Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama

Meeting Mitt — the Likeable Enough CEO

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.

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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.

Politico notes that Romney’s pledge to try to get into the weeds on issues with his staff and do his own thinking, rather than being force-fed solutions by his staff to rubber stamp, sounds reminiscent of Obama’s ponderous decision-making. But Romney’s proven managerial abilities, his knowledge of the fine line between necessary delegation and abandoning responsibility, and formidable powers of research analysis provide a strong contrast to the president’s style. Above all, Romney promises accountability to the voters. Unlike the president’s grandiloquent pledges of hope, change and turning back the oceans, Romney’s ideas are far more concrete and down to earth and are far better suited to the business of fixing what’s wrong with the country.

Nevertheless, the Republicans understand that Romney won’t win a straight popularity contest with Obama, and that is a huge handicap in any presidential election. The president’s likability is somewhat overrated. The admiration he inspires has far more to do with his historic status as the first African-American president than his personality. But that, along with the cool he exudes, has greater appeal than Romney’s “Father Knows Best” persona.

As today’s Washington Post poll shows, despite the tremendous advantages that Obama possesses in terms of incumbency and his place in history, he is still deadlocked with his GOP opponent. Romney doesn’t have to be more likeable than Obama. But he does have to convince more Americans that he’s got the right stuff to lead the nation. Based on the evidence of the Republican rollout this week, he’s made a good start.

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Don’t Count on a Convention Bounce

One of the standing assumptions of most political pundits is that each party will emerge from its national convention these next two weeks with a “bump” in the poll numbers for their candidates. Gallup reports that the post convention fluctuations in its survey numbers give candidates a typical bounce of about five percentage points. Given the close nature of the current presidential contest and the fact that he has been trailing President Obama all year, Mitt Romney would certainly be happy with that kind of boost. It would be enough to put him into the lead at a time when he needs a momentum change.

But while pundits are also cautioning both the candidates and their supporters to remember that convention bounces tend to flatten out by the time the voters have their say in November, there are good reasons to believe the traditional bump may not be as strong in 2012 as it has been in the past.

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One of the standing assumptions of most political pundits is that each party will emerge from its national convention these next two weeks with a “bump” in the poll numbers for their candidates. Gallup reports that the post convention fluctuations in its survey numbers give candidates a typical bounce of about five percentage points. Given the close nature of the current presidential contest and the fact that he has been trailing President Obama all year, Mitt Romney would certainly be happy with that kind of boost. It would be enough to put him into the lead at a time when he needs a momentum change.

But while pundits are also cautioning both the candidates and their supporters to remember that convention bounces tend to flatten out by the time the voters have their say in November, there are good reasons to believe the traditional bump may not be as strong in 2012 as it has been in the past.

The willingness of Democrats to junk tradition and step up their attacks during their opponents’ convention may be another indication of the administration’s determination to adopt any tactic or smear if it will help the president’s re-election. But it could be a stroke of strategic genius if it alters the monochromatic nature of the political conversation during a convention week and neuters Romney’s bounce. Hurricane Isaac, especially if it turns out to be worse than expected, could also divert the country from the Romney pep rally and diminish its significance. Just as important is the possibility that viewership for the scripted infomercials staged by both parties won’t generate as much interest as in the past and therefore mean a smaller impact on the polls.

Any bounce, no matter how small, that leaves Romney in the lead rather than trailing Obama, as he has all year, would be crucial. Though Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate energized Republicans and demonstrated a willingness to emphasize the differences between the parties, the last month was bookended by problems. The media-driven claim that his foreign trip was undermined by gaffes both real (the Olympics) and imaginary (Palestinian culture) didn’t help him. Even worse, the week before the convention was marred by the Todd Akin fiasco, a gift to the Democrats that may keep on giving all fall. If two weeks from now, Romney has evened the small gap between himself and the president or taken a tiny lead, it will have been a major achievement and could put him on track for a November victory.

But if the media spends the coming week devoting a lot of attention to Democratic guerilla warfare in Tampa, it could alter the traditional equation that produces convention bounces. Traditionally, the opposition stays quiet during their rivals’ convention week, allowing each side to portray their candidate and party without too much contradiction. But if the Democratic plan to trash courtesy succeeds, it cannot but help depress the bounce. Even if the GOP retaliates the following week in Charlotte — a trick that won’t be as easy without the cooperation of the mainstream media that the Democrats may receive in Tampa — the result will still be to Romney’s disadvantage.

The hurricane may be another piece of bad luck for the Republicans. The cancellation of the first night of the convention isn’t catastrophic but if Isaac inflicts terrible damage on Florida, it will be true disaster for the GOP since it will mean the party won’t have a monopoly on the media in the coming days.

But hovering above all of these factors is something that pundits and political junkies tend to forget: the conventions are no longer the greatest political show on earth and the public knows it. The party conventions were once great colorful dramas where real decisions were made both on the floor and in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms elsewhere. That changed a long time ago, but its impact on the public’s interest in them may be finally catching up to that reality because of the way the media has been transformed in the last two decades. The broadcast networks are limiting their coverage this year to three prime-time hours each and the parties should think themselves lucky to get that much. In 2008, the debut of Sarah Palin and the historical nature of Barack Obama’s acceptance of his party’s nomination riveted the nation but there will be no such drama this year.

As John noted on Friday, Romney’s acceptance speech will be more closely watched than Obama’s a week later, but the assumption that the whole nation will be riveted by it or any such address may not be justified anymore. All that may add up to a situation where the crucial question may not be how long the post convention bounce lasts but why it never happened. If so, it won’t be good news for Mitt Romney.

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Romney Has a Natural Convention Advantage over Obama

Three days before the GOP convention begins, the race is effectively tied. The first CNN poll to feature “likely voters” has it 49-47 with Barack Obama on top; Gallup and Rasmussen, which have daily tracking polls, have it dead even. I go into greater detail about Mitt Romney’s pretty good position here.

More important, though, is the opportunity Romney has when he delivers his convention speech Thursday night with the entire country watching. It is likely that 75 percent of the people who will see him on Thursday may never have heard him say more than a soundbite or two. Romney tends to rise to occasions, like the 20 Republican debates in which he performed—never badly, and probably outright won 15 of them. But this is the occasion of occasions—the most important night of his life and potentially a turning point in the nation’s life.

This is obviously a huge opportunity for Romney; and it’s an opportunity that Barack Obama does not have.

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Three days before the GOP convention begins, the race is effectively tied. The first CNN poll to feature “likely voters” has it 49-47 with Barack Obama on top; Gallup and Rasmussen, which have daily tracking polls, have it dead even. I go into greater detail about Mitt Romney’s pretty good position here.

More important, though, is the opportunity Romney has when he delivers his convention speech Thursday night with the entire country watching. It is likely that 75 percent of the people who will see him on Thursday may never have heard him say more than a soundbite or two. Romney tends to rise to occasions, like the 20 Republican debates in which he performed—never badly, and probably outright won 15 of them. But this is the occasion of occasions—the most important night of his life and potentially a turning point in the nation’s life.

This is obviously a huge opportunity for Romney; and it’s an opportunity that Barack Obama does not have.

As far as the convention speeches go, Romney has a surprising advantage over Barack Obama: The gift of novelty. What he will be doing the nation will never have seen him doing before. People will be curious to see how Romney does, interested to hear what he says—and, in a country that has spent a decade watching “American Idol,” will be full of opinions about how he performs.

Obama’s speech will generate nothing comparable. Quite the opposite. In the four years since his nomination in 2008, he has delivered a convention speech, an inaugural address, four State of the Unions, and (by my unofficial count) eight nationally televised prime-time addresses either in front of Congress or from within the White House. He has spoken and spoken and spoken—and at least judging from the response for the past two years, his speeches have not served to push the needle of public opinion in his direction.

So the public knows what Obama has to offer. Those who love him will love him; those who think he’s okay will think he’s okay; everybody else who doesn’t like him to varying degrees are unlikely to alter their views. Which means unless he delivers a masterpiece on September 6, his speech (and the convention that preceded it) are not likely to make much of a difference for him.

For Romney, therefore, the stakes are high and the rewards potentially higher. For Obama, it may just be another day being a rather gabby president.

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Ban Snubs Obama, Embraces Iran

As I wrote yesterday, a lot was hanging on whether United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would decide to ignore the urging of President Obama and go to Iran for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Doing so would make a mockery of the administration’s claim that they had successfully isolated the Islamist regime as part of a campaign to force it to give up its quest for nuclear weapons. But when faced with a choice of offending the Non-Aligned Movement and its Iranian host or President Obama and Israel, Secretary General Ban picked the lesser of two evils from his point of view and affirmed today that he was heading to Tehran.

There are those who will say with justice that nobody has cared about the Non-Aligned Movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall rendered this Third World strategy of playing the West against the former Soviet Union moot. However, Ban’s visit puts the icing on the cake for the ayatollah’s effort to show how the world is refusing to shun them the way other rogue regimes have been treated. That Ban would decide to go to Iran only a week after its leaders issued a new round of statements calling for the elimination of fellow UN member Israel is an outrage in itself. But by hosting the representatives of 120 countries with the head of the world body along with them, the Iranians have good reason to argue that this demonstrates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim that she has successfully isolated Iran is a joke.

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As I wrote yesterday, a lot was hanging on whether United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would decide to ignore the urging of President Obama and go to Iran for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Doing so would make a mockery of the administration’s claim that they had successfully isolated the Islamist regime as part of a campaign to force it to give up its quest for nuclear weapons. But when faced with a choice of offending the Non-Aligned Movement and its Iranian host or President Obama and Israel, Secretary General Ban picked the lesser of two evils from his point of view and affirmed today that he was heading to Tehran.

There are those who will say with justice that nobody has cared about the Non-Aligned Movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall rendered this Third World strategy of playing the West against the former Soviet Union moot. However, Ban’s visit puts the icing on the cake for the ayatollah’s effort to show how the world is refusing to shun them the way other rogue regimes have been treated. That Ban would decide to go to Iran only a week after its leaders issued a new round of statements calling for the elimination of fellow UN member Israel is an outrage in itself. But by hosting the representatives of 120 countries with the head of the world body along with them, the Iranians have good reason to argue that this demonstrates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim that she has successfully isolated Iran is a joke.

With the sanctions that the administration belatedly imposed on Iran not being strictly enforced and the P5+1 diplomatic process having completely collapsed, the president’s strategy for dealing with the Iranian threat is a shambles.

Ban’s visit merely illustrates what the Israeli government has been pointing out in recent weeks as it stepped up a campaign to get Washington to declare whether it would make good on President Obama’s pledge to stop the Iranian threat. Iran isn’t isolated. Nor has it been brought to its knees by sanctions. In fact, there is no prospect of either U.S. goal being reached in the foreseeable future.

As much as Israel’s critics may deplore what they see as unwarranted pressure on the president to declare his intentions during his re-election campaign, his strategy has failed. With time running out before Iran’s nuclear progress renders a strike impossible, the president must state his intention to act or admit that he has no intention of doing so even after November.

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Why Obama Still Won’t Go to Israel

The disagreement between Israel and the Obama administration over whether it’s time to acknowledge that diplomacy has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program is starting to make a lot of people nervous. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem to be interpreting the administration’s staunch refusal to abandon a diplomatic track that has already clearly failed as meaning that the president won’t make good on his promise to stop Iran from going nuclear. That has led to talk that Israel will strike Iran without U.S. assistance or permission and that it may do so even before the November presidential election.

The Americans are doing everything they can to persuade the Israelis to stand down but in the absence of trust in the president, mere words may not be enough. That’s why one of Obama’s leading Jewish supporters, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, believes it’s time for some symbolism. Goldberg writes today in Bloomberg that a long sought presidential visit to Israel before the election would do the trick. He’s right. If President Obama were to take time out from the campaign for a stop in Israel some time in the next few weeks, Netanyahu would have no choice but to postpone any attack plans. Though it is possible that Obama will listen to Goldberg, such a visit with less than 90 days before the election is a long shot. It is far more likely that the president will rely on his usual mode of communication with the Israelis: pressure and threats. But since that has never worked in the past, Obama’s supporters ought to be asking themselves what’s behind the president’s reluctance to act in a manner that might convince both Israelis and their Iranian foes that he isn’t fibbing about being prepared to act on the issue during his second term.

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The disagreement between Israel and the Obama administration over whether it’s time to acknowledge that diplomacy has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program is starting to make a lot of people nervous. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem to be interpreting the administration’s staunch refusal to abandon a diplomatic track that has already clearly failed as meaning that the president won’t make good on his promise to stop Iran from going nuclear. That has led to talk that Israel will strike Iran without U.S. assistance or permission and that it may do so even before the November presidential election.

The Americans are doing everything they can to persuade the Israelis to stand down but in the absence of trust in the president, mere words may not be enough. That’s why one of Obama’s leading Jewish supporters, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, believes it’s time for some symbolism. Goldberg writes today in Bloomberg that a long sought presidential visit to Israel before the election would do the trick. He’s right. If President Obama were to take time out from the campaign for a stop in Israel some time in the next few weeks, Netanyahu would have no choice but to postpone any attack plans. Though it is possible that Obama will listen to Goldberg, such a visit with less than 90 days before the election is a long shot. It is far more likely that the president will rely on his usual mode of communication with the Israelis: pressure and threats. But since that has never worked in the past, Obama’s supporters ought to be asking themselves what’s behind the president’s reluctance to act in a manner that might convince both Israelis and their Iranian foes that he isn’t fibbing about being prepared to act on the issue during his second term.

Though the Democrat’s campaign staff may think any time not spent in a swing state is a bad idea, an Obama visit to Israel now would be a coup for the president. It would monopolize media attention during the trip and thus hurt Mitt Romney. It would also bolster the president’s sagging Jewish support.

Even more important, such a dramatic gesture accompanied by a presidential speech in which he warned Iran that they must halt their nuclear program or face the consequences would convince the Israeli public that he could be relied upon to keep the promise he first made about stopping Tehran during the 2008 campaign. Under those circumstances, there would be no possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack since Netanyahu could not then justify such a move by pointing to distrust of Washington.

It would all be so easy but the question to ask about this scenario is why the president has always been so reluctant to show the Israelis some love when it would cost him so little and bring such a great reward?

The only possible answer is the one we always are forced to return to when discussing the problematic relationship between the Obama administration and Israel: the president’s equivocal feelings about the Jewish state. As veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller memorably put it a few weeks ago, Barack Obama is the first president in a generation “not in love with the idea of Israel.” That’s compounded by his open and very public dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Obama’s defenders are right to note that there’s nothing all that unusual about the lack of a visit to Israel during a first term, this is a president who has gone out of his way to pick fights with Jerusalem and to avoid the country during trips to the region. It appears that if Obama is to go to Israel, as his campaign hinted earlier during this summer, it would only be as a re-elected president with the whip hand over Netanyahu and not as a candidate who has to show some deference to his ally.

One imagines that Obama is recoiling at the very idea of being forced to pretend to be friendly with Netanyahu even if it meant avoiding an attack on Iran that he opposes or helping his re-election. Given the stakes involved, his refusal to take some good advice from a supporter tells us all we need to know about the president’s attitude toward Israel.

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Who Made the Case for Iran Attack? Obama

In his column at the Daily Beast today on the prospect of hostilities with Iran, Peter Beinart assumes his usual role: defender of Barack Obama against Israel and its supporters. In this case, it’s the chutzpah of Israel’s government to demand that the administration issue some clear red lines about how long it will wait before taking action against the Iranian nuclear threat that bothers him. Israel’s warning that it may have to act on its own is seen on the left as an attempt to force him to launch an unnecessary war. But Beinart’s complaint that we haven’t had a full-scale debate on stopping Iran is more than a bit disingenuous. Far from no one making a case for the use of force on Iran — which he compares unfavorably to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq — the president has been doing that ever since he started running for president.

If there hasn’t been much contention about pressuring Iran it’s because it’s been one of those issues on which there’s been a clear consensus. Stopping an Islamist regime that hates the West and America and which routinely calls for Israel’s elimination while promoting anti-Semitism and subsidizing terrorism is not a controversial goal. Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans both agree on this. The only question is which of them is serious about it. Beinart’s call for debate before any promises are made to Israel is part of an effort to back the president’s desire to keep kicking the can down the road until after the November election. Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly enacted sanctions that it are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. But his assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an “American interest” is simply untrue.

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In his column at the Daily Beast today on the prospect of hostilities with Iran, Peter Beinart assumes his usual role: defender of Barack Obama against Israel and its supporters. In this case, it’s the chutzpah of Israel’s government to demand that the administration issue some clear red lines about how long it will wait before taking action against the Iranian nuclear threat that bothers him. Israel’s warning that it may have to act on its own is seen on the left as an attempt to force him to launch an unnecessary war. But Beinart’s complaint that we haven’t had a full-scale debate on stopping Iran is more than a bit disingenuous. Far from no one making a case for the use of force on Iran — which he compares unfavorably to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq — the president has been doing that ever since he started running for president.

If there hasn’t been much contention about pressuring Iran it’s because it’s been one of those issues on which there’s been a clear consensus. Stopping an Islamist regime that hates the West and America and which routinely calls for Israel’s elimination while promoting anti-Semitism and subsidizing terrorism is not a controversial goal. Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans both agree on this. The only question is which of them is serious about it. Beinart’s call for debate before any promises are made to Israel is part of an effort to back the president’s desire to keep kicking the can down the road until after the November election. Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly enacted sanctions that it are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. But his assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an “American interest” is simply untrue.

Indeed, the comparison to Iraq, where intelligence about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be incorrect, is apt but not in the way that opponents of force think. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Iranians haven’t been coy about their nuclear goals even if they claim they don’t want a bomb. There isn’t much of a dispute about whether they are refining uranium or that they are building underground bunkers for this material. Opponents of action don’t dispute that the Iranians have worked on military applications of their nuclear material. Nor is this belief limited to Americans. There happens to be an international consensus that there is solid proof that an Iranian bomb is a threat to world peace as well as the global economy. Why would diplomats like the European Union’s Catherine Ashton be involved in negotiations to halt the Iranian project if it were solely about Israel’s interests?

Nor is there any doubt about how dangerous Iran already has become. Via its allies Hezbollah and Hamas and the vicious Assad regime in Syria, Iran is a destabilizing force in the region and the main bulwark of terrorism. It’s recent Al Quds day festivities also serve as a reminder of the entrenched anti-Semitism that runs deep in the regime’s ideology. Even Tehran’s apologists have trouble justifying indifference toward a country that denies the Holocaust while constantly threatening a new one.

It is true that after Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are war weary. But no one is suggesting an invasion. The U.S. and Israel have the capability to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities without injecting land forces. That would mean casualties as well as possible retaliation but comparison with either of Bush’s wars is completely misleading. Beinart is right that neither candidate is talking much about Iran on the campaign trail. But both agree that Iran must be stopped. Any debate about the advisability of making good on the country’s pledge to halt Iran would take place with only the far left and extremist libertarians speaking up in favor of letting the ayatollahs get their finger on the button. Were the president to make clear his red lines, few in either major party would disagree just as his pledge not to contain Iran went virtually unopposed.

The real debate is not about whether we should stop Iran but whether President Obama meant it when he pledged to do so. Ever since President Obama began running for the White House, he has used the sternest rhetoric about the nature of the Iranian threat and how unacceptable it would be for them to go nuclear. Until now, he has tried diplomacy and failed. What Israel wants is some idea of how long he will wait before acknowledging that failure. Unfortunately, the more his supporters call for delay, and the more administration spokespersons make statements about still believing that diplomacy can work, the less credible the president’s pledges on Iran sound. And that is what makes Israelis nervous and Iranians confident.

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Schemers vs. Ineffective Message Crafters

Today’s New York Times Book Review features an interview with NPR’s Ira Glass, who was asked, “What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?” He gave the following answer:

“Could someone please write a book explaining why the Democratic Party and its allies are so much less effective at crafting a message and having a vision than their Republican counterparts? … I remember reading in The Times that as soon as Obama won, the Republicans were scheming about how they’d turn it around for the next election, and came up with the plan that won them the House, and wondered, did the House Dems even hold a similar meeting?”

You have to admire the scheme the Republicans crafted as soon as Obama won. Faced with a new president with a 65 percent approval rating and complete control of Congress, the Republicans held a meeting and came up with a brilliant plan:

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Today’s New York Times Book Review features an interview with NPR’s Ira Glass, who was asked, “What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?” He gave the following answer:

“Could someone please write a book explaining why the Democratic Party and its allies are so much less effective at crafting a message and having a vision than their Republican counterparts? … I remember reading in The Times that as soon as Obama won, the Republicans were scheming about how they’d turn it around for the next election, and came up with the plan that won them the House, and wondered, did the House Dems even hold a similar meeting?”

You have to admire the scheme the Republicans crafted as soon as Obama won. Faced with a new president with a 65 percent approval rating and complete control of Congress, the Republicans held a meeting and came up with a brilliant plan:

Have the President spend nearly a trillion dollars on shovel-ready jobs that didn’t exist; use the money to benefit public-employee unions while the private sector hemorrhaged; pivot to a federal healthcare plan opposed by a majority of the public; assign oversight of the recovery effort to Joe Biden (because nobody messes with Joe); run up trillions of new public debt; propose budgets no one would vote for; ignore the presidential commission’s recommendations for solving the problem; adopt an apologetic foreign policy, intentionally putting daylight between America and its allies; trade the interests of European allies for magic reset beans; become impatient with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” but exhibit endless patience with Iran; play a record number of rounds of golf but avoid press conferences; give himself an A- after his first year (conditioned on ramming his healthcare plan through Congress within a couple months).

And then the Republicans took advantage of the fact that, as Glass suggests, the Democrats did not even hold a similar meeting.

Although the Times has not reported it, the word is out that after the 2010 shellacking, the Republicans held another meeting, and came up with an even simpler scheme for 2012: have the President double down, explaining how in his first two years he got the policy right but didn’t tell a story to the American people; and then have him craft a one-word message to the people: Forward.

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Which Candidate Cares More About Israel?

Ever since the last of a series of full-scale blowups between the Obama administration and Israel, Democrats have been desperately trying to convince Jewish voters that the president really is the Jewish state’s best friend. In order to do so, voters would have to ignore most of what had happened in the first three years of his presidency but they were able to argue that his decision not to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance completely ought to serve as proof of his good intentions. That’s enough for many Jews whose partisan preferences leave them ready to believe the Democrats’ talking points. But while American voters, Jewish and non-Jewish who consider the question an important one, ponder the question of which presidential candidate is a better friend to Israel, the people with the most on the line in the Middle East also have an opinion.

The latest poll of Israeli views of the U.S. election is similar to previous surveys on the question of American leadership: they don’t trust President Obama. As the Jerusalem Post reports, a new Peace Index/Dahaf Institute poll shows that 2-1 majority of Israeli Jews think Mitt Romney cares more about them than the president. Forty percent of respondents said Romney “assigns more importance to defending Israeli national interests” while 19 percent said Obama did. Ten percent saw neither as being more supportive than the other while 25 percent said they didn’t know and six percent said “neither” backed their country.  Back in April a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis saw Obama as either pro-Palestinian or neutral in the Middle East conflict. All of which leads one to wonder why so many American Jews think they understand Obama’s views of the question better than Israelis.

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Ever since the last of a series of full-scale blowups between the Obama administration and Israel, Democrats have been desperately trying to convince Jewish voters that the president really is the Jewish state’s best friend. In order to do so, voters would have to ignore most of what had happened in the first three years of his presidency but they were able to argue that his decision not to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance completely ought to serve as proof of his good intentions. That’s enough for many Jews whose partisan preferences leave them ready to believe the Democrats’ talking points. But while American voters, Jewish and non-Jewish who consider the question an important one, ponder the question of which presidential candidate is a better friend to Israel, the people with the most on the line in the Middle East also have an opinion.

The latest poll of Israeli views of the U.S. election is similar to previous surveys on the question of American leadership: they don’t trust President Obama. As the Jerusalem Post reports, a new Peace Index/Dahaf Institute poll shows that 2-1 majority of Israeli Jews think Mitt Romney cares more about them than the president. Forty percent of respondents said Romney “assigns more importance to defending Israeli national interests” while 19 percent said Obama did. Ten percent saw neither as being more supportive than the other while 25 percent said they didn’t know and six percent said “neither” backed their country.  Back in April a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis saw Obama as either pro-Palestinian or neutral in the Middle East conflict. All of which leads one to wonder why so many American Jews think they understand Obama’s views of the question better than Israelis.

The answer to that question is fairly obvious. It’s not that most Jewish Democrats really believe that Obama is sympathetic to the Jewish state. They have eyes and ears like the rest of us and can easily pick up the fact that, as veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller put it, “unlike [Bill] Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel.” It’s not just that most Jews aren’t single-issue Israel voters, it’s that for many of them, it doesn’t much matter. Others, including many liberals who do care about Israel, find reasons to grade him on a steep curve that allows him to pass muster because of his liberal positions on domestic issues.

But for that 10-25 percent of the Jewish electorate whose votes are in play this fall, the question of the president’s record on Israel will be important. Polls showing Israeli distrust of the president — which is getting deeper because of his lack of resolve on the Iranian nuclear threat — will make it even harder for Democrats to convince voters that he can be trusted to do the right thing for the Jewish state.

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President’s Press Abuse Could Backfire

The saying goes, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” For the Obama campaign and White House, that hand is the White House press corps. The president can give speeches until he’s blue in the face (which he often does, when he’s not at fundraisers, that is), but it’s the press–which is generally sympathetic to the president’s agenda–that report these talking points to the American people.

Today, National Review’s Jim Geraghty remarked in his essential Morning Jolt newsletter:

So if Obama tries to make the next two months about Seamus and tax returns and Bain layoffs killing steelworkers’ wives and so on . . . he’ll be advancing a bridge too far for his non-MSNBC media allies. What you or I might call the moderate-left MSM — CNN, the Washington Post editorial page, USA Today, The Economist, and most of the business and financial press — will have to acknowledge that one side is putting forth a serious solution, and the other side is trying to turn the presidential campaign into a reality-show food-fight.

Oh, and you figure snubbing the White House press corps to do sit-down interviews with Entertainment Tonight probably won’t help matters, either.

The White House press corps noticed the snub and aren’t too pleased with taking a backseat to news outlets that are devoted to breathlessly reporting on Jennifer Aniston’s engagement and Brad Pitt’s upcoming wedding.

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The saying goes, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” For the Obama campaign and White House, that hand is the White House press corps. The president can give speeches until he’s blue in the face (which he often does, when he’s not at fundraisers, that is), but it’s the press–which is generally sympathetic to the president’s agenda–that report these talking points to the American people.

Today, National Review’s Jim Geraghty remarked in his essential Morning Jolt newsletter:

So if Obama tries to make the next two months about Seamus and tax returns and Bain layoffs killing steelworkers’ wives and so on . . . he’ll be advancing a bridge too far for his non-MSNBC media allies. What you or I might call the moderate-left MSM — CNN, the Washington Post editorial page, USA Today, The Economist, and most of the business and financial press — will have to acknowledge that one side is putting forth a serious solution, and the other side is trying to turn the presidential campaign into a reality-show food-fight.

Oh, and you figure snubbing the White House press corps to do sit-down interviews with Entertainment Tonight probably won’t help matters, either.

The White House press corps noticed the snub and aren’t too pleased with taking a backseat to news outlets that are devoted to breathlessly reporting on Jennifer Aniston’s engagement and Brad Pitt’s upcoming wedding.

Today one of the most evenhanded and hard-hitting voices in the press corps, ABC’s Jake Tapper, wrote a blog post that took notice of the White House’s choice of press outlets:

President Obama hasn’t formally taken questions from the White House press corps in more than two months, while on the campaign trail in Iowa yesterday he made time for reporters from People Magazine and Entertainment Tonight.

His last news conference was at the G20 in June, when he answered six questions from three reporters on the European debt crisis, the conflict in Syria, and the notion of politics stopping at the water’s edge.

The White House press corps has not formally been given the opportunity to ask questions of the president on U.S. soil since his appearance in the Briefing Room on June 8 (when he said “the private sector is doing fine.“)

His last formal White House news conference was on March 6.

While the White House may be afraid to submit the president to questioning from the political press, it is still subjecting Press Secretary Jay Carney to an increasingly frustrated media. Today’s White House press briefing wasn’t pretty, and Tapper wasn’t alone in his harsh line of questions to Carney, who did nothing but deflect and distract from constant queries on the president’s refusal to rebuke his vice president’s incendiary remarks on the GOP’s plan to put the largely African-American audience “back in chains.” During the briefing Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry pointedly asked Carney, “Ryan has put his details out there. You’re hitting them. When does the president put his details out there? Before the election or after the election? … Giving an extra eight years to Medicare kicks it down eight more years. Everyone acknowledges you have to do more.” Carney’s response? “I think you, uh, need to focus more attention on the Ryan budget rules.”

Continued disrespect from the White House for the reporters that cover it are bound to affect the coverage it receives. While the media may be in the same ideological camp as the President and his administration, they have limits on their willingness to provide positive coverage of a White House that refuses to even play along and pretend to cooperate.

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Obama Poses as Uniter While Biden Smears

President Obama took time out from his latest campaign trip yesterday to give an interview to “Entertainment Tonight” and got exactly what he bargained for: an opportunity to spin the news with a softball questioner. The president, who avoids the serious journalists of the White House press corps like the plague was asked breathlessly by ET’s Nancy O’Dell what he thought of Mitt Romney’s charges that the Democrat is conducting a campaign of hate. His response was an incredulous assertion that he is the man trying to unite the country. That he said so with a straight face the day after his vice president claimed Republicans were going to put “y’all back in chains” — a clear reference to black slavery — and with Democrats accusing Romney of killing people, is a tribute both to his high regard for himself and his political skills.

Democratic operatives have been quite frank about the fact that Obama’s re-election isn’t going to be about “hope and change” but an attempt to destroy the character of his opponents. But if the next 82 days are going to center on each party’s efforts to bring out their base, then it should be expected that the president will try to keep up the pretense that he is holding on to his 2008 claim of being above petty partisanship. In order to do that, he’s going to let his running mate whip up resentment against Romney by using racial incitement.

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President Obama took time out from his latest campaign trip yesterday to give an interview to “Entertainment Tonight” and got exactly what he bargained for: an opportunity to spin the news with a softball questioner. The president, who avoids the serious journalists of the White House press corps like the plague was asked breathlessly by ET’s Nancy O’Dell what he thought of Mitt Romney’s charges that the Democrat is conducting a campaign of hate. His response was an incredulous assertion that he is the man trying to unite the country. That he said so with a straight face the day after his vice president claimed Republicans were going to put “y’all back in chains” — a clear reference to black slavery — and with Democrats accusing Romney of killing people, is a tribute both to his high regard for himself and his political skills.

Democratic operatives have been quite frank about the fact that Obama’s re-election isn’t going to be about “hope and change” but an attempt to destroy the character of his opponents. But if the next 82 days are going to center on each party’s efforts to bring out their base, then it should be expected that the president will try to keep up the pretense that he is holding on to his 2008 claim of being above petty partisanship. In order to do that, he’s going to let his running mate whip up resentment against Romney by using racial incitement.

Obama and his wife Michelle claimed Republicans were distorting the meaning of Biden’s words and were attempting to avoid a serious discussion of regulating Wall Street. But there can be no mistake about what it means for a northern white politician like Biden to affect a southern drawl and tell a mostly black audience the GOP is going to put them in chains. While most of the coverage of Biden today has depicted him as an out-of-control mistake machine that is a burden to the president, the truth is, the veep is filling an important role in the Democratic campaign. Biden’s reputation as a gaffe-prone gasbag hasn’t caused him to tone done his routine or have his handlers keep him on a leash. On the contrary, the more political observers roll their eyes at him, the more he seems to be free to be himself and unleash a torrent of abuse at the Republicans while the president is allowed to play the victim of unjustified criticism.

Of course, Obama’s hypocrisy on this score is nothing new. Throughout his presidency he has spoken of himself as a reasonable man of the center all the while depicting those who disagree with him as extremists who put ideology and party above the needs of their country. His brazen use of class warfare attacks on the Republicans is a classic example of a politician who seeks to profit from sowing division and hate.

Democrats are counting on the way his supporters insulate themselves from views and news reports that will point out the inconsistencies and lies that are the foundation of the myth of Obama the uniter. But as the election heats up and Democratic incitement reaches fever pitch, even his acting skills are going to be tested if he expects any but his most fervent cheerleaders to accept his pose as a man who is above the fray.

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Anger Over Obama Leaks Isn’t Swift Boat II

Democrats are trying to portray ex-intelligence officials who are publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s leaking of sensitive material in order to boost the president’s political standing as partisans. They think by merely saying the words “Swift Boat,” the group, which calls itself Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, will be ignored or reviled. But the comparison to those Navy veterans who blasted John Kerry’s record during the 2004 campaign is not apt. Whatever the motivation of the original Swift Boat veterans, their beef was a personal grudge against Kerry. The issue the Opsec group is highlighting is a serious problem that has already resulted in federal investigations of the White House’s behavior.

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Democrats are trying to portray ex-intelligence officials who are publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s leaking of sensitive material in order to boost the president’s political standing as partisans. They think by merely saying the words “Swift Boat,” the group, which calls itself Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, will be ignored or reviled. But the comparison to those Navy veterans who blasted John Kerry’s record during the 2004 campaign is not apt. Whatever the motivation of the original Swift Boat veterans, their beef was a personal grudge against Kerry. The issue the Opsec group is highlighting is a serious problem that has already resulted in federal investigations of the White House’s behavior.

The White House is particularly unhappy because the group’s efforts threaten to tarnish the one tangible achievement of this administration: the killing of Osama bin Laden. The operation that ended the life of the arch terrorist was a brilliant military maneuver but it has become a political totem for the president. The killing has allowed him to pretend that a record of foreign policy failure has somehow been transformed into one of unadulterated success. While the president deserves credit for giving the okay for the strike (after reportedly refusing to do it three previous times), the shameless manner with which the administration blabbed classified information so as to portray Obama and his staff as fearless war leaders understandably angered the intelligence community. More importantly, it was just one more instance in which the White House leaked secrets for political gain. While the investigations of these leaks by two U.S. Attorneys may eventually lead to serious consequences for some individuals, the president shouldn’t be surprised that there is going to be some political damage as well.

The Swift Boat attacks on Kerry were controversial because they were seen as an unfair attempt to besmirch a decorated veteran who did face enemy fire. Kerry’s fellow veterans resented his portrayal as a hero and were bitter about his unconscionable attacks on fellow serviceman after he returned home from Vietnam. But whatever you may think about that dispute, there really is no comparison to criticism of Obama’s promiscuous leaking of classified material.

This is an administration that hasn’t hesitated to blab details about the most important covert operations and research, such as cyber warfare and the drone attacks on terrorists, so as to paint the president as a great man. The White House has clearly broken the law but it is unclear whether they will be made to pay for these violations since Obama appointees rather than an independent special prosecutor are conducting the investigations.

It should also be admitted that some of the anger about the leaks about the bin Laden operation are due to natural resentment by those who carry out such operations at the way the president’s team has used them as props in his re-election campaign. The president rarely makes a speech without mentioning bin Laden’s killing, and while he has given proper credit to those who actually risked their lives on this mission, there’s little doubt that the White House has worked hard to paint him as the true “hero” of the story.

While the election will not be won or lost on this issue, the blowback on the leaks is a lesson for all political leaders. Presidents who seek to take the lion’s share of the credit for the actions of those who serve in the military and who leak information to puff their own reputations will always be resented for doing so. Rather than blasting the Opsec veterans, what is needed from the administration is a little more humility from the commander-in-chief.

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Can Obama Admit Iran Diplomacy Failed?

Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

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Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

Israelis are understandably divided on the wisdom of acting on their own since they, and not the United States, would pay the highest price in terms of casualties and terror attacks that would likely follow a strike on Iran. Everyone, including Netanyahu’s critics and opponents of a unilateral strike, seem to agree that a U.S.-led action would be ideal. But the lack of confidence in the willingness of President Obama to act may leave Netanyahu and his cabinet no choice. Even after the issuing of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that is more realistic about the Iranian threat, the Americans are still acting as if they have all the time in the world to decide to do something about this peril. By contrast, the Israelis know that by next year, the Iranians may have refined more uranium and stored it in underground bunkers that may be impervious to Israel’s attack capabilities.

While reports about Israel telling the U.S. it needs to know by September 25 whether the U.S. will take action are unconfirmed, Netanyahu’s decision must be influenced by his confidence level in Obama’s willingness to take action. Should he wait until after November, it may turn out to be too late to make a difference. Even more worrisome is the notion that a re-elected Obama cannot be relied upon to make good on his promise to stop Iran.

Those who are calling on Israel to lower the temperature on the war talk are addressing their entreaties to the wrong capital. The only way to calm down Israel is for Barack Obama to start speaking the truth about Iran. Since there seems little chance of that happening, expect to hear even more talk of war emanating from Israel in the coming weeks and months.

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Media Decry Attacks From “Both Sides”

You have a Democratic campaign that’s painting its opponent as a felon, a tax-dodger, a dog-abuser, and a killer who will bring back slavery. On the other side, you have a Republican campaign that’s responding to these attacks as “hateful” and “inappropriate.” The media spin? Both sides need to tone down the “toxic rhetoric”:

“You thought last week was bad? Just when you thought last week’s third grade insults were as low as the campaign could go here, here we go again, the campaign has gotten even uglier,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said Wednesday. “It’s not faux outrage, it’s real outrage. Over the last 24 hours, the attacks from both sides have reached a new level of vitriol.”

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien said the campaigns struck a new note of negativity.

“Romney and Obama campaigns going on the offensive at the same time? What that means is nasty rhetoric, really nastier than ever,” she said this morning.

Seriously? Romney has basically stuck to attacks on Obama’s policy, it’s the Obama campaign that’s gone into the gutter. In fact, the only “negative” remarks from the Romney campaign cited in the Politico story were made in response to Democratic smears. Yes, Reince Priebus called Reid a liar — in response to Reid’s baseless accusations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. The Washington Post gave Reid’s claim four Pinnochios, and Politifact rated it as “Pants on Fire.” Should they be criticized for toxic rhetoric as well?

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You have a Democratic campaign that’s painting its opponent as a felon, a tax-dodger, a dog-abuser, and a killer who will bring back slavery. On the other side, you have a Republican campaign that’s responding to these attacks as “hateful” and “inappropriate.” The media spin? Both sides need to tone down the “toxic rhetoric”:

“You thought last week was bad? Just when you thought last week’s third grade insults were as low as the campaign could go here, here we go again, the campaign has gotten even uglier,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said Wednesday. “It’s not faux outrage, it’s real outrage. Over the last 24 hours, the attacks from both sides have reached a new level of vitriol.”

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien said the campaigns struck a new note of negativity.

“Romney and Obama campaigns going on the offensive at the same time? What that means is nasty rhetoric, really nastier than ever,” she said this morning.

Seriously? Romney has basically stuck to attacks on Obama’s policy, it’s the Obama campaign that’s gone into the gutter. In fact, the only “negative” remarks from the Romney campaign cited in the Politico story were made in response to Democratic smears. Yes, Reince Priebus called Reid a liar — in response to Reid’s baseless accusations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. The Washington Post gave Reid’s claim four Pinnochios, and Politifact rated it as “Pants on Fire.” Should they be criticized for toxic rhetoric as well?

But media figures who sold the public on the myth of Obama’s new, upbeat brand of politics back in 2008 apparently can’t admit that he’s the one spearheading the sleazy campaign tactics this time around. Hence, the more comfortable narrative that “both sides” are equally responsible for the negativity. Mark Halperin’s recommendation that Obama call Romney and propose a “truce” seems particularly unrealistic. How can anyone expect Obama to do this in good faith, after his campaign told Politico last year that it’s plan was to “destroy” Romney?

“Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.

The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama’s reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, “weird. …

The second aspect of the campaign to define Romney is his record as CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm that was responsible for both creating and eliminating jobs. Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession — a sort of political Gordon Gekko.

Why should it be a surprise that the Obama campaign is doing precisely what it said it was going to do?

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The Choice Voters Wanted

There are moments in political punditry when it’s clear the so-called experts are anything but. This seems to be the case with what was by far the most common analysis of Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate: pundits said it was a risk because the election would no longer be simply a referendum on an unpopular incumbent. But when you ask the voters about this, you get the opposite reaction. The Washington Post reports on its interviews with voters like Charles Bonuccelli:

“It’s not that I have an unfavorable impression of him. It’s that I have no impression of him,” he said. “You’re always kind of wondering, behind the facade, what are we going to get?”

The next day, he figured it out.

“This is a man who is to be taken at his word,” Bonuccelli said this week, after learning that Romney had chosen as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a man known for his laser focus on shrinking the government.

“The thing was that we didn’t understand who this guy [Romney] was — was he serious about these things? It was a confirmation that he is serious,” he added.

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There are moments in political punditry when it’s clear the so-called experts are anything but. This seems to be the case with what was by far the most common analysis of Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate: pundits said it was a risk because the election would no longer be simply a referendum on an unpopular incumbent. But when you ask the voters about this, you get the opposite reaction. The Washington Post reports on its interviews with voters like Charles Bonuccelli:

“It’s not that I have an unfavorable impression of him. It’s that I have no impression of him,” he said. “You’re always kind of wondering, behind the facade, what are we going to get?”

The next day, he figured it out.

“This is a man who is to be taken at his word,” Bonuccelli said this week, after learning that Romney had chosen as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a man known for his laser focus on shrinking the government.

“The thing was that we didn’t understand who this guy [Romney] was — was he serious about these things? It was a confirmation that he is serious,” he added.

The Post also quotes a voter named Mike Cunningham, to similar effect:

“We’ve already lived with four years of Obama. We already know what he’s about,” Cunningham said. “Romney keeps saying he’s from the business world. So now he needs to be more specific about what he can do, as a businessman, to turn around the economy.”

Several days later, he said that picking Ryan helped.

Contrary to fretting GOP insiders and countless “experts,” the voters don’t actually want a blank referendum on the president; they want to hear about an alternative vision for the country (smart voters!). Romney seems to have understood this better than most, and his campaign is making it an explicit theme. Here’s the Post reporting elsewhere on Paul Ryan’s campaign rally yesterday:

Paul Ryan on Tuesday rallied a raucous crowd of supporters at a high school here, making the case on his fourth day as Mitt Romney’s running mate that the GOP ticket is one of ideas, not just an alternative to President Obama.

“You see, we’re not going to go to people in this country and say, ‘The other guy is so bad that you have to vote for me by default,’” Ryan said in remarks at Palo Verde High School.

Voters also tend to respond to confidence, and this is a sure sign of it. The Romney-Ryan team has something to say beyond “Obama has failed.” Unlike those who didn’t want to roll the dice, voters don’t seem to think timidity is a virtue.

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Obama Fails as Fundraiser in Chief Too

A first-term president running for re-election always has a certain time-deficit challenge to overcome–the president, unlike his opponent, has a job to do. Electioneering takes a backseat to being leader of the free world. The president’s opponent, if not currently in office himself, could theoretically spend all day, every day at rallies in swing states while the President remains in the Oval Office, making decisions that set the trajectory for the country. The president, at the very least, has the advantage of already appearing presidential.

At least, that’s how it used to be. Mother Jones reported yesterday that President Obama has attended more than 200 fundraisers since officially relaunching his reelection campaign in April of last year. “Put another way, that’s an average of one fundraiser roughly every 60 hours for Obama.”

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A first-term president running for re-election always has a certain time-deficit challenge to overcome–the president, unlike his opponent, has a job to do. Electioneering takes a backseat to being leader of the free world. The president’s opponent, if not currently in office himself, could theoretically spend all day, every day at rallies in swing states while the President remains in the Oval Office, making decisions that set the trajectory for the country. The president, at the very least, has the advantage of already appearing presidential.

At least, that’s how it used to be. Mother Jones reported yesterday that President Obama has attended more than 200 fundraisers since officially relaunching his reelection campaign in April of last year. “Put another way, that’s an average of one fundraiser roughly every 60 hours for Obama.”

Mother Jones blames the Citizens United decision for “forcing” the president to become the fundraiser in chief to fight against the tide of shadowy Republican money, despite the existence of his own Super PAC, flush with union and celebrity cash.

Initially, President Obama set a fundraising goal of $1 billion–a world record for any campaign, anywhere. It’s become clear after the first few quarters of reporting that the president will, barring unforeseen events, miss that mark.

Why has the president’s fundraising faltered despite his constant fundraiser attendance? Put simply: the thrill is gone. Even his own wife Michelle Obama was forced to admit her husband isn’t a superhero. This from the woman who four years ago stated that Barack Obama made her finally, at long last, proud of her country. How the mighty have fallen. But in this case, it was Obama who brought himself down to earth.

President Obama has eroded his own built-in advantage: He’s stopped appearing presidential. While finding time to attend a fundraiser every sixty hours, he has not submitted himself to questions from the press in eight weeks and counting. Priorities USA, his campaign’s super-PAC, has accused Mitt Romney of manslaughter and his vice president warned a large group of black supporters yesterday that the GOP wants to put them back in chains. And it’s only August.

As Alana pointed out yesterday, in the face of the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate, the Democrats have proven they don’t want to make this an election of ideas, but rather of fear-mongering. Voters, and potential donors, have noticed. The president’s campaigning strategy may improve his polling numbers in the short term every time they warn that Republicans are going to take away “rights” like birth control and collective bargaining, but it doesn’t inspire the hope that his 2008 campaign did. That hope energized donors (and perhaps voters) who will be sitting this election out.

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The “Game Change” Obama Never Existed

Yesterday, Alana asked a perceptive question about President Obama’s self-image as portrayed in Game Change. I think we have the answer. My favorite thing about Game Change–the book about the 2008 presidential campaign that was made into a much-maligned HBO film–is the index. Whoever created the index at the book’s publishing house assumed no one would read it from cover to cover, but instead that its target audience–people who are portrayed in the book–would scour the index for the references they were looking for. So the structure of the index is quintessentially Beltway.

What do I mean? The index entries are organized according to mainstream media conventional wisdom. So under “Obama, Barack Hussein,” there is an entry marked “calmness and self-possession of.” You know, just to help nudge book reviewers in the right direction. But the entry under Obama’s name that takes the cake is the one marked “conventional politics disdained by.” In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that accusing Mitt Romney of murder has become something of a central theme in the campaign to re-elect the president.

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Yesterday, Alana asked a perceptive question about President Obama’s self-image as portrayed in Game Change. I think we have the answer. My favorite thing about Game Change–the book about the 2008 presidential campaign that was made into a much-maligned HBO film–is the index. Whoever created the index at the book’s publishing house assumed no one would read it from cover to cover, but instead that its target audience–people who are portrayed in the book–would scour the index for the references they were looking for. So the structure of the index is quintessentially Beltway.

What do I mean? The index entries are organized according to mainstream media conventional wisdom. So under “Obama, Barack Hussein,” there is an entry marked “calmness and self-possession of.” You know, just to help nudge book reviewers in the right direction. But the entry under Obama’s name that takes the cake is the one marked “conventional politics disdained by.” In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that accusing Mitt Romney of murder has become something of a central theme in the campaign to re-elect the president.

Obama’s refusal to disavow the first ad in the death-by-Romney series was an indication that there would be more to come. And now there is. Today, several outlets have reported on the new AFL-CIO ad, which you can see here. Because of an item in a budget Romney hasn’t voted for and didn’t have anything to do with (Romney is not a member of Congress), Obama ally Richard Trumka is accusing Romney of eventually causing the deaths of many coal miners from black lung disease.

The media is getting in on the action as well. CNN went searching through its archives for footage of leftwing pundits describing Paul Ryan’s budget, and found a doozy: Paul Krugman telling CNN, “To be a little melodramatic, the budget would kill people, no question.”

“Melodramatic” is indeed one way to describe such a statement. Though perhaps Krugman isn’t the best pundit to make that accusation. The New Yorker profile of Krugman revealed that he and his wife threw an Election Day party with a strange theme: guests were directed to a fire pit into which they threw effigies of their most hated politicians. And then there was the Krugman column that opened thus: “A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.”

And of course, the addition of Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket practically guarantees the return of the Democrats’ ad in which they dress up as Ryan and throw an old lady off a cliff. But you can hardly blame the Democrats for being so “melodramatic.” It turns out the Ryan proposal is not so easy to attack honestly, especially because it doesn’t impact current retirees. Kirsten Powers tried to get around this yesterday on Fox by simply designating the entire country senior citizens, which led to the following exchange with Charles Krauthammer:

POWERS: It will affect old people, just they’re not old right now. So they will eventually be old.

KRAUTHAMMER: They’re called young people.

Powers says they’ll “eventually be old,” but according to Democratic talking points, Romney won’t let that happen. In any case, where is Obama the intellectual in all this? What happened to the disdaining of conventional politics?

It turns out that if you follow those entries in Game Change, you don’t get examples of Obama practicing a new kind of politics so much as examples of Obama saying he wants to practice a new kind of politics. And that is the most damaging part of the contrast between a Romney-Ryan ticket and an Obama-Biden ticket: the polite charm, policy expertise, and gutsy new politics of real reform in place of the status quo are on the GOP side. Obama’s opponents are everything the media pretended he was. He may have encouraged the flattering depiction, but it’s doubtful he fooled himself into believing it.

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Obama’s Off Key Farm Subsidies Pitch

The Obama campaign is in full attack mode this week, and President Obama’s campaign speech in Iowa today shows the level of cynicism in the Democrats’ attempt to bash Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. While stumping in the Hawkeye state, the president criticized Ryan for blocking a farm aid bill that is before the Congress and which he described as vital to helping rural communities survive both drought and an economic downturn. But does Obama really think voters are dumb enough to believe this?

The president’s Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act isn’t a legislative equivalent of a farm aid concert. It is a mini-stimulus package aimed at playing favorites in the agriculture industry and represents exactly the sort of massive government spending that both sides in last year’s budget impasse agreed could not be sustained. But the farm bill isn’t just yet another example of the Democrats’ penchant for crony capitalism; it is also an attempt to preserve farm subsidies that virtually everyone in Washington knows are an unsustainable boondoggle that represent the worst in patronage politics. Far from the president’s championing of this issue being part of a coherent plan to demonize Ryan, his backing of farm subsidies merely illustrates why Ryan’s reformist ideas are needed now more than ever.

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The Obama campaign is in full attack mode this week, and President Obama’s campaign speech in Iowa today shows the level of cynicism in the Democrats’ attempt to bash Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. While stumping in the Hawkeye state, the president criticized Ryan for blocking a farm aid bill that is before the Congress and which he described as vital to helping rural communities survive both drought and an economic downturn. But does Obama really think voters are dumb enough to believe this?

The president’s Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act isn’t a legislative equivalent of a farm aid concert. It is a mini-stimulus package aimed at playing favorites in the agriculture industry and represents exactly the sort of massive government spending that both sides in last year’s budget impasse agreed could not be sustained. But the farm bill isn’t just yet another example of the Democrats’ penchant for crony capitalism; it is also an attempt to preserve farm subsidies that virtually everyone in Washington knows are an unsustainable boondoggle that represent the worst in patronage politics. Far from the president’s championing of this issue being part of a coherent plan to demonize Ryan, his backing of farm subsidies merely illustrates why Ryan’s reformist ideas are needed now more than ever.

To highlight his supposed concern for farmers, the administration today ordered a $170 million government meat purchase aimed at appeasing voters in agricultural states and ensuring the president a warm reception in Iowa. But the issue at stake here isn’t a hard-hearted Ryan presenting an obstacle to suffering farmers as the president says but rather the shockingly cynical manner in which the Democrat seeks to buy farm votes with government largesse.

If there is anything we should have learned after a century of government spending on such farm bills it is that the results have more to do with satisfying private interests than the economic health of the nation. The subsidies are, as the Heritage Foundation rightly notes, wasteful handouts that are as unnecessary as they are corrupt.

Though he travels the nation decrying the ills of Congress, his farm bill demonstrates all that is wrong with the business as usual culture of Washington that Paul Ryan has spent his career trying to change. For decades, politicians have played Santa Claus, giving out gifts to the taxpayers. But informed citizens understand the goodies they receive from leaders like President Obama are but a fraction of the enormous wealth taken from taxpayers. The president famously said four years ago that he favored a redistribution of wealth from the rich to others less well off. But the farm bill symbolizes what he really means: a policy of taking from the middle class and giving it not to the poor but to favored special interests.

The farm bill Obama is touting isn’t so much about helping dry farms as it is about promoting the same sort of wasteful “green” expenditures that produced the Solyndra debacle. These farm subsidies were always bad policy but in an era of crushing federal debt, they are a luxury the nation can no longer afford. If Obama thinks he can win re-election by supporting a corrupt status quo, he may have offered Romney and Ryan yet another opportunity to highlight the administration’s failure to think about anything but narrow and cynical political interests.

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Ryan’s Social Views No Burden to GOP

The assumption among liberals is that the more the public learns about Paul Ryan, the easier it will be to brand him (in the words of Obama campaign honcho David Axelrod) as a “certifiable right-wing ideologue.” The core of that strategy is the belief liberals can demonize Ryan’s budget and his effort to reform entitlements. But another aspect of it is the notion that the Republican vice presidential candidate’s social conservatism is also an easy target. As a New York Times article details, Ryan is pro-life, an opponent of gay marriage and opposes the federal mandate that all employers must be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs even if it contradicts their religious scruples. The assumption is that the mere listing of these positions that so offend liberal orthodoxy will ensure the defeat of the Republicans.

But as Politico notes today, as much as Ryan helps energize the conservative base behind a Romney candidacy about which they were lukewarm, placing the articulate congressman from Wisconsin on the ticket also helps put the votes of Catholics who are independents or conservative Democrats into play. While those who look to the editorial page of the New York Times for guidance may be outraged about Ryan’s positions on social issues, the number of those voters — including those whose support might be up for grabs in November — who share his view of ObamaCare as well as on abortion, gay marriage and guns is far greater. Ryan’s impact on the working-class Catholic vote that helped make the difference for Barack Obama in some states four years ago is a factor that many analysts are underestimating.

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The assumption among liberals is that the more the public learns about Paul Ryan, the easier it will be to brand him (in the words of Obama campaign honcho David Axelrod) as a “certifiable right-wing ideologue.” The core of that strategy is the belief liberals can demonize Ryan’s budget and his effort to reform entitlements. But another aspect of it is the notion that the Republican vice presidential candidate’s social conservatism is also an easy target. As a New York Times article details, Ryan is pro-life, an opponent of gay marriage and opposes the federal mandate that all employers must be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs even if it contradicts their religious scruples. The assumption is that the mere listing of these positions that so offend liberal orthodoxy will ensure the defeat of the Republicans.

But as Politico notes today, as much as Ryan helps energize the conservative base behind a Romney candidacy about which they were lukewarm, placing the articulate congressman from Wisconsin on the ticket also helps put the votes of Catholics who are independents or conservative Democrats into play. While those who look to the editorial page of the New York Times for guidance may be outraged about Ryan’s positions on social issues, the number of those voters — including those whose support might be up for grabs in November — who share his view of ObamaCare as well as on abortion, gay marriage and guns is far greater. Ryan’s impact on the working-class Catholic vote that helped make the difference for Barack Obama in some states four years ago is a factor that many analysts are underestimating.

While it is possible that Mediscare tactics will stampede some voters who would otherwise vote against the president’s re-election, the idea that independents will be scared away from a conservative because of his views on abortion is something of a liberal myth. Those who have no sympathy for Ryan’s pro-life views or disagree with his opposition to more restrictions on gun ownership were never going to vote for Romney anyway.

But, as much as this may surprise the editorial board of the New York Times, there are voters out there who will see the elevation of a faithful Catholic to the GOP ticket as motivation to vote for Romney. The proof of this is in the composition of the Democratic ticket. While Biden is a supporter of abortion, his role in mobilizing working-class Catholics behind Obama was widely acknowledged in 2008. Democrats may believe their push behind a “social justice” agenda will help them hold onto Catholic voters, but the ObamaCare mandate against religious freedom is the flaw in that theory.

As much as many Catholics may disagree with their church’s teaching on contraception, the spectacle of the government compelling religious institutions as well as individuals to choose between their consciences and obeying the federal mandate is one that hurts Obama. Far from Ryan’s social conservatism being a problem for the GOP, the ability of the veep nominee to make a strong case for both economic freedom and the principles of his upbringing is an undervalued asset in the election.

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Paul Ryan and Obama’s Identity Crisis

Many Democrats are outwardly cheering Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan. But I wonder what’s actually going through the minds of Obama’s inner circle. David Axelrod has probably run enough campaigns to realize that Paul Ryan is an exceptional political talent whose star is rising just as Obama’s is fading. And what’s the president thinking? Back in 2007, this was how Obama’s personal frustrations with his self-identity were described to the authors of the book Game Change:

“[Obama] wanted to be seen as substantive. He was substantive. And not being viewed that way was hurting his chances, he thought. I’ve spent my whole life caring about policy, he told his staff. I want to have new ideas. I want them to be specific. I want to make sure that no one can say they’re not specific enough. Obama had imagined at the outset of the campaign that he would set aside hours to consult with world-class experts, delving into the issues, devising innovative solutions. He kept asking for more time to do that, but his schedule was too jam-packed with fund-raisers and campaign events.”

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Many Democrats are outwardly cheering Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan. But I wonder what’s actually going through the minds of Obama’s inner circle. David Axelrod has probably run enough campaigns to realize that Paul Ryan is an exceptional political talent whose star is rising just as Obama’s is fading. And what’s the president thinking? Back in 2007, this was how Obama’s personal frustrations with his self-identity were described to the authors of the book Game Change:

“[Obama] wanted to be seen as substantive. He was substantive. And not being viewed that way was hurting his chances, he thought. I’ve spent my whole life caring about policy, he told his staff. I want to have new ideas. I want them to be specific. I want to make sure that no one can say they’re not specific enough. Obama had imagined at the outset of the campaign that he would set aside hours to consult with world-class experts, delving into the issues, devising innovative solutions. He kept asking for more time to do that, but his schedule was too jam-packed with fund-raisers and campaign events.”

Even back then, Obama was attached to the image of himself as a Serious Person. At the time, he didn’t have a history as someone who devised “innovative solutions” — in the Senate he had mainly voted along party lines, shying away from controversial issues. Since taking presidential office, Obama hasn’t fared much better when it comes to substance. He’s hopped from issues to issue — energy, jobs, the deficit, immigration — giving speeches, signing symbolic orders, proposing vague plans that don’t tend to get implemented. Even Obama’s signature achievement, health care reform, was crafted primarily by Congress.

Yet he continues to latch onto an image of himself as a policy wonk. During a recent interview with CBS, he said his biggest mistake as president was focusing too much on the “policies” and not enough on “tell[ing] a story to the American people.”

This seems to be a major element of Obama’s own self-identity. So it will be interesting to see how he handles a challenge like Paul Ryan — someone who is actually viewed in Washington as both a political superstar and a substantive man of ideas. Obama seems to be fairly thin-skinned for a politician, and he has a difficult time hiding it when he resents someone (see: Benjamin Netanyahu). He never appeared to hold strong feelings about Mitt Romney, but could that change now that Ryan’s entered the race?

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Liberal Surprise: Ryan Can’t Be Palin-ized

The liberal assault on Paul Ryan has commenced. But the first round of attacks can’t provide much solace to Democrats, who assume they will be able to demonize the Republican vice presidential candidate with ease. The first 48 hours of Ryan’s candidacy has already seen a deluge of abuse from the mainstream media editorial pages and columnists. If all you read is the opinion pages of the New York Times, which trotted out its second editorial rant against Ryan in two days, then you probably think that political strategist turned pundit Robert Shrum’s boast in the Daily Beast that by the time the Obama campaign is through with him, Ryan will be as toxic as Sarah Palin. Liberals like Robert Reich, who took to the Huffington Post to howl that Ryan’s ideas are “social Darwinism” or former Times editor Bill Keller who damned the prospective next GOP administration as a compendium of every wicked conservative idea ever conceived, clearly believe all they need to do is to just call Ryan and to a lesser extent Romney, every name they can think of.

But the problem with this effort to Palin-ize Ryan is that the first returns show it probably won’t work.

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The liberal assault on Paul Ryan has commenced. But the first round of attacks can’t provide much solace to Democrats, who assume they will be able to demonize the Republican vice presidential candidate with ease. The first 48 hours of Ryan’s candidacy has already seen a deluge of abuse from the mainstream media editorial pages and columnists. If all you read is the opinion pages of the New York Times, which trotted out its second editorial rant against Ryan in two days, then you probably think that political strategist turned pundit Robert Shrum’s boast in the Daily Beast that by the time the Obama campaign is through with him, Ryan will be as toxic as Sarah Palin. Liberals like Robert Reich, who took to the Huffington Post to howl that Ryan’s ideas are “social Darwinism” or former Times editor Bill Keller who damned the prospective next GOP administration as a compendium of every wicked conservative idea ever conceived, clearly believe all they need to do is to just call Ryan and to a lesser extent Romney, every name they can think of.

But the problem with this effort to Palin-ize Ryan is that the first returns show it probably won’t work.

One piece of evidence is the full length front-page profile of Ryan published in today’s Times. The story it tells of a small town boy whose intellectual prowess is matched only by his work ethic is not one that easily lends itself to the “extremist” narrative that the paper’s editorial page has been screaming about since Saturday. But the authors do their best to skew the portrait with language that doesn’t belong on the news pages of a reputable newspaper.

Part of the problem is that the Times can’t seem to find anyone who knows the likable congressman to dish any non-existent dirt on him. For example, in describing Ryan as an ambitious and accomplished teenager with numerous activities to his credit, the Times stoops to describe him as a “politically astute suck up.” No, that’s not a quote from some teenage rival but an editorial comment inserted into the article by the authors without quotes or even an attempt to attribute this opinion to anyone who knew him.

The article describes Ryan’s college career by again using a pejorative without quotes in which it characterizes his economic philosophy as “trickle down economics.” One can disagree with Ryan’s belief in the importance of economic freedom and the importance of encouraging the creation of wealth rather than expecting it to emerge as a result of some miraculous government intervention, but to use that kind of language again shows liberal reporters are trying a little too hard to follow their paper’s editorial party line in descriptions of the candidate.

Reality again collided with ideology last night on “60 Minutes.” The CBS program got the first post-announcement interview with Romney and Ryan last night, and there’s little doubt that liberals tuning into the program were hoping the Ryan roll-out would conjure up memories of how Sarah Palin was felled in her first network interviews after John McCain tapped her to be his vice presidential nominee. But Bob Schieffer never laid a glove on either Romney or Ryan. Much of the interview was softball material, but even when Schieffer attempted to attack the duo on the Ryan budget plan or entitlement reform, they easily turned away the assault and honed in on the president’s failings and the need to have the country face up to the tough issue of entitlement reform. Just as important, unlike Katie Couric’s confidence that she could embarrass Palin in 2008, Schieffer knew better than to try to tangle with the formidable Ryan.

While we can expect the assault on Ryan to only intensify in the coming days, liberals are already starting to show some frustration as they come up against the fact that whatever you may think of his ideas, he is both likable and admirable, something even President Obama was willing to admit earlier in his administration when he hoped to co-opt the intellectual leader of House Republicans.

Moreover, unlike Palin, Ryan is clearly ready to not merely hold his own on the enemy turf of the mainstream media but, as President Obama learned to his sorrow, is able to go on the offensive and challenge liberal orthodoxies without appearing like the snarling cartoon character that Democrats hope to paint to the public.

As I wrote earlier, it is an open question as to whether the American public will be willing to choose Ryan’s ideas about reforming our out-of-control tax and spend cycle over Democrat demagoguery intended to defend the status quo. But whatever the outcome of the election, the liberal boasts about turning Ryan into another Palin will fail miserably.

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