He may still be slogging it out in the Republican primary, but he used a speech in Chicago to try to shape his general-election message.
Mitt Romney hasn't yet made it out of the Republican primary, but in a speech on the economy at the University of Chicago Monday, he didn't mention Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Instead, Romney did his best impression of a Republican presidential nominee, contending that President Obama has sought to erode Americans' "economic freedom."
The speech didn't roll out any new policy proposals or open any broad new themes for Romney, but it offered a preview of how he'll approach his tricky general-election challenge -- arguing that the president is egregiously mishandling the economy even as, for the moment at least, the economy is improving.
Earlier in the day Monday, Romney acknowledged as much, telling a crowd in Springfield, Ill.: "I believe the economy is coming back, by the way. ... The problem is this [recession] has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been, by virtue of the policies of this president."
In the Chicago speech, Romney pointed to the "weak recovery" as "proof" that the current administration has squelched growth. "This administration thinks our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small," he said. "The truth is we're struggling because our government is too big."
Romney's speech had a highbrow cast, beginning as it did with a hoary anecdote about Milton Friedman, whom he referred to chummily by his first name. (The story: Watching workers on a government project in Asia building a canal with shovels, Friedman wondered why they didn't use machines; he was told it was a jobs program. "If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels," he supposedly said. Though Romney used the story to demonstrate that "government does not create prosperity," this is not necessarily an argument against government's ability to create jobs -- nor is it clear that Friedman is the true source of this well-worn economic anecdote.)
Romney proceeded to cite the Harvard historian David Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations -- a work that looks to explain the economic miracle of the development of Western Europe, a region whose oppressive socialism Romney routinely laments.
In this speech, though, Romney didn't use that particular bit of red meat, another potential sign he's moving on from the GOP base-baiting of the primary. He used Landes' theory that "culture" is the fundamental underpinning of economic success to argue that America's culture of economic freedom is what "drives our economic vitality." Those who would raise taxes or expand burdensome regulation, he said, threaten that fundamental freedom.
Taxes and regulation are bad -- a pretty boilerplate Republican notion, and Romney didn't go into too many specifics about his own plans. Instead, he related folksy anecdotes of suffering Americans: a guitar-amp-maker in St. Louis who claims the government skims 65 percent of his business's profits; a couple in Idaho who the EPA wouldn't allow to construct a home on their residential property.
Romney quoted from Obama's own words, citing his speech last week that Americans "are inventors, we are builders, we are makers of things, we are Thomas Edison, we are the Wright Brothers, we are Bill Gates, we are Steve Jobs."
Actually, Romney claimed, "the reality is that under President Obama's administration, these pioneers would have found it much, much more difficult, if not impossible, to innovate, invent and create." Regulators, he said, "would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their dust pollution," while "the government would have banned Thomas Edison's light bulb -- oh yeah, they just did." (In fact, legislation increasing light-bulb efficiency standards passed under George W. Bush and didn't ban incandescent bulbs.)
Curiously, Romney didn't mention gas prices, which many Republicans see as Obama's biggest economic vulnerability at the moment. He took three questions. To a query about his proposed tax cuts increasing the deficit, as independent analysts have claimed, he argued that he would make up the difference by cutting spending and increasing economic growth. To a question about urban poverty, he vowed to send federal welfare money to be administered by states and localities instead, then turned to education, which he vowed to fix in part by paying teachers more.
To a question about youth concerns, Romney got a bit flustered. "I don't see how a young American could vote for a Democrat. I apologize for being so offensive in saying that," he said, as if abashed by the way he just couldn't help being so partisan. Democrats, he said, are threatening future generations' prosperity by piling up debt and threatening the long-term sustainability of entitlement programs.
Not so long ago, it was Obama who was in the unenviable position of arguing a counterfactual: Sure, the economy is bad, but it could have been so much worse! Trust me! Now, it's Romney who is in that position: Sure, the economy is OK, but it could have been so much better! Either way, it's a tough argument to make.
For Romney, it's even tougher when you're still taking incoming from your own side. In advance of Tuesday's Illinois primary, Santorum was stepping up his attacks on Romney from the right. But as Romney continues his grim slog toward the nomination -- he declined to mention it, but his introducer in Chicago read the tally of his delegate lead over his rivals -- he seems to be figuring that the best way to get the Republican Party to see him as its standard-bearer is to start acting like he already is.
A new survey suggests the logistics of going to services can be the biggest barrier to participation—and Americans’ faith in religious institutions is declining.
The standard narrative of American religious decline goes something like this: A few hundred years ago, European and American intellectuals began doubting the validity of God as an explanatory mechanism for natural life. As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinking—not just about medicine and mechanics, but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.
Of course, this tale is not just reductive—it’s arguably inaccurate, in that it seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality behind contemporary American belief. For one thing, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly religious, despite years of predictions about religion’s demise. A significant number of people who don’t identify with any particular faith group still say they believe in God, and roughly 40 percent pray daily or weekly. While there have been changes in this kind of private belief and practice, the most significant shift has been in the way people publicly practice their faith: Americans, and particularly young Americans, are less likely to attend services or identify with a religious group than they have at any time in recent memory.
Two decades ago, Osama bin Laden officially launched al-Qaeda’s struggle against the United States. Neither side has won.
Exactly two decades ago, on August 23, 1996, Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. At the time, few people paid much attention. But it was the start of what’s now the Twenty Years’ War between the United States and al-Qaeda—a conflict that both sides have ultimately lost.
During the 1980s, bin Laden fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. After the Soviets withdrew, he went home to Saudi Arabia, then moved to Sudan before being expelled and returning to Afghanistan in 1996 to live under Taliban protection. Within a few months of his arrival, he issued a 30-page fatwa, “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” which was published in a London-based newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and faxed to supporters around the world. It was bin Laden’s first public call for a global jihad against the United States. In a rambling text, bin Laden opined on Islamic history, celebrated recent attacks against U.S. forces in Lebanon and Somalia, and recounted a multitude of grievances against the United States, Israel, and their allies. “The people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Jewish-Christian alliance and their collaborators,” he wrote.
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.
Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.
Intensely emotional and uncompromising, the singer’s long-awaited new album meditates on the passage of time.
Frank Ocean is still thinking about forever. One of his two new albums is called Endless, even though its songs all seem to end too soon. The more significant release, called either Blonde or Blond depending on where you acquire it, repeatedly laments nights, season, and years that can never be retrieved. The first time his unadorned vocals appear on that album, Ocean sings, “We'll let you guys prophesy / We gon' see the future first.” The line comes across as a challenge to get on his level and unhitch from the present—a necessary step before accessing the deep pleasures of his uncompromising new music.
Ocean’s obsession with time has been well-documented by now. His 2011 debut had the self-explanatory title Nostalgia, Ultra and his 2012 breakout, Channel Orange, was inspired by a teenage summer that, he said, seemed “orange.” He’s like the memory machine in Pixar’s Inside Out, processing the past into gemlike objects that can be sorted by visual cue and emotional essence. The blonds and blondes of Blond(e) are, on one level of interpretation, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends. He references car models—Acuras, Ferraris, X6s—as shorthand for life phases. And on the luminous new track “Ivy,” he describes a callous breakup but keeps saying that when he thinks about the relationship, “the feeling still deep down is good.” Good: one simple word explains and colors all the complexity he’s sung about elsewhere in the song.
Polling within the margin of error among African Americans, the Republican tries new outreach—but his approach seems doomed to failure.
Although Donald Trump has long claimed to “have a great relationship with the blacks,” the polls tell a different story, with Trump frequently polling in the single digits among black voters. Over the last few days, the Republican nominee has added a new passage to his stump speech, reaching out to the African American community.
Our government has totally failed our African American friends, our Hispanic friends and the people of our country. Period. The Democrats have failed completely in the inner cities. For those hurting the most who have been failed and failed by their politicians—year after year, failure after failure, worse numbers after worse numbers. Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it's safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats. And I ask you this, I ask you this—crime, all of the problems—to the African Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I'll straighten it out. I'll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?
The Republican nominee is pledging to follow an approach that resembles President Obama's.
Donald Trump is stepping back from one of the main themes of his presidential campaign: a promise to crack down on illegal immigration. He is now pledging to pursue an immigration policy that resembles President Obama’s.
On Monday night, Trump said in an interview on Fox News that “the first thing we’re going to do if and when I win is we’re going to get rid of all of the ‘bad ones.’” As for the immigrant population as a whole, “we’re going to go through the process,” Trump said, adding, “What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country. Bush, the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m going to do the same thing.”
A look at the many conflicts over the precious, tasty mineral that humans need to survive
Salt is a magical substance. It reduces bitterness, enhances sweetness, boosts flavor, and preserves perishable foods. Without it, we would die: The human body can't make sodium, but our nerves and muscles don't work without it. It was considered rare until quite recently, so it's hardly surprising that, throughout history, salt has been the engine behind empires and revolutions. Today, there's a new battle in the salt wars, between those who think that we eat too much of it and it's killing us—and those who think most of us are just fine. Join us for a serving of salt, seasoned with science, history, and a little politics.
Chain restaurants, which for so long used their decorations to celebrate America’s past, are now focusing on a (clutter-free) future.
T.G.I. Friday’s is losing its flair. In place of the casual-dining restaurant’s traditional, signature look—a little bit Antiques Roadshow, a little bit Hoarders—the chain announced earlier this year that it would be adopting a new, modernized aesthetic: blond wood, clean lines, bright-but-soft lighting. In appearance, decidedly sleek; in vibe, decidedly Upscale Cafeteria.
In that, Fridays’ is going to be looking a lot like … Applebee’s, which recently announced a similar update to its front-of-the-house situation. And Chili’s. And Ruby Tuesday. And Olive Garden. And also like fast-food chains, which are, like their up-market competitors, embracing the strategically pared-down style that you might call “high meh-dern”: McDonald’s recently unveiled a series of new “design concepts” for its stores, all of them replacing the chain’s signature primary-colored formica with, yep ... blond wood, clean lines, and bright-but-soft lighting. Burger King has been giving its restaurants similar facelifts. So has Wendy’s. And Arby’s. And KFC. And Taco Bell.
The president, facing criticism that he remained on vacation during the historic flooding, toured some of the worst-hit areas on Tuesday.
NEWS BRIEF President Obama visited Louisiana Tuesday, the site of recent historic flooding that has displaced tens of thousands of people, damaged scores more homes, and is blamed for the death of 17 people.
The president arrived in Baton Rouge, the state capital, amid criticism for not cutting short his annual vacation to travel to affected areas and see the damage firsthand; when the flooding was at its worst last week, Obama and the first family were in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. They returned to Washington on Sunday. (Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, had said he’d prefer Obama to wait a “week or two” to visit because of the resources that would need to be diverted for a presidential visit.)
We’ve been flying around the country for the last three years, visiting dozens of towns that are reinventing themselves after some kind of big economic or demographic change. I have also, in a way, matched those flights stroke by stroke in America’s public swimming pools. On our first day on the ground in any town, I search for a public pool. I started swimming around the country as a way to maintain some sense of normal in my physical activity after all that flying. And then I came to appreciate it as another window into the culture and spirit of the towns we visited. I wish Ryan Lochte could share some of my experience.
Like much of America—and I’m betting most of the many hundreds of kids I have seen swimming in pools around the nation, too—I was glued to the Olympic swimming events. Katie Ledecky, Maya DiRado, Michael Phelps, truth-teller Lilly King. And then, enter Ryan Lochte.