Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 17, 2012

The Resurfacing of Jeremiah Wright

As Alana noted, this morning the New York Times reported a super PAC was weighing a “hard-line attack” against President Obama by “linking him to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.” The Romney campaign, and then Governor Romney himself, immediately repudiated the effort.

I should say that I’ve never felt raising the issue of Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright was somehow illegitimate. The relationship was obviously a long and important one to Obama. The Reverend Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, and was the inspirational force behind Obama’s first autobiography. That relationship was unquestionably a significant one and was probably quite useful in terms of understanding Obama. If a conservative had a similarly close relationship with a comparable figure on the right, especially a comparable hate-figure on the right, journalists would have focused on it far more than the press focused on Obama and Wright in 2008. There was an obvious double standard being applied.

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As Alana noted, this morning the New York Times reported a super PAC was weighing a “hard-line attack” against President Obama by “linking him to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.” The Romney campaign, and then Governor Romney himself, immediately repudiated the effort.

I should say that I’ve never felt raising the issue of Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright was somehow illegitimate. The relationship was obviously a long and important one to Obama. The Reverend Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, and was the inspirational force behind Obama’s first autobiography. That relationship was unquestionably a significant one and was probably quite useful in terms of understanding Obama. If a conservative had a similarly close relationship with a comparable figure on the right, especially a comparable hate-figure on the right, journalists would have focused on it far more than the press focused on Obama and Wright in 2008. There was an obvious double standard being applied.

Speaking of which, isn’t it interesting (as Ed Morrissey and Jennifer Rubin have pointed out) how media inquiries into Romney’s Mormon faith is deemed as not only legitimate but necessary, whereas inquiries into the Obama-Wright relationship was (and is) considered insignificant, unrevealing, and even unseemly? There’s a deep theological reason that explains this difference in approach: Romney is a Republican, while Obama is a (liberal) Democrat.

With all that said, Romney is wise not to pursue the issue of Obama’s relationship with the Reverend Wright, for two reasons. The first is that it’s precisely the kind of sideshow Obama wants this campaign to revolve around. Romney needs to focus like a laser beam on the economy — and Jeremiah Wright’s past sermons, for all their offensiveness, are of very little interest to Americans, particularly in a struggling economy. In addition, Obama is more or less a known quantity at this stage. People’s judgment about his past are basically locked in. There’s no particular upside to Romney in focusing attention on Wright.

Oh, and one other thing: The fact that Governor Romney and his campaign responded so quickly and emphatically to the possibility that an anti-Obama super PAC might resurrect the Obama-Wright relationship is a sign they are firing on all cylinders.

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Don’t Dismiss the Moral Power of Protest

A few days ago, a video was posted online of an anti-Israel protest at Portland State University. Following an increasingly common tactic among campus anti-Israelists, the protesters filled a few rows of the audience for a talk on Israel by CBN contributor Erick Stackelbeck with people wearing tape over their mouths and then silently walkingd out, holding signs and – in a few uncontrolled cases – shouting slogans.

As foolish as the protest looks, it would be unwise to dismiss its potential power or what it says about the nature of the view of Israel endorsed by a small yet committed minority at many American universities.

This particular video is interesting mostly because Stackelbeck invites the protesters to take the tape off their mouths, stay for his talk, and then debate him afterwards. It’s an effective way to make them look foolish and is a tactic other pro-Israel speakers, faced with similar displays at other universities, should consider.

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A few days ago, a video was posted online of an anti-Israel protest at Portland State University. Following an increasingly common tactic among campus anti-Israelists, the protesters filled a few rows of the audience for a talk on Israel by CBN contributor Erick Stackelbeck with people wearing tape over their mouths and then silently walkingd out, holding signs and – in a few uncontrolled cases – shouting slogans.

As foolish as the protest looks, it would be unwise to dismiss its potential power or what it says about the nature of the view of Israel endorsed by a small yet committed minority at many American universities.

This particular video is interesting mostly because Stackelbeck invites the protesters to take the tape off their mouths, stay for his talk, and then debate him afterwards. It’s an effective way to make them look foolish and is a tactic other pro-Israel speakers, faced with similar displays at other universities, should consider.

While it is true, as Joel Pollak notes, that the students’ refusal to debate is a sign of an anti-intellectualism that has taken hold at far too many schools, there is a powerful statement within the silent protest that anti-Israelists are trying to latch onto. For if you believe that Jewish independence is morally repugnant, it is appropriate to refuse to debate those who cast themselves as its defenders. The act of debate itself, the granting of a platform in a university, is itself a kind of approval, if not for the totality of an ideology then at least for its place within respectable debate. Because anti-Israelists are driven by the conviction that Israel is not a topic worthy of debate, it makes sense for them to refuse to do so.

Conveying that message, along with the idea that anti-Israelists speak for the center of campus opinion, is precisely the idea behind staging such a protest.

It’s a view many who support Israel should find easier to understand than they perhaps realize. It was only five years ago that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was granted his bit of real estate on the campus of Columbia University, and many were the voices who found it appalling. And rightly so. Letting him in the door conveyed the idea on a significant stage that he stood for ideas worth debating, not standing against. So too can you find this thinking in a recent article criticizing Harvard’s hosting of a “one state solution” conference by the esteemed Alan Dershowitz, who, in pointing out that a conference around a question like “Are the Palestinians Really a People?” would likely find no sanction on campus was reminding us that there are limits to the questions we consider. Though those limits may often be misplaced, it is undoubtedly true that it is good for there to be some.

Thankfully, anti-Israelists committed to the idea that Israel does not deserve even a hearing on campus are no more than a small fraction of nearly any school, and thus incapable of pushing pro-Israel voices off campus. But to ensure their ranks do not grow, and they do not succeed in making Zionism an ideology not even permitted a defense, we’ll have to recognize the potential power of their strategy and get better at reaching the vast middle whose views remain up for grabs.

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Fake Outrage About “Ugly” Obama Smears

As Alana noted earlier today, the Obama campaign went into overdrive to condemn a conservative super PAC for considering running an ad campaign that would concentrate on linking President Obama to his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Liberal pundits are also doing their best to muster up outrage about the mere possibility that Wright’s name should be uttered in connection with the president. At TIME Magazine, Joe Klein refers to the planned ads as “really, really ugly.” At the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, calls it “race baiting.”

Both are right to call it bad politics. It is a foolish waste of resources that could be better used to remind voters of what a lousy president they’ve had for the last four years. Republicans need to cast the election as a referendum on Obama’s job performance. Personal attacks against Romney are going to be part of the president’s re-election effort. Copying that sort of thing is an unforced error on the part of conservatives. But pardon me if I find the faux outrage these writers are trying to gin up about the mention of Wright is utterly unconvincing.

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As Alana noted earlier today, the Obama campaign went into overdrive to condemn a conservative super PAC for considering running an ad campaign that would concentrate on linking President Obama to his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Liberal pundits are also doing their best to muster up outrage about the mere possibility that Wright’s name should be uttered in connection with the president. At TIME Magazine, Joe Klein refers to the planned ads as “really, really ugly.” At the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, calls it “race baiting.”

Both are right to call it bad politics. It is a foolish waste of resources that could be better used to remind voters of what a lousy president they’ve had for the last four years. Republicans need to cast the election as a referendum on Obama’s job performance. Personal attacks against Romney are going to be part of the president’s re-election effort. Copying that sort of thing is an unforced error on the part of conservatives. But pardon me if I find the faux outrage these writers are trying to gin up about the mention of Wright is utterly unconvincing.

Klein has a point when he says the president’s behavior in office shows us he’s not a particularly religious man or much of a churchgoer, so it can be credibly argued that Wright wasn’t much of an influence on him. But although some on the fringes may have seen the Wright connection as an indication that Obama hated America as much as his pastor or a genuine radical, the point about his ties to the reverend was much simpler and far more telling.

Anyone who voluntarily affiliates with an institution for 20 years that was primarily a vehicle for a person like Wright is making a statement about his view of the world. It’s the sort of association that would and should embarrass any politician, and the effort made by Obama’s defenders to treat the mention of Wright as out of bounds or untouchable because of race is utterly disingenuous. Were any conservative politician to be a longtime member of a church that employed a leader who said as many ugly things as Wright did, they would be crucified for it.

The fact is, Americans knew about this and the majority voted for Obama anyway for a variety of reasons. Bringing it up again is dumb, but the effort to brand it as a form of hate speech is risible.

One more point: Rosenthal makes a point of mentioning that the memo about the ad campaign speaks of defeating “Barack Hussein Obama.”

Note the use of the president’s middle name. Nudge, nudge. Think of Saddam Hussein. Nudge, nudge. He must be a Muslim.

Barack Hussein Obama is clearly not a member of a mosque and is, as the Wright episode teaches us, an affiliated Christian. But while saying his name in this manner was treated as offensive during the 2008 campaign  — and one that John McCain specifically rejected — apparently Rosenthal must have nodded off during the presidential inauguration ceremony in January 2009. The moment the president took the oath as “Barack Hussein Obama,” saying his full name ceased to be a political slur.

Where Klein and Rosenthal both are also wrong is their belief this has any political leverage for either side. Talking about Wright won’t convince anyone to defeat the president now. But the assumption that the Democrats’ lethargic base will be fired up by this also doesn’t hold water. Americans voted for Obama in 2008 in spite of his questionable connections, not because of them.

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Biden Tired of “Middle Class Joe” Ridicule

You know how everyone is always mocking Vice President Joe Biden for being just another middle class guy with no dreams and no aspirations? No? Well, in case anybody ever does, Biden wants them to know he’s tired of all the imaginary derision over his humble life status (video via Dan Halper):

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You know how everyone is always mocking Vice President Joe Biden for being just another middle class guy with no dreams and no aspirations? No? Well, in case anybody ever does, Biden wants them to know he’s tired of all the imaginary derision over his humble life status (video via Dan Halper):

“I get tired of being called ‘Middle Class Joe,’ like that somehow I’m just Joe and I don’t dream. C’mon man. Look, you’re the ones that built this country. This valley built this country,” Biden said to cheers.

Actually, according to Nexis, the only person who has referred to Biden as “middle class Joe” has been Biden himself. In an early April speech on college affordability, he said, “I always get criticized for being middle class Joe, which I’m proud of, but I’m middle class Joe and I always talk about the middle class.”

And: “I know I’m characterized in the press as, you know, middle class Joe, like . . . I’m not sophisticated,” he complained last September.

The vice president’s sensitivity to perceived insults about his allegedly middle class status seems to go back to 2009. At a conference that May, Biden referred to himself as “old middle class Joe,” before launching into an indignant rant about how he’s always being put down for it.

“If I — if I heard one more thing about the scrappy kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and carrying a lunch bucket — I never carried a lunch bucket, but I guess I’m the middle class guy,” he said. “By the way, I’m proud of that. I’m proud of that.”

This is really one of the flimsiest and most condescending attempts to appeal to the “average voter” since Obama’s phony “funny-sounding name” bit. If Biden is really so paranoid of getting picked on as “middle class Joe,” he might want to play up the fact that he owns a home valued at nearly $3 million, served in the Senate for three decades, earned $379,035 in income last year, and currently lives in the Naval Observatory.

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Was Ambassador’s Iran Threat Credible?

America’s ambassador to Israel sounded a reassuring note today to Israelis and others wondering whether the direction of the West’s negotiations with Iran was leading inevitably to appeasement of Tehran. Ambassador Dan Shapiro seemed to be echoing the tough talk uttered by President Obama when he spoke to the AIPAC conference in March when, according to the AP, he made the following comments:

Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.

“But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready” …

“We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Shapiro said. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”

Though it would certainly be to the advantage of the West were Iran to believe it is in genuine peril of an attack if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, given the fact that it is EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton who is running the P5+1 talks, and not someone like Shapiro, Iran’s obvious confidence that it will prevail in the negotiations is hardly unfounded.

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America’s ambassador to Israel sounded a reassuring note today to Israelis and others wondering whether the direction of the West’s negotiations with Iran was leading inevitably to appeasement of Tehran. Ambassador Dan Shapiro seemed to be echoing the tough talk uttered by President Obama when he spoke to the AIPAC conference in March when, according to the AP, he made the following comments:

Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.

“But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready” …

“We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Shapiro said. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”

Though it would certainly be to the advantage of the West were Iran to believe it is in genuine peril of an attack if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, given the fact that it is EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton who is running the P5+1 talks, and not someone like Shapiro, Iran’s obvious confidence that it will prevail in the negotiations is hardly unfounded.

No one, not even the most sanguine leaders of the Iranian regime, doubt there are contingency plans in place for an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Unlike the difficulties that the Israeli Air Force would face in mounting such an operation, American forces in the Persian Gulf region are more than adequate to accomplish the task. But to say there are plans is one thing. To believe President Obama would order the use of force if Iran refuses to give ground in the talks is quite another.

Indeed, far from the Iranians doing the retreating, it has been the West that has, as the Iranians haven’t failed to note. Every red line set by the West on Iran’s nuclear program has been transgressed. From the putting of reactors on line to the construction of heavy water facilities and now to the refining uranium at a rate that is needed to produce a nuclear weapon, the Iranians acted and then waited for the West to eventually concede the point. That is why they are heading to Baghdad for the next round of talks so confident that the West will allow them to keep their nuclear toys that they are actually demanding the crippling international sanctions that were belatedly imposed on the regime be lifted.

We hope the Iranians are mistaken about President Obama’s resolve but nothing he has done — as opposed to the many things he has said about the topic — has led them to believe they can’t get away with building up their capability to the point where converting it to military uses will be quite simple. And because, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has noted, devices for testing military uses of nuclear power are already in place in Iran, they have every expectation that sooner or later they will be able to confront the world with a nuclear fact.

Like much of what the administration has said and done in recent months, Ambassador Shapiro’s comments seem to be geared more toward convincing Israel to refrain from its own strike on Iran — for which the IAF has proclaimed its readiness — than a genuine demonstration of an American will to act to forestall the threat.

But rather than judge the administration on its words, it is far wiser to judge them on what happens in the coming negotiations. If, as the Iranians expect, the EU, Russia and China, with President Obama, as always, leading from behind, make “progress” in the coming weeks toward a deal that will leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place, we will know the ambassador’s statement was merely an empty threat.

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Desperation in Obama’s Super PAC Attack

Contrary to what some credulous news reports have indicated, the Obama campaign does not seem tremendously confident about beating Mitt Romney next fall. Case in point: a relaxed and confident campaign doesn’t attack its opponent for an ad proposal – one that never even went beyond the consideration phase – cooked up by an unrelated outside group. Or at least if it does, it uses surrogates and outsiders to make the point.

But the Obama campaign has been scraping bottom to find angles to attack Mitt Romney on. So it’s not a surprise that campaign manager Jim Messina blasted Romney today for responding too “tepidly” to reports that a conservative super PAC was considering an ad blitz targeting Jeremiah Wright:

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina doesn’t seem to think the Romney’s camp’s reaction is strong enough.

“The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics,” Messina responded. “Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”

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Contrary to what some credulous news reports have indicated, the Obama campaign does not seem tremendously confident about beating Mitt Romney next fall. Case in point: a relaxed and confident campaign doesn’t attack its opponent for an ad proposal – one that never even went beyond the consideration phase – cooked up by an unrelated outside group. Or at least if it does, it uses surrogates and outsiders to make the point.

But the Obama campaign has been scraping bottom to find angles to attack Mitt Romney on. So it’s not a surprise that campaign manager Jim Messina blasted Romney today for responding too “tepidly” to reports that a conservative super PAC was considering an ad blitz targeting Jeremiah Wright:

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina doesn’t seem to think the Romney’s camp’s reaction is strong enough.

“The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics,” Messina responded. “Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”

For the record, here’s Romney’s “tepid” response to Guy Benson, which sounds pretty unambiguous to me:

“I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described. I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes and growing prosperity — particularly for those in the middle class of America.  And I think what we’ve seen so far from the Obama campaign is a campaign of character assassination. I hope that isn’t the course of this campaign. So in regards to that PAC, I repudiate what they’re thinking about … It’s interesting that we’re talking about some Republican PAC that wants to go after the president [on Wright]; I hope people also are looking at what he’s doing, and saying ‘why is he running an attack campaign? Why isn’t he talking about his record?'”

Romney is right. Republicans are far better off targeting Obama’s record, rather than his 20-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright. As toxic and offensive as Wright’s sermons and political commentary are, if that line of attack was ineffective in 2008, it’s not going to be effective four years later.

That said, it’s amazing that the story of Obama’s vehemently anti-American, anti-Israel pastor is now so off-limits that a conservative super PAC can’t even consider broaching it without sending the media into a frenzy.

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Will Gay Marriage Oust Military Chaplains?

The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.

As CNSNews.com reports:

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.

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The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.

As CNSNews.com reports:

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes American Jewish Congress chief counsel Marc Stern as saying that, “no one seriously believes that clergy will be forced, or even asked, to perform marriages that are anathema to them.” Yet the “sea change” that same-sex marriage will create in American law will bring with it consequences that advocates for this measure aren’t acknowledging. As Dreher writes:

The strategy of the pro-SSM side seems to be to deny that anything like this could possibly happen, and that people who say it could are being irresponsible scaremongers. Then when it actually happens, they’ll say oh, who cares; those bigots deserve what they get.

Dreher is right. The legal problem here is not so much the direct issue of redefining marriage from the traditional understanding of it being one man and one woman. Rather, it is the implications that stem from government sanction that will redefine some religious believers as being outside of not only mainstream opinion but literally outlaws and vulnerable to prosecution and/or defunding on the grounds of discrimination against gays.

The only way for advocates of same-sex marriage to avoid the stigmatizing of some faiths in this manner is to agree to legal stipulations that remove any possibility that religious institutions could be compelled to sanction behavior their religion regards as immoral. But if they refuse to do so, as the White House is indicating with its opposition to House protections for military chaplains, then gay marriage ceases to be a civil rights issue and becomes the focal point of a kulturkampf in which religious freedom is on the line. If that is the way things are heading, then military chaplains won’t be the last victims in the purge of believers.

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Competing Campaign Strategies

In a previous post, I offered my thoughts on the outlines of President Obama’s re-election strategy — energizing minorities and others comprising Obama’s liberal base; appealing to college-educated white women; and vaporizing Mitt Romney. Assuming that’s correct, what should be the elements of an effective counter-strategy? I’d argue there are three.

The first is to win The Battle of the Narrative.

Barack Obama’s political fate is similar to that of Robert Frost’s hired man, who had “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

In Obama’s case, he has no record he can defend and no governing vision he can offer. All he has to rely on are diversions and divisions. The president wants to make this campaign about anything except his record on the economy. Team Obama will therefore try to get the Romney campaign to follow them down a half-dozen different rabbit holes each week. We’ve already seen this with the so-called “war on women,” Sandra Fluke v. Rush Limbaugh, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Buffett Rule, Bain Capital, Occupy Wall Street, attacks on oil speculators, and more.

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In a previous post, I offered my thoughts on the outlines of President Obama’s re-election strategy — energizing minorities and others comprising Obama’s liberal base; appealing to college-educated white women; and vaporizing Mitt Romney. Assuming that’s correct, what should be the elements of an effective counter-strategy? I’d argue there are three.

The first is to win The Battle of the Narrative.

Barack Obama’s political fate is similar to that of Robert Frost’s hired man, who had “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

In Obama’s case, he has no record he can defend and no governing vision he can offer. All he has to rely on are diversions and divisions. The president wants to make this campaign about anything except his record on the economy. Team Obama will therefore try to get the Romney campaign to follow them down a half-dozen different rabbit holes each week. We’ve already seen this with the so-called “war on women,” Sandra Fluke v. Rush Limbaugh, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Buffett Rule, Bain Capital, Occupy Wall Street, attacks on oil speculators, and more.

It will require considerable discipline by Romney to ignore the dust that Obama is throwing in the air and return attention to the economy. Sometimes that won’t be easy; events (like the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden) intervene. And the president still has unparalleled ability to direct the conversation of the nation. But Romney has on his side the sentiments of the public, which by overwhelming margins believes the economy, jobs and the budget deficit are the most important issues facing the country. He has the advantage of being able to talk about what the public wants to hear.

During the next five months we’ll be witness to an epic push-and-pull, with both sides not simply putting the same issues in different frames, but trying to create entirely different campaign conversations. Whichever campaign narrative prevails will go a long distance toward determining which candidate wins the presidency.

The second ingredient for a successful counter-strategy is a governing agenda that is commensurate with the challenges of this moment.

Given the astonishing record of failure by the president, there will be a tendency among Romney’s advisers to be cautious when it comes to offering an ambitious and concrete set of proposals that would define a Romney presidency. That’s understandable but ultimately unwise.

The public needs to be convinced that Romney poses a governing vision that goes beyond generalities and his own biography. This is a moment of unusually large challenges in America and unusual seriousness in politics; the former Massachusetts governor should embrace an agenda — and articulate an underlying theory — that provides people with what a Romney presidency would look like.

Readers of COMMENTARY know I’m somewhat partial to a governing agenda that reforms our crumbling public institutions. Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, infrastructure, immigration policies, and regulatory regime are badly out of touch with the needs of our time. Each of these public institutions needs to be improved and modernized, requiring structural reforms on a large scale. That’s but one option for Romney; there are others.

Here, as in so many areas, Ronald Reagan is a model. He ran against Jimmy Carter’s dismal record – but he also ran on a bold agenda in economics (supply side) and national security (rolling back Soviet Communism in lieu of detente).

A third element to a successful Romney campaign is tone and countenance.

Among the most durable public attitudes in 2012 will be the disposition to vote against President Obama, who is viewed by many Americans as a decent fellow but an inept president. Governor Romney can fortify that inclination and impression in how he carries himself. Especially given the sulfuric attacks coming his way, Romney’s task is to present himself to the public as sober, reassuring, and measured – a safe choice during a turbulent time. As the president’s campaign becomes more desperate, the charges will become more splenetic. This will afford Governor Romney the chance to appear more dignified and presidential than Barack Obama.

Every presidential campaign requires adjustments along the way. But it also needs a strategy for success and someone who can point the campaign towards its magnetic north in the midst of the daily battles. We know, I think, what the Obama campaign will consist of. How the former Massachusetts governor responds may well determine whether he becomes America’s 45th president.

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Andrew Sullivan’s Own Goal (and My Assist)

This post is about Andrew Sullivan, so I promise to make it mercifully brief.

Sullivan is a pioneer. He was the first blogger to realize that in the low-knowledge, high-offense Internet age the shortest route to popularity was simultaneous moral outrage and moral dishonesty. I can’t believe you’ve done the thing I know you didn’t do. (See: Bush policy and Abu Ghraib, neoconservatives and wars for Israel).

The man who has designated Barack Obama the first gay president has appointed himself the arbiter of political hyperbole, naturally. He makes his rulings about beyond-the-pale commentary via negative “awards” on his blog. For my last post about Obama’s self-mythologizing and personality-cult efforts Sullivan has nominated me for his “Hugh Hewitt Award.” Hewitt is, of course, a national treasure, but in Sullivanland the award  “is given for the most egregious attempts to label Barack Obama as un-American, alien, treasonous, and far out of the mainstream of American life and politics.”

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This post is about Andrew Sullivan, so I promise to make it mercifully brief.

Sullivan is a pioneer. He was the first blogger to realize that in the low-knowledge, high-offense Internet age the shortest route to popularity was simultaneous moral outrage and moral dishonesty. I can’t believe you’ve done the thing I know you didn’t do. (See: Bush policy and Abu Ghraib, neoconservatives and wars for Israel).

The man who has designated Barack Obama the first gay president has appointed himself the arbiter of political hyperbole, naturally. He makes his rulings about beyond-the-pale commentary via negative “awards” on his blog. For my last post about Obama’s self-mythologizing and personality-cult efforts Sullivan has nominated me for his “Hugh Hewitt Award.” Hewitt is, of course, a national treasure, but in Sullivanland the award  “is given for the most egregious attempts to label Barack Obama as un-American, alien, treasonous, and far out of the mainstream of American life and politics.”

Sullivan objected to my post because I considered Obama’s comical insertion of his name into other presidential biographies and things like his administration’s personalized Mother’s Day cards alongside the self-aggrandizing efforts of Kim Jong Il. In order to make me sound sufficiently loony and nativist, Sullivan pasted one part of my post to another, using an ellipsis in place of five paragraphs which appear in the original. But that’s not what’s most entertaining here.

This is: In a May 9 blog post titled “Obama’s Creepy Emails And Ads,” Sullivan discusses some of the same Obama Mother’s Day cards I discuss. And here is his very own pronouncement on them: “What is this, North Korea?”

Whoops.

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Romney Erasing Obama’s Cash Advantage

One of the biggest problems for the Republicans this year has been the perceived huge fundraising edge President Obama is supposed to enjoy. Though Democratic predictions that forecast the president’s re-election campaign raising a billion dollars may have been a vain boast, there’s little question the record-breaking amounts Obama raised in 2008 will be exceeded in 2012 with all the advantages of incumbency now on his side. By contrast, all of the president’s potential Republican opponents raised but piddling amounts when compared to the president’s efforts. But that was bound to change once the Republican nomination was decided. The fundraising reports from April — the month Mitt Romney wrapped up the GOP contest–proves this.

Romney’s campaign is set to announce today that along with the Republican National Committee, the GOP effort raised $40.1 million in April. That’s not too far below the $43.6 million President Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee took in for the same month. This reflects not only a clear surge in donations for Romney but also an evening up of the imbalance in campaign cash that had been assumed to be the case this year. And with independent groups on both sides of the aisle free to spend on the campaign, this should make not only for a wild and woolly six months until November but a contest in which both sides will have ample resources to make their case to the people.

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One of the biggest problems for the Republicans this year has been the perceived huge fundraising edge President Obama is supposed to enjoy. Though Democratic predictions that forecast the president’s re-election campaign raising a billion dollars may have been a vain boast, there’s little question the record-breaking amounts Obama raised in 2008 will be exceeded in 2012 with all the advantages of incumbency now on his side. By contrast, all of the president’s potential Republican opponents raised but piddling amounts when compared to the president’s efforts. But that was bound to change once the Republican nomination was decided. The fundraising reports from April — the month Mitt Romney wrapped up the GOP contest–proves this.

Romney’s campaign is set to announce today that along with the Republican National Committee, the GOP effort raised $40.1 million in April. That’s not too far below the $43.6 million President Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee took in for the same month. This reflects not only a clear surge in donations for Romney but also an evening up of the imbalance in campaign cash that had been assumed to be the case this year. And with independent groups on both sides of the aisle free to spend on the campaign, this should make not only for a wild and woolly six months until November but a contest in which both sides will have ample resources to make their case to the people.

The surge will eliminate a situation where a challenger to an incumbent runs out of cash after a hard-fought nomination fight. Romney may have outspent his GOP foes heavily but the increase in donations — 95 percent of which are for less than $250 — leaves him enough money to keep campaigning and spending freely until the nominating conventions at the end of the summer. The reported $61.4 million in his coffers at the end of April may not be as much as the president has in his pocket but is enough to remain competitive.

Romney’s team is hoping to raise as much as $800 million by the end of the year, while the president’s campaign has now lowered expectations to a mere $750 million.

Though those who wrongly see campaign donations as a blight on the system consider these totals excessive, all this means is that both sides in the contest will be able to get their message out and organize their bases. It may be hard to avoid both Romney and Obama while watching television or surfing the Internet in the coming months, but these efforts are not undermining democracy, they are enabling it.

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Dems Spin Obama Budget Rejection

The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.

The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:

Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.

Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.

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The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.

The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:

Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.

Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.

It’s not just Republicans who are countering the claim. The Senate parliamentarian also ruled in April that the debt ceiling deal doesn’t mean the Senate can’t take up budget resolutions this year.

Meanwhile, the White House was expecting the failure, and recently began arguing that the resolution introduced in the Senate is actually a distorted version of the president’s budget. They say the rejection isn’t a reflection of Democrats’ views of Obama’s plan:

Last May, Obama’s budget was voted down, 0-97. Democrats noted they could vote no after Obama delivered an April speech calling for deeper deficit reduction than he had presented two months earlier in his budget.

This year, Obama is sticking by his budget, so Democrats are embracing another reason to vote it down.

The White House moved Monday to free Democrats to vote no by saying the legislation embodying Obama’s budget is “different” because it doesn’t contain identical policy language.

Republicans argue that the rejected budget resolution is identical to Obama’s plan, and say the only difference is that campaign-tinged political language was removed.

“If you look at the president’s budget it reads like his campaign website,” a Republican aide told me. “But the numbers are identical to the budget.”

The excuses are pretty flimsy, and Democrats are no doubt bracing for a public backlash. But clearly the party thinks they’re safer dealing with the fallout from rejecting Obama’s budget than being forced to defend his budget in the fall.

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Clinton-Obama Comparison Helps Romney

Liberal commentators could barely contain their scorn this week after hearing Mitt Romney make some unfavorable comparisons between President Obama and Bill Clinton. They do have a point. For Democrats listening to the Republican candidate praise Clinton, albeit only by contrasting him to Obama, less than two decades after the man from Hope engendered such rage on the part of conservatives, must be insufferable. The retrospective GOP affection for Clinton is as phony as the respect now given Ronald Reagan on the part of many Democrats. It is a time-honored political tradition to blast your opponents as being unworthy to be the successors of their party’s former leaders even if you happened to hate the objects of praise while they were in office. Anyone doubting this theme need only notice that even George W. Bush — a president so despised on the left that he inspired a syndrome that could only be described as derangement — is starting to get a little love from liberals because he was more civil than the current crop of Republicans.

But just because Romney’s praise of Clinton is insincere doesn’t mean he hasn’t honed in on one of the president’s problems. President Obama won in 2008 largely on the basis of the historic nature of his candidacy as the first African-American to be nominated by a major party as well as by a successful attempt to position himself as a post-partisan centrist. Though many voters may still feel the weight of history when contemplating rejecting Obama’s bid for re-election, ObamaCare, the stimulus and now his stance on gay marriage mean his pose as a moderate has been exploded. That is why the contrast between the incumbent and Clinton’s “New Democrat” efforts to distance his administration from many traditional liberal positions is helpful to Romney. Though Democrats may complain this is a bogus tactic, it helps to define Obama as a doctrinaire politician who is out of step with many centrist and independent voters.

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Liberal commentators could barely contain their scorn this week after hearing Mitt Romney make some unfavorable comparisons between President Obama and Bill Clinton. They do have a point. For Democrats listening to the Republican candidate praise Clinton, albeit only by contrasting him to Obama, less than two decades after the man from Hope engendered such rage on the part of conservatives, must be insufferable. The retrospective GOP affection for Clinton is as phony as the respect now given Ronald Reagan on the part of many Democrats. It is a time-honored political tradition to blast your opponents as being unworthy to be the successors of their party’s former leaders even if you happened to hate the objects of praise while they were in office. Anyone doubting this theme need only notice that even George W. Bush — a president so despised on the left that he inspired a syndrome that could only be described as derangement — is starting to get a little love from liberals because he was more civil than the current crop of Republicans.

But just because Romney’s praise of Clinton is insincere doesn’t mean he hasn’t honed in on one of the president’s problems. President Obama won in 2008 largely on the basis of the historic nature of his candidacy as the first African-American to be nominated by a major party as well as by a successful attempt to position himself as a post-partisan centrist. Though many voters may still feel the weight of history when contemplating rejecting Obama’s bid for re-election, ObamaCare, the stimulus and now his stance on gay marriage mean his pose as a moderate has been exploded. That is why the contrast between the incumbent and Clinton’s “New Democrat” efforts to distance his administration from many traditional liberal positions is helpful to Romney. Though Democrats may complain this is a bogus tactic, it helps to define Obama as a doctrinaire politician who is out of step with many centrist and independent voters.

Part of the Clinton-Obama contrast is one of tone. Clinton deliberately sought to persuade Americans that his approach was a departure from traditional liberalism. Indeed, it was his ability to persuade so many that he was a pragmatic centrist that drove conservatives — who saw him as the embodiment of the self-indulgent liberal Baby Boomers who came of age in the 1960s — so crazy. Clinton went out of his way to show that he was not in thrall to left-wingers. while Obama’s administration has alienated moderates.

But Romney’s not entirely wrong to point out the differences between the last two Democrats elected to the presidency.

Veterans of the Clinton administration are quick to point out that Clinton was no conservative and embraced many measures such as tax increases that Romney opposed then and now. But Clinton was also the man who told the country that “the era of big government is over,” presided over balanced budgets and signed the welfare reform bill while Obama is the quintessential big government Democrat. Though many of Clinton’s achievements were more a case of him co-opting Republican positions and taking credit for things that would have been impossible without the election of a GOP Congress (such as the balanced budget and welfare reform), they also reflected a willingness to move to the center rather than govern from the left. If Clinton had succeeded in passing his wife Hillary’s health care bill, perhaps we wouldn’t think of him as a centrist, but in contrast to Obama, the 42nd president ultimately learned that ramming such a measure down the throats of an unwilling people was a mistake and moved on to more productive matters. Most of all, Romney can contrast the relative prosperity of the 1990s to the dismal economy of 2012.

Democrats are right that the problem with Romney’s stratagem is that Clinton will be campaigning for Obama this year. But while his appeal to party loyalists is still strong, it isn’t likely that many voters believe there is any real affinity between the two Democratic presidents. Many suspect that Clinton is merely setting the stage for another try for the presidency by his wife.

Romney isn’t the only American to notice that Barack Obama is the most liberal president since Jimmy Carter and represents a different kind of Democrat than Clinton was. It may be hypocritical for Republicans to sound this theme, but it also reflects the fact that Obama doesn’t have the same appeal to moderates and independents that Clinton had. And that’s something that can make a big difference in November.

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It’s Not About Your Name, Mr. President

In his appearance on ABC’s “The View,” President Obama was asked how tight he thinks the campaign against Mitt Romney will be. To which the president responded, “When your name is Barack Obama, it’s always tight.”

Actually, that’s not true.

Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was the most sweeping since 1980. He became the first Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson 44 years earlier to garner more than 50.1 percent of the vote. In the process, he took seven states that had twice voted for George W. Bush, including two (Indiana and Virginia) that had not gone Democratic since 1964.

The implication of Obama’s statement is that there’s residual hostility to him based on his race and background. But if that were the case, how does one explain his smashing victory four years ago?

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In his appearance on ABC’s “The View,” President Obama was asked how tight he thinks the campaign against Mitt Romney will be. To which the president responded, “When your name is Barack Obama, it’s always tight.”

Actually, that’s not true.

Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was the most sweeping since 1980. He became the first Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson 44 years earlier to garner more than 50.1 percent of the vote. In the process, he took seven states that had twice voted for George W. Bush, including two (Indiana and Virginia) that had not gone Democratic since 1964.

The implication of Obama’s statement is that there’s residual hostility to him based on his race and background. But if that were the case, how does one explain his smashing victory four years ago?

The reason Obama is struggling this time around is sheer incompetence. He’s not up to the job of being president. Much of the public knows it. And his name has nothing to do with it.

The president’s comments were simply the most recent in a string of never-ending excuses. His problems are never his responsibility; they always lie with something or someone else – whether it’s with the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami, Europe, his predecessor, the GOP Congress, the Tea Party, Super PACs, the Supreme Court, Wall Street, millionaires, billionaires, the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, ATMs, conservative talk radio, or, now, his name.

Obama is in a nearly constant state of whining. That’s an unattractive quality in any individual, but especially in an American president.

He would do himself and all of us a favor if he took at least a pause from the blame game.

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