Mitt Romney’s speech after the primaries last night contained language that was simple, straightforward, and at times elegant. But there was also an impressive political intelligence behind the address.
Take as examples these three sentences:
* “Everywhere I go, Americans are tired of being tired.”
* “The last few years have been the best that Barack Obama can do, but it’s not the best America can do.”
* “Tonight is the beginning of the end of the disappointment of the Obama years and the start of a new and better chapter that we will write together.”
These sentences tapped into the mood of the public, taking pre-existing sentiments of many Americans, giving voice to them, and channeling them to Romney’s advantage. While most Americans don’t dislike President Obama personally – quite the contrary — they are deeply disappointed in his record. They are tired. They are ready to move on. And they are ready to write new and better chapters in the American story.
Mitt Romney’s unopposed sweep of the five primaries yesterday brought him that much closer to the Republican presidential nomination that is already his in all but name. But it also will turn up the heat on the search for his running mate. With nothing else to discuss — other than the issues, that is — anyone whose name is under consideration can expect the sort of examination that has, up until now, been restricted to presidential contenders.
The chief recipient of this intense scrutiny will undoubtedly be the man many believe is the frontrunner for the number two spot on the GOP ticket: Marco Rubio. Along with the other main contenders, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman and Chris Christie, his career and life is going to get a going over with a fine tooth comb not just from Romney’s vetting team but from a press corps that no longer has a nomination battle to cover. One of the first shots at Rubio’s credentials came yesterday from John Dickerson at Slate, who attempted to tag the Florida senator as being another version of 2008 GOP veep pick Sarah Palin, which is about the most unflattering comparison possible.
Lee Smith has already noted at the Weekly Standard’s site the irony of the Obama administration creating the Atrocities Prevention Board at the very moment the administration is choosing to do nothing substantive to stop the atrocities being perpetrated in Syria.
There is another layer of irony, as noted by Michael Dobbs at Foreign Policy, namely that the driving force behind the Atrocities Prevention Board, NSC staffer Samantha Power, the author of an important history of American responses to genocide, had noted the propensity of U.S. officials to oppose “genocide in the abstract while simultaneously opposing American involvement in the moment.” It is hard to better that as a description of the U.S. response, or lack thereof, to the massacres occurring in Syria.
The U.S. has responded with empty calls for Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and tough sanctions which have done much damage to the Syrian economy but have not stopped the killing or shaken the regime, which continues to be supported by Iran, Russia, and other unsavory actors. The latest attempt to save the Syrian people has come courtesy of the UN, which is introducing monitors to Syria. Not surprisingly, the Syrian regime has not been cowed by the presence of these unarmed observers; Syrian security forces have cracked down hard in cities such as Homs where the people have dared to protest the regime during the fleeting visits of the UN observers.
The discussion of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism is no longer a conversation about what Beinart wrote. It has morphed into what I believe is a much more useful conversation about the conception of Judaism that lies at the core of Beinart’s worldview and what I take to be his assault on it. In my review of his book in the Jerusalem Post, I suggested that part of what makes Beinart so uncomfortable with Israel is the fact that for Beinart and many like him, for whom the erotic draw of the sirens of universalism are too powerful to resist, Israel is a reminder of Judaism’s people-centeredness. In his book, Beinart used the word “tribal” for “people-centeredness,” so I did the same in my review. And I showed that every single time (not most times, but every single time) that Beinart used the word “tribal,” it had a distinctly negative connotation.
In his inevitable response, Beinart insisted, “I am a Zionist and a tribalist.” He did not explain why, if that is the case, every use of “tribal” in the book was negative, but such is invariably the nature of the “you said I said but I really said” of book reviews and responses thereto. Nothing particularly noteworthy there – except that Beinart has thankfully acknowledged that Judaism is tribal, and that (at least now) he thinks that’s a good thing.
But that is not so for Peter’s amigos. A brief glance at some of the responses to my response affords a sense of just how raw that universalist nerve is. “You can critique Beinart’s book all you want,” they essentially say, “but if you dare suggest that my abandonment of Jewish particularism is a departure from one of Judaism’s core values, well, then, I will come after you.”
Mitt Romney is getting much, much better at addressing issues about his personal wealth and his history in the private sector. In his speech last night, there was none of the hesitancy that we saw when he tried to defend his Bain Capital record against Newt Gingrich’s attacks several months ago. And he showed that he will run unabashedly on his record as a turnaround artist, despite the fact that the Obama campaign will undoubtedly raise the Bain Capital issue again:
I’d say that you might have heard that I was successful in business. And that rumor is true. But you might not have heard that I became successful by helping start a business that grew from 10 people to hundreds of people. You might not have heard that our business helped start other businesses, like Staples and Sports Authority and a new steel mill and a learning center called Bright Horizons. And I’d tell you that not every business made it and there were good days and bad days, but every day was a lesson. And after 25 years, I know how to lead us out of this stagnant Obama economy and into a job-creating recovery.
“60 Minutes” is getting a lot of pushback for its recent “expose” blaming Israel’s presence in the West Bank for the dwindling population of Christian Palestinians in the area. The piece smacks of the sort of journalism in which the facts are assembled to fit some pre-conceived “fresh” storyline (Muslim extremists persecuting Christian Arabs? Dog bites man. Israel persecuting Christian Arabs – now that’s a story!)
The premise of the “60 Minutes” piece is that Israel’s wall and checkpoints – security measures to prevent terrorism – are a real hassle for Palestinian Christians when they travel to Jerusalem to pray or visit family. There are waiting lines, permit requests, unaccommodating government administrators. It’s basically a bureaucratic nightmare. And that, according to “60 Minutes,” is why the Palestinian Christian population in the West Bank has decreased by two-thirds since 1964 (just ignore that annoying detail about Israel’s security fence being built in 2003).
I understand that late-night comics can’t be expected to have anything more than a basic comprehension of the political issues they discuss. Their job is to be funny, not to grasp the details of a legislative bill, or understand the political posturing in both parties. But Jimmy Fallon and his producers got so spun up by the White House last night that it was embarrassing to watch.
President Obama appeared in Fallon’s “slow jam the news” bit to express his support for the student loan extension bill and blast the GOP for supposedly opposing the extension. Using a late-night show with a college-aged audience to push such a distorted, partisan message may be a little unseemly, but Fallon got in on the act too, shilling for the bill and basically endorsing the president’s claim that Republicans simply want to raise interest rates on students:
President Obama: Now there’s some in Congress who disagree. They say keeping the interest rate low isn’t the way to help our students. They say we should be doing everything we can to pay down the national debt. Well, as long as it doesn’t include taxing billionaires. But their position is that students just have to make this rate increase work. Frankly, I don’t buy it.
Jimmy Fallon: The Barackness Monster ain’t buying it. We all know our legislative bodies in the House tossing and turning late into the night. But Republicans disagree and could even filibuster. But if they do, the president said they’re gonna feel it buster.
For Americans, picking favorites in French elections is a difficult task. The political combat between the inheritors of Charles De Gaulle’s centrist faction, the socialists and their more marginal foes on both the right and the left generally leaves Americans cold in a way that the equally remote battles of Conservatives and Laborites in Britain does not. Though Americans may have viewed Nicolas Sarkozy with more affection than his predecessor Jacques Chirac — whose opposition to American foreign policy inspired intense hostility on these shores — it isn’t likely that his departure from the Elysee Palace would generate much grief here. But the French election will have a not insignificant influence on a number of issues that are important to Americans. As Seth noted, Sarkozy’s defeat would be a blow to the joint effort he undertook with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to promote an austerity-first fiscal approach that would save the Eurozone. But the triumph of Francois Hollande and the Socialists might have an even bigger impact on the ability of the West to present a united front to Iran.
Sarkozy may share President Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is also true that France’s stance on Middle East peace under his administration has been no more helpful than it might be under the Socialists. However, Sarkozy has been a stalwart opponent of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, often getting far ahead of the United States on the issue and helping to buttress the shaky determination of the European Union to take a firm stand. As Tony Karon points out in Time Magazine, it is almost a certainty that Hollande would not be interested in staking out such a tough position or using his influence to keep the EU in line on the matter.
I suppose you could point to a dozen examples of hypocrisy and double standards in the press every day. But here’s a mighty good one, courtesy of Breitbart.com. It shows Keith Olbermann highlighting the issue of Mitt Romney’s treatment of his dog Seamus when it potentially hurts Mitt Romney. (For those lucky enough to be unaware of the story, in 1983, Romney put his family’s dog in a crate strapped to the roof of the car for a drive from Massachusetts to Canada.) But when Olbermann was on ABC’s “This Week” and the dog issue threatened to damage Barack Obama, Olbermann dismissed the story as trivial and unworthy of a moment’s discussion. (In his autobiography, Obama admitted to eating dog meat as a child.)
Now I happen to think that this focus on dogs is ludicrous and tells us exactly nothing of importance about either man. But what Olbermann is doing is what essentially much of the rest of the press is doing, which is to take a silly issue seriously right up to the moment that it no longer hurts Republicans, in which case it suddenly becomes a distraction from the grave challenges facing America (Jonah Goldberg make this point quite well here.)
From the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign, one of the sidebars to which commentators have consistently returned is the impact of the Hispanic vote on the November election. Republicans have been cautioned, not without reason, to remember that the growing percentage of Americans of Hispanic background didn’t think much of their obsession with illegal immigration. And they have been tempted to think that the presence of a Hispanic — most notably Florida Senator Marco Rubio — might not only deliver his home state to the GOP but also allow the party to make inroads nationally on a demographic group that tilts heavily to the Democrats.
Josh Kraushaar writes today in the National Journal to point out that a lot of the assumptions about Hispanic voting trends may be myths. Most notable is the idea that Hispanics are likely to stick with the Democrats even generations after they have arrived in the country. He also is correct to point to that the assumption that Republican attitudes on immigration are similarly set in stone. But there is one more point about the Hispanic vote that also ought to be taken into consideration when discussing 2012 and the future.
One of the things that have puzzled political commentators is why President Obama is running the campaign he is. Rather than tacking to the center, as Bill Clinton did, Mr. Obama is running a campaign that is based on stoking class resentments and raising taxes on the rich. Rather than laying out a second-term agenda, he’s hyper-focusing on issues like contraception, the GOP’s so-called “war on women,” and inserting himself into the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy and Trayvon Martin tragedy. Rather than invoking the unifying language of 2008, the president is using incendiary language, accusing Republicans of targeting children with autism and Down syndrome, of being members of the “flat earth society,” and embracing a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism.” For good measure, the GOP favors “dirtier” air and water.
Assuming there is a rationale behind this strategy, what might it be?
The answer might be found in demographics.
President Obama is campaigning in favor of extending a student loan interest bill in North Carolina today in an effort to woo young voters, a critical demographic for him in the state. But as Politico reports, his professed enthusiasm for this student loan bill is a relatively new development, since he missed two votes on the same bill while campaigning back in 2007:
In 2007, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama missed two votes on the student loan interest bill that he now wants Congress to extend.
Obama twice skipped the Senate vote on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act when the bill came to the Senate floor first in July and again in September of 2007, according to public records.
The bill, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and signed into law by President George W. Bush, first cleared the Senate in July on a 78 to 18 vote, with Obama as one of only four senators to abstain. Obama did not cast a vote again in September, after the House and Senate had ironed out different versions of the bill. He was on the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate versions of the bill.
To be fair, Obama’s votes weren’t needed to pass the legislation at the time (in July of ’07, the bill passed the Senate by a 78 to 18 margin, according to Politico). The proposed extension currently has bipartisan support, and Mitt Romney has already come out in favor of it. So while Obama’s support for it is most likely genuine, this isn’t exactly a position that distinguishes him from the GOP.
So Bahrain managed to hold its much-heralded Grand Prix auto race last weekend without significant disruption–but only because of a massive security presence on the roads. The weekend was a turbulent one, with a protester getting shot and killed and opposition groups alleging that the government was responsible. His funeral drew 15,000 people and was punctuated by attacks on police stations.
Having recently returned from a few days in this tiny Persian Gulf kingdom, I can’t say I’m surprised. While I was there, the news was full of reports of Molotov cocktails being tossed at police cars and various other clashes–all of this happening, mind you, more than a year after the outbreak of pro-democracy protests in February 2011. Those protests were crushed in March with the help of Saudi security forces whose armored vehicles rumbled across the causeway into neighboring Bahrain. But the discontent that led to the outbreak has not gone away. It continues to be expressed in both peaceful protests and violent attacks.
Via First Read, Newt Gingrich finally seems to be moving toward the door, weeks after Mitt Romney cemented himself as the presumptive nominee:
“I think we need to take a deep look at what we are doing,” Gingrich told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Monday. “We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night and we will look and see what the results are.”
He acknowledged that he would have to “reassess” his campaign depending on how he fares in Delaware, a winner-take-all state with 17 delegates at stake.
“This has been a good opportunity for us, we have been here seeing a lot of people,” Gingrich said. “We have got really positive responses and I would hope we would do well here – either carry it or come very, very close.”
The president is having a hard time rounding up the support of young people to generate enthusiasm and votes for his reelection campaign, no doubt because this time around, he’s forced to run on his record, verses vague promises of “hope” and “change.” In 2008, young voters constituted a full fifth of his support, but this time around less than half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 plan to vote in November and only 40 percent are even registered to do so currently. Young Americans certainly have more time on their hands this time around, with 1 in 2 new graduates unemployed or underemployed in jobs that don’t utilize their education background. Too bad for Obama that it doesn’t seem they will be using that time to campaign for another four years of his economy.
How has the president tried to get on the good side of young voters? This week Obama and Biden have made tours of colleges in swing states touting a plan to prevent a doubling of interest rates for students who take out federally funded Stafford loans (despite not even bothering to be present for the 2007 vote). The plan wouldn’t help Americans already paying off student loans, nor would it help those who took loans from private institutions. How many students will this plan actually help? Very few. Like many other lofty presidential plans, however, the most important part is merely the optics – actual results are just a bonus. I’ve written previously on the $1 trillion student loan bubble, and unfortunately, the program being touted by the White House will probably do more harm than good.
In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky laments the fact that President Obama is running far behind his 2008 numbers with American Jewish voters. Given the unwillingness of most liberals to come to grips with the fact that far fewer Jewish voters are going to vote for the president this time around, such an acknowledgement is refreshing. Realizing that Obama’s current poll numbers with Jews show him 16 points behind the 78 percent he won in 2008, Tomasky admits it will be hard for him to make up that ground even if most Jews are not in love with the Republican option.
But the answer as to why these losses are unlikely to be made up and might even get bigger can be found in Tomasky’s column. Far from being convinced by speeches like the one the president delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, many understand that they saw the real Barack Obama earlier in his administration when he was going all out to do what left-wingers like Tomasky wanted him to do: pressure Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who don’t want peace. Even more to the point, they understand that the president’s desire to effect what Tomasky calls a “reset” of American policy toward Israel will return if he is re-elected.
As Jonathan noted yesterday, the left doesn’t want to admit that the entitlement system built up since the New Deal is collapsing under unrelenting and ineluctable fiscal and demographic pressures. But there is another reason that the medical part of the system is in such a mess: the utter lack of market forces to bring down prices and inspire innovation and efficiency.
The New York Times has an article this morning on the wildly varying prices for standard medical procedures, such as an appendectomy:
Hospital charges are all over the map: according to the report published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, fees for a routine appendectomy in California can range from $1,500 to — in one extreme case — $182,955. Researchers found wide variations in charges even among appendectomy patients treated at the same hospital.
“We expected to see variations of two or three times the amount, but this is ridiculous,” said Dr. Renee Y. Hsia, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “There’s no rhyme or reason for how patients are charged or how hospitals come up with charges. There’s no other industry where you get charged 100 times the same amount, or 121 times, for the same product,” she said. Though she is an emergency room doctor herself, Dr. Hsia said, she has no idea what the hospital charges for various procedures. When patients ask her, she has to tell them she doesn’t know.
When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, it was based in large part on his commitment to cleanse the temple. Washington was “more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before.” Americans who had lost trust in government “want to believe again.” Telling the American people what politicians think they want to hear instead of what they need to hear “just won’t do.” Obama would put an end to phony accounting and “take on the lobbyists.” The cynics, the lobbyists and the special interests had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” The result is that the people “have looked away in disillusionment and frustration.”
“The time for that kind of politics is over,” Obama told us when he announced his bid for the presidency. “It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” The reason he was running for president, Obama declared in his November 10, 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, was to “offer change we can believe in.”