Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 15, 2012

Romney Shouldn’t Lose Expectations Game

Almost all of the opinion polls taken in the week following the Democratic National Convention have all pointed in the same direction: Barack Obama has a small, yet significant lead in his battle for re-election. These polls have depressed many Republicans and nothing the Mitt Romney campaign has been able to do in the past few days has relieved the sense of gloom in certain precincts of the right or diminished the glee being expressed in much of the mainstream liberal media.

At the root of this conservative depression is a sense that this is an election they couldn’t lose and they have reacted to the strength being shown by the Democrats with shock, disbelief and by tossing blame at the Romney campaign. These unrealistic expectations have endowed the president’s lead with a greater importance than it might otherwise have since even the most optimistic evaluations of his chances for re-election still put the race within pollsters’ margin of error. Yet rather than wasting time carping at Romney’s Boston headquarters or the candidate’s supposed missteps, the GOP needs to realize that all along they’ve been looking at this race through the wrong end of the binoculars. Instead of being shocked by the results, they ought to be somewhat encouraged or at least not be dejected by the numbers. Contrary to the right’s skewed view of the election, the president has huge advantages that, despite his failures, always gave him a leg up. The wonder is not that Romney isn’t ahead by 10 points, but that even liberal pollsters show him virtually even with Obama.

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Almost all of the opinion polls taken in the week following the Democratic National Convention have all pointed in the same direction: Barack Obama has a small, yet significant lead in his battle for re-election. These polls have depressed many Republicans and nothing the Mitt Romney campaign has been able to do in the past few days has relieved the sense of gloom in certain precincts of the right or diminished the glee being expressed in much of the mainstream liberal media.

At the root of this conservative depression is a sense that this is an election they couldn’t lose and they have reacted to the strength being shown by the Democrats with shock, disbelief and by tossing blame at the Romney campaign. These unrealistic expectations have endowed the president’s lead with a greater importance than it might otherwise have since even the most optimistic evaluations of his chances for re-election still put the race within pollsters’ margin of error. Yet rather than wasting time carping at Romney’s Boston headquarters or the candidate’s supposed missteps, the GOP needs to realize that all along they’ve been looking at this race through the wrong end of the binoculars. Instead of being shocked by the results, they ought to be somewhat encouraged or at least not be dejected by the numbers. Contrary to the right’s skewed view of the election, the president has huge advantages that, despite his failures, always gave him a leg up. The wonder is not that Romney isn’t ahead by 10 points, but that even liberal pollsters show him virtually even with Obama.

The strength shown by the Obama campaign and its ability to use its ace in the hole — a sympathetic mainstream liberal press — to help push public opinion in their direction on key questions, such as the blame for the economy, or about the character of the GOP positions on entitlement reform, should not have been a surprise. Nor should it shock anyone that an incumbent president, let alone one whose historic status as the first African-American in the White House renders him invulnerable to personal attacks such as those routinely used against Romney, should be winning.

It is true that the president’s record is generally one of failure at home and abroad. His only domestic achievements, the passage of a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle that didn’t help the economy and his signature health care plan, are both unpopular. The recovery from the recession — dubbed the “Great Recession” by his supporters in the media so as to make his task seem even harder than it was — he inherited from his predecessor has been anemic and there is every indication that his policies of spending and debt will trigger another recession should he be re-elected. Abroad, other than the killing of Osama bin Laden, the president has nothing to boast about, having been rebuffed by the foes he sought to ingratiate such as Russia and Iran while alienating allies like Israel.

All that is enough to keep his approval ratings dangerously below 50 percent, but none of it changes the fact that as the first African-American president his mere presence in the White House makes a lot of Americans feel good about their country and themselves. What Republicans don’t understand is that these feelings or the willingness of much of the media to parrot Democratic talking points about Romney’s taxes or misstatements and the Republicans aren’t diminished by bad economic news or even foreign disasters such as attacks on American embassies in the Middle East. Though Obama may be as feckless as Jimmy Carter in many respects, he is an able politician and this was never going to be the rerun of 1980 many in the GOP foolishly expected. Nor was it going to be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm triumph in 2010 when the president’s policies were the issue but his name wasn’t on the ballot.

Rather than seeing the election as being one where their candidate is falling short of expectations, Republicans need to understand that they have misread this race all along. They should be pleased that a standard-bearer given to gaffes should be only a few points behind Obama even in the aftermath of the president’s post-convention bounce. Though Obama has the lead in the polls, he is still dependent on duplicating his party’s historic 2008 turnout rates. But he should not benefit from a false sense that Romney has lost an opportunity to generate a Republican landslide when none was ever possible.

The power of incumbency has always meant that any Republican had a narrow path to victory that depended on perfect execution of a campaign strategy of focusing on the economy while still being able to put forward a credible critique of Obama on foreign affairs. The Romney campaign is well short of perfection and the candidate has not always been perfectly on message either. But even so, he is very much in the fight and with luck and strong performances in the debates, he still has an opportunity to win.

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The End of Obama’s “New Beginning”

It seems so so long since President Obama’s famous Cairo speech.

On June 4, 2009, speaking at Cairo University, the president, who still has not visited America’s most stalwart ally in the region, Israel, told his listeners that he was turning the page on the acrimony that had previously defined relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

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It seems so so long since President Obama’s famous Cairo speech.

On June 4, 2009, speaking at Cairo University, the president, who still has not visited America’s most stalwart ally in the region, Israel, told his listeners that he was turning the page on the acrimony that had previously defined relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

To show how serious he was, he accepted on behalf of America a generous measure of blame for strained relations with Muslim countries, saying, “The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust…. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

That speech was titled, portentously, “A New Beginning.” Now, more than three years later, as American legations across the Middle East find themselves under siege from angry mobs, it appears that Obama was about as successful in rolling back the tides of anti-Americanism as he was in slowing the rise of the oceans and healing the planet. Even Obama’s personal popularity, once stratospheric around the world, has slipped significantly since he took office. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, support for Obama has waned in Europe and Japan but still remains high there (at 80% and 74% respectively). He has done worse in Russia (36% approval), China (38%), and Mexico (42%). And he has done worst of all in the very Muslim countries where he expended so much effort to improve his–and his country’s–image. Obama’s popularity in the Muslim world was never that high to begin with (33% in 2009) and it has fallen to 24%. That is indicative of falling support for the U.S. On Obama’s watch, the percentage expressing favorable attitudes toward the U.S. in the Muslim world has fallen from 25% to 15%.

This is not necessarily a disaster–many of us had argued all along that there is a certain in-built resentment of the U.S. around the world and especially in the Middle East that is very hard to budge, and that what counts more than courting popularity is pursuing policies that are in our national interest. Obama has actually done this in some areas and paid the price in lost approval. Pew reports that the biggest drag on America’s global image is the campaign of drone strikes which Obama has accelerated. “In 17 of 20 countries,” Pew found, “more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.”

Thankfully, Obama has continued the strikes anyway–because they are one of our best tools for fighting terrorists. Implicitly, at least, he seems to be recognizing that foreign policy is not a popularity test.

Still, it must be particularly bitter for Obama to see how unpopular the U.S. remains despite nearly four years of his leadership. Perhaps in his memoirs he might even express some remorse over his relentless criticism of his predecessor for making America so unpopular.

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Hezbollah Raises Latin American Profile

Two news stories from recent weeks, if true, should raise a red flag in the United States that Iran is preparing to use Hezbollah to strike at U.S. interests in Latin America, if not in the United States itself.

First, this story from the Lebanese news portal Naharnet and sourced in part to Israeli radio. The Naharnet story was taken down shortly after it appeared:

Hezbollah is using a training base established by Iran in northern Nicaragua near the border with Honduras, the Israeli radio reported on Thursday [September 6]. “The area is cordoned off and there are around 30 members of Hizbullah being trained in the camp,” the radio quoted intelligence sources as saying. According to the report, Tehran is funding and supplying the training base…

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Two news stories from recent weeks, if true, should raise a red flag in the United States that Iran is preparing to use Hezbollah to strike at U.S. interests in Latin America, if not in the United States itself.

First, this story from the Lebanese news portal Naharnet and sourced in part to Israeli radio. The Naharnet story was taken down shortly after it appeared:

Hezbollah is using a training base established by Iran in northern Nicaragua near the border with Honduras, the Israeli radio reported on Thursday [September 6]. “The area is cordoned off and there are around 30 members of Hizbullah being trained in the camp,” the radio quoted intelligence sources as saying. According to the report, Tehran is funding and supplying the training base…

Second, this story from Belize City’s News 5 Online:

Within three days a suspected terrorist with alleged ties to the radical group Hezbollah was able to secure a Belizean identity. Rafik Mohammed Labboun Allaboun arrived in the country on August twenty-ninth and when he left, he had a Belizean birth certificate, a driver’s license and a passport all issued in the name of Wilhelm Dyck, a Belizean Mennonite of Shipyard who was born in February of 1976 and died two months later.

As News 5 points out, Wikileaks also shows a long Hezbollah involvement in Belize.

Against the backdrop of riots across the region, Iranian officials have become even more threatening than usual. Hojjat al-Eslam Kazem Tabatabaei, Zabol Friday prayer leader, for example, called for “a jihad to annihilate the Arrogance [the United States],” while Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani warned the United States to “expect harsher reactions.”  It would be a mistake for the Obama administration to dismiss Iranian threats as mere rhetoric, given the elaborate preparations the Iranians and Hezbollah appear to have engaged in, south of our border.

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