Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 5, 2012

Democrats’ Tax Policy Kabuki

I was planning to write about the analysis of Romney’s tax plan by the Tax Policy Center that Democrats have been using to beat up on the Republican nominee this week. But now I don’t have to. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post has done it for me. And done it very well.

As Jen explains, the Romney plan was no more than an outline of how he would reform taxes to make them broader, with compensating lower rates. The left-of-center Tax Policy Center, with little specific to work with, then made some very convenient assumptions that allowed them—and delighted Democrats—to say that Romney’s plan would involve tax increases for the middle class while the rich would, as always in Republican tax proposals, get away with not paying their fair share.

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I was planning to write about the analysis of Romney’s tax plan by the Tax Policy Center that Democrats have been using to beat up on the Republican nominee this week. But now I don’t have to. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post has done it for me. And done it very well.

As Jen explains, the Romney plan was no more than an outline of how he would reform taxes to make them broader, with compensating lower rates. The left-of-center Tax Policy Center, with little specific to work with, then made some very convenient assumptions that allowed them—and delighted Democrats—to say that Romney’s plan would involve tax increases for the middle class while the rich would, as always in Republican tax proposals, get away with not paying their fair share.

It is part of the ritual of democratic politics that each side tries to offer only glittering generalities in putting forth the proposals they will try to implement if they win the election. The other side then immediately demands the specifics of the proposal in excruciating detail. There’s a reason for this, of course.  The proposing party wants to avoid alienating any important segment of the voters and so stays vague. The other party wants to know precisely whose oxen are going to be gored so that they can recruit them to their side. The mainstream media pretends to not understand this, at least with Republican proposals.

Stand by for a lot more of this sort of thing over the next three months. A lot more.

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Sports the Olympics Forgot

Olympics are often remembered for their hosts, or perhaps specific feats. Except for the marquee meets and match-ups, most events are quickly forgotten. Between the summer and winter events, there are 35 sports. Few people remember shooting, badminton, or table tennis; even the scandals are fleeting. Sometimes, the Olympics add new sports. Beach volleyball made its official debut in 1996, and curling—the most ridiculous of sports but oddly addictive to watch—only entered the games in 1998. But as new sports enter the Olympics, some sports fall by the wayside. Amidst the chaos in the Middle East and the partisanship which marks this election year, perhaps it’s time to take a pause, look at something lighter, and remember the ghosts of Olympics past.

Baseball was an on-again, off-again demonstration sport at many twentieth century Olympic Games: 1912, 1936, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1984, and 1988, before finally becoming an official sport in 1992. It didn’t last long, however; the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted them out of the games in a secret ballot. Softball had a shorter run, from 1996 through 2008. The elimination of both of these was a travesty. So too was Cricket, which made it only once, in 1900. While it’s hard to take a sport seriously where the athletes break for tea and lunch, given that billions of people would disagree, perhaps it’s time cricket made a comeback.

Not so some of the others which have long ago fallen through the Olympic cracks:

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Olympics are often remembered for their hosts, or perhaps specific feats. Except for the marquee meets and match-ups, most events are quickly forgotten. Between the summer and winter events, there are 35 sports. Few people remember shooting, badminton, or table tennis; even the scandals are fleeting. Sometimes, the Olympics add new sports. Beach volleyball made its official debut in 1996, and curling—the most ridiculous of sports but oddly addictive to watch—only entered the games in 1998. But as new sports enter the Olympics, some sports fall by the wayside. Amidst the chaos in the Middle East and the partisanship which marks this election year, perhaps it’s time to take a pause, look at something lighter, and remember the ghosts of Olympics past.

Baseball was an on-again, off-again demonstration sport at many twentieth century Olympic Games: 1912, 1936, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1984, and 1988, before finally becoming an official sport in 1992. It didn’t last long, however; the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted them out of the games in a secret ballot. Softball had a shorter run, from 1996 through 2008. The elimination of both of these was a travesty. So too was Cricket, which made it only once, in 1900. While it’s hard to take a sport seriously where the athletes break for tea and lunch, given that billions of people would disagree, perhaps it’s time cricket made a comeback.

Not so some of the others which have long ago fallen through the Olympic cracks:

  • Tug-of-War made the games between 1900 and 1920. Here is a photo of the British team victorious at the 1908 London Olympics.
  • Motor-Boating was an official sport in 1908, but only two countries—the United Kingdom and France—competed.
  • George Roth was a rags-to-riches story at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics when he took the gold medal in club swinging, the first and last time that sport made it to the Olympics since 1904.
  • The rope climb may have been the bane of elementary schools everywhere, but it was an Olympic sport on-and-off from 1896 through 1932.
  • Pistol dueling was an Olympic sport only in 1906. It would have been a more exciting sport had the opponent not been a mannequin.
  • Equestrian Long Jump. This event only happened once, at the Paris Olympics in 1900. The bad news is that, perhaps because everyone was off watching cricket, no one has tried to repeat this event. The good news is that Belgian rider Constant van Langendonck’s gold medal jump of about 20 feet remains an Olympic record after more than a century.
  • PETA would never allow the Olympics to get away with this one: Live Pigeon Shooting, but it was also an Olympic Sport in 1900. The gold medal also went to a Belgian, Leon de Lunden, who bagged 21 pigeons.
  • Croquet also only made it to the Olympics once, in 1900. France swept the competition, but only one spectator was in attendance to see the never-repeated Olympic croquet feat.
  • Underwater swimming was not the most convenient of spectator sports. Frenchman Charles de Vandeville took the gold with a nearly 200 foot underwater swim.
  • If runners can have steeplechase, why can’t swimmers have their own equivalent? So thought the organizers of the Paris Olympics in 1900, who instituted the 200-meter swimming obstacle course. Participants would climb and descend poles, swim, climb over some boats and swim under others.
  • Plunge for Distance Diving made it into the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. Participants—all Americans—tried to see how far they could leap from the board. William Dickey took the gold at around 60 feet.
  • Basque Pelota—a weird type of racket sport—made it into the Olympics officially only once, although it was a demonstration sport as recently as 1992.
  • As the old saying goes, “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous,” but you would have to have both still to do the one-handed weight lifting, since competitors had to lift weights with both hands, just separately.

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Despising Israeli Democracy

You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them. But apparently the newspaper’s appetite for such tirades is undiminished as the publication of Avraham Burg’s in the Times’ Sunday edition today proved. There isn’t much that is particularly original about Burg’s piece that takes the point of view that Israel is on the brink of no longer being a democracy and is intolerant of minority views. That this is not remotely closely to being the truth is no barrier to its publication since it is exactly what American leftists want to be told. His views are an absurd conflation of egotism and blindness but his foolishness is not limited to his analysis of his own country, he also understands nothing about U.S.-Israel alliance and the strength of the across-the-board support the Jewish state has here.

In the conclusion of his article in which he envisions a post-Zionist government of Israel that will reject Jewish nationalism in favor of something more inclusive, he claims:

When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.

That is, I suppose, a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused earlier in the piece of being a “warmonger.” But as anyone who bothered to watch Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last year, he was widely cheered by both Republicans and Democrats with both parties competing with each other to show their enthusiasm for their Israeli ally. This is the sort of obvious mistake that any editor, even one with no love for Israel, should have caught. That it wasn’t tells us that the gatekeepers at the Times are as out of touch with reality as Burg.

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You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them. But apparently the newspaper’s appetite for such tirades is undiminished as the publication of Avraham Burg’s in the Times’ Sunday edition today proved. There isn’t much that is particularly original about Burg’s piece that takes the point of view that Israel is on the brink of no longer being a democracy and is intolerant of minority views. That this is not remotely closely to being the truth is no barrier to its publication since it is exactly what American leftists want to be told. His views are an absurd conflation of egotism and blindness but his foolishness is not limited to his analysis of his own country, he also understands nothing about U.S.-Israel alliance and the strength of the across-the-board support the Jewish state has here.

In the conclusion of his article in which he envisions a post-Zionist government of Israel that will reject Jewish nationalism in favor of something more inclusive, he claims:

When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.

That is, I suppose, a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused earlier in the piece of being a “warmonger.” But as anyone who bothered to watch Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last year, he was widely cheered by both Republicans and Democrats with both parties competing with each other to show their enthusiasm for their Israeli ally. This is the sort of obvious mistake that any editor, even one with no love for Israel, should have caught. That it wasn’t tells us that the gatekeepers at the Times are as out of touch with reality as Burg.

Burg, who is the scion of a famous family and was once thought to be a man with an unlimited political future, seems to despise his country these days. Though he attempts to wax lyrical about trends in its society, the main reason he thinks Israel is no longer a democracy is that Israel’s electorate has consistently rejected his views about the peace process as well his own hopes for high office. This has caused him to question not only their judgment but the entire ideological edifice on which the country rests. His egotism is pathetic but it is fed by a stubborn refusal to see what the vast majority of his compatriots understand. They agree with him that a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians would be ideal but have come to terms with the fact that their antagonists have no interest in such a deal.

Burg despises what he calls the “religious, capitalist” state that Israel has become. Most Israelis would be happy if the ultra-Orthodox would have less power but what he is really longing for is the Israel of the past in which secular Jews of European origin dominated a country in which socialist economic policies served to keep the power of existing elites in place. He rejects Netanyahu’s free market reforms that have made Israel a burgeoning economic powerhouse because more economic freedom has created a messy but more genuine democracy in which “princes” like Burg are no longer in position to tell everybody else what to do.

Burg also does an injustice to the overwhelming majority of Americans who, contrary to his belief that the alliance is now rooted in “war, threats and fear,” still care about the common democratic values that he seems to think have been abandoned by everyone but himself. Most Americans, even those who don’t particularly like Netanyahu, respect the will of Israel’s voters more than Burg. They also recognize that the threats to Israel’s existence, principally the nuclear danger from Iran is a life or death matter that requires more serious thought than Burg seems capable of these days.

Burg is right about one thing. Israel could use a written constitution and smarter people than him have been thinking and writing about it for a generation. But the course of Burg’s career shows that the only constitution he is really interested in is one that could guarantee that his views could be imposed on his country. Not even the imprimatur of the New York Times Sunday Review can disguise the fact that Burg’s post-Zionist views are outside the Israeli mainstream. In publishing his article, the Times has shown that, contrary to the title of the piece, its real complaint is not about the absence of Israeli democracy, but its vibrancy.

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Why Is North Korea So Poor?

The answer should be stunningly obvious, but don’t tell Reuters. In the course of an article about the divergent fates that await victorious North Korean athletes and those who have failed, comes this:

The reality is that life is tough in North Korea in the best of times, however. International sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, a decaying economy and a defective food distribution system have left almost a third of its 24 million people poor and hungry and it has few friends besides its neighbor China.

It really takes an intellectual contortionist wearing blinders to miss so utterly the reasons for North Korea’s failure: it’s a totalitarian state that holds its own citizens in contempt. International sanctions may target the North’s weapons program but, if sanctions were waived tomorrow, the only beneficiaries would be Kim Jong-un and the military. The food distribution system is not defective, just misaligned. After all, it was the regime and military that benefited when the Clinton administration shipped food aid to North Korea. The regime maintains the Songbun, a social classification system that marks North Koreans for life. A tiny few benefit; most are disposable.

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The answer should be stunningly obvious, but don’t tell Reuters. In the course of an article about the divergent fates that await victorious North Korean athletes and those who have failed, comes this:

The reality is that life is tough in North Korea in the best of times, however. International sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, a decaying economy and a defective food distribution system have left almost a third of its 24 million people poor and hungry and it has few friends besides its neighbor China.

It really takes an intellectual contortionist wearing blinders to miss so utterly the reasons for North Korea’s failure: it’s a totalitarian state that holds its own citizens in contempt. International sanctions may target the North’s weapons program but, if sanctions were waived tomorrow, the only beneficiaries would be Kim Jong-un and the military. The food distribution system is not defective, just misaligned. After all, it was the regime and military that benefited when the Clinton administration shipped food aid to North Korea. The regime maintains the Songbun, a social classification system that marks North Koreans for life. A tiny few benefit; most are disposable.

Nor was North Korea’s economic decay a passive process. Rather than invest in expanding the economy, the North Korean leadership siphoned all investment into its million plus man army. There is no better illustration today of the human cost of communism and dictatorship than the juxtaposition between North and South Korea.

Reuters may have thought that their explanation of North Korean woes to be a throwaway sentence, a bit of background for those who do not the poverty that blankets North Korea today. When it comes to North Korea, however, there can be no way around blame: The responsibility for North Korea’s dire situation rests solely and completely on its murderous, totalitarian regime.

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Celebrating Ramadan With Anti-Semitism

Last month President Obama noted, as he does with all major religious events, the start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan and commemorated the holiday by calling it a time to “cherish family, friends, and neighbors, and to help those in need.” That was an appropriate statement but in much of the Islamic world, it also appears to be a time to indulge in Jew hatred. While holiday specials in the United States are noted for their saccharine tone, Ramadan specials appeal to a very different sort of sentiment. As the Anti-Defamation League noted on Thursday, the 30 days of fasting and prayer has been marked in a number of Muslim countries with special television programs that are rife with anti-Semitism and intended to foment hatred of Jews and Israel.

The significant factor about these shows is not just that they are drenched in the traditional tropes of anti-Semitism in which Jews are portrayed as cheap as well as cheats and villainous victimizers of Muslims. It is that these programs are clearly crafted to appeal to a popular audience throughout the Middle East. While they can be rightly accused of promoting hatred at the same time they must also be understood as a reflection of the attitudes prevalent in Muslim societies. The producers of these shows are guilty of pandering to the deeply ingrained prejudices of the Islamic world as much as they are feeding them. That some of these shows like the Egyptian “Firqat Naji Attalha” are comedies in which the bias against Jews is merely the backdrop for humor tells us more about popular opinion in these countries than anything else. According to the MBC network, which is broadcasting the show throughout the Middle East, “Firqat Naji Attalha” gives audiences “the sweetest jokes about the ‘cheap Jew.’” Read More

Last month President Obama noted, as he does with all major religious events, the start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan and commemorated the holiday by calling it a time to “cherish family, friends, and neighbors, and to help those in need.” That was an appropriate statement but in much of the Islamic world, it also appears to be a time to indulge in Jew hatred. While holiday specials in the United States are noted for their saccharine tone, Ramadan specials appeal to a very different sort of sentiment. As the Anti-Defamation League noted on Thursday, the 30 days of fasting and prayer has been marked in a number of Muslim countries with special television programs that are rife with anti-Semitism and intended to foment hatred of Jews and Israel.

The significant factor about these shows is not just that they are drenched in the traditional tropes of anti-Semitism in which Jews are portrayed as cheap as well as cheats and villainous victimizers of Muslims. It is that these programs are clearly crafted to appeal to a popular audience throughout the Middle East. While they can be rightly accused of promoting hatred at the same time they must also be understood as a reflection of the attitudes prevalent in Muslim societies. The producers of these shows are guilty of pandering to the deeply ingrained prejudices of the Islamic world as much as they are feeding them. That some of these shows like the Egyptian “Firqat Naji Attalha” are comedies in which the bias against Jews is merely the backdrop for humor tells us more about popular opinion in these countries than anything else. According to the MBC network, which is broadcasting the show throughout the Middle East, “Firqat Naji Attalha” gives audiences “the sweetest jokes about the ‘cheap Jew.’”

The Egyptian comedy portrays the exploits of an attaché at the country’s Israeli embassy that performs acts of sabotage in Israel including robbing a bank disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew. The show includes lots of references to negative Jewish stereotypes and celebrates terrorist attacks on Israel.

Other Ramadan television highlights are less funny but not less disturbing. “Ashar il Sabt” runs twice a week in Egypt and features an Egyptian professor who pretends to be an expert on Hebrew literature and discusses anti-Semitic libels such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as part of an effort to trash Judaism.

Another Ramadan favorite is the Egyptian version of the old American standard “Candid Camera.” As we previously noted in Contentions, one episode centered on tricking Egyptian celebrities into thinking they were appearing with Jews on Israeli television which sent the victims in paroxysms of rage and violence, salted with anti-Semitic invective.

Also playing on Arab television screens this month is a production of the popular Al Manar channel run by Hezbollah. Their contribution for the holiday is a series called “Al Ghalibun” that predictably depicts Israelis as cruel invaders of Lebanon while treating anti-Israel terrorism as laudable.

As the ADL reports, this isn’t the first time Ramadan has been used by Arab and Islamic television to promote hatred of Jews. Both Egyptian television and Al Manar have run blatantly anti-Semitic shows in the past. Indeed, the entertainment industry in the region appears to believe such shows are exactly what their audiences want most during the holiday.

Those who believe such attitudes are caused by West Bank settlements or the refusal of Israel to make enough concessions to the Palestinians need to understand that the hatred of Jews is not so much a function of politics but of culture. Until there is a sea change within the Muslim world in which this kind of hatred is not only no longer popular but rejected by mainstream opinion, Middle East peace is just a dream.

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Should a Muslim Nation Host the Olympics?

The answer to that question is sure, why not? Any country able to invest the resources and organize such a spectacle, and willing to host delegations from around the world including from countries they do not recognize should have their shot. But religion should not be the determining factor. Don’t tell that to Turkey, though. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees the world through a religious prism. The genocide in Darfur? Impossible. After all, he argued when welcoming Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. “A Muslim can never commit genocide.”

Now Erdoğan has rooted Turkey’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics in religion. “No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics,” he said while visiting London last week. “Istanbul has bid to host the Olympics five times but has never been handed the rights. This is not a fair approach.” The Istanbul 2020 logo features not the bridge between civilizations, but rather minarets and mosques. No previous Olympic emblem has featured religious symbols.

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The answer to that question is sure, why not? Any country able to invest the resources and organize such a spectacle, and willing to host delegations from around the world including from countries they do not recognize should have their shot. But religion should not be the determining factor. Don’t tell that to Turkey, though. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees the world through a religious prism. The genocide in Darfur? Impossible. After all, he argued when welcoming Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. “A Muslim can never commit genocide.”

Now Erdoğan has rooted Turkey’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics in religion. “No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics,” he said while visiting London last week. “Istanbul has bid to host the Olympics five times but has never been handed the rights. This is not a fair approach.” The Istanbul 2020 logo features not the bridge between civilizations, but rather minarets and mosques. No previous Olympic emblem has featured religious symbols.

If Erdoğan advocates viewing the world through a religious prism, then perhaps he can also embrace the Tel Aviv Olympics in 2024 and Bombay Olympics in 2028. If it is time for a majority Muslim state to host the Olympics, it would make sense if the first would be a country like Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and one noted for its relative moderation compared to the rest of the Islamic world. Qatar certainly has the resources, both to bribe the International Olympic Committee and to stage the games, and certainly Arab states would like the honor. Morocco is as much a bridge between civilizations as Turkey but, in recent years, has been far more tolerant. As regions go, neither Africa nor the Caribbean has ever hosted the Olympics.

Turkey should one day host the games. Istanbul is a beautiful city. But Turkey should only have that honor when it lives at peace with its neighbors, withdraws from Cyprus, and shows it can manage basic infrastructure like its highways and bridges. It needs to release its journalists from prison, and reach a settlement with its Kurdish population. Let’s hope the International Olympics Committee will choose a country on that country’s merits; they should not implicitly endorse Erdoğan’s desire to see the world through a religious lens.

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Does the Early Bird Get the Political Worm?

Given the hundreds of millions that both political parties and their presidential candidates have raised this year, it isn’t likely that either side will run out of cash before November. But the latest reports about how the two sides are utilizing their resources have raised an interesting question about campaign strategy. With President Obama’s campaign spending money like it’s going out of style in the spring and summer, it’s clear that despite the expectation earlier in the year that the formidable machine the Democrats have built would have a considerable financial edge, the opposite may be true. As the New York Times reports, Mitt Romney and the Republicans will likely have more money to spend in the fall campaign than their rivals.

The Democrats have spent the last couple of months going all in on nasty personal attacks on Romney that they hope, combined with spending on voter registration and other campaign infrastructure, will pave the way for an Obama victory. That’s a rational strategy but it leaves them open to some second-guessing. They are gambling that their sliming of Romney will sour the public on the GOP candidate will work. But if their charges don’t stick, they will be left to face a still viable rival in September and October who will be able to outspend them on the ground in battleground states.

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Given the hundreds of millions that both political parties and their presidential candidates have raised this year, it isn’t likely that either side will run out of cash before November. But the latest reports about how the two sides are utilizing their resources have raised an interesting question about campaign strategy. With President Obama’s campaign spending money like it’s going out of style in the spring and summer, it’s clear that despite the expectation earlier in the year that the formidable machine the Democrats have built would have a considerable financial edge, the opposite may be true. As the New York Times reports, Mitt Romney and the Republicans will likely have more money to spend in the fall campaign than their rivals.

The Democrats have spent the last couple of months going all in on nasty personal attacks on Romney that they hope, combined with spending on voter registration and other campaign infrastructure, will pave the way for an Obama victory. That’s a rational strategy but it leaves them open to some second-guessing. They are gambling that their sliming of Romney will sour the public on the GOP candidate will work. But if their charges don’t stick, they will be left to face a still viable rival in September and October who will be able to outspend them on the ground in battleground states.

So far the jury is out on the impact of the Democratic spending spree. The president has to be encouraged by polls showing him holding on to an edge in some swing states but the national polls portray a race that is still deadlocked. Factors that have little to do with the money spent by the campaigns such as the state of the economy or the outcome of the presidential debates will have a greater impact on the outcome than the bottom line of the candidates’ bank accounts. But Obama’s decision to not hold back more of his campaign war chest for the decisive final weeks when he may require some flexibility to respond to a fluid political situation may come back to haunt him.

The Democrats willingness to invest in measures designed to increase their turnout is smart. But it also highlights one of the president’s weaknesses. Unlike in 2008, there is no wave of enthusiasm for his candidacy that will impel unusually large numbers of young or minority voters to vote for him. With the “hope and change” mantra consigned to the history books, the Obama campaign has fallen back on the last resort of all incumbents who can’t run on their records: trashing their opponents. While the Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to suppress voter turnout, it is their own consistently negative approach to the election that is the factor that is turning off the public and making a large turnout unlikely.

In 2008, the president also had a decisive edge in campaign finance that allowed him to swamp John McCain down the homestretch. Due to Romney’s own impressive fundraising that won’t happen this year. And, as it now appears likely, the GOP nominee emerges from the summer without being sunk by the Democrats effort to destroy his reputation he will have a fighting chance to use his money to level the playing field in the final months.

The early bird may sometimes get the political worm. But the problem for the president is that if all of his early spending fails to achieve his goal of hamstringing Romney, he may have set the stage for a Republican comeback.

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