The Middle Shall Inherit the Earth: America’s Sin of Omission

My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. And they knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them, but they knew it was so. Because I saw it in their eyes. […] And somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child. I never thought, then in 1928, that I’d be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students, and to help people like them all over this country. But now I do have that chance. And I’ll let you in on a secret… I mean to use it.

Lyndon Johnson (1965), calling for passage of the Voting Rights Act

It wasn’t always this way. When Lyndon Johnson spoke about “all Americans,” he made it crystal clear that he was talking about the poor and people of color. Check out his 1964 election ad and compare it to one of Barack Obama’s most popular ads. Obama talks about everyone but the poor—calling for more taxes on the rich and tax cuts for the middle class. Even Clinton’s much-heralded convention speech discussed how to “empower middle class families and help poor kids.” Notice that the specter of poverty among adults was kept offstage.

Listening to the presidential debates last week, you’d be blown away to discover that one in four black Americans is living in poverty. Or that one in four Hispanic Americans is living in poverty. Or that the national poverty rate for individuals is 15 percent. Mitt Romney mentioned the poor three times, and twice only to say how the federal government should stop trying to help them—first by letting states weaken Medicaid standards, and second by letting states voucherize public education. The final time, Romney argued that “one out of six people [living] in poverty” is proof of Obama’s failing economic policy. Shortsighted as that may be, at least he mentioned the poor. Obama didn’t mention the poor once, aside from a brief nod to those “striving to get in the middle class.” How’s that for #euphemismofthenight?

 I want to hit those numbers again. One in four black Americans is living in poverty. One in four Hispanic Americans is living in poverty. These numbers should be burnt into our collective conscience until we muster the political courage to do something about it. How many presidents? 44. How many states? 50. How many black and Hispanic Americans are living in poverty? One in four.

 And yet, all we hear about is the middle class—a term so vague as to be deceptive. Those “middle class” tax cuts Obama likes to discuss actually reach individuals making up to $250,000. (A quarter of a million, by the way, puts a family in the top 3% of households—decisively not “middle” in any rational sense.) And despite now-infamous 47% comments, Romney hilariously described his upbringing at the GOP convention by saying, “I was born in the middle of the century in the middle of the country.” Middle, no doubt, is in.

This is just a month after the U.S. Census Bureau released income and poverty figures for 2011. On September 12, the agency revealed the staggering 15% poverty rate, with 46.2 million Americans in poverty. Keep in mind this is according to the OMB’s threshold for poverty, which for a family of four in 2011 was a mere $23,021. Next time a probably-rich HLS student tells you they “need” to make $160,000 defending the wealthy, powerful, and corrupt (and white), try suggesting that (perhaps) they have no idea what “need” means.

More shocking than the general poverty rates is how poverty affects children—especially children of color. Nationally, more than 1 in 5 children lives in poverty. These 16.1 million children are disproportionately black and Hispanic. According to one prominent study, 39 percent of black children and 34 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty. In many states (like Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wisconsin), roughly half of all black children live below the poverty level. That’s right: Half.

Such staggering rates explain why, in a recent UNICEF study of 35 wealthy countries, the US came in 34th—between Latvia and Romania. But at least we won the Olympics, right?

You might expect these figures to cause an outcry in a nation that considers itself the best country (company?) in the world. You might expect these figures, which have remained stagnant after three consecutive years of increases, to factor in to the media’s coverage of the presidential race. After all, last year’s figures were just as unconscionable.

Yet a recent study by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) confirmed what we already know: the candidates don’t discuss poverty, and the media aren’t helping. The study analyzed six months of campaign coverage by eight prominent news outlets. The results say a lot about our political and “journalistic” culture: only 17 of the 10,489 campaign stories studied (0.2 percent) addressed poverty in a substantive (their word) way, and not a single one of the eight outlets published a substantive discussion of poverty in even 1 percent of its campaign stories.

You might ask, why’s talking about poverty such a big deal? Preach to the middle class, win the election, and then make changes that benefit everyone—including the poor. But talking about poverty is such a big deal because it changes what’s politically possible in America. The more we say “we’re all in this together” but only talk about the middle class, the easier it becomes to believe that “we” doesn’t include the poor. Furthermore, you don’t always win elections (see, e.g., the eighties and the aughts). And if you fail to defend the dignity and humanity of all Americans—especially the poor—when you’re in office, it’s going to be incredibly easy for the right to undercut education, healthcare, and employment programs when they’re in office. No wonder these programs are constantly under attack—even their supposed proponents don’t like to acknowledge the people they’re designed to empower.

It makes sense why politicians and the media focus on appeasing the middle class. First, they’re the bulk of the electorate. Second, in our corporate media market, poverty doesn’t sell. And third, studies reveal that we all like to think of ourselves as middle class—in other countries, too—although more and more Americans now identify themselves as lower class.

These aren’t justifications. And they’re not excuses. They’re obstacles. Recognizing them as such means that we need to be louder and more courageous when it comes to speaking about poverty in America. We need to speak with more conviction and more honesty as we develop a shared vocabulary to discuss the racial gap in economic opportunity. Healing poverty is a moral obligation, and it’s one we’re failing horribly. It’s time to call upon our politicians, journalists, and friends to articulate the “we” in “we’re all in this together.” Otherwise, it will be the middle who inherit the earth—all because we were too meek to tell it like it is.

Romney’s Tax Returns: A Republican Trump Card?

Did he [Romney] take unusual steps to avoid paying his fair share? Who knows? He refuses to release enough of his tax returns to give a clear picture of his finances.

– Rep. James Clyburn

Never in modern American history has a presidential candidate tried so hard to hide himself from the people he hopes to serve. […] [W]e can only imagine what new secrets would be revealed if he showed the American people a dozen years of tax returns—like his father did.

– Sen. Harry Reid

This summer, Democrats have continually pounded Mitt Romney for refusing to release more of his tax returns. And last week at the Democratic National Convention, the criticisms continued to snowball. Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland went so far as to say: “And on [Mitt Romney’s] tax returns, he’s hiding. You know, you have to wonder just what is so embarrassing that he’s going to such great lengths to bury the truth.”

The point of the Democratic criticisms is to paint Mitt Romney as a plutocrat—a Gordon Gekko character who doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes.

Nonetheless, I have a theory: Might it be possible that Mitt Romney actually wants Democrats to keep focusing on his tax returns?

Maybe Romney actually wants left-wing PACs to burn millions on TV commercials attacking his tax returns. Maybe Romney actually wants the Democrats to spend most of August, September, and October speculating on his exploitation of the Internal Revenue Code. Maybe Romney actually wants to lure President Obama into staking his credibility on the idea that Romney is a tax dodger.

Imagine all that. Then suppose that in the last week of October, Romney finally releases his tax returns. What if the record shows that Romney—far from underpaying his taxes—actually overpaid them? What if the deductions records reveal Romney to have donated the bulk of his income to children’s cancer foundations, Habitat for Humanity, Girl Scout cookies, the Mormon Church, and surgery for babies with cleft palates?

In that scenario, an entire Democratic season of anti-Bain attack ads would backfire. And Romney’s public image would be transformed. Far from being a greedy capitalist, he would be a paragon of charitable virtue. A humble philanthropist unwillingly forced to reveal his generosity by a bunch of conniving Democrats.

It would be one heck of an October surprise. It could lead to a two-point swing that delivers Florida and Ohio for the GOP in a close election.

Best of all, Romney would have planned it all along.

Look, Mitt Romney is a smart person. He earned two Harvard degrees, built a multibillion-dollar firm, and saved the Salt Lake City Olympics. He knows that his every action will be scrutinized. He pays his advisers millions for sophisticated political advice. And he has been running for President for over eight years. Does anyone really think that Romney would have made the beginner’s mistake of underpaying his taxes?

But what about Romney’s disclosure of his 2010 tax return, the one showing the 13.9% tax rate? Would that return imply that Romney paid a similarly-low tax rate in other years?

Absolutely not. The 2010 tax return was the only one that Romney chose to reveal. It tells us absolutely nothing about his other years’ returns. For all we know, the 2010 return could be a deliberate anomaly. A special piece of bait.

Card players know this instinctively. Your opponent might play a 2 in one round, but his remaining cards could well be queens, kings, and aces

It is almost never a good idea to stake your future on something on which your opponent knows everything and you know nothing. Think about what happened to the Trojans, who dragged an unfamiliar Greek wooden horse into the heart of their city.

Democrats take a big risk by making a political issue of Romney’s tax returns. For all we know, Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns might be a brilliant masterstroke designed to lure unsuspecting donkeys into an elephant trap.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

Romney and Obama Fight Over Who Loves Harvard Less

It is finally here. The Most Important Presidential Election Ever. The technocrat vs. the conciliator. The protean vs. the proletarian. The guy who made his dog ride on the top of the car vs. the guy who gave the Queen of England pictures and recordings of himself talking.  The electoral champion who vanquished the mighty Rick Santorum (loser of his last election six years ago by eighteen points) and Ron Paul (whose campaign may have been sabotaged by the candidate’s inability to monitor the horribly racist newsletters issued under his name) vs. the unbeatable hero who managed to defeat a supremely unpopular incumbent party during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression when his septuagenarian opponent sat out his own campaign for a few days to look presidential.

One could imagine that a clash of such titans would focus right from the outset on the most important issues facing the country. Indeed, that is the case.  Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have commenced a smug-off over who is more closely tied to Harvard.

How to evaluate the competing claims? Well, Obama was President of the Harvard Law Review. But Mitt got a J.D./M.B.A. and was thus actually a student at Harvard for one more year than the President. They have both spoken about how much they enjoyed their time here. Both campaigns have recruited heavily from HLS.

Of course, the plain fact of the matter is that they are both “out of touch” in a sense. Ordinary people don’t run for President. It’s a waste of time to argue over whose plebian purity was more tainted by their time in Cambridge. More than anything else, the whole argument illustrates how pointless this presidential campaign will get before the country is granted a merciful reprieve in November.

And so, no one wins the who-is-more-Harvard sweepstakes.

Well, actually, hold on. Late-breaking development: there is going to be a real, actual reading group at the law school next year called “Understanding Obama.”  Romney is officially less Harvardian. He will surely win in a landslide.

John Thorlin is a 3L. His column runs Thursdays.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.

A Bunch of (Mostly) White Guys

I’ve been told that this is to be my last column this year, so I wanted to make it a super good one. Unfortunately, the little squirrel hostage I keep in my apartment who writes my columns and takes my finals for me (while stacked on top of ten other squirrels and wearing a trench coat for in-class exams) has caught a serious case of squirrel leprosy, so I am afraid this column will fail to meet most/any of your expectations.

Now that we’ve pretty much decided to stop humoring Santorum and recognize that Mittens is inevitably the nominee (notwithstanding some deus ex machina) of the Republican Party, it’s time to start taking bets as to who Mitt will pick for VP. General consensus is Rob Portman, although there are always murmurings about Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. Let’s talk about these guys, and then I will share with you what ticket I would like to see.

Rob Portman: This guy is the house favorite. And why not? He’s from Ohio, always an unfathomably important state in the presidential elections, and there’s a strong argument that but for his assistance and backing, Romney would not have won Ohio by such a margin, or at all. Portman knows what’s going on in D.C.—he’s worked in the White House and Congress. Unfortunately, he is more boring than dry toast. He’s more boring than Romney for fucksakes. While some might argue that the vice president’s strengths will not ameliorate or hide Romney’s flaws, we could at least try. At the very least, we need a more interesting veep candidate if we want to stay awake this fall.

Marco Rubio: Rubio is hungry. Like a wolf. His name has been tossed around by a lot of Republican candidates, mostly because they don’t seem to know any other Hispanics in politics. Rubio is young and charismatic, meaning that he has a real chance of upstaging Romney on the campaign trail. He also hails from Florida, which will be an important state for the GOP this year (all those old people who want the repeal of Obamacare because they’ve been living off of LBJcare for years). Oh yeah, and this will help Romney capture the Hispanic vote. While Rubio has said he wouldn’t be Romney’s pick, he’s also showed extremely poor judgment when he (jokingly?) recommended Jeb Bush for the position, so you never know.

Chris Christie: Christie is hungry. For some hot dogs. Christie has a certain amount of gravitas, and a hardass personality that would go nicely with Romney’s awkward-private equity-Mormony Mr. Roger’s feel. His appeal might be his downfall, however, Romney may be unwilling to invest in such a potentially volatile running mate.

There are more out there, such as Nikki Haley (who governs the state that went to Newt), Susannah Martinez (who doesn’t want the job, and is too close to being a Palin choice), Tim Pawlenty (lulz no), et al.

But I would love to see Romney pick Olympia Snowe. This is an absurdity, even for me, but I can dream. She’s a woman, and one who actually supports women’s rights. She’s got the experience. She has a strong reputation for ending close votes, which is of paramount importance these days. Most importantly, picking her would signal to the moderates and Independents that Romney actually is a moderate, instead of just some psychopathic quantum politician.

Lisa Wang is a 2L. Her column runs every other Wednesday, and she also be provides commentary on the Republican primary debates.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

Mitt Romney is (Probably) not a Zombie Nixon

Recently, people have been asking whether Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are literally crazy. I don’t think anyone is asking this of Mittens, but mostly because someone who is considered that dull can’t possibly be crazy. (Disclaimer: Although I’m disappointed that Mittens thinks the Final Four happens in the middle of February, I do not think he’s as boring as most believe. Shockingly awkward, duh, but he’s a little too bitter and disillusioned to be boring.)

It might seem crazy that these two are still in the race despite clearly having no shot in hell of winning the nomination unless Mitt Romney peels off his face and shows us that he’s actually a zombie Richard Nixon. And even then, I would probably take a shuffling, brain-munching, soulless (not too different, really) Richard Nixon over Santorum/Gingrich. But truthfully, I don’t see why Rich or Newt would ever leave the race. While different motivations drive each man, both of them are being rational in remaining in the running. (I use rational here in the only way that I know how after two years of HLS learnin’—maximizing one’s own interests).

For Santorum, he has a teeny chance of winning. Again, this would probably require a man-on-man-on-goat sex scandal for Romney, but shit happens. I’m sure one could refer back to multiple elections where the underdog ended up with the nomination, but I frankly don’t want to look that up. Additionally, the longer Santorum stays in the race, the more we forget about his frothiness. Even a failed presidential campaign will put a nice gloss over failing to win Senate reelection in your “home” state. He also sets himself up nicely for 2016; he’s the Little Engine That Could and I’m sure that some people will admire his tenacity and sexism and whatnot.

Gingrich also has no good reason to leave the race. His political career is over—this is his last chance to remain in the national spotlight. Maybe if he’s annoying enough, he can secure some nominal job in a new Republican administration. Like Santorum, it’s not like it’s his money going down the drain. (Undoubtedly, the people who are funding Gingrich are crazy.) If anything, Gingrich is using all of this as an opportunity to spend some campaign funds on his homuncula of a wife.

BUT, you say, it seems crazy because they are harming the Republican Party by using up Romney’s funds and weakening the support for an already weak candidate. Don’t they care about the good of the Party? Don’t they want to hold hands and work together to beat Obama? Nope.  Santorum and Gingrich both started off (and won states) because they were outsiders. The Republican Party has soundly rejected them, regardless of any titillating promises the GOP may be making now. The established members—Jeb Bush, Christie, Cantor, Huntsman (sigh)—have thrown their collective weight (har har) behind Romney. They remember Gingrich’s volatility and they are embarrassed by Santorum’s religious fervor and misunderstanding of the Constitution and men’s fashion.

This is all to say, we have to endure a lot more of these two before November comes around.

Lisa Wang is a 2L. Her column runs every other Wednesday, and she also be provides commentary on the Republican primary debates.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

Live Blog: CNN Arizona Republican Presidential Primary Debate

Lisa Wang, Law ’13, is live blogging the Republican primary debate hosted by CNN in Arizona, Wednesday night at 8 p.m.

8:01 p.m.: Last debate before Super Tuesday. Who else can’t believe Santorum is still in the race?

8:07 p.m.: The Final Four include: Newt “I promise I’m stopping at Callista” Gingrich, Ron “Even vaginas are bigger in Texas” Paul, Mitt “Just For Men” Romney, and Rick “Homeschooling makes it easier for me to molest my kids” Santorum. They’re making their introductions and Ricky got a pretty big applause.

8:08 p.m.: Oh man, Mittens does not look good tonight. I think his makeup girl is sick. And he just quoted George Costanza in an attempt to be normal!

8:10 p.m.: Question from the audience: What are you going to do to bring down the debt? Santorum is talking about his plan to shrink the budget. Apparently he’s had “experience” (read: voting for and receiving) entitlement spending. His plan is more extreme than Ryan’s Roadmap… and he thinks he can get it passed, ever?

8:12 p.m.: Romney brought up borrowing from China again. For someone who ran a private equity group, he sure pretends to not understand how international finance works. Romney wants to link the pay of government workers with those in the private sector… Rejoice future HLS lawyers of DOJ!

8:15 p.m.: I don’t like how they are sitting. This just reminds me of ESPN. So far, this debate has been Romney and Santorum arguing over Santorum’s admittedly fiscally liberal voting record. (But to be fair to Frothy, he wasn’t in the Senate for very long…)

8:18 p.m.: Ah finally, Newt. Where has he been the past few weeks? Fatty just name-dropped George Washington. (He couldn’t find a good Reagan reference.) He also recommended Rick Perry to “head up” something. He must be trolling.

8:19 p.m.: (a.) Ron Paul just called Santorum a fake. To his face. Bad. Ass. (b.) He’s wearing a fuchsia tie. (c.) I know I’ve said this before, but why don’t his eyebrows match his hair? (d.) He thinks that foreign aid is huge and ridiculous and “helps our enemies”. It’s good that there’s fact-checking on the Paul campaign.

8:22 p.m.: Guys, I can’t listen to Santorum anymore. So, let’s consider what the candidates are writing down. Mitt Romney: “Memo to self, call my other two wives.”, Ron Paul: “Memo to self, stock up on Depends.”, Rick Santorum: “Memmoh 2 Ricky, say moar stoopid thingz.”, Newt Gingrich: “Newt + Jackie Marianne Callista 4EVR.”

8:23 p.m.: Oooh, interesting. Romney just brought up abortion! I think he should just give up, he’s not going to get the Evangelist vote no matter how much he supports the Catholic church in preventing Cameron and Mitchell from adopting kids. No one is biting though. Back to taxes.

8:27 p.m.: I just love the phrase “class warfare.” It makes one think of suburban fourth-graders toting Uzis. Newt called the current government a “disaster.” I know that I’ve exhausted the philandering jokes, but one more. Newt obviously thinks that when one’s wife/government is ugly/broken, you just toss it out. He wants to modernize the government, cut taxes and invest in technology. He also needs some unicorn blood.

8:30 p.m.: Earmarks, blah blah. You guys don’t want to hear about this, it’s boring. We want to hear about Santorum’s sex life. Speaking of which, what’s the Catholic rules on fucking your wife when she’s preggers? Because, if that’s not allowed, I think Santorum may have only had sex like 8 times. In his whole life. With women anyway. If this is the case, I think we can all understand why he’s… so Santorum. Anyway, although Santorum is relatively eloquent tonight, he’s been on the defense for the past thirty minutes. Gingrich looks bored. He’s looking snappy in a purple tie.

8:33 p.m.: Oh snap, maybe we should be paying attention this earmark shit. Because it looks like Ricky and Mittens are about to come to fisticuffs. Santorum sounds more and more like a Muppet as the night goes on and as the audience boos him more.

8:38 p.m.: Question from online: Why was Bush wrong in the auto bailout and why was Obama wrong in continuing it? (Keep in mind the Michigan primary is coming up, y’all.) Santorum opposes government bailouts (with government dollars and government manipulation of the bailout). I absolutely love Romney’s face when anyone talks about finance. He’s like Ken Jennings during Double Jeopardy. Romney doesn’t believe in the auto bailout, but did support the Wall Street bailout. As someone who has taken FIVE WHOLE WEEKS of International Finance, I’m gonna have to side with Romney about the possibility of a run  if the Wall Street banks failed.

8:41 p.m.: Newt Gingrich thinks that a lot of the US auto industry was fine (citing BMW, Benz & Honda) and listed a couple of Super Tuesday states. He thinks that we should have denied the bailout because the unions have too much power.

8:50 p.m.: Does anyone else want to watch Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul arm wrestle? Okay, birth control question, which immediately got some boos from the audience. Newt just said that Barack Obama legalized infanticide. Even though the question was about birth control, all the candidates are turning it into a religion issue. Man, I love watching four men and Frothy talk about birth control.

8:53 p.m.: Time for Santorum to defend his claims about contraception. Point One: too many children being raised out of wedlock… Ummm, does he not know how contraception works? Those parents didn’t USE contraception (at least not properly). If he’s worried about single-family households, he should be handing out diaphragms on every street corner on the South Side. Point Two: but he doesn’t want the government to do anything about it (he wants the homeschooling to ensure a nation full of thirty-year-old virgins).

8:54 p.m.: “It’s not the pills that leads to the immorality, it’s the immorality that leads to the pills.” Ron Paul just said that yummy-delicious-sex immoral.

8:57 pm.: The audience really likes Mittens tonight. And Newt just gave him a “Nice job/Come hither” look.

8:59 p.m.: Ron Paul doesn’t want to give a dime to Planned Parenthood. Santorum wants to defund Planned Parenthood. Neither of them wants to read up on what PP actually does. Santorum also said he wants to keep children from being sexually active, but he really meant to say everyone.

9:00 p.m.: Santorum wants to avoid the scrutiny and thus is bring up Romneycare. I don’t like Romneycare because frankly, it just doesn’t have the nice ring that Obamacare does. Romney pledges to cut Obamacare if he’s elected (“That black guy stole my idea guys!”).

9:03 p.m.: Now Santorum and Romney are just fighting/making out about Arlen Specter.

9:05 p.m.: Immigration question from the audience. Ron Paul just asked why you can’t stop illegal immigrants from trespassing on private property… … … What? He also just smooshed welfare state, recession, unemployment and everything else but solutions in his rant.

9:07 p.m.: Guys! Rick Perry is here! He’s sitting next to Callista! It’s a menage-a-Newt! Newt just suggested Perry for another leadership position. He is really not going to get elected.

9:12 p.m.: Romney would drop the lawsuits against Arizona, require e-verification of worker documents, and build a fence if he got elected. Why a fence? Why not build a Great Wall of America? I mean, we gotta prove we’re more awesome than China and keep those Mexican Mongols out! Just think of all the jobs we would create!

9:15 p.m.: I knew that Newt couldn’t refrain from bringing up Reagan tonight.

9:20 p.m.: Online question to describe themselves in one word. Paul: Consistent. Santorum: Courage (lulz.) Romney: Resolute. Gingrich: Cheerful (double-lulz).

9:24 p.m.: The next question is about women moving closer to frontline combat. Romney is all for it. But, of course, he gets a pot shot in about Obama’s handling of the military (Arab Winter, North Korean transition, Northern Mexico, Syria, Hezbollah in Latin America). Basically, he wants to increase the military. Gingrich thinks that we live in a world of total warfare. And thus, we should ask the people in charge of the military whether they should allow women on the frontlines. He also just said that we’re all more in danger now than ever in history. (Even though I’m pretty sure Gingrich was alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis).

9:26 p.m.: Santorum has concerns about women (especially in infantry). But he would defer to the generals, and not have “social engineering.” Question from the audience: “How do you plan on dealing with the growing nuclear threat in Iran?”

9:29 p.m.: We’re all afraid of that guy in Iran who looks like Tom Haverford. Romney thinks we should have put “crippling sanctions” against Iran. Gingrich is gonna side with Israel. While I think that Romney is doing a good job of blaming (and legitimately criticizing) the actions of Obama, I think he needs to realize that this is a PRIMARY debate. He needs to focus more on smashing his opponents, so that we don’t have a long drawn-out nomination. Santorum says “Guys, I’m an Iran Hawk! Duh! Elect meeee!”

9:33 p.m.: Ron Paul is being booed because he says that there is no evidence that Iran has nuclear weapons, and our actions are encouraging them to create a nuclear weapon. I think he has a good point, especially if CIA/Mossad/Jesus keeps assassinating their scientists.

9:36 p.m.: Question about Syria. Santorum looks like he’s going to cry. He really cares about the Middle East. (“Most prolific proliferator [sic] of terror in the world…”) I know that I really hate Santorum, and I’m super biased, and he’s super ugly and super dumb and super sexist… but I seriously think that he really hates Iran and Syria because of their religions.

9:39 p.m.: Newt Gingrich just said “As long as you’re American’s enemy you’re safe.” Also he spouted off a bunch of lies facts about America’s ability to drill for oil and be completely self-sufficient when it comes to fuel. Mittens wants us to take advantage of the weakness of Assad in Syria and work with Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

9:40 p.m.: Ron Paul has failed with “the moral argument and the constitutional argument,” so he’s going to try the “economic argument.” WHAT? Is gas really $6/gal in Florida? This is why we shouldn’t let old people drive.

9:43 p.m.: Question from the audience about No Child Left Behind. Santorum supported NCLB (“even though it was against the principles he believed in” but it’s okay because he took one “for the team”). He also said he was a “homeschooling father of seven.” Um… he means he’s a husband of a homeschooling mother of seven.

9:48 p.m.: Sorry guys, I got bored and had to pin some shit for a few minutes there. Does anyone know where I can get a tiny top hat for my cat and a regular-sized top hat for myself?

9:52 p.m.: One last question: What is the biggest misconception about you in the public debate right now? Ron Paul: The perpetuation of the “myth” by the media that I can’t win. (I don’t even need to funny that up). It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t won any primaries… but I’m sure that’s just another media myth. Newt Gingrich: The amount of work it took to get to welfare reform, a balanced budget and getting it done in Washington (describing when he worked for Reagan and before he got kicked out by the rest of the House). Mitt Romney: Romney just said “I get to give the answers I want.” Apparently the misconception of the public is just Romney’s background? I dunno what he’s saying. Rick Santorum: I can do a lot with a little (penis).

Lisa Wang is a 2L. Her column runs every other Wednesday, and she also be provides commentary on the Republican primary debates.

Romney’s Words: When English Majors Write Their Own Speeches

Mitt Romney is smart, articulate, and incredibly handsome. Of all the GOP candidates currently running, Romney seems most likely to become the eventual nominee. He might be the most credible candidate to beat Obama. Moreover, Romney has a host of smart, talented people working on his campaign. However, having listened to Romney’s speeches, I sense that Romney’s campaign suffers from a subtle weakness that I, as a former Economics major, feel very strongly about: Romney’s speeches are fluent, but not always persuasive.

This weakness is subtle, because Romney has decades of experience as a a speaker and writer. Romney was an English major. Romney delivered commencement addresses at his graduation. Romney has written two books, including a bestseller, “No Apology: The Case For American Greatness.” Back in 2007, Romney even delivered his brilliant “Faith in America” speech.

Moreover, Romney has talented people working for his campaign. For instance, Romney’s speechwriter, Lindsay Hayes, has over a decade of experience. She interned with the White House Office of Speechwriting and has served two senators. She even served as a speechwriter on the McCain-Palin campaign. This lady is the lioness of speechwriters.

Why, then, do I think that Romney’s speeches represent a subtle weakness?

Romney suffers from a linguistic weakness that many humanities majors face, a weakness reinforced by their perception of their own fluency. They are articulate, comfortable with language, and use words that flow. Interestingly, Romney’s campaign seems to be well-staffed with humanities majors. For instance, Romney’s speechwriter, Hayes, was a humanities student: she majored in communications and political science.

What perspective is missing? An economic perspective.

Most people think of economics as being about dollars and cents, inflation and unemployment. But nothing could be further from the truth. At bottom, economics is about getting the maximum bang for the buck. Economics is about maximizing output from the smallest input possible.

This economic principle also extends to language: Economics is about using as few words as possible to achieve the maximum possible impact.

For all his faults, President Barack Obama knows how to use words economically. Obama’s 2008 campaign was based on a simple, but powerful poster titled “Hope.” Obama’s book carried a simple, but powerful slogan: “The Audacity of Hope.” Indeed, almost every Obama speech included a few buzz words that made them memorable: The audacity of hope. A more perfect union. A world that stands as one.

Why was “Audacity of Hope” such a powerful slogan? Because “audacity” is a rare, but known word. So when people hear it, they sense something unique.

In contrast, John McCain didn’t use words economically. His slogan was “Country First,” which is short, but consists of two common words that appeal to a common theme (patriotism) and doesn’t sufficiently appeal to people’s imaginations. McCain didn’t have a single poster with a memorable slogan. McCain’s latest book was titled: “Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them.” This makes for a nice topic, but not a campaign theme, because none of those words carried a bang. Most of all, can anyone remember a single speech that John McCain made, a single speech as famous as Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” or “A More Perfect Union?”

Now consider Romney. How many people know that Romney’s campaign slogan is “Believe in America?” But why did Romney decide to reuse John Kerry’s old slogan? More importantly, how many millions did Romney pay for that uncreative phrase?

Romney’s book is titled “No Apology.” But this title seems ineffective, and although the book sold many copies, it probably did so because Romney is a great man, not because he wrote great words. Therein lies the missed opportunity: Why did Romney’s campaign permit the book title to carry two negative words? Why use words like “No” and “Apology?” Why not something more affirmative, aspirational, and American?

Most tragically, there’s Romney’s speeches. All of his speeches since “Faith in America” have carried a tragic flaw: they contain missed opportunities. Although some of Romney’s lines are well-written, this is insufficient because all of Romney’s lines should be well-written. Consider the following:

ROMNEY (2008):

China, and Asia are emerging from centuries of poverty. Their people are plentiful, innovative and ambitious. If we don’t change course, Asia or China will pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century. (43 words)

This is sensible, but could have been better. “Economic superpower” is clumsy and insufficiently memorable. Why talk about Asia rising from poverty when most people already know that? Why talk about Asians as “plentiful” and “ambitious” when this probably applies to most non-Asians as well? And why lump “China” and “Asia” together? Surely Romney knows that Asia is a continent. Why not try something that sounds more hopeful, and carries a bigger bang? Maybe something like this:

Divided, we face a Chinese Century. But united, we will build an American Century. (14 words)

or even this:

In the East, we see the rise of China. In the West, we see the resurrection of Russia. But if we stand together, we can achieve the apogee of America. (30 words)

Even in daily speech, Romney could probably use an extra speechwriter. Consider Romney’s response to a question on the environment:

ROMNEY (2011):

So the idea of America spending massive amounts, trillions of dollars to somehow stop global warming is not a great idea. It loses jobs for Americans and ultimately it won’t be successful, because industries that are energy intensive will just get up and go somewhere else. So it doesn’t make any sense at all. My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us. My view with regards to energy policy is pretty straightforward. I want us to become energy secure and independent of the oil cartels. And that means let’s aggressively develop our oil, our gas, our coal, our nuclear power. (129 words)

Romney’s answer was fluent, articulate, and verbose. But it lacks even a single memorable phrase. Although Romney answers the question, he uses up far too many words. In real life as in the movies, powerful people always say fewer words, not more. Therefore, Romney could probably have made a bigger impact by saying something shorter, like this:

The effort to stop global warming carries unpredictable benefits, but predictable costs. Rather than spend certain trillions on uncertain theories, let us instead recognize that economics and environmentalism are not opposing ideologies. Let us invest in new energy sources, whether taken from the earth below or from the heavens above. Let us recognize that environmentalism comes in different shades of green. (61 words)

Overall, I think Romney’s speechwriting team would probably benefit it it enlists someone who is good at fitting big ideas into small sentences. Romney’s speechwriter, Lindsay Hayes, could probably use someone with a technical background. Those people specialize in extracting maximum value from minimum resources.

Alas, Romney’s speeches reflect a subtle weakness, and its subtlety makes it hard to detect, especially since Romney– as a former English major– has a natural talent in matters that involve words. It’s just that Romney’s words seem to lack a special punch. When you’re running for the most powerful job on the planet, your every word should exude power.

Chris Seck is a 2L.