The Field, The Economy, Ross Douthat on Romney and the Establishment, Who Killed Horatio Alger?, Mark Twain and the Real Tom Sawyer, The NFL in Crisis, The Forest
The Transom: News and Notes From Around the Web
How should Mitt Romney try to gain momentum through the upcoming debates and into Election Day? This depends on what you think his biggest problem is, and whether you think it can be solved. The latest polls show a stagnant race: Gallup has President Obama ahead, 48-45.  Rasmussen has Obama ahead 47-46.  Quinnipiac has Obama widening his lead in Ohio and Florida.  The core issue for Romney, in my view, has always been that voters just don’t like him very much, and that the Romney campaign has wasted time trying to turn that impression around instead of embracing his true appeal as a hard-nosed problem solver. But there’s another problem which fewer prognosticators expected, even me: people don’t trust Romney on the economy as much as they trust Obama.  “Even though 55 percent of adults believe the economy is worse now than when Obama took office, 43 percent believe he is better for the economy, compared to 34 percent favoring Romney.” There’s a degree of acceptance here, an assumption that this is the best this economy can hope for in the future. If Romney is to mount a comeback, he needs to change that. The latest ad seems to go along those lines, in a shift from others we’ve seen, with Romney directly addressing the camera and making the case against accepting the permanent welfare state and economic stagnation. 
There’s an opportunity for Romney to take this message further in the debates. Romney performed well in the vast majority of debates during the primary, and he’s currently prepping with Rob Portman.  Romney’s style as a debater is aggressive and that may serve him well – in debates, the first person to appear thin-skinned usually loses – and he’ll have an opportunity to bring that out in response to Obama’s woe-is-me talk, blaming Bush and the Republican Congress for everything under the sun, saying something along the lines of: “In the private sector, one of the things I did was invest in companies. I learned a lot about how jobs are created, but I also learned a lot about leadership. One of the things I had to do when we got involved with a company was evaluate its leadership and see if it needed a change. And let me tell you, if I got involved with a company that was losing money and jobs hand over fist and piling up debt like there was no tomorrow, and I found out the CEO had been in the job four years and still spent most of his time blaming his predecessor and his co-workers, I'd fire him and get somebody in there who could get results.” A response like this, besides being one virtually guaranteed to tick off Obama, makes the whining look petty and small. But it would also do something else, too: workers of all types, but particularly blue-collar workers, resent the idea of the incompetent senior management which survives pain while they bear the brunt of it. Romney should do his utmost to speak for those who demand accountability and turn his negative role as one of the suits into an advantage.
Obama’s approach to blue-collar workers involved thinking outside the box—and that’s something Romney should consider.  “What’s ironic is that if Team Obama bought all of the preconceived notions that early polling and focus groups relayed at the beginning of the year, the president would probably be no better than even with Romney at this point. Earlier in the year, polls showed blue-collar white voters firmly opposed to the president, an indicator of trouble for him in the politically competitive Rust Belt states. Obama campaign officials were privately skeptical of their prospects in a state like Ohio, given its unfavorable demographic makeup and its weak economy. But the campaign designed a narrative designed to persuade a sufficient number of disaffected voters — their plan is better designed to protect the social safety net at a time of economic uncertainty. And their numbers have slowly ticked up. Now Ohio is looking like one of the tougher battleground states for Romney to win, and the blue-collar bastions of Michigan and Pennsylvania look increasingly out of reach.”
Obama showers Ohio with attention and money.  “After President Obama pledged in March to create up to 15 manufacturing centers nationwide, the first federal grant went to a place at the heart of his affections: Ohio. When the Obama administration awarded tax credits to promote clean energy, the $125 million taken home by Ohio companies was nearly four times the average that went to other states. And when a Cleveland dairy owner wanted to make more ricotta cheese, he won what was then the largest loan in the history of the U.S. Small Business Administration… Obama will return to the state Wednesday to barnstorm in Bowling Green and Kent, making what will be his 29th visit since taking office. Excluding D.C.’s neighboring states, Virginia and Maryland, that’s more than any state except New York, where he often flies to raise money, and far more than other swing states, including Florida (22 visits), Colorado (14) and Wisconsin (9), according to White House records.”
Romney’s spending a lot of time there, too. He’ll be campaigning there with Transomwife’s heartthrob Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs.  But there’s less optimism among Romney’s Ohio crew.  “Top Romney aides predicted that the campaign’s operation on the ground in Ohio to turn out supporters could be decisive here. “The ground game is good for a field goal. If you’re within three points, it can make a difference,” Rich Beeson, the campaign’s national political director, told reporters aboard Romney’s plane en route to Vandalia.” But that doesn’t work if you’re 62 yards out.
RELATED: Romney disses polls.  The New York Times runs Obama defense on the deficit.  Obama vs. the Millennials who elected him.  CNN bashes Obama for View appearance.  Ryan compares Obama admin to replacement refs. Latest Obama 47% ad.  Obama postures on China.  Madonna doesn’t know what it means to be ironic.  Romney defends his welfare ad.  Romney speech to Clinton Global Initiative.  Heritage Foundation takes apart Tax Policy Center analysis of Romney’s tax plan.
Consumer confidence is the highest it’s been in seven months.  “Confidence among American consumers jumped more than forecast in September as a budding housing recovery and rising stock prices gave households reason to be more upbeat. The Conference Board’s sentiment index increased to 70.3, the highest level in seven months, from 61.3 in August, figures from the New York-based private research group showed today. The reading exceeded the most optimistic projection of economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Another report showed home values rose by the most in two years. Consumers felt better about their chances of landing a job soon and about the employment outlook over the next six months, today’s report showed, easing one of the impediments to the spending that accounts for 70 percent of the economy.”
A big part of the driver: they’ve got more cash in their pockets.  “Consumers increased their average annual spending by 3.3% last year, the fastest rate since 2006, according to the Labor Department's most recent annual snapshot of how Americans spend. The average level of spending in 2011, $49,705, was the highest since 2008 for consumers, who are defined as families, single people living alone or with others, and people living together and sharing expenses. One factor in last year's spending jump was simply the rising cost of everyday goods. Consumer prices rose 3.2% last year. But the Labor Department's latest Consumer Expenditures report is a contrast with 2010's, when consumer prices rose but incomes and spending dropped. In 2011, consumers actually saw their average incomes, before taxes, rise 1.9% to $63,685. That likely gave them more cash to spend.”
The lesson of the downturn for young workers: save money.  “As older Americans lose jobs, lose homes and delay retirement, their children are watching and reacting. Growing numbers of young Americans are boosting savings, cutting spending and planning for retirement… young adults are now saving more and starting earlier than people their age used to, according to several broad measures. Of employees under age 25, 44% participated in their companies' 401(k) retirement plans in 2011, up from just 27% in 2003, according to data on millions of employees whose companies' retirement plans are managed by Vanguard Group Inc. Of those ages 25 to 34, 63% participated in 2011, up from 58% in 2003. While they still face serious student debts, young people also have cut back on credit-card debt. About 45% of Americans under 35 had credit-card debt in 2010, compared with 63% in 2002, according to survey data from Strategic Business Insight's MacroMonitor. The average credit-card balance for those under age 35 fell to $4,100 from $5,100 over that period, adjusted for inflation. The under-35 group was the only age group that saw average credit-card balances fall.”
RELATED: Consumer credit scores vary widely.  Case-Shiller shows more improvement.  Mortgage applications rise.  How the Fed is helping lenders, not homebuyers.   IBM targets Amazon on cloud.  More on what went down with Knight Capital.  iPhone shortfall due to slim display.  Schmidt says it’s up to Apple on maps app.  Manufacturing job growth.   Europe’s accidental new architect.  Sheila Bair brings out the skeletons.
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Ross Douthat has a lengthy response to my case regarding Mitt Romney and the base – I’d excerpt it but you really should read the whole thing. Go do that and then come back. 
I truly appreciate Ross's response and I agree with portions of it. But I have to apologize as well, as I think I may have clouded the issue a bit with some sloppy namechecking at the opening of my original argument, which you can read here.
When conservatives or libertarians refer to the “establishment”, they can mean any number of things – it is a word that means “just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less,” as Humpty Dumpty would say – including just meaning “people who disagree with me and are slightly to my left on a topic of my choosing.” This is shoddy categorization, and the shorthand examples I highlighted are not necessarily representative. For instance: Michelle Malkin may be a Tea Party-friendly, but she was a conservative long before the Tea Party existed, one whose policy priorities aren’t necessarily the same as the Tea Party; and while David Frum is absolutely a DC/Manhattan insider, his ideas also have virtually no constituency outside of the production studios – he’s not exactly a stand-in for some uniform establishment, whatever that means.
In his depiction of the 2012 process, I do think Douthat ignores the entire Salem radio/web family, and he has a very different interpretation of the National Review “acceptability” editorial and the relative hostility of their campaign coverage than I did. But as he points out, these are all different factions perturbed with Romney for very different reasons. Noonan and Kristol and Brooks have been criticizing Romney from all sorts of different perspectives, and I had no intention of glomming all the critics into one faction. Kristol is a good example of why you shouldn't do broad brush critiques – he was one of the last holdouts for Romney, still basically is, but his magazine also had writers who spent much of the primary knifing Romney's opponents with vigor.
In any case, this really isn't the source of the frustration with Romney from the elites. The recognizable media figures I referenced above express views publicly, in different ways and for different reasons, so they're useful as shorthand. Douthat is thinking of this in terms of columnists and editorial writers because he thinks they matter, and I think they matter too! But I think that something else matters more.
Bear with me as I return to a point I've made before, but it's been long enough that I should repeat it for all the new subscribers: the DC/Manhattan establishment, the one that really matters, is not the punditocracy. This is not to say such voices have no influence – they do. The opinion of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page in particular holds a great deal of sway. But the opinions of the people who focus on the other sections of the Wall Street Journal matter more, because they communicate those opinions in dollars and cents. What's more, decisively winning the establishment money primary typically dictates the direction of the DC/Manhattan punditocracy in Republican primaries – they see the money, they see the team, they see that he's the guy whose turn it is, and their expectations form about who can matter and who can't. Expectations of inevitability are hard to shake, particularly in Republican primaries.
This is the game Romney played, and he cleaned up – and here is where I think Ross’s point about money is a bit revisionist. Up to the April 2012 point where the primary was still competitive, Romney’s campaign alone took in over $87 million. None of his competitors had much more than $20 million. Tim Pawlenty barely got $5 million. Rick Perry had one big quarter and then nothing, barely breaking $20 million. And of Romney's $87 million, a mere 13 percent came from small donations. (If we're talking about the limits of populism, that's it: you don't need to be populist at all in order to win a GOP primary, and you can’t afford to run as one any more in my view. Except on immigration, because it's the litmus test that matters now.) Romney's combined warchest lapped the field, and his ability to self-fund effectively scared away a number of potential candidates as well – no one wanted to go up against that Death Star: not Barbour, not Christie, not Rubio, not Ryan, and not Daniels, who got a shot across the bow warning about it first – and we saw what happened to those who did.
And that doesn't even count the $40 million Romney's Super PAC spent against Republicans in the primary – including over $21 million against Santorum alone, about as much as Santorum's entire campaign raised (by comparison, Santorum's Super PAC spent $700k on anti-Romney ads – 10% of their total budget). What we're talking about, in political terms, is a metric ton of cash. With the exception of the odd Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess types, the big donors got on board with Romney early and gave big, not just to him but to his Super PAC. Funded exclusively by big donors and corporate funders, Romney's Super PAC spent more to defeat Republicans in the primary than it has spent thus far to defeat Obama.
Nor do these numbers include the sideline benefit of the other activist groups that sat on the sidelines to avoid angering their biggest donors, or the benefits of crossover fundraisers between American Crossroads and Romney's team. These donors don't just give to campaigns and PACs: they also fund organizations in Washington and have exerted enormous pressure on Romney critics within those organizations to hold their tongue, spend their money differently, hold off on endorsements, and tamp down on criticism – the sort of push that carries a lot of weight when it comes from someone with their name on buildings. These insiders, not the pundits, were the ones doing the "foisting" from my perspective. They also fund a few pundits, too, though no one likes to talk about that.
My original point was the irony that the Tea Party seems more comfortable with this “it's his turn” arrangement for Mitt Romney in the aftermath of the Paul Ryan pick, more pragmatic and less fickle than they were described in the months ahead of the nomination when they were chided for toying with the idea of Rick Santorum far past the point of politeness. They’ve made their peace that this is the only way to beat Obama, they’re sanguine about Romney’s technocratic sins, and they’ve swallowed most of their pride. The insiders are more frustrated – and their criticisms of Romney and his campaign today sound remarkably like investors in a stock that’s headed in the wrong direction. Because for them, in some cases, that’s exactly what he is.
There's an additional point too: maybe the elites who saw Romney as the best candidate or the best of a bad bunch for 2012 are right. But that's still not an argument for doing this top down. When the guy whose turn it is wins the Republican nomination, it is generally not because of conservative activists or conservative commentators. It is because those with vested interests in that victory – the money, and the representatives of money – tend to be far better at closing ranks. The in terrorem effect of Romney's money kept potentially better candidates sidelined or led them to choose unwise strategic gambles – particularly Tim Pawlenty, who wagered everything he had on the Iowa Straw Poll. And I'd argue that, in part because of the flawed assumptions which emerged after the initial Bain attacks by Newt Gingrich were shouted down, Romney has ended up being a weaker general election candidate for it.
This is the way the process is, it's unlikely to ever change, particularly in the wake of the process changes at the most recent convention. While the Tea Partiers and the conservative base can unite to toss out Senators in their own party, they lack the sophistication and the invested capital to beat anyone whose turn it is. And if Romney wins, I'd expect more foisting, not less, in the foreseeable future. Establishment, establishment – you always know what's best.
Jim Tankersley on the slow death of the American Dream.  “It’s getting harder to work your way into a higher income level than the one into which you were born. A son’s adult income in the United States is about half dictated by how much his father made, a percentage that is nearly as high as in any country in wealth-by-birthright Europe, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development… This is far from the up-by-the-bootstraps, Horatio Algeresque self-image that most Americans hold dear... Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill estimates that 40 percent of children born into the topmost or bottom income quintile won’t budge as adults from where they began… But this declining mobility also applies to Americans born into the vast middle class. Even they were less likely to bounce up or down in income during the past 10 years than in earlier decades, Bradbury found. By her calculations, Americans in the highest and lowest quintiles of income are far more likely to stay at the same level over a decade than are people in the three middle quintiles. But lately, members of the middle class have also been getting stuck: Between 1996 and 2006, they were 25 percent likelier to stay where they were, compared with the middle class in the 1976 to ’86 period.”
“Still, middle-class mobility in the United States is hardly a thing of the past. Americans born into middle-income brackets remain, as adults, equally likely to climb up or to slide down the income ladder, Sawhill writes. What’s the surest way to climb? On that, there’s a clear prescription, reflecting a quiet transformation in our notion of how upward mobility works. Nowadays, hard work will get you only so far. If you want to move from poverty into the middle class—or to avoid falling from the middle class into poverty—there’s only one route, if you’re not Beyoncé or Bill Gates: graduate from college.” But is that a holdover from the old ways of doing things? And what happens when these degrees bequeath so much debt that they make no sense for the middle class to pursue them? And what about the biggest financial boondoggle of all time: Graduate School?
The Adventures of the Real Tom Sawyer.
Corgi stacking.
If you're good with economic, labor, and demographic data, and want to helm an interesting yearlong research effort, contact Joshua Treviño at the Texas Public Policy Foundation:
Obama’s UN General Assembly speech chides those who dare insult Muhammad.
Why no bilats? 
Muslim embarrassment.
Iran pushes ahead on nukes. 
Piers Morgan says Ahmadinejad is “charming.” 
Slate: The First Amendment is overrated.  This is the most Slate thing since they made the case for smaller breasts.
GOP prospects in the Senate have slipped from 70% likelihood to 45% over the course of a few months.  
In Florida, Bill Nelson leads Mack by 14. 
Pennsylvania relaxes Voter ID laws. 
Arizona conservatives defend their turf. 
Virginia’s Senate race, from the wives’ perspective.
Price v. McMorris-Rodgers.
Has the IRS gone rogue to implement Obamacare? 
Obama donor wrote ‘nonpartisan’ congressional report backing liberal tax policy.
Jonathan Gruber’s new “analysis” of Obamacare.
What states should do regarding essential health benefits deadline. 
More on the rise of health premiums. 
The number of knee replacements paid for by Medicare has doubled in the past decade. 
The health gains from fewer people smoking are being completely wiped out by fatter people.
Private schools are offering more online classes. 
Cellphones are eating up a greater percentage of the family budget. 
Big publishers don’t understand the ebook marketplace.
CEOs fear Twitter. 
Developing biometric passwords. 
Steven Poole demolishes the pseudoneuroscientists.
Individualism and community in Hebrew scripture.
How tigers and people can coexist.
The NFL’s getting creamed by fan outrage. 
Mass Effect posters.
Guillermo del Toro’s latest.
Fargo, the series.
There are two kinds of people in this world.
RED ALERT: Bacon shortage “inevitable.” 
Surfers and dolphins. 
Seething Midwest explodes over Lombardi cartoons. 
Josh Zerkle on the NFL in crisis.
“For you I refuse the advances of the mountain.”
I am the Change, Charles Kesler, $17.
“On the surface, I once bought a forest. The parasites claimed that the land belonged to God, and demanded that I establish a public park there. Why? So the rabble could stand slack-jawed under the canopy and pretend that it was Paradise Earned. When Congress moved to nationalize my forest, I burnt it to the ground. God did not plant the seeds of this Arcadia – I did.” ― Andrew Ryan

This collection of news and notes from around the web is edited by Benjamin Domenech, research fellow at The Heartland Institute, co-host of Coffee & Markets, and editor in chief of The City. The views expressed within are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers.
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