Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 16, 2012

Live Tweeting the Presidential Debate

Tonight at Hofstra University President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will face off in their second debate before the November 6th election. The town-hall style of tonight’s debate in Long Island will give Americans the opportunity to directly address the candidates for the first time. Our editors will be on Twitter throughout the debate offering insights, quips, and observations. Follow our editors and contributors on Twitter here and look below for our five most recent tweets. To get our latest Twitter posts, update this page or go directly to our Twitter profile.

From @Commentary:

Tonight at Hofstra University President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will face off in their second debate before the November 6th election. The town-hall style of tonight’s debate in Long Island will give Americans the opportunity to directly address the candidates for the first time. Our editors will be on Twitter throughout the debate offering insights, quips, and observations. Follow our editors and contributors on Twitter here and look below for our five most recent tweets. To get our latest Twitter posts, update this page or go directly to our Twitter profile.

From @Commentary:

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How to Reset U.S.-Israel Relations?

The Washington Post poses an excellent question in its editorial today in which it ponders how best to “reset” relations between the United States and Israel. Though Democrats have spent the last year trying to pretend that all is well in the alliance, the distance that the Obama administration sought to put between the two nations from its first days in office has resulted in tension and an ongoing series of fights over settlements, Jerusalem, borders and how to deal with Iran. The president’s open dislike for Prime Minister Netanyahu while secondary to their policy disputes has also become a major impediment to amity.

While we don’t know who will be sitting in the Oval Office next year, there isn’t much doubt that the winner of the U.S. election will still have to deal with Netanyahu. That means both the president and Mitt Romney need to think how best to repair the damage that has been caused in the last four years. While many foreign policy experts scoff at Romney’s rhetoric about eliminating the “daylight” between the countries that Obama sought, he’s on the right track. Though the Post speculates (probably incorrectly) that Romney is as desirous of Netanyahu’s defeat in the Israeli elections scheduled for just after the U.S. inauguration festivities as Obama, the problem between the two countries is deeper than a personality conflict. It stems from a wrongheaded administration that continues to buy into the delusion that it understands Israel’s security needs and dilemmas better than the Israelis.

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The Washington Post poses an excellent question in its editorial today in which it ponders how best to “reset” relations between the United States and Israel. Though Democrats have spent the last year trying to pretend that all is well in the alliance, the distance that the Obama administration sought to put between the two nations from its first days in office has resulted in tension and an ongoing series of fights over settlements, Jerusalem, borders and how to deal with Iran. The president’s open dislike for Prime Minister Netanyahu while secondary to their policy disputes has also become a major impediment to amity.

While we don’t know who will be sitting in the Oval Office next year, there isn’t much doubt that the winner of the U.S. election will still have to deal with Netanyahu. That means both the president and Mitt Romney need to think how best to repair the damage that has been caused in the last four years. While many foreign policy experts scoff at Romney’s rhetoric about eliminating the “daylight” between the countries that Obama sought, he’s on the right track. Though the Post speculates (probably incorrectly) that Romney is as desirous of Netanyahu’s defeat in the Israeli elections scheduled for just after the U.S. inauguration festivities as Obama, the problem between the two countries is deeper than a personality conflict. It stems from a wrongheaded administration that continues to buy into the delusion that it understands Israel’s security needs and dilemmas better than the Israelis.

As much as many Americans desire Netanyahu’s defeat, that isn’t in the cards. The prime minister was already an overwhelming favorite to be re-elected but the odds of unseating him got a little slimmer today when Israeli prosecutors announced they would appeal former PM Ehud Olmert’s acquittals on corruption charges. Olmert got off with only one ethics conviction that brought no jail time and hoped to mount a political comeback by crafting an unlikely coalition of all of Netanyahu’s rivals. It would never have worked but with the threat of more trials (including one corruption charge on which he has yet to face a jury), the chances that Olmert can pull it off have gone from miniscule to virtually non-existent.

The Post notes that Netanyahu’s conflicts with the United States could cost him votes in January but that ignores the evidence of the last four years in which his popularity has increased every time he battled with Obama. That’s a stark contrast to his first term in office in the 1990s when his problem was Bill Clinton. The reason for the difference is that most Israelis understood Clinton was a genuine friend of the Jewish State. By contrast, polls have consistently shown that the majority of Israelis don’t trust Obama and view with less favor and trust than any of his predecessors. That the president chose to pick fights with Netanyahu on issues of Israeli consensus such as the status of Jerusalem made his defiance of Obama a lot easier.

Those who imagine that Romney would have no conflicts with Netanyahu are almost certainly wrong. The Israeli and American frames of references about some issues are always going to be slightly different even where there is broad agreement. No daylight is a good principle but it will be tested in the future even with the best of wills in Washington and Jerusalem.

That said there isn’t much mystery about what a productive reset would entail. The real problem isn’t Netanyahu’s prickly personality it is the unrealistic assumptions about the Middle East that passes for “realism” in much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The irony here is that four years of battles between Obama and Israel were all unnecessary. They were predicated on the delusion that if only the U.S. pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, peace would be possible. It was obvious in January 2009 that the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas would never agree to a peace that would recognize legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Obama only made things worse by setting conditions for negotiations that only caused the Palestinians to be more intransigent and made it less likely that they would come to their senses about a realistic deal.

Similarly, the spats about setting “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear program was also the product of American illusions about negotiations succeeding when there was no reasonable hope for this to happen.

If the next president is able to discard these foolish ideas and take a cold hard look at the Middle East as it really is, he will see that the points of conflict with Netanyahu will be minimized.

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Do Islamists Want “American Freedom?”

I missed this very smart article when it first came out, but it’s well worth reading. Apropos of Alana Goodman’s comments yesterday and using Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an example, Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey’s most talented columnists, examines how so many Islamists talk about their desire to embrace “American freedom” when it suits them but ignore such freedoms when they contradict Islamist precepts. A few excerpts:

…At his party’s historic congress, the prime minister lamented once again that his daughters had to study in the U.S. because they had not been admitted to a Turkish university due to the now defunct headscarf ban on campuses. Similarly, a small Chinese-army-size army of his cheerleaders in the media have invariably hailed American democratic culture and civil liberties in the hope that these freedoms would one day blossom in Turkey too. They have glorified American freedoms and exemplified American secularism over French laicite. In short, “we wanted American freedoms in Turkey!”

Did we? Really? Why, then, was Mr. Erdogan “saddened by President Barack Obama’s remarks” that a ban on the unworthy film mocking Prophet Mohammed would violate free speech? Simple. Because the prime minister and his chorus of willing devotees adore American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban the headscarf, but hate American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban an anti-Islamic blasphemous video either.

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I missed this very smart article when it first came out, but it’s well worth reading. Apropos of Alana Goodman’s comments yesterday and using Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an example, Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey’s most talented columnists, examines how so many Islamists talk about their desire to embrace “American freedom” when it suits them but ignore such freedoms when they contradict Islamist precepts. A few excerpts:

…At his party’s historic congress, the prime minister lamented once again that his daughters had to study in the U.S. because they had not been admitted to a Turkish university due to the now defunct headscarf ban on campuses. Similarly, a small Chinese-army-size army of his cheerleaders in the media have invariably hailed American democratic culture and civil liberties in the hope that these freedoms would one day blossom in Turkey too. They have glorified American freedoms and exemplified American secularism over French laicite. In short, “we wanted American freedoms in Turkey!”

Did we? Really? Why, then, was Mr. Erdogan “saddened by President Barack Obama’s remarks” that a ban on the unworthy film mocking Prophet Mohammed would violate free speech? Simple. Because the prime minister and his chorus of willing devotees adore American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban the headscarf, but hate American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban an anti-Islamic blasphemous video either.

He continues:

It is not a secret that Islamists always defend pluralism and minority rights in lands where Muslims are a minority and strictly practice majoritarianism where they constitute the majority. Looks like a smart strategy, but fails to impress. A decade ago, the same strategy, if put in a nice gift wrap, could have found buyers among the West’s “useful idiots,” but these days there are only a few enthusiasts and many who shrug it off, thinking it is too obviously childish and selfish.

Alas, while those facing the imposition of Islamist mores by intolerant rulers now believe that the West’s “useful idiots” have fallen by the wayside and  “only a few enthusiasts” ignore the hypocrisy inherent in Islamist complaints, they are wrong: Saudi, Qatari, and Emirati donations to universities like Georgetown, Columbia, and Harvard ensure that new generations of useful idiots accept the “childish and selfish” as smart and sophisticated.

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About Those Cuban “Reforms” …

On the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban missile crisis, the latest headlines on the situation Cuba might give some cause for celebration. The New York Times‘s headline reads: Cuba Dropping Its Much-Reviled Exit Visa Requirement and Fox News is even more optimistic: Cuba to allow citizens to travel freely for the first time in 51 years. Undoubtedly this announcement from the Castro government was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the crisis that many historians have called the hottest moment of the Cold War, the moment the world came closest to nuclear war. While many journalists may have been writing pieces about the lack of political, social and economic progress in Cuba in the last fifty years before today’s announcement, they are instead cheering this latest development that makes the island nation seem like less of a prison for its citizens.

Close watchers of Cuban policy aren’t exactly optimistic about Raul Castro’s “reforms.” Capitol Hill Cubans, an influential website dedicated to “the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba” is thoroughly unimpressed:

The Castro regime — like Assad, Obiang and most other dictators — seeks to buy itself time by propagating the narrative of “reform.”

Because, of course, decades of brutal rule were somehow distractions to their “real” intentions all along.

Sadly, the media echoes this narrative.

But don’t forget to read the fine print at the end.

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On the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban missile crisis, the latest headlines on the situation Cuba might give some cause for celebration. The New York Times‘s headline reads: Cuba Dropping Its Much-Reviled Exit Visa Requirement and Fox News is even more optimistic: Cuba to allow citizens to travel freely for the first time in 51 years. Undoubtedly this announcement from the Castro government was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the crisis that many historians have called the hottest moment of the Cold War, the moment the world came closest to nuclear war. While many journalists may have been writing pieces about the lack of political, social and economic progress in Cuba in the last fifty years before today’s announcement, they are instead cheering this latest development that makes the island nation seem like less of a prison for its citizens.

Close watchers of Cuban policy aren’t exactly optimistic about Raul Castro’s “reforms.” Capitol Hill Cubans, an influential website dedicated to “the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba” is thoroughly unimpressed:

The Castro regime — like Assad, Obiang and most other dictators — seeks to buy itself time by propagating the narrative of “reform.”

Because, of course, decades of brutal rule were somehow distractions to their “real” intentions all along.

Sadly, the media echoes this narrative.

But don’t forget to read the fine print at the end.

For example, this morning CNN reports:

Starting next year, Cubans traveling abroad will face fewer hurdles leaving the country.

The official news site Granma reported Tuesday that the Cuban government will no longer require a travel permit and a letter of invitation.

The move is part of the reforms that President Raul Castro promised when he took office in 2008.”

But don’t forget the fine print:

The new change, however, does not mean that anyone wanting to travel will get a passport.

‘The ordinary passport will be issued to the Cuban citizens who meet the requirements of the Migration Law,’ which is being modified, according to the report in Granma.

While the report does not say how the law will be altered, it does add that the government will fight brain — and money — drain ‘from the aggressive and subversive plans of the US government and its allies.’ It will do so by leaving in place measures to preserve ‘human capital created by the Revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations.’”

In other words, nothing is really changing, other than the verbiage.

With Raul Castro’s takeover of the Cuban government four years ago from his brother, many hoped that the totalitarian government would ease its grip on power, instituting reforms that could bring Cuba into the 21st century. Like with North Korea’s recent leadership change, we have seen nothing of the sort. Yesterday Max discussed how, despite some surface reforms instituted by the newly appointed Kim Jong-un, North Korea remains a wasteland for the majority of its citizenry. Cuba, like North Korea, has spent the majority of the last century ruled by a family that has no desire to give up the luxurious lifestyle they lead for the sake of democracy. Max explained it perfectly yesterday in regards to North Korea, and unfortunately, the same applies to Cuba: “Sadly, we cannot expect real change as long as [insert Communist tyrant's name here] remains in power because he knows that a serious opening will jeopardize the good life that he has inherited. To expect otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking.”

Sadly, as with the stories about North Korea’s relaxation of dress code standards to allow more Western attire, the media appears to have fallen for this distraction, playing right into the hands of yet another Communist dictator. For the victims of Castro and their family members in the West, it will soon become clear that today’s headlines don’t signify any shift from the status-quo.

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Romney’s Blue State Trap

Republicans should be happy about the latest polls coming out of Pennsylvania. Two of the three polls conducted there in the last few days show President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney down to four points while another run by the Democratic-leading PPP firm has him up by seven points. This is quite a turnaround for a state where Obama has led by large margins for most of the year. The same might also be said for Michigan where Romney has narrowed a once large deficit in some recent polls. Both are important states the loss of which could be potentially fatal to the Democrats’ hopes of re-electing President Obama. But Romney would be well advised not to expend much effort trying to exploit this potential weakness in the president’s Electoral College lineup.

No Republican has won either state since the 1980s which means that if Obama is looking weak in places where he had double digit margins of victory in 2008 it stands to reason that it might be wise for his campaign to double down on their investment there so as to make the Democrats expend funds in areas that they thought were already in the bag. That would be a mistake. Though the president’s support in both states is far softer than anyone imagined a few months ago, converting them from blue to red would involve far more effort that the prize would justify and still fall short.

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Republicans should be happy about the latest polls coming out of Pennsylvania. Two of the three polls conducted there in the last few days show President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney down to four points while another run by the Democratic-leading PPP firm has him up by seven points. This is quite a turnaround for a state where Obama has led by large margins for most of the year. The same might also be said for Michigan where Romney has narrowed a once large deficit in some recent polls. Both are important states the loss of which could be potentially fatal to the Democrats’ hopes of re-electing President Obama. But Romney would be well advised not to expend much effort trying to exploit this potential weakness in the president’s Electoral College lineup.

No Republican has won either state since the 1980s which means that if Obama is looking weak in places where he had double digit margins of victory in 2008 it stands to reason that it might be wise for his campaign to double down on their investment there so as to make the Democrats expend funds in areas that they thought were already in the bag. That would be a mistake. Though the president’s support in both states is far softer than anyone imagined a few months ago, converting them from blue to red would involve far more effort that the prize would justify and still fall short.

Despite the bad polling numbers, Obama still has overwhelming advantages in both Pennsylvania and Michigan. Unions and still potent Democratic organizations in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit have the ability to generate high turnouts that are likely to offset any losses in other parts of these states no matter how much Romney spends there. Were the Republicans to switch gears and divert resources there from other more winnable and arguably more crucial Electoral College targets it would materially lower Romney’s chances of victory.

The key to Republican victory remains those toss-ups where they have at worst an even chance of winning such as Florida, Virginia and Ohio. Pennsylvania is an inviting GOP target made even more tempting by poll results that illustrate Obama’s weakness. But the Romney campaign is wise to relegate it to a lower priority. Their good polling numbers are fool’s gold best ignored.

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GOP: Buck Stops With Obama on Benghazi

If the Obama administration thought the questions over the Benghazi attack would die down after Hillary Clinton took full responsibility for it, they were wrong. Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte released the following statement in response to Clinton’s comment:

“We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of September 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.

“However, we must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there.

At Time, Michael Crowley wonders why Republicans are still calling for Obama to take responsibility, instead of just accepting Clinton’s mea culpa:

The Secretary of State has been an archvillain of Republican campaigns for decades now. And when it comes to the debate over security in Benghazi, it would seem that the buck should stop with her. But suddenly it doesn’t suit the GOP to attack Clinton. Her approval ratings are sky-high. Romney already has a problem with female voters. And Hillary’s not on the ballot this November. The GOP wants to concentrate its political attacks on Obama, even at the cost of sounding nonsensical.

How is that nonsensical?

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If the Obama administration thought the questions over the Benghazi attack would die down after Hillary Clinton took full responsibility for it, they were wrong. Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte released the following statement in response to Clinton’s comment:

“We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of September 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.

“However, we must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there.

At Time, Michael Crowley wonders why Republicans are still calling for Obama to take responsibility, instead of just accepting Clinton’s mea culpa:

The Secretary of State has been an archvillain of Republican campaigns for decades now. And when it comes to the debate over security in Benghazi, it would seem that the buck should stop with her. But suddenly it doesn’t suit the GOP to attack Clinton. Her approval ratings are sky-high. Romney already has a problem with female voters. And Hillary’s not on the ballot this November. The GOP wants to concentrate its political attacks on Obama, even at the cost of sounding nonsensical.

How is that nonsensical?

It’s likely Obama wasn’t aware of the diplomatic security failures in Benghazi before the attack. But he is responsible for how the aftermath of the attack was handled. There was initial intelligence indicating that it was an act of terror carried out by a group linked to al Qaeda. But for nearly two weeks after the attack, the Obama administration misled the public on the intelligence.

Imagine waking up on Sept. 12 and hearing the White House announce what it knew at the time: that a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda had attacked our consulate in Benghazi, killing our ambassador and three other Americans on the 9/11 anniversary. Not only would this have sent shockwaves through the world, it would have had major political ramifications for a president running for reelection on an “Al Qaeda’s dead, GE’s alive” platform.

They didn’t tell us that. Instead we were told that Ambassador Chris Stevens had been killed by a mob of extremist protesters. It took nearly two weeks for the White House to publicly acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack, and another month before the State Department admitted there was no protest. And the administration has yet to clarify al Qaeda’s involvement.

The administration hit the slow-motion button. The length of time between the official revelations cushioned some of the shock. And since much of the information we know was unearthed by the media, the administration could choose what it wanted to confirm on its own timeline, through lower-level officials and spokespersons. Notice that President Obama, who never turns down a chance to give a speech, still hasn’t formally addressed the public about the fact that this was a terrorist attack. That’s not what leadership looks like.

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Presidential Aggression is a Tricky Thing

Democrats will be tuning into the presidential debate tonight in hopes of seeing a more aggressive performance from President Obama. For two weeks, we’ve heard little but endless analysis about what the president needs to do to improve on his performance from his first debate with Mitt Romney with most of it centering on his passivity in Denver. There was plenty to critique in what Obama did that night but the idea that his big problem was that he needed to muss up Romney’s hair says more about the disdain Democrats have for their opponents than it does about the president’s problem.

The expectation is that Obama will show up at Hofstra ready to mix it up with Romney but hoping to stop just short of Joe Biden’s bullying act at the vice presidential debate. It is doubtful that the evening will not contain mentions of Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe or attempts to question Romney’s credibility. But if that’s his main focus, he will be making a mistake. Contrary to what Democrats say, Obama’s main shortcoming in the debate was not his lack of aggression so much as it was his lack of interest as well as his disdain for the proceedings. What Americans sensed when they saw that debate was a man who thought having to explain his positions and record was beneath his dignity. Zingers at Romney’s expense tonight may help but they will avail Obama little if he cannot muster more respect for the voters.

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Democrats will be tuning into the presidential debate tonight in hopes of seeing a more aggressive performance from President Obama. For two weeks, we’ve heard little but endless analysis about what the president needs to do to improve on his performance from his first debate with Mitt Romney with most of it centering on his passivity in Denver. There was plenty to critique in what Obama did that night but the idea that his big problem was that he needed to muss up Romney’s hair says more about the disdain Democrats have for their opponents than it does about the president’s problem.

The expectation is that Obama will show up at Hofstra ready to mix it up with Romney but hoping to stop just short of Joe Biden’s bullying act at the vice presidential debate. It is doubtful that the evening will not contain mentions of Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe or attempts to question Romney’s credibility. But if that’s his main focus, he will be making a mistake. Contrary to what Democrats say, Obama’s main shortcoming in the debate was not his lack of aggression so much as it was his lack of interest as well as his disdain for the proceedings. What Americans sensed when they saw that debate was a man who thought having to explain his positions and record was beneath his dignity. Zingers at Romney’s expense tonight may help but they will avail Obama little if he cannot muster more respect for the voters.

The first debate exposed qualities that Obama’s critics have long complained about.

The president was not so much passive as he was arrogant and contemptuous of the views of others. As much as Democrats longed for him to come out swinging at Romney, what the public saw that night was the same lack of respect for opposing views that made compromise on the stimulus, ObamaCare, the debt and anything else that he tried to negotiate with Congress over the last four years impossible.

More aggression from Obama will please the Democratic base and that is essential to his hopes for victory. But, as many astute analysts have pointed out, the decline in his standings in the polls in the last two weeks is not a matter of a defecting liberal base as it is Romney’s holding on to his base while picking up independents and wavering centrist Democrats. A president who bashes his opponent and calls him a liar is exactly what many Democrats want. But it may not be what undecided voters in swing states desire.

It is not just that a fire-breathing Obama will turn off undecided voters but that what the president needs most is to demonstrate the sort of post-partisan hope and change persona that helped him win the hearts of Americans four years ago. That may have been merely a pose but it was far more effective tactic than any attempt to beat up Romney on stage.

An outright win at any presidential debate is always a long shot since it requires a gaffe or a candidate acting as if he didn’t care (as Obama did two weeks ago). The most the president can accomplish tonight is to remind voters that he is the same man they elected four years ago. If his staff and debate coaches have focused the president on getting tough with Romney rather than playing to his strengths, they will have sent him on a fool’s errand.

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It’s Not About Obama’s ‘Vision Thing’

There’s much talk to the effect that tonight Barack Obama needs to get “the vision thing” back. This is exactly wrong. After four result-free years, all this president has is the vision thing. What he needs is “the policy thing,” “the accountability thing,” or, you know, “the record thing.” Which is why he’s in a lot deeper trouble than the popular analysis suggests.

What he needs can’t be conjured in campaign headquarters, and it can’t be faked in front of a Mitt Romney who’s tuned up like a dazzling and encyclopedically informed one-man policy-review team.

In the last debate, Obama’s “vision thing” stuck out so bizarrely against the facts that it was revealed as “the mirage thing.” The mirage took shape with his first answer and only grew more fantastical as the debate proceeded. How, Obama was asked off the bat, did he intend to put America back to work? His answer: by supporting math and science in community colleges. Yet, the Washington Post’s’ supposed wonk wunderkind, Ezra Klein, thinks Obama is too strong on policy details and only weak on the big picture. Today, Klein writes that “Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done.”

This is, of course, a perfectly reversed description of Barack Obama—in 2008, 2012, and always.

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There’s much talk to the effect that tonight Barack Obama needs to get “the vision thing” back. This is exactly wrong. After four result-free years, all this president has is the vision thing. What he needs is “the policy thing,” “the accountability thing,” or, you know, “the record thing.” Which is why he’s in a lot deeper trouble than the popular analysis suggests.

What he needs can’t be conjured in campaign headquarters, and it can’t be faked in front of a Mitt Romney who’s tuned up like a dazzling and encyclopedically informed one-man policy-review team.

In the last debate, Obama’s “vision thing” stuck out so bizarrely against the facts that it was revealed as “the mirage thing.” The mirage took shape with his first answer and only grew more fantastical as the debate proceeded. How, Obama was asked off the bat, did he intend to put America back to work? His answer: by supporting math and science in community colleges. Yet, the Washington Post’s’ supposed wonk wunderkind, Ezra Klein, thinks Obama is too strong on policy details and only weak on the big picture. Today, Klein writes that “Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done.”

This is, of course, a perfectly reversed description of Barack Obama—in 2008, 2012, and always.

For the millionth time, the president’s problem isn’t metaphysical. He’s not lacking vision or “narrative.” The Obama mirage is full of both. It’s a vaporous panorama landscape of a social-democratic United States, a republic of brothers’ keepers and citizen Julias kept afloat by a federal redistribution apparatus and newly funded by the repurposed proceeds of the rehabilitated rich. That’s “what he wants to achieve.” How will he “get it done”? That’s the policy desert in which the mirage pops up. On the extraordinarily rare occasion that this president of the United States is challenged to explain his transformative genius, he wings it with some elliptical nonsense about community college teachers.

If you’re an adolescent the Obama mirage sounds nice. If you’re an adult it’s the blueprint for a dystopian nightmare, and if you’re the American president it’s an unfeasible non-starter. For Mitt Romney, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show Americans that not all visions are equal. Some are hallucinations.

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Obama Weighs in on Mariah, But Not Benghazi

The Weekly Standard’s Dan Halper reports on an exchange between reporters and President Obama in Virginia this morning. Obama answered questions about his mood going into tonight’s debate and his wife’s vote, but shut down when asked about whether Hillary Clinton was right to take responsibility for the Benghazi attack:

At 10:35, a black Suburban rolled by slowly, with a handful of agents trailing behind on foot. The president came next, wearing a dark suit, strolling in the center of the road. Anita Dunn was on his left. David Plouffe on his right.

This pool, standing about 50 feet away, had this exchange:

Reporter: “How are you feeling about tonight?”

Obama, smiling: “I feel fabulous. Look at this beautiful day.”

Reporter: “Are you aware Michelle voted for you yesterday?”

Obama, turning to yell back: “Thank goodness!”

Reporter: “Is Hillary to blame for Benghazi?”

Obama: Silence. Kept walking.

Pool was told Obama was heading to a short debate prep session and we’re heading back to the hold.

It’s been over a month since militants stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed four Americans, and Obama still hasn’t personally addressed the American public about the details of the terrorist attack. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took responsibility for the breach in diplomatic security, but Obama has yet to comment on whether he shares the blame. However, the president did find time to weigh in over the weekend on the important dispute between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj:

During a recent call on “The Yo! Show,” the president was asked about the “Idol” drama, which revolved around a contentious and curse-laden exchange between Minaj and Carey. …

“You know what, I think that they are going to be able to sort it out. I’m confident,” Obama told the show’s host, Michael Yo. “I’m all about bringing people together, working for the same cause. So, I think both outstanding artists are going to be able to make sure that they’re moving forward and not going backwards.” …

“Mariah, she’s actually done some events for us, and I’ve gotten to know her and [husband] Nick [Cannon] and she’s a wonderful lady,” he said, while adding, “Nicki I don’t know, but I’ve got her on my iPod.”

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The Weekly Standard’s Dan Halper reports on an exchange between reporters and President Obama in Virginia this morning. Obama answered questions about his mood going into tonight’s debate and his wife’s vote, but shut down when asked about whether Hillary Clinton was right to take responsibility for the Benghazi attack:

At 10:35, a black Suburban rolled by slowly, with a handful of agents trailing behind on foot. The president came next, wearing a dark suit, strolling in the center of the road. Anita Dunn was on his left. David Plouffe on his right.

This pool, standing about 50 feet away, had this exchange:

Reporter: “How are you feeling about tonight?”

Obama, smiling: “I feel fabulous. Look at this beautiful day.”

Reporter: “Are you aware Michelle voted for you yesterday?”

Obama, turning to yell back: “Thank goodness!”

Reporter: “Is Hillary to blame for Benghazi?”

Obama: Silence. Kept walking.

Pool was told Obama was heading to a short debate prep session and we’re heading back to the hold.

It’s been over a month since militants stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed four Americans, and Obama still hasn’t personally addressed the American public about the details of the terrorist attack. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took responsibility for the breach in diplomatic security, but Obama has yet to comment on whether he shares the blame. However, the president did find time to weigh in over the weekend on the important dispute between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj:

During a recent call on “The Yo! Show,” the president was asked about the “Idol” drama, which revolved around a contentious and curse-laden exchange between Minaj and Carey. …

“You know what, I think that they are going to be able to sort it out. I’m confident,” Obama told the show’s host, Michael Yo. “I’m all about bringing people together, working for the same cause. So, I think both outstanding artists are going to be able to make sure that they’re moving forward and not going backwards.” …

“Mariah, she’s actually done some events for us, and I’ve gotten to know her and [husband] Nick [Cannon] and she’s a wonderful lady,” he said, while adding, “Nicki I don’t know, but I’ve got her on my iPod.”

At least he was able to clarify his position one pressing national issue. As for Benghazi, I get the feeling we’re not going to hear any forthright comments from Obama unless our drones hit the right target in northern Mali.

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The Hostage Crisis and American Decline

I just saw “Argo” last night. Not only is it a great film (who would have thunk that Ben Affleck had it in him?) but it’s also a great primer on a period of American history that, for those under 40 today, is as ancient as the Civil War.

The movie tells the story of how CIA “exfiltration” specialist Tony Mendez managed to smuggle six American diplomats out of Tehran in 1980 by pretending they were part of a production crew scouting locations for a science-fiction film called “Argo.”  As this Slate article notes, the film takes a few liberties with the history—but only a few. It conveys what would seem to be, on the whole, an accurate picture of the period—from the bureaucratic politics of Washington to the violent and chaotic nature of the Iranian revolution. Above all it captures, as no other film I have seen does, the sad spectacle of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

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I just saw “Argo” last night. Not only is it a great film (who would have thunk that Ben Affleck had it in him?) but it’s also a great primer on a period of American history that, for those under 40 today, is as ancient as the Civil War.

The movie tells the story of how CIA “exfiltration” specialist Tony Mendez managed to smuggle six American diplomats out of Tehran in 1980 by pretending they were part of a production crew scouting locations for a science-fiction film called “Argo.”  As this Slate article notes, the film takes a few liberties with the history—but only a few. It conveys what would seem to be, on the whole, an accurate picture of the period—from the bureaucratic politics of Washington to the violent and chaotic nature of the Iranian revolution. Above all it captures, as no other film I have seen does, the sad spectacle of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

I was only nine years old when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized on November 4, 1979, but I can still remember the dispiriting drama of how Iranian extremists were able to hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. That experience was all the more traumatic for the nation because newscasts (some of them played in “Argo”) routinely noted that this was “day 33” (or whatever) of “America held hostage.” Meanwhile yellow ribbons proliferated around the nation to keep alive the memory of the hostages. America’s humiliation was worsened when a belated rescue mission ended in a fiery crash in the Iranian desert, at a rendezvous point codenamed Desert One.

“Argo” is a thriller but it accurately evokes this crisis—one that, I now realize, helped shape my worldview. Growing up at a time when America was widely thought to be on the decline, I, like many other young people, was attracted to Ronald Reagan and his message of hope and renewal—the idea that America’s best days were still ahead of us. Reagan rescued us from the post-Vietnam malaise and restored our economic and military strength, as even his onetime critics now admit.

The lesson I take away from this history is that there is nothing inevitable about American decline and that if we permit ourselves to become weak, the results will be catastrophic. That is a point worth thinking about today as, once again, a consensus seems to be building among the chattering classes that America is in decline. The only thing that has changed is the country that is supposed to usurp our position in the world. Now it’s China. Back then it was the USSR, followed by Japan. “Argo” is a sobering reminder of the cost of a declinist mindset—and a reminder too of how even a ponderous institution like the U.S. government can pull off amazing feats if talented individuals are unleashed to be daring and creative, something that, alas, only seems to happen in a crisis.

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Dems Fear Losing Women to Romney

Today’s USA Today/Gallup swing state poll is the latest sign that Mitt Romney is cutting into President Obama’s lead with women. The candidates are now in a virtual tie, even though Obama had a major advantage with women voters for most of the election:

Mitt Romney leads President Obama by four percentage points among likely voters in the nation’s top battlegrounds, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, and he has growing enthusiasm among women to thank.

As the presidential campaign heads into its final weeks, the survey of voters in 12 crucial swing states finds female voters much more engaged in the election and increasingly concerned about the deficit and debt issues that favor Romney. The Republican nominee has pulled within one point of the president among women who are likely voters, 48%-49%, and leads by 8 points among men.

Chicago is on edge, as you can see from this memo by Obama strategist Joel Benenson, which attacks Gallup for “defying trends” and “distorting the composition of likely voters”:

The latest Gallup/ USA Today Battleground survey showing President Obama and Governor Romney tied with women in battleground states (48-48) is an extreme outlier, defying the trends seen in every other battleground and national poll. …

Gallup’s data is once again far out of line with other public pollsters.

The memo includes a chart of 14 post-debate swing state polls, which show Obama with an average lead of 10 points among women. But the chart only includes three polls conducted in the past week. It doesn’t include last week’s Times/Bay News/Herald poll in Florida, which found the two candidates virtually tied with likely women voters, a major shift from Obama’s 15-point lead last month. It also doesn’t include last week’s WMUR poll of New Hampshire, which found Romney whittled Obama’s 27-point lead among likely women voters down to 9 points.

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Today’s USA Today/Gallup swing state poll is the latest sign that Mitt Romney is cutting into President Obama’s lead with women. The candidates are now in a virtual tie, even though Obama had a major advantage with women voters for most of the election:

Mitt Romney leads President Obama by four percentage points among likely voters in the nation’s top battlegrounds, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, and he has growing enthusiasm among women to thank.

As the presidential campaign heads into its final weeks, the survey of voters in 12 crucial swing states finds female voters much more engaged in the election and increasingly concerned about the deficit and debt issues that favor Romney. The Republican nominee has pulled within one point of the president among women who are likely voters, 48%-49%, and leads by 8 points among men.

Chicago is on edge, as you can see from this memo by Obama strategist Joel Benenson, which attacks Gallup for “defying trends” and “distorting the composition of likely voters”:

The latest Gallup/ USA Today Battleground survey showing President Obama and Governor Romney tied with women in battleground states (48-48) is an extreme outlier, defying the trends seen in every other battleground and national poll. …

Gallup’s data is once again far out of line with other public pollsters.

The memo includes a chart of 14 post-debate swing state polls, which show Obama with an average lead of 10 points among women. But the chart only includes three polls conducted in the past week. It doesn’t include last week’s Times/Bay News/Herald poll in Florida, which found the two candidates virtually tied with likely women voters, a major shift from Obama’s 15-point lead last month. It also doesn’t include last week’s WMUR poll of New Hampshire, which found Romney whittled Obama’s 27-point lead among likely women voters down to 9 points.

In addition, today’s Gallup/USA Today poll mirrors last week’s national Pew poll, which found Obama and Romney tied with likely women voters. The president had led Romney by 18-points with women in the same poll last month.

Contrary to the Obama campaign’s memo, the Gallup poll seems like more of a continuation of a trend than an outlier. Which may explain why the campaign is desperately swinging at it in a public memo.

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Is Socialism a Swing State Issue?

One of the most incredible ads so far this election season was produced and paid for not by a candidate, Super PAC, or party, but instead by a private citizen. Thomas Peterffy, a Hungarian-born businessman who made his fortune in online trading, has begun airing a 60-second ad that will be broadcast on major networks (CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg) in the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and possibly Florida, he told the Washington Examiner. Petterffy, who has a net-worth of over $4.6 billion according to Forbes, intends to spend between $5-10 million on the ads.

Peterffy’s ad is powerful in its simplicity. He speaks directly to the camera and recounts the story of his childhood in socialist Hungary, using images of himself and the poverty-stricken European nation. Peterffy, a member of the Forbes 400 list and Forbes’s list of billionaires, describes the importance of hard work and the value of respecting success. Interspersed with messages about the dangers of socialism are recent photos of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s protests. While the ad never addresses Obama’s early supportive statements regarding OWS, Americans need to look no further than statements made during the last two debates to understand that the Obama White House values “fairness” over success. Peterffy concludes his ad by stating, “That is why I am voting Republican and putting this ad on television.”

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One of the most incredible ads so far this election season was produced and paid for not by a candidate, Super PAC, or party, but instead by a private citizen. Thomas Peterffy, a Hungarian-born businessman who made his fortune in online trading, has begun airing a 60-second ad that will be broadcast on major networks (CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg) in the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and possibly Florida, he told the Washington Examiner. Petterffy, who has a net-worth of over $4.6 billion according to Forbes, intends to spend between $5-10 million on the ads.

Peterffy’s ad is powerful in its simplicity. He speaks directly to the camera and recounts the story of his childhood in socialist Hungary, using images of himself and the poverty-stricken European nation. Peterffy, a member of the Forbes 400 list and Forbes’s list of billionaires, describes the importance of hard work and the value of respecting success. Interspersed with messages about the dangers of socialism are recent photos of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s protests. While the ad never addresses Obama’s early supportive statements regarding OWS, Americans need to look no further than statements made during the last two debates to understand that the Obama White House values “fairness” over success. Peterffy concludes his ad by stating, “That is why I am voting Republican and putting this ad on television.”

A quick glance at Peterffy’s FEC contributions doesn’t seem to indicate his status as a conservative version of George Soros. In May 2009 he donated $2,400 to Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Roger Pearson (D-CT) respectively. According to the Seattle PI, Peterffy doesn’t have a political affiliated listed according to a public records search. While the majority of his other donations are to Republican and right-wing causes, almost all until this past election cycle are for local candidates in Connecticut, Peterffy’s home state. This election, it seems, has sparked an interest in national politics that was previously unrealized.

Peterffy’s decision to spend the majority of his ad-buy in Ohio isn’t just about electoral politics. Three of the six largest Hungarian populations in the U.S. are found in the state, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In an election where such a large population comprises the vote of one of the most crucial swing states in the country, Peterffy’s ad could actually impact the presidential race. If nothing else, it gives voice to many in his generation who have seen the American Dream scorned through the Occupy protests and the class warfare rhetoric of the current administration.

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The iPhone5, Gaza and Israel

Two recent news items tell you almost everything you need to know about the Gaza Strip, but usually won’t hear. First, the new iPhone 5 – which isn’t even available in Israel yet – is selling like hotcakes in Gaza, despite prices ranging from $1,170 to $1,480, roughly double what they are in the U.S.  This, you’ll recall, is the same Gaza that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized in an address to the UN Human Rights Council last month as suffering “unremitting poverty” due to Israel’s “harsh” blockade, a humanitarian crisis so grave that he devoted more of his speech to Gaza and the Palestinians than he did to the slaughter in Syria, where the death toll is over 30,000 and rising daily. It’s also the same Gaza that a UN report in August said would be “unlivable” by 2020 if the blockade continued.

Second, Palestinian doctors recently opened a cystic fibrosis clinic in Gaza that now treats 80 Palestinian children – thanks to Israel. The story began a few years ago, when an Israeli doctor, Eitan Kerem, saw a Palestinian cri de coeur on the Internet: After Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, it began strongly discouraging Gazans from seeking treatment in nearby Israel, sending them instead to Egyptian clinics located much farther away, and cystic fibrosis patients were finding the 24-hour journey unbearable. Kerem promptly joined forces with an Israeli nonprofit to organize a program to train Gazan specialists at Israel’s Hadassah Hospital, thereby enabling them to start treating cystic fibrosis patients in Gaza instead.

The first obvious lesson of these stories is that Gaza’s “humanitarian crisis” is a fiction propagated by UN bureaucrats, “human rights” organizations and complicit journalists.

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Two recent news items tell you almost everything you need to know about the Gaza Strip, but usually won’t hear. First, the new iPhone 5 – which isn’t even available in Israel yet – is selling like hotcakes in Gaza, despite prices ranging from $1,170 to $1,480, roughly double what they are in the U.S.  This, you’ll recall, is the same Gaza that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized in an address to the UN Human Rights Council last month as suffering “unremitting poverty” due to Israel’s “harsh” blockade, a humanitarian crisis so grave that he devoted more of his speech to Gaza and the Palestinians than he did to the slaughter in Syria, where the death toll is over 30,000 and rising daily. It’s also the same Gaza that a UN report in August said would be “unlivable” by 2020 if the blockade continued.

Second, Palestinian doctors recently opened a cystic fibrosis clinic in Gaza that now treats 80 Palestinian children – thanks to Israel. The story began a few years ago, when an Israeli doctor, Eitan Kerem, saw a Palestinian cri de coeur on the Internet: After Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, it began strongly discouraging Gazans from seeking treatment in nearby Israel, sending them instead to Egyptian clinics located much farther away, and cystic fibrosis patients were finding the 24-hour journey unbearable. Kerem promptly joined forces with an Israeli nonprofit to organize a program to train Gazan specialists at Israel’s Hadassah Hospital, thereby enabling them to start treating cystic fibrosis patients in Gaza instead.

The first obvious lesson of these stories is that Gaza’s “humanitarian crisis” is a fiction propagated by UN bureaucrats, “human rights” organizations and complicit journalists.

As former senior Palestinian Authority official Mohammed Dahlan noted in August, many people worldwide would be delighted to have such a “humanitarian crisis”: He quoted a Sudanese minister who visited the Strip recently as saying he wished Sudan was as well-provided with staple products as Gaza was.

The second is that Gaza’s real problems are generally caused not by Israel, but by its own rulers – as with the cystic fibrosis patients forced to endure those exhausting journeys to Egypt for treatment. Or Hamas’s decision last month to bar imports of seven types of fruit from Israel, which sent prices soaring – to the obvious detriment of Gazan consumers. Or its decision to bar Israeli firms from building a UNICEF-funded desalination plant thereby perpetuates the lack of clean drinking water that the UN report deemed Gaza’s gravest problem. Indeed, as the cystic fibrosis tale shows, Israel often steps in to try to alleviate the distress Hamas causes.

Finally, of course, there’s the most significant decision of all: Hamas’s refusal to end the nonstop rocket fire at Israel, which is why the blockade exists to begin with. In a press conference marking the release of the UN’s August report on Gaza, UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard declared that “Despite their best efforts, the Palestinians in Gaza still need help … both politically and practically.” Evidently, Gaylard and his fellow UN bureaucrats consider it unreasonable to expect Palestinians’ “best efforts” to help themselves to include ending the rocket fire.

As Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor said in August, the truth is “plain and simple: Hamas is responsible for the suffering in Gaza.” All the UN verbiage is aimed solely at concealing this fact.

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Hillary Apologizes for Benghazi, But Where’s Obama?

This is nothing short of disastrous for President Obama. After dodging responsibility for the Benghazi attack for over a month, pointing fingers at everything from the State Department to the intelligence community, the White House is outclassed by…Hillary Clinton. By taking the blame now, Hillary effectively 1.) Undermined Obama’s leadership, 2.) Put pressure on him right before a major debate to take the heat:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm around the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she is responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.

“I take responsibility” for the protection of U.S. diplomats Clinton said during a visit to Peru. But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened in the attack that left four Americans dead. …

Clinton said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.

“I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she added, noting that it is close to the election.

This puts Obama in an incredibly uncomfortable position.

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This is nothing short of disastrous for President Obama. After dodging responsibility for the Benghazi attack for over a month, pointing fingers at everything from the State Department to the intelligence community, the White House is outclassed by…Hillary Clinton. By taking the blame now, Hillary effectively 1.) Undermined Obama’s leadership, 2.) Put pressure on him right before a major debate to take the heat:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm around the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she is responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.

“I take responsibility” for the protection of U.S. diplomats Clinton said during a visit to Peru. But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened in the attack that left four Americans dead. …

Clinton said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.

“I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she added, noting that it is close to the election.

This puts Obama in an incredibly uncomfortable position.

If he let’s an underling like Hillary accept responsibility, he’s going to look even weaker than he has over the past few weeks. But even if Obama does step up and take the blame for the Benghazi attack today, it might be too late. Not only will it look like he did it under political pressure, but Hillary falling on her sword just highlights the politically-craven blame-game the White House has been playing for the past month.

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