Mitt Romney is inevitable again, although his detractors can take heart that he’s been inevitable before and it’s never lasted. That’s another way of saying we agree with the conventional wisdom that Rick Santorum put in a poor performance in last night’s Mesa, Ariz., CNN debate. (Complicating the inevitability question, Newt Gingrich had a good night, as he always seems to do when he’s been counted out, so we can count him back in, at least for the moment.)
Santorum’s troubles last night did not result from his supposedly outré social conservatism, as we shall see, but rather from his history as a U.S. senator. His worst moment came in response to a question about his vote in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a Republican-led (though bipartisan) initiative that is now unpopular among Republicans:
Well, you know what? I supported No Child Left Behind. I supported it. It was the principal priority of President Bush to try to take on a failing education system and try to impose some sort of testing regime that would be able to quantify how well we’re doing with respect to education.
I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you’re part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake.
(BOOING) You know, politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you’ve got to rally together and do something. And in this case, you know, I thought testing was–and finding out how bad the problem was wasn’t a bad idea.
What was a bad idea was all the money that was put out there, and that, in fact, was a huge problem. I admit the mistake and I will not make that mistake again. You have someone who is committed.
What Santorum said is completely true. A lawmaker’s duty quite often demands that he compromise his principles, that he “take one for the team.” But while there’s no “I” in “Congress,” there is one in “president.” By striking such an apologetic tone, Santorum made himself look weak and made it harder for voters to think of him as a leader.
Barack Obama, the only sitting senator to make it to the White House in more than half a century, avoided this problem by not being much of a senator. He used his Senate seat as a vehicle for his own self-promotion, and pretty much checked out of the legislative process altogether after 2006.
Santorum checked out at about the same time, albeit involuntarily. But unlike Obama, he is hindered in his presidential ambitions by having internalized the mentality of a senator. He could use a bit of the president’s cockiness.
When the inevitable contraception question came, however, Santorum’s response was excellent:
What I was talking about is we have a society–Charles Murray just wrote a book about this, and it’s on the front page of the New York Times two days ago [actually four days], which is the increasing number of children being born out of wedlock in America, teens who are sexually active.
What we’re seeing is a problem in our culture with respect to children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock, and the impact on society economically, the impact on society with respect to drug use and all–a host of other things when children have children.
And so, yes, I was talking about these very serious issues. And, in fact, as I mentioned before, two days ago on the front page of the New York Times, they’re talking about the same thing. The bottom line is we have a problem in this country, and the family is fracturing.
Over 40% of children born in America are born out of wedlock. How can a country survive if children are being raised in homes where it’s so much harder to succeed economically? It’s five times the rate of poverty in single-parent households than it is in two-parent homes. We can have limited government, lower tax–we hear this all the time, cut spending, limit the government, everything will be fine. No, everything’s not going to be fine.
There are bigger problems at stake in America. And someone has got to go out there–I will–and talk about the things.
And you know what? Here’s the difference.
The left gets all upset. “Oh, look at him talking about these things.” You know, here’s the difference between me and the left, and they don’t get this. Just because I’m talking about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it.
That’s what they do. That’s not what we do.
His analysis of the problem might well have been informed by our Tuesday column, which also cites Murray’s “Coming Apart” and the New York Times’s surprisingly truthful report on the illegitimacy crisis. And in the close, it sounds as though he’s following Jeffrey Bell’s advice to stress that his social conservative agenda is not a coercive one.
Romney scored one hit on Santorum on social issues–but he was firing from the right, not the left. Santorum said that he had “always opposed Title X funding”–federal family planning subsidies–but he had voted for it as part of “a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things.” Here’s Romney’s rejoinder:
I just saw a YouTube clip of you being interviewed where you said that you personally opposed contraceptives but that you–you said that you voted for Title X. You . . . used that as an argument, saying this is something I did proactively. You didn’t say this is something I was opposed to; it wasn’t something I would have done. You said this–you said this in a positive light, “I voted for Title X.”
The interview to which Romney refers is the one from 2006 that we discussed in last Thursday’s column. There is no contradiction between Santorum’s statements in that interview and last night’s debate–in both, Santorum accurately says that he has voted in favor of Title X funding–but in the former, in what looks like an effort to appear “reasonable” for the general electorate, he omits that the vote ran contrary to his views. Romney was right. Clearly he’s been reading someone other than Jennifer Rubin.
In that Thursday column, we asked for a “reasoned argument” against Santorum. George Will offers one. “The problem is not that the phenomena that trouble Santorum are unserious,” he writes. Rather, it is that Santorum is too grim:
He is an engagingly happy warrior, except when he is not. Then he is an angry prophet of a dystopian future in which, he has warned, people will be “holed up in their homes afraid to go outside at night.” He has the right forebodings but might have the wrong profession. Presidential candidates do not thrive as apostles of social regeneration; they are expected to be as sunny as Ronald Reagan was as he assured voters that they were as virtuous as their government was tedious.
Will thinks, for different reasons, that Romney is also a weak candidate for November. Maybe, but a new Gallup poll of registered voters nationwide finds the former Massachusetts governor leading the president, 50% to 46%, and the former Pennsylvania senator trailing by the narrowest of margins, 49% to 48%.
That would seem to bolster the Romney-is-more-electable argument, but wait. Consider this report from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Obama has significantly strengthened his hand in California, where his margin over his strongest GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, has doubled in the past three months, a new Field Poll shows.
Obama leads the former Massachusetts governor by 20 percentage points, 55-35, in the nation’s most-populous state. Independent voters, who will be critical in the November election, prefer the president 59 to 27 percent, the poll found.
The president has an even more commanding lead–of 28 points–over former Sen. Rick Santorum.
This was also a poll of registered voters. If Republicans care about keeping Obama’s California margin below 20%, they’d be fools to nominate Santorum. But they’d be even bigger fools to care about the margin in California, a state Obama will carry unless the GOP wins in a landslide whose proportions are, at least now, outside the realm of plausibility.
In a general-election match-up, Romney’s advantage over Santorum is eight points in California but only five nationwide. Let’s assume that other large and medium-sized socially liberal states–Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Washington–follow the California pattern. All of these states are both highly unlikely to go Republican and unnecessary for a GOP victory. On that assumption, the Gallup and Field polls suggest that Romney and Santorum are about equally electable.
It’s even possible that Santorum has a slight edge, though there’s no way to tell without comparative numbers from socially conservative swing states. As for socially liberal swing states, Romney is probably at an advantage in New Hampshire, and in–oh wait, that’s it. New Hampshire is the only socially liberal swing state.
Of course in November there will be only one match-up, Obama versus some Republican, and there will be no way to tell if some other Republican would have done better. Last night’s debate made it less likely that Santorum will be the one put to the actual test. But the reason it did so is not that voters find his social views unacceptable.
Sarcasm as Journalism
The Associated Press continues to amaze with the Orwellian nature of its “fact checks.” The wire service’s Calvin Woodward opens his piece on last night’s debate with a sneer: “Twenty Republican presidential debates later, the head-scratching claims kept coming.” Here is one example:
ROMNEY to Santorum: “You voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without compensating cuts in spending.”
THE FACTS: Maybe so, but increases in the debt ceiling were not politically charged in the past as they are now. They just allow the government to pay bills run up by previous Congresses. To not pay them would be like deciding to stop paying a car loan or mortgage. In fact, President Ronald Reagan, an icon to most conservatives, supported increases in the debt limit 12 times over his two terms. The idea of insisting on offsetting spending cuts when raising the debt ceiling is relatively new.
In this case, the assertion Woodward is considering at least is a straightforward factual claim, not an opinion or prediction like many of the statements subjected to these so-called fact checks. And the context Woodward tries to provide is relevant and, at least insofar as he is discussing the politics of the debt ceiling, accurate.
On the other hand, Woodward’s analogy to “paying a car loan or mortgage” is backward. Whereas those actions constitute paying off debt, an increase in the debt ceiling is an authorization to go into more debt. It’s more like asking for an increase in your credit-card limit rather than cutting back on your spending.
But the most astonishing thing about this “fact check” is that the factual statement Woodward is checking–that Santorum voted five times to raise the debt ceiling–is true. But rather than straightforwardly acknowledge that it is true, Woodward sneers again: “Maybe so.” Woodward isn’t checking facts, he’s writing opinion pieces. He should leave the AP and go to work for the New York Times editorial page. That would increase the quality of both organizations’ output.
If You’re Ever Stuck on an Icy Road, Challenge Your Passenger to a Sword Fight
“Romney, Seeking Traction, Duels With Santorum”–headline, New York Times, Feb. 23
‘Thanks to a Guy Named Adolf Hitler’
“The Old Gray Lady is in the grips of utter madness,” we wrote in September 2010. We know: So what else is new? Our subject was a column in which former Enron adviser Paul Krugman credited “the miracle of the 1940s” with lifting America out of the Depression. Krugman didn’t explicate what that “miracle” was, but we did–and our longtime lefty contributor Steven Platzer emailed us that he thought we were out of line:
Does Krugman say the war was a miracle or the 1940s was?
No offense, but there is a big dIfference. And if it was only the war that lifted the American economy out of the depression of the ’30s, why did the economy continue to grow through the late ’40′s, ’50s and ’60s? The answer, of course, had much to do with the Cold War, which was used to continue demand for expensive industrial products. Methinks you treated Krugman’s comment as if it were low-hanging fruit, but you made it too low. Give me one example of something Krugman said that trivialized the suffering caused by Nazi or Japanese aggression. Moreover, what he said is a commonplace of economic discourse. Conservative economists describe the economic phenomena in question the exact same way.
Nobody who describes it thusly valorizes the war in the way you suggest. If I were you I’d write a clarification/apology tomorrow as anybody who knows anything about economics would consider what you said today as a cheap shot by somebody who doesn’t know much about economic history. I’m saying this as your friend, not as a critic or sparring partner!
The fact is the Great Depression ended largely thanks to a guy named Adolf Hitler. He created a human catastrophe, which also led to a lot of government spending.
We’re always pleased to be proved right, but we must say we’re a bit sad to see what’s become of Playboy. We’ve barely looked at the magazine since we were a teenager, and our main interest back then was not the articles. Still, we remember it as being tasteful. It’s a shame to see that Playboy has gone hard-core.
A Despicable Slur
“Is Romney Reading Krugman?”–headline, New York Times website, Feb. 22
Math Is Hard
The Daily Caller, which of late has been doing some fine investigative reporting on left-wing outfits, has a new report on a major union and Obama bailout beneficiary:
From April 9 to 15, “100,000 Americans will train for non-violent direct action,” promises a new website called “The 99% Spring.” But while the 43 organizations co-signing a letter on the ragtag-looking site indicate the sort of leaderless resistance characterized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, a series of files The Daily Caller downloaded from the United Auto Workers website indicate that the organized labor powerhouse is behind the effort.
Your tax dollars at work. One point the Caller misses is that the UAW’s math is questionable. If 100,000 Americans is “the 99%,” then the entire population of the country is 101,010. We reached 10,000 followers today on Twitter. By the UAW’s standards, we are already the 10%.
We Blame George W. Bush
“Dem Leader Pelosi Blames Wall Street for Spike in Gas Prices”–headline, TheHill.com, Feb. 22
Sometimes ‘No’ Means ‘Yes’
“Pelosi: Catholic Church Secretly Wants Govt Contraception”–headline, Newsmax.com, Feb. 23
Mondale or Dukakis?
“Wilton’s Democrats are set to honor Ernest [sic] Loser.”–Wilton (Conn.) Bulletin, Feb. 23
‘I Designed the Hat’
- “Kerry Born Fashion Designer, Don O’Neill Makes Debut at New York Fashion Week”–headline, IrishCentral.com, Feb. 22
- “Hat’s On! But Everything Else Is Off . . . Pregnant Glamour Model Walks the Runway Naked at London Fashion Week”–headline, Daily Mail (London), Feb. 22
Headlines We Wish We’d Written
“I Was Only Obeying Hors D’oeuvres! Hitler’s Silver Tray Given to Him on His 50th Birthday Goes Up for Auction”–headline, Daily Mail (London), Feb. 23
Two Drinks Are Enough to Do It for Us
“Rough Sleeping in England Rises by a Fifth”–headline, BBC website, Feb. 23
Shortest Books Ever Written
“What Beer Can Teach Us About Emerging Technologies”–headline, Slate.com, Feb. 23
It’s Titled ‘Ignore This Book’
“Top Trainer Reveals Five Common Fitness Myths Women Should Ignore in New Book”–headline, Human Kinetics press release, Feb. 22
So Much for the War on Drugs
“Tulelake Girls Fall to Weed”–headline, Herald and News (Klamath Falls, Ore.), Feb. 21
That’s a Lot Easier Than Winning Ball Games
“Red Sox Plan to Put 2011 in the Past”–headline, MLB.com, Feb. 22
No, It’s Mine!
“Two-Headed Fish Found Near Mine”–headline, TheDailyBeast.com, Feb. 23
At Least She Was Surprised
“Affidavit: Man’s Surprise for Wife Ends in Hit-Run”–headline, El Paso Times, Feb. 23
Tony Could’ve Done With a Trim
“Firefighters Battling Anthony’s Nose Brush Fire”–headline, Journal News (White Plains, N.Y.), Feb. 23
Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?
- “Time for Ireland to Start Thinking Like the Chinese”–headline, IrishCentral.com, Feb. 22
- “Fundamentally Freund: It’s Time for a Gaza Offensive”–headline, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 22
Questions Nobody Is Asking
- “How Come No One Wants to Help Gaza?”–headline, Stonegate Institute website, Feb. 21
- “Does This Chicken McNugget Look Like George Washington to You?”–headline, Des Moines Register, Feb. 22
- “Top Five Questions Asked About Being a Bisexual Minister”–headline, Puffington Host, Feb. 23
- “Can’t White Girls Be ‘Crack Hoes,’ Too?”–headline, Politic365.com, Feb. 22
Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
“How Callista Gingrich Makes Her Hair Stay Still”–headline, Boston Globe website, Feb. 23
Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control
“White Castle Experimenting With Wine”–headline, Slate.com, Feb. 22
News of the Tautological
“Violence Catches Up to Victim of Stray Bullet in Downtown El Paso”–headline, El Paso Times, Feb. 23
Bottom Story of the Day
“Obama Widens Lead Over GOP Rivals in California”–headline, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 23
Scott Ritter Is an Odd Critter
In the coming weekend’s New York Times magazine, writer Matt Bai profiles Scott Ritter, the erstwhile U.N. weapons inspector who insisted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Ritter turned out to be both right and wrong, but his behavior also turned out to be quite wrong, as we noted last April when he was found guilty in an “Internet sex sting” after “performing a sexual act captured on his computer web camera” for a policeman posting as a 15-year-old girl named Emily.
Bai has some fun at the expense of a famous old lefty journalist:
“It’s tragic,” Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker’s investigative reporter, said when we spoke this fall. Hersh grew close to Ritter in the late ’90s and appeared as a character witness at his trial in Pennsylvania last April. “He understands the Arab world in a way that few Westerners I know do. You have no idea how smart he is.”
Even after he was convicted on five felony counts and two misdemeanors last year, Ritter remained, as he always has, self-righteous and inclined toward seeing conspiracies. “I’m not humiliated,” he told me recently, when I suggested he should be. “It’s nobody else’s business. And anybody who seeks to make it their business, they should be humiliated. They should be ashamed. They should be embarrassed. What I did or what I didn’t do is nobody’s business but my own and my wife’s. And the fact that this had been dragged out into the public eye the way it has speaks volumes about our society.”
Note that this excerpt contains no ellipsis. The Hersh quote immediately precedes the Ritter one. Ritter’s defense was that he never believed “Emily” was really underage (he thought he was chatting with a lonely housewife, apparently forgetting these days women work outside home). And since he was correct about what Emily wasn’t, even if he was wrong about who she was, there’s an argument to be made that he didn’t do anything immoral. That claim, at least, would be easier to support than Hersh’s assertion that Ritter is “smart.”
Why did Ritter do something so stupid, illegal and arguably immoral? Here’s his explanation:
“Everybody who lied about the war got rewarded,” Ritter said. “Because they played the game. Tell the truth about the war, you don’t get rewarded.” He paused. “And then, you know, let’s be frank–you compound it with me shooting myself in the foot on personal, behavioral issues.” . . .
“I always sort of chuckle when people say, ‘What were you thinking?’ ” Ritter told me. “Well, what part of ‘depressed’ don’t you understand? Find me someone who says depressed people engage in coherent thought.”
Things got a little out of hand. It’s just this war and that lying son of a bitch, Johnson!