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.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.
Amy Amidon has listened to war stories on a daily basis for almost a decade.
As a clinical psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she works with a multi-week residential program called OASIS, or Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support, for soldiers who have recently returned from deployments. Grief and fear dominate the majority of the conversations in OASIS: Amidon regularly hears participants talk about improvised explosive devices claiming the lives of close friends; about flashbacks of airstrikes pounding cities to rubble; about days spent in 120-degree desert heat, playing hide and seek with a Taliban enemy. Many veterans in the program are there seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The sport should worry that it has only one popular contest and one real star—who’s reached his peak.
On Saturday, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut will attempt to defend his title in the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. He’ll probably win, and if he does it’ll be his ninth straight victory—a feat of longevity rarely seen in any athletic competition. Despite being pushed hard by last year’s runner-up in the annual contest, Chestnut’s total of 61 hot dogs consumed was still notably better than the second-place contestant’s 56. By all accounts, Chestnut is the best in the world at what he does.
But his success in the contest masks a problem—he’s been so dominant for so long in Major League Eating’s flagship event that the sport has failed to give rise to a successor. MLE is synonymous with the Nathan’s contest, and the Nathan’s contest is Chestnut’s turf. Ironically, the sport that rewards competitors for focusing on a single food in any given contest may well be undone by its own myopic focus on Chestnut on the Fourth of July.