The Wall Street Journal had a long article this weekend on the Obama administration’s decision-making process with regard to Syria. You can read the whole thing here if you have a WSJ.com subscription. My takeaway is that the administration’s deliberations do not inspire much confidence. As Journal reporter Adam Entous notes, the “process has been slowed by internal divisions, miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia.”
Former CIA Director David Petraeus emerges as the strongest proponent within the administration of arming moderate Syrian rebels. He had the support of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but she “and other advocates of arming the rebels didn’t in the end aggressively push for the initiative… as it became clear where Mr. Obama stood, according to current and former administration officials.” As this passage shows, the president has been the biggest obstacle to a more active role to end the slaughter in Syria. His “Syria strategy is emblematic,” the article notes, “of the administration’s policy of limiting Washington’s role as global policeman.”
The Romney campaign has been oddly mute on the questions surrounding the Benghazi attacks, giving the political media yet another excuse to ignore the story altogether. But now that the Obama administration’s narrative on Libya has collapsed and the drumbeat of questions has started getting louder, the Romney campaign seems finally to be picking up the issue. The candidate penned an op-ed on Middle East policy for the Wall Street Journal today, and his campaign is slamming the White House over its conflicting story on Libya:
Ryan Williams, Romney campaign spokesman, said in a statement: “The Obama White House and the Obama campaign can’t seem to get their stories straight on the attack on our consulate in Libya. This morning, they offered conflicting stories on if and when the President thought the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist act.”
“These inconsistencies raise even more questions about the confusion and mixed messages that have marked the White House’s response from the very beginning,” Williams added.
Well, pardon me for repeating myself, but we’ve just been treated to another sure sign that the Obama media cult is the littlest bit worried about Wednesday’s debate. This time it’s in the form of a “Political Memo” in the New York Times from CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood.
Mr. Harwood’s memo, “Debates Can Shift a Race’s Outcome, but It’s Not Easy,” takes a different tack from Gwen Ifill’s debates-don’t-really-matter op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post.
The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.
I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?
Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.
Or is it?
A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.
So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.
Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.
With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:
“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.
“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.
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.
On June 14th, 1936, two days after Alf Landon accepted the nomination of the Republican Party for president, a New York Times columnist wrote:
The stage show looked like America, but the convention hall did not. The crowd seemed like the sanctuary of a minority — economically wounded capitalists in shades from eggshell to ecru, cheering the man . . . and trying to fathom why they’re not running the country anymore. The speakers ranted about an America in decline, but the audience reflected a party in decline.
Oh, wait a minute. My mistake. That was Maureen Dowd writing yesterday. My, how time stands still when you’re having fun.
If four years ago, Barack Obama was the magnetic force around which Democrats rallied, today the relationship between the president and his party appears to be a bit cooler. The president still has his idolaters and they will be conspicuous in Charlotte this week. But, as Politico reports today, Democratic officeholders and many party activists regard the man whose re-election is the centerpiece of their efforts this year as a distant and somewhat aloof leader. While his current political strategy appears to be in tune with others on his ticket in terms of class warfare and demonizing the Republicans, they are keenly aware that he regards himself more as a “party of one” than the ringleader of a coalition. More interested in branding himself as above politics, he remains “oddly unenthusiastic about other Democrats.”
That has proven sufficient to create enough disgruntled sources for a piece that reinforces the already widespread impression about the president’s arrogance. Though rank and file voters may not care much about his attitude, those who have been asked to carry the water for the White House in Congress and vote for unpopular measures like the stimulus boondoggle or ObamaCare resent it. This has been a White House that loves to play favorites when it comes to the political fortunes of his party members. Yet they have little choice but to swallow his arrogance. They must fight for him or find themselves swamped by another Tea Party tide, as was the case in 2010.
Heading into the Republican National Convention, the big question for Republicans was whether their candidate could be humanized as well as whether he could deliver an acceptance speech that could properly launch the fall campaign. At the conclusion of the convention, the answer to both questions is an unequivocal yes.
Over the course of the three days, viewers got a better idea of who the man Republicans were nominating. They heard stories about his humanity, service to others and his faith as well as his business success. And in his acceptance speech, he showed himself a plainspoken man who was moved by the ordinary gifts of life as well as by his love of country. It may not have been a great speech but it was probably the best one he has ever given on a night when he needed to be come across as more than a middling political talent. Though no acceptance speech is really the make or break moment of any presidential election, Romney passed the test he had been set.
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.
When Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate Democrats rejoiced. They were sure that the elevation of the author of the Republican Congress budget plan that called for reform of entitlements like Medicare guaranteed the president’s re-election. They had already been planning to run hard against the Ryan budget no matter who was on the GOP ticket. But having Ryan as their piñata seemed like a dream come true.
But tonight at the Republican National Convention, as Ryan got his prime time spot accepting his nomination, the rest of the country began to understand why conservatives have been so devoted to him. Ryan’s speech was not merely well executed but an example of how he earned his reputation as the intellectual leader of his party. Even more important, he showed that he and the man at the top of the ticket plan to run on the reformist ideas that Democrats think work to their advantage. Far from shying away from the Obama campaign’s Mediscare tactics, they are ready to rumble on a platform aimed at saving entitlements against the status quo policies of the administration.
What’s been missing from the Republican National Convention? On Tuesday, nine hours worth of speechifying brought hardly a mention of the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy. That was corrected on Wednesday night with a brief bout of isolationist sentiment from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who gave a skim milk version of his father Ron’s extremist philosophy. That was quickly followed by an address by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who gave an impassioned defense of the importance of American leadership in the world. That McCain spoke for the overwhelming majority of Republicans was not in doubt but other than a brief film after that which highlighted Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel (which had to drive the Israel-hating Paulbots present crazy), that was it for foreign policy. The next speakers returned to familiar themes bashing ObamaCare and we heard no more about defense spending or the president’s abandonment of America’s freedom agenda and our allies. No doubt, Condoleezza Rice will say more about it later but the low priority accorded the topic is not in question.
There’s no doubt that fiscal issues will decide the 2012 election. Given the dismal state of the economy that’s understandable. But no matter what they say before they are elected, all presidents soon learn that their ability to deal with domestic issues largely depends on their ability to manage Congress. Foreign policy is the president’s prime responsibility. And despite the claims of some of his apologists, it is a topic on which the incumbent has done very poorly. Other than killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama has presided over a record of failure abroad in which he has alienated our allies like Israel and unsuccessful sought to appease foes like Russia and Iran.
The Republicans may be just following the polls in ignoring foreign policy, but the nation will be ill served by a campaign where this crucial category is pushed to the margins.
Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.
But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.
We’re only a few hours into the Republican National Convention and journalists are already getting sick and tired of the party’s “We Built It” theme. The incessant use of the phrase and the drumbeat of reminders of President Obama’s gaffe may be wearing on some viewers too. No tag line has ever been beaten down harder at a national convention. But Democrats who assume that the Republicans are overdoing it are probably mistaken. The line works. Even more important, despite the arguments from liberals that it was taken out of context, the more the full sound clips are played, the more its clear that it represents a window into the president’s core philosophy.
The Obama campaign is happy with the idea of this election being a choice between competing visions rather than merely a referendum about the president’s conduct in office. They believe that means they can frame the presidential contest as being between what the president claims is his moderate agenda against an extreme Republican program. The Todd Akin fiasco was a huge boost for this strategy since it plays into the fake “war on women” line that will, no doubt, be the theme song of next week’s Democratic convention. But the “we built it” line is the way Republicans re-focus Americans on what they already dislike about the administration.
I noted last week that a Rasmussen poll showing Republican Linda McMahon in the lead in the Connecticut Senate race and wondered how she could be doing so much better in 2012 than she did in 2010, when she lost another Senate race in a landslide. There was some reason at that time to think that poll was an outlier since the former pro wrestling mogul had polled badly all year in general election matchups prior to winning the GOP primary last month. But yet another poll has just been released, this time by the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University that again shows McMahon beating Rep. Chris Murphy by a 49-46 percent margin. At this point, even those like myself who have been skeptical about the idea that a deep blue state could possibly send a Republican to the Senate this year, let alone one with as dubious a background as McMahon, have to concede that she has an excellent chance of winning.
However, I’m still somewhat skeptical about the idea floated that the sole explanation for this is that in the past two years the brash businesswoman has been able to alter her image. It may well be that after three years in politics, voters in the state that calls itself the “land of steady habits” may be getting used to McMahon and no longer associating her primarily with the misogyny, drug use and violence of the WWE. But there’s another hint in both the Quinnipiac and Rasmussen polls. If, as they show, even the top of the ticket is losing ground in deep blue Connecticut, the Obama re-election campaign may be in bigger trouble than many of us thought.
Yesterday I wrote that the inevitable analogies that will be drawn by the liberal media between Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina are a gift to the Democrats. Just how much the public will make of these specious comparisons has yet to be determined, but one must give those members of President Obama’s cheerleading squad who write the editorials at the New York Times credit for trying. The paper’s lead editorial today was exactly along the lines that I predicted. It pompously claimed the storm “is a powerful reminder both of Republican incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina seven years ago” and then piled on to the mythology behind that clause by also asserting that the storm also spotlights “the party’s no-less-disastrous plans to further cut emergency-related spending.”
Suffice it to say that seven years later attempts to blame the Katrina disaster solely on President Bush and his party is absurd, since we now know that most of the problems stemmed from the incompetence, if not the moral turpitude, displayed by local and state authorities. The argument that GOP demands that other savings offset more FEMA expenditures is somehow an invitation to catastrophe is just as dishonest. But as much as liberals are chortling at the Republicans’ bad luck with the weather, they need to be careful not to overplay their hand. While the GOP needs to be aware that a potential storm disaster is more important than their gathering, President Obama must be mindful that any actions of his own this week that can be interpreted as trying to make political hay out of a tragedy will backfire.
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.
Pundits who are quick to write off the Republicans’ chances of gaining the four Senate seats they need to take back the upper chamber after the Todd Akin fiasco in Missouri need to remember that the GOP has more opportunities for gains than they thought earlier in the year. The assumption that Claire McCaskill’s Missouri seat will easily fall into the GOP’s hands was blown up last week by Akin’s idiocy about pregnancy and rape. But it turns out that the Ohio seat held by liberal stalwart Sherrod Brown, which many Republicans weren’t counting among their potential pickups, is now very much in play. Republican candidate Josh Mandel, whose youth and relative lack of experience has been widely mocked by the Democrats, could replace Akin as the GOP’s majority maker.
That’s the only reasonable interpretation of the Columbus Dispatch survey of the Buckeye state that shows the Brown-Mandel race as being as much of a dead heat there as the one between President Obama and Mitt Romney. The Senate race is a 44-44 tie, while the Ohio presidential matchup is deadlocked at 45-45. That’s significant because when the same numbers in the Senate contest were posted by Rasmussen earlier in August, they were dismissed as inaccurate or inconsistent with other results. But with the Dispatch poll and a University of Cincinnati poll released last week that showed Brown leading Mandel 48-47, it’s now clear a race that was long judged to be an easy hold for the Democrats is now a tossup. After a summer during which the Brown camp has pounded Mandel with negative ads, Democrats have to be scratching their heads about these numbers.
The main task of the Republican National Convention this week is to introduce — or reintroduce, depending on your point of view — Mitt Romney to the American people. So we’ll be getting lots of biographical details, insights and testimonials during the convention sessions. In addition to that, we’re being deluged with Romney interviews. There are the soft features showing Mitt and his wife Ann at home with the kids and grandkids, such as this one run by Fox News in which we learn that there is no paid staff at the Romney New Hampshire vacation home and that everyone has chores to do (a fitting example for a nation that he intends to get back to work). And there are more substantial interviews, such as his sit-down with Politico, in which he outlined what his governing style in the White House would look like.
Not surprisingly, Romney says people recruited from the private sector will dominate his cabinet and that he will look to female business leaders, like Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, to join his team. Running through that interview and other Romney press appearances is the question of whether he is likeable enough to be elected president. Romney appears to know that he lacks the natural ability to connect with people that most successful politicians have. And he acknowledges that personal attacks on him by the Democrats have done some real damage. That means the reboot of Romney’s image this week has two purposes. One is to soften the hard edges created by ads depicting him as an outsourcing, heartless plutocrat by showing the dedicated, hard-working family man that he really is. The other is to convince voters that what they need is not someone who will feel their pain and make eloquent speeches about it but a C.E.O.-in-chief who can fix the economy, a result that will pay a dividend to every American family.