Coming into tonight’s first presidential debate, the polls and most of the mainstream media were all agreed on the fact that President Obama was coasting to a win in November. But after more than 90 minutes on the stage in Denver, there was little doubt the campaign had changed. After months of gaffes, ineffective strategies and relentless pounding from Democrats, Romney had debated his way back into the race.
Despite being allowed four less minutes than Obama, Romney used his time to score point after point on the economy, entitlements and ObamaCare. The challenger looked confident, sure of his facts and able to connect with the viewers. By contrast, the president looked angry and offended most of the night, almost as if he regarded the need to defend his policies was beneath his dignity. The result was a lopsided debate that provided Romney with his finest moment of his long slog toward the presidency, while Obama suddenly looks very beatable.
The COMMENTARY staff is live-tweeeting the presidential debate tonight. But come back throughout the evening as we add blog items as the evening progresses.
The gradual disappearance of Holocaust survivors has long been viewed with worry by those tasked with ensuring that the world never forgets the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. The passage of time means that the most able advocates of remembrance will soon be but a memory themselves. Fear that their experiences would be forgotten have fueled the proliferation of Holocaust museums and memorials, as well as praiseworthy efforts to create libraries of survivor testimony that will all remain once they are gone. But for some that is not enough.
For some grandchildren of survivors and others who care about the subject, that has led to a bizarre fad in which they have taken to having the numbers that the Nazis branded on the survivors tattooed on their own arms. As a New York Times feature published on Monday shows, this phenomenon has grown from isolated instances to what must considered a trend with large numbers of youths in Israel. While the motives behind this seem pure, one cannot help but wonder at anyone embracing a practice whose purpose was to dehumanize captive Jews. While survivors who lived long enough eventually saw that most considered those numbers to be a badge of honor rather than a mark of shame, the act of fetishizing this evidence of the Nazis’ crimes seems like something that says more about the current generation than it does about the experience of the survivors.
Many conservatives are boiling mad about the emergence of a videotape of a 2007 speech given by President Obama at Hampton University. In it, the president — then just a senator from Illinois running for the White House — engages in some disgraceful racial incitement. He claimed the Bush administration deliberately shortchanged Hurricane Katrina victims because of racism. He also lavishly praised Rev. Jeremiah Wright and said he was a mentor. For many Obama critics, this is one more smoking gun proving the president is every bit the radical who is comfortable lying about race and extolling those, like Wright, who hate America and promote conspiracy theories. Tucker Carlson, whose Daily Caller broke the story of the tape, is right to term Obama a shameless demagogue for having the gall to say that Republicans didn’t care as much about poor black hurricane survivors as they did about the families of the 9/11 victims.
But as bad as it is, anyone who thinks the tape will change any votes next month is dreaming. Candidates for president may be judged on their backgrounds but sitting presidents are judged on their records. Nor can we entirely blame the fact that this story got buried by the press. It is true, as Politico notes in a feature about the video, that the liberal mainstream media did not make a big deal about the remarks when they were reported early in 2008 much as they failed to hold Obama accountable for another statement made that year in which he derided Americans for “clinging to guns and religion.” But let’s also understand that the problem goes deeper than just the press.
In February, Lindsay Mark Lewis, a former Democratic National Committee finance director, wrote a heavy-hearted piece for the New York Times. Lewis wrote that he has always supported campaign finance reform, but something funny had recently happened. The Law of Unintended Consequences, that bane of liberal social engineers and red tape wielding bureaucrats, had hit Lewis–and hard. One of the effects of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation was that it didn’t take money out of politics after all; it merely redirected money to less accountable groups like 527s and super PACs. Wrote a defeated Lewis:
Nevertheless, I’ve decided that the best way forward may be to go in the opposite direction: repeal what’s left of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as McCain-Feingold, which severely limits the amount of money the parties can collect for their candidates.
Well what do you know–the cure was worse than the disease. So much worse, in fact, that the country’s biggest boosters of that cure were turning against it, ruing the day they went after the First Amendment with malice aforethought. Something similar, but slightly less ironic, is now taking place in Massachusetts between Senator Scott Brown and his liberal challenger, Elizabeth Warren. To great fanfare—OK, modest fanfare—Brown and Warren signed a pledge that would effectively ban third-party groups from the race. When Brown announced the deal to Fox News in January, the station’s website reported it this way:
Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are pushing back against the Obama administration’s promise to compensate contractors for legal fallout from WARN Act violations, a law requiring large companies to provide 60-day minimum notice of potential layoffs. As I wrote yesterday, the administration has urged contractors in advance of the Jan. 2 sequestration not to issue WARN notices, which would otherwise be sent just days before the presidential election. After contractors expressed concern about potential lawsuits, the OMB released a directive offering to pay for resulting legal penalties in certain situations.
Graham vowed that congress would block any attempt to reimburse contractors for WARN Act legal fallout in an interview with NRO’s Charles C.W. Cooke today:
As Michael Rubin noted yesterday, the unrest in Iran yesterday shows that the people of that country are not so foolish as to believe their troubles are the result of anything but the Islamist regime’s economic mismanagement. The turmoil in Tehran reinforces their dissatisfaction with Iran’s plight under the rule of the mullahs and front men like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the latest clashes in Tehran as security forces sought to break up black market moneychangers must also not be interpreted as a sign that the fall of the regime is imminent.
Sanctions have caused a good deal of pain for the Iranian people, but as was demonstrated clearly in 2009, the Islamist government has no compunction about the use of force to protect their survival. This is a lesson that those who have been predicting the collapse of the government in Syria haven’t learned despite the demonstrated resiliency of that Iranian ally over the last year and a half. But while it is principally the Syrian people who have suffered because of the false Western belief that Bashar Assad would quickly fall without any help from the outside world, Western complacency about the future of Iran will have terrible consequences for the entire region as well as the security of the rest of the world.
We already heard that the Obama administration had intercepts linking one of the suspected leaders of the Benghazi attack to al-Qaeda on day one, but the extent of the intelligence wasn’t clear. Now Reuters adds another piece to the puzzle, reporting that the Obama administration received about a dozen intelligence reports tying the attack to AQ “within hours”:
Within hours of last month’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama’s administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al Qaeda were involved, three government sources said.
Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top U.S. officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organized militant groups.
It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to U.S. policymakers had “evolved” into an acknowledgement that the attacks were “deliberate and organized” and “carried out by extremists.”
The relentlessly negative coverage of Israel in the Western press over the last few years has centered on the flawed assumption that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been on the verge of ordering a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, any day now, since the moment he took office three years ago. This has resulted in coverage of Israel and Israeli politics that is utterly divorced from reality.
Reporters credulously published rumors, seemingly completely unaware they were being spun by those trying to shape public policy, and opinion writers sounded the alarm. This created the effect of the media—not Netanyahu—swearing war was imminent and then attacking Netanyahu for the impending doom they insisted was coming. All the while Netanyahu did what he has been doing all along: concentrating on sanctions. The Obama administration continued to act as the primary obstacle to tough sanctions—first delaying them, then watering them down over Congress’s objections, then handing out exemptions like candy—making a military strike more likely by not fully utilizing other means to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the last two weeks, two media events have displayed what should represent—one can only hope—the bottoming out of the coverage before it bounces back up closer to reality.
As anyone who has ever seen Mitt and Ann Romney up close can attest, there’s little doubt that the would-be first lady seems to be more of a political natural than her husband. While the Republican presidential candidate can seem awkward at times even in small groups, his spouse has the ease and grace of a seasoned professional. So it’s little wonder that not only is Mrs. Romney a popular GOP attraction on the stump, but that the media has begun to focus not only on what she is saying but also her role in her husband’s campaign. Both the New York Times and Politico ran features about her today in which her fierce defense of Mitt’s attitude toward women, as well as his campaign strategies, are examined. If the stories are to be believed, Mrs. Romney’s position is that her husband should be left alone to be who he is and that Republicans should be spending more time talking about his virtues rather than carping about tactical mistakes.
She’s probably right, but the arguments about how best to portray the candidate go to the heart of the problem. Mrs. Romney is quoted as admitting that her husband isn’t very good at telling people stories about himself, especially the really flattering ones about his compassion for others. But that’s not something that his wife, or anyone else for that matter, can do for him. In the end, voters are looking to evaluate Romney, and not a surrogate’s version of him. That’s why tonight’s debate, when he will finally be alone on the stage with the president, is so important.
The last National Journal poll two weeks ago showed Obama leading by seven points, so this dead-heat seems to mark a significant shift:
Obama and Romney each pulled in 47 percent support in the poll among likely voters. It is among the narrowest margins of several presidential surveys published ahead of the debate this week. Other polls have shown the president with a slim lead. In this survey, while the race is tied among likely voters, Obama has a 5-point lead, 49 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters.
The survey was conducted Sept. 27-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Romney led in the poll among independents, 49 percent to 41 percent, with both candidates winning more than 90 percent support from their respective parties. The survey had Obama winning 81 percent of the nonwhite vote and Romney carrying 55 percent of white voters.
The electoral defeat of the ruling party of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili — which helped usher in Georgia’s Rose Revolution — is being greeted with mixed feelings from democracy promoters. On one hand, the free and fair election and Saakashvili’s concession were a remarkable success in a region that’s known for its rigged votes. On the other hand, the party that won the parliamentary elections, and gets to choose a new prime minister and cabinet, is run by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, a man who supporters of Saakashvili and others worry is a cutout for Russia.
Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen. Ivanishvili made his billions in Russian state-owned industries, and was recently able to sell off these assets at a fair rate, something that just doesn’t happen without the green light from Russian President Vladimir Putin. As James Kirchick explains at the Wall Street Journal:
I am trying, and failing, to follow the logic of this “news analysis” (read: editorial) by New York Times reporter William Broad in the Sunday paper. In it, he argues, citing “a surprising number of scholars and military and arms-control experts” (six by my count), that “a strike could actually lead to Iran’s speeding up its efforts, ensuring the realization of a bomb and hastening its arrival.” Therefore, he suggests, an Israeli or American attack on Iran would result in the very thing we most want to avoid: a nuclear Iran.
But wait: Is there any reason to think that, absent a strike, Iran won’t get nuclear weapons anyway? In fact, all the evidence suggests that, despite all of the international opprobrium and sanctions Iran has suffered, it remains hell-bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon and could well be past the point of no return by next spring. Is Broad actually arguing that Iran will get a nuke sooner if the U.S. or Israeli attack its nuclear installations? That seems unlikely. While experts debate how long a strike will set back the Iranian program, I have never heard anyone suggest that air strikes would have no effect at all on Iran’s ability to manufacture nukes.
Liberals celebrated yesterday when the same Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge who upheld the state’s voter ID law in August reversed himself and enjoined its enforcement on Election Day. There’s no denying that this is a defeat for the legislature that passed the bill as well as the overwhelming majority of Americans who back ID laws as a commonsense measure to deter voter fraud. But frustrating as it is, it is but a temporary setback. Both Judge Robert Simpson and the state Supreme Court have indicated that the law is constitutional. Yet Simpson, like many another judge when asked to affirm legal principles that are under attack by influential liberal forces, wavered when put to the test.
When Pennsylvanians go to the polls next month, they will be still asked to identify themselves with a photo card. But, as was the case in April when the rules were rolled out during the state’s primary, no one will be denied a ballot, even if they have no such documentation. The left-wingers who sued to strike down the law claimed voters would be unfairly disenfranchised. Simpson did not fully accept their assertions, but rather than face the storm that fully upholding the law would bring down on his head, he said there was not enough time before the election to ensure “liberal access.” While this means it will still be possible this year for political machines to turn out fictitious voters without fear of being caught — a time-honored political tradition in Philadelphia — in the future such shenanigans will be more difficult.