Venn diagrams are named for John Venn, the son of an evangelical Christian who at Cambridge University in 1880, sought to physically describe the relationships between two disparate sets of information. His solution? Circles containing separate sets of data, overlapping one another only where data is shared between the two sets.
Perhaps back in the time to which Republicans seem ready to take us back, you'd have to go to the library, or take a science course to learn this. Nowadays, anyone with access to the Internet can learn this in a two-minute Google search. The WiFi at the Romney for President headquarters was working just fine, seeing as they put the diagram shown below (and this one, about health care) onto the web for all to see.
The reaction has been swift, and mocking. New York magazine's Jonathan Chait imagined how this was thought up, and on Forbes, Jason Oberholtzer remarked, "The Venn diagram is the Algebra 1 of data visualization and no, this is not how they work." Author and comedian Baratunde Thurston also broke it down (while also adding his own instructive Venn, which you can see after the jump):
Let’s start with the issue of an Obama “promise” of 5.6% unemployment vs a reality of 8.2%. Why is the overlap shown as a number and not percent? Also, why is there an overlap of these two percentages!? And then why is that overlap referred to as a “gap?” For someone who made his mark at Bain, this guy has no idea how to use a Venn Diagram.
Slate's Dave Weigel did the same, but then had a more political take:
That said, it's a distracting image and it refers to the issue Romney wants to run on. The pivot away from health care is on.
That may be the case, especially given how difficult it has proven for Republicans to continue on with this hissy fit over the Supreme Court upholding the President's Affordable Care Act. Yes, it has opened the door for a lot of threats, the most potent of which have come from governors who refuse to implement the ACA and the Medicaid expansion in their states -- and from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who threatened to repeal the law using reconciliation under a President Mitt Romney, brushing aside the 30 million people Republicans would be leaving in the lurch, and ignoring what most of them seem to want.
But here's the thing: the misbegotten Venn diagrams are just a tiny sample of how even pivoting away from their Supreme Court loss towards the Issue Which Will Decide This Election™ -- the economy -- is proving likewise problematic for the Romney campaign. Take Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom's disastrous interview with our own Chuck Todd yesterday, in which he agreed with the Obama administration position that the individual mandate is not a tax, something he had to do since the law is based on his boss' own Romneycare:
“The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said on msnbc’s “The Daily Rundown.” “He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.”
I'm unsure how much that gaffe will matter beyond defusing the whining that's been going on since Thursday, or making it look increasingly illogical (thank you, RNC chair Reince Priebus). As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum notes, it doesn't make much sense for them to continue down that road, anyway. Besides, they have a few brand-new headaches on their hands, thanks to the downfall of Barclays' chief executive -- who will no longer co-host a Romney fundraiser -- and a new Vanity Fair investigative report out this morning from their August issue, focusing on Romney's offshore accounts and resultant dodging of American taxes:
The assertion that he broke no laws is widely accepted. But it is worth asking if it is actually true. The answer, in fact, isn’t straightforward. Romney, like the superhero who whirls and backflips unscathed through a web of laser beams while everyone else gets zapped, is certainly a remarkable financial acrobat. But careful analysis of his financial and business affairs also reveals a man who, like some other Wall Street titans, seems comfortable striding into some fuzzy gray zones.
The Maddow Blog's Steve Benen pulls the money quote, from a Washington lawyer and offshore expert: "What Romney does not get is that this stuff is weird." Why Romney and his campaign doesn't get this, after having run for President now as often as he has, is stupefying. I'm unsure what's weirder: that Romney thought running for President with this kind of stuff in his past would be helpful or insignificant, or that when it's revealed and critical questions begin to be asked, why they insist it doesn't matter. It seems that it does to the voters.
Considering said weirdness, you get why the Romney folks are getting some help in their pivot from an unlikely source: his opponent. Despite their Supreme Court victory providing a reprieve from fighting the false framing of a worsening economy, the Obama folks are clearly more than happy to change the subject.
After all, according to a new Gallup poll today, the President got no bump in his job-approval numbers from his Supreme Court victory (which is unsurprising given that a lot of folks don't know it happened). Both Vice President Joe Biden and the Obama campaign went in on the Vanity Fair revelations today. Add the growing sentiment that that their anti-Bain Capital/"outsourcer-in-chief" line is working, the incumbent released a new ad today hitting Romney on just that.
Meanwhile, Romney's latest ad drudges up four-year-old Hillary Clinton complaints about a Barack Obama who wasn't President yet. Again, you'd think they'd be better at this.
You can see the Obama ad here and below, and then Baratunde's instructive Venn diagram after the jump.
Update: Team Obama has gone fully in on the Vanity Fair story, posting a map of Romney's offshore tax havens.