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Both Sides Now: Can Romney Rebound With an Atlas Shrugged Speech?

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By Mark Green

Rick Perry's campaign hits a reef and capsizes. He'll be missed since few candidates assert that NATO ally Turkey is run by "Islamic terrorists" and that a Christian president has launched a war against his own religion.

The Fox and CNN debates last week made Kennedy-Nixon look tame by comparison. Discussing them and the curiouser and curiouser GOP contest, Eliot Spitzer and Mary Matalin reach consensus on what Romney needs to do to salvage his wounded candidacy but then clash over whether Gingrich was a racial demagogue in South Carolina or just a conservative populist.

*On Romney's Returns: Since he's confronted the issue of disclosing tax returns in his '94 Senate race, '02 governor's race, '08 presidential bid, why did Romney commit the "unforced error" of vacillation? "Maybe" he'd follow his father's example with a multi-year disclosure? [Host: after taping Both Sides Now and his loss in South Carolina, the former governor announced that he'd release two years, 2010 and 2011.]

Eliot and Mary agree with nearly all editorial writers that Romney needs to disclose years of his returns -- it's "political malpractice" not to do so, she declares -- but also that he change the subject from his Gekko-image to the "craziness" of the current tax code. Mary elaborates with a specific course of action: As Perot did on deficits, he should buy time on all stations to deliver a 30 minute address on the moral virtues of capitalism [like John Galt's 70 page stem-winder in Atlas Shrugged?] "If he doesn't or can't do it ," she concludes, "either Romney won't be the nominee or will lose to Obama."

Question: if FDR, JFK and ES were wealthy candidates who weren't as disparaged as Richie-Richs, why is Romney? "Because he's a Republican, duh," answers Mary with fervor. Eliot explains how he himself tried to connect with blue-collar voters and why Mitt, though personally frugal, doesn't. "$364,000 in speeches is a rounding error to a businessman used to big deals." So who then persuades the jury of white working-class male voters this Fall -- the white 1% businessman or the black professor/organizer/president? "Depends who can show life will be better in the future" says Mary.

*On Gingrich vs. the "food stamp president." Was Gingrich's now (in)famous debate exchange with Juan Williams -- and the thunderous audience approval -- based on a racial appeal or economic one? Mary observes that the big lesson she's learned in politics, "especially from my liberal friends", is that "what matters is not what you say but what they hear." She discounts any racial motive because Gingrich's larger point concerned "government overreach." Eliot condemns the former Speaker for using code words to his base and explains that a) food stamp use is high because of a great recession Obama didn't cause and b) no one, black or white, prefers food stamps to a job.

Mary counters that "liberals see things through race-colored glasses while conservatives see individuals." She challenges the charge of so-called "code words" -- "tell me what's the code? I don't know the code!" We then listen to a South Carolina woman telling Gingrich the day after the Fox debate, "Thank you for putting Juan Williams in his place." OK, Mary acknowledges, Newt did invoke the NAACP in making his point but, since nutrition programs aim to help both poor blacks and whites and isn't doing enough, "all of us should at least reexamine this policy."

*On John King and Marianne Gingrich. The two agree that CNN's King ("the best political reporter in the business" according to Mary) was right to ask a question based on the newsworthiness of Marianne's interview with ABC News that day. And that Gingrich was smart to blame-the-messenger -- ABC, CNN, the "elite media" -- for their "despicable, vicious, appalling" judgment to publicize his private life." The Host asks whether those words also describe Gingrich's attempt to impeach a sitting president for similar offenses? There's agreement that voters are free to consider or ignore such private philandering... a non-partisan understanding that would allow Kennedy, Clinton and Gingrich to run and serve. [But the segment runs out before discussing whether Gingrich Republicans will now cease the sanctimony of harshly judging the private morality of others.]

*On the Keystone Pipeline Decision. Eliot thinks that both parties are engaged in politics on this issue, noting that a) the GOP House forced a premature decision by tying it to a non-germane bill on the payroll tax extension and b) Obama has an environmental base he cares about. Mary emphasizes not politics but "the insanity of the policy" -- namely, America needs the energy and jobs that would come from a pipeline shipping hundreds of barrels of crude daily from Canada to the Gulf. Eliot wonders how she could ignore the environmental effects given such calamities as the Fukashima Nuclear plant to the BP explosion near her native New Orleans.

What do they make of the Obama campaign's first tv spot denouncing two billionaires for attack ads about the Administration's record on green jobs and ethics? Eliot believes that the President's spots are necessary to rebut a $6 million barrage from the Koch brothers against his renewable energy agenda in general and Solyndra in particular. Mary believes it to be too defensive and small-minded.

*Quick Takes: Marines. SOTU. What do both sides think of the video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban? They agree that it's deplorable and disgusting. But Mary expresses sympathy for the impossible situation of training young men how "to murder [in combat]" but then asking them to treat the dead respectfully. Eliot slams "those policymakers who pushed these kids into such a losing war."

What do they think President Obama will emphasize in his State of the Union Tuesday night? Mary doesn't bite, concluding that there shouldn't be a SOTU in an election year since it will only be about "the state of his election." Eliot argues that the President should argue that "we're winning the war against terrorism on his watch and the economy is slowly coming back because of his policies." Conclusion: if Mr. Spitzer has to listen to 17 GOP debates, Ms. Matalin should have to listen to one Democratic SOTU.

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

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