by Mark Green
Watching the presidential ad wars, it's hard to tell that dueling went out with Burr-Hamilton. The rules of the current contest seem to be what folks from Henry Ford to Lee Atwater have emphasized -- "never complain, never explain." In that context, Spitzer and Matalin grade a) the Reid-Romney exchange on taxes, b) five ads that preview the Fall campaign and b) a VP pick that could be either smart or suicidal.
*On Reid vs. Romney. Eliot and Mary agree that Harry Reid, a former boxer, had hit Mitt below the belt by alleging without substantiation that he hadn't paid taxes in some or many years. George Will bristled that Reid was a "McCarthy from the desert." But why did Romney walk into Reid's trap and assure that tax filings would be big news for another week? Mary agrees that Romney shouldn't have responded at all while Eliot concludes that he should indeed release more returns to clear the air "though no one's accused him of anything unethical."
The Host politically calls out his friend Eliot as a high-minded "weenie." Unlike a McCarthy who falsely accused thousands of powerless people with the capital crime of treason, Reid is charging a peer politician with tax avoidance, which is both probably true and which Romney alone can answer by disclosure... and his "put up or shut up" bravado was exactly the wrong thing to say given the situation. Nor is the issue merely releasing one or three or 10 years of forms -- it's a economic system rigged and gamed by the 1%, like Romney. Indeed, the Right appears shocked because, after decades of impugning liberals as un-American socialists, Democrats have given Republicans a truthful taste of their own medicine. And Romney swallowed.
*Obama's Tax Ad. This commercial asserts that Romney earned $20 million in one year yet paid a lower rate than average taxpayers -- and is now proposing a plan that would reduce his taxes even further while costing average middle class families up to $2000 each.
Eliot calls it "a superb ad that focuses on a genuine issue and is fact-based" since it's grounded on a Tax Policy Center study. Mary strongly objects, saying that study is partisan and "completely false." But if Romney insists on a plan without specifics that reduces taxes to top earners while being revenue neutral, she's asked, won't the middle class pay more through lost deductions, as even Bruce Bartlett and Robert Samuelson contend? Mary explains that the subject of tax rates must be viewed in the larger context of tax reform and that "when you flatten rates, you increase revenue." Eliot says that's wishful thinking and that "Romney's problem is math... they got their numbers wrong."
*Obama's Women's Ad. This ad alleges that Romney "doesn't get it" since his statements about defunding Planned Parenthood and preventive health care would "drag us back to the 1950s."
Eliot thinks this spot effectively appeals to single, swing women who like Planned Parenthood but didn't like Rush Limbaugh when he called Sandra Fluke "a slut," an incident that was replayed extensively on the news since she introduced Obama at a Colorado rally the day the ad was released. (Presumably, the timing was no fluke, nor was use of the vivid verb "dragged." Well-played Chicago.)
Mary also gives the ad a political thumbs-up but only because it appeals to ignorant viewers already in his base. "There is no such thing as free services and women voters care more about the economy since they pay the bills." That's true. So why is there a 50-38 percent gender gap favoring Obama among independent women?
*Obama Super PAC's Bain Ad. This one-minute ad was produced by Priorities USA, an Obama Super PAC. It tells the story of Joe Soptic, in his own words, who was laid off by Bain Capital at GST Steel in 2001, which caused him to lose his health insurance and later his wife after a too-late diagnosis of terminal cancer. Though the ad hasn't yet actually run on TV, it's garnered a huge attention online, on Twitter and on the news.
Mary says that she feels badly for Soptic's situation but he shouldn't be used as a "pawn in a political fight." She correctly notes that most neutral observers -- like Wolf Blitzer, Mark Halperin -- have condemned the spot on grounds of taste and accuracy. (Bill Burton, the head of the Super PAC, asked Blitzer, "What fact in that ad is wrong?")
Eliot agrees that the ad crosses the line but laughs at how it provoked a Romney spokeswoman to respond that if the Soptics lived in Massachusetts under Governor Romney, they would have been covered. Does this point out the schizophrenia and incoherence of a campaign saying that health outcomes under Romneycare were good... but were somehow bad under Obamacare? Mary allows that all spokespeople make mistakes but that this "mis-articulation" wouldn't matter much given everything else in the campaign and that the Romney camp should figure out how to "jujitsu" false charges to expose Team Obama.
*Romney's Welfare Ad. This ad asserts that Obama "gutted" the work requirement in Clinton's welfare plan. But many neutral observers have given it Four Pinocchios.
Mary acknowledges that technically Obama didn't "gut" or drop the work requirement but that giving states waivers to find other ways to encourage work in effect weakened it. Eliot gives the ad a thumbs-down because it's flatly false and Bill Clinton himself was cited in it yet has repudiated it. Mary gives it a thumbs-up "because people are tired of taxing producers to finance those who pay no taxes." Eliot pounces -- the poor do pay excise, payroll, sales taxes but don't pay income taxes because... well, they're poor.
*Romney's Religion Ad. Citing Pope John II, this ad asserts that Obama has launched a "war on religion" by forcing some people to violate their faith.
Eliot disagrees with the policy behind the ad but thinks that it effectively stokes Romney's base and certainly hits Reagan Democrats -- i.e., white Catholics -- in the gut. The Host wonders whether Mary really believes that a practicing Protestant President would "war" on religion and whether it's tasteless to invoke a deceased Pope who fully supported free health services for the poor? Mary counters that Obamacare requires the Church [actually, the insurance companies of Catholic hospitals) to fund things they don't believe in, like contraception and abortifacients. So a 2000-year-old Vatican edict that's now largely ignored by Catholic women should change public law? Yes, she replies, since Obamacare "undermines religious freedom which is a first principle."
*Quick Takes: Curiosity on Mars. Ryan on Ticket. Female moderator at Debates. For the first time after 100 shows, BSN commentators agreed on every Quick Take.
Both a) marveled at Curiosity, b) thought a female moderator was overdue at the presidential debates (with CNN's Candy Crowley getting their nod) and c) concurred that Paul Ryan would be a good VP selection [the show was taped a day before the announcement] because it would mean that the Fall election would "be a big ideological debate." Finally, a Red-Blue agreement on a major political issue. But wouldn't a Medicare-ending, cuts-only, Ayn Rand-devotee embodying the 14 percent unpopular House be a very risky bet? In effect, both Matalin and Spitzer say a version of -- bring it on! A high-stakes election has gotten higher.
Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.
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