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GOP tones down its harsh talk on immigration, but is the damage already done?

August 31, 2012 02:07 PM

The Republican Party on display at this week’s national convention was notable for its absences: George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and, most significantly, seemingly any mention of a border fence, Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, or the need to round up an estimated 12 million undocumented workers. These latter omissions are the most significant, and perhaps the most lasting.

It’s quite possible that what happened this week was not a cosmetic cover-up, but rather an actual shift in tone and, perhaps, policy: Illegal immigrants are no longer playing the scapegoat role once played by welfare queens and gay-marriage activists.

Is this shift for real? Democrats are entitled to be skeptical. During the Republican primaries, the issue of illegal immigration was a weekly debate staple, a source of competition among potential nominees to express ever-greater disgust over the supposedly unstoppable parade of workers coming across the border from Mexico, amid demands for a security fence, repudiation of guest-worker plans, and even condemnation of universities that educate the sons and daughters of immigrants.

GOP concerns about illegal immigration, while legitimate, were always overblown: Border crossings are down under President Obama. But portraying the illegal immigration issue as an unbridled danger played well with some segments of the Republican base, and lent itself to harsh, law-and-order rhetoric.

Alas, the costs of that harshness proved to be great, too. Many Hispanics perceived a sense of intolerance behind those statements, and their skepticism now jeopardizes Mitt Romney’s electoral chances in states like New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and even Arizona. Declining Hispanic support for Republicans could easily prevent Romney’s election. So the convention organizers stocked up on at least 10 Hispanic speakers over three days, culminating in Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s introduction of Romney on Thursday night, which included some snippets of Spanish.

Just as strikingly, the non-Hispanic speakers, including Ann Romney, made sure to honor the nation’s immigrant roots; the stories of ancestral hardship came to sound clichéd and tiresome, but they became, if anything, more pronounced as the convention went on. Will Romney now, as promised, turn around and push for a fence along the vast border with Mexico? Perhaps, but after this week, there are some doubts. If he fulfills that particular promise, he may be walling in his, and his party’s, future. And, to judge from this convention, he clearly knows it.

Mitt Romney's speech: What about the veterans?

August 31, 2012 11:45 AM

By Juliette Kayyem

Over the course of the last year, I have written a lot about veterans issues, and there are a lot of them. I have argued for the modernization of veteran’s services, why we need a parade for Iraq veterans, and have consistently highlighted the challenge of military suicides. I have worked with the military throughout my career in government and know that service members do not easily talk about their own concerns. With less than 1 percent of our population serving in an all-volunteer force, it's easy for most people to forget about the issues facing the over 2 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even then, I was struck last night when Mitt Romney -- the Republican nominee for president, no less -- failed to even give a passing nod to veterans issues, nor even a thanks to the troops. We’ve accepted a collective amnesia about the wars. But the focus on domestic issues has not only silenced most national security discussions; it has also left service members by the wayside.

This isn’t mere quibbling over what or wasn’t said. Everyone knows that politicians can be effusive, to the point of sounding a little phony, when talking about the military. Indeed, political conventions are supposed to be that way. What is remarkable is that there wasn’t even an attempt to act the part. Ironically, Romney’s acceptance speech occurred on the eve of the two year anniversary of the end of our combat mission in Iraq.

I'll explore the reasons why this all may be so in my column for Monday.

Republicans wasted prime convention slot on Clint Eastwood

August 31, 2012 11:03 AM

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time: Clint Eastwood — Dirty Harry himself! — speaking to a national audience as the voice of the Republican Party. The thought must have been that Eastwood opening up the network television coverage of the most important night of the GOP convention would capture the attention of viewers just tuning into the election, teeing them up for Mitt Romney.

But it didn't work out that way. Eastwood rambled to the point of distraction. What swing voters saw was a Hollywood actor chastising an empty chair for telling him to do unmentionable things to himself.

Sadly, that's no exaggeration.

Conventions are the forums for our political parties to make their arguments. They're a chance for national candidates to introduce themselves to the electorate and, yes, to knock their opponents down a peg. Republicans partly wasted theirs by letting an actor conduct bawdy pretend conversations with an imaginary president and vice president.

Clint Eastwood's speech backfires on the Republicans

August 31, 2012 10:46 AM

Compared to his two most recent predecessors, Barack Obama is a difficult man to mock. But on Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood tried to do what Saturday Night Live has found to be incredibly difficult: Mine laughs at Obama's expense. And Eastwood's ridiculing tone undercut Mitt Romney's effort to appear more sad than angry at Obama's "failure."

The joke, it turned out, was on Eastwood: He looked foolish, and his trademark whisper sounded feeble. Eastwood's ability to keep working at a high level in his 80s has been celebrated. Now his only hope is that people will give him a pass because of his age.

But Eastwood's routine didn't fail solely because of Eastwood: It's because of Obama. The idea that this particular president is an empty chair — in Eastwood's strained metaphor — didn't feel right; it didn't connect with anything people know about Obama. Whatever his problems, and there have been many, he's hardly been an empty chair.

Behind the scenes, Republicans worry far less about Obama's record than about Obama as an historic figure, the nation's first black president and a symbol of American progress. That's why Romney, in his acceptance speech, tried so hard to take any edge off his criticisms of the president; Romney wanted to cut Obama down to size, but gently, by suggesting that he hasn't really justified the faith that the American people placed in him.

Eastwood's mistake was to invite the real Obama back into the room, in the form of that empty chair. Eastwood asked the audience watching on TV to imagine Obama's responses to a bunch of questions. And, surely, the answers the audience envisioned weren't nearly as inane as Eastwood's questions. Obama towered over Eastwood. Did he also tower over Romney?

Romney offers little beyond the same old platitudes

August 31, 2012 12:10 AM

TAMPA — Maybe Ann Romney should have given the acceptance speech, too.

She rose to the occasion with her address to the convention. Mitt missed a big opportunity with his.

With millions of eyes fixed upon him, the Republican Party nominee offered up little beyond a parade of patriotic platitudes. Yes, you expect to hear some of that in every big political speech. But you also hope to hear something beyond that.

We didn’t from Romney. Perhaps if one didn’t know or suspect that he loves his wife and his country and wants the US to have a robust economy, its citizens to enjoy a prosperous future, this speech was an eye opener. But if you’re already familiar with those campaign commonplaces, Romney didn’t leave you much else to grab hold of.

As far as agenda went, what he offered was basically a quick, generic verbal PowerPoint presentation. He favors energy independence, school choice, skills that match jobs, new trade agreements, deficit reduction, helping small business, and the repeal of Obamacare.

He didn’t tie any of that together into a cohesive narrative, let alone an inspiring call to national purpose or greatness.

The address was particularly thin on foreign policy. There, Romney reprised the GOP canard that President Obama had begun his administration with an international apology tour -- a charge that has been roundly rejected by the fact-checkers. Beyond that, a claim that Obama was too accommodating to Vladimir Putin and has thrown Israel under the bus, and some saber-rattling about Iran and its nuclear ambitions, he had little to say.

So why was his speech such an empty-calorie exercise?

The best explanation is that Romney believes he can win simply by keeping things vague and not being Barack Obama.

Indeed, if you reduce his speech to its essence, it comes down to this: The president hasn’t delivered on the future you deserve. I will.

Sometimes that works. But it’s a big gamble to say to voters trust me to do better, when you don’t trust them enough to tell them how.

Foreign policy barely registers at Republican convention

August 30, 2012 03:18 PM

TAMPA — There are 49 states beyond Florida, as the exuberant multitude of delegates to the Republican convention here makes endlessly clear, but is there a world beyond those states? And if so, does it interest the GOP?

For the first half of this convention week, you’d scarcely have thought so. Apart from the obligatory salute to immigrant roots (“I am the son of an Irish father and a Sicilian mother” — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), foreign affairs went virtually unmentioned by any of the speakers throughout Tuesday’s lengthy proceedings. Not until Arizona Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took the podium on Wednesday night did America’s role in the world get much attention.

McCain, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, reminded the delegates that “success at home… depends on our leadership in the world” and that “always we have led from the front, never from behind” — a slap at the Obama administration’s policy of deferring to multilateral institutions and lowering America’s profile in military operations overseas. Rice reinforced the message of America as the world’s indispensable nation. At times of crisis, she said, every nation wonders what America will do:

Indeed that is the question of the moment — “Where does America stand?” When our friends and our foes alike do not know the answer to that question, clearly and unambiguously, the world is a chaotic and dangerous place.

But neither Rice nor McCain — nor vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, whose acceptance speech was Tuesday’s climactic event — offered any detail into how a Romney administration would answer that question. Rice did talk up the importance of free-trade agreements; McCain condemned Obama for announcing plans to withdraw US combat troops from Afghanistan. But that was about it for specifics. If the GOP convention is going to yield a coherent statement about Romney’s foreign-policy intentions, it will have to come from Romney himself in his acceptance speech tonight.

Given the state of the economy, it is easy to understand why Republicans may not be devoting much attention to international affairs. But that doesn’t change reality: Whoever is elected on Nov. 6 will have far more control over US foreign policy than over the US economy. Economic policy is heavily shaped by Congress; presidents have a much freer hand when it comes to foreign relations.

Other governments are well aware of that fact, which helps explains the presence of many diplomats from abroad in the Tampa area this week. “Llegando a #Tampa para participar en la Convención Republicana #GOP2012,” tweeted Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, as he arrived in Florida on Monday. On Wednesday, the American Jewish Committee hosted a reception at an art gallery in nearby St. Petersburg, one of several AJC events that attracted attendees from the diplomatic corps.

“There is always great interest in what happens in America,” said British consul general Kevin McGurgan. “Especially when you’re choosing a president.” A young foreign-service officer from Scandinavia, attending the convention as a guest of the Republican Diplomatic Partnership, echoed the point. “The average person in my country doesn’t understand how American politics works,” he told me. “But everyone understands that the president of the United States is extremely important.”

In telling moment, Rice lightly critiques Obama's foreign policy

August 30, 2012 12:21 AM

TAMPA — One of Wednesday's most interesting and telling moments came when Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, took the podium. Rice brought the delegates to their feet when she marveled at the fact that a young African-American girl raised in Jim Crow Birmingham could grow up to be secretary of state. That's a matter of evident pride for Republicans, who rose in a standing ovation for her. It was a genuine American moment.

Rice did not take to the role of partisan warrior with much avidity, however. Instead of sweeping accusations, she spoke in the precise and measured diction of an academic. For those who favor intelligent discussion, that made her speech a welcome break from the tired tropes of this convention -- though it didn't provide much red meat for the partisans.

Yes, Rice played a mild variation of some favorite Republican themes. "Ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement," she declared. "We have never been jealous of one another and never envious of each other's successes." That's a mild nod to the GOP's over-the-top accusation that President Obama has engaged in invidious class warfare. (The accusation itself comes largely because the president feels that tax rates for upper earners should go back to what they were in the booming '90s.) She also called for more choice in education, particularly for "poor parents, whose kids, very often minority, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools." There she is surely right. Because of their political alliance with the teachers unions, the Democrats have for too long been content with traditional system progress that is often incremental at best. (That said, the Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program to cajole states to lift caps on charter schools.)

On international affairs, Rice warned that the US had to lead and to be clear about where it stood, lest the world become a more dangerous place. That, of course, could be as much a warning to the neo-isolationist wing of the Republican Party as a rebuke of the Obama administration.

And that was about as far as she went.

Although a bristly John McCain, who seldom sees a conflict without thinking that it requires prompt American intervention, was sharply critical of Obama's foreign policy, Rice wasn't. Her principal criticism was that Obama hasn't pursued new free-trade agreements.

All in all, Rice's speech underscored this point: Unlike past elections, foreign policy is not an area where Democrats are vulnerable in 2012. Romney has mostly confined himself to generic criticisms. That's not a surprise, as he seems only lightly schooled in world complexities. But the fact that one of the GOP's leading foreign-policy experts had little to add by way of particulars spoke volumes.

In RNC address, Ryan strains his own credibility

August 30, 2012 12:11 AM

TAMPA — Paul Ryan’s speech last night could mark the launch of a great career — but it could also be the start of a long journey into the wilderness of extremism. It was less about Ryan’s own vaunted budget plan than an attack, in the needling voice of the House GOP majority, on President Obama’s economic stewardship.

As expected, the speech delighted the Republican base because it painted Obama as the entitlement-driven liberal that many GOP delegates have always believed him to be. The crowd needed this moment of catharsis; Tuesday night’s keynoter, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, had gone fairly light on Obama, and the other major speaker, Ann Romney, concentrated solely on her husband.

But Ryan’s bill of particulars against Obama strained credibility enough to damage his own not-quite-earned reputation as a straight shooter. He attacked Obama for failing to keep open a General Motors plant in Wisconsin — a cheeky move for a vice-presidential nominee whose standard-bearer once wrote that the government should allow all of GM to go bankrupt.

He attacked Obama’s stimulus bill, a large percentage of which was comprised of tax cuts and aid to states to cover the salaries of teachers and law-enforcement workers who would otherwise have been laid off, as “political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst.” The cronyism charge, in particular, hasn’t even been taken seriously by Ryan’s own GOP House colleagues.

As for Obama’s health-reform bill, Ryan declared it to be “2,000 pages of rules...that have no place in a free country” — issuing a Palin-like ideological imperative that seemed to violate the common-sense tone he was trying to maintain.

And his attack on Obama for having “funneled” money out of Medicare to pay for new “entitlements” was disingenuous on many levels, the most obvious of which is the fact that the exact same Medicare cuts were replicated in Ryan’s own budget, which added copious additional reductions of its own.

By the time that Ryan declared, “We want this debate, our nation needs this debate, we will win this debate,” the notion of a reasonably fair-minded duel between two economic philosophies seemed less likely than ever – and a battle of bombastic charges, many of them deeply hypocritical, seemed likelier than ever.

Ryan, who helped lead the House GOP’s kamikaze-like refusal to raise the debt ceiling, blamed Obama for the harm to the nation’s credit rating. After helping to block numerous other Obama initiatives on the grounds that they would cost too much, Ryan declared that the president “does nothing.”

By the time that Ryan was decrying a “government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us,” and warning about “the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners,” his gaze seemed to have left the room entirely and focused on some Tea Party rally in the heartland.

Will anguished Americans respond to his call? Some certainly will. He offered the reassurance of ideological certainty in the pure and reedy voice of an altar boy. But others, including many people who cheered his selection as vice presidential nominee in anticipation of an open, honest clash of economic visions, will be disappointed.

Ryan’s boyish manner hid an almost frightening sense of confidence. When he talked about his differences with Mitt Romney, but assured the crowd they mattered little, he seemed to be assuming the role of party leader for himself. Someday, perhaps soon, he will be — but only if he makes it out of this campaign without alienating everyone outside of his conservative cheering section.

Ann Romney shines in crucial convention speech

August 29, 2012 06:49 AM

TAMPA — Mitt Romney strode into the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the start of the Republican convention on Tuesday night as perhaps the least-known presidential nominee in recent history. Everything from his religion — barely spoken about on the campaign trail — to his business career — the subject of intense disagreements — translated as opaque. His looks and bearing registered as presidential, but there was precious little to fill out the suit.

But by the time Romney took the stage for the first time, later in the evening, his profile had begun to come into greater focus. And he had his wife of 43 years to thank for it.

“No one will work harder. No one will care more,” declared Ann Romney. And it came off as true, mainly because she said it. The ostensible subject of Ann Romney’s speech was her husband’s strength, but what it revealed was her own. Viewed by some in Massachusetts as a reluctant political partner, and perhaps a bit of a wallflower, Ann Romney clearly has grown in the spotlight.

“It’s the mom who has to work a little harder to make it right,” she said at one point, and mothers and grandmothers watching on TV surely nodded in recognition. And they began to see the Romneys as a little less privileged, a little more hard-working, and a lot more in touch with everyday values than they had previously believed.

Campaigns realized a few decades ago that having the candidate’s spouse deliver a convention speech was an unmitigated plus — even a halting speech will be forgiven if it comes from the heart. But Ann Romney far exceeded those expectations. It’s safe to say that hers was the best convention speech by any candidate’s spouse — and certainly the most important.

Ann Romney was so good that the opera was effectively over before the fat man sang. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who delivered the official “keynote” address immediately after Ann Romney, wasn’t as likable, or as crucial to the campaign. But he was able to rouse the crowd, and to drive home the Republicans’ most crucial — but also quite dubious — claim: The budget deficit is “strangling” the economy.

In fact, the long-term deficit is a serious problem, but none of the pain being felt by the millions of Americans featured in the anecdotes offered by Christie and Ann Romney is because of the deficit. Long-term deficits, when let out of control, drive up the cost of borrowing, but that, thankfully, remains a future worry.

Instead, the austerity plan invoked by Christie in New Jersey — the product of the budget cuts that he made and that Romney promises for the country — has helped drive up unemployment in New Jersey to 9.8 percent, a point and a half higher than the national average.

Christie’s was a fraudulent argument — but still represents a crucial link in the larger Republican claim that President Obama has choked off the economy by driving up the national debt. By hammering his point home, Christie probably helped Romney’s cause — but not nearly as much as his wife did.

With his appearance Tuesday, ex-Democrat Artur Davis joins the small club of speakers who have addressed both conventions

August 28, 2012 10:48 PM

TAMPA — It isn’t unheard of for a public figure who has addressed the national convention of one political party to subsequently be invited to speak from the dais of the other party’s pageant. The second invitation usually requires a switch of loyalties and the passage of years, as with Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman from Alabama who addressed the Republican convention here Tuesday night. Four years ago, Davis had a speaking role at the Democratic convention in Denver, where he formally seconded the nomination of Barack Obama. But Davis left the Democratic Party earlier this year, and the GOP happily seized the chance to highlight a high-profile convert. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, addressed the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., endorsing Senator John McCain, the party’s presidential nominee. Eight years earlier, at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, Lieberman had delivered a speech accepting his party’s nomination for vice president. And a memorable highlight of the 2004 Republican gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York City was the keynote address by Georgia Senator Zell Miller -- the fiery Democrat who in 1992 had delivered an equally stirring keynote speech when the Democratic convention was held in the same location.

But one speaker at this week’s GOP convention will have to wait only a few days before reprising his act for the other team. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who will deliver the closing benediction at the Republican convention on Thursday, announced Tuesday that he had accepted an invitation to fulfill the same role at the Democratic convention in North Carolina. This marked an about-face: Dolan had reportedly told Democrats weeks ago that he would be “grateful” for such an invitation, only to be rebuffed.

It’s not hard to understand why the White House might at first have chosen to ignore the cardinal’s hint. As president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, after all, Dolan has relentlessly denounced the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate. It’s also not hard to understand why the White House might have decided against snubbing the country’s top Catholic prelate. Catholics constitute one of the biggest swing groups in the American electorate. Dolan’s spokesman emphasizes that the cardinal will address both conventions “solely as a pastor, only to pray,” and will scrupulously avoid any partisan or political side-taking. Still, as The New York Times’s Sharon Otterman remarks, his appearance in Charlotte

may lead to one of the most intriguing tableaus of this convention season. Cardinal Dolan, an opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage who is among the Catholic bishops suing the Obama administration over its contraception health care mandates, will bless a gathering of thousands of delegates who passionately disagree with him.

Dolan, incidentally, will not be the first cardinal to address both parties’ conventions in the same year. Philadelphia Cardinal Dennis Dougherty did so in 1948, when both parties held their quadrennial gathering in the City of Brotherly Love.

A GOP critique based on false premises

August 28, 2012 10:43 PM

TAMPA — Tuesday night’s events certainly seemed to please the Republican faithful. And yet there was one inconvenient problem: The essence of the GOP’s critique was based on false premises.

It started off with House Speaker John Boehner likening America to a bar-room — A bar-room where a stranger enters and starts saying clueless things. And what would the regulars do, Boehner asked? Why, they’d “throw him out.” The crowd never quite embraced what Boehner obviously hoped would become a boisterous refrain. Still, the speaker’s message became unmistakably clear when the hypothetical stranger told a business owner who had struggled to keep his enterprise afloat that he didn’t build it. Why, that’s just what … what Barack Obama has done, if one is to believe his conservative critics.

RNC chairman Reince Priebus hit the same note. “The president said, ‘if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,’ ” he lamented. “That makes me think Barack Obama has a problem with the America Dream.”

Then came actress Janine Turner, who did some similar fretting, after which country singer Lane Turner appeared to sing a song entitled – you guessed it ­– “I built it.” Suffice it to say that this wasn’t the end of that theme.

All in all, someone up on the facts might have been left thinking that neither Boehner nor Priebus is particularly quick on the uptake. Why? Because, though President Obama did speak the words “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” if one reads the comment in context, he clearly wasn’t disparaging businessmen. Or entrepreneurs. Or the American work ethic. Or free enterprise.

Rather, the president was recycling Elizabeth Warren’s populist pep-talk. His overarching message was that business success doesn’t depend solely on the individual business owner. Indeed, he’d said virtually that a few sentences earlier: “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.”

Now, it certainly would have been fair for the evening’s speakers to take issue with that notion. Perhaps they think that, overall, the government is more a hindrance than a help and that everyone would be better off if it got completely out of the way. Fine. That would at least make for an honest argument.

But it isn’t honest or accurate to act as though Obama’s intent was to declare that business owners had little or nothing to do with the success of their enterprise. That’s why the fact-checking sites have called previous Romney/Republican charges based on that comment false (Politifact.com) or judged the comment taken out of context in a way that ignores Obama’s meaning (Factcheck.org).

Now, Boehner and Priebus are obviously intelligent men. They surely know what Obama meant. So the questions, really, are these: Does it respect the intelligence of voters to make an out-of-context quote a major theme of the evening? And, the answer being obvious, what does it say about those who make that effort?

The second theme was another that has been judged untrue by every disinterested reporter or fact-checker that has examined it: That the Obama administration has eliminated the work requirement for welfare recipients. That claim has been so roundly debunked that it’s not worth doing it again here; interested readers can easily find a thorough discussion of it.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who emerged as Romney’s chief rival, led the charge on that one, acting so earnestly indignant that a naïve viewer might actually have thought he believed the nonsense he was spreading. (Experienced Santorum observers know he’s adept at summoning up phony indignation to propel false charges — and unapologetic when confronted with the facts.) Why, the action Obama actually hasn’t taken, despite Santorum’s insistence that he has, might well start the US on a slide away from being a republic, he warned.

In short, the evening wasn’t a remotely accurate or a tough but fair critique of the Obama administration. Nor was it a persuasive argument about the Republican approach to the problems this nation faces. Instead, it was an evening based on two damn-the-truth torpedoes launched in the hope that voters aren’t up on the facts.

The upside of a possible Todd English reality TV show

August 28, 2012 12:40 PM

If given the choice, Boston foodies would rather see more of Todd English in reality than on reality television.

The square-jowled chef has gradually become less and less of a presence in his Boston-area restaurants as his status as a national food celebrity has grown. Some attention paid to his once-loyal patrons would go along way to smoothing over some hard feelings between English and his earliest supporters.

That might be a wise move, but it's probably not going to happen any time soon, especially if the news reports this week are true. An item in the New York Post Sunday claimed that the “wild world of Todd English” is about to hit the small screen as “the playboy chef is filming a reality show with E! about managing his empire of restaurants along with his interesting and varied personal life.” The Herald followed up with an item this week, noting that the show might not actually be just about English; instead, it might just feature him in a larger docu-series about restauranteurs in New York.

Either way, reaction here has been lukewarm. Eyes rolled at Boston magazine, which declared itself “pretty much over it” before the show has even aired. The Herald was left wondering if “Hot Toddy”’s ex-fiancee Erica Wang -- who was allegedly caught shoplifting not once, but twice, this summer -- would be featured alongside him.

I get that reaction. But I also think it might actually do Boston diners some good to see what English has actually been up to. If anything, the chef has been an enigma around these parts for the past few years, and there's nothing like reality TV to put it all out there. Wouldn't it have been nice if we could have actually seen what was happening behind the scenes during the year-long will-he-or-won't-he-reopen-Olives debacle? Maybe then we would have better understood why it was taking so long to refurbish the restaurant in the first place.

Despite all the editing and scripting, reality TV sometimes shows people for who they really are, and what they are really up to. With English, we may not like what we discover. He's just not that into us, most likely. But, more than anything else, what Boston diners really want from English is a dose of reality.

Putting Ann Romney in the spotlight a good move for GOP

August 27, 2012 04:36 PM

TAMPA, Fla. — Isaac did the Republican National Convention one big favor: It gave organizers a good reason to move Ann Romney’s speech from Monday night, when the broadcast networks weren’t planning to cover it, to Tuesday night. The candidate’s wife will address the convention on national TV, just before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers the official keynote address.

Christie, one of the GOP’s most ferocious attack dogs, probably seemed a natural choice to play the traditional keynoter’s role of firing up the delegates. But that was before last week, when Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin made his infamous comment about “legitimate rape,” the party’s platform endorsed a constitutional amendment banning abortion in all cases, and Democrats intensified their accusations that the GOP is waging a “war on women.”

Christie may be an effective speaker, but he won’t help the Republicans with their gender divide. The New Jersey governor fully embraces his state’s no-nonsense reputation. He likes to shout down hecklers, punch the air with his finger when making a point, and, mostly, denounce Democrats in colorful terms. But he can turn people off as quickly as he turns them on. His rough edges were fully on display on Monday when, while addressing the GOP California delegation, he trashed the state’s 74-year-old governor, Jerry Brown, as an “old retread.”

He may have meant “old” in the sense of old-fashioned ideas. But it’s quite easy to imagine senior citizens taking offense. “I mean, he won the New Jersey presidential primary over Jimmy Carter when I was 14 years old,” Christie chortled about Brown.

Women are far more likely than men to express concerns over a lack of comity in politics, and those women, at least, are absolutely certain to find Christie’s barbs a turn-off. So what could convention organizers do to mitigate the expected damage?

FULL ENTRY

Two New Bedford mayors, one past and one present, grapple with fishing limits

August 24, 2012 07:21 PM

A scientific meeting Friday in Boston to recommend 2013 catch limits of depleted Georges Bank yellowtail flounder heard a surprise, impassioned plea from New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell not to cut the catch. Reading from a letter co-written the day before with Mayor Carolyn Kirk of Gloucester, Mitchell said, “If implemented the forecasted cuts would deal a crippling blow to the groundfish and scallop industries and eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs.”

The flounder, a valuable fish on its own, is also a major by-catch in the scallop industry that has made New Bedford the richest port in the United States. A curtailment of yellowtail fishing could force dramatic scalloping shut-downs, and when the New England Fisheries Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this month announced possible severe cuts, the Massachusetts congressional delegation called for disaster relief for fishermen.

Friday, after the council’s statistical and scientific committee presented assessment data at the Seaport Hotel showing that the biomass of yellowtail flounder remains low after a crash in 1995, Mitchell contended that the science remains too uncertain to potentially “wreak havoc on traditional fishing communities.” He added that the calls for disaster relief is “not the immediate answer. They’re more like reparations, more akin to telling someone whose house is on fire, ‘Here’s some more insurance,’ instead of giving them a hose to put out the fire itself.”

The scientists themselves struggled mightily with an almost impossible task. This year’s yellowtail catch limit is 1,150 metric tons. The current science suggested that a cut down to 200 metric tons would create a low probability of overfishing, and a strong chance for the stock to increase. A catch of 400 to 500 metric tons had a higher risk of overfishing but still a chance for some stock rebuilding. But with remaining uncertainties in the data, the committee agreed to allow by-catch, as long as the total yellowtail flounder catch does not exceed the 2012’. That could result in status quo.

The possibility of status quo left Jud Crawford, science policy manager for the Pew Environment Group’s Northeast Fisheries Program, concerned that politics crept too much into a science proceeding. “The mayor was well intentioned, but his words were directed at the wrong people. We need to know what the science is, but the discussion ventured too far outside science. Everyone is sympathetic to fishermen but it is a huge mistake to talk here about management decisions and socioeconomics. It threatens to corrupt the process.”

John Bullard, the new regional administrator for NOAA who is himself a former mayor New Bedford, said, “I was in Scituate last night listening to 75 fishermen saying they’re not sure if they can last another six weeks. The were very easy to understand and very hard to hear. This meeting, it’s very difficult for people to understand the science. It’s two different worlds.”

The coming weeks will tell if Bullard can help bring those two worlds any closer together.

Romney's Ryan pick sharpens contrast between candidates

August 11, 2012 11:32 AM

Say this for Mitt Romney: Contrary to widespread expectation, he didn't play it safe.

Instead, after a mid-summer in which the Republican candidate is widely seen as having lost ground to President Obama, he rolled the dice by choosing Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to run with him.

The choice will energize the conservative base, which heretofore has been less than enthused about marching into battle behind Mitt. After all, Ryan, the conservative Wisconsin ideas man, is the GOP's American Idol.

His selection as Romney's VP ticketmate will help establish the sharpest, clearest contrast on fiscal issues we've seen in years.

Ryan, the House budget chief, is of course the architect of the GOP's fiscal approach. Romney has praised the Ryan plan, and, indeed, proposed one of his own that's quite similar to Ryan's blueprint. Now, in embracing Ryan himself, he has made it crystal clear that his general election embrace of Ryanism will be full-throated and complete.

That will make the ideological dividing line of Campaign 2012 stark and unmistakable.

That's because of the way Ryan's approach works. Like Romney, his plan calls for doing all the deficit reduction on the spending side, which would require large, unspecified reductions in nearly all domestic programs.

Like Romney, Ryan also calls for another large income tax cut that would supposedly be paid for by closing loopholes and deductions -- loopholes and deductions he, like Romney, has repeatedly declined to identify.

There's nothing the modern GOP likes more than running on large tax cuts paid for by little but a magic asterisk and vague blandishment about the alchemistic effects of growth. For the record, you won't find a reputable economist anywhere who will assert that at or near our current rates of taxation, income tax cuts pay for themselves. No matter: expect to hear that suggested -- if not always asserted outright -- time and time again.

FULL ENTRY
ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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