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.
The Republican front-runner’s repetition of a blatantly ridiculous story about Ted Cruz’s father shows his symbiotic relationship with the press.
Brace yourselves for shock, but Donald Trump said something ridiculous and baseless Tuesday morning. The subject was Rafael Cruz, Cuban-born father of his primary remaining rival, Senator Ted Cruz.
“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being—you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said during a phone interview with Fox News. “What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. I mean, they don't even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
Let’s clear a few things up: It has been reported, which is why Trump knows about it, but it was reported in the National Enquirer. Also there is no evidence for it; it’s bogus. Yes, the National Enquirer has been right about some things in the past, most notably John Edwards’s affair; no, that does not prove that it is right about this.
A claymation video with a grim plot line accompanies a blessedly straightforward if nerve-wracking tune.
Radiohead’s music often works like a puzzle, and it’s not clear whether many people ever solved the one posed by their 2011 album, The King of Limbs, whose funereal swirl only fleetingly provided the beauty and pop payoff that defined the band’s previous work.
Today’s new Radiohead song, “Burn the Witch,” blessedly does not hide its power. Sonically novel yet viscerally moving, gorgeous yet terrifying, it is the sound of Radiohead returning to do what it exists to do. The video is a claymation retelling of The Wicker Man, in which a police officer arrives at a town that is—spoiler alert!—secretly preparing to burn him in a ritual sacrifice. Thom Yorke’s lyrics speak of the kind of mass action and complacency that allows such a crime and, the logic probably goes, many other cruelties committed by societies.
Rampant drug use in Austin, Indiana—coupled with unemployment and poor living conditions—brought on a public-health crisis that some are calling a “syndemic.”
Jessica and Darren McIntosh were too busy to see me when I arrived at their house one Sunday morning. When I returned later, I learned what they’d been busy with: arguing with a family member, also an addict, about a single pill of prescription painkiller she’d lost, and injecting meth to get by in its absence. Jessica, 30, and Darren, 24, were children when they started using drugs. Darren smoked his first joint when he was 12 and quickly moved on to snorting pills. “By the time I was 13, I was a full-blown pill addict, and I have been ever since,” he said. By age 14, he’d quit school. When I asked where his caregivers were when he started using drugs, he laughed. “They’re the ones that was giving them to me,” he alleged. “They’re pill addicts, too.”
Journalists and policy makers can have a hard time describing the economy when “average” departs so markedly from what's normal.
There is an easy story to tell about the Obama Recovery. Devastated by a financial crash, the U.S. launched a historic comeback. The private sector added jobs in 73 consecutive months, the longest stretch ever. Unemployment is lower today than in the month Reagan left office. Real GDP has grown more than 13 percent since its most-recent low in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. That’s more than twice as much growth as in some western European countries, like France. Compared to how countries typically perform after financial crises, the United States has “probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history,” President Obama toldThe New York Times Magazine.
But there is an opposite story that is attracting widespread support and millions of votes: The recovery is a failure. Donald Trump is an IMAX projection of white working-class grievances, calling America “a third-world country.” Bernie Sanders’s supporters describe a country where poverty and financial insecurity are not bugs but rather features of a rigged economy. The pessimistic style is not niche: Trump and Sanders have amassed a combined 16 million votes.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
The billionaire’s bid for the nomination was opposed by many insiders—but his success reveals the ascendance of other elements of the party coalition.
In The Party Decides, an influential book about how presidential nominees are selected, political scientists John Zaller, Hans Noel, David Karol, and Marty Cohen argue that despite reforms designed to wrest control of the process from insiders at smoke-filled nominating conventions, political parties still exert tremendous influence on who makes it to general elections. They do so partly through “invisible primaries,” the authors posited—think of how the Republican establishment coalesced around George W. Bush in 2000, long before any ballots were cast, presenting him as a fait accompli to voters who’d scarcely started to think about the election; or how insider Democrats elevated Hillary Clinton this election cycle.
The comedian's n-bomb at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner highlights a generational shift in black culture.
Georgia McDowell was born the daughter of farmers and teachers in North Carolina in 1902. She was my great-grandmother, and she taught me to read, despite the dementia that clouded her mind and the dyslexia that interrupted mine. I loved Miss Georgia, though she kept as many hard lines in her home as she had in her classrooms. One of the hardest lines was common to many black households: The word “nigger” and all of its derivatives were strict taboos in person, on television, and on radio from any source, black or otherwise, so long as she lived and breathed. She’d kept the taboo through decades of teaching black students and raising black children. For most of my childhood, the taboo was absolute.
The event is everything awesome about fashion, stripped of the shame.
The red carpet as a concept stretches back, as far as we know today, to 458 B.C. In the Aeschylus play Agamemnon, the hero of the Trojan War returns home to find that his wife has rolled out a crimson carpet for him to walk upon—a visual celebration of his wartime escapades. Agamemnon, however, resists stepping on “these tinted splendors”: The carpet is the walkway of the gods, he explains, and he—“a man, a mortal”—cannot claim such a luxury for himself.
The red carpet of today, pranced upon by gods of a distinctly mortal variety, knows no such modesty. On the contrary: It has become its own kind of war zone, one that demands that those who walk upon it slay, and kill it, and otherwise win. One in which the work of unseen strategists—designers; stylists; publicists; manicurists; facialists—is finally put to the test of battle. The red carpet is a Darwinian competition that has also, in the manner of the circuses of the ancients, become a form of public spectacle.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!