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BOTH SIDES NOW: Can Mitt's 'Rope-a-Hope' Tactic Work?

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By Mark Green

To moderate and appeal more to women, Romney showed up as a near-peacenik in the foreign policy debate. As Biden facetiously asked, was he there to debate or endorse the president? Will he next claim that his Mission in France was "community organizing"? Also, since Romney never refers to Obama's race, and Obama never to Romney's religion, Both Sides Now does.

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On the Final Debate. Instead of analyzing the quality and content of what was said in Boca Raton, most of the media just bought into the argument that Romney passed some "commander-in-chief" test. Ron Reagan argues that Obama easily won the substantive debate since "Romney was out of his depth because he doesn't have a lot of foreign policy experience" while Torie Clarke -- who served under Rumsfeld in his second tour at the Pentagon -- maintains that her relatives in Pittsburgh correctly thought that Mitt seemed presidential. She laments that Benghazi didn't come up in any serious way since that was a "disaster" people should know about.

What of Romney's new-found ardor for peace, civil society, a strict 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan, no more Iraqs, and "crippling sanctions" in Iran? Ron sighs that voters can't really know whether "this is merely a debate strategy or deeply held convictions" because this is a candidate "without a core." As for the governor's subdued comments on the consulate attack, Ron has a theory: "since Romney is now getting national security briefings, he presumably knows that the CIA backs up what Susan Rice said that Sunday" so he couldn't say or imply otherwise.

On Taboo Topic #1: Race. Jonathan Alter writes that GOP racist tropes -- birtherism, Sununu on Powell's endorsement, Palin on Obama "shuckin' and jiving" Trump paying for Obama's school records, Gingrich on "the best food-stamp president" -- should be denounced by both parties. Torie asserts that the overwhelming majority of voters care about jobs, security, health care and not racial coda. "[The country] would be better served if we in the media commented more on reality than rhetoric."

Ron counters that it's "willful naivete" to deny that racial rhetoric doesn't appeal to some Republican base voters, which becomes "more extreme and obvious when we have an actual black president... Republicans have been doing this for decades as part of its 'Southern Strategy.'" He anecdotally cites two cars he recently saw "in my liberal home town of Seattle with the bumper sticker "Let's Re-Nig in 2012." Torie pushes back: "was Alter also upset when Andrew Cuomo in 2008, as a Hillary Clinton supporter, said that Obama was "shucking and jiving"? Ron replies that if he said that, that too warrants repudiation. (Host: whatever Alter wrote or Cuomo said goes to their possible hypocrisy... but doesn't exonerate the racial motives and language of birthers/Palin/Trump/Sununu/Gingrich in the context of Barack Obama.)

Last: with polls showing the largest racial divide between black and white voters in decades -- and with one study by a Harvard scholar indicating that Obama in 2008 lost a net 3-5 percentage points because he's African-American -- what will be the role of race in voting next month? Each thinks it's diminished since the last cycle.

On Taboo Topic #2: Religion. Is it kosher for candidates or commentators to discuss Romney's Mormonism?

On the one hand, there's no religious test for office in the Constitution and JFK's famous Houston minister's address in 1960 pretty much put this issue to rest. On the other hand, a) Romney's religious mission as a young man and his years as a lay Bishop running the Church in Boston indicate its centrality in his life, b) Paul Ryan in his vice presidential debate said that "I don't think that a person can separate their private faith from their public life"; and c) many evangelical leaders in the primaries attack Mormonism as a cult, not a Christian denomination?

Like race, says Torie, voters may well consider a candidate's religion when they vote -- as some may have worried about "Obama's 20 year personal association with Rev. Wright" -- but she believes that the overwhelming majority should and will concentrate on how a candidate deals with real problems. She concludes that evangelicals this year will vote in higher numbers for Romney than McCain, who many of them thought was a so-called 'Republican-in-name-only."

Ron believes that voters want presidential candidates to profess faith generally but "not talk about the specifics of their religion."

*On Taboo Topic #3: Lies. Remember Bob Dole telling Bush41 to "stop lying about my record"? Didn't help him at all because in campaigns it's often worse to call someone a liar than to be one.

Torie argues that each partisan believes that the other party's nominee repeatedly lies, "but not their guy." Ron agrees that politicians lie and mislead ("like saying that cookies are sweet"). It's one thing, however, "to fudge who first proposed the Sequester compromise or how many troops should have been kept in Iraq but another to look into the camera and say that your health care plan covers pre-existing conditions when it doesn't!"

Torie: "Was Obama lying when he said that he'd close Gitmo?" Ron jumps in. "That's apples and oranges! Republicans in Congress wouldn't allow him to close Gitmo... Republicans are now into post-truth reality when they deny that global warming exists. That's just a lie!"

What about Obama's jibes about "Romnesia," not necessarily willful misstatements but the ability to effortlessly, repeatedly, expeditiously switch positions? Ron harps on how Romney's views on abortion depend on what campaign he's in -- and he changed after citing him mother's life-long beliefs when he ran for Governor in 1994. Torie concludes that Romney does this no more often than Obama.

(Host: while non-partisan fact-checkers have chided both camps, they have more frequently criticized Romney-Ryan for pants-on-fire whoppers: Apology Tour; 12 million new jobs from tax plan and pre-existing conditions covered in health plan; auto bailout/bankruptcy; $716 billion cut from Medicare for Obamacare; 'you didn't build that'; deficit doubled in past four years; half of firms bankrupt after receiving Green Stimulus funds; JEEP moving abroad; Ryan ran 2:50 marathon; workfare requirement dropped from Welfare Reform; GM plant in Janesville failed under Obama.)

*Quick Takes: A Romney-Biden Administration? A Reverse 2000 Electorally? Neither panelist would bite on the .4 percent chance, according to Nate Silver, that there could be a 269-269 tie (Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin swing to Romney as Virginia goes to Obama), with the result that the House would then vote to make Romney president and the Senate Biden the next vice-president. Ron says he can't wrap his brain around such a phenomenal situation, only that "each would drive the other insane" with Biden breaking Senate ties against his President!

Ok, what about a reverse 2000, with Romney winning the popular vote and Obama the electoral vote, and therefore the presidency? Would the GOP grumpily conclude that 44 is still president according to the Constitution -- as Democrats did with W in 2001 -- or would they do something else? Torie assures us that adult Republicans would fall into line. Ron doubts it. "They already treat him as illegitimate. Imagine if he doesn't get a majority."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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