All Done!

Well, there you have it, America. We don’t have to watch any more debates until the next presidential campaign gets underway, which won’t be for several months yet.

Romney held his own well enough, and landed a few good blows (best of all: the apology tour). He looked steady and calm, and plausibly Presidential. That said, he seriously blew, in my opinion, the answer to “What is the greatest threat to America’s national security?” His answer was Iran’s nuclear program, but that was off by two. Closer would have been Pakistan (excuse me: “Pock-ee-stahn”), which is disintegrating into Islamizing chaos and owns at least a hundred nuclear weapons. The best answer, though, would have been to say that the biggest threat to America’s security is its unsustainable debt and deficit spending.

Romney also has his head in the clouds regarding the Muslim world generally; he seriously seems to believe that America actually has some chance of noodging the Ummah world into rejecting Islamic “extremism”, and that pinning our hopes on this constitutes a realistic policy. But I have long since given up on any mainstream politician, or pundit, or pretty much anybody with a career in public affairs to worry about, ever saying anything sensible or realistic on that score.

I think that Mr. Obama made a serious mistake with all that snark about horses and bayonets, and how we have “these things called aircraft carriers — planes land on them.” It was snotty and unpresidential, and it ignored, sarcastically, a legitimate point about naval strength. It seemed he often answered serious criticisms with petty personal retorts.

The snap polls are giving this one to Obama, and overall he probably gave as good as he got tonight, I think; he more than held his own in several exchanges. He needed more than that, though, and I don’t think he reversed Mr. Romney’s momentum. He also made one startling remark: that sequestration is “not going to happen”. Whut? Front page news, if true.

Bob Schieffer was by far the best of the moderators (save for jumping in to debate the Republican once or twice). I thought he did a good job.

So! Just some last-minute chess-playing on the hustings, and then off to the only poll that matters. I’ll be glad when it’s over. Keep in mind: no matter who wins, we’re completely screwed.

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  1. Kevin Kim says

    Eh wot? Completely screwed? After those passionate comments you left on my site re: caring about the fate of the country (I recall a scary valley/boulder metaphor!)? Have you given up?

    Rage, Malcolm! Rage against the dying of the light!

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:53 am | Permalink
  2. “no matter who wins, we’re completely screwed.”

    I don’t agree. “Screwed” lends itself to comparative structure. There is screwed; really screwed; and royally screwed, etc.

    If you are saying that it makes no difference who wins, I agree with Kevin that you need to reconsider Churchill’s great words:

    “Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 2:03 am | Permalink
  3. Dom says

    The good news is, Obama will lose. The bad news is, Romney will win.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Well, it isn’t about giving in, exactly; it’s just that the combination of the fiscal hole we’ve dug, and certain inherent tendencies of all democracies, and certain inherent tendencies of all advanced civilizations, leads me to think that, well, we’re screwed.

    It’s like crossing the Schwarzschild radius of a supermassive black hole: there’s nothing noticeable about the event horizon as you pass through it, and you can do so quite blithely. Once you’ve crossed it, though, all possible world-lines lead to the singularity. The U.S. crossed it some time ago, I’m afraid, and will be feeling some serious tidal forces before too much longer. (We can see Europe some distance below us, looking seriously red-shifted, and already rather stretched.)

    I’m certainly not saying it makes no difference who wins. In terms of how fast we get there, it might make quite a big difference indeed.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  5. JK says


    I’m afraid your comment is, very likely, that old cliche’d – no truer words were ever typed.

    Some weeks ago I’d announced first to one of my kids and then to our host, “I don’t think I’ll be pressing the touchscreen for either on the Presidential choices.”

    (And perhaps – but I don’t know – this third and last debate may’ve labelled me the only true ‘undecided’ until it was over.)

    I sure hope I read Romney right, in thinking he’d come round to understanding there’re no good guys in Syria. Syria being, the next Libya looking for a place to happen.

    Anyway, Arkansas’ early voting opened yesterday – and had I done what I intended yesterday, I’d not pressed the screen for either. [I come as close to “praying” as is likely for me, Romney can stand against McCain and Graham.]

    Doesn’t bother me much to admit the domestic stuff doesn’t really matter to me, as a voter. But oh shit, is the world at large a precarious place.

    Arkansas of course will be a solidly Red State so had I acted on my earlier impulses it wouldn’t have mattered a whit – but I do hope the Senate sustains us in divided government.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  6. JK says

    I wasn’t gonna post this Malcolm here in the States but now that we’re in the final days it won’t matter (I don’t think) – you can see I checked the resources [linked] over on our Brit friend’s site but there is a very reasonable question as to “Who” exactly got us into this fiscal blackhole, “Who” seems to be digging us out (two pages)…

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Very misleading. The problem with that analysis is that it uses as a baseline the TARP/”stimulus” spending, which should have been a one-off. Instead it became the new annual floor from which subsequent spending “growth” was measured. In any sane world spending would have been vastly less after that titanic spasm, but instead it just kept on growing.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  8. JK says

    I’m no arithmetic whiz of course (nor have I played one on TV) but the 2009 fiscal year’s budget was… of course the added $194B supplemental [which I take was the “Obama stimulus”?].

    Then the Republican’s recovery of the House in 2010 – I dunno Malcolm, there is stink, but I don’t think it’s limited to Denmark.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  9. JK says

    “…The 2012 deficit was equal to 7.0 percent of gross domestic product, CBO estimates, down from 8.7 percent in 2011, 9.0 percent in 2010, and 10.1 percent in 2009…”

    From the last Bush enacted budget:

    “…The Treasury recently reported that the federal government recorded a total budget deficit of $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009, about $960 billion more than the deficit incurred in 2008. … Three initiatives, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), net cash infusions for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and ARRA drove that growth, adding $353 billion to outlays in 2009, or 2.5 percent of GDP. Specifically, stimulus spending from ARRA totaled $108 billion in 2009, $32 billion for Medicaid, $22 billion for unemployment benefits, and $54 billion for other programs and activities. All other federal spending accounted for 22.2 percent of GDP in 2009, up from 20.6 percent in 2008. …”

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Right: a deficit over $1 trillion for the fourth year in a row. Debt has risen from below $10,000,000,000,000 to over $16,000,000,000,000.

    If I knew any drunken sailors, I’d ask one for an expert appraisal. Seems like a pretty professional performance to me, though.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Anyway, the real point isn’t even how we got here: the Bush administration, Congress, and ultimately the electorate themselves, are all to blame. It’s that we’re here, and short of fundamental changes that are simply not going to happen, we’re doomed.

    That we would ultimately waste and exhaust ourselves in this way is in the nature of democracy itself, unfortunately, and was clearly foreseen by the Founders.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  12. the one eyed man says

    I didn’t see much of the debate on Monday, as the Giants’ victory was much more entertaining. One part I did catch was Romney’s description of Syria as Iran’s “pathway to the sea.” Apparently he is unaware that Iraq lies between Iran and Syria, or that a large body of water known as the Persian Gulf exists. Romney/Ryan is the only Presidential ticket I can think of where both members have zero foreign policy experience, but one would hope that they would at least have a knowledge of basic geography.

    As for the fiscal mess, JK’s link is correct. There was no Obama spending binge. Overall government spending has been flattish, and has been a decreasing percentage of GDP.

    The huge expansion of government you keep hearing about? Never happened. The federal government employs 0.8% more people than the day Obama took office – much less than population growth – and total government employment (including state and local) is down by about 500,000 workers.

    One more thing you won’t hear from Hannity: the federal budget deficit has also decreased steadily during Obama’s tenure, with the FY2013 deficit projected to be about one third less than the FY2009 budget Obama inherited.

    There is much which can be done to bring the nation’s fiscal situation into balance, although most of it is politically toxic: selling off government assets, means testing entitlements, rationing medical care, and so forth. Neither candidate has proposed anything approaching this, although one thing is certain: the budget deficit will grow much larger in a Romney administration, due to his declared positions on raising military spending, eliminating the $716 billion in Medicare savings, and refusing to raise taxes. When pressed on how he would achieve his stated goal of balancing the budget, Romney dodged the question (“I ran businesses which had balanced budgets.” as though a profit-making enterprise is the same as the federal government). Apparently his grasp of basic arithmetic fails to exceed his grasp of basic geography.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    Again: flattish using the prior spasm as a new baseline.

    The way things are looking, we’ll all get a chance to see if you’re right about how the deficit behaves under Romney.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Also, Romney is quite right about the importance to Iran of maintaining a corridor of influence and free movement through Shi’ite Iraq, Alawite Syria, and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. If you paid more attention to strategic-security matters you’d know that.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  15. JK says

    Yes Malcolm.

    I suppose you’re right.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  16. the one eyed man says

    Oh please. “Pathway to the sea” means “pathway to the sea.” It’s how you get from one place to another. Whether Iran has influence with Iraq has nothing to do with it. It would be like saying that England is our pathway to Europe.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  17. “Apparently his grasp of basic arithmetic fails to exceed his grasp of basic geography.”

    Make facile statements much? How would you rate Obama’s ‘rithmetic skill? While a member of the Senate, one would expect him to know that each State has 2 Senators, and that there were 99 other Senators besides himself. So if he was able to correctly divide 100 by 2, how is it that he came up with 57 States in the Union?

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  18. the one eyed man says

    Not to mention the fact that Iran is on the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, and has no need for Syria and Iraq to provide a pathway there.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Oh please. “Pathway to the sea” means “pathway to the sea.” It’s how you get from one place to another. Whether Iran has influence with Iraq has nothing to do with it. It would be like saying that England is our pathway to Europe.

    You’re just wrong about this, Peter, and frankly you are embarrassing yourself here.

    The geographical consideration that I just described — a corridor of influence and safe passage extending from Iran to the Levant — is important, is discussed often by strategic-security analysts, and is exactly what Romney was referring to. Do you really think he is such a dunce that even after sedulous preparation for a crucial foreign-policy debate he is ignorant of the most basic geography of the region?

    And yes: in the event of a scenario that required the transit of aircraft and supplies from the US to the Continent, England would indeed be our “pathway to Europe”, as in fact it was during some long-ago wars you may have heard about. That’s the way these things work.

    Also, since you brought it up: I just popped over to the BLS and pulled up some job statistics. Total private-sector jobs fell from 114,281,000 to 109,254,000 from 2008 to 2011, a drop of 4.4%. Meanwhile, federal government jobs rose from 2,762,000 to 2,858,000, a rise of 3.4%. Not hard to see who is doing better.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  20. the one eyed man says

    Henry is unfamiliar with the distinction between a slip of the tongue and a misstatement of fact.

    A slip of the tongue is when you have just visited the 47th state of your Presidential campaign, announce to the crowd that you’re in your 57th state, and correct the error in the next campaign appearance. A misstatement of fact is when you say that Lexington and Concord are in New Hampshire.

    I will illustrate this simple distinction with the following joke:

    Man: “I had a really embarrassing Freudian slip the other day. I was at the airport and the woman at the counter had huge breasts, so I asked her for a picket to Tittsburg.”

    Other man: “Yeah, I had the same problem a few days ago. I was with my wife, and I turned to her and said ‘You ruined my life, you fucking bitch.;:

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  21. the one eyed man says

    I do think that Romney is ignorant of the geography of the region. Otherwise, he would not describe Syria as the pathway to the sea. It isn’t, and the metaphor of ideological influence does not make it so. Iran is already on the sea.

    As long as you are on the BLS site, you might want to look at federal government employment in 2009, as that is when Obama took office. It stood at 2,840,000. It has since risen less than 1% to where it stands now.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    Peter, stop digging. Anyone with any understanding of these matters knew exactly what Romney meant; it was exactly what I described.

    For example:

    Home to nearly 75 million people, Iran has the largest population in the Persian Gulf region. Despite their numerical advantage, Iranians are considered somewhat of a minority in the region due to their ethnicity — they are Shiite Indo-Aryans rather than Sunni Arabs. This minority status partly explains Iran’s efforts to bring the region’s Shiite populations under its aegis. For example, after the fall of Iraq’s Baathist regime in 2003, Iran brought southern Iraq’s majority Shiite region, including Baghdad, under its influence. With Saddam Hussein gone, Iran was able to expand its influence westward in an uninterrupted arc to the Mediterranean Sea. The Alawite regime in Damascus linked Tehran’s Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, to Iranian assets in southern Iraq.

    That this “arc of influence” is now of vital strategic importance to Iran is simply common knowledge among those who pay attention to these things, such as intelligent and well-informed people who happen to be running for President. (Not common enough elsewhere, though, it seems.)

    As for the job numbers: my bad. That number for total federal-government jobs was actually from 2009, not 2008 (I was off by a row). The number for 2008 was 2,762,000.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  23. “Henry is unfamiliar with the distinction between a slip of the tongue and a misstatement of fact.”

    Not true. Henry is fully cognizant of such subtle distinctions. In Obama’s case, it was neither a “slip of the tongue” nor a “misstatement of fact”. It was an error in division.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  24. the one eyed man says

    I don’t dispute that Iraq and Syria are within Iran’s sphere of influence. If Romney said that, he would have made a statement of fact.

    However, that’s not what he said, and the meaning of the phrase “pathway to the sea” is clear to anyone whose mother tongue is English. Iran does not need a pathway to the sea. It is on the sea.

    Romney gave the appearance of a student who pulled an all-nighter and is trying to impress the professor by spouting as many facts as he can remember. Maybe he read “Foreign Policy for Dummies.” With the Syria thing, you could tell that he could only remember part of his talking point, so it came out wrong. However, all was not lost: at least he was able to recreate the fable of the “apology tour,” although he received the comeuppance he deserved from Obama for repeating that particular bit of nonsense.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  25. Malcolm says

    For God’s sake, Peter, you’re just making a fool of yourself here.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink
  26. the one eyed man says

    Not at all. I can read a map.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  27. Malcolm says

    Peter, I’m not kidding: you are out of your depth, and it isn’t pretty.

    It is one thing to be ignorant of these matters; after all, most people are not strategic-security wonks, nor is there any reason for them to be. That’s fine. But what you’re doing here is just embarrassing.

    Again, and this is the last time I am going to explain this: anyone who understands Middle East strategic security knew at once what Romney was talking about. This “pathway to the [Mediterranean] sea” is the fundamental animating principle behind Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria. By mocking Romney for this, you are only putting your own ignorance on display.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  28. the one eyed man says

    Syria has strategic value to Iran for lots of reasons. These include its proximity to Israel and Lebanon, its weakness as a pliable state, and a shared ideology and affinity for terror and mischief. Syria is also on the Mediterranean, which is somewhat secondary to these other things.

    However, that is not what Romney said. In plain English, he described Syria as Iran’s pathway to the sea. It isn’t. Iran is already on two bodies of water. You are superimposing extraneous information on a sentence which was simple, declarative, and wrong.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink
  29. Malcolm says

    Fine, Peter. I’ve said all I can say about this. For Romney to have meant what you think he meant — nothing more than a superficial, pointless, and obviously false statement about grade-school geography — makes no sense at all, but fine. Have it your way.

    Earlier on I wrote that no matter who wins, we’re screwed. I’ve just visited Facebook, where all my liberal NYC musician friends hang out, for the first time in a long while, and the timeline there was completely dominated by angry, vitriolic jeering at Romney (including, of course, the same ignorant misunderstanding of his remarks about Syria and Iran).

    I do not look forward to the reaction when he wins this election. Frankly, I don’t at all enjoy living in an America so deeply fractured, and I don’t think many other people do either. There may actually be riots if Romney wins. Whoever wins, it’ll be four years of the losing side raging and hating and scheming and fulminating against the winning side, and then the whole thing will start up again. Meanwhile, we will spiral ever more deeply into debt and moral decay and cultural rot and social Balkanization, and the tectonic forces that have been tearing the nation apart will only strengthen as the great fissure deepens.

    To be clear: I do not absolve myself here either. I have been a relentless critic of Barack Obama for quite some time now, and at times quite intemperately so.

    The whole thing is already absolutely sickening, and it’s only going to get worse and worse.

    Mark my words, all of you: this nation is tearing itself to pieces, and will not last much longer as presently constituted. There are very dark times ahead.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink
  30. “The whole thing is already absolutely sickening, and it’s only going to get worse and worse.”

    I agree. I believe the situation is even worse than you have described it. I have no doubt there are many who are not sickened at all.

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  31. “Not to mention the fact that Iran is on the … Caspian Sea.”

    Not to mention the fact that the Caspian Sea is a lake, and that anyone who can read a map can see that a sea is not a lake, and a lake is a fake sea. See what I mean?

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  32. JK says

    Peter my Friend,

    You’re missing “the greater point” – take a look at your atlas. Notice that port at Tartus? See to the east Homs?

    (You may Peter have noticed in the non-Sunni controlled areas, there seems to be a greater acceptance of minorities – and why should that be? Traditional liberalist thinking would tend for the majority to protect the downtrodden. Yet that’s not we see.

    In our US Mainland agreed, it’s the opposite. We go out of our way to protect our minorities.

    Is it indicative of something “we refuse” to recognize?

    I’d propose that it is.

    Liberals focus on compassion as the supreme virtue, emphasizing effort rather than output. Because it is individuals who suffer and need, liberalism is individualistic.

    Conservatives being more attuned to the traditional less attuned to individual freedom and fully expressive when [and if] “Fuck you!” Where liberals see individuals in need, conservatives see social structures at risk.

    And actually that’s the crux – the crucible if “the one” were to fashion the question:

    “Do I wish my progeny better than I had? Well, I’d hope so. And what is the greater hope?”

    Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink
  33. Kevin Kim says

    Of possible relevance to this thread: this snarky comment by Glenn Reynolds.

    Posted October 24, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  34. Kevin Kim says

    Correction: Reynolds is quoting Dave Kopel.

    Posted October 24, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  35. Apropos “completely screwed”:


    Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  36. Apropos the 57 states of the smartest sitting President in the room:


    Posted October 31, 2012 at 1:28 am | Permalink