Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama presidential campaign

The President’s Plaintive Plea

It’s a tell-tale sign of the difficult situation he faces that President Obama is increasingly invoking his work ethic as a reason to re-elect him.

“I suspect that most people … would acknowledge that I’ve tried real hard, and we just haven’t gotten the kind of willingness on the part of Republicans to engage on a whole range of issues that I wish had happened,” Obama told WLWT-TV during a campaign swing through Ohio last Thursday.

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It’s a tell-tale sign of the difficult situation he faces that President Obama is increasingly invoking his work ethic as a reason to re-elect him.

“I suspect that most people … would acknowledge that I’ve tried real hard, and we just haven’t gotten the kind of willingness on the part of Republicans to engage on a whole range of issues that I wish had happened,” Obama told WLWT-TV during a campaign swing through Ohio last Thursday.

Set aside the fact that Obama’s effort at bipartisanship has fallen massively short of what he promised. Even if Obama has tried as hard as he wants us to believe, it’s not a measure of strength when the president of the United States begins making plaintive pleas. It’s the latest excuse for a man who seems to have an endless supply of them.

Obama’s campaign themes are coming into sharper focus. The objective conditions in the country are dismal. The president has shown us time and again that he’s in over his head. But he’s tried real hard. That and $4.85 will get you a venti cappuccino at a New York City Starbucks.

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News Bulletin: Obama Isn’t Perfect

In a campaign event in Atlanta, President Obama employed this argument on his behalf:

I’m not perfect and I’ll never be a perfect president but I told you that I’d always tell you what I thought, I’d always tell you what I believe and most importantly I told you I’d wake up every single day and fight as hard as I knew how for you. That I’d fight as hard as I knew how for all those folks who were doing the right thing out there. All those people who’ve kept the faith with this country and you know what? I’ve kept that promise. I have kept that promise. I believe in you. I hope you still believe in me.

These words, while banal (and somewhat plaintive), are also instructive. A general rule in politics is that when a chief executive says he hasn’t been a “perfect president,” it means he’s been dramatically less than perfect. It’s analogous to John Edwards claiming he hasn’t been a perfect husband.

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In a campaign event in Atlanta, President Obama employed this argument on his behalf:

I’m not perfect and I’ll never be a perfect president but I told you that I’d always tell you what I thought, I’d always tell you what I believe and most importantly I told you I’d wake up every single day and fight as hard as I knew how for you. That I’d fight as hard as I knew how for all those folks who were doing the right thing out there. All those people who’ve kept the faith with this country and you know what? I’ve kept that promise. I have kept that promise. I believe in you. I hope you still believe in me.

These words, while banal (and somewhat plaintive), are also instructive. A general rule in politics is that when a chief executive says he hasn’t been a “perfect president,” it means he’s been dramatically less than perfect. It’s analogous to John Edwards claiming he hasn’t been a perfect husband.

A second rule worth bearing in mind is this: When an incumbent’s case for re-election rests in large part on the fact that he wakes up every single day fighting hard for the American people, he’s in trouble. It means the incumbent can’t make a compelling defense of his record or sketch out a compelling second-term agenda. And the promises he says he’s kept don’t have to do with improving the objective conditions of the nation; they have to do with a subjective claim of good intentions.

“I tried hard” and “I meant well” are explanations a mother might take into account if her son failed in his Algebra I course. As a re-election slogan, however, it leaves something to be desired.

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Obama’s Ineffective Reelection Argument

In his remarks in New Hampshire yesterday, President Obama said this:

There are too many people out there who are struggling, too many folks out of work, too many homes that are still under water. Of course, we need to do better. The debate is not whether, it is how. How do we grow the economy faster? How do we create we create more jobs? How do we pay down our debt? How do we reclaim that central American promise that no matter who you are, you can make it here if you try?

Obama has framed the election in exactly the right way. The problem for the president is that in answering his questions—how do we grow the economy faster, create more jobs, pay down our debt, and reclaim the central promise of America—you could do worse than to say, “Do the opposite of what Obama has done.”

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In his remarks in New Hampshire yesterday, President Obama said this:

There are too many people out there who are struggling, too many folks out of work, too many homes that are still under water. Of course, we need to do better. The debate is not whether, it is how. How do we grow the economy faster? How do we create we create more jobs? How do we pay down our debt? How do we reclaim that central American promise that no matter who you are, you can make it here if you try?

Obama has framed the election in exactly the right way. The problem for the president is that in answering his questions—how do we grow the economy faster, create more jobs, pay down our debt, and reclaim the central promise of America—you could do worse than to say, “Do the opposite of what Obama has done.”

There is something slightly astonishing in Obama—given his staggering record of economic incompetence —pretending he has answers to economic growth, job creation, and cutting the debt. He’s had nearly an entire term as president to show that he has solutions to the challenges facing America; instead, he’s produced the weakest economic recovery on record and failed to meet virtually every goal he set for himself.

The president is making two arguments for his re-election. The first is that after nearly four years of his stewardship, too many people are struggling, too many folks are out of work, too many homes are still under water, and we need to do better; the second is that the same ideas that contributed to our misery in Obama’s first term will lift us out of our misery in his second term.

Good luck with that.

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Obama and the Worst Impulses in Politics

“You know, it’s fashionable right now for people to be cynical,” President Obama said during a campaign speech the other day.

We go in cycles like this and right now a lot of people are saying “Oh, America is doing terribly” and “What are we going to do?” Let me tell you something. There is no problem out there, no challenge we face that we do not have the capacity to solve. We are Americans and we are tougher than whatever tough times bring us. What is lacking right now is our politics, what’s lacking right now is that some of the worst impulses in our politics have been rewarded.

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“You know, it’s fashionable right now for people to be cynical,” President Obama said during a campaign speech the other day.

We go in cycles like this and right now a lot of people are saying “Oh, America is doing terribly” and “What are we going to do?” Let me tell you something. There is no problem out there, no challenge we face that we do not have the capacity to solve. We are Americans and we are tougher than whatever tough times bring us. What is lacking right now is our politics, what’s lacking right now is that some of the worst impulses in our politics have been rewarded.

The president is on to something. There is something lacking in our politics right now. We have, for example, too many people in high public office who promised hope and change and gave us slash and burn. Who mock and demonize their opposition. Who disfigure the truth in order to win reelection. Who are constantly promoting divisions and creating distractions. And who practice a level of lawlessness in their governing approach.

These cynics were rewarded in 2008. My guess is they’ll be held accountable in 2012. If they are, some of the worst impulses in our politics will be punished, and that would be all to the good.

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Campaign Raffles and Political Cynicism

At the New Republic, Walter Kirn pinpoints one big problem with the incessant Obama dinner sweepstakes fundraisers:

The problem with these small-stakes lotteries that are currently clogging up our inboxes isn’t that they cheapen politics (it is what it is, especially lately) but that they reveal, in a depressing way that makes the whole enterprise seem almost futile, just how insanely expensive it has become. They offer as prizes places at power’s table that simply aren’t available to anyone but the odds-beating elect. They ritualize a sense of mass despair at ever achieving influence in normal ways, from getting somewhat but not filthy rich (R) to getting organized (D). Whatever they generate by way of cash or names and addresses for campaign mailing lists is canceled out by the cynicism they spread (or partake of and embody).

The raffles get at the heart of the question of why we donate to political campaigns. Small-money donors, the ones who are supposedly the targets of the dinner sweepstakes, aren’t contributing because of a desire for political influence (not that winning a raffle prize dinner would help much in that regard). Most people — even large donors — give to candidates because they believe in the political cause. A 2004 study by George Washington University found that zero percent of small-money donors who gave to President Bush did so because the contribution was tied to an event they wanted to attend. Two-percent of small-money donors gave to Sen. John Kerry for this reason. And this wasn’t affected by the size of the contribution — only one percent of large-money donors from each campaign were motivated by an event they wanted to attend.

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At the New Republic, Walter Kirn pinpoints one big problem with the incessant Obama dinner sweepstakes fundraisers:

The problem with these small-stakes lotteries that are currently clogging up our inboxes isn’t that they cheapen politics (it is what it is, especially lately) but that they reveal, in a depressing way that makes the whole enterprise seem almost futile, just how insanely expensive it has become. They offer as prizes places at power’s table that simply aren’t available to anyone but the odds-beating elect. They ritualize a sense of mass despair at ever achieving influence in normal ways, from getting somewhat but not filthy rich (R) to getting organized (D). Whatever they generate by way of cash or names and addresses for campaign mailing lists is canceled out by the cynicism they spread (or partake of and embody).

The raffles get at the heart of the question of why we donate to political campaigns. Small-money donors, the ones who are supposedly the targets of the dinner sweepstakes, aren’t contributing because of a desire for political influence (not that winning a raffle prize dinner would help much in that regard). Most people — even large donors — give to candidates because they believe in the political cause. A 2004 study by George Washington University found that zero percent of small-money donors who gave to President Bush did so because the contribution was tied to an event they wanted to attend. Two-percent of small-money donors gave to Sen. John Kerry for this reason. And this wasn’t affected by the size of the contribution — only one percent of large-money donors from each campaign were motivated by an event they wanted to attend.

In other words, someone who’s already an Obama supporter and email subscriber isn’t likely to be convinced to donate because of a long-shot raffle dinner. This person might enter the sweepstakes, but he probably would have contributed to the campaign anyway.

So who do these fundraisers target? The most likely answer is those people who are politically apathetic but have warm-ish feelings about President Obama and First Lady Michelle — that wide swath of the American public that contributes to his high likability ratings but isn’t really paying much attention to the election. Maybe these are the people who scour free sweepstakes websites, or read gossip blogs, or have very little interest in politics at all but think that a presidential raffle dinner they read about in the newspaper would be fun to enter.

So these people enter themselves into the drawing. And not only do they fill out the “new group” of grassroots contributors the Obama campaign is constantly touting, they also start to receive regular propaganda missives from his headquarters.

But could this backfire? Could the constant stream of annoying, too-cute raffle emails end up making some Obama supporters feel more cynical — and disillusioned — about this election? So far, the raffles haven’t seemed to be very effective as a fundraising tool, but it’s probably too early to tell. We won’t know for awhile whether they’ll eventually pay off by giving Obama a broader base, or hurt him by turning off supporters.

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Clinton Advises Americans to Vote Against Obama (sort of)

As Alana noted earlier, back in September 2010, former President Bill Clinton – in making what at the time seemed like an effective case for Democrats – said this:

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, so, so, don’t go back in reverse. Give us two more years. If it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging don’t bring back the shovel brigade.

Here’s the thing, though: that “other election” isn’t just two years away any more. It’s now less than five months away. And I for one believe the standard set out by Bill Clinton is an entirely reasonable one. We’ve given the president 21 additional months to turn things around. And guess what? It’s still not working.

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As Alana noted earlier, back in September 2010, former President Bill Clinton – in making what at the time seemed like an effective case for Democrats – said this:

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, so, so, don’t go back in reverse. Give us two more years. If it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging don’t bring back the shovel brigade.

Here’s the thing, though: that “other election” isn’t just two years away any more. It’s now less than five months away. And I for one believe the standard set out by Bill Clinton is an entirely reasonable one. We’ve given the president 21 additional months to turn things around. And guess what? It’s still not working.

This year’s first quarter growth rate was downgraded to 1.9 percent. The most recent jobs report was dismal (in May we gained less than 70,000 new jobs, while the jobs reports in March and April were revised downward). Long-term unemployment increased from 5.1 million to 5.4 million. The average work week fell to 34.4 hours. And new orders for factory goods fell in April for the third time in four months as demand slipped for everything from cars and machinery to computers, indicating alarming weakness in a sector that has carried the economic recovery, such as it is.

If we pull back the lens a bit, we find that Americans have experienced 40 consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent, the longest such stretch since the Great Depression. (If the work force participation rate today was what it was when Obama was sworn in, the unemployment rate would be right around 11 percent.) That Obama is overseeing the weakest recovery on record. That he’s on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era. That the standard of living for Americans has fallen more dramatically during his presidency than during any since the government began recording it five decades ago. That home values are nearly 35 percent lower than they were five years ago. That we’re seeing a record number of home foreclosures. That a record number of Americans are now living in poverty. That a record 46.4 million Americans are receiving food stamps. And that under Obama’s watch, health care premiums have gone up significantly.

Based on the counsel of America’s 42nd president, then, we should —  in the name of accountability and under the banner of meritocracy – vote Barack Obama and members of his party out of office. That, at least, is the indisputable logic of the Democratic party’s most politically successful president since FDR.

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Clinton in ’10: Vote Dems Out if Economy Doesn’t Rebound

Bill Clinton may be shaping up to be the worst surrogate of all time. Not only has he pummeled President Obama’s campaign’s economic message in present time, he also managed to plant this ticking time bomb back in 2010 (h/t Joe Schoffstall):

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, don’t go back in reverse, give us two more years and if it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging, don’t bring back the shovel brigade.”

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Bill Clinton may be shaping up to be the worst surrogate of all time. Not only has he pummeled President Obama’s campaign’s economic message in present time, he also managed to plant this ticking time bomb back in 2010 (h/t Joe Schoffstall):

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, don’t go back in reverse, give us two more years and if it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging, don’t bring back the shovel brigade.”

Clinton made this comment the September before the 2010 midterm elections, so the argument from Democrats will probably be that the economic recovery was set back after the obstructionist Republicans took back the House. Still, the GOP will more than likely hold onto the House even if Obama wins reelection, so what message does that send the public? If Obama is basically conceding that he can’t reboot the economy as long as there’s divided control of Congress, then he’s pretty much saying that the next two-to-four years of his second term would bring no progress either. Considering that Obama ran in 2008 as a bipartisan uniter, that’s an interesting case to make.

Clinton’s line is attack ad gold for the GOP. If they pair it with Obama’s “one-term proposition” comments, it will be doubly brutal.

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Obama Entering a World All His Own

Barack Obama’s increasingly desperate struggle to win re-election is causing some of his worst traits to be put on display, including petulance and self-pity. The latest example occurred during a fundraiser in Baltimore, when the president said, “Because folks are still hurting right now, the other side feels that it’s enough for them to just sit back and say, ‘Things aren’t as good as they should be, and it’s Obama’s fault.’”

This is rich. No president in human history has quite equaled Obama when it comes to blaming others for his problems. And during the 2008 campaign, everything wrong with America could be laid squarely at the feet of President Bush. But now Obama, having presided over what at this stage must qualify as among the most inept presidencies in American history, is complaining because he’s being held accountable.

What is fairly astonishing in all this is the utter lack of self-awareness by the president. A jolting collision is occurring between his own self-conception (Obama views himself as a world-historical figure and Great Man) and the multiple and multiplying failures of his presidency. Obama appears incapable of processing the truth or coming to grips with reality. And so he’s spinning tales day after day, including his fantastic (and thoroughly discredited) claim that “Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years.”

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Barack Obama’s increasingly desperate struggle to win re-election is causing some of his worst traits to be put on display, including petulance and self-pity. The latest example occurred during a fundraiser in Baltimore, when the president said, “Because folks are still hurting right now, the other side feels that it’s enough for them to just sit back and say, ‘Things aren’t as good as they should be, and it’s Obama’s fault.’”

This is rich. No president in human history has quite equaled Obama when it comes to blaming others for his problems. And during the 2008 campaign, everything wrong with America could be laid squarely at the feet of President Bush. But now Obama, having presided over what at this stage must qualify as among the most inept presidencies in American history, is complaining because he’s being held accountable.

What is fairly astonishing in all this is the utter lack of self-awareness by the president. A jolting collision is occurring between his own self-conception (Obama views himself as a world-historical figure and Great Man) and the multiple and multiplying failures of his presidency. Obama appears incapable of processing the truth or coming to grips with reality. And so he’s spinning tales day after day, including his fantastic (and thoroughly discredited) claim that “Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years.”

Obama has now entered a world all his own. It’s a world where up is down, hot is cold, north is south, and Barack Obama is fiscally responsible and blameless.

In its own way, it’s a fascinating psychodrama that’s unfolding. Given that there are still 146 days until the election, it’s hard to imagine where the president will eventually end up.

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“Feel Your Pain” Strategy Won’t Work

Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert issued a new memo late yesterday, warning the Obama campaign that its current strategy is doomed to fail. And they seem right about one thing: the Obama campaign is going to have a hard time convincing the public that the economy is on the path to recovery, especially with greater economic pitfalls looming.

The strategists argue that the Obama campaign should forget trying to make the case that the president’s economic policies are working. Instead, it should focus on its support and empathy for the middle class, and highlight how Mitt Romney’s policies would leave struggling Americans vulnerable during tough economic times:

It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail. The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the president talk about the future. They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand. They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery. …

But we underscore the sentiment they expressed in the postcards to the president they wrote at the end of the exercise: overwhelmingly, these voters want to know that he understands the struggle of working families and has plans to make things better.

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Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert issued a new memo late yesterday, warning the Obama campaign that its current strategy is doomed to fail. And they seem right about one thing: the Obama campaign is going to have a hard time convincing the public that the economy is on the path to recovery, especially with greater economic pitfalls looming.

The strategists argue that the Obama campaign should forget trying to make the case that the president’s economic policies are working. Instead, it should focus on its support and empathy for the middle class, and highlight how Mitt Romney’s policies would leave struggling Americans vulnerable during tough economic times:

It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail. The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the president talk about the future. They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand. They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery. …

But we underscore the sentiment they expressed in the postcards to the president they wrote at the end of the exercise: overwhelmingly, these voters want to know that he understands the struggle of working families and has plans to make things better.

This is the opposite of “hope and change.” The message proposed in the memo is inherently pessimistic: Economic struggle is the new normal. You need to be protected from it. President Obama will provide a safety net, while Mitt Romney will not.

It’s also inherently reactionary: Mitt Romney wants to bring change. His reforms pose a risk to your social welfare programs during dangerous economic times.

Carville, Greenberg, and the gang seem to want Obama to channel Clinton’s “I feel your pain” message. But there are a few problems. First, Obama isn’t Clinton when it comes to personal connection with voters. The focus group members in this memo wanted to know that Obama empathizes with them. But Obama has played plenty of lip service to the concerns of the middle class during the past year. If the public is wondering whether he understands their pain, that seems to suggest a deeper connection problem. Why aren’t they already convinced?

Second, focusing on empathy seems like it would be less effective for an incumbent, particularly one whose policies have utterly failed to revive the economy. Romney has a clean rebuttal: Obama may feel your pain, but what has he done about it? Maybe the president sympathizes with you in a campaign speech, but at the end of the day, where is he? Jetting off to fundraisers, with rich people and celebrities.

And when Obama had a chance to help you, what did he do? He pushed through ObamaCare, which will rack up more debt and kill more jobs. And he jammed through a failed stimulus, stuffed with billions in funding for pet projects. He might feel your pain, but he clearly has no clue what to do about it.

Sure, the economy may tank and we may be teetering on a fiscal cliff — but at least Obama will be there to hold your hand when we finally step over the edge.

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Jewish Voters’ Support for Obama Dips

Yes, President Obama still dominates the Jewish vote, beating out Mitt Romney 64 percent to 39 percent, according to the newest Gallup poll. But considering that Obama racked up a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is a significant dip for him.

Among Jews, Obama’s current 64 percent to 29 percent advantage compares with a 74 percent to 23 percent advantage before the election in 2008. Thus, he is running 10 points lower among Jewish registered voters than in 2008, which is five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.

These numbers aren’t just notable because of what they say about Obama — the Republican Jewish Coalition notes that Mitt Romney’s 29 percent support would be “the highest level of Jewish support for a Republican presidential candidate in 24 years.”

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Yes, President Obama still dominates the Jewish vote, beating out Mitt Romney 64 percent to 39 percent, according to the newest Gallup poll. But considering that Obama racked up a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is a significant dip for him.

Among Jews, Obama’s current 64 percent to 29 percent advantage compares with a 74 percent to 23 percent advantage before the election in 2008. Thus, he is running 10 points lower among Jewish registered voters than in 2008, which is five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.

These numbers aren’t just notable because of what they say about Obama — the Republican Jewish Coalition notes that Mitt Romney’s 29 percent support would be “the highest level of Jewish support for a Republican presidential candidate in 24 years.”

Obama’s polling numbers with Jewish voters were at times lower than 64 percent during the 2008 election. But that was also before he cinched the Democratic nomination, and when Hillary Clinton was still in the race. Since 1992, Democratic presidential nominees averaged around 79 percent of the Jewish vote, according to the National Jewish Democratic Council. It would be a huge coup if Romney was actually able to capture 29 percent of the vote (John McCain won 21 percent in 2008).

And this may not be Obama’s only problem with Jewish voters. A new initiative called “I Vote Israel” is encouraging Americans living in Israel (Jews and non-Jews) to register and vote absentee in the upcoming election. According to the website, even American-Israelis who have never lived in the U.S. can vote if they are the children of U.S. citizens. As the website explains:

We are a diverse group of olim, recent arrivals as well as vatikim from all over the country who are deeply concerned about the safety, security and future of Israel. Most importantly, we want to see a president in the White House who will support and stand by Israel in absolute commitment to its safety, security and right to defend itself.

Since we believe that “there is no such thing as friends in politics, only interests,” we started thinking about how to be proactive about this. One fact that caught our eye was that while the 2000 Bush-Gore Presidential elections all came down to 537 absentee ballots cast in Florida, only 64 of those – out of the many thousands of Floridian-Israelis – were cast from Israel! More recently, the NY 9th Congressional District 2011 special elections (to replace Anthony Weiner) – a district with huge numbers of olim – were decided by just 2,000 votes, very few by absentee ballot from Israel. There are dozens more of such examples across the 50 states.

“I Vote Israel” reports that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 American citizens living in Israel — on the upper end of that range, that’s nearly as many as the number of Jewish voters in the entire state of Florida. These votes would be spread out through various states (the last state of residence — or parents’ residence — is where American-Israelis would be eligible to vote), but in certain states, particularly Florida, even a few thousand votes could have an impact. The effort is non-partisan, but as we know, Obama’s approval ratings among Israelis have ranged from unimpressive to dismal.

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Get Ready for Occupy: Next Generation

What’s wrong with the original Occupy movement? If you ask most people, you’ll probably get a variety of answers, ranging from the filth and squalor, to the mindnumbingly inane political slogans, to the mass criminal acts and the desecration of once-lush city parks.

But according to Adbusters — the occasionally anti-Semitic magazine that published the initial Occupy call-to-arms — the real problem is that the original Occupy movement has sold out. It’s becoming too commercialized and institutionalized, and what it needs now is a second generation movement with none of the bourgeois pretensions of the first (via Newsbusters):

Burned out, out of money, out of ideas… seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last year’s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupy’s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.

Here’s a model of the revolution that Adbusters envisions:

The new tone was set on Earth Day, April 22, in a suburb bordering Berkeley, California, when a dozen occupiers quietly marched a small crowd to a tract of endangered urban agricultural land, cut through the locked fence and set up tents, kitchens and a people’s assembly. Acting autonomously under the banner of Occupy, without waiting for approval from any preexisting General Assembly, Occupy The Farm was notable for its sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support. While encampments across the world were unable to re-establish themselves on May Day, this small cadre of farm occupiers boldly maintained their inspiring occupation for nearly four weeks.

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What’s wrong with the original Occupy movement? If you ask most people, you’ll probably get a variety of answers, ranging from the filth and squalor, to the mindnumbingly inane political slogans, to the mass criminal acts and the desecration of once-lush city parks.

But according to Adbusters — the occasionally anti-Semitic magazine that published the initial Occupy call-to-arms — the real problem is that the original Occupy movement has sold out. It’s becoming too commercialized and institutionalized, and what it needs now is a second generation movement with none of the bourgeois pretensions of the first (via Newsbusters):

Burned out, out of money, out of ideas… seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last year’s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupy’s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.

Here’s a model of the revolution that Adbusters envisions:

The new tone was set on Earth Day, April 22, in a suburb bordering Berkeley, California, when a dozen occupiers quietly marched a small crowd to a tract of endangered urban agricultural land, cut through the locked fence and set up tents, kitchens and a people’s assembly. Acting autonomously under the banner of Occupy, without waiting for approval from any preexisting General Assembly, Occupy The Farm was notable for its sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support. While encampments across the world were unable to re-establish themselves on May Day, this small cadre of farm occupiers boldly maintained their inspiring occupation for nearly four weeks.

Bold and inspiring? The San Francisco Chronicle’s Chip Johnson had a different take on the same protest, as P.J. Gladnick at Newsbusters notes:

The group cut through a secured gate to enter the property in mid-April and has been squatting on the land since. Protesters have planted vegetables on two acres of land being readied for a corn crop used in biofuel research.

…George Chuck, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher whose work is literally grounded on those same two acres, sees it much differently.

“What’s worse is that when I tried talking to (some of) these guys, they just started spouting slogans someone else told them,” Chuck said.

And as far as the group’s efforts to grow crops on land Chuck said is not yet ready for planting, “They have no idea what they’re doing,” he said.

Since protesters arrived, they’ve managed to destroy a fruit tree that was the subject of a research project, created a waste pile, built a rickety chicken coop and left the gate open allowing wild turkeys to escape or be killed by predators that entered the unlocked facility, he added.

The group with the biggest interest in killing the Occupy movement at this point is probably President Obama’s reelection team. The Occupiers are so out there on the fringes that many of them are likely opposed to voting in the first place (because that would only be legitimizing the political system, or something). In other words, the political benefit of associating with them is negligible. But Obama and other Democrats have already come out in support of Occupy, so any crimes or images of squalor and rioting would be tagged to the president and his party.

The Occupy movement was supposed to be the Tea Party of the left, but instead it’s become a major embarrassment for Democrats — and attempts to clean it up and make it presentable have been a major failure so far. As the latest Adbusters column illustrates, Occupiers are not looking for more cohesion and legitimacy. If anything, they’re looking for the opposite.

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Team Obama’s Third-Rate Performance

The Republican National Committee (RNC) is out with an ad that immediately jumps on President Obama’s statement earlier today that “the private sector is doing fine.” The president’s assertion raises the question–just what planet is Obama living on? And the RNC ad is a good one. But what this episode reveals are two things of more lasting significance.

The first is that at almost every level, the Republican Party in 2012 is sharper and better than the Republican Party in 2008. Campaigns develop a rhythm and pace of their own – and so far, the Romney campaign and the RNC are easily outdueling the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). We saw evidence of this earlier this week, when the GOP’s get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin far exceeded what the Democratic Party was able to do.

The other thing this clip highlights is that President Obama is a much different, and inferior, candidate to what he was four years ago.

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The Republican National Committee (RNC) is out with an ad that immediately jumps on President Obama’s statement earlier today that “the private sector is doing fine.” The president’s assertion raises the question–just what planet is Obama living on? And the RNC ad is a good one. But what this episode reveals are two things of more lasting significance.

The first is that at almost every level, the Republican Party in 2012 is sharper and better than the Republican Party in 2008. Campaigns develop a rhythm and pace of their own – and so far, the Romney campaign and the RNC are easily outdueling the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). We saw evidence of this earlier this week, when the GOP’s get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin far exceeded what the Democratic Party was able to do.

The other thing this clip highlights is that President Obama is a much different, and inferior, candidate to what he was four years ago.

Some of that has to do with the fact that in 2008, Obama was able to run against an incumbent party that was out of favor, while today he’s forced to defend a record of almost unmitigated failure. But apart from that, the Obama campaign in general – at this point at least – is out of sorts. It’s far less sharp, more off stride, and less skilled and in touch with the mood of the public now than in 2008.

One should assume the Obama campaign will correct itself at some point and turn into a formidable force. But that is not a given by any means. Sometimes a campaign, like a professional athlete, simply loses its edge – and when it does, a tight race can break wide open.

The Romney campaign would be wise to anticipate that the president and his team will raise their game. But in their private thoughts, late at night and away from reporters, the top tier of the Romney campaign must be somewhat mystified, and unexpectedly delighted, that Obama and Company are, for now, executing with the level of precision you’d expect from a campaign running for local sheriff.

At this stage, the state of the economy — which will have a huge impact on the election — is increasingly beyond Obama’s control. But even those things Obama can control — namely, his performance and the performance of his team — show signs of being third-rate. This cannot be reassuring to the president or his party. Unless Obama gets his act together relatively soon, and relatively quickly, he might want to prepare to attend the unveiling of his White House portrait at an event hosted by Mitt Romney three years from now.

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Did Super PAC Really Swing Wisconsin?

The left’s response to the Wisconsin rout is that their ideas weren’t rejected, but they were simply outspent by a flood of corporate, special interest cash. And it’s true the anti-Walker forces were outspent — by roughly the same ratio as Barack Obama outspent John McCain in 2008 — but obviously if Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were as draconian and abhorrent as Democrats claim then no amount of money could win him the election.

Still, Democrats are bringing back all the old conservative boogeymen — the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, corporate spending, Citizens United — in an attempt to turn the Wisconsin loss into an Obama campaign fundraising ploy. The Hill reports:

In an email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Tuesday’s outcome — and, more specifically, the super-PAC money spent on Walker — a “terrifying experiment.” …

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed with that sentiment, saying Democrats learned a similar lesson in 2010, when they lost a slew of seats to Republicans.

“In 2010, we did not lose the House to House Republicans,” Israel told The Hill. “We lost it to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. In 2012, we did not lose the Wisconsin recall to Gov. Walker, we lost it to an 8-to-1 spending differential, most from out of the state.”

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The left’s response to the Wisconsin rout is that their ideas weren’t rejected, but they were simply outspent by a flood of corporate, special interest cash. And it’s true the anti-Walker forces were outspent — by roughly the same ratio as Barack Obama outspent John McCain in 2008 — but obviously if Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were as draconian and abhorrent as Democrats claim then no amount of money could win him the election.

Still, Democrats are bringing back all the old conservative boogeymen — the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, corporate spending, Citizens United — in an attempt to turn the Wisconsin loss into an Obama campaign fundraising ploy. The Hill reports:

In an email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Tuesday’s outcome — and, more specifically, the super-PAC money spent on Walker — a “terrifying experiment.” …

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed with that sentiment, saying Democrats learned a similar lesson in 2010, when they lost a slew of seats to Republicans.

“In 2010, we did not lose the House to House Republicans,” Israel told The Hill. “We lost it to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. In 2012, we did not lose the Wisconsin recall to Gov. Walker, we lost it to an 8-to-1 spending differential, most from out of the state.”

One side is almost always outspent in politics, and Democrats certainly didn’t seem concerned when Obama was outspending McCain. But was Wisconsin really different because of the Citizens United decision, as liberal pundits have claimed? At the Examiner, Conn Carroll finds zero evidence that Citizens United had an impact in the race:

But the Center for Public Integrity link…proves no such thing. Yes, [Tom] Barrett was outspent heavily. But none of the money spent on Walker’s behalf would have been illegal before Citizens United either. …

At no point in CPI’s entire article do they cite a single example of conservative spending that would have been illegal before Citizens United, but is legal now.

Read the rest of Carroll’s piece, where he shoots down the different claims about Citizens United and political spending. Citizens United is the crux of the Democratic argument about Wisconsin, but so far they’ve presented no evidence it had an effect.

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Good Riddance to the Paycheck Fairness Act

The Senate voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday, a bill that was ostensibly aimed at closing the fabled 77-cent-on-the-dollar pay gap between men and women in the workplace (and in reality aimed at helping Democrats increase the gender vote gap between them and Republicans next November). The bill failed mainly along party lines:

The Paycheck Fairness Act earned 52 votes in favor of proceeding to final consideration, short of the 60 votes necessary. Senate Republicans voted en masse against the measure, believing that it could adversely affect businesses if employees attempt to file pay-related lawsuits.

But Democratic senators spent the hours before the vote speaking about why the legislation is needed to protect women concerned with having lower pay rates than their male colleagues. No Republican lawmaker discussed the issue on the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

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The Senate voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday, a bill that was ostensibly aimed at closing the fabled 77-cent-on-the-dollar pay gap between men and women in the workplace (and in reality aimed at helping Democrats increase the gender vote gap between them and Republicans next November). The bill failed mainly along party lines:

The Paycheck Fairness Act earned 52 votes in favor of proceeding to final consideration, short of the 60 votes necessary. Senate Republicans voted en masse against the measure, believing that it could adversely affect businesses if employees attempt to file pay-related lawsuits.

But Democratic senators spent the hours before the vote speaking about why the legislation is needed to protect women concerned with having lower pay rates than their male colleagues. No Republican lawmaker discussed the issue on the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a seriously flawed bill, but it’s not completely without merit. A provision that would prevent employers from retaliating against workers who inquired about potential gender-based wage discrepancies sounds reasonable. And provisions that support more government research into the “gender wage gap” and supply job interview training for women aren’t necessarily bad — just ineffective and probably a waste of government money and time.

But other parts of the bill — particularly the burden of proof issue — are downright dangerous, as the Heritage Foundation explains:

Under the current Equal Pay Act, once employees have provided prima facie evidence of sex discrimination, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to show that the difference in wages results from “any factor other than sex.”

The PFA eliminates the “any factor other than sex” defense and replaces it with a “bona fide factor other than sex” defense. Employers can use this “bona fide factor” defense only if they demonstrate that “business necessity” demands it.

The legislation is fairly vague on what these “bona fide factors” might include, but lists education, training or experience. Of course, in real life there are other less tangible factors that could play a role in determining salary, including leverage during negotiations, innate talent or intelligence, competition from other employers, or a potential employee’s previous salary. The employer might find himself in legal trouble if he based the decision on one of these more subjective factors.

And that’s not the worst part — as Heritage explains further, the act would also require employers to provide training and education for female employees so that they can be on par with any male employees with higher salaries:

The PFA further provides:

Such [bona fide factor] defense shall not apply where the employee demonstrates that an alternative employment practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing such differential and that the employer has refused to adopt such alternative practice.

Consequently, the PFA would make virtually any pay difference between a male and female worker grounds for a lawsuit. An employee could sue if she could find an alternative pay practice that arguably serves the same business purpose. This would lead to the government and the courts dictating business practices to employers.

Consider a company with two employees in a division: a man with 10 years experience and a newly hired woman. If the company paid the man greater wages for his greater experience, the woman could insist that the employer provide her with intensive training to make up the experience gap and then pay her identical wages. And if the company refused? The woman in question could sue.

At best, the gender wage gap has been overstated. And to the extent that it does exist, it seems to have little to do with misogynistic employers trying to keep women down. If that were the case, the female Senate Democrats who have been championing the Paycheck Fairness Act wouldn’t have gender wage gaps in their own offices.

Actually, it seems like the proponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act are the only ones who are nostalgic for workplace gender discrimination. While advocating for the act, President Obama has repeatedly claimed women make 77 cents for every dollar men make. That number is highly skewed and misleading — even Ezra Klein’s liberal WonkBlog crunched its own numbers and came up with 91-cents-on-the-dollar, when controlling for life choices. Is that nine-cent gap due to actual gender discrimination? It’s nearly impossible to say for certain, because there are a number of other factors that may also need to be taken into account. But the fact that advocates for the Paycheck Fairness Act have seized onto the scariest, least accurate number seems to be an intentional attempt to demoralize and disempower vulnerable women, convincing them they have less control over their lives and careers than they actually do.

This won’t be the last we hear about the Paycheck Fairness Act. Obama will likely keep it in his reelection pitch. But its failure in the Senate yesterday was a good thing for employers and for women in the workplace.

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Obama Surrogates Need Better Material

Last year, the New York Times ran a story on the phenomenon of good actors taking silly roles in bad movies. Fans generally assume the actors take those roles for the paycheck, but the story offered a different defense: it can actually help prove the skill of the actor: “The more preposterous the situation, the more impressive the feat of seeming to take it utterly seriously. There are other measures of excellence of course — emotional subtlety, psychological acuity, wit — but this kind of unwavering, fanatical commitment is surely a sign of greatness.”

Alas, despite his gift for triangulation and spin and near cameo in “The Hangover 2,” former President Bill Clinton fails this test. Handed a script too far from reality by the Obama campaign, Clinton just couldn’t go through with it. So he told CNN that Mitt Romney’s business career was “sterling,” that the folks at Bain do good work, and that Romney clearly “crosses the qualification threshold.” Then yesterday he declared his support for extending the Bush tax cuts (though he later said he meant only some of the Bush tax cuts). Some roles are just too preposterous–even for Bill Clinton.

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Last year, the New York Times ran a story on the phenomenon of good actors taking silly roles in bad movies. Fans generally assume the actors take those roles for the paycheck, but the story offered a different defense: it can actually help prove the skill of the actor: “The more preposterous the situation, the more impressive the feat of seeming to take it utterly seriously. There are other measures of excellence of course — emotional subtlety, psychological acuity, wit — but this kind of unwavering, fanatical commitment is surely a sign of greatness.”

Alas, despite his gift for triangulation and spin and near cameo in “The Hangover 2,” former President Bill Clinton fails this test. Handed a script too far from reality by the Obama campaign, Clinton just couldn’t go through with it. So he told CNN that Mitt Romney’s business career was “sterling,” that the folks at Bain do good work, and that Romney clearly “crosses the qualification threshold.” Then yesterday he declared his support for extending the Bush tax cuts (though he later said he meant only some of the Bush tax cuts). Some roles are just too preposterous–even for Bill Clinton.

But Clinton isn’t the exception in the case of the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney’s career. He is only the most high-profile Obama surrogate to improvise on the set. This morning, Larry Summers, who worked for both Clinton and Obama, also threw his (unqualified, as of yet) support for extending the tax cuts. After Cory Booker couldn’t go through with the Bain attacks either, and subsequently was asked by the Obama campaign to record the infamous “hostage video,” the Obama campaign sent out Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Romney’s successor, to sully his predecessor’s reputation as an executive. Patrick couldn’t do it either, singing Bain’s praises and admitting that Romney left the state with low unemployment.

The popular theory about Clinton’s behavior is that he doesn’t want Obama to win a second term. That might be the case, but I doubt that’s true of Booker, Patrick, or Summers. Other explanations seem closer to the mark: the sitting politicians, like Booker and Patrick, don’t want to burn bridges with Wall Street, and Summers, unlike his former boss, knows a thing or two about economics, and therefore cannot bring himself to attach his own name to the Obama campaign’s economic illiteracy.

In other words, the script is the problem. This may be “silly season,” but the Obama campaign’s rhetoric is too silly even for his allies.

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Obama’s Team of Amateurs

Back in April I wrote, “My sense is that [Mitt Romney will] be a better general election candidate than he was a GOP primary candidate, that a contest against Obama will play to his strengths better than a contest against other Republicans. We’ll find out in due course. But if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.”

As of now, that intuition seems to have been correct. As this New York Times article makes clear, Governor Romney has been on the offensive for most of May. “Mr. Romney is already running the campaign he and top aides say they envisioned more than a year ago,” according to the Times, “forcing Mr. Obama to defend his economic record in a gloomy environment.” The story goes on to report on the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution. In addition, according to the most recent CNN-ORC poll, Governor Romney’s favorable ratings have surged, having risen 14 points since February.

If the Romney campaign has shown itself far superior to the John McCain campaign, then the Obama campaign of 2012 has shown itself far inferior to the Obama campaign of 2008.

Right now, it seems to be run by amateurs.

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Back in April I wrote, “My sense is that [Mitt Romney will] be a better general election candidate than he was a GOP primary candidate, that a contest against Obama will play to his strengths better than a contest against other Republicans. We’ll find out in due course. But if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.”

As of now, that intuition seems to have been correct. As this New York Times article makes clear, Governor Romney has been on the offensive for most of May. “Mr. Romney is already running the campaign he and top aides say they envisioned more than a year ago,” according to the Times, “forcing Mr. Obama to defend his economic record in a gloomy environment.” The story goes on to report on the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution. In addition, according to the most recent CNN-ORC poll, Governor Romney’s favorable ratings have surged, having risen 14 points since February.

If the Romney campaign has shown itself far superior to the John McCain campaign, then the Obama campaign of 2012 has shown itself far inferior to the Obama campaign of 2008.

Right now, it seems to be run by amateurs.

The Bain attacks against Romney – which we were told would be the poison-tipped arrow in the Obama quiver – have been strikingly ineffective. So has the effort to portray the GOP as engaged in a “war on women.” Even their effort to make Seamus the Dog an issue in this campaign hasn’t worked. Some of Obama’s leading surrogates – including Mayor Cory Booker, Governor Deval Patrick, and former President Bill Clinton – are saying things that are helping, not hurting, Romney, to the point that they’re making cameo appearances in Romney ads.

The Obama administration is embroiled in a nasty and politically counterproductive fight with Catholic institutions. Obama’s campaign succeeded in bollixing up the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by releasing a tendentious video that made the president, and not the Navy SEALS who actually carried out the operation, to be the hero. Obama’s solicitor general, Donald Verrilli Jr., was widely panned even by liberals for his inept defense of the Affordable Care Act. (The Supreme Court will rule on its constitutionality later this month.) Nor will the president meet his initial goal of raising $1 billion for his campaign. In fact, he might (a) raise less than he did in 2008 ($750 million) and (b) end up being outspent by his opponent this time around.

In addition, the president’s formal kick off of his re-election campaign, held at Ohio State University, was met with a lot of empty seats. Vice President Joe Biden, in prematurely endorsing same-sex marriage, awkwardly forced the president to do the same thing three days later. The president’s ads have been almost uniformly unimpressive. Last Friday, when May’s weak jobs report was announced, the Obama campaign released an ad featuring Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour imploring viewers to join Wintour, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Obama and the president at a fundraiser in New York City later his month. “Sarah Jessica and I both have our own reasons for supporting President Obama, and we want to hear yours,” the British-born Wintour, who reportedly makes $2 million a year, says. “So please join us, but just don’t be late.” It was widely lampooned.

The Obama campaign, then – at least for now — is unfocused and ragged around the edges. David Axelrod, David Plouffe, and Jay Carney often seem unable to respond in a coherent fashion to the most predictable questions. Listening to them is sometimes cringe-inducing. Even Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has turned on Obama. “The president who started off with such dazzle now seems incapable of stimulating either the economy or the voters,” Dowd wrote on Sunday.

It’s a fair judgment, I think, to say that ineptness has characterized much of Obama’s presidency. It appears as if that quality has spilled over into his campaign. That may change between now and November 6. But for now, Democrats are experiencing a fearful symmetry of sorts.

Like I said, if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.

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Obama Makes it Too Easy on His Critics

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the president was asked about the tone and tenor of the debate that’s going to take place during the campaign. Obama answered, in part, this way:

[The GOP’s] vision is that if there’s a sliver of folks doing well at the top who are unencumbered by any regulatory restraints whatsoever, that the nation will grow and prosperity will trickle down. The challenge that they’re going to have is: We tried it. From 2000 to 2008, that was the agenda. It wasn’t like we have to engage in some theoretical debate – we’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that. Now, the burden on me is going to be to describe for the American people how the progress we’ve made over the past three years, if sustained, will actually lead to the kind of economic security that they’re looking for. There’s understandable skepticism, because things are still tough out there… The fact of the matter is that times are still tough for too many people, and the recovery is still not as robust as we’d like, and that’s what will make it a close election. It’s not because the other side has a particularly persuasive theory in terms of how they’re going to move this country forward.

So Obama wants a debate based not on theoretical claims but on empirical achievements.

Wonderful. Why don’t we accommodate the president?

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In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the president was asked about the tone and tenor of the debate that’s going to take place during the campaign. Obama answered, in part, this way:

[The GOP’s] vision is that if there’s a sliver of folks doing well at the top who are unencumbered by any regulatory restraints whatsoever, that the nation will grow and prosperity will trickle down. The challenge that they’re going to have is: We tried it. From 2000 to 2008, that was the agenda. It wasn’t like we have to engage in some theoretical debate – we’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that. Now, the burden on me is going to be to describe for the American people how the progress we’ve made over the past three years, if sustained, will actually lead to the kind of economic security that they’re looking for. There’s understandable skepticism, because things are still tough out there… The fact of the matter is that times are still tough for too many people, and the recovery is still not as robust as we’d like, and that’s what will make it a close election. It’s not because the other side has a particularly persuasive theory in terms of how they’re going to move this country forward.

So Obama wants a debate based not on theoretical claims but on empirical achievements.

Wonderful. Why don’t we accommodate the president?

Annual economic growth was three times higher under President Bush than under President Obama. Under Bush, the unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent; under Obama, it has never been under 8 percent. In the wake of a recession that began roughly seven weeks after President Bush took office, America experienced six years of uninterrupted economic growth and a record 52 straight months of job creation that produced more than 8 million new jobs. We saw labor-productivity gains that averaged 2.5 percent annually — a rate that exceeds the averages of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Real after-tax income per capita increased by more than 11 percent. And from 2000 to 2007, real GDP grew by more than 17 percent, a gain of nearly $2.1 trillion. As for the deficit, it fell to 1 percent of GDP ($162 billion) by 2007. Indeed, before the financial crisis of 2008 – which I’ll return to in a moment — Bush’s budget deficits were 0.6 percentage points below the historical average.

As for the Obama record, as I point out in this essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY, President Obama has overseen the weakest recovery on record. He is on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era. The standard of living for Americans has fallen more dramatically during his presidency than during any since the government began recording it five decades ago. Unemployment has been above 8 percent for 40 consecutive months, the longest such stretch since the Great Depression. Home values are nearly 35 percent lower than they were five years ago. The United States has amassed more than $5 trillion in debt since January 2009, with the president having submitted four budgets with trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Prior to Obama, no president had submitted even a single budget with deficits in excess of a trillion dollars. In addition, government dependency, defined as the percentage of persons receiving one or more federal benefit payments, is the highest in American history. And a record 46 million Americans are now living in poverty.

On Obama’s record, then, it’s not like we have to engage in some theoretical debate. We’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that.

Now unlike Obama, some of us are willing to concede that things need to be placed within a proper context. Obama took the oath of office in the wake of a financial collapse that made every economic indicator much worse; it’s only fair to take that into account. But even here, in characterizing what happened, Obama insists on presenting a distorted picture of reality, pretending that it was wholly the fault of his predecessor and the GOP. In fact, it was a complex set of factors that involved everything from credit default swaps to the Federal Reserve to policies in which both parties were complicit. But this much we know: Democrats bear the majority of the blame for blocking reforms that could have mitigated the effects of the housing crisis, which in turn led to the broader financial crisis.

As Stuart Taylor put it in 2008:

The pretense of many Democrats that this crisis is altogether a Republican creation is simplistic and dangerous. It is simplistic because Democrats have been a big part of the problem, in part by supporting governmental distortions of the marketplace through mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose reckless lending practices necessitated a $200 billion government rescue [in September 2008]. … Fannie and Freddie appear to have played a major role in causing the current crisis, in part because their quasi-governmental status violated basic principles of a healthy free enterprise system by allowing them to privatize profit while socializing risk.

The Bush administration warned as early as April 2001 that Fannie and Freddie were too large and overleveraged and that their failure “could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity” well beyond housing. Bush’s plan would have subjected Fannie and Freddie to the kinds of federal regulation that banks, credit unions, and savings and loans have to comply with. In addition, Republican Richard Shelby, then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed for comprehensive GSE (government-sponsored enterprises) reform in 2005. And who blocked these efforts at reforming Fannie and Freddie? Democrats such as Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, along with the then-junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who backed Dodd’s threat of a filibuster (Obama was the third-largest recipient of campaign gifts from Fannie and Freddie employees in 2004).

So Obama and his party bear a substantial (though not exclusive) responsibility in creating the economic crisis that Obama himself inherited. And even if you set all this aside, Obama entered office knowing what he faced, including a deficit and debt that was exploding. And rather than promote policies that accelerated economic growth and began to address our fiscal entitlement crisis, Obama went in exactly the opposite direction.

One other observation: historically, the worse the recession, the stronger the recovery (it’s referred to as the “rubber band effect.”) What is noteworthy about Obama’s economic record is how, in an environment in which one would expect the recovery to be unusually strong, it has been historically anemic. It seems to me, then, that “the other side” has quite a persuasive theory when it comes to moving the nation forward, at least compared to the theory being advanced by the current occupant in the White House.

Sometimes it seems as if Barack Obama is making it too easy on his critics.

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