Some good news for the Romney campaign this morning. Mitt Romney hasn’t even made his convention speech yet, and he’s already seeing a small bump in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll:
Republican Mitt Romney pulled even with President Barack Obama in a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday, getting a boost from his party’s nominating convention in Tampa this week.
In a four-day rolling poll, Romney and Obama were deadlocked among likely voters at 43 percent each. That was an improvement for Romney from Obama’s two-point lead on Tuesday and four-point lead on Monday.
“There is movement toward Romney, which is traditional for a convention,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said. “It’s small and the change is incremental, but it’s been moving the last couple of days.”
Day two of the Republican convention showed no sign of letting up on its “you didn’t build that” theme, though the formal premise of the night was a slight adjustment to it: the phrase “we can change it.” But in a somewhat surprising moment, Paul Ryan seemed to accept the Obama administration’s complaint that the quote was taken out of context. Ryan offered an alternative riff on the phrase, implicitly explaining to the president why the context doesn’t exonerate him.
The president and his allies say that in context, it’s clear the president meant that government deserves some, but not all, the credit for these businesses for maintaining American infrastructure. But the full context, as I have written before, doesn’t help the president much because of the way he seemed to be mocking those who were successful. In a derisive tone, Obama said: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.” So last night, Ryan said this:
Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere. A lot of heart goes into each one. And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning. Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them. After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.
When Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate Democrats rejoiced. They were sure that the elevation of the author of the Republican Congress budget plan that called for reform of entitlements like Medicare guaranteed the president’s re-election. They had already been planning to run hard against the Ryan budget no matter who was on the GOP ticket. But having Ryan as their piñata seemed like a dream come true.
But tonight at the Republican National Convention, as Ryan got his prime time spot accepting his nomination, the rest of the country began to understand why conservatives have been so devoted to him. Ryan’s speech was not merely well executed but an example of how he earned his reputation as the intellectual leader of his party. Even more important, he showed that he and the man at the top of the ticket plan to run on the reformist ideas that Democrats think work to their advantage. Far from shying away from the Obama campaign’s Mediscare tactics, they are ready to rumble on a platform aimed at saving entitlements against the status quo policies of the administration.
Tonight, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of the most intelligent men in politics, gave a pretty straightforward version of the speech Chris Christie’s critics complained he had not delivered last night—full of head-on assaults on Barack Obama, praise for Romney, drawing sharp contrasts, throwing out applause lines, lots of red meat. And here’s the thing—it didn’t really work. True, Portman is not half the speaker Christie is, and doesn’t have Christie’s outsized personality. But the problem with the speech was its conception. There’s something discomfiting about the direct attack that involves beating up on someone who isn’t there to defend himself or to be defended. It doesn’t convince you unless you’re already convinced. Certainly, preaching to the choir is part of what a convention should do to fire up the delegates and workers. But Christie was delivering a nationally televised address watched by 25 million people, and for them, you have to do something else. You make your own case and you criticize the opposing view, but you have to do so in a manner that does not seem unfair, unjust, or cheap—otherwise you will lose that part of your audience you can convince. Christie focused his speech on the future, not the past. I think the Portman misfire shows that Christie did the right thing politically.
What’s been missing from the Republican National Convention? On Tuesday, nine hours worth of speechifying brought hardly a mention of the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy. That was corrected on Wednesday night with a brief bout of isolationist sentiment from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who gave a skim milk version of his father Ron’s extremist philosophy. That was quickly followed by an address by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who gave an impassioned defense of the importance of American leadership in the world. That McCain spoke for the overwhelming majority of Republicans was not in doubt but other than a brief film after that which highlighted Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel (which had to drive the Israel-hating Paulbots present crazy), that was it for foreign policy. The next speakers returned to familiar themes bashing ObamaCare and we heard no more about defense spending or the president’s abandonment of America’s freedom agenda and our allies. No doubt, Condoleezza Rice will say more about it later but the low priority accorded the topic is not in question.
There’s no doubt that fiscal issues will decide the 2012 election. Given the dismal state of the economy that’s understandable. But no matter what they say before they are elected, all presidents soon learn that their ability to deal with domestic issues largely depends on their ability to manage Congress. Foreign policy is the president’s prime responsibility. And despite the claims of some of his apologists, it is a topic on which the incumbent has done very poorly. Other than killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama has presided over a record of failure abroad in which he has alienated our allies like Israel and unsuccessful sought to appease foes like Russia and Iran.
The Republicans may be just following the polls in ignoring foreign policy, but the nation will be ill served by a campaign where this crucial category is pushed to the margins.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, one of the Republican surprises in the wave election of 2010, made his national debut just now at the Republican convention with what can only be described as a humdinger. He simply began his speech in the middle. “When I heard about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Obamacare,” he started, “I thought, ‘But it’s unconstitutional.’” He went on to connect his view with the views of the Federalists about limited government, connected them cleverly to the convention’s “you didn’t build that” theme, and offered a brilliantly succinct explanation of the problem with centralized populist attacks on business: “When you seek to punish Mr. Exxon Mobil, you punish the secretary who owns Exxon Mobil stock.”
Having established his bona fides as a mainstream Republican, he then dipped into his father Ron Paul’s kit bag—calling for defense cuts and offering a libertarian attack on homeland security. These were done with an artful lightness of touch his father has never displayed. “You, the individual, are the engine of America’s greatness,” he concluded.
An undeniable triumph.
I don’t know if Chris Christie has read the critiques of his keynote speech last night, but it doesn’t matter much now–especially since the criticism was mostly nonsense. But it’s exceedingly important that Paul Ryan–the star of tonight’s show–does not read the reaction to Christie’s speech. There were two major complaints about Christie’s speech–which, by the way, as Politico notes, was approved by the Romney camp with no complaints. The first is that Christie spoke too much about himself, and the second is that he didn’t speak enough about Mitt Romney.
Goodness gracious. The reason Christie spoke so much about his own experience in New Jersey is because that experience has shaped the entire justification for, and communications strategy of, the Romney-Ryan campaign. They have decided to run as reformers who speak hard truths and treat voters as adults. And most significantly, with Romney’s selection of Ryan, they have decided that political “third rails” can be touched, and perhaps even stomped on a bit. They have chosen, in other words, to follow Christie’s lead.
The left can’t seem to figure out whether it wants to call Paul Ryan a “radical” or a “coward,”; an Ayn Rand disciple or a religious fanatic. So it’s not a surprise that the Obama campaign’s attempts to define Ryan haven’t stuck. The Fix flags a WaPo-Pew Research poll that found Americans have a hard time finding negative things to say about him:
A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll asked Americans to say what one word comes to mind when they think about the GOP vice presidential nominee. And people have a hard time finding negative things to say about him.
None of the top nine words people use to describe Ryan are are negative, and six of the nine are positive (“intelligent,” “good,” “energetic,” “honest,” etc.).
Not until you get to the 10th- and 11th-most-cited words do Democrats’ attempts to define Ryan begin to register. That’s the point at which people start describing Ryan as an “idiot” and “extremist.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.
Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.
I’ve gotten some feedback from readers who don’t agree with my posts that look to anti-Semitism as supplying much of the motivation for the drive to ban circumcision in Germany. They claim I’m exaggerating the Jewish angle and ignoring other reasons–such as German hostility to Muslims and foreigners in general, as well as the belief by some that it harms children. I’m prepared to acknowledge that those may have a hand in driving this story, but the developments since a judge in Cologne first issued the ruling rendering circumcision illegal in the country tend to undermine other narratives.
Today we learned that criminal charges have now filed against a second rabbi for performing circumcisions. This also comes hours after a brutal beating of a skullcap-wearing Jew on the streets of Berlin in front of his six-year-old daughter by an assailant who first demanded to know if he was Jewish. It’s time for those seeking to assert that what the U.S. State Department has called a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe hasn’t touched Germany to acknowledge that there is a serious problem. And it is getting worse.
Jeffrey Feltman did a stellar job as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2008. While many career ambassadors embrace moral neutrality against the backdrop of political crisis, Feltman stepped up to the plate during the Cedar Revolution and helped give the Lebanese a real shot at affirming their freedom and independence from Syrian domination. Alas, the March 14 movement was hopelessly divided and ineffective. After Feltman left, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blessed the Doha Agreement which enabled Hezbollah to reassert its control, and effectively end the Cedar Revolution.
President Obama’s election was a mixed blessing for Feltman. On one hand, he received a nice promotion and became the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs but, on the other hand, Obama used him as his point man for his silly and misguided strategy to flip Syria and normalize ties with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton considered a reformer.
Mitt Romney’s sister, Jane Romney, probably didn’t do him any favors with values voters with her comments on abortion today. But give her credit for being one of the few campaign surrogates to speak about this issue honestly.
Republican leadership and the Romney campaign know a Romney administration isn’t going to be able to outlaw abortion even if it wanted to. But instead of just saying it outright, they usually just hem and haw around the issue (h/t Politico):
Almost a decade ago, former Iranian literature professor Jalal Matini penned a piece in the U.S.-based, Persian language journal Iranshenasi, entitled, “The Most Truthful Individual in Recent History.” It was a study of Ayatollah Khomeini’s statements prior to seizing power, and his actions afterwards.
Shortly after, Iranian.com, an online Iranian-interest website, translated key portions of the article, only a few examples of which I reproduce here:
Sen. Rand Paul often shies away from deep foreign policy discussions. It’s a smart move, since his father’s toxic positions stunted his own rise in the GOP. But in an interview with Politico, Rand praised the elder Paul’s radical speech on Sunday, which promoted the “blowback” theory, blasted “neocons,” and suggested that the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks:
The younger Paul shares his father’s foreign policy broadly, and he praised him especially Sunday for talking about the convent “blowback” – the concept that U.S. meddling overseas can lead to terrorist attacks.
A few years ago in Commentary, I argued the case for regime change in Iran. In the current issue of National Review, I reiterate the argument. Even military action—the last resort to deny Tehran a nuclear capability—would only delay the program. Unless policymakers on either side of the aisle come up with a strategy to take advantage of that delay, military strikes would only kick the can down the road. Certainly, Washington’s strategy should not be to bomb Iran every two or three years.
It’s time policymakers have a serious discussion about regime change. After all, the problem with the Islamic Republic is not simply its potential nuclear arsenal, but rather the ideology of the regime that would wield those weapons.
Since we’re now in the portion of the presidential election campaign in which the parties hold their respective national nominating conventions, the urge to find historical comparisons to analyze the candidates will be even stronger than usual. But there is one comparison when contemplating President Obama’s re-election agenda that seems apt, but goes unmentioned: John Lindsay.
Lindsay, like Obama, was young, charismatic and telegenic when he ran for mayor of New York City in the mid-1960s. Like Obama, Lindsay ran as a moderate (he was actually a liberal Republican, but eventually switched parties to run for president as a Democrat), and like Obama Lindsay ran a campaign of hope and optimism at a time of dreary pessimism. But Lindsay also put in place some of the worst public policy New York saw in the 20th century, and the assumptions and outlook that led him to that legislation mirror those of the current occupant of the White House. If Barack Obama wins re-election, he will take office forty years after Lindsay left his, and the latter’s administration offers us a good case study of the weaknesses of Obama’s political instincts.
Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.
But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.
If I were UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, or any of the 120 countries that sent delegates to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran this week, I’d be more than a little embarrassed to discover that Hamas, a terrorist organization that thinks nothing of slaughtering innocent men, women and children in buses, restaurants and hotels, actually has a more developed sense of morality than I do.
While Hamas was invited to attend the NAM summit by Iran, it ultimately declined. This decision followed a public threat by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that if Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh went, he would stay home. But senior Hamas officials say the desire to prevent an open rift with Abbas was only a secondary consideration. Their number-one reason for staying home was that they didn’t want to be seen as supporting Iran at a time when Iran is openly supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s slaughter of his own people by supplying him with arms and even troops.