Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama

Turkey Shows the Risk of Politicized Tax Collectors

There is little question now that at least some Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees abused their position to allow partisanship to determine their actions. Who authorized such behavior, if anyone, remains subject to fierce partisan dispute. If the IRS targeted conservatives on the basis of their political belief and on the orders of anyone in the White House, most Americans would find such facts scandalous, and rightly so.

Many supporters of the Obama administration have pooh-poohed the scandal, or suggested that it comes from the fevered imaginations of Republican activists. They should not. Too many many fierce partisans will play hardball or engage in dirty tricks, all the more so if a precedent exists that leads them to believe they can get away with it.

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There is little question now that at least some Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees abused their position to allow partisanship to determine their actions. Who authorized such behavior, if anyone, remains subject to fierce partisan dispute. If the IRS targeted conservatives on the basis of their political belief and on the orders of anyone in the White House, most Americans would find such facts scandalous, and rightly so.

Many supporters of the Obama administration have pooh-poohed the scandal, or suggested that it comes from the fevered imaginations of Republican activists. They should not. Too many many fierce partisans will play hardball or engage in dirty tricks, all the more so if a precedent exists that leads them to believe they can get away with it.

Here, Turkey illustrates just what can happen when politicized tax collection is allowed to continue unabated. Turkey today has threatened to go after Twitter on tax evasion charges. According to an Agence France Presse report:

“Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are international companies established for profit and making money,” Erdogan said. “Twitter is at the same time a tax evader. We will go after it,” he added. “These companies, like every international company, will abide by my country’s constitution, laws and tax rules”

In Turkey, the issue is not rule of law, for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan interprets the law through the narrow prism of his personal interest. Simply put, his philosophy is the 21st century equivalent of “L’État, c’est moi.” Erdoğan has a long history of using arbitrary tax enforcement to target opponents.  He leveled a multimillion-dollar tax fine against the owner of a newspaper critical of his abuse-of-power and, then, when that media group actually found the funds to pay up, he leveled a multi-billion dollar fine. The world saw the tax lien for what it was, and roundly condemned Erdoğan for using the tax man to crush opponents. It was a tried and true strategy. With one of his political allies facing tough competition in Istanbul, Erdoğan used the tax man to levy a fine against the chief secular competitor in the race for an allegedly unpaid loan, draining his campaign chest.  Turkey has effectively become a third world dictatorship, and its tax service more a mechanism to punish than simply raise revenue.

When tax collectors lose their credibility and become little more than political weapons, there is no restoring that credibility. How sad it is that so many supporters of President Obama for partisan reasons appear to turn a blind eye to the apparent attempt by some in the IRS to wield their power like a weapon. For Turkey shows what happens when such behavior is not nipped in the bud. Let us hope that Erdoğan’s embrace of executive order and financial punishment has not become a model which Obama knowingly or unconsciously follows.

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Inside Obama’s Syria Paralysis

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.”

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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 president has been so desperate to stay on the sidelines, in spite of ample evidence that a standoffish American attitude is making the crisis worse, that he has fallen time and again to the lure of wishful thinking—imaging that Assad might be forced out by the rebels last summer or that a diplomatic initiative by Kofi Annan could possibly succeed. The interagency committee working on Syria policy was directed, according to the Journal, to focus on planning for post-Assad Syria—while largely ignoring the substantial issue of how to get rid of Assad in the first place.

In the absence of resolution from the top, the bureaucracy generated various reasons for doing nothing—as is usually the case. The most egregious objections came from “lawyers at the White House and departments of Defense, State and Justice,” who “debated whether the U.S. had a ‘clear and credible’ legal justification under U.S. or international law for intervening militarily. The clearest legal case could be made if the U.S. won a U.N. or NATO mandate for using force. Neither route seemed viable: Russia would veto any Security Council resolution, and NATO wasn’t interested in a new military mission.”

Suffice it to say, if the president were remotely interested in a more active American role, legal opinions could easily be ginned up to provide ample justification for such a policy. And if the U.S. were serious about doing something, then NATO could very well be brought along. These are not serious obstacles to action—but rather excuses for inaction.

The consequences of that inaction are persuasively laid out today by Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post [http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jackson-diehl-what-the-iraq-war-taught-me-about-syria/2013/03/31/5ef2e6d0-97b2-11e2-814b-063623d80a60_story.html]. He notes that U.S. influence in the Middle East survived the early setbacks in Iraq. But “now it is plummeting: Not just Britain and France but every neighbor of Syria has been shocked and awed by the failure of U.S. leadership. If it continues, Syria — not Iraq — will prove to be the turning point when America ceases to be regarded as what Bill Clinton called the ‘indispensable nation.’”

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Romney Campaign Finally Pivoting to Foreign Policy?

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.

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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.

Could this be the issue that reenergizes and refocuses the Romney campaign? A Bloomberg opinion poll out late last week found that Romney has pulled ahead of President Obama on the question of which candidate would be tougher on terrorism. As Foreign Policy reports, this has been an issue Obama led consistently on up until the terrorist attack in Benghazi:

The foreign-policy results of the new Bloomberg National Poll haven’t gotten much attention yet, but the survey contains some bad news for the Obama campaign. According to the poll, Mitt Romney has a 48-42 advantage over Barack Obama on the question of which candidate would be tougher on terrorism. Romney, in other words, has encroached on one of Obama’s signature strengths.

What makes this result so surprising is that the president has consistently trounced Romney when it comes to counterterrorism.

Obviously the economy is the overriding concern among voters, but foreign policy issues still register. A new Foreign Policy Initiative poll found that terrorism remains a major concern for Americans, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden:

A majority of Americans (61.2%) do not think that the threat of “additional terrorism on American soil” has decreased since September 11, 2001, with 44.0 percent of respondents saying that threat actually has increased and 17.2 percent saying the threat has stayed constant.  The level of concern about future terrorist attacks against America appears to vary along partisan lines.  Whereas 55.7 percent of self-identified Republicans and 43.0 percent of self-identified Independents say the threat of foreign terrorism within the United States has increased, only 33.3 percent of self-identified Democrats share that view.

Romney has an opening here, and it looks like he may finally be seizing it.

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The Times Chimes in on Debates

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.

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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.

Al Gore, for example, lost his debates with George W. Bush because of some “minor factual inaccuracies,” “poor makeup that gave [Gore] an orange tint” and (special note to Mr. Obama) a “condescending, impatient demeanor.”

Read the whole thing to get the full treatment, but suffice it to say that Mr. Harwood concludes by reminding us about the Walter Mondale-Ronald Reagan debates in 1984. Mr. Reagan did poorly in the first but wiped the floor with Mr. Mondale in the second. “’I said to myself, this is probably over now,’ Mr. Mondale said. He ultimately carried one state, his native Minnesota.”  “These debates are the one chance to change how they look at him, and how they look at Obama,” Mr. Mondale is quoted as saying. And, finally, “The lesson of his own experience? ‘That’s a high hill to climb.’”

I, for one, look forward to seeing the post-debate spin.

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Are Democratic Voters Surging?

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?

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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?

The only reason to think it isn’t strengthening goes to one common feature these Obama-friendly polls share—a surge in the number of Democrats ready or likely to vote over the past month. Take Wisconsin, where two polls gave Obama great comfort. The Quinnipiac survey showed Obama gaining 4 percentage points over its survey last month. But that gain was the direct result of the fact that the number of Democrats polled was also up by 4 percentage points.

Even more telling was the Marquette University poll in Wisconsin, which showed Obama up a staggering 11 points since its last take—as a result of including 10 percent more Democrats in the survey.

Quinnipiac’s survey of Virginia featured a Democratic advantage of 11 points—a vast increase in the number of Democrats surveyed in previous tallies.

Some political observers would ask: What’s the issue? Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in every presidential year but one (2004) from time immemorial. That advantage has typically been around 4 percent. But exit polls in 2008 showed a Democratic advantage of a staggering 8 points. So why aren’t these 2012 poll results simply to be accepted?

Simple. We have solid, data-driven reasons to think 2008 was an unprecedented moment that will not be replicated this year. Put Bush fatigue, the Wall Street meltdown, the Obama novelty phenomenon, and a terrible GOP candidate in a blender and you get the 2008 Obama froth.

What would cause such a surge this year? Two thirds of the country says we’re on the wrong track.

That’s a wipeout-for-Obama number, not a number suggesting that Obama will match or better his result in 2008.

And bettering his result is what many of these surveys anticipate. In ’08, Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans by 6 percent—not 11, as the Marquette poll would have it in its present survey. Or 9, as Pew would have it.

But why would his result even remain close to the same? Just two years ago, there was a GOP surge leading to a 63 seat gain in the House of Representatives. Nationwide, the vote percentages from 2008 flipped. In ’08. Obama won 53-46; the GOP nationally won 53 percent of the vote in ’10. The 8-point Democratic advantage of ’08 declined into an even split—from 39D-32R to 35-35.

How could Obama get back to 2008 levels only two years later when conditions are not much improved, if at all, for him or the country?

The obvious riposte is that the presidential-year electorate is much larger and more varied than a midterm electorate. In 2010, 90 million people voted. In 2012, we can expect somewhere between 130-140 million. That’s a big difference, but it’s not a colossal difference.

Let’s assume every one of those 90 million people votes this year—a proper assumption, as midterm voters are extremely engaged politically. That would constitute something like 60 percent of the 2012 electorate. Imagine that they all were to vote the same partisan way in 2012. This would be like saying it’s election night and Bret Baier is already intoning, “With 60 percent of the vote counted, Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by seven points.”

If that were to happen, it would be time to call the election for Romney. Almost certainly, it won’t. All the evidence suggests a measurable number of people who voted GOP in 2010 will vote for Obama in 2012. None of them, pretty much, will be Republicans, more than nine of ten of whom will vote for Romney. Nine of ten Democrats will vote for Obama.

So everyone who switches will be an independent. Independent voters swung harder and faster in 2010 than at any time in the nation’s history—from supporting Obama by 18 percent to supporting Republican candidates by 8 percent, a shift of an astonishing 25 percent. Obviously, people that fickle will bounce around some. But are they really going to swing back in numbers sufficient to hand Obama the kind of victory the polls are presaging? For what reason?

And talk about independents in this way doesn’t explain why it would be that Democrats would suddenly awaken from a three-year slumber and begin to feel like it was 2008 all over again. It could be happening. But shouldn’t something other than a good speech by Bill Clinton be responsible for such a thing? Romney’s inability to score any higher than 47 percent in any poll is certainly a sign he’s not making the sale—but whatever his weaknesses, it seems unlikely he’s the cause of a mad rush to ensure he doesn’t get the White House.

These are the reasons to be reasonably skeptical—not dismissive, not conspiratorial about motive, but reasonably skeptical—about the margins by which these polls are bolstering and boosting Obama. They appear to anticipate an electorate on November 6 that is more Democratic and Obama-friendly than is likely to be the case.

The Romney people should not be skeptical, though. They ought to believe it. They ought to think they’re behind, because they are; and they ought to think they’re farther behind than they are, because that is the only way they will experience the urgency they need to show to change the trajectory of this race.

Perhaps they, like their excessively calm candidate, haven’t quite reckoned with the degree of public humiliation and outright scorn that will be hurled in their faces and the damage that will be done to their professional reputations if Romney loses a race he should have won.

They, like Romney, have every reason to fear such a result and to act dramatically to prevent it. And they have an obligation to the 60-million-plus people who will vote for them, and who believe the country’s future is at stake, not to let this all dribble away.

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The State of the Race

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.

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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.

Without a change in the race’s trajectory, there’s little reason to think there will be any change in the dynamic. In other words, Obama would win. By a little, not a lot. And there is no margin of error on election day (unless the chads fail to fall).

Which means Romney needs to act to change the trajectory. One sign of what that might mean comes from the first major poll on foreign policy taken after last week’s horrific events in Cairo and Libya. You’ll recall Romney blasted the administration for a statement out of Cairo that, he said, expressed sympathy for the rioters. This was viewed as a great evil by a great many people, and criticized by people on Romney’s own side as well. Romney’s team appeared battered and bruised by the attacks. And yet in the NBC News poll released yesterday, the president saw a significant drop of 5 percentage points on a question about his handling of foreign policy. This is not to say Romney caused Obama’s drop, but it might mean he was closer to the national wavelength than the incestuous Washington-NY media thought.

Obviously the question over the next few days is whether Romney will suffer from the “47 percent” remarks on the hidden videotape. I explain here why I think what Romney said was wrong and wrong-headed. That kind of trajectory change would, obviously, make Romney’s challenge more significant.

The strange thing about the Romney camp is that, with the exception of that statement, it appears to have no sense of urgency about its condition. Romney, it’s said, never gets mad, and has never had a fight with his wife. That’s wonderful for him, but one virtue of getting angry and heated and squabbly and in a fight is that it will at least register a pulse. You can’t win a race if you don’t get your heart rate up.

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Not Meeting Bibi: What Obama Is Secretly Thinking

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.

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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.

“Meaning a U.S. war. Bibi figures it would be best if the U.S. did Israel’s work for it, because we have all the weaponry and the long-range capability. He wants to scare me and everybody else by saying, ‘We don’t know if we Israelis can do this, can take the Iranian nuclear program out. But we’ll have to try if you don’t. We may fail. We may do badly and there may be horrible repercussions and loss of life and chaos in the Middle East and oil at $200. But I’m just crazy enough to do it.’

“I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he’s hateful. I think he wants to destroy my presidency and he doesn’t care how he does it. I think this close to the election he wants to force me into a corner I don’t want to be forced into, and get a soapbox to stand on to preach his word while I stand there mutely and say nothing.

“No way. I’m not meeting with him. Let them scream. Let Romney try to play this for votes and money. What’s done is done. I’ve raised the money I can raise and the Jewish vote will go the way the Jewish vote will go. People who really agree with him are not going to vote for me already. I figure no matter what, I can get 60 percent of the Jewish vote and that will have to do.

“Remember what I said to Medvedev? That after the election I’ll have more flexibility? Oh, am I going to flex some of that Bibi’s way. You can count on that.”

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Are We Better Off? Democrats Plead Guilty With an Explanation

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.

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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.

David Plouffe, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” tried to finesse it, and just said the country would be worse off if Mitt Romney wins. David Axelrod was similarly vague. But all agree that everything is George W. Bush’s fault and think President Obama should continue blaming his predecessor rather than owning up to the fact that things got worse on his watch and that he doesn’t have a plan for fixing that. All of which sets us up for a week in which Democrats will spend more time damning the 43rd president than extolling the virtues of his successor. That’s an odd strategy but one the Obama campaign feels is their only choice.

It may be that after three days of non-stop Bush-bashing, claims that the Republicans are liars and a defense of the status quo on entitlements, the Democrats will get some sort of a bounce out of their convention. All the while, they will be praying that the monthly jobs report due out on Friday will bring some good news rather than a negative report that might undo any positive vibes earned from the focus on their arguments.

Fairly or unfairly, President Bush is still deeply unpopular and blamed for an economic downturn caused more by a federal intervention in the housing market that was the doing of Democrats than anything he did. But what the Obama campaign is asking the voters to do is not so much to give him a second try as to veto a third term for Bush. That’s a neat trick if they can pull it off, but their claim that Republicans are trying to make voters forget about Bush’s record is complicated by a concurrent request that they also forget Obama’s. The nuanced answers to the “are you better off” queries betray the fact that Democrats understand that few believe a trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle or the vast expansion of entitlements and government power created by ObamaCare has done anything to improve the nation’s lot.

John Steele Gordon wrote yesterday that, “For liberals, it’s always 1936” because they have never quite absorbed the fact that New Deal liberalism and contempt for conservatives is a relic of a vanished age. But in order to win this election, Democrats are faced with the difficult task of duplicating Franklin Roosevelt’s successful campaign for a second term by running against the man he defeated four years ago.

George W. Bush may not be quite as unpopular as Herbert Hoover was then but, as his absence from the GOP convention proved, he’s still a liability to his party. However, there is no comparison of the economy Obama inherited to the one FDR confronted. As much as Democrats are now retrospectively trying to paint the state of the nation in January 2009 as comparable to the Great Depression, I doubt many will buy it. FDR was the only president re-elected on the proposition that four years was not long enough for him to acquire ownership of the state of the nation. Democrats are betting their political lives that Obama can do the same under vastly different circumstances.

While in 1936 Roosevelt could claim to have at least improved the morale of the American people by giving them the impression that the country was heading in the right direction, Obama can’t.

Guilty with an explanation doesn’t usually work when it comes to evading fines for traffic tickets. We’re about to find out whether it can re-elect a president.

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For Liberals It’s Always 1936

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.

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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.

In 1936, the Republicans were indeed wondering why they weren’t still running the country. They had been, after all, since 1896, with the exception of 1913-1921, when a split in the party had given the election to Woodrow Wilson. And they certainly hankered for a return to the glory days of Calvin Coolidge, while the Democrats recognized that the Great Depression had changed things forever. While the country was still mired in depression, it was in much better shape than it had been four years earlier. In 1936, unemployment averaged a dismal 16.9 percent. But that was down from over 25 percent. The Dow reached 194.40 in June 1936. It had been at 40.21 in June 1932, barely half a point above its first-ever close in 1896.

In his great Second Inaugural Address (after trouncing Alf Landon in the election) FDR said, quite accurately, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” But as Michael Ledeen points out, the economic world of 1936 is a vanished world. No one today in this country lives in anything like the sort of poverty that millions of sharecroppers in the South and unskilled industrial laborers in the North knew in 1936. By the standards of 1936, most American families are filthy rich and those who aren’t receive massive assistance to raise them above the poverty line.

The national debt in 1936 was 40 percent of GDP. Today it is over 100 percent. The deficit in 1936 was 5.5 percent of GDP, this year it will be over 7 percent.

But for liberals like Maureen Dowd it is always 1936. The problems of 1936 are the problems today. The solutions for 1936 are the solutions for today. And the Republicans are a few people in mink coats and dinner jackets going down to the long-vanished Trans-Lux theater to hiss Roosevelt.

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Dems Put Aside Resentments About Obama

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.

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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.

Complaints about the White House are a perennial of electoral politics and have been heard every four years no matter which party is in power. But Obama’s behavior seems to be a particularly egregious example of a man at the top acquiring an “Après moi, le deluge,” outlook on his followers. He has satisfied some of his party’s key constituencies, especially those on the left, with his stands on gay marriage, oil pipelines, cap and trade and other environmental extremism as well as his executive order preventing the enforcement of immigration laws. But, as Politico puts it: “his allies say his timing on such issues suits his own needs, not those of the party.” Obama’s fealty to liberal ideology on those issues has helped his own fundraising but often left Democrats outside of deep blue enclaves on both coasts in a difficult position.

That hasn’t created a strong bond between the president and Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate. Reportedly, the president is as sick of House Leader Nancy Pelosi as the Republicans but he appears to respect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid because he doesn’t whine as much as the former speaker. However, Democrats know they have to put their resentments aside in the next two months. The only way to ensure that the Democrats hold onto the Senate and not lose more ground in the House is a Barack Obama victory in November. For these next few days and the fall campaign to follow, the backbiting will cease, as Democrats will extol the president’s virtues though without getting much love in return.

But should he prevail, expect these petty resentments to play a not-unimportant role in the four years that will follow. Second terms are always unpleasant affairs in which party loyalty to a lame duck wears thin. The simmering anger about the president’s arrogance will, no doubt, be vented as investigations into White House security leaks, “Fast and Furious” and other scandals to come, increase.

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Romney Passes His Big Test

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.

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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.

In a sense, the Democrats did Romney a favor by spending the last few months doing their best to demonize him. With the left determined to portray him as a heartless plutocrat the bar was set fairly low for Romney as far as brightening up his image. While the convention had its less than edifying moments — Clint Eastwood’s bizarre and sometimes tasteless dialogue with an imaginary Barack Obama being the most prominent — the time spent discussing Romney’s life and philosophy was very well spent.

Beginning with Ann Romney’s star turn on Tuesday night and continuing on Thursday with the testimonials from those whose families the candidate had helped as a Mormon lay leader, the nation was given a more realistic portrait of the man the Democrats have sought to besmirch. Though Romney is obviously not comfortable talking about himself, he was able to convey some of his depth of feeling about his family, his faith and his principles.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the convention was the way it showed how deep the Republican bench is with new stars like Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie and Romney’s vice presidential choice Paul Ryan. But as much as a lot of the attention was devoted to these new faces, Romney still succeeded in putting forward a strong case that he has the ability to tackle a weak economy and the backbone to stand up for American interests and the cause of freedom. He also came across as an admirable if not as likeable as some critics seemed to demand.

Romney touched on familiar themes about Obama’s failures as well as trying to counter the Democratic charge that the GOP is waging a war on women. But when Romney contrasted the president’s messianic pledge about turning back the oceans with his own more humble promise to help American families, he struck exactly the right note. By choosing Ryan and by setting forth a critique of Obama’s creed of big government, Romney also gave voters a clearly delineated choice about the future of the country.

Romney has now passed the humanity test and showed he can articulate a coherent argument for his presidential ambitions. The stage is now set for a fall campaign in which the Republicans are no longer facing quite as uphill a slog as many thought they would have. President Obama has enormous advantages heading into his own convention. He has the power of incumbency, a status as an historic figure, an adoring mainstream media and a party that is willing to brand any criticism of him as a form of racism. Yet this week, Romney took an important step toward giving himself a chance to win in November.

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The George W. Bush Alibi Doesn’t Cut It

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

The 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.

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Ryan’s Star Turn Shows GOP Ready to Rumble on Medicare

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.

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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.

Ryan came across as he always has in his Congressional campaigns: as a likeable man who was capable of bold attacks as well as smart ideas. The Democrats may think they can demonize the congressman but anyone who saw this speech knows that is highly unlikely. Far from being the guy who pushes granny off the cliff in the Democrats’ attack ads, Ryan was appealing–not scary or extremist, as liberals allege. But even worse for the Democrats is Ryan’s ability to turn the tables on the president. Rather than playing defense on Medicare, the GOP veep candidate made it clear that the Republican approach will be to brand ObamaCare as the greatest threat to that program. Liberals may argue that the raid on Medicare to fund the health plan is not an issue, but given the unpopularity of the measure, this is a talking point that Republicans will drive home to their advantage this fall. Instead of weak point, Ryan’s reform ideas may turn out to be the GOP’s best selling point.

Coming as it did after Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant and inspiring address to the convention as well as another strong speech by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, there might have been some fear that Ryan couldn’t pull off a triumph this evening. But he did just that, mixing humor and sharp attacks on the president with touching evocations of the American dream. Ryan isn’t just a rising GOP star, this evening he showed that he is a major asset to Mitt Romney’s hopes of being elected president.

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Short Shrift for Foreign Policy

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.

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.

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The Left’s Race Dog Whistles

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.

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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.

The welfare argument is particularly disingenuous, but it is being treated as a license to engage in the most vicious rhetoric imaginable against the GOP. Hence, Matthews’s television tirades and, to seize upon just one of many possible examples, Joan Walsh’s accusation today at Salon that Rick Santorum engaged in “race baiting,” “lying” and “creepiness” during his convention speech because of his mentioning of the welfare issue and the president’s decision to stop the enforcement of some immigration laws.

But the liberal claim, repeated as gospel not only on the opinion pages of the mainstream media but on their news pages as well, is that Republicans are lying about Obama’s changes in the Welfare Reform Act. They insist that he changed nothing and that the GOP charges that he gutted welfare-to-work regulations are fabrications. But the truth, as Kaus noted, is much closer to the Republican narrative than that of the Democrats. It’s true that, as they have repeated endlessly on MSNBC, all Obama did was to give states flexibility in enforcing the law. But taking away such flexibility was the whole point of the movement to reform welfare that culminated in the passage of the act that was signed by Bill Clinton. Obama’s changes will allow states to eliminate work requirements. That’s a fair point and has nothing to do with racism.

But to treat any mention of welfare as a code word for black is a sign of the liberals’ plantation mentality, not that of conservatives. The assumption that welfare equals black is not only factually incorrect — more whites receive such assistance than blacks — it is an insult.

That fits in with the Democrats’ efforts to treat voter ID laws aimed at combating fraud as the next generation of “Jim Crow,” since they assume that minorities are not as capable as whites of obtaining the photo ID that is needed for virtually every other transaction required by society.

Far from the Republicans wanting to talk about race, it is only in the interest of the Democrats to reopen these old wounds. That’s also why the left is going all out to discredit any black person who dares to oppose Obama. Hence the deluge of abuse being showered today on Utah Republican Mia B. Love as well as Democrat turncoat Artur Davis, both of whom wowed the nation with their convention addresses last night.

No American racist was likely to vote for Obama in November with or without a helpful reminder from either party that he was African-American. But plenty of moderates otherwise inclined to support Romney may be scared away from the Republicans by false charges that the GOP is appealing to race. The only dog whistles today being sounded are all from the left, as Democrats desperately attempt to convince Americans that it is still their duty to vote again for Obama.

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Why “We Built It” Is So Effective

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.

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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.

Americans know that the president who rammed ObamaCare and the so-called stimulus down the throats of a reluctant country is addicted to big government solutions. The president was only speaking from his heart when he gave his memorable critique of individualism. It wasn’t really a gaffe because it was just Obama discussing his core philosophy about society. “We built it” sticks because it is nothing more than an illustration of the real divide between the two parties. Journalists and maybe even some in the television audience may be weary of it, but not as much as the president will be before this campaign is over.

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More Blue State Warning Signs for Obama

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.

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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.

Quinnipiac shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney by only seven points in Connecticut. That 52-45 margin doesn’t look very good when compared to the stunning 61-38 point victory he won there in November 2008. Connecticut may not truly be in danger of going Republican but if the president’s margin of victory there this fall is only in single digits, it’s going to be a long night for the Democrats.

McMahon may have rehabilitated herself to the point where she’s competitive, but her lead may be due more to the enthusiasm gap between the two parties this year than her own efforts. Nevertheless, with her enormous financial edge, having a lead heading into the fall is a big deal for McMahon. It also shows that Democrats are going to have to work to hold onto Connecticut. And that’s good news for Romney even if Obama winds up winning there.

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Exploiting Hurricane Will Hurt Dems

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.

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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.

Though President Bush’s appointees did a terrible job in 2005, it is long past time for liberal organs to stop trying to paint the failure of the levees in New Orleans as a Republican problem or a racist plot. It is equally absurd for the Times to paint battles over the FEMA budget in apocalyptic terms. To paint every dollar expended by the agency as somehow the difference between life and death is mere melodrama, since we know that the federal office is just as capable of inefficiency as it is incompetence. Nor was it improper for Republicans who are mindful of the way President Obama has ballooned the federal deficit in a way that makes Bush’s profligacy look like prudence to ask that any overspending by FEMA (which they were prepared to approve) be paid for by cuts in less essential programs that are liberal sacred cows.

Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that the bad timing of the storm and the attempts by liberals to wave the bloody shirt of Katrina won’t help Mitt Romney’s cause. It should also be specified that if federal authorities are seen to be doing their jobs in an appropriate manner during any relief operations in the Gulf it will be a boost for President Obama, who will be viewed as doing his job effectively.

However, the president needs to be careful about playing commander-in-chief in ways that are tangential or even a distraction from the real business of helping people. As President Bush noted in his memoirs, he waited to fly into New Orleans after the hurricane because he knew that a presidential visit with all of the attendant security and logistical complications that it would cause was the last thing the devastated area needed. The same standard would apply to any superfluous Obama fly-in to the storm areas this week. Once the crisis is over, a presidential visit is appropriate as a gesture of solidarity with those affected. But if President Obama seeks to use an unnecessary piece of stagecraft in the upcoming days merely to upstage the GOP convention or Mitt Romney’s acceptance of his nomination, it won’t do him or his party any good.

Americans are smart enough to know the difference between proper supervision of a crisis and political photo-ops. If the president opts for the latter, his fans at the Times and elsewhere, who are now barely containing their mirth at the GOP’s predicament, will be laughing out of the other sides of their mouths.

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Isaac-Katrina Analogies Are Gift to Dems

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.

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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.

Bush never really recovered from the widespread impression that his appointees were not on top of the crisis and the publicized delays in getting federal help to the stricken city. The collapse of local authority, the way first responders fled and the abdication of responsibility by both the city and state of Louisiana had far more to do with the crisis than anything the federal government did. But it was Bush who got the lion’s share of the blame. The plight of the poor refugees in the Superdome wasn’t merely put on his shoulders but falsely asserted as proof of administration racism.

Should President Obama decide to arrive on the scene of any flooding or damage this week, it will not merely upstage the GOP infomercial. It will also be a not-so-subtle reinforcement of his recurring campaign theme in which he blames everything that’s wrong with the country on his predecessor.

Hurricane Isaac won’t fix the country’s economy or lower unemployment, which are the real obstacles to the president’s re-election. But the timing and the path of the storm may provide the Democrats with an unexpected bonus of campaign fodder that could undermine any GOP hopes for a post-convention bounce. And there’s absolutely nothing the Republicans can do about it except pray that the hurricane proves to be a minor annoyance to the Gulf rather than a full-scale disaster. Residents of the coastal region, both Democrats and Republicans, will be praying along with them.

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Can Mandel be the GOP’s Majority Maker?

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.

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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.

Mandel was thought by some political observers to be too green and untested to defeat an entrenched incumbent like Brown. His list of political accomplishments is thin. He has less than two years as Ohio’s treasurer and two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. Despite Brown’s designation as the “most liberal member of Congress” by the National Journal, the incumbent, who has also has seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives under his belt, was assumed to have an easy opponent in Mandel. But despite that modest resume, it’s now apparent that voters seem to like the Republican. The 34-year-old may not look old enough to shave but there is something about the Marine veteran’s smart, youthful persona and upbeat style that attracts voters.

Back in June, Politico alleged that the only thing that was keeping Mandel’s hopes afloat was support from super PACs like American Crossroads. But in the intervening months, Mandel was carpet-bombed by labor PACS and other liberal big spenders who lambasted his candidacy and record. Rather than letting this Democrat counter-punch floor the GOP hopeful, Mandel has actually gained ground over the summer.

That has got to worry the Democrats, since it shows that the more the voters see of Mandel, the more they like him. And with Brown running slightly behind President Obama, he’s going to need a surge at the top of the ticket in order to be carried over the finish line. That means a Senate seat that Democrats believed they were likely to keep is very much up for grabs this fall. Akin’s collapse was a blow to the GOP’s plans to win the Senate. But since a Mandel win should no longer be considered a long shot, they can easily make up for a loss in Missouri with an unexpected triumph in Ohio.

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