WHO LOST AMERICA: Sirota and Lawrence, Dionne and Rendell!


Part 4—The problem is (also) us: How does our rapidly failing nation pretend to discuss major topics?

For starters, consider that front-page report by Annie Lowrey in last month’s New York Times.

Lowrey wrote a “Washington Memo” about Mitt Romney’s absurd tax proposal. There was nothing “wrong” with her report—although she pretty much buried the lede.

According to a meticulous study, Romney’s ridiculous tax proposal isn’t “mathematically possible.” Lowrey failed to cite that eye-catching statement until she hit paragraph 20.

Annie Lowrey buried the lede! Beyond that, she offered a fairly typical New York Times “meta” discussion. But in fairness, no one could cover this Rube Goldberg plan in a single 1200-word report.

Romney’s proposal is quite important. If we live in a rational world, it needed further reporting.

Alas! Right to this day, the New York Times has never reported basic aspects of Romney’s proposal. Right to this day, the Times hasn’t reported on that new study which shows that his math is off by a factor of five. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/17/12.)

At best, Lowrey’s report was a first attempt to explain this pseudo-proposal. But her report pretty much defines the Times’ attempt to explain Romney’s plan.


This morning, Trip Gabriel reports in the Times that “Romney has pledged to pay for sweeping tax cuts by closing loopholes”—full stop, no more explanation. Trust us: Most Times readers have no idea how absurd that “pledge” really is.

In part, this is because their famous newspaper hasn’t attempted to tell them. In part, it's because we liberals have sat and watched as the Times pulls this low-IQ scam.

Why has the New York Times done so little reporting? We can’t tell you that. But most voters have little idea what Romney has proposed—or why his proposal makes so little sense.

The New York Times hasn’t bothered to tell them. So too with the liberal world.

Intellectual standards are very low within our failing society, but this isn’t restricted to Rush and Sean. Standards are low in the mainstream press too—and in the liberal world.

Are we liberals really part of the problem? Actually yes, we are. As a starting point, consider David Sirota’s piece in last Friday’s Salon.

How good a job has the liberal world done explaining Romney’s proposal? Sirota started his column as follows.

This isn’t exactly wrong:
SIROTA (10/12/12): When it comes to tax policy, Mitt Romney is not merely a spinner, an equivocator or a run-of-the-mill dissembler. He’s a liar. Hyperbolic and overwrought as that label seems, it is, alas, the only accurate description for someone who would, in February, promote a proposal to cut taxes “on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent” and then appear at an October debate and insist that the very same proposal “will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.”

For the most part, analyzing such hideous dishonesty is where political reporting has started and stopped. How big a liar is Romney? Was he lying in the first statement or the second one?
For us liberals, it’s pleasing to hear that Romney’s a liar. To hear that he said one thing in February—and that he said something different when he debated Obama.

But Sirota’s piece was less than insightful. Beyond that, it extended the liberal world’s clueless reaction to Obama’s grotesque first debate.

It’s true! In a fleeting remark in late February, Romney made that statement about cutting taxes.

He made the statement during a GOP debate. He made it on the very day he released his absurd new proposal.

But Sirota is citing one brief remark from that one debate—and what follows was part of the context. Omigod!

Romney had “suggested raising taxes on the top one percent,” Rick Santorum correctly alleged:
SANTORUM (2/22/12): Governor Romney even today suggested raising taxes on the top 1 percent, adopting the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric. I'm not going to adopt that rhetoric. I'm going to represent 100 percent of Americans. We're not raising taxes on anybody.


KING: Governor, please quickly, I want to bring the congressman and the speaker into the conversation, but respond.

ROMNEY: There were so many misrepresentations there, it's going to take me a little while. Number one, I said today that we're going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent. So that's number one.
Romney did make that statement that night. His statement was grossly misleading or just plain wrong, depending on your taste in such things. (If he had said "tax rates" instead of "taxes," his statement woukld have been right.)

But why did Santorum say that Romney had “suggested raising taxes on the one percent?” Duh! Because that’s exactly what Romney had done when he released his absurd new proposal!

Once again, here’s the way the New York Times reported that sacred event:
HARWOOD (2/23/12): At a rally in Chandler, Ariz., Mr. Romney promoted the benefits of his approach.

''In order to limit any impact on the deficit, because I do not want to add to the deficit, and also to make sure we continue to have progressivity in our tax code, I'm going to limit the deductions and exemptions, particularly for high-income folks,'' Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, said.

''And by the way, I want to make sure that you understand, for middle-income families, the deductibility of home mortgage interest and charitable contributions, those things will continue,'' he said. ''For high-income folks, we are going to cut back on that, so we make sure that the top 1 percent keeps paying the current share they're paying or more...”

Mr. Romney's top economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, said the plan would cut all six current tax brackets—10 percent, 15 percent, 25 percent, 28 percent, 33 percent, 35 percent, depending on a taxpayer's income—by the same proportion of 20 percent…

But echoing the candidate, he added that Mr. Romney was committed to making his plan both ''revenue neutral”—meaning it won't add to the budget deficit—and ''distributionally neutral”—meaning that it won't shift the tax burden from upper-income Americans to middle- and working-class Americans.
In truth, everything Romney said to Obama was also said in February, on the day this ridiculous plan was released:

He always said he would balance the cut in tax rates with cuts in tax deductions. He always said the plan would be revenue neutral.

He always said the rich would have to keep paying the same share of taxes—maybe more! If the plan was revenue neutral, that meant their tax bills wouldn’t be cut!

This foolish proposal never made any sense (except as a way to create confusion); it was never “mathematically possible!” But Romney didn’t abandon his plan this month—unless you watched Obama flail, or unless you read the clueless work of our stars in the liberal world.

Alas! When Romney debated Obama this month, Obama seemed completely puzzled by the various things Romney said. He claimed that Romney had abandoned his tax proposal—and liberal lackeys jumped in line, pretending Obama was right.

The debate was held on October 3. The next night, the children recited on MSNBC, repeating the things Obama had said, right down to the bogus claim that Romney had been pushing this plan for the past eighteen months.

The most embarrassing effort came from Ed Rendell, clueless on Hardball. Using the L-word, he gave us a thrill.

But he was utterly clueless:
RENDELL (10/4/12): Well Chris, the biggest and worst lie of all, because it’s the central issue facing us, is that he’s not going to cut taxes for rich people. I’ve seen him on tape five times saying—saying he’s going to give a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut to everyone, the top bracket will go from 35 percent to 28 percent.

Well, that’s the richest people in the country. What in God’s name is he talking about? He’s giving people who make $2 million or $3 million a year a quarter of a million dollar tax cut. That’s his plan. It’s the Ryan budget. He said he would sign the Ryan budget. It’s the Romney plan. He’s said it four or five times that I have seen on tape.

It’s a bald-faced lie, and he got away with it last night. He got away with it because the president was very tepid in the way he called him on it. And—what the president should have said is, “Come on, Mitt, I’ve seen you on tape five times saying you’re going to cut the tax rate for everyone by 20 percent. That means the richest Americans are going to get their rate down from 35 percent to 28 percent. How can you stand there and lie to the American people?”
We’re sorry, but that was pathetic. Rendell mentioned Romney's proposal to cut tax rates. He simply ignored Romney's proposal to cut tax deductions.

Romney’s proposal had never made sense. But Ed Rendell showed no sign of knowing what Romney had proposed.

On MSNBC, the various children enjoyed themselves, happily shouting the pleasing word “lie” and echoing Obama’s stupefaction. On the Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell had no earthly clue.

Neither did Alex Wagner:
O’DONNELL (10/4/12): I’ve got to say, I don’t think any of us saw this coming. He disowned the notion of doing a $5 trillion tax cut which has been a fundamental principle of his campaign until last night.

WAGNER: It is amazing, though, that Mitt Romney who’s been so burned by YouTube, here is now proposing that everyone is going to forget the thing that he’s been saying for the last 18 months. I mean, there are tons of footage where he is proposing a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut which costs $4.8 trillion. I mean, there’s no mystery there.

The idea that in the last three and a half weeks, four weeks of this campaign, he's going to be able to whitewash everything that he said is ridiculous.
For whatever reason, those tons of footage were AWOL this night. On this channel, as on Fox, you’re allowed to just say these things!

Lawrence “didn’t see this coming?” In that previous evening’s debate, Romney said the same sorts of things he had said on Day One! By the way, Day One was seven months back at that point, not eighteen. But Wagner politely echoed Obama on that mistaken point too.

In fairness, one of the children did understand that Romney’s comments weren’t surprising. Ezra Klein knew that Romney had said these dumb things all along.

Lawrence said no one imagined this thing! Sadly no, Ezra replied:
O’DONNELL (10/4/12): Not even Franklin Roosevelt could have anticipated the evasion Mitt Romney tried last night on his tax plan. No one anticipated this. There isn’t a single pundit anywhere who predicted what Mitt Romney would say about his tax plan.


Joining me now is Ezra Klein, a columnist for the Washington Post and an MSNBC analyst. Ezra, Mitt Romney says he doesn’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. Does he have a $5 trillion tax cut?

KLEIN: ...I actually wasn’t surprised by what Mitt Romney said last night. I don’t think he’s been inconsistent on this. He said that he’s got a tax cut. That if you just implemented it, it would cost $5 trillion. Those numbers are from the Tax Policy Center. They are credible, they’re probably correct.

What he says, though, and has always said from the very beginning, is he will pay for that tax cut...
Duh. There was more, but the MSNBC transcript is a garbled mess.

Like Ezra, we weren’t surprised by the things Romney said in this month’s first debate. Unlike the various pigeons, we were aware of the stupid dumb shit Romney has said all along.

So was Ezra Klein.

That said, has E. J. Dionne been alive on the planet? That very day, in the Washington Post, he reviewed that first debate in a column which started like this:
DIONNE (10/4/12): Romney's shifting persona

The strangest aspect of Wednesday night's debate was Mitt Romney's decision to change his tax policies on the fly. Having campaigned hard on a tax proposal that called for $5 trillion in tax cuts, he said flatly that he was not offering a $5 trillion tax cut.

"I don't have a tax cut of the scale that you're talking about," Romney said—even though that is exactly the tax cut he has proposed.

Was Romney for his tax plan before he was against it?
That highlighted statement is simply astounding. If Dionne was writing the piece in good faith, he didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about.

Obama seemed amazingly clueless during that first debate. But nine days later, Sirota still seemed lost in a fog about what Romney had done.

Sirota is a real progressive. But let’s revisit the way he started his piece:
SIROTA (10/12/12): When it comes to tax policy, Mitt Romney is not merely a spinner, an equivocator or a run-of-the-mill dissembler. He’s a liar. Hyperbolic and overwrought as that label seems, it is, alas, the only accurate description for someone who would, in February, promote a proposal to cut taxes “on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent” and then appear at an October debate and insist that the very same proposal “will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.”

For the most part, analyzing such hideous dishonesty is where political reporting has started and stopped. How big a liar is Romney? Was he lying in the first statement or the second one?
It’s true! In his debate with Obama, Romney insisted that his tax proposal “will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But he said the same thing in February! That’s why Santorum made the charge which led to that fleeting misstatement.

Can we talk? Romney didn’t abandon his tax proposal during that first debate with Obama. That simply isn’t the problem with this absurd proposal.

What is the actual problem here? This ridiculous tax proposal never made any sense from the start! It was always a big pile of crap, perhaps designed for the purpose of creating confusion.

In that first debate with Obama, Romney toyed with its various parts just as he always had done. All around the liberal world, our leaders seemed unaware, clueless.

The liberal world has had eight months to get clear about Romney's proposal. We’ve had eight months to find a way to explain it to average voters.

We had eight months—but we’re not super bright, and we’re really quite lazy. On October 3, Obama somehow seemed to think that Romney had abandoned his plan—and all the children fell in line, expressing similar bafflement.

One result? Average voters have never been told how absurd this proposal is.

As he watched that first debate, Ezra Klein understood. But Lawrence O'Donnell was utterly bollixed. Alex was happy to recite, just as it has always been done by the well-scripted spin-bots on Fox.

We’ve had eight months to find a way to explain the sheer nonsense of this proposal. But all summer long, we gamboled and played.

We liberals like to say we’re bright. If you care about your country’s future, the truth is disturbingly different.

Tomorrow: Our own private Afghanistan!


  1. Neither Anonymous Nor IrishOctober 18, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    "This ridiculous tax proposal never made any sense from the start!"

    But you're angry that we haven't explained it?

    You almost concede that it can't *be* explained!

    But you're angry that the NYT and "the liberal world" haven't explained it?

    That they've "gamboled and played??"

    Well, you're right, actually.

    1. Oh hell, NANA

      Give the Bobber his due. The fact that Romney's position on taxes is incoherent and/or intentionally misleading doesn't mean its dishonesty and incoherence can't be coherently described.

      On the other hand, it doesn't help when Bob insists that Romney's recorded claim that he's going to cut *taxes* (not just rates) "was grossly misleading or just plain wrong" -- because, don't you know, Romney has been insisting all along, in parenthesis, says Bob and Ezra, that's he's not going to lower the taxes of the rich. It apparently doesn't occur to Bob that calling for "rate cuts" as opposed to "tax cuts" is what's "grossly misleading", since Romney is quite transparently concealing that he *is* giving huge tax cuts to the very rich.

      Why do I say that? Because Romney's math doesn't add up! That revelation, after all, is the whole point of giving Romney's tax proposal the attention Bob wants it to get: to show that it doesn't compute, and that there's no way to recoup that 20% rate cut by cutting the deductions of the very rich, particularly if you're going to keep capital gains taxes low, sustain the carried interest loophole (billionaires pay 15%) and eliminate the estate tax.

      So, the effect of Romney's proposal is to give the rich a huge tax, because the 20% rate cut is the *only* proposal he's announced and is committed to. But, in Bob's universe, we're not allowed to say that he's cutting taxes, because most of the time Romney says he's cutting rates, not taxes. Helpful?

    2. "We’ve had eight months to find a way to explain the sheer nonsense of this proposal."

      Bob, to echo the above comments, how can you possibly explain "sheer nonsense"?

      And especially when you yourself are willing to give Romney a pass every time he comes up with a new version of this sheer nonsense, as you did just two weeks ago?

    3. Neither Anonymous Nor IrishOctober 18, 2012 at 2:46 PM

      Not so helpful.

      It's a LIBERAL POV that insists (even perhaps correctly!) that Romney's "real" plan is just the tax rate (and tax bill) cut for everyone (which would in $ terms mostly benefit the rich).

      But Romney has also "announced," many, many times that he will not let the rich pay a lower share of the tax burden. So he's as "committed" to that as to the rate cut, rhetorically.

      He has "announced," too, repeatedly, that his tax plan will be revenue neutral. Another, rhetorically equal commitment.

      He's also "announced," that this will also (magically?) reduce the federal deficit.

      You or I or anyone may think that parts of this are more likely to be his "real priority" -- but the fact is that -- as a matter of arguing his plan to the American people -- Romney is wedded to the Whole Thing, not just the part someone chooses to emphasize.

      You (and Somerby) are right -- "the math" does not permit all of these things to be true at once.

      But those other parts are important parts of the Romney For President sales pitch. We ignore the sales pitch at our peril.

      So your first paragraph is right: This debacle of a plan CAN be coherently described.

      And that just supports Somerby's contention: It's a monstrous failure of the so-called liberal and mainstream media that they have mostly FAILED to do so.

    4. I’ll try again
      Assume Romney’s right, the top earners are paying 60% of tax revenue while the rest of us are paying the other 40%. If he gives an across the board 20% tax cut, the top earners will still pay 60% and the rest 40%.

      Imagine the total revenue is $500. Top Earners now pay $300, Bottom Dwellers pay $200.

      If there’s an across the 20% board cut, the top earners would then pay $240 and the bottom $160. The top earners still pay 60%, but the tax cut benefitted them by $60, but only by $40 for the lower 95%.

      So it does benefit the wealthy the most, while keeping them paying 60% of the total bill.
      After you grasp that, explain how these three statements can all be true.

      1) In the first debate he said: "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."

      2) In the second debate he changed that and said: “The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects.”

      3) In both debates he unequivocally said he’d lower tax rates on the middle class.

    5. And of course, don't forget, "We need to lower tax rates in order to stimulate small business. The wealthy will still be paying the same percentage, but we'll give the middle class a tax cut because they've been crush. But it will be revenue neutral."

      Or so the fantasy goes.

      Now once again, try explaining bat-shit crazy.

  2. Of course he’s lying.
    1) In the first debate he said: "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."

    2) In the second debate he changed that and said: “The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects.”

    3) In both debates he unequivocally said he’d lower tax rates on the middle class.

    If the lower earners, meaning the people paying the 40%, are going to be sending the IRS fewer dollars , then the top earners also need to send in fewer dollars to remain at the same percentage. Meaning high income people would have their taxes reduced.
    If he intends to be revenue neutral for the top 5%, then he would also have to be revenue neutral for the bottom 95%. Meaning the middle class would not get a tax cut.
    This is 3rd grade math, and 9th grade logic. He lied, QE freakin’D.

  3. Since when is Ed Rendell reomtely considered a liberal?

    He's as liberal as Evan Bayh or Ben Nelson.

  4. This post of yours is about as convoluted as the evolution, de-evolution, re-evolution, and re-de-evolution, of Romney's tax saga. Sorry, Bob, but you're going to have to work harder on clear writing.

  5. I agree with The Daily Howler's object to the "lie" meme. Paul Ryan, seems to me,
    did very little if any fibbing in the debate, what was being called out was his rank hypocrisy. What Sirota calls out (and TDH makes so little of) was a two facedness
    Mitt has displayed on every issue. The central dishonesty both sides have to live
    with is that Mitt doesn't get the "math." Of course he does, the drill is, you create
    such dire straights with the economy that you force the county to get rid of
    the entitlements special interest groups have foisted on us, like Social Security
    and The Department of Education. What will Mitt cut? He tells us in all honesty
    he won't tell us.
    Bob's absurd pooh poohing of the 47% percent revelation tells us he has
    a long way to go in giving a crap about struggling Americans as well. It's also
    fair to note, how many times has Bob bashed the dimwitted Dowd with her
    comment about writing about Welfare reform? Presumably Dowd uttered hive
    giveaway to Joe Klein only once. But Romney, who's running for President, gets
    a pass because he only made his statement only once? It what sort of world
    do we expect satirical Ob Ed writers to be more responsible than the leader of
    the free world?

  6. Dear Neither Anonymous,

    We are living in a world in which the noise machine and its groupes can actually attempt to claim with a straight face, that Barack Obama didn't say for two weeks that Benghazi was an act of terror because he only "implied" it when he said it was an "act of terror" in his first speech about Benghazi on the day after Benghazi.

    Do you recall two weeks ago when Somerby said Romney was right when he said that it wasn't a $5 trillion tax cut because Romney was only talking about "tax rates" and besides, Romney said the 20 percent rate cut was still open to negotiation? Then Somerby's claim that when Ryan specifically said "20 percent" he "restored specificity" to the plan? Specificity on the size of the rate cut that was ALWAYS on the Romney/Ryan Web site?

    Now try to "explain" Romney's tax in a way that satisfies Somerby when Romney is allowed to move the goal posts like that.

    And yes, it has been done. And reported. Several times.

    But when it is done, Somerby nit-picks the point he thinks is weakest and tosses the entire analysis out.

    But you don't have to take my word for it. Go back and read the Incomparable Archives.

    I never thought I'd have to say this, but Somerby's work this entire election cycle has been incredibly weak and far below the standard I used to expect from him.

    But if you want to think he is some savant, go ahead. Free country.

    1. Neither Anonymous Nor IrishOctober 19, 2012 at 11:25 AM

      If you want to imagine that the reporting on Romney's plan has been good you're welcome to that delusion.

      I won't be joining you in it.