The Big, Racist Lie at the Center of the Romney-Ryan Campaign
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in central London on July 26.
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The Romney team appears to have adopted a strategy of throwing so much dishonest spin around that the fact-checkers just throw their hands up in frustration. Along with his bald-faced lie that Obama “raided” Medicare, this week the campaign tripled-down on its universally debunked claim that the Obama administration had killed the welfare “reforms” passed by Bill Clinton. In fact, they defended that ad by citing a fact-free column by Mickey Kaus published on Tucker Carlson's always-wrong right-wing blog, the Daily Caller.
They hope to make inroads attacking welfare because, like the infamous "Southern strategy," it stokes racial animus. Political scientist Michael Tesler studied voters' reactions to seeing Romney's first welfare ad, and found that, “among those who saw it, racial resentment affected whether people thought Romney will help the poor, the middle-class, and African-Americans.”
Ed Kilgore, who writes for the Washington Monthly, knows as much about Clinton's welfare policies as anyone, having served as the Vice President of Policy for the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist Democratic think-tank closely alined with Clinton, in the 1990s. Kilgore joined us on this week's AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss welfare and everything else the Romney-Ryan team is throwing against the wall and hoping to see stick. A lightly edited transcript of the discussion is below (you can listen to the whole show here).
Joshua Holland: I want to talk about Romney-Ryan. Is this the first time both liberals and conservatives have been so gleeful over a vice-presidential pick, or is this the first time in recent memory?
Ed Kilgore: It’s the first time I can really remember it being so equal. Occasionally, you’ll get varying descriptions of how one side thinks a candidate is a handicap and another side thinks he or she is an advantage. But in this case there actually is some overlap, a feeling that this offers the electorate a much clearer choice between the two parties. It certainly makes the Republican ticket stand for something other than, "take a chance on something different." I’d say when the announcement came out over the weekend there was joy pretty much everywhere -- except perhaps among Republican political professionals, who were not happy.
JH: That was part of a story that was leaked over the weekend. The Romney camp put out a full court press on the media, saying that Mitt’s advisers wanted to play it safe and he boldly ignored them with his masculine, sharp chin. He went with his guts. Are you buying that story at all?
EK: I don’t really know. I don’t pretend to look into the man’s soul. One explanation was that Mitt thought that Paul Ryan was exactly the sort of guy he would have hired at Bain Capital. I can sort of believe that. Certainly what it looked like was a significant change in strategy by the Romney campaign. For months and months the argument had been that this is a straight up-and-down referendum on the performance of the economy under Obama. It doesn’t really matter what Romney proposes. You just have to look at his character, his competence, his business experience and blah blah blah. By putting Ryan on the ticket they conceded a huge strategic point to the Obama campaign, helping to make it a choice between two agendas for the future rather than a referendum.
I suspect that’s because the referendum strategy wasn’t working -- in no small part because Romney’s biographically based message was frankly falling apart. His business experience didn’t look that great. He managed to make a huge gaffe at the London Olympics, which made his Olympics stewardship less compelling. He was running out of stuff to talk about. That and the fact that they knew Democrats were going to make the Ryan budget their primary target in the general election. I think they may have simply decided that if nothing else they can get the conservatives off their back. They can regain a little tactical flexibility between now and November. The way I described it initially is that this was Mitt Romney’s way of finally ending the primaries. I think it did accomplish that for him. He no longer is going to have to reassure conservatives every single day that he’s got their interests in mind. That’s taken care of.