Today, the Washington Post reported,
The United States has for several years been secretly releasing high-level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan as part of negotiations with insurgent groups, a bold effort to quell violence but one that U.S. officials acknowledge poses substantial risks.
As the United States has unsuccessfully pursued a peace deal with the Taliban, the “strategic release” program has quietly served as a live diplomatic channel, allowing American officials to use prisoners as bargaining chips in restive provinces where military power has reached its limits.
At this point in the presidential campaign we know Mitt Romney is not necessarily at his best when interacting with audiences or reporters in unscripted appearances. Though the wonkish candidate can be an effective when he has the time to apply his formidable powers of analysis and management skills to a problem, speaking off the cuff can lead to trouble. It did this afternoon when a woman asking a question at a campaign rally said President Obama was guilty of treason and Romney failed to disassociate himself from the accusation.
As Politico reports:
“We have a president right now who is operating outside the construction of our Constitution,” the woman asked Romney during a town hall in Euclid, Ohio. “And I do agree he should be tried for treason. But I wanna know what you are going to be able to do to help restore balance between the three branches of government and what you’re going to be able to do to restore our Constitution in this country?”
While Romney later told reporters at the event that he did not agree Obama should be tried for treason, he did not say that when answering the woman with a response that centered on his reverence for the Constitution. This will allow the Obama campaign to hit Romney for refusing to put any distance between himself and those on the right with over-the-top views of the president. Rather than swiftly reprove the woman and tell her that disagreements on the issues should not be criminalized, Romney provided Democrats with some fodder for their effort to portray the GOP as a band of extremists. While this moment is hardly a major gaffe and was quickly corrected by the candidate himself, it does show once again that Romney is vulnerable when forced to think on his feet in public.
The White House is still mopping up after Joe Biden’s comments on gay marriage yesterday. At today’s press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney batted down questions about whether President Obama has changed his stance on gay marriage, saying he had “no update on the president’s personal views.”
Meanwhile, David Axelrod sought to change the subject by highlighting the “very clear distinction” between Romney and Obama on the issue:
Though Axelrod sounded reluctant to discuss the issue again Monday — after tweeting about it Sunday— he quickly contrasted the Obama administration’s position on gay rights with Romney’s record.
The former Massachusetts governor “has funded efforts to roll back marriage laws in California and other places,” Axelrod said, adding that Romney “believes that we need a constitutional amendment banning the right of gay couples to marry and would take us backward not forward. There’s a very clear distinction in this race.”
Much of the analysis of the victory of Francois Hollande and the Socialists in the French presidential election will focus on the impact of the change in power on the European economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably miss Nicolas Sarkozy more than many of his compatriots as she attempts to hold the line for a fiscal policy that will try to save Europe and the euro from being dragged down by spendthrift nations like Greece. But President Obama may wind up missing him just as much if not more.
While some American liberals may assume that President Obama’s affection for the spirit of European social democracy will put him in natural sympathy with Hollande, there is no telling whether the chemistry between them will turn out to be positive. More important than that is the fact that Sarkozy’s leadership on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat allowed Obama, as he said of his stance on Libya, to “lead from behind.” Without Sarkozy pushing the European Union toward tough sanctions on Tehran, the West would not have gone as far as it already has toward pressuring the Iranians. With Sarkozy gone that will put more pressure on Obama to assume a leadership role as the P5+1 talks proceed this summer that he would probably prefer not to take.
Politically, Boris Johnson’s victory over his challenger and former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, in last week’s London mayoral election means two things. First, it is a repudiation of Livingstone, to the point that his mercilessly long career has (if we can rely on his announcement) met its long overdue expiration. To add insult to this injury, embarrassingly, he will now not preside as mayor over the city’s Olympic Games this summer that he championed during his two terms in office. Second, it is an important endorsement of Boris Johnson, who secured a critical victory in the capital despite a tide of Tory defeats nationwide. The talk of Boris eventually leading the Conservative Party itself will now only get louder.
But Boris’ victory was closer than predicted. This was likely because Red Ken was better at getting his supporters to the voting booths. But does the closeness of the call make it possible that London’s Jewish community played a pivotal part in the election, and in Ken’s defeat? Read More
To be precise, it’s Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute that will reportedly host Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – the official behind the birth control mandate – as its commencement speaker.
As you might imagine, the Catholic Cardinal Newman Society is furious:
It is scandalous and outrageous that America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university has elected to provide this prestigious platform to a publicly “pro-choice” Catholic who is most responsible for the Obama administration’s effort to restrict the Constitution’s first freedom — the right to free exercise of religion — while threatening the survival of many Catholic and other religious colleges and universities, schools, charities, hospitals and other apostolates.
Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor. The selection is especially insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops, who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion. The contrast is stark between Georgetown University and those faithful Catholic colleges and universities that have stood for faith and freedom.
With polls showing six-term incumbent Republican Senator Richard Lugar to be a heavy underdog in his Indiana primary race with insurgent State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, many in the media are weeping bitter tears about the end of an era in Washington. After six terms in which he has increasingly come to be seen as part of the Senate furniture, it is not surprising that a likely plurality of Indiana voters are ready to turn him out. But to listen to the anguished reaction from pundits who are sympathetic to Lugar, his opponent’s supporters are nothing less than right-wing Jacobins who are sacrificing a sage statesman on the altar of extremism. But as much as that fits the mainstream media’s story line about the evil influence of the Tea Party on American politics, the truth is not quite that dramatic.
Lugar is the ultimate establishmentarian and the voice of conventional wisdom about any conceivable topic–especially foreign policy. He is also well-liked for his reputation for bipartisan cooperation. Though we are told Washington will be the poorer if there are fewer or no Lugars at all, the taxpayers as well as those sick of his knee-jerk foreign policy “realism” must be forgiven if they point out there is a difference between being the ultimate D.C. insider and the sort of politics of integrity we are told he embodies. Far from this being a case where the Tea Partiers are rolling out the guillotine for a brave voice of principle, what is going on in Indiana is merely the inevitable fate of any politician who overstays his welcome while standing for little but the continuation of business as usual on Capitol Hill.
Vice President Biden kinda-sorta embraced gay marriage during an interview with David Gregory yesterday – which the administration promptly downplayed – and this morning Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out in favor of same-sex marriage on MSNBC (via Buzzfeed):
The Obama administration tiptoed even closer to supporting gay marriage today, with a second member of the Cabinet coming out flatly in support of treating same-sex couples the same as couples of opposite sexes.
TIME’s Mark Halperin asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today whether he believes “that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?”
“Yes, I do,” Duncan replied.
“Iconic” images of significant political or military events are something of a trap. They are almost necessarily one-sided, and it is nearly impossible to capture true complexity in one snapshot. Nonetheless, they are often revealing. So when Russian journalist Julia Ioffe tweeted this photo yesterday with the heading “Russia’s Tiananmen image,” it did tell us something important about Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, even if it wasn’t a “Tiananmen image”:
The photo ran with Ioffe’s dispatch on the protests surrounding Putin’s official return to the presidency, and it was retweeted dozens of times (possibly hundreds by now). Reading the accompanying story, however, is essential to understanding why the photo matters. Ioffe’s article begins: “On Monday, just before noon, Vladimir Putin will get into a black limousine with black windows, and, flanked by a flock of cops on motorcycles — his cavalry — sweep into the city from the west, through empty, ghostly streets…. There will be no cheering crowds, no waving flags along his route. Instead, the images the world will see of Putin’s inauguration will be the walk down the opulent hall, the man with his hand on the Russian constitution, and the violent protests of the previous afternoon.”
The formal kickoff events for President Obama’s re-election campaign this past weekend sounded themes that won enthusiastic cheers from his admirers. But despite the hoopla, the rallies in Virginia and Ohio also showcased his weaknesses. The president possesses formidable advantages in his battle with Republican opponent Mitt Romney, but his reliance on a purely negative approach demonstrates something that political observers have long understood: a man who cannot run on his record is going to have to spend most of the next six months attacking the opposition and attempting to define them as unfit to govern rather than talking about his own accomplishments and ideas.
With the national polls showing the race to be dead even, the Obama campaign finds itself in a difficult predicament. The economy is in poor shape, and the latest jobs numbers give little hope for the sort of summer recovery that could put the president in a commanding position. The White House is confident, as Mark Halperin writes in TIME, that they can define Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire who has swung to the right to win his party’s nomination. But though it is certainly possible for a politician to win re-election by framing the race as a referendum on his challenger, that generally only works when the opposition is an obvious outlier in the manner of a Barry Goldwater or George McGovern. Romney has his problems, but it will not be easy to portray such a mainstream and conventional person as a marginal figure. The dip in enthusiasm for the president, illustrated starkly by the empty seats at both rallies that few doubt would have been filled four years ago, shows the potential downside to this approach.
COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large, Terry Teachout, has just written an extraordinarily moving blog post on the passing of his mother, Evelyn, that deserves to be read and circulated. A taste:
In 1947 she married a dashing Army Air Corps vet, bore him two sons, and spent the greater part of the next half-century working for a string of Smalltown accountants. Hers, I suppose, was a nominally uneventful existence, at least when judged by the short-sighted standards of the world. Yet Evelyn Teachout, who died peacefully last night after a long illness, loved her life and made a deep impression on everyone who met her, for she was a quick-witted, thoroughly decent person whose kindness and generosity were self-evident.
In nurturing Terry and giving him the sense of possibility that led him from that small town to the center of American culture, Evelyn Teachout did us all a service. May her memory be for a blessing.
Mitt Romney leads President Obama slightly in this morning’s Politico/GWU poll of likely voters, which may not mean a whole lot at this point. But, during a time when Obama should be at an advantage (his opponent just came out of a bruising primary battle), Romney’s lead with independent voters and the fact that Republicans are quickly coalescing behind him is promising for his campaign:
The former Massachusetts governor has opened up a 10-point lead, 48 percent to 38 percent, among independents in a poll conducted Sunday, April 29 through Thursday, May 3 and a 6-point lead among those who describe themselves as “extremely likely” to vote in November. Obama led Romney by 9 points overall in Politico’s February’s poll. …
A full 91 percent of Republicans support Romney, slightly exceeding the percentage of Democrats who support Obama.