -- outrageous, appalling, intolerable -- can scarcely do justice to the fiasco involving the Internal Revenue Service's reported targeting of conservative groups. But the current scandal obscures -- and, ironically, threatens to prevent action on -- another, equally corrosive failure on the part of the IRS when it comes to scrutinizing political groups.
I am so looking forward to the end of firsts.
The conundrum of President Obama's budget is that he has produced a "come let us reason together" proposal aimed at a Republican Party that has demonstrated no interest in being reasonable.
Supreme Court justices recently seemed tempted to put off deciding the question of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But they appear prepared to take the significant step of overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and granting full federal benefits to same-sex couples in states that recognize their marriages. Indeed, the juxtaposition of the two cases may have the beneficial effect, from the perspective of those supporting same-sex marriage, of making the DOMA case look like a relatively easy and modest move.
When it comes to Republicans, President Obama sees himself as a kind of reverse Sally Field: "They don't like him. They really, really, don't like him."
Paul Ryan says he doesn't spend much time worrying about Republicans being blamed for sequester pain. The bruises, in his view, go with the territory. "We have to get right in our minds that the bully pulpit will always probably get better press than we will," the House Budget Committee chairman and the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee told me recently. "That cannot deter us."
Ted Cruz is not going to win Senator Congeniality. Not that he cares. The newly arrived Texas Republican has come out, well, guns blazing -- and not just on guns.
The latest weapon in the war against reasonable restrictions on access to guns is the straw woman. Don't fall for her.
President Obama launched his second term with a surprisingly lengthy and bold to-do list, coupled with new recognition of the painful limits of power, politics and time.
Recently, I described the "fiscal cliff" deal as a pathetic punt. In light of later developments, I am worried that characterization was overly optimistic.
Like so many other people these days, I regain my composure only to see it crumble in an instant at the piercing sight of a photograph, Daniel Barden with his impish smile and missing front teeth. At the devastating power of a simple sentence, about Charlotte Bacon's Girl Scout troop: "There were 10 girls in the group. Only five are left."
For those who believe in marriage equality, the Supreme Court's decision to tackle the subject of same-sex marriage is both exhilarating and scary.
Before the fiscal cliff comes the political roller coaster. Agreement will seem unattainable until, suddenly, it isn't. The sickening plunge will feel endless until the car starts to climb again. But at the moment, things are not looking good.
As the debt ceiling loomed last year, President Obama believed Republicans had him over a barrel. They had won the midterm election. More important, calling the GOP's bluff seemed too big a bet: Defaulting on the debt risked plunging the global financial system into chaos.
What we learned — and didn't — from the debates:
Three fallacies and two dangers are at the heart of Mitt Romney's tax policy.
Here are some proposed questions, concentrating on budget, taxes and entitlements for the upcoming presidential debates:
TAMPA, Fla. — Loved the ironing board. Hated the patronizing pander to women. The most affecting part of Ann Romney's convention speech was — no surprise here — the personal testimonial.
The Republican National Committee chairman says President Obama has "blood on (his) hands" for cutting Medicare. Mitt Romney blasts the president for having "robbed" the program of $700 billion. Vice President Biden accuses Romney and running mate Paul Ryan of "gutting" Medicare. And, inevitably, President Obama warned that Romney-Ryan would "end Medicare as we know it." Aren't you glad we're having a sober policy discussion about how to rein in entitlement spending?
The 2012 presidential campaign has witnessed the full flowering of the faux gaffe, in which a candidate is skewered, generally out of context, for saying something that he clearly did not mean but that the other side finds immensely useful to misrepresent. Mitt Romney's "I like being able to fire people" and "I'm not concerned about the very poor" fall into this category. So do Barack Obama's "the private sector is doing fine" and "you didn't build that."
Consider the enlightening -- and depressing -- tale of two governors. One is the face of what the Republican Party could, and should, be. The other is the face of what it is and seems determined to remain. The first governor, not coincidentally, has "former" before his name: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The second is current and fresh off his recall victory: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
In the age of eight-figure checks to super PACs, is it time for a constitutional amendment that could end this dangerous farce? The notion of fiddling with the First Amendment should make anyone nervous -- especially anyone who has spent a career benefiting from it. Then again, so does Sheldon Adelson's $10 million check to Mitt Romney's super PAC. A system that lets one individual pump so much money into supporting a favored candidate threatens to substitute oligarchy for democracy.
Judging the wisdom of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on super-size sugary sodas depends on where you draw the line between nudge government and noodge government. Nudge government makes sense. It harnesses human nature to steer citizens to smarter choices.
You have to wonder what George and Lenore Romney would have made of their son the candidate. The last week has brought two insightful profiles of Mitt Romney's parents, offering an implicit, and disappointing, contrast with their more successful son.
I wrote two weeks ago that same-sex marriage had turned into a test of character and leadership for President Obama. With his interview on May 9, the president passed the test, saying for the first time that he supports the right of gay and lesbian Americans to marry.
It is a seemingly immutable law of modern Republican rhetoric that the word “regulation” can never appear unadorned by the essential adjective: “job-killing.” Take for example nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney’s comments after winning the Illinois primary: “Day by day, job-killing regulation by job-killing regulation, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, this president is crushing the dream.” Or House Speaker John Boehner denouncing “the president’s job-killing regulatory agenda” last month after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new limits on coal-fired power plants. Or Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann who, during her presidential campaign, said EPA should be renamed the “Job-Killing Organization of America.”
Outsourcing the job to his wife isn’t going to solve Mitt Romney’s problem with women voters, although that does seem to be the candidate’s first instinct. When Romney was asked recently about the gender gap, he twice said he wished his wife could take the question. “My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me,” Romney told newspaper editors, “and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”
The most compelling sentences in the Obama administration’s brief defending the constitutionality of the health care law come early on. “As a class,” the brief advises on page 7, “the uninsured consumed $116 billion of health care services in 2008.” On the next page: “In 2008, people without insurance did not pay for 63 percent of their health care costs.”
Lower the rates, broaden the base. Everyone agrees that such tax reform is a good idea, and the first half of that equation is simple enough. Pick a number, any number. Paul Ryan’s numbers, as it happens, are 10 and 25. The House Budget Committee chairman’s new framework proposes collapsing the current six tax brackets (top rate, 35 percent) into two, with rates of 10 percent and 25 percent. Ryan would also lower the corporate tax from 35 percent to 25 percent -- all, he says, without losing any revenue. “We’re saying, get rid of the tax shelters, get rid of the loopholes, lower tax rates for everybody,” Ryan said in unveiling his plan.
The tedious fable of the Republican primaries, “The Tortoise and the Hares,” is limping toward its predictable close. But if “fear the turtle” turned out to be wise advice for Mitt Romney’s Republican opponents, the general election promises an even bumpier road for the plodding candidate. “We hit the reset button and the campaign begins anew with a different opponent,” Romney’s senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, told reporters. “We’ll be able to draw sharp contrasts with the president and the president alone, not worrying about our competition. It will be a different race at that point, and the numbers will begin again.”
The general election is shaping up as a contest between two remarkably similar men. Not ideologically. Despite the Newt Gingrich-peddled notion that “there really is no difference” between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, the gulf in political philosophy is enormous.
‘I’m concerned about the poor in this country,” Mitt Romney said the other day. “We have to make sure the safety net is strong and able to help those who can’t help themselves.” This fine sentiment doesn’t square with his actual policies. Consider Romney’s support for the budget plan crafted by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by the Republican House. It would cut Medicaid spending by $700 billion over 10 years, reduce food stamps by $127 billion and cut in half the funding of Pell Grants for low-income college students.
For all the roller-coaster tumultuousness of the primary season, the general election promises another strange jolt: the likely presence on the ballot in all 50 states of a third-party nominee — identity, and ideology, to be determined. This political wild card for the Internet age is Americans Elect, which just secured a spot in California, meaning it has now qualified for the ballot in 13 states and collected signatures in the 17 others that allow signature-gathering the year before the election. With a war chest of $22 million so far, the group aims to leapfrog the logistical and ideological barriers that limit voters’ choices and drive candidates to extremes.
Congress fails. The can is kicked. Cue the finger-pointing at President Obama for failing to lead. Count me out, this time around.
Mitt Romney, blessed with a series of self-destructing opponents, still needs to come up with a better way to address his history of flip-flops. Romney made the jaw-dropping claim to a New Hampshire editorial board that his problem wasn’t flip-flopping — it was being insufficiently robotic. “I’ve been as consistent as human beings can be,” the former Massachusetts governor insisted. “I cannot state every single issue in exactly the same words every single time, and so there are some folks who, obviously, for various political and campaign purposes will try and find some change and draw great attention to something which looks like a change which in fact is entirely consistent.”
Forget hope and change. President Obama’s re-election campaign is going to be based on fear and loathing: fear of what a Republican takeover would mean, and loathing of whomever the Republican nominee turns out to be. Of course, the Obama campaign will attempt to present the affirmative case for his re-election, citing legislative achievements, foreign policy successes and the current flurry of executive actions. But his strategists have clearly concluded that selling the president will not be enough, and the contours of the ugly months ahead are becoming increasingly apparent. As much as Obama presented himself as above the regular partisan fray during the 2008 campaign, he was not averse to taking the lower road when it appeared the advisable route. But running for a second term accompanied by the albatross of 9 percent unemployment inevitably requires an even more brutal technique. In that sense, Obama’s re-election campaign is more reminiscent of George W. Bush versus John Kerry in 2004, an embattled president who managed to win re-election by relentlessly painting the opponent as an out-of-touch flip-flopper.
Does Herman Cain understand his 9-9-9 tax plan? Evidence suggests the answer is no-no-no. Cain argues that economic growth spurred by the reduced rates would more than make up for any lost revenue. “We have had an outside firm, independent firm dynamically score it,” he said. “And so our numbers will make it revenue-neutral.” Beware when you hear “dynamic scoring.” It translates to: “This tax cut might bust the budget, but let’s cross our fingers and hope for growth.” And it turns out — at least according to his chief economic adviser — that Cain didn’t mean to be relying on dynamic scoring at all. Cain adviser Richard Lowrie said the candidate mistakenly invoked dynamic scoring. But even under a more traditional analysis, Lowrie said, the plan would be revenue-neutral, meaning it would not lose money. “On occasion, he might transpose the terms,” Lowrie told me. “When asked if it is revenue-neutral, he might say it’s dynamically scored. He might misspeak.”
The Everest-size electoral challenge facing President Obama is encapsulated in a single question in the latest Washington Post/Bloomberg poll: Would the economy be better or worse if a Republican were elected president in 2012? There are three interesting aspects to the answers: the overall result, the divided state of Democratic voters, and the even more skeptical attitude of independents. On the basic question, nearly half of those polled (45 percent) believe the economy would be the same no matter whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House. This conclusion is not unreasonable. A president’s ability to bring about short-term improvements in the economy is limited, even if he could wave a magic executive wand and see his program instantly enacted. In the current, gridlocked environment, presidential power is even more constrained. The paradox for voters is that at the same time nearly half don’t believe a president will make a difference, the economy is at the top of their list of concerns. One possibility is that voters will base their choice on other issues or stick with their party allegiance, if they have one. Another, which seems at least as likely, is that they will decide that Obama has had his chance and that someone else deserves a try.