President Obama launched his re-election campaign tonight with a State of the Union speech that attempted to conjure up the spirit of an earlier era of national unity even as he sought to focus national resentment on wealthy Americans and his political opponents in Congress.
With no record of accomplishment to his credit, other than the unpopular Obamacare and stimulus, Obama put forward a limited agenda of government intervention in the economy and the tax code in a laundry list of initiatives that did little to break new ground on any issue and was bereft of the passion and vision that drove his 2008 campaign for the presidency. All in all, it was 65 minutes that ought to worry Democrats more than it annoyed Republicans.
New details are trickling out about Newt Gingrich’s role at Freddie Mac, and the latest reports continue to contradict his claim that he objected to the mortgage giant’s business model while serving as an advisor.
Last November, Gingrich’s campaign said that “on numerous occasions in meetings with Freddie Mac, Speaker Gingrich advised that a business model that involved lending money to people with bad credit and no money down was unsustainable and a bubble, and that it was dangerous to buy securities made up of these mortgages.”
Ten years ago this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. Nine days later he was murdered–beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Before being killed, he was forced to make a statement on a video that the terrorists subsequently distributed to the press. Though he was forced to make criticisms of the United States, he died expressing pride in his identity. “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” he said.
Pearl’s abduction and murder was a heinous crime that came to symbolize the barbarity at the heart of the Islamist movement. But Pearl’s final words, though spoken under duress and with the shadow of death hanging over him, are also a symbol of the spirit of a people that hate cannot extinguish.
I agree with Jonathan’s assessment of last night’s GOP debate. The only important part of the debate occurred in the first half-hour, when Mitt Romney aggressively prosecuted his case against Newt Gingrich. Gingrich clearly decided he didn’t want a confrontation, probably assuming that doing so would endanger his lead in Florida. The former speaker wanted to float above it all, as best he could, in hopes of selling to the public the narrative of a “new” Newt – a candidate calm, disciplined, and in control of himself.
I’m not sure that strategy is a particularly good one. Gingrich tried that once before, in Iowa, and finished in fourth place after leading by double digits in December. And last week Romney tried the same approach, trying to keep his attacks focused on President Obama even as Romney’s opponents went after him hammer and tong.
Now more than ever, Mitt Romney needs to hammer home the argument that he’s more electable than Newt Gingrich in a general election. But it will be increasingly difficult for him with polls like these:
Among overall Americans, Romney’s favorability rating — a measure of broad acceptability — has dropped eight points since earlier this month, to 31 percent. His unfavorable rating has jumped 15 points, to 49 percent. That’s a net swing of 23 points. His negative rating now tops 50 among independents.
The custom of championship sports teams visiting the White House and the ceremonial gift of a jersey to the president dates backs several presidencies and is generally considered above politics. But one member of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins decided he wasn’t going to be a prop in a photo-op for Barack Obama this year. Goalie Tim Thomas, whose heroics in the net made the difference for the Bruins in last spring’s National Hockey League playoffs, boycotted yesterday’s White House ceremony in which his team was honored.
Thomas absented himself from the celebration as a protest against the size of government and issued a tasteful if pointed statement explaining his actions were not about “politics or party.” For this, he is being roasted in the hometown press for behavior that Boston Globe columnist Kevin Paul Dupont called “Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league.” But the Globe and other liberal outlets that claim Thomas politicized something that had nothing to do with partisan strife are wrong. The business of schlepping team members and officials and their trophy for photos with the president months after their triumph may be a harmless tradition, but as much as the president serves as head of state as well as head of our government, no one should feel obligated to play along with the charade. Thomas was fully within his rights and is no more at fault than any left-wing actors who denied themselves the pleasure of a visit with George W. Bush.
In the Book of Proverbs we read, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” I was reminded of those words in reading this story from Politico, which begins this way:
Take this quiz: If President Barack Obama wins a second term, he has promised that he will do … what exactly? There are people who follow the president closely who couldn’t answer that question. And even those who try would surely find themselves disagreeing with one another. As he stands before the nation Tuesday evening to present his State of the Union address, Obama is a president whose positions may be well-known but whose agenda — what he actually intends and can reasonably expect to achieve if voters give him four more years — is blurry. …Obama has yet to outline in a concrete way what he will do, said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian with Princeton University.“He is an enigma,” Zelizer said. “He is not a politician with a clear set of ideas.”
Since the beginning of his political career, President Obama has had a particularly annoying habit of comparing himself to great historical leaders, including Ronald Reagan, Lincoln and JFK. Many politicians do this to a certain extent, but coupled with Obama’s thin resume and lack of substance, it played into the narrative that he had an inflated self-image.
Obama’s historical self-comparisons have become a running joke with conservatives. But why are Newt Gingrich’s even more outlandish personal assessments – that he’s just like Thomas Edison, the Duke of Wellington, or Henry Clay – not treated as equally ridiculous?
The unions that have been fighting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s reforms have submitted petitions with well over the required number of signatures to force a recall election sometime this spring. Assuming the petitions hold up (and the Walker forces will, needless to say, be going over them carefully), the election will be held perhaps as early as April or as late as June.
It will be the second most important election to be held in 2012 and should be watched closely. If Walker prevails, then other governors will be empowered to pursue reform of public service unions, which have been bleeding state and local governments (and thus taxpayers) dry. If he loses, this necessary reform will be set back severely and one of the most retrogressive forces in American politics–unions–will get a new lease on life.
His reforms are working, as a new article in City Journal demonstrates.
For one day at least the national political spotlight returns to the man Republicans are vying for the chance to defeat: President Barack Obama. Tonight’s State of the Union speech will be the unofficial start of his re-election campaign, and there should be plenty of not-so-subtle hints about the direction he will attempt to take the country in the coming years. Moreover, the invitation to billionaire Warren Buffet’s secretary — whom we are told pays taxes at a higher rate than her boss — to sit in the gallery, will no doubt signal that “fairness” or to be more blunt, class warfare, will be at the top of the agenda.
The release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns today is a serendipitous coincidence for a White House that will be eager to paint a picture of the Republicans as the party of the rich who are indifferent to the sufferings of those less fortunate. Though he was elected promising an era of post-partisanship, this president has tilted heavily to the left throughout his first term, and tonight’s speech ought to serve as a reminder for GOP voters of what they seek to avert: a second term in which Obama’s vision of expanded government will be further entrenched.
In the past two weeks, conservatives began pushing back against the notion that the Republican nomination should be decided by debate performances. They note, as Guy Benson does, that there will be no Lincoln-Douglas debates in the fall, and that Newt Gingrich would be lucky if President Obama even honored the traditional three-debate custom.
This is true, as is the complaint that the ability to score points off of mainstream media moderators does not presage the ability to score points off of the president of the United States. Last night, with no audience participation, Gingrich seemed to show just how much he has benefited from it in the recent past. But while all this may be true, it’s important to reject the idea that Gingrich’s rise is due only to made-for-YouTube moments. His campaign is not free of substance, most notably the following.
Writing about the significance of the fact that an Israeli university, the Technion, recently won a global competition in partnership with Cornell to establish New York’s planned NYCTech campus, David Suissa and Mitch and Elliot Julis eloquently captured the “cruel paradox” that defines Israel: “a country that is forced to use its wits to defend itself but would much prefer using its wits to save the world.” Yet in truth, these two halves of the paradox aren’t always at odds; Israel often succeeds in performing a kind of alchemy that converts the painful lessons learned from being perennially under attack into ways of benefiting humanity as a whole. Nothing illustrates this better than one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve read in a long time: the tale of how an Israeli-developed therapy technique utilizing a sad-faced stuffed dog named Hibuki (Hebrew for “huggy”) was used to treat children traumatized by last year’s tsunami in Japan.
The technique, originally developed to treat Israeli children traumatized by rocket fire during the Second Lebanon War of 2006, enables children who would be reluctant to explain why they themselves are sad to instead tell parents and teachers why Hibuki is sad. Additionally, having the children “take care of” Hibuki helps them heal by diverting them from their own trauma.
In his live blogging of the debate last night, Jonathan noted, “If there was a more boring one than this, I don’t remember it.” That’s for sure.
But why was that? The stakes were just as high as in the previous couple of debates, the debaters were the same (absent Rick Perry, a small loss), the need to strike a knock-out blow as great. So why was it such a snooze?
Last week, I argued the need for internationally recognized rules for the handling of terrorist suspects so as to avoid cases such as the one in Britain where one of al-Qaeda’s leading clerics in Europe may wind up being released after an EU court ruled he could not be deported to his home country, Jordan. Now comes another bit of news that underlines the need for some kind of solution for handling terrorists:
It seems the Obama administration wants to repatriate back to their home countries approximately 50 foreign detainees being held at the main U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan, prior to handing it over to Afghan authorities who have little interest in, or capability of, holding these dangerous men. The problem is that many of the detainees are Pakistani or Yemeni, and there is scant cause to think either country will hold them securely. Yemen, which appears increasingly to be ungoverned, simply lacks the capability to hold dangerous detainees; Pakistan, or at least elements of its army and intelligence service, may be in collusion with them.
Mitt Romney is releasing his 2010 tax return Tuesday morning, but he gave several media outlets a sneak peek at the document and his 2011 tax return estimates late Monday. Based on the information released so far, it’s a wonder why he didn’t do this weeks ago. There aren’t many surprises here, unless it comes as a shock to some that Romney’s obscenely rich. He paid a 13.9 percent tax rate in 2010, mainly on capital gains, and expects to pay 15.9 percent in 2011. But the angle he’ll likely play up is his large charitable donations, which actually surpass the amount he paid in taxes:
The couple gave away $7 million in charitable contributions over the past two years, including at least $4.1 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney’s family has for generations been among the Mormon Church’s most prominent members.
The Romneys sent somewhat less to Washington over that period, paying an estimated $6.2 million in federal income taxes. According to his 2010 return, Romney paid about $3 million to the IRS, for an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent.
It’s pretty self-evident that Newt Gingrich lobbied on behalf of Freddie Mac, despite his repeated denials during the past few months. The former speaker prefers to use euphemisms like “historian” and “consultant” to describe his work, but he slipped up during a blistering exchange with Mitt Romney, and appeared to finally fess up to lobbying. BuzzFeed reports:
Tonight in Tampa, Newt Gingrich offered what he seemed to think was ironclad proof that he had never been a lobbyist: “We brought in an expert on lobbying law and trained all of our staff.”
That expert, he added, would “testify” to that point.
But to be forced to register under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act and to lobby aren’t the same thing. The LDA merely requires that anyone who spends more than 20 percent of his or her time on “lobbying activities” register.