If memory serves, when I attended Columbia University only a few years before Barack Obama’s arrival on campus, the rule about “incompletes” was that you had a year to complete the course work before your grade was converted from an “I” to an “F.” That somber warning–given to students who were able to procure a pass for not handing in a term paper, taking the final exam or missing classes for one reason or another–was brought to mind by the statement made over the weekend by the only Columbia grad ever elected president that his grade for handling the economy ought to be an “incomplete.”
Republicans are pouncing on this by pointing out, as the Romney campaign said, that it is absurd to ask the American people to re-elect a man who can’t even give himself a passing grade. Nevertheless, contrary to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, an incomplete is not equivalent to failure. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that ought to mandate extra time for a student to satisfy course requirements. But Obama’s alibi, repeated by Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter–blaming it all on George W. Bush–doesn’t meet the Columbia standard. Asking for an extra year or even two before being held responsible for the state of the nation is not unreasonable. Asking for four or more years before you can be graded gets you an F at Columbia, Harvard, Occidental, the University of Chicago or any other institution the president was associated with.
Heading into their convention this week, leading Democrats are being asked a simple question about the administration they think Americans should re-elect in November: Are we better off today than we were four years ago? The answers have been variable, but they all have the feel of someone in the dock pleading “guilty with an explanation.”
Given the high unemployment rate, the lack of economic growth matched by a startling hike in the deficit fueled by administration spending programs, it’s little wonder that most Americans tell pollsters they are not better off and that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley admitted as much on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday: “No, but that’s not the question.” He amended that answer on CNN to say that we were but the damage was already done. Senior Obama campaign officials weren’t much better than O’Malley.
The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.
But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”
He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.
The danger posed by Hurricane Isaac to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico may soon overtake the Republican National Convention as the top story of the week. The troubles of the GOP are rightly overshadowed by the potential for loss of life and property in the states bordering the Gulf. But while Republicans must sit back and watch and pray along with the rest of the country that the disaster is not as great as some fear, they will also be watching for liberal attempt to rehash the aftermath of the last big hurricane to pound New Orleans. While some in the party are grousing about the way the choice of a Florida city during the season of tropical storms has played havoc with the convention schedule, what they really ought to be worried about is the way the media will use the hurricane to rehearse the alleged sins of George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Though the post-invasion mess in Iraq is still thought of as the George W. Bush administration’s worst problem, the true turning point during his second term was what happened after the levees failed in New Orleans. Bush is staying away from Tampa, allowing Mitt Romney his week of glory without any reminders of his unpopular Republican predecessor. But courtesy of Isaac, the networks and cable TV channels are going to be able to put the 43rd president back in the public eye. More than the Democrats’ unseemly attempts at political guerrilla warfare in Tampa, any media hyping of the Isaac-Katrina analogy will be both a distraction from the GOP convention narrative and a way to bludgeon the Republicans by digging up the canards hurled at Bush back in 2005.
The Daily Caller links to a video of a speech in which Elton John praises former President George W. Bush and “conservative American politicians” for pledging billions of dollars to “save the lives of Africans with HIV.”
“We’ve seen George W. Bush and conservative American politicians pledge tens of billions to save the lives of Africans with HIV. Think of all the love. Think of where we’d be without it, nowhere, that’s where. We’d be nowhere at all,” John said at the International AIDS conference in Washington on Monday. “Thanks to all this compassion, thanks to all this love, more than 8 million people are in treatment. Thanks to people who have chosen to care and to act, we can see an end to this epidemic on the horizon.”
Elton John is onto something, as this story in the Washington Post makes clear. It reports that leaders in AIDS vaccine research say they may finally be on the cusp of a period of major discovery leading to a vaccine. “The past few years have been a turning point,” said Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve probably ever been in my career.”
As for President Bush, in 2003 he announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included $15 billion over five years to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many at the time were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But a study at the University of British Columbia found that PEPFAR saved 1.2 million lives in just its first three years.
Friday’s announcement that former President George W. Bush would not attend the Republican National Convention came as no surprise to political observers. Less than four years after leaving the White House, the second President Bush remains unpopular and is widely considered a political liability to his party. But the decision is about more than the fact that his presence at the convention might have been considered an unneeded distraction by the Romney campaign even if they would never say so publicly. As much as moving on from Bush is thought to be necessary for a GOP victory this fall, it also reflects a certain distaste for contemporary politics on the part of the former president.
In an interview on National Review Online’s “Uncommon Knowledge” program, Bush said: “I crawled out of the swamp, and I’m not crawling back in.” While his decision to remain aloof from partisanship is praiseworthy in that it shows his respect for the office he held and a belief that interference from past presidents is usually unhelpful, I think Bush’s self-imposed exile isn’t healthy for American political culture.
President Obama isn’t apologizing. Rather than backing away from discredited charges about Mitt Romney outsourcing jobs and attacks about his wealth, the president doubled down on the mud slinging in the past few days. With the economy remaining in the doldrums and no prospect of improvement before November, the president has proposed no new ideas for its revival other than another hike in federal spending. So rather than running on his accomplishments, such as they are, the president is concentrating on discrediting his opponent and appealing to his political base.
In doing so, the president appears to be following the model established in 2004 when President Bush faced a tough re-election fight against a plausible but not very compelling opponent in John Kerry. Bush never personally engaged in the sort of vitriol that Obama routinely engages in (Bush was too conscious of the dignity of his office and such conduct also went against the grain of the nice-guy persona that was key to his appeal). The focus of his re-election effort was the push to increase the turnout of conservatives and evangelicals that enabled him to win a close race. Though the Democrats won’t admit it, they are hoping this Karl Rove-inspired formula will be just as successful for them. But while his liberal base has been begging Obama to get nastier since he took office, it remains to be seen whether a man who was catapulted to office by lofty rhetoric about “hope” and “change” can remain in it by wallowing in political mire. Nor does it alter the fundamental question that any incumbent seeking re-election must answer about whether the nation’s fiscal health has improved on his watch.
President Obama’s response to the latest dismal federal jobs report was as predictable as it was weak. Speaking on his bus tour of Ohio, he repeated the theme we’ve heard so often since January 2009: It’s not his fault. Only this time he not only heaped blame on the administration of his predecessor but also claimed the problems dated to the Clinton administration, which heretofore Democrats have spoken of as a golden age of prosperity:
“We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”
It’s not clear what event it was that happened in 1997 — when his secretary of state was serving as First Lady and President Obama had just begun his first term in the Illinois State Senate — whose impact was so far-reaching that even today the administration is helpless to ameliorate its effects. But whatever it was that the president had in mind when he threw out this puzzling alibi, blaming Bill Clinton is about as pointless as pointing the finger at George W. Bush, Obama’s usual punching bag. But the way things are going for the president, one more bad jobs report and he may be blaming the elder President Bush as well his son and Clinton for all of his troubles.
As even a liberal stalwart like Robert Reich pointed out today at the Huffington Post, the excuse that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression is “wearing thin.” In fact, it has already worn out, a fact made all too clear by the president’s obfuscations about the jobs numbers that Reich was honest enough to report.
As we noted yesterday and earlier today, President Obama’s attempt to make the election a referendum on George W. Bush is a rather slender reed to use as the foundation for his re-election campaign. As expected, the president’s speech in Ohio today on the economy pushed the idea that the choice this year was between his policies and those of the preceding decade, for which he blamed all of the nation’s problems. Obama’s call for a “reset” may have satisfied panicked liberals who want him to be nastier about his opponents. In a nearly hour-long rant, the president sought to refute criticisms of his administration as being too dependent on government intervention to save the economy, but at the same time claimed the way forward was to spend a lot more on public sector jobs. Predictably, he also threw in a red herring about Mitt Romney ending Medicare without reference to any ideas of his own about reforming the entitlement spending that is dragging the country into insolvency.
But the attacks on Romney and his personal wealth and branding Republicans in Congress as heartless wretches who want to throw grandma under the bus is still secondary to persuading the nation that even though he has been president for three and a half years, he should be held blameless for a bad economy. Gaining re-election by avoiding discussion of his failures and focusing solely on those of his predecessor is a difficult task, but it is not impossible. Franklin D. Roosevelt did exactly that in 1936 when, despite the fact that his policies hadn’t been enough to pull the country out of the Great Depression, the overwhelming majority of Americans were still prepared to blame Herbert Hoover for their woes. But this notable precedent shouldn’t provide much reassurance for Democrats who worry about the prospects of a president who thinks a troubled private sector is doing “just fine” and (as he showed again today) has no new ideas to present about the economy.
Much is being made of the new Gallup Poll that shows more Americans blame George W. Bush for the current state of the economy than Barack Obama. Sixty-eight percent of Americans think the 43rd president deserves a great deal or a moderate amount of blame for America’s economic problems. That’s more than the 52 percent who feel the same way about the 44th president. The Obama campaign is taking this to heart. In his recent speeches Obama has taken to more or less asking the public for a mulligan on the economy because even after three and a half years in office, the country’s problems are, he says, Bush’s fault. This poll would seem to validate his conclusion that this is a good campaign strategy. But the idea that Bush’s numbers should give much comfort to the Democrats as President Obama tries for a second term this fall is laughable.
The first reason why the president’s re-election team shouldn’t place much faith in this poll as a guide to their campaign tactics is obvious. While Bush is still deeply unpopular, he is not on the ballot in November. Obama is, and the idea that the president can be re-elected simply because he is not Bush makes no sense.
Second, Gallup has been asking this question since Obama took office. In July 2009, it was not unreasonable that 80 percent of those questioned blamed Bush while only 32 percent blamed Obama. But during the last three years, the gap between the two has narrowed dramatically, with a majority of those polled blaming Obama for the past two years even as the number of those pinning it on Bush has declined.
There’s little doubt the main obstacle to President Obama’s re-election is the country’s sinking economy. But in his scheduled major address on the subject in Ohio tomorrow, he is, as Reuters reports, “not likely to unveil new ideas to boost the economy and create new jobs, according to Democrats familiar with the preparations for the address.” That means the president will be returning to a familiar theme: blame it all on George W. Bush and plea for more time to fix things. While that may have seemed a reasonable position to take early in his administration, to say that this is an uninspiring campaign theme after three and a half years in office is an understatement.
Re-election campaigns can hinge on one of two themes: a referendum on the president’s record or one on the challenger’s unsuitability for high office. While the White House would like to make this election all about Mitt Romney and the Republicans, so far their efforts to demonize his business career or the GOP via the bogus “war on women” theme hasn’t worked. And with the latest economic statistics showing little sign of a genuine recovery, that leaves the Democrats with very little to say, especially because the president’s signature legislative achievements in health care and the stimulus are deeply unpopular. That’s the conceit behind his expected appeal for a “reset” on the economy. With no record to run on and an opponent who is demonstrating greater strength than expected, all the president can do is ask the public to give him an “incomplete” on his transcript and grant him another four years to complete the course. But a third straight summer of economic bad news requires a better answer than a request for a presidential mulligan.
Last month, Mitt Romney challenged both President Obama and the education establishment with a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that called for a broad policy overhaul. If adopted, Romney’s idea could overturn a quarter-century of efforts to concentrate more power and responsibility for education in the federal government. It also made clear the Republican presidential candidate favors school choice schemes in which federal dollars would follow students no matter what school they choose to attend even if it were not the local public school.
Not surprisingly, the education establishment isn’t happy about the prospect of such reforms and are started to push back as a New York Times article on the subject made clear today. But while the Times and other critics of his speech may have thought Romney would be embarrassed for being called out as opposing the educational approach embraced by President George W. Bush, they are wrong. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” may have been a noble attempt to improve the quality of schools, but it is deeply unpopular and had the unfortunate effect of being a vehicle for more federal power at the expense of local control. Moreover, the usual chorus of criticism for Romney’s embrace of voucher-like school choice ideas underestimates the hunger for genuine educational reform that exists in the country. In education, Romney has found an issue that will help him breach the divide between the GOP and many constituencies that are desperately in need of the sort of national course correction he is prescribing.
I returned to the White House today for the presentation of the portraits of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. The event included remarks by the current and former presidents, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Mrs. Bush. The spirit of the event was quite nice; the president was congenial, while Mrs. Obama was warm and charitable. But this moment belonged to America’s 43rd president and his wife. President Bush’s words were moving (particularly when speaking about his father), humorous, and gracious.
Having served in the White House for almost the entire two terms of the Bush presidency, returning to the White House activated memories that had begun to fade just a bit – from the events of 9/11, to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to Bush’s re-election, to the worst days of the Iraq war. Some of these events felt like they happened a time long ago and far away; and yet sitting in the East Room also felt familiar, almost as if the White House years had never ended. On a personal level, it was a joy to renew friendships with former colleagues, among whom can be counted some of the finest public servants imaginable.
As for President Bush, I am the first to admit I am not an entirely objective observer of the man. But I did have the benefit of having seen him up close during challenging and consequential times, and in ways that not many other Americans could ever really know. Virtually every person who worked for him or got to know him can testify to his enormous personal decency and integrity. He was one of the gutsiest politicians of our lifetime. (Consider among other things his commitment to the surge in Iraq when almost everyone else had given up on the war.) And he showed great mercy in helping the people of Africa and a ferocious commitment to pursuing his main duty, protecting our country.
The news that Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world has condemned the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, as “unlawful” should surprise no one. The group’s obtuse effort to brand every effort of the United States to defend itself against terrorists has long since reached the level of parody. Where once it could claim some moral legitimacy as a neutral compiler and observer of human rights violations wherever they were committed, the decision of the group to treat the West’s ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies as if it were a matter of American persecution of Third World innocents has lost Amnesty its last shred of credibility.
The defense of Osama bin Laden’s right to life and liberty should place the group’s criticisms of Israel’s efforts to fend off Palestinian terrorism in perspective. While human rights monitors are vital in a world where tyrannies are still commonplace, the inability of groups like AI to tell the difference between the perpetrators of violence and those attempting to defend themselves is a fatal flaw that has rendered them irrelevant to useful discussions about how to advance the cause of humanity.
President Bush returned to Washington earlier this week to mark the opening of the “Freedom Collection” at the Bush Institute in Dallas. At the event, President Bush gave a speech that was turned into an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that’s worth reading.
President Bush offered a sophisticated critique of (among other things) the so-called Arab Spring. “The collapse of an old order can unleash resentments and power struggles that a new order is not yet prepared to handle,” the former president said. Years of transition can be difficult. He acknowledged that there is nothing easy about the achievement of freedom. But Bush pointed out that there is an inbuilt crisis in tyrannies, which is that they are illegitimate and, eventually, citizens rise up against them. Regardless of their culture, people don’t want to be subject to repression, violence, and the lash of the whip.
Egypt is a good example. Whatever one thinks about the short, medium, and long-term prospects there – and there are certainly reasons for concern — the revolution itself was organic. America didn’t provoke the uprising and, until the 11th hour, we stood with Hosni Mubarak. We were essentially bystanders to events there. Mubarak did not take the necessary steps for reform and liberation when he could – and in the end, he was consumed by the resentments and hatreds he helped to create.
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, then, tectonic plates are shifting, whether we like it or not. What does that mean for American policy? Read More
You have to hand it to President Obama. He delivered a great speech from Bagram Air Base last night — one that sounded tough yet reasonable, even while skillfully eliding all the tough questions about his Afghan policy.
In fact, he won even before he opened his mouth: the image of the president, standing in front of two hulking MRAP armored vehicles, at a military base in a war zone, was a powerful visual reminder of the stature and power of the commander-in-chief. President Bush certainly made good use of the prerogatives of the office to establish himself in the public’s eye as a strong leader, and Obama showed he was a worthy successor in that regard.
Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.
Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”
Vice President Biden gave a foreign policy address at NYU this morning, which, as you could probably guess, included numerous references to the fact that Osama bin Laden is no longer alive. But Biden also floated a new addition to the campaign’s OBL-centric foreign policy message by warning that a Mitt Romney presidency would be a rerun of the George W. Bush years.
“[Romney] takes us back to the failed policies that President Obama has dug us out of,” said Biden. “He would take us back to dangerous and discredited policy that would…make America less secure.”
The bulk of Biden’s speech was focused on attacking Romney. But it was full of apparent contradictions: Romney is too much of a hard-liner, but also can’t be counted on to make tough decisions. Romney is too inexperienced, and yet Obama was fully prepared in 2008. Romney has no interest in foreign policy and would outsource decisions to the State Department, and yet he’s also a dangerous ideologue who is “mired in a Cold War mindset.”
Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!
Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.