Political Hangovers

I slept in today, almost until 10. Then I took the kiddo outside, despite the chill, and drew shapes and numbers on the sidewalk with chalk. After that we had a nice lunch, and now I’m getting ready to go into work. It was a good day.

It was also I day that featured no writing, which is why this is coming to you late and somewhat rushed. After last night’s debate, I needed the rest and the time away from such a political hangover. And from the debate performances, it looks like the candidates needed it too. I missed the first 20 minutes or so but, correct me if I’m wrong, “food stamps” only got a passing mention towards the end. Color me surprised. Yet overall it had to be one of more boring debates – a far cry from last week’s two home runs that propelled Newt Gingrich to his first election win outside of the state of Georgia. Here’s my quick hits:

1. Mitt Romney – He went on the offensive, and though it was somewhat jumbled (leading some Twitter commentary to assume he lost the exchange), it was successful due to Newt Gingrich’s response. Or lack thereof, at least in respect to his fiery fire branding from last week. Hammering home Newt’s connections to Freddie Mac is Romney’s ploy to harness Florida resentment over the housing crisis. It may work.

2. Newt Gingrich – Last night was Newt the Statesman, not Newt the Red-Warrior. The trouble is that Newt doesn’t do statesman well, certainly not the extent of his 90’s rival Clinton, and he suffered last night because of it. He’s going to have to do a better job of explaining the rather thin difference between ‘consultant’ and ‘lobbyist.’ That being said, last night could have been a lot worse. If the early exchange with Romney had not been cut short by a hard break, it might have really sunk in to people that Newt would be utterly demolished in a debate with Obama.

3. Rick Santorum – When your highlight answer – electability vis a vie Obama and the question of similar policies – is overshadowed by your ridiculous downplaying of your behavior in the Schiavo case, you’ve lost the night. Santorum is treading water in case Newt implodes.

4. Ron Paul – He actually had some substantive answers to questions we hadn’t heard before. Not that it mattered. Paul isn’t competing in a state with a closed primary and expensive ad markets. Also, his policy prescription for debt – primarily liquidation – is not a viable option.

5. NBC/Moderators – Williams was a snooze, which is too bad because I rather enjoy him otherwise. The network decided to disallow audience participation, which essentially hamstrung Newt. It also hamstrung our attention span. And while the local reporters did well asking questions that matter to Floridians, they got way too deep into the local weeds spending precious time on sugar subsidies and (really) Terri Schiavo. No ACA and no Medicare questions leave plenty of room for CNN to do much better on Thursday.

The other big political news coming out of today concerns the release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns (at least for the last two years). Greg Sargent has the details:

[…] He pays a far lower tax rate than many middle class taxpayers. Here are the key figures:

— Income of $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million in 2011, virtually all of it from profits, dividends or interest from investments, and none from wages.

— $7 million in charitable contributions in 2010 and 2011, including at least $4.1 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

— In those two years Romney actually paid less than that charitable figure in taxes, sending around $6.2 million to Washington. In 2010 he paid a rate of 13.9 percent; in 2011 he paid a rate of 15.4 percent.

— $13 million in “carried interest.”

— Romney holds investments in many entities like Luxembourg, Ireland and the Cayman Islands. While the Post notes that these are “all famous tax havens,” those investments don’t appear to be sizable. And Romney’s representative flatly asserts there was no tax advantage in any case, something which some tax analysts have found credible.

And WonkBlog has a chart comparing Romney’s tax rate to past nominees:

Of course the conservative punditry has been quick to point out that John Kerry actually payed a lower rate than Mitt Romney. This is true. What is also true is that Kerry filed separately from his considerably wealthier wife. They’ve also been quick to point out the rather large sum of charitable giving that Romney does – far larger as a percentage than Obama or Biden. It’s also true that 4.1 million of that 7 million in charitable giving went to his church, an act I understand that is required and has it’s own name – tithe.

This is all very interesting, I suppose, but on the day that President Obama gives his State of the Union speech I’m just not sure why the Romney folks would think today was a good idea to release this information. It will go along quite nicely with the president’s narrative – inequality – and will not be ‘lost’ in the news maelstrom.

I’ll be listening to the SOTU speech at work tonight, but I think Ezra Klein is correct to point out that these types of moments don’t really change things. They’re not really meant too. What it will do, and why it’s still interesting, is set the message going into a presidential election year. We should get a glimpse at where the president will be coming from as he sets his sight on winning a second term. If the narrative is tax unfairness, and a system that allows some of the wealthy to pay relatively small percentages in taxes, then the GOP could do little better than to nominate Mitt Romney.

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