Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 8, 2012

What Exactly Does Obama Like About Being President?

As John’s earlier post points out, there’s a revealing paragraph in today’s New York Times article on Obama’s dismal debate performance:

Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain’s grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said

Notice that it’s Romney himself who Obama reportedly “views with disdain,” not Romney’s policies. Disdain is a harsh word, and in this instance it’s very personal. What exactly has Romney done to inspire such feelings in Obama? Clearly Romney does not feel the same way about his opponent (or is much better at hiding it).

Read More

As John’s earlier post points out, there’s a revealing paragraph in today’s New York Times article on Obama’s dismal debate performance:

Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain’s grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said

Notice that it’s Romney himself who Obama reportedly “views with disdain,” not Romney’s policies. Disdain is a harsh word, and in this instance it’s very personal. What exactly has Romney done to inspire such feelings in Obama? Clearly Romney does not feel the same way about his opponent (or is much better at hiding it).

According to the Times, Obama also deeply dislikes debates. It might be understandable if this was because he found them challenging and outside of his comfort zone. But that’s not what the Times reports. Obama apparently dislikes debates because he views them as “media-driven gamesmanship… something to endure, rather than an opportunity.” In other words, debates are below him. It’s not that he’s a weak debater, it’s that the debate format is too trivial for the likes of Barack Obama

This isn’t the first major aspect of the presidency (and campaigns) that Obama reportedly disdains. George W. Bush wasn’t a fantastic debater, but he was considered a great communicator in person. Obama, in contrast, doesn’t appear to enjoy personal interaction in general. He knocks debates as “gamesmanship,” but he also doesn’t like socializing. And as the New Yorker reported, he’s alienated major donors because he hasn’t been able to build relationships with them.

Obama’s interpersonal struggles have also caused him problems in the policy realm. He dislikes working with members of congress, and his disengagement from the legislative side of the political process has been criticized routinely by both Republicans and Democrats. The same goes for foreign policy. The New York Times reported that Obama’s difficulty dealing with the Arab Spring has stemmed from his “impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy” and “failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders.”

According to Game Change author John Heilemann, Obama is one of those rare politicians who “don’t like people…[and] don’t like politics.”

If that’s the case, why is he running for reelection? The first time around, Obama could at least claim he was making the sacrifice because the country needed his brilliant leadership and phenomenal gifts so badly. But after four years, that’s far less believable. Honestly, it’s perplexing. Does Obama really want to be president, and if so, why?

Read Less

Romney Goes Bold in Foreign Policy Speech

Anyone who worried Mitt Romney would be overly cautious or avoid taking strong stances during his foreign policy speech today was proved wrong. Romney delivered a substantive critique of Obama’s Middle-East policy, and outlined his own strategy, including some bold positions on Syria and Afghanistan. The best soundbite of the speech, “hope is not a strategy,” will surely be a theme the campaign hammers home between now and the election. This is more than a catchy line; it’s an encapsulation of Obama’s Middle-East policy. In the Arab-Spring countries, democracy needs to be guided, supported, and encouraged. And yet Obama has seemed reluctant to use U.S. influence on this front.

Today’s speech indicated that this would be very different under a Romney administration:

America can take pride in the blows that our military and intelligence professionals have inflicted on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the killing of Osama bin Laden.  These are real achievements won at a high cost.  But Al-Qaeda remains a strong force in Yemen and Somalia, in Libya and other parts of North Africa, in Iraq, and now in Syria. And other extremists have gained ground across the region.  Drones and the modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East.

Read More

Anyone who worried Mitt Romney would be overly cautious or avoid taking strong stances during his foreign policy speech today was proved wrong. Romney delivered a substantive critique of Obama’s Middle-East policy, and outlined his own strategy, including some bold positions on Syria and Afghanistan. The best soundbite of the speech, “hope is not a strategy,” will surely be a theme the campaign hammers home between now and the election. This is more than a catchy line; it’s an encapsulation of Obama’s Middle-East policy. In the Arab-Spring countries, democracy needs to be guided, supported, and encouraged. And yet Obama has seemed reluctant to use U.S. influence on this front.

Today’s speech indicated that this would be very different under a Romney administration:

America can take pride in the blows that our military and intelligence professionals have inflicted on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the killing of Osama bin Laden.  These are real achievements won at a high cost.  But Al-Qaeda remains a strong force in Yemen and Somalia, in Libya and other parts of North Africa, in Iraq, and now in Syria. And other extremists have gained ground across the region.  Drones and the modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East.

I know the President hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope.  But hope is not a strategy.  We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity.

On Afghanistan, which Obama characterized as the “important” war during the 2008 campaign, but never seemed fully committed to, Romney indicated that he would follow conditions on the ground rather than political timelines:

And in Afghanistan, I will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.  President Obama would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decisions in Afghanistan is arguing for endless war. But the route to more war – and to potential attacks here at home – is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11.  I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation.

In Syria, Romney said he would arm the anti-Assad forces, and explained why U.S. involvement there is critical in terms of our values and strategic interests regarding Iran. He also noted that it’s important to show our support for the Syrians fighting the Assad regime is more than just words.

In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them.  We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran—rather than sitting on the sidelines.  It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.

Romney also rejected a policy of “daylight” between Israel and the U.S., committed himself to the peace process and a future Palestinian state, and reiterated his red line on Iran (nuclear capability). The speech was well-delivered, too. The debate performance seems to have given Romney a new boost of confidence, and the fact that he’s catching up in the polls made the speech seem weightier than it might have seemed only a few weeks ago.

Read Less

Chavez Wins—So Does the Opposition

Had Hugo Chavez won yesterday’s presidential election in Venezuela by a landslide, the opposition would have justifiably accused him of committing massive electoral fraud. Especially over the last two weeks, support for the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, swelled to the extent that many local pollsters believed he would pull off a narrow win at the last moment.

Instead Chavez garnered 54 percent of the vote, against 46 percent for Capriles. That margin of victory helps Chavez insofar as it staves off charges of electoral manipulation. At the same time, it confirms that Venezuela is seriously divided, with almost half the country rejecting the ideology of Chavismo pushed by the regime, along with the corruption, incompetence, and contempt for democratic rights inherent to this system of government.

Read More

Had Hugo Chavez won yesterday’s presidential election in Venezuela by a landslide, the opposition would have justifiably accused him of committing massive electoral fraud. Especially over the last two weeks, support for the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, swelled to the extent that many local pollsters believed he would pull off a narrow win at the last moment.

Instead Chavez garnered 54 percent of the vote, against 46 percent for Capriles. That margin of victory helps Chavez insofar as it staves off charges of electoral manipulation. At the same time, it confirms that Venezuela is seriously divided, with almost half the country rejecting the ideology of Chavismo pushed by the regime, along with the corruption, incompetence, and contempt for democratic rights inherent to this system of government.

The other half, as the Venezuelan dissident blogger Daniel Duquenal observed this morning, feels empowered by the social envy (el resentimiento social) that Chavez has turned into a revolutionary dogma. Says Duquenal,

[They]…hate people like me. Maybe not to the point of killing me, but to the point of trying to screw me any way they can…Now in Venezuela you will have all the trouble in the world to manage employees…to demand that public servants do the job they are appointed to do. Because if you feel that you have rights, then they will see you as a direct impingement on their comfort.

However deflated Capriles may feel today, he has won a victory of sorts. Without question, had he been fighting in his campaign in a conventional democracy, he would have won handsomely. But in Venezuela, elections are stacked against the opposition from the outset. Whereas Capriles was permitted just three minutes of airtime daily, there were no limits on Chavez’s cadenas, his trademark one-man broadcasts that often last for several hours. Nor was Chavez short of tame media outlets hailing him as the leader of socialism in its 21st century mutation.

Chavez was never obliged to debate Capriles on issues of policy. Instead, he chose to demonize his opponent, casually throwing around epithets like “pig,” “Nazi,” and “little bourgeois.” Anti-Semitism too played a central role in Chavez’s messaging. Though Capriles is a committed Catholic, he descends, on his mother’s side, from Polish Jews who arrived in Venezuela after surviving the Holocaust. Chavez, whose principal political mentor was Norberto Ceresole, an Argentinian Holocaust denier, seized on these origins with the gusto of a Julius Streicher. Cartoons lampooning Capriles often showed him wearing a Star of David. Among the many vicious profiles of Capriles in the pro-Chavez media was one by Adal Hernandez, a Chavista radio commentator, which carried the title “The Enemy is Zionism.”

Most of all, Chavez was able to call on the resources of the state to fund his campaign. PVDSA, the state-owned oil company responsible for the petroleum revenues, which make up 95 percent of the country’s foreign export earnings, has been cannibalized by the regime for all manner of pet political projects, from low-impact social programs aimed at capturing the votes of Venezuela’s poorer voters to subsidized oil programs for fellow tyrannies like Cuba and Belarus.

In a context like this one, Capriles’s achievement in winning 46 percent of the vote—Chavez’s previous challenger, Manuel Rosales, won only 37 percent in the 2006 election—is quite remarkable. Hence, while it is true that Chavez is now, as the Economist put it, “six years closer” to his goal of remaining president until 2031, Capriles has emerged as the focal point of a re-energized opposition. “He has become the indisputable leader of the opposition and his face-to-face work is a key asset for the future,” said Luis Vicente Leon, the head of the Datanalisis polling company, whose polls over the last few months showed Capriles steadily gaining on, but never quite surpassing, Chavez

The personal touch that Leon alludes to is what endeared Capriles to so many voters. Denied serious access to the media, his response was to meet the voters in person in more than 300 locations across Venezuela, earning himself nicknames like “Road Runner” and “Marathon Man” in the process. Part of the aim here was to contrast the young, good-looking and energetic Capriles with the ailing, portly, and remote Chavez—and it worked.

In defeat, then, the Venezuelan opposition has never looked stronger. As well as marshaling the support that crystallized around him during the campaign, Capriles can also call on the willingness of Venezuelan democrats to confront the regime, as they did in 2007, when Chavez’s attempt to abolish presidential term limits was defeated, and again in 2009, when Chavez railroaded these same proposals through, bypassing Venezuela’s congress in the process.

And once the Chavista celebrations have died down, Venezuelans will realize that when it comes to the two key questions that faced the country on the eve of the election—the economy and Chavez’s own health—nothing has changed. Thanks to Chavez, Venezuela’s enormous debt burden, currently at $140 billion, will continue to rise. A currency devaluation is likely in the next few months. And in marked contrast to the other members of OPEC, Venezuela has been forced to cut its oil production, since PVDSA is no longer run by professional bureaucrats but by Chavista loyalists who have no idea how to run an efficient oil industry.

As for Chavez’s health, he claims he has been cured from cancer. Given that he never provided details of his illness in the first place, there is no reason to believe that his Cuban doctors have successfully banished the disease. At the moment, therefore, it is reasonable to think that cancer will get rid of Chavez before an election does. In nearly all tyrannies, the death of the leader is followed by bitter struggles among his followers; and when that happens, Capriles will be waiting.

Read Less

What Romney Needs to Say in His Foreign Policy Speech

At the New York Times, Danielle Pletka writes that Mitt Romney needs to do more than simply criticize President Obama’s mistakes during his foreign policy speech today. He needs to provide an alternative vision, which he’s been reluctant to do so far:

Mr. Romney can make the case that when people fight for their freedom, they will find support — sometimes political, sometimes economic and sometimes military — from the American president. When Russians and Chinese demand accountability from their governments, we can stand with them and work with their governments to further common interests. When terrorists target us, we will not simply eliminate them with drones while ignoring the environment that breeds them. And when our allies look to us for support, we will help them fight for themselves.

Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. Worse yet, they betray the same robotic antipathy that animated Bush-haters. “I will not apologize for America” is no more a clarion call than “let’s nation-build at home.”

Read More

At the New York Times, Danielle Pletka writes that Mitt Romney needs to do more than simply criticize President Obama’s mistakes during his foreign policy speech today. He needs to provide an alternative vision, which he’s been reluctant to do so far:

Mr. Romney can make the case that when people fight for their freedom, they will find support — sometimes political, sometimes economic and sometimes military — from the American president. When Russians and Chinese demand accountability from their governments, we can stand with them and work with their governments to further common interests. When terrorists target us, we will not simply eliminate them with drones while ignoring the environment that breeds them. And when our allies look to us for support, we will help them fight for themselves.

Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. Worse yet, they betray the same robotic antipathy that animated Bush-haters. “I will not apologize for America” is no more a clarion call than “let’s nation-build at home.”

Romney has been able to avoid delving seriously into foreign policy for most of the election, but the attack in Benghazi changed that. People will be looking for him to give more than slogans today; he’ll need to present both details and a broader vision. It’s not that we haven’t seen glimmers of this from him in the past. At the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney presented a thoughtful plan on foreign aid, which emphasized democracy and free trade promotion. But obviously Romney will touch on subjects today that are much more contentious than foreign aid.

At the Weekly Standard, Daniel Halper posts some preview excerpts of today’s speech, including some very tough words for the Obama administration on Benghazi:

The attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the Administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long.  No, as the Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.

Romney speaks at 11:20 a.m. EST at the Virginia Military Institute.

Read Less

Was Obama Really THAT Bad in the Debate?

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” had a sketch portraying “Day 3″ of MSNBC’s coverage of “the worst thing that has ever happened anywhere”—the debate on Wednesday night. This brilliant bit of parody (no, my wife doesn’t work there any longer, so this does not require a disclaimer) captured one of the strangest aspects of the liberal response to Barack Obama’s performance: The masochistic insistence on going over and over and over just how bad and awful and terrible Obama was.

But was Obama really that terrible? The argument he was rests on the presumption that he failed to make his case and failed to call Romney out. He did fail at those, but as Yuval Levin argues in today’s must-read blog post, that may be due more to the fact that he doesn’t have a case to make and can’t call Romney out so easily; he’s spent the year running against a caricature of Mitt Romney, not on the grounds that he has a positive agenda for a second term. Romney did not let Obama’s distorted descriptions of his policies go unchallenged, and Obama’s inability to come back at Romney is in part the result that all Obama has are allegations, not substantial criticisms.

There’s a reason why Democrats, liberals, and Obama camp followers are concentrating on the debate. They want to isolate it, scapegoat it, and push it over the cliff. They want to say it was a bad night, an off night, a misfire, a lousy game…because anybody can have one of those.

Read More

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” had a sketch portraying “Day 3″ of MSNBC’s coverage of “the worst thing that has ever happened anywhere”—the debate on Wednesday night. This brilliant bit of parody (no, my wife doesn’t work there any longer, so this does not require a disclaimer) captured one of the strangest aspects of the liberal response to Barack Obama’s performance: The masochistic insistence on going over and over and over just how bad and awful and terrible Obama was.

But was Obama really that terrible? The argument he was rests on the presumption that he failed to make his case and failed to call Romney out. He did fail at those, but as Yuval Levin argues in today’s must-read blog post, that may be due more to the fact that he doesn’t have a case to make and can’t call Romney out so easily; he’s spent the year running against a caricature of Mitt Romney, not on the grounds that he has a positive agenda for a second term. Romney did not let Obama’s distorted descriptions of his policies go unchallenged, and Obama’s inability to come back at Romney is in part the result that all Obama has are allegations, not substantial criticisms.

There’s a reason why Democrats, liberals, and Obama camp followers are concentrating on the debate. They want to isolate it, scapegoat it, and push it over the cliff. They want to say it was a bad night, an off night, a misfire, a lousy game…because anybody can have one of those.

This inadvertently hilarious New York Times story this morning lays out the apologists’s explanation: “Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship….Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said.”

On the face of it, this is absurd: If he views Romney with disdain, why wouldn’t he relish the opportunity to crush him in a debate? Debates aren’t dates or dinner parties or business meetings; they are contests, and Obama is a very competitive person. Why would he only “endure” one, given how utterly wonderful he is? As for “media-driven gamesmanship,” what does Obama call going on David Letterman’s show, or Jay Leno’s, both of which he seems to enjoy mightily?

Oh, and don’t forget that “Obama’s debate preparations were hindered by his day job, his practice sessions often canceled or truncated because of events.” Yeah, because Romney wasn’t at all busy in the weeks leading up to it.

But, see, now Obama has seen the game films. Now he knows where he went wrong. Now he can come back strong. That’s the comforting thing about focusing on Obamas performance. A performance can change. Don’t forget, Ronald Reagan had a bad first debate in 1984 and a great second debate and won by 20 points.

Well, yes, Reagan did, but the economy was creating a million jobs a month and growing at an annual rate of 9 percent that year. Walter Mondale wasn’t going to win that election unless Reagan coded on stage during the second debate. What are the comparable national conditions that call for an Obama reelection? That the unemployment rate is now where it was when he took office four months after Lehman collapsed? That three-fifths of the electorate says the country is on the wrong track?

Obama can do better in the next debate, to be sure…but how? By calling Romney a liar? Does the Obama team think Romney will have no effective response to that accusation in the next two debates? The desperate way Obama and his team are harping on Romney saying he wants to cut funding for public broadcasting shows the condition in which they find themselves. Is his case for reelection that he wants to save Big Bird?

The president didn’t lose the debate on Wednesday because he performed badly on Wednesday. He didn’t perform well, to be sure, but others have done much worse with less fallout.

He lost the debate because he’s been a bad president.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.