Though the press largely dropped the story weeks ago, no controversy has the potential to do as much long-term damage to the Obama presidency as the White House leaks investigation. That’s why Mitt Romney’s ringing denunciation of the administration’s fast and loose approach to classified information in his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday had to scare the administration silly. In response, they not only prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to try to walk back her accusation that the White House was the source of the leaks about cyber warfare, targeted assassinations of terrorists, Iran and other national security topics that Romney cited in his speech. They also sent out campaign honcho David Axelrod to make the rounds of the morning news shows today to reassure the American people that President Obama played no role in the flow of secrets to the front page of the New York Times and other media outlets friendly to the president.
But Axelrod’s assurances ring false. Obama’s problem here is that the White House’s fingerprints were all over these stories. It’s not just that secrets were spilled, but that they were leaked in a manner intended to make the president look like he was actively involved in the details of national security matters. The Times stories in particular — served up as they were to fill the front page of a number of Sunday editions of the paper — were more than background material about the nuts and bolts of how the nation is pursuing terrorists and attempting to stop Iran’s nuclear program but crafted so as to make the president look good. Moreover, they were sourced in such a way as to make it obvious it came from the White House. That is why Romney’s call for a special prosecutor had to make the president and his senior advisers squirm.
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech to the VFW today hit the right marks, but was unfortunately sparse on details and lacked an overarching vision. It was definitely more of a political speech than an ideological one; he mentioned President Obama by name 14 times, and many of his positions were framed in terms of his opposition to Obama.
But Romney’s speech did get an assist from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He quoted her while criticizing the administration’s intelligence leak investigation:
Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran.
This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis. And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”
This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence. Obama appointees, who are accountable to President Obama’s attorney general, should not be responsible for investigating the leaks coming from the Obama White House.
Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished. The time for stonewalling is over.
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention today rehearsed some of the themes he has been trying to promote throughout the campaign. Romney got a standing ovation when he mentioned President Obama’s habit of giving apologies for America “that were not due” and also scored points on the topic of White House leaks of classified information and the administration’s “shabby” treatment of Israel. But in his survey of the country’s standing abroad, his strongest point was his highlighting of the president’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Though President Obama continues to promise that Iran will not go nuclear on his watch, this is the one foreign policy front on which Romney’s attempt to pose the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question gives him a clear advantage. While the Republican candidate’s critique of the president’s announcement of a withdrawal date for all U.S. troops from Afghanistan is well-taken — and prompted an angry pushback from the president in his VFW speech yesterday — Obama is probably right to count on a war weary public to give him a pass on the advantage he has handed the Taliban. But the Iranian nuclear threat, which Obama has met with feckless “engagement,” futile diplomacy and belated and half-heartedly enforced sanctions, is an issue on which his position is difficult to defend. The question is, did Romney offer a coherent alternative policy? The answer is a qualified yes.
The Obama campaign is pushing back against attacks on the president’s “you didn’t build that” remark with a new web video claiming the Romney campaign took the line “out of context.” Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter says the following:
“Mitt Romney recently launched a new TV ad that blatantly twists President Obama’s words on small business owners and entrepreneurs. Romney’s not telling the truth about what the president said and is taking the president’s words out of context. Romney claims the president told entrepreneurs they didn’t build their own businesses. Actually, he didn’t say that. And even the Washington Post called this attack ‘ridiculous.’ Anyone who’s seen the president’s actual remarks knows the truth. The president said that together, Americans built the free enterprise system that we all benefit from.”
Cutter then goes on to defend Obama’s record on small businesses, but doesn’t even play a clip of his comments in whatever “context” she claims is missing from Romney’s ad. Instead, viewers are asked to click a link over to the Obama website if they want to see it. Why? Probably because the campaign knows the context sounds just as bad as the line in question.
Mitt Romney touched on this point in one of his strongest interviews of the campaign so far:
Yesterday, at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama did his best to defend his foreign policy record as well as to denigrate Mitt Romney’s positions despite never mentioning his name. Though much of the speech was the usual tribute to veterans delivered by public officials at such events, Obama was at pains to refute the one specific criticism that Romney has made about the administration’s conduct in Afghanistan. Obama claimed that his announcement of a withdrawal date for American troops there was necessary because, “When you’re commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan. You owe the country a plan.”
But as with much of Obama’s laundry list of alleged accomplishments, this assertion leaves out the messy details about what happens when you announce in advance when you’re going to bug out of a war: the enemy finds out along with the American people. The Taliban may have been pushed back during the surge the president ordered, but he let them know all they had to do was survive until U.S. troops pulled out in order to prevail. As is the case in Iraq where, against the advice of many of his own advisers, the president withdrew all American forces, he is confusing U.S. withdrawal with the end of the war. The timeline he defended doesn’t conclude the conflict; it gave the Islamist foes who are seeking to reverse the hard-fought victories gained by U.S. troops confidence that they would win out due to the president’s lack of staying power.
While the president covered himself with praise for his “leadership” abroad, an honest look at the situations he touted as illustrating his genius paints a different picture.
Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup poll found President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital career have had little impact on the race. Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll supposedly contradicts that finding, but don’t put much stock in that just yet:
Sustained attacks by President Barack Obama’s campaign on Republican rival Mitt Romney’s business history and refusal to release more tax records appear to be working, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.
More than a third of voters who are registered to a party or as an independent said in the online survey that what they had heard about Romney’s taxes and his time at Bain Capital private equity firm had given them a less favorable impression of the Republican candidate.
And particularly worrying for Romney is that a large slice of independent voters — whom he needs to win the November 6 election — are also buying into the Obama campaign’s portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman who may be hiding something in his taxes.
On the eve of Mitt Romney’s foreign tour that will take him to Britain, Poland and Israel, the Obama campaign made a classic mistake. Rightly sensing that Romney’s visit to the Jewish state would highlight not just the fact that the president had never gone there during his four years in office but the fights he had picked with Israel, the Democrats responded by pledging that some time during the next four years Obama would find a few days to go there himself. But rather than one-upping the GOP nominee, the promise merely worsened his difficulties with Jewish and pro-Israel voters. Having conspicuously avoided Israel throughout his first term even while feeling the need to go to Egypt and other places in the region, Obama’s vow is a lame rejoinder to Romney. He would have been far better off merely trying to ignore the Republican. Instead, by saying that if he’s re-elected he’ll deign to go there he’s admitted there’s a problem.
Obama’s supporters are right to respond that visits are symbolic and that the substance of the U.S.-Israel relationship transcends photo opportunities. But their problem is the Romney visit is a reminder this administration set out from its first moments in office to distance itself from Israel as part of its rejection of everything it associated with George W. Bush. Because Bush was close to Israel, they wanted more daylight between the two countries and quickly achieved their goal. Had President Obama not spent his first three years picking fights with Israel over the status of Jerusalem, settlements and the 1967 borders and relentlessly pressuring it to make concessions to a Palestinian Authority that had no interest in peace, it wouldn’t matter if Mitt Romney spent the whole summer touring the country.
WaPo’s Glenn Kessler — whose recent takedown of Obama’s Bain attacks prompted a tidal wave of outrage from the left — gave the Romney campaign three Pinocchios for its ad on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comments. He starts out by saying the Romney campaign removed a big chunk of words from Obama’s speech (as 30-second political ads typically to do), to unfairly make it seem like the president was attacking entrepreneurship:
The biggest problem with Romney’s ad is that it leaves out just enough chunks of Obama’s words — such as a reference to “roads and bridges”— so that it sounds like Obama is attacking individual initiative. The ad deceivingly cuts away from Obama speaking in order to make it seem as if the sentences follow one another, when in fact eight sentences are snipped away.
Suddenly, the word “that” appears as if it is referring to a business, rather than (apparently) to roads and bridges. …
In other words, this is an argument that Democrats have been making for decades, one that Republicans have every right to reject. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for instance, understood fully that Obama was talking about roads and still thought his logic was faulty.
Think Progress dug up an old quote from Mitt Romney saying that Olympians succeeded with help from the community, and the left is predictably trying to equate it with President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech. Here’s the excerpt from Romney’s speech:
“Tonight we cheer the Olympians, who only yesterday were children themselves,” Romney said. “As we watch them over the next 16 days, we affirm that our aspirations, and those of our children and grandchildren, can become reality. We salute you Olympians – both because you dreamed and because you paid the price to make your dreams real. You guys pushed yourself, drove yourself, sacrificed, trained and competed time and again at winning and losing.”
“You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power,” said Romney, who on Friday will attend the Opening Ceremonies of this year’s Summer Olympics. “For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right! [pumps fist].”
The comparisons between Romney’s Olympics comments and Obama’s businesses comments are absurd on multiple levels. Romney isn’t arguing that we should tax Olympian salaries at higher rates to pay for more coaches and athletic venues for other athletes. He is making a moral argument for modesty and gratitude, not a political argument for wealth redistribution.
Last week, I wrote about how the sequester will trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to warn staff of pending layoffs a minimum of 60 days in advance. That means potentially hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers would receive layoff warning notices on November 2 — 60 days before sequestration hits, and just five days before the presidential election.
Needless to say, this is a BFD for President Obama. So you may not be too shocked to learn that the administration might be pressuring employers to delay these notices until after Election Day. HotAir’s Tina Korbe flags this key item in Sen. Jim Inhofe’s floor speech last week:
“I have every reason to believe, because I’ve heard from people in industry, that the president of the United States is trying to get them to avoid sending pink slips out until after the November 7 election,” said Inhofe. “I would remind him that we have something called the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the WARN Act. It requires these companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.
“Since sequestration will take place on January 2, these workers must be notified of their pink slip by November 2. This is what I’d like to remind those companies: they don’t have to wait. If they want to notify workers today, they can do that. I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama Sequestration be notified in advance of the November election. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”
Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.
The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”
The shooting attack in Aurora, Colorado, was the sort of news event that stopped the political world dead in its tracks. Despite the initial attempts of some foolish journalists and politicians, the slaughter didn’t fit into any convenient political narrative, but it did benefit President Obama in two ways. The first was that it demonstrated again the advantage of incumbency in which a sitting president is called upon to represent the feelings of all Americans. In this case, Obama’s performance as mourner-in-chief reminded us of his rhetorical strengths as well as the potent symbolism of his presidency.
The other benefit he received was that the killings pushed his “you didn’t build that” gaffe out of the spotlight for at least a couple of days. That relieved liberal pundits of the burden of twisting themselves into pretzels while attempting to argue that Obama didn’t really mean that the government was more important than individual effort in creating businesses. The pause in the parsing of the president’s all-too-revealing comment will only be temporary, as the Romney campaign will be reminding us of it for the next three months. But just as important as the “what did he mean by that” debate is an effort to understand just how wrong the president is about big government’s role in paving the way for business success. Gordon Crovitz writes today in the Wall Street Journal, taking aim at one of the central planks in Obama’s spiel in which he claimed “Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.” Not true. The Internet was primarily the work of private business initiative in which federal involvement was conspicuous by its absence.
As Crovitz writes:
It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens—and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.
It’s no secret that popular media has served dutifully as Obama White House megaphone. What is less remarked upon is the extent to which messaging moves in the opposite direction. Barack Obama has repeatedly come around to echoing the assessments and slogans furnished by his support network in the mainstream press, especially at key moments for his legitimacy.
In June 2011, he told the country of his controversial plan for drawing down troops in Afghanistan and announced his vision for “nation building at home,” a formulation pushed repeatedly by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman since Obama took office. More recently he sought a defense of his presidency in the claim that while his policies have been sound, he has failed to “tell a story” about those policies that could inspire the American people. This bit of literary analysis has long been on offer from numerous Obama boosters throughout the mainstream.
In spite of the growing calls for a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the head of the International Olympic Committee said yesterday that he would not alter his determination to refuse to allow the issue to intrude upon the opening ceremonies of the London Games this Friday. Jacques Rogge said yesterday that it “was not fit” for a commemoration of Munich to be included in the gala start to the global athletic extravaganza.
“I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” Costas said. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”
Costas deserves great deal of credit for not allowing the IOC’s desire to keep the memory of Munich out of sight during the games (Rogge said he will attend a ceremony honoring the Munich victims in Germany next week). But while he finds the refusal to simply devote one minute to remembrance “puzzling,” there is no mystery about it. Rogge has called requests for such a memorial “political.” While there is nothing political about recalling the terrorist attack, by that he means that many of the participating nations are not comfortable highlighting a crime committed by Palestinians or honoring the memory of Israeli Jews. As historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote this past week, the controversy is more proof that in the eyes of the world, spilled Jewish blood remains a cheap commodity.
It is a fact of political life that the 2012 presidential election will not turn on foreign policy. Unless something terrible happens between now and November, the focus of most voters will remain on the country’s failing economy. That’s probably okay with Mitt Romney because, unlike most Republican nominees in recent decades, prowess in foreign policy and defense issues are not among his strengths. According to New York Times columnist David Brooks, Romney’s inability to delineate strong points of disagreement with President Obama’s policies is not only a sign of the GOP standard bearer’s weakness but an indication that the incumbent can go to the people claiming to be a success on foreign policy. Though Brooks is right to characterize Romney as having done an inadequate job of articulating his foreign policy vision, his praise for the president is undeserved.
Brooks likes the fact that, for all of his hope and change rhetoric when first running for re-election, President Obama has proved to be no bold visionary on foreign affairs. The columnist believes ours is a time when nuance and a grasp of the complexities of a changing world are paramount. But contrary to Brooks’ belief, most of what we’ve gotten out of Washington since January 2009 is not smart power but muddled policies that are the product of indecisive thinking and a lack of principle. Though the president’s record is not without his successes (as you may have heard, he killed Osama bin Laden), on the big issues of dealing with the nuclear threat from Iran, a resurgent and authoritarian Russia, China and the Middle East peace process, Obama must be judged a thorough failure.
President Obama’s outsourcing talking points have been silly and intellectually dishonest even by the standards of political rhetoric, which is saying something. Bain Capital isn’t in the business of creating jobs, it’s in the business of maximizing return on capital. Its principals would be violating their fiduciary duty to their investors if they maximized U.S. job creation instead. Investing overseas is not outsourcing. Outsourcing results in lower costs (otherwise, why outsource?) which means lower prices, which means that American consumers have more money to spend on other goods and services, which creates more American jobs. And so on and on.
But there is a major outsourcer running for president, one who has prevented tens of thousands of American jobs from being created and who has sent those jobs overseas instead. It is not Mitt Romney.
Obama’s obsession with “green energy,” and opposition to traditional fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, has resulted in a significant drop in permits for drilling on federal land. These permits increased 58 percent under President Clinton, 116 percent under Bush and are down 36 percent under Obama. But energy is a fundamental economic input. So, for every barrel of oil that is not explored for here, it is explored for in some other country. Every well not drilled here, is drilled there.
And that means that good jobs that could be American ones are not, because Obama won’t let those jobs be created here. On a visit to Brazil, he told the Brazilian president that he looked forward to America being a big customer for the oil coming out of Brazil’s spectacular new offshore oil fields. There is considerable evidence that we, too, have spectacular offshore oil fields. But Obama would rather see Brazilian oilfield workers be paid good wages than American ones.
If you missed Thursday’s Wall Street Journal editorial on defense sequestration, go back and read it. It’s as powerful a case as I’ve seen about the damage that mindless budget cutting will do to our nation’s defense. It also makes a powerful case that President Obama is being negligent for refusing to get together with concerned lawmakers to stop the deep slashes in defense spending that are due to begin in January. Instead, the president and Sen. Harry Reid are using the threat of sequestration to try to pressure Republicans into agreeing to tax increases.
Of course, the fault is not entirely the president’s. Hill Republicans also bear part of the blame, as the Journal notes, for accepting “the sequestration deal while leaving entitlements off the table, thus handing Mr. Obama more leverage.” That Republicans voted as they did last summer, despite the misgivings of many members, was understandable given that the federal government faced the threat of default if the budget ceiling wasn’t lifted—but nevertheless, the vote was a mistake and one that may come back to haunt the country.
Checking for context before slamming someone for a single line in a speech is always a noble endeavor. But there’s a point when the “benefit of the doubt” becomes ridiculous. A prime example is the liberal argument that President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment wasn’t directed at businesses:
When he made the comment in Roanoke, Va. Friday, Obama was arguing that businesses needed infrastructure investment to succeed.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
The antecedent to “that” is not the business, but “roads and bridges,” as well as the “American system” as a whole.
To believe that Obama was talking about businesses, you only have to watch his speech in context and take it at its literal meaning. To believe Obama was talking about something else, you have to divine certain messages from his ambiguous body language, assume he mixed up his demonstrative pronouns, and concede that the context was structured oddly. Even then, it isn’t clear what exactly he’s referring to.
Politico reported this morning that Morgan Freeman donated $1 million to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA last month. The organization has reportedly been struggling to drum up donors, which isn’t surprising as Democrats have spent the past two years demonizing super PACs. Clearly, they hope Freeman’s donation will signal to wealthy liberals that it’s okay to support these groups.
But note Freeman’s statement out this morning:
“Pres. Obama has done a remarkable job in historically difficult circumstances. … I am proud to lend my voice … to those who defend him. Priorities USA Action is doing a great job of protecting the values I believe in. I am happy to help them and I hope others will join me.”
He wasn’t defending his donation as a necessary evil. Instead, he said he was “proud to lend [his] voice.” That’s an interesting choice in wording, considering Democrats have been mocking the idea that political spending is protected speech for the last two years.
But Freeman is right, and the Supreme Court has affirmed it. Political spending is a form of free expression. As Justice Antonin Scalia explained eloquently to CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, “You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”