Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama

Obama Must Act on New Iran Intelligence

In 2007, a growing international consensus on the need to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons was hamstringed by a puzzling U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Tehran had abandoned its ambitions. Though the NIE was disputed by Israel as well as by other sources, this report became the bulwark of foreign policy realists determined to downplay or ignore the danger from Iran. But as Haaretz reports, a new NIE issued in the past month indicates not only is Iran working on such a program but they have made alarming progress on military applications of nuclear power.

The report, which was made known to the paper by both Western diplomats and Israeli officials, reportedly shows U.S. intelligence now concurs with their counterparts in the Jewish state that the Iranian peril is far greater than the Americans were previously willing to admit. This finding makes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public questions about the West’s willingness to wait for sanctions and diplomacy to work  justified. More to the point, it calls into question the Obama administration’s strategy of kicking the can down the road this year until after the elections.

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In 2007, a growing international consensus on the need to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons was hamstringed by a puzzling U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Tehran had abandoned its ambitions. Though the NIE was disputed by Israel as well as by other sources, this report became the bulwark of foreign policy realists determined to downplay or ignore the danger from Iran. But as Haaretz reports, a new NIE issued in the past month indicates not only is Iran working on such a program but they have made alarming progress on military applications of nuclear power.

The report, which was made known to the paper by both Western diplomats and Israeli officials, reportedly shows U.S. intelligence now concurs with their counterparts in the Jewish state that the Iranian peril is far greater than the Americans were previously willing to admit. This finding makes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public questions about the West’s willingness to wait for sanctions and diplomacy to work  justified. More to the point, it calls into question the Obama administration’s strategy of kicking the can down the road this year until after the elections.

Back in 2007, American intelligence was still shell-shocked from its pre-Iraq War failures. If it had been too eager in 2003 to believe the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, in 2007 it went in the other direction and adopted a see no evil stance that denied what everyone else in the world knew in order to avoid being blamed for a new conflict. But the new NIE ought to change the conversation about Iran not only in diplomatic circles but also on the campaign trail.

This is important because just this past Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said American intelligence was “confident that we would be able to detect a break-out move by Iran towards the acquisition of a nuclear weapon” even while the Israelis were expressing concern the allies might not know and act in time. The point is, it is not enough to merely admit that Iran is working on military applications of nuclear power, if the West isn’t prepared to stop the threat before the ayatollahs can order the construction of a bomb. The Israelis believe Iran must be prevented from getting to that point, while the Obama administration thinks it can rely on a last-minute effort to hold off the peril.

It is that complacent attitude emanating from the White House that has encouraged the Iranians to believe they can outwait President Obama. The failure of the P5+1 negotiations have exposed the foolishness of the administration’s reliance on a diplomatic process that only serves to buy Tehran more time to work on a bomb. Similarly, the president’s claim that the sanctions he belatedly and only under great pressure adopted on Iran will convince the ayatollahs to give in is undermined by the waivers granted to the restrictions that have enabled the Iranian economy to keep functioning.

The new NIE finding makes it imperative that Washington start acting as if it is not merely trying to run out the clock on the issue until the president is re-elected. It should also make it clear that the discussion about Israel acting on its own is not “warmongering” on the part of Netanyahu but his recognition that an existential threat to his nation’s existence cannot be ignored. If President Obama is going to continue acting as if all he need do about Iran is to talk about it, the new NIE makes it clear he must be held accountable for this failure.

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The Referendum Has Already Been Held

Democrats are supposedly happy about Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan because it helps them transform the election from a referendum on the last four years (which Obama cannot win) into a choice about the next four (which Obama hopes to win by labeling Romney-Ryan “extreme” — the word used three times by David Axelrod in his mass email yesterday).

But the referendum on Obama has already been held. The 2010 election was a personal rebuke (Obama referred to it the next day as the “shellacking … I [took]”); two years later, the verdict on his performance is, if anything, worse: his approval rating among likely voters is at 45 percent, and 43 percent of them “strongly” disapprove – the same “strongly disapprove” percentage George W. Bush had in January 2009; likely voters want ObamaCare repealed by a lopsided majority (55-39); and Obama has been reduced to claiming he always said things would take much longer to get better, when he never said anything of the sort.

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Democrats are supposedly happy about Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan because it helps them transform the election from a referendum on the last four years (which Obama cannot win) into a choice about the next four (which Obama hopes to win by labeling Romney-Ryan “extreme” — the word used three times by David Axelrod in his mass email yesterday).

But the referendum on Obama has already been held. The 2010 election was a personal rebuke (Obama referred to it the next day as the “shellacking … I [took]”); two years later, the verdict on his performance is, if anything, worse: his approval rating among likely voters is at 45 percent, and 43 percent of them “strongly” disapprove – the same “strongly disapprove” percentage George W. Bush had in January 2009; likely voters want ObamaCare repealed by a lopsided majority (55-39); and Obama has been reduced to claiming he always said things would take much longer to get better, when he never said anything of the sort.

Paul Ryan has long argued that the 2012 election needs to be about a “choice” — not to win it, but to make it worth winning. In his eloquent November 12, 2001 address to the Claremont Institute, entitled “Our Churchillian Moment,” he concluded as follows:

[N]othing is more predictable than the danger rushing upon us from the oncoming fiscal train wreck. There is still time to take the actions needed to reduce spending, reform our tax code, take control of the debt, restore economic growth, and repeal and replace the president’s health care law … The biggest problem is timidity, lack of political will, fear of losing the next election for speaking truth …

Look, Republicans didn’t always get it right as a party ourselves. But if there ever was a time to gather our political courage and reclaim our ideas, it is now. The country is facing a very precarious moment. Your leaders owe you a real choice … It is our moral obligation, as elected representatives, to give the American people this choice.

Unseating an incumbent president always involves both a referendum and a choice. The verdict on Jimmy Carter’s performance was clear in 1980, but voters still had to be convinced that Ronald Reagan (whom the Democrats had demonized as “extreme”) was the right alternative; the election was close until after the debates. In 2012, the verdict on Obama has long been clear; with his pick of Ryan, Romney has now brought a similar clarity to the choice the voters face.

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Will Ryan Help Obama Win Jewish Votes?

One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.

Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.

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One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.

Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.

Democratic plans to demonize Ryan will find a ready audience among liberal Jews. Obama’s questionable record on Israel was never going to affect the votes of a majority of Jews. The issue was not whether Obama could hold onto more than 50 percent of Jewish votes, but how much of the 78 percent he got in 2008 would he be able to retain. The most optimistic estimates of the Democrat vote will keep him in the mid-60s, with his share of Jewish ballots in Florida probably being even lower. But Democrats are hoping that some of those Jews defecting from their ranks will start to slink back to Obama due to fears over the future of Medicare. Just as a loss of 10 to 25 percent of the Jewish vote could make the difference in Florida and perhaps even affect the outcome in Pennsylvania or Ohio if the election is close, a backlash against Ryan could also be decisive.

But Democrats shouldn’t count on the Jews falling back into their column so easily.

First, those Jewish voters who are most vulnerable to Mediscare tactics were already going to vote for Obama. If you are the sort of person who truly believes the Republicans are going to throw Bubbe over the cliff, you probably were never sufficiently concerned about Obama’s pressure on Israel and unwillingness to confront Iran to cross over to the GOP. The minority of American Jews who consider Israel’s security to be a major influence on their votes are not going to be so easily bulldozed by the Mediscare routine. Voters who believe the president will sell out Israel are not the most receptive audience for a Democratic campaign based on the idea that Romney and Ryan will sell out the elderly.

Democrats also forget that Jews are just as capable of figuring out that the only way to save Medicare is to face the issue head on rather than pretend, as Democrats intend to do, to preserve the status quo. As much as the left will lap up the attacks on Ryan and his budget, the centrist voters who are in play this fall may not be as easily fooled as liberals think. And there is another possibility that nobody on the left is prepared to even consider: a lot of those Jewish grandmothers and grandfathers who care about Israel may just decide they like Ryan a lot more than Obama.

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Time to End the Atrocities Prevention Board

It has been less than four months since President Barack Obama announced the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, sometimes called the “Genocide Prevention Board.” Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Obama announced:

Now we’re doing something more.  We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities. So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task. It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.

The idea that it takes a new bureaucracy to identify genocide, as a White House fact sheet explained, was always silly; the private media does just fine reporting on atrocities. If anything, the creation of new government bodies at taxpayer expense simply suggests the inefficiency of previous government agencies, none of which ever seem to fade away.

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It has been less than four months since President Barack Obama announced the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, sometimes called the “Genocide Prevention Board.” Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Obama announced:

Now we’re doing something more.  We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities. So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task. It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.

The idea that it takes a new bureaucracy to identify genocide, as a White House fact sheet explained, was always silly; the private media does just fine reporting on atrocities. If anything, the creation of new government bodies at taxpayer expense simply suggests the inefficiency of previous government agencies, none of which ever seem to fade away.

A new interagency board will never be able to enact policies against the will of the White House, the State Department, or Congress. Syria is a case in point: Atrocities have only accelerated since the board’s inauguration, yet the White House remains uninterested in much more than symbolic action. Nothing is more corrosive to the credibility of the United States than the gap between rhetoric and action which now exists. Nor will the board ever inform Obama that his policies–for example, talking to the Taliban–will almost certainly lead to renewal of atrocities in Afghanistan.

Obama rewarded Samantha Power with the chairmanship of the Atrocities Prevention Board. Power, a Pulitzer prize winner who has focused on genocide since her days as a freelance reporter in Bosnia, provided the intellectual push for the board, and she has made a career out of the often mutually exclusive lament that the United States does too little to prevent genocide and that the United States should work more through the United Nations in resolving conflict.

By chairing such an impotent board, however, Power now has the ability to make real change, although not as she had initially planned. If she remains the head of a meaningless board powerless to prevent genocide, she effectively exposes herself as a partisan hack, willing to put her affinity for Obama and her love for the title above principle. However, if Power refuses the temptation to posture rather than prevent atrocity, she could show herself to be a woman of principle and, in so doing, stop giving cover to those who, against the backdrop of mass murder, would turn and look away.

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The Ryan Test: Demagoguery Versus Ideas

As John wrote earlier today, liberals are convinced that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan to be his running mate offers them a golden opportunity to savage the Republicans about the Wisconsin congressman’s budget plans. Predictably, the New York Times delivered one of the first such salvos in its editorial posted hours after Romney announced his pick in which it slammed Ryan as “callous” and claimed his attempt to control the nation’s out-of-control entitlements would leave the poor and the elderly sicker while also harming the unemployed and students. Not considering it advisable to even make a pretense of noting the GOP veep candidate’s strengths, the Times thought it advisable to go for the jugular first and worry about nuance later. We can expect the rest of the liberal mainstream media to do no less in the days and weeks that will follow.

However, it must be noted that the expectation by liberals that they can get away with such blatant demagoguery is not entirely without foundation. The pick of Ryan should energize the Republican base and will lend intellectual heft to a Romney campaign that has often seemed intent on merely waiting for the voters to fire Barack Obama rather than putting forward its own vision. But we know that “Mediscare” tactics employed by the Democrats have worked sometimes. And, as Times political blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver pointed out on Wednesday, Ryan brings no obvious or immediate tactical political advantages to the Republicans. If Romney’s choice does anything it is to provide a test for the electorate. Are they prepared to listen to reasoned arguments articulated by Ryan about the need for entitlement reform, or will they succumb to simplistic liberal cant about pushing grandma over the cliff? As much as conservatives want to believe the American public is not so foolish or shortsighted as to simply accept the left’s defense of the status quo, we won’t know the answer to that question until November.

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As John wrote earlier today, liberals are convinced that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan to be his running mate offers them a golden opportunity to savage the Republicans about the Wisconsin congressman’s budget plans. Predictably, the New York Times delivered one of the first such salvos in its editorial posted hours after Romney announced his pick in which it slammed Ryan as “callous” and claimed his attempt to control the nation’s out-of-control entitlements would leave the poor and the elderly sicker while also harming the unemployed and students. Not considering it advisable to even make a pretense of noting the GOP veep candidate’s strengths, the Times thought it advisable to go for the jugular first and worry about nuance later. We can expect the rest of the liberal mainstream media to do no less in the days and weeks that will follow.

However, it must be noted that the expectation by liberals that they can get away with such blatant demagoguery is not entirely without foundation. The pick of Ryan should energize the Republican base and will lend intellectual heft to a Romney campaign that has often seemed intent on merely waiting for the voters to fire Barack Obama rather than putting forward its own vision. But we know that “Mediscare” tactics employed by the Democrats have worked sometimes. And, as Times political blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver pointed out on Wednesday, Ryan brings no obvious or immediate tactical political advantages to the Republicans. If Romney’s choice does anything it is to provide a test for the electorate. Are they prepared to listen to reasoned arguments articulated by Ryan about the need for entitlement reform, or will they succumb to simplistic liberal cant about pushing grandma over the cliff? As much as conservatives want to believe the American public is not so foolish or shortsighted as to simply accept the left’s defense of the status quo, we won’t know the answer to that question until November.

The assumption on the part of many observers that Ryan’s elevation is the result of Romney’s understanding that his campaign needed a turnaround in the same manner as many of the companies he built at Bain Capital may not be true. It may be that Romney came to the conclusion that Ryan was the best qualified candidate of all those on his short list and saw in him a kindred soul who could govern effectively with him. If so, I think he was right. Ryan is, as Romney described him, the intellectual leader of his party, and a willingness by the GOP standard-bearer to make an ideas maven his running mate speaks well for his judgment. But there should be no misunderstanding about the fact that a lot of the blind optimism about the election one heard from Republicans in recent months was unjustified. Romney did need to shake up the race and he has done so.

President Obama’s electoral liabilities are well-known. He has presided over a poor economy and his major accomplishments — the enactment of a massive stimulus spending bill and his signature health care plan — are deeply unpopular. But his historic status as the first African-American president and the darling of the liberal media gives him advantages that are just as important. Without them, he would, as a president who faces the people with a higher unemployment rate than he inherited and with negative job approval ratings, be facing an epic defeat this fall rather than possessing a slim lead in the polls.

All of which means Romney’s decision to directly challenge the president by presenting conservative ideas that provide a strong contrast to the Democrat’s grim defense of the liberal status quo is a good idea. Romney can’t win by being passive. But it must be admitted that there is no guarantee that the liberals’ bet that scare tactics will prevail over the demand for rational reform will not prevail.

If anyone can provide a positive and well thought out answer to the deluge of fear mongering we will be subjected to in the coming months it is Ryan. It should also be remembered that just two years ago, the strength of the ideas of the Tea Party helped the GOP win a landslide in the 2010 midterms. The president and his backers may believe his presence on the ticket combined with an all-out assault to demonize Romney and Ryan will overwhelm the calls for an end to the endless cycle of taxing and spending. The battle has been joined and it will be up to the American people to determine which of these strategies is the one that will triumph.

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Crossroads Ad Pushes Obama to Condemn Steelworker Ad

There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):

The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:

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There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):

The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:

Romney said in a radio interview that the ad was “wrong and inaccurate” and that the Obama campaign should be “embarrassed” the super-PAC, Priorities USA, is standing by the ad.

“You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad,” Romney said on Bill Bennett’s radio show. “They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact-checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they’re wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them.”

Frankly, it’s interesting that the Obama campaign hasn’t issued a clear condemnation of the ad yet. Is it because he’s worried about hurting Priorities USA’s fundraising if he speaks out against them too harshly? Wealthy Democrats have already been reluctant to give to super PACs, which was why Obama publicly endorsed Priorities USA in the first place — to let donors know this group was approved by the most principled campaigner ever. If he now denounces the super PAC for running slimy and dishonest ads, that could seriously handicap Priorities for the rest of the season.

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Romney’s Strategy Isn’t Working

The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

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The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

Romney and his people prefer this strategy because it’s what is most comfortable to them. He is not, at root, an ideological person. Neither, at root, are they. And the data suggest this is not a time for a sharply ideological campaign. The data suggest Romney needs to run as Mr. Fix-It. That is how Romney prefers to view himself. So the two match perfectly.

Alas for him, that’s not how it works. If conservative ideology is a problem with some independents, it also has the virtue of providing those who use it to discuss the nation’s problems with a pulse. Romney has just learned over the past few weeks that he cannot limit the discussion to the topics he wishes to talk about, especially when his rival is spending $100 million trying to destroy him in the swing states and when the media are largely serving his purposes by acting as though an increase in the unemployment rate and utterly unimpressive jobs-creation numbers are somehow good news.

So here’s why he should be talking about other things, releasing plans, giving speeches on big topics—because it’s the only way he can control the discussion. If he says the same thing about the economy every single day, he bores. He provides nothing new for anyone to fix on. He has to feed the beast. And it can’t just be that he puts his toe gingerly in the welfare-reform pool one day and then defend himself for three days after. It all has to keep moving.

In any case, if he doesn’t start putting things down on paper and develop the themes in speeches and get specific so that there is some meat on the bones of his policies, what on earth is he going to talk about for the next 88 days? Whether or not he killed a woman? This is a race he should be able to win, so if he loses, it won’t be because Obama won it. It will be because he lost it—and we’re seeing exactly how that might happen right now.

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Getting Obama Out of the Bubble

There is much to mock in the New York Times report on how President Obama’s obsession with his own press coverage has convinced him the media is not biased quite enough in his favor. But I come not to mock, but to offer some unsolicited advice to the president. The Times writes:

While former President George W. Bush and his aides liked to say they ignored the Fourth Estate, Mr. Obama is an avid consumer of political news and commentary. But in his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him….

Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.

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There is much to mock in the New York Times report on how President Obama’s obsession with his own press coverage has convinced him the media is not biased quite enough in his favor. But I come not to mock, but to offer some unsolicited advice to the president. The Times writes:

While former President George W. Bush and his aides liked to say they ignored the Fourth Estate, Mr. Obama is an avid consumer of political news and commentary. But in his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him….

Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.

That, to me, contains both the diagnosis and the cure. Obama’s campaign has been constructed almost entirely around petty issues and drummed-up controversies in an attempt to win each day or week’s news cycle without any substantive debate on many of these topics. We’ve seen this with the ridiculous “war on women” to the pro-Obama super PAC’s casual accusations of murder to the president’s refusal to disown Harry Reid’s debasing both the Senate and the presidential election with McCarthy-style rumormongering that apparently had the president’s blessing.

In other words, Obama’s “voracious” appetite for reporting he thinks to be utterly shallow has locked him into a behavioral pattern that mimics the mindset and attitude he swears he deplores. Though the Times doesn’t mean it as a compliment, the remark about Bush ignoring them is exactly that. Bush understood the media was not just biased against him, but militantly so, and conducted in a pack mentality that drained day-to-day reporting of any understanding of the larger picture.

So he read. A lot. Not the Times’s legendarily awful reporting, but hundreds of books instead. As Karl Rove recounted here, Bush was constantly reading–he read 95 books in 2006, apparently–and his reading list included a ton of non-fiction: history, politics, biography, etc.:

The reading competition reveals Mr. Bush’s focus on goals. It’s not about winning. A good-natured competition helps keep him centered and makes possible a clear mind and a high level of energy. He reads instead of watching TV. He reads on Air Force One and to relax and because he’s curious. He reads about the tasks at hand, often picking volumes because of the relevance to his challenges.

It’s beneficial to pay attention to the news, obviously. But Obama needs to get his head out of the horse race and into something substantive that can give him a bit more perspective. It might elevate his campaign too.

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Strike Two for Bill Burton?

Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

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Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

Burton could not have come off looking worse. This has to be a headache for President Obama, who isn’t officially tied to the super PAC but has publicly endorsed the super PAC. Campaign and White House officials have also attended fundraising events for Priorities USA, which means the campaign is going to have a hard time arguing that it has no association with the super PAC.

But Burton’s reprehensible ad, and his inability to defend it in interviews, aren’t his only problems. While Priorities USA was intended to compete with Republican-supporting super PACs like American Crossroads, its fundraising efforts have flopped since the beginning. It has been so weak in this area that the group signed onto a joint fundraising committee with Media Matters founder and head of the American Bridge 21st Century PAC David Brock in April. Committee for Justice President Curt Levy writes:

Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton founded the Obama-approved super-PAC Priorities USA Action last April, and his track record to date has been miserable. According to Federal Election Commission, or FEC, data, Burton and company raised just $4.4 million in 2011 — a paltry figure compared with counterpart American Crossroads’ $18.4 million haul for the same year. This year isn’t going so well for Burton, either. Crossroads raised $9.7 million through the first quarter of 2012; Priorities took in just $4.6 million.

And, Bill Burton is the least of the president’s problems. Consider David Brock, founder and CEO of Media Matters and founder of the American Bridge 21st Century liberal super-PAC. Brock has been embroiled in controversy. …

According to FEC disclosures, Burton’s and Brock’s outfits established a joint fundraising committee this April, after months of private talks. There’s enough fundraising desperation in the Obama camp to override any concerns they might have had about Brock’s scandal-plagued past.

You have to imagine that interviews like the one above won’t help Burton’s dismal fundraising efforts. Obama can’t legally coordinate with Burton or stop him from running the ad. But he must be starting to regret he gave the flailing super PAC his seal of approval in the first place.

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Obama Campaign Feigns Ignorance About Romney Attack

The Obama campaign has spent the last day and a half ducking questions about Joe Soptic, the steelworker featured in the Priorities USA attack ad. Campaign adviser Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Obama campaign spokeswomen Stephanie Cutter and Jen Psaki have gone so far as to claim they don’t know enough about the specifics of the Soptic story to comment on it. Well, it turns out the Obama campaign should actually be pretty familiar with the specifics — because they’ve used Soptic in their own campaign commercials and even set up conference calls between him and reporters. Politico reports:

Soptic, laid off from Bain Capital-owned GST Steel, stars in a Priorities USA Action spot this week in which he tells of how his wife died without health insurance after he lost his job. Soptic also appeared, wearing what appears to be an identical shirt, in a May television ad for the Obama campaign. …

[Stephanie] Cutter hosted an Obama campaign conference call in May in which Soptic told reporters the very story featured in the Priorities spot.

Both the campaign and the Priorities USA Action said there was no coordination about Soptic’s appearances. In the campaign’s ad, Soptic speaks only about the plant. In the Priorities spot, he tells the personal story he relayed during the Obama campaign conference call.

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The Obama campaign has spent the last day and a half ducking questions about Joe Soptic, the steelworker featured in the Priorities USA attack ad. Campaign adviser Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Obama campaign spokeswomen Stephanie Cutter and Jen Psaki have gone so far as to claim they don’t know enough about the specifics of the Soptic story to comment on it. Well, it turns out the Obama campaign should actually be pretty familiar with the specifics — because they’ve used Soptic in their own campaign commercials and even set up conference calls between him and reporters. Politico reports:

Soptic, laid off from Bain Capital-owned GST Steel, stars in a Priorities USA Action spot this week in which he tells of how his wife died without health insurance after he lost his job. Soptic also appeared, wearing what appears to be an identical shirt, in a May television ad for the Obama campaign. …

[Stephanie] Cutter hosted an Obama campaign conference call in May in which Soptic told reporters the very story featured in the Priorities spot.

Both the campaign and the Priorities USA Action said there was no coordination about Soptic’s appearances. In the campaign’s ad, Soptic speaks only about the plant. In the Priorities spot, he tells the personal story he relayed during the Obama campaign conference call.

It doesn’t matter that the Obama campaign isn’t “officially” connected to the Priorities USA ad. If the campaign has featured the same former GST Steel worker in its own ad, and set up conference calls for him, then a) staffers obviously know much more about his story than they have let on; and b) they have a responsibility to respond to questions about it. If someone is featured in a presidential campaign commercial, it means the campaign is vouching for this person and he has likely been vetted in some capacity. Obama and his team passed Joe Soptic off as a trustworthy source on multiple occasions, and they should have to answer for contradictions or discrepancies in his story.

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Reviving the War on Women?

Sandra Fluke, the free-contraception activist whose claim to fame was getting insulted by Rush Limbaugh, is hitting the campaign trail with President Obama in Colorado today. But she started the day off with an anti-Romney column in the Huffington Post (via Daily Caller):

The morning of noted contraception activist Sandra Fluke’s campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Denver, the newly minted lawyer explained she is “standing with Obama” in an effort to protect women’s health care.

“This choice is personal for all of us because it will impact each of our lives. But for me, it’s intensely personal,” Fluke wrote in a Wednesday Huffington Post blog post, circulated by Obama for America. “Earlier this year, I was publicly attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others for testifying before members of Congress. I had shared stories of my friends and other young women, stories no different from those I’ve heard from women who also worry about having the health care they need.” …

“When Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for speaking about medical needs for contraception, Mr. Romney could only say that it ‘wasn’t the language [he] would have used,’” she added. “If Mr. Romney can’t stand up to the extreme voices in his own party, we know he’ll never stand up for women and protect the rights that generations of women fought so hard to ensure.”

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Sandra Fluke, the free-contraception activist whose claim to fame was getting insulted by Rush Limbaugh, is hitting the campaign trail with President Obama in Colorado today. But she started the day off with an anti-Romney column in the Huffington Post (via Daily Caller):

The morning of noted contraception activist Sandra Fluke’s campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Denver, the newly minted lawyer explained she is “standing with Obama” in an effort to protect women’s health care.

“This choice is personal for all of us because it will impact each of our lives. But for me, it’s intensely personal,” Fluke wrote in a Wednesday Huffington Post blog post, circulated by Obama for America. “Earlier this year, I was publicly attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others for testifying before members of Congress. I had shared stories of my friends and other young women, stories no different from those I’ve heard from women who also worry about having the health care they need.” …

“When Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for speaking about medical needs for contraception, Mr. Romney could only say that it ‘wasn’t the language [he] would have used,’” she added. “If Mr. Romney can’t stand up to the extreme voices in his own party, we know he’ll never stand up for women and protect the rights that generations of women fought so hard to ensure.”

Is Fluke really still trying to cash in on the Limbaugh controversy? It wasn’t a nice thing for him to say, but come on. It’s been six months. Fluke is about as relevant to the current state of the race as Joe the Plumber; the birth control debate isn’t exactly at the top of voters’ agendas.

Which is exactly the point of Obama bringing her along on the campaign trail. It’s a continuation of the same strategy Democrats have been using since the spring — delay and distract and talk about anything that’s not related to the economy. See: accusing Romney of killing a steelworker’s wife, floating rumors about him avoiding taxes for 10 years and accusing Romney of lying about when he left Bain Capital. Reviving Sandra Fluke to renew her attack on the “anti-women” Republicans is the latest gimmick from a campaign that has been negative, dirty, and dishonest through and through.

But at least by getting out on the campaign trail, Fluke is being honest about who she is. Last spring, the media treated her as a nonpartisan law student, when she’s actually a left-wing activist with an agenda. At least now, that reality is indisputable.

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Polls Show Romney Needs a Change

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.

Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.

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Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.

Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.

The stagnant polls are a sign Romney needs a change. If he picks a dull, mini-me running mate like Republican strategists were advising in Politico today, he’ll be ceding a certain amount of control over his election chances. He may be able to keep his favorability rating stable, or bump it up a few points. But mainly, he’ll be reliant on outside factors that could suppress Obama’s favorability ratings: the state of the economy, the situations in Iran and Syria, the battles in Congress, etc.

Choosing someone like Paul Ryan (or Rubio or Christie) would give Romney a chance to completely change the dynamic of the election — to make it about the larger conservative economic philosophy instead of Romney’s personal career in business. The election would still be a referendum on Obama, but at least Romney could provide a clear and bold alternative. So far, he hasn’t been able to; and a garden-variety VP pick isn’t going to help make that happen.

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Obama Ignores Own Executive Order on Gitmo Detainee Rights

It seems ages ago that President Obama delivered a speech in the early days of his presidency, suffused with self-righteousness and moral demagoguery, announcing he was closing the Guantanamo Bay prison. Unable to resist the temptation to smear his predecessor’s name with distortions and half-truths, the former law professor summoned all his reckless certainty to educate the American people: “Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al-Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law.”

So Obama, who supported the Supreme Court’s precedent-gutting Boumediene decision, which granted non-citizen enemy combatants habeas corpus rights, ordered the facility closed. Because that was an obviously empty promise, Obama added another executive order two years later establishing periodic review for detainees at the prison. And then the wheels came off the Moral Authority Express. It turned out instead of bringing enemy combatants to Guantanamo, where detainees are well-fed and have access to attorneys, Obama has been sending them to a disease-ridden hell-on-earth in Somalia. And the Obama administration began urging the Supreme Court to ignore the detainees’ appeals. And now it seems those periodic review boards were–what would the president call them? Just words:

The Obama administration has begun limiting the legal rights of terror suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, telling a federal judge Tuesday the government alone should decide when the prisoners deserve regular access to their counsel.

In a 52-page filing, Justice Department lawyers said they have started restricting when Guantanamo prisoners can challenge their detention in a Washington-based federal court. If approved, any relaxing of the rules would be made on a case-by-case basis at the exclusive discretion of military officials, not by the courts.

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It seems ages ago that President Obama delivered a speech in the early days of his presidency, suffused with self-righteousness and moral demagoguery, announcing he was closing the Guantanamo Bay prison. Unable to resist the temptation to smear his predecessor’s name with distortions and half-truths, the former law professor summoned all his reckless certainty to educate the American people: “Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al-Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law.”

So Obama, who supported the Supreme Court’s precedent-gutting Boumediene decision, which granted non-citizen enemy combatants habeas corpus rights, ordered the facility closed. Because that was an obviously empty promise, Obama added another executive order two years later establishing periodic review for detainees at the prison. And then the wheels came off the Moral Authority Express. It turned out instead of bringing enemy combatants to Guantanamo, where detainees are well-fed and have access to attorneys, Obama has been sending them to a disease-ridden hell-on-earth in Somalia. And the Obama administration began urging the Supreme Court to ignore the detainees’ appeals. And now it seems those periodic review boards were–what would the president call them? Just words:

The Obama administration has begun limiting the legal rights of terror suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, telling a federal judge Tuesday the government alone should decide when the prisoners deserve regular access to their counsel.

In a 52-page filing, Justice Department lawyers said they have started restricting when Guantanamo prisoners can challenge their detention in a Washington-based federal court. If approved, any relaxing of the rules would be made on a case-by-case basis at the exclusive discretion of military officials, not by the courts.

But doesn’t this seem to contradict the point of the administration’s periodic review executive order, which according to CNN has “not been fully implemented”? Indeed it does, and the Obama administration, having misplaced its Hope and its Change and its New Brand of Politics, has a priceless explanation for it: “As a general matter, executive orders are viewed as management tools for implementing the president’s policies, not as legally binding documents that may be enforced against the executive branch.”

This is one reason this administration loves governing by executive order: Not only do the people’s representatives not get a say in the matter, but congressional legislation has the pesky attribute of being legally binding. To the Obama administration, the rule of law is a nice bumper sticker slogan, but in practice it’s for suckers and Republicans. Don’t bother Obama with such trifles–he’s got oceans to lower.

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Obama Launches “Romneyhood” Attack

As John Steele Gordon noted during the weekend, Democrats have been pummeling Mitt Romney about his tax plan, after a new study by the Tax Policy Center claimed it would raise taxes on the middle class. The latest dig came from President Obama, who called the plan “Robin Hood in reverse”:

“The entire centerpiece” of Romney’s economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut, he said.

The president spoke of the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Romney’s plan again. “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse — it’s Romney-hood.”

The crowd laughed and roared and whistled its approval.

“That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term as president.”

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As John Steele Gordon noted during the weekend, Democrats have been pummeling Mitt Romney about his tax plan, after a new study by the Tax Policy Center claimed it would raise taxes on the middle class. The latest dig came from President Obama, who called the plan “Robin Hood in reverse”:

“The entire centerpiece” of Romney’s economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut, he said.

The president spoke of the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Romney’s plan again. “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse — it’s Romney-hood.”

The crowd laughed and roared and whistled its approval.

“That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term as president.”

Maggie Haberman notes some complaints about the study from the Romney campaign:

Romney’s campaign has argued the author of the report used to work in the Obama Treasury Department. Obama’s camp has noted it’s a nonpartisan think tank behind the study, and one Romney cited to discredit his primary rivals. Either way, ‘Romneyhood’ is going to be standard stump.

Obama needed to find a new class warfare attack on Romney after “you didn’t build that” flopped, and this Tax Policy Center study gives him the perfect prop for it. The Romneyhood message is simple and vivid: Obama wants to help the middle class, while Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Yes, this is a very premature and possibly inaccurate reading of Romney’s tax plan (the campaign still hasn’t released many of the details). But from a political perspective, Obama’s attack is pretty powerful.

The vast majority of Americans self-identify as middle class, even if their household income is substantially higher or lower than the median income. The vast majority of Americans also dislike when their own taxes increase, no matter what political party they belong to. Obama’s message doesn’t just speak to liberals or low-income voters; it speaks to the vast majority of voters.

The TPC may have a liberal bias, but that’s not a strong rebuttal from the Romney campaign (particularly as the director is a former member of Bush’s Economic Advisory Council). The best way to clear this up would be to see some more specifics on Romney’s tax plan.

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Obama’s Stealth Welfare Reform Rollback

It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

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It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

It should be expected that liberals will go all out to label the attack on Obama’s policy as racist. Like the attempt to depict the discussion about the lamentable rise in food stamp usage under this administration, the Democratic strategy will be to tar anyone who has the chutzpah to note the president’s effort to expand the welfare state as somehow prejudiced. But like the arguments claiming that point was a racist “dog whistle,” the defense of Obama’s gutting of welfare reform isn’t likely to persuade most voters.

Far from the critique of this rollback of reforms being racist, it is the liberal effort to take us back to the pre-Clinton era when welfare was a liberal sacred cow that is harmful to minorities. In 1965 then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his famous report on the way African-American families had been reduced to a state of permanent dependency by the welfare state. The Moynihan Report, which pointed out that well-intentioned government policies were recreating the evils of slavery, set off an important debate about the unintended consequences of liberal ideology. Moynihan discussed the issue in an article in COMMENTARY in February 1967. It would take decades for Americans to finally demand change, but common sense eventually prevailed in 1996 when a Republican Congress passed and a Democratic president signed the Welfare Reform Act.

While this issue will be seen as merely an attempt by the GOP to score points in the presidential race, it is actually far more serious than that. The bad economy makes it all the more important that the cycle of dependency not be restarted or expanded. With the press distracted by the presidential campaign and Congress immersed in partisan bickering about the deficit, President Obama was able to slip through an HHS directive that has destroyed the work that Moynihan began. The consequences of this stealthy move, if it is not reversed by either congressional action or a presidential reversal, are incalculable. While most of the focus on Obama’s liberal agenda has been on his expansion of federal power via his signature health care legislation, his decision to undo welfare reform may be just as significant an indication of his intent to restore failed liberal policies of the past. Romney is right to point this out. The question is, does the public understand just how important this issue will be in shaping our nation’s future?

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Romney Outraises Obama by Wide Margin

For the second month in a row, Mitt Romney outraised President Obama by a wide margin. Obama and the DNC brought in $75 million, the campaign announced on Twitter, while the Romney campaign and the RNC raised $101 million:

The gap is slightly smaller than it was in June, when Romney raised $106 million and Obama brought in $71 million, but it’s the second-straight month that Romney has pulled in nine figures and the third-straight month he has outraised the incumbent president.

The fundraising numbers are split between the candidates’ campaign committees, their respective national party committees and joint fundraising committees that raise money for both entities.

Romney’s campaign said the three combined had $185.9 million in the bank at the end of July; Obama’s team did not announce a cash-on-hand figure.

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For the second month in a row, Mitt Romney outraised President Obama by a wide margin. Obama and the DNC brought in $75 million, the campaign announced on Twitter, while the Romney campaign and the RNC raised $101 million:

The gap is slightly smaller than it was in June, when Romney raised $106 million and Obama brought in $71 million, but it’s the second-straight month that Romney has pulled in nine figures and the third-straight month he has outraised the incumbent president.

The fundraising numbers are split between the candidates’ campaign committees, their respective national party committees and joint fundraising committees that raise money for both entities.

Romney’s campaign said the three combined had $185.9 million in the bank at the end of July; Obama’s team did not announce a cash-on-hand figure.

Romney had a $25 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama early last month, and it’s undoubtedly grown since then. Obama has also been spending his campaign money at an unprecedented rate, according to the New York Times:

President Obama has spent more campaign cash more quickly than any incumbent in recent history, betting that heavy early investments in personnel, field offices and a high-tech campaign infrastructure will propel him to victory in November.

Since the beginning of last year, Mr. Obama and the Democrats have burned through millions of dollars to find and register voters. They have spent almost $50 million subsidizing Democratic state parties to hire workers, pay for cellphones and update voter lists. They have spent tens of millions of dollars on polling, online advertising and software development to turn Mr. Obama’s fallow volunteers corps into a grass-roots army.

But now Mr. Obama’s big-dollar bet is being tested. With less than a month to go before the national party conventions begin, the president’s once commanding cash advantage has evaporated, leaving Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee with about $25 million more cash on hand than the Democrats as of the beginning of July.

Obama will have less money for advertising blitzes this fall, but let’s also look at this in perspective. There’s a finite amount of advertising dollars you can spend before you saturate the airwaves, so perhaps the Obama campaign isn’t concerned about lagging in that area. The most critical element for the president is getting his base to turn out and vote, which is why he burned through so much cash investing in on-the-ground infrastructure.

Which is one reason Democrats are probably so concerned about the voter ID law. It doesn’t seem like much to ask a voter to show proof of identity, but it could also require some degree of pre-planning (either to apply for an ID or to bring an ID along) that the very low-interest, apathetic voters just don’t feel like investing. And these are the same voters who get-out-the-vote operations tend to target.

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Convention Lineups: More Upside for GOP?

The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

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The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

This is a mix of rising stars (Martinez, Haley), popular party figures (Rice, McCain, Kasich), and the obvious home-stater (Scott). These are not the names conservatives are lining up to hear, though Huckabee should be considered an exception. The former Arkansas governor’s great talent has always been communication–just contrast the tone of coverage Huckabee tends to receive from the notoriously socially liberal press with that of Rick Santorum. As important as evangelicals are to GOP get-out-the-vote efforts, Huckabee could be an important campaign surrogate for a candidate many social conservatives are still unsure about.

Otherwise, the Democratic convention is the subject of far more chatter, and appropriately so. In addition to the high-profile role Bill Clinton will play, Politico has a story today examining the risk of giving Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren a prime-time speech. Warren’s candidacy has been mired in controversy since news broke that Warren apparently listed herself as a minority to exploit quota hiring in academia by claiming Native American heritage she has been unable–and unwilling–to confirm.

Perhaps even more damaging, however, is that Warren popularized the “you didn’t build that” line of argument that was picked up by President Obama in an attempt to praise government that seemed to sneer at business owners. (Obama has said that his words were taken out of context, but arguably the worst part of his remarks were what came before the infamous lines, when he said, in a mocking tone: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.”)

Republicans will also luck out by the prominence–or lack thereof–given to potential Democratic presidential candidates for the 2016 cycle. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, expected to be a serious contender in four years, is practically avoiding the entire convention rather than use the free media as a launching pad. But it gets even better for Republicans: In what has to have GOP 2016 contenders practically giddy, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is still, amazingly enough, talking about running for president in 2016. He will have a speaking role at the convention, and is also chairing the rules committee.

O’Malley’s sensational inability to govern is by now legendary. He seems to have accepted his failures as well; he has pretty much stopped spending time in the state he governs. O’Malley (or O’Taxey, as Marylanders have taken to calling him) seems to be following California’s model of governing but, like Jon Corzine in New Jersey, hopes to be out of office when the state finally goes careening off the fiscal cliff (Corzine was defeated in time to save the state’s finances). The Republican convention will likely feature a prime-time speech from Chris Christie. If so, the contrast between the two parties’ ability to govern will be starkly in the GOP’s favor.

If O’Malley, Warren, and an impeached former president are the best the Democratic convention will have to offer, expect a lot more enthusiasm from conservatives when the GOP’s big names are finally announced this month.

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Palestinians Waiting for Obama to Win

Israel is being criticized today in the world press for playing hardball with five of the 12 non-aligned nations that had hoped to gather in Ramallah to formally back the Palestinian Authority’s latest attempt to get the United Nations to back their bid for statehood. The delegations from Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia and Malaysia who sought to enter the territories while sticking to their non-recognition of the Jewish state were not allowed in, effectively spiking the entire event. The collapse of what the PA had hoped would be a “Ramallah Declaration” was just the latest indication that the Palestinians’ latest UN bid might end as badly as their first try. However, the Palestinians are smart enough to know that placing your chips on the ability of a disorganized and powerless faction like the Non-Aligned Movement isn’t a good bet.

Far more significant than the posturing in Ramallah were the comments by aides of PA President Mahmoud Abbas that their UN campaign would be largely put on hold until after the U.S. presidential election. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas is planning to soft pedal his UN effort until November because he understands that any talk about the Palestinians could hinder Obama’s re-election hopes. Though the PA has been dismayed by the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive that has seen their concerns pigeonholed in Washington, Abbas is clearly hoping for a better result once Obama is safely returned to office.

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Israel is being criticized today in the world press for playing hardball with five of the 12 non-aligned nations that had hoped to gather in Ramallah to formally back the Palestinian Authority’s latest attempt to get the United Nations to back their bid for statehood. The delegations from Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia and Malaysia who sought to enter the territories while sticking to their non-recognition of the Jewish state were not allowed in, effectively spiking the entire event. The collapse of what the PA had hoped would be a “Ramallah Declaration” was just the latest indication that the Palestinians’ latest UN bid might end as badly as their first try. However, the Palestinians are smart enough to know that placing your chips on the ability of a disorganized and powerless faction like the Non-Aligned Movement isn’t a good bet.

Far more significant than the posturing in Ramallah were the comments by aides of PA President Mahmoud Abbas that their UN campaign would be largely put on hold until after the U.S. presidential election. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas is planning to soft pedal his UN effort until November because he understands that any talk about the Palestinians could hinder Obama’s re-election hopes. Though the PA has been dismayed by the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive that has seen their concerns pigeonholed in Washington, Abbas is clearly hoping for a better result once Obama is safely returned to office.

Abbas had hoped the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement’s Palestine Committee in Ramallah would give him a boost, but the collapse of the publicity stunt is yet another setback for his diplomatic offensive. Israel will be accused of playing the bully in this incident, and the Palestinians may think it will serve their cause, but the spectacle of nations that don’t recognize Israel’s existence seeking entry via Israeli crossings is not likely to harm the Jewish state.

If anything, the contretemps is a reminder that what the PA is trying to execute is an end run around the peace process. They want independence and Israel’s withdrawal from disputed territory but are not willing to negotiate about it and instead are simply demanding the UN hand it to them on a silver platter. Last summer, the world press was abuzz with predictions of a “diplomatic tsunami” which would swamp Israel as the Palestinians were acclaimed at the UN. But the tsunami was barely a light sprinkle as the world yawned and refused to back their play. Though it is still possible that with the help of the Non-Aligned nations they can upgrade their membership privileges via a UN General Assembly resolution, such a step would entail considerable risks for the PA, including the loss of U.S. funding as well as Israeli financial retaliation.

As for their cherished hopes that a second Obama administration would do their bidding, that is exactly the sort of rumbling that scares Democrats who fear Jewish voters will remember the three years of administration pressure on Israel rather than the last few months of friendship. But even though the Palestinians have good reason to think that a Romney administration would be far less willing to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction as Obama has done, they need to remember why they’ve accomplished nothing in the past four years.

Even though Obama has been the least friendly president to Israel in at least a generation, the Palestinians got nothing out of it. President Obama picked fights with Israel over settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem, but the Palestinians still struck out because they foolishly thought Obama would do all their dirty work for them and still refused to negotiate.

Israelis may worry about what Obama’s re-election will mean for them, as they know it is a certainty that the charm offensive will end the day after the election. But they can take comfort in the fact that it isn’t likely that Mahmoud Abbas will get any braver or smarter in the next four years. Even with a friend in the White House, the Palestinians will gain no territory or a state so long as they are unwilling to negotiate. Nor can they hope to achieve those goals unless they are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Because that is still a virtual impossibility, their faith in Obama or the ability of any American politician to help them is clearly misplaced.

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Does the Early Bird Get the Political Worm?

Given the hundreds of millions that both political parties and their presidential candidates have raised this year, it isn’t likely that either side will run out of cash before November. But the latest reports about how the two sides are utilizing their resources have raised an interesting question about campaign strategy. With President Obama’s campaign spending money like it’s going out of style in the spring and summer, it’s clear that despite the expectation earlier in the year that the formidable machine the Democrats have built would have a considerable financial edge, the opposite may be true. As the New York Times reports, Mitt Romney and the Republicans will likely have more money to spend in the fall campaign than their rivals.

The Democrats have spent the last couple of months going all in on nasty personal attacks on Romney that they hope, combined with spending on voter registration and other campaign infrastructure, will pave the way for an Obama victory. That’s a rational strategy but it leaves them open to some second-guessing. They are gambling that their sliming of Romney will sour the public on the GOP candidate will work. But if their charges don’t stick, they will be left to face a still viable rival in September and October who will be able to outspend them on the ground in battleground states.

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Given the hundreds of millions that both political parties and their presidential candidates have raised this year, it isn’t likely that either side will run out of cash before November. But the latest reports about how the two sides are utilizing their resources have raised an interesting question about campaign strategy. With President Obama’s campaign spending money like it’s going out of style in the spring and summer, it’s clear that despite the expectation earlier in the year that the formidable machine the Democrats have built would have a considerable financial edge, the opposite may be true. As the New York Times reports, Mitt Romney and the Republicans will likely have more money to spend in the fall campaign than their rivals.

The Democrats have spent the last couple of months going all in on nasty personal attacks on Romney that they hope, combined with spending on voter registration and other campaign infrastructure, will pave the way for an Obama victory. That’s a rational strategy but it leaves them open to some second-guessing. They are gambling that their sliming of Romney will sour the public on the GOP candidate will work. But if their charges don’t stick, they will be left to face a still viable rival in September and October who will be able to outspend them on the ground in battleground states.

So far the jury is out on the impact of the Democratic spending spree. The president has to be encouraged by polls showing him holding on to an edge in some swing states but the national polls portray a race that is still deadlocked. Factors that have little to do with the money spent by the campaigns such as the state of the economy or the outcome of the presidential debates will have a greater impact on the outcome than the bottom line of the candidates’ bank accounts. But Obama’s decision to not hold back more of his campaign war chest for the decisive final weeks when he may require some flexibility to respond to a fluid political situation may come back to haunt him.

The Democrats willingness to invest in measures designed to increase their turnout is smart. But it also highlights one of the president’s weaknesses. Unlike in 2008, there is no wave of enthusiasm for his candidacy that will impel unusually large numbers of young or minority voters to vote for him. With the “hope and change” mantra consigned to the history books, the Obama campaign has fallen back on the last resort of all incumbents who can’t run on their records: trashing their opponents. While the Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to suppress voter turnout, it is their own consistently negative approach to the election that is the factor that is turning off the public and making a large turnout unlikely.

In 2008, the president also had a decisive edge in campaign finance that allowed him to swamp John McCain down the homestretch. Due to Romney’s own impressive fundraising that won’t happen this year. And, as it now appears likely, the GOP nominee emerges from the summer without being sunk by the Democrats effort to destroy his reputation he will have a fighting chance to use his money to level the playing field in the final months.

The early bird may sometimes get the political worm. But the problem for the president is that if all of his early spending fails to achieve his goal of hamstringing Romney, he may have set the stage for a Republican comeback.

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U.S. Extradition Request Denied for Daqduq

Hezbollah terrorist mastermind and killer of American troops Ali Mussa Daqduq was in U.S. custody in Iraq and could have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay years ago. Instead, the Obama administration decided to let an Iraqi court try him. In a development that should come as a shock to no one, Daqduq has been cleared of charges, and the latest U.S. extradition request has been denied. The Associated Press reports the unrepentant terror leader might be back out on the streets before the end of Ramadan:

The U.S. believes Ali Mussa Daqduq is a top threat to Americans in the Middle East, and had asked Baghdad to extradite him even before two Iraqi courts found him not guilty of masterminding the 2007 raid on an American military base in the holy Shiite city of Karbala.

But the July 30 decision by the Iraqi central criminal court, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, ordered that Daqduq be freed immediately. It also makes it clear that Iraq believes the legal case against him is over.

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Hezbollah terrorist mastermind and killer of American troops Ali Mussa Daqduq was in U.S. custody in Iraq and could have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay years ago. Instead, the Obama administration decided to let an Iraqi court try him. In a development that should come as a shock to no one, Daqduq has been cleared of charges, and the latest U.S. extradition request has been denied. The Associated Press reports the unrepentant terror leader might be back out on the streets before the end of Ramadan:

The U.S. believes Ali Mussa Daqduq is a top threat to Americans in the Middle East, and had asked Baghdad to extradite him even before two Iraqi courts found him not guilty of masterminding the 2007 raid on an American military base in the holy Shiite city of Karbala.

But the July 30 decision by the Iraqi central criminal court, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, ordered that Daqduq be freed immediately. It also makes it clear that Iraq believes the legal case against him is over.

“It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case,” the three-judge panel ruled. “Therefore, the court decided to reject the request to hand over the Lebanese defendant Ali Mussa Daqduq to the U.S. judiciary authorities, and to release him immediately.”

Daqduq was in Iraq to train militants to kill American troops. He is believed to be responsible for the death of five U.S. soldiers, four of whom were captured, tortured and shot execution-style. His release would deny justice for the families of those men, and free him up to plot further attacks on Americans and our allies.

Sen. Jeff Sessions tore into the Obama administration for losing control of the situation:

The Administration had years to transfer Daqduq to our detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but because the President seemed to lack the political will to do so—I think because of campaign promises he improvidently made—one of the most dangerous, reprehensible terrorists ever in our custody will likely be allowed to go free. We should never have been in this position.

I and others saw this coming and we pleaded with the Administration not to allow it to happen. Sadly, our warnings fell on deaf ears and, sadly, we were proven correct. …

This policy cannot be defended. It has to end. So I urge the President and his team to act forcefully now. It may not be too late. With strong action we may be able to ensure that Daqduq is not released, that he is able to be tried for the murders he committed and the American soldiers he killed.

The Obama administration would argue that this isn’t their fault, that the Status of Forces Agreement required them to hand Daqduq over to the Iraqis when they pulled out. But that’s a cop out. The administration could have informed the Iraqis that, with all due respect, some prisoners are so reprehensible that they are simply not up for negotiation. They could have brought Daqduq to justice when they had the chance. Instead, they rolled the dice on the Iraqi court system, and lost — and the world may be less safe now because of it.

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