To listen to some Democrats lately, President Obama’s re-election is in the bag. Most are convinced that Mitt Romney has too many problems connecting with ordinary Americans to be considered a serious threat to the president. Their confidence in their “cool kid” candidate and contempt for their opponents is such that many refuse to accept the possibility that the president is in for the fight of his life in an electoral environment that is radically different from the situation in the fall of 2008. And yet the evidence that the race is a virtual dead heat continues to be right there under their noses. The release today of tracking polls from the two leading firms confirms that the Democrats need to sober up about the competitive race that is about to unfold.
Gallup, whose results tend to skew slightly toward the Democrats, reports that Romney has a 47-46 edge for the period of April 24-29. Rasmussen, which tends to tilt slightly toward the Republicans, also shows Romney ahead for their last reporting period of April 27-29 by a similarly slim 47-45 margin. Both polls illustrate that the presumption that Romney has no chance is simply a Democratic fantasy that fails to take into account the general dissatisfaction with a failing economy. It also may show that the administration’s decision to spend the last week trying to politicize the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals might have been a bad mistake.
Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.
Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”
Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:
Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.
The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …
On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.
“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”
The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.
Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.
“I agree with the Romney campaign, that using the Osama bin Laden assassination killing the great news that we had a year ago, in order to say basically that Obama did it and Romney may not have done it,” said Huffington. “It is one thing to celebrate the fact that they did such a great job…but to turn it into a campaign ad is one of the most despicable things you can do.”
If the message is so tasteless that it’s even offending Obama’s strident defenders, why did the campaign go ahead with it in the first place? Remember, this wasn’t just one commercial. Vice President Biden also brought up something similar in his foreign policy speech last week when he declared that “bin Laden is dead and GE is alive…If Romney was president, could we have used that same slogan in reverse?”
In the latest in a series of New York Times front-page features on U.S. policy toward Iran based on anonymous sources within the administration, the newspaper proclaimed today the chances of armed conflict with the Islamist state had markedly declined. The unnamed American officials did no more than state the obvious when they noted that the current diplomatic process initiated this month in Istanbul which will recommence in Baghdad after a long break in late May has made it less likely that anyone would attack Iran anytime soon. However, presenting this conclusion as an objective analysis begs the point. The reason why “the temperature has cooled,” as one anonymous Obama administration put it, is not because the West is any closer to actually persuading the Iranians to desist from their nuclear ambitions. Rather, it is the result of policies that have no larger goal than to ensure that there will be no confrontation over the nuclear issue during the president’s campaign.
None of the factors the administration officials put forward as evidence of a cooling of tensions give much hope of securing a non-nuclear Iran. The sanctions, diplomacy and the encouragement of dissent within Israel against the Netanyahu government aren’t likely to convince the Iranians they have no choice but to give up. Though the sanctions are taking their toll on the Iranian economy, that hasn’t stopped Iran’s nuclear program, and its Islamist leadership have every confidence they can outfox Obama and his partners in the P5+1 talks as they have in the past without giving up anything valuable. These factors all have a more immediate goal: rendering any attack on Iran out of the question, and thus enabling the president to face the voters without either a huge spike in oil prices or another Middle East conflict.
There are two revelations in Jeff Himmelman’s attention-getting piece in New York magazine, published last night online, about longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s personal files and interviews on the Watergate scandal. It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to these new pieces of information–namely, which of the two stirred the hornet’s nest.
The first is that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s source known as “Z” was actually a member of the case’s grand jury. The duo have always denied this, but when presented recently with the evidence, they confirmed it. The second is that Bradlee had shared the Doubt That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that Woodward and Bernstein had taken the soft clay of truth they had uncovered and molded it into a more visually appealing finished product. It was only common sense to harbor such doubts, given the claims being made, and certainly even more rational for the editor of the newspaper running these stories. But Woodward’s reaction has been a revelation of its own.
Obama’s critics have said that he can’t run a campaign based on his achievements, and he proved them right today with a new video ad. Entitled “Forward” – which is also the latest in a string of Obama campaign slogans – the ad’s basic message is “things aren’t great, but they could be worse, so let’s stop focusing on the past.” At the end, there’s an unimpressive scrolling list of Obama’s supposed presidential accomplishments:
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke in New York yesterday at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post. In his speech, Olmert attacked the policies of his successor Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, defended President Obama against criticism and also called for dividing Jerusalem, which he once served as mayor. According to the New York Times, this is yet another blow to Netanyahu, coming as it did after similar statements from disgruntled former security officials who also trashed Israel’s current government. The Times devoted a fair amount of space to the story this morning and even speculated that Olmert’s remarks “reflected domestic political calculations of his own.”
But the idea that Olmert’s criticism means much in Israel is farcical. As the Times noted in a sentence tucked away in the middle of the story, Olmert is under indictment for corruption charges and faces prison if convicted. What they left out is that he left office in 2009 without even attempting to run for re-election not just because of his legal problems but because he was widely perceived as perhaps the most incompetent and unpopular prime minister in the country’s history. At a time when Netanyahu is riding high in the polls at home and considering moving up elections to strengthen his already tight grip on power for another four years, Olmert is a political pariah with no influence, no following and no future in public life. The only place he can get a hearing these days is in the United States where left-wing audiences enjoy his carping about those who do enjoy the confidence of the Israeli public who rejected him. The general lack of interest in this story on the part of the Israeli press confirms this.
Mitt Romney spoke out yesterday about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and is reportedly seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing:
“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.” …
Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen’s escape “points to the broader issue of human rights in China.”
“Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy,” Romney said.
Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.
Ironies abounded in the Sunday New York Times’ front-page feature about union efforts to force the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The newspaper is right about the fact that the recall may turn out to be a warm up for the presidential election this fall, but it speaks volumes about both the bias of the piece that nowhere in it does the Times mention the fact that all the recent polls of the contest show him ahead and gaining ground. Flawed though the piece was, it also served to skewer one of the main political narratives that the Times has worked so hard to promote in the last year: that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was undermining democracy.
As the article illustrates, far from the court’s defense of freedom of speech harming the political process, what it has done is to allow the free flow of ideas — and the cash that helps bring those ideas into the public square — to flourish as the public is presented with a clear choice between Walker’s attempt to reform public expenditures and the union movement’s effort to defend the status quo.
In today’s New York Times, terrorism expert Peter Bergen, whose work I respect, presents an image of Barack Obama as he would like to be presented to the electorate–as a “warrior-in-chief” who has turned out to be far more hawkish than either liberal supporters or conservative critics anticipated. There is some truth to this portrait, but it is incomplete. It would have been considerably more convincing if written last year, immediately after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and seemed to liberate Obama’s inner dove, rather than today.
Here is how Bergen makes his case:
Mr. Obama decimated al-Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in al-Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Rather than seeking to challenge President Obama for the title of the “cool kid” in the race, the Mitt Romney campaign will seek to win the adult vote. That’s the spin from Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, whom Politico quotes as telling a Washington gathering yesterday that his candidate won’t seek to top the president when it comes to “slow jamming the news,” as Obama did this past week on the “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” show. That’s a good idea, because although Obama may not be as cool as he or his idolaters think he is, the incredibly square Romney isn’t likely to convince anyone that he is hip. The real question is whether coolness will matter as much in 2012 as it did in 2008.
As Politico notes, the John McCain campaign also found itself facing a coolness deficit vis-à-vis Obama and sought to brand the Democrat as a mere “celebrity” that wasn’t fit for the White House. But in a year in which an extraordinary turnout of young and minority voters besotted with the “hope and change” mantra were a key factor in the outcome, the attempt to make the election a contest between a war hero and a celebrity backfired, as the latter won easily. Writing the day after the White House Correspondents Dinner, an event whose purpose seems to be to link politics with celebrity, the notion that sober policy may trump coolness may seem heretical. Yet after four years of an ineffectual administration with few achievements to its credit, coolness may not be as important as the fact that the economy has stalled again.
The Obama administration has talked a great deal about a “pivot to Asia,” meaning, presumably a policy of getting tough with China. Now it faces an unexpected but significant test of just how tough it will get. Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer, has put the administration on the spot with his unlikely and daring escape from home arrest and his flight of more than 300 miles, apparently culminating in safety at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
The Chinese security services have large helpings of egg on their face after having let a blind man beat their tight surveillance, and in a society that values “face”–to say nothing of societal control–as much as China does, they will presumably stop at little to get him back. That could make for some uncomfortable meetings in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials are about to arrive. But both American honor and American interests mean that Chen must be allowed to shelter on American territory as long as he wants.
The international press is doing its best to hype critical remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu uttered by Yuval Diskin, the retired head of the Shin Bet security service, into a sign the government is in trouble. Diskin, a respected figure who retired last year, is the latest veteran spook to express his disdain for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their stance on the nuclear threat from Iran. That there is a debate in the highest intelligence circles about the best strategy for dealing with Iran has never been a secret. But what Diskin’s comments and other attacks on Netanyahu from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan reflect is not so much a revolt of the experts against the politicians but a standard trope of Israeli politics in which those who are frustrated about the fact that their ideas have not won the support of the Israeli public seek to overturn the verdict of democracy by appealing to the press and international opinion. It is no more likely to succeed now than in the past.
Though foreign news outlets treated Diskin’s remarks as a huge story that can be spun as part of a negative trend for Netanyahu, even the left-wing press in Israel is skeptical about that. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter noted that the personal nature of Diskin’s rant against Netanyahu and Barak at what he termed a “gathering of defense establishment pensioners” undermined their credibility. Unlike the foreign press, most Israelis are aware that Dagan’s animus against Netanyahu and Barak stems from the fact that he was fired from his post. That Diskin was passed over to replace Dagan may also explain his hard feelings. Moreover, the utter lack of public support for alternatives to Netanyahu or his policies makes farcical the claim in today’s New York Times that there is an “avalanche” of criticism about his stand on Iran.
As I wrote earlier today, most Israelis are unimpressed with the Obama administration’s Jewish charm offensive which is aimed at convincing Jews that the president’s first three years of fights with the Jewish state was a figment of our collective imagination. But the fact that three quarters of Israelis don’t seem him as friend isn’t stopping the Democratic campaign from doubling down on this push. Predictably, Vice President Joe Biden, a man for whom hyperbole is as natural as breathing, is taking this effort to extremes. While, as Alana noted, most of Biden’s foreign policy address at New York University yesterday was devoted to trashing Mitt Romney, one passage in which he waxed lyrical about the president’s devotion to Israel deserves our notice. In it, he not only exaggerated Obama’s record in terms of helping Israel, he went way out on a rhetorical limb and declared, “no president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.” Read More
The Obama administration has been conducting an all-out charm offensive in recent months aimed at convincing American Jews that the president is Israel’s best friend. Polls have shown that the effort has not been enough to prevent a precipitous drop in his share of the prospective Jewish vote from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008. However, it will probably help him maintain a comfortable majority of Jewish votes in November as most of this predominantly liberal demographic is prepared to either ignore his past history of conflict with Israel or actually believes in the sincerity of his election-year conversion. But even as American Jews argue about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the intended objects of the supposed solicitude continue to hold starkly different views about him.
A new Smith Research poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post shows that although perceptions of Obama in Israel have improved in the last year, most Israelis don’t consider him much of a friend. The survey showed that 36 percent of Israelis believe Obama is neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with 24 percent seeing him as pro-Palestinian and an equal number perceiving him as pro-Israel while 16 percent expressed no opinion. These numbers make one wonder what it is that the three quarters of Israelis who don’t see him as being in favor of their country know that the majority of American Jews who think he is pro-Israel haven’t figured out.
At CNN, Ruben Navarrette dismisses the notion that tapping Marco Rubio for the VP nomination would give Republicans an edge with Hispanic voters. Navarrette writes that the preferred status given to Cuban immigrants is a sore spot with the Mexican-American community, and that rift could become an election issue if Rubio’s the VP pick:
When it comes to immigrating to the United States, Cubans get preferred status. Thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which was enacted in 1966 — or four years after Rubio’s grandfather came to the United States — Cuban refugees who flee the Island and reach the U.S. shoreline have a clear path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.
Mexican immigrants aren’t so fortunate. So when Cuban-Americans do what Rubio has done since arriving in the Senate 16 months ago and take a hard line against illegal immigration, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have been known to cringe. After all, that’s easy for them to say. …
What good does it do the ticket for Rubio to be popular with whites and Cuban-Americans? Republicans are likely to get the majority of those votes anyway. His value is all wrapped up in how well he plays with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And right now, the answer is “not well.”
Navarrette’s point on the Cuban-American vote is important. While Obama swept the Hispanic vote in 2008, John McCain still won with the conservative Cuban-American community. The Romney campaign’s big electoral argument for choosing Rubio as VP would be that he could deliver Florida, and in that scenario, winning the Cuban-American vote by a landslide is redundant.
President Obama has a huge lead on Mitt Romney when it comes to campaign fundraising, but that margin shrinks significantly when Super PACs are added into the pictures. Pro-Romney Super PACs have been raising cash steadily, but the pro-Obama Priorities USA group has had trouble bringing in donors, Bloomberg reports:
Through March, only 12 of Obama’s 532 top fundraisers had donated to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee created to support his re-election. Priorities has only raised about $9 million compared to a combined $80 million brought in by the two main super-PACs dedicated to defeating Obama: American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, a group backing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The leaders of Priorities have asked former President Bill Clinton to tap the pool of donors who helped fund his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s White House run. Yet Priorities lacks on its donor list most of the core group of Chicagoans who backed Obama’s presidential ambitions four years ago.
One government professor quoted in the story speculated that Democrats are wary about giving money to Priorities USA because they feel that negative advertising is unseemly. That’s absurd. Democrats are just as ruthless when it comes to negative ads as Republicans are. But there are other political reasons these Democrats might be hesitant about donating to Super PACs. Liberals almost universally condemn the Citizens United ruling. People give to politicians in part because it makes them feel good, like they’re behind a worthy cause. But many liberals would probably feel like hypocrites – like they’re betraying their ideals – if they give through a fundraising channel they’ve claimed is corrupting politics.
It is often said that the definition of the word gaffe in Washington-speak is when someone accidentally tells the truth. Al Armendariz, the EPA administrator for Texas and surrounding states, certainly made a gaffe when he said in a speech in 2010, that the best way to enforce environmental laws was to crucify a few oil companies so that the rest will fall in line. He noted that the Romans used this technique when they conquered a new town, crucifying the first five people they could get their hands on so that the place would be very easy to manage for the next few years. (I expect that that is actually a slander against the Romans, although they had no scruples against selling whole populations into slavery.)
Armendariz was, let us hope, using a metaphor. But his actions indicate that he is all too willing to act first and get, well, evidence of wrong doing, later. The New York Times reported on December 8th, 2010, that he had signed an emergency order:
Dallas-based EPA Regional Director Al Armendariz issued an emergency order yesterday against Range Resources Corp., charging that its drilling in the Barnett Shale contaminated at least two water wells with methane and benzene. The order gave Range 48 hours to provide clean drinking water to affected residents and begin taking steps to resolve the problem.
Armendariz’s order is not simply an action against the company, but a slap at regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission, whom he accused of not doing enough to help the people living near the drilling operations in the Fort Worth area.