Commentary Magazine


Topic: Romney

What Not to Learn in London

Mitt Romney is in London today showing his ability to act on the international stage as well as seeking to emphasize that he is prepared to embrace America’s traditional allies in Britain, Poland and Israel in contrast to President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from these nations. In London he will also get reacquainted with British Prime Minister David Cameron with whom he found himself in an unplanned and unnecessary spat about Olympic preparations. But rather than take lessons from him on how to get elected and to govern as a conservative, Cameron provides a sterling example of the bad choices that Romney should avoid during the campaign as well as once in office should he triumph in November.

It should be stipulated that the political cultures and circumstances of the two countries are vastly different. For all of their problems, Republicans are not in the position that Britain’s Conservative Party found itself prior to Cameron becoming PM in May 2010. The Tories needed a makeover after 13 years out of government while Tony Blair’s new Labor ruled. They got it with the handsome Cameron who sought to refashion the party’s image away from Margaret Thatcher’s “nasty party” to a new Conservative leadership that embraced environmentalism, gay rights and any other issue that would make them more popular. But while Cameron remains in residence at Number 10 Downing Street, the experiment of watering down conservative ideology has not been successful. The instinctively moderate Romney needs to take notice of Cameron’s failures. If he doesn’t, it will not only reduce his chances of victory over President Obama but impact his chances of making a difference even if he wins.

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Mitt Romney is in London today showing his ability to act on the international stage as well as seeking to emphasize that he is prepared to embrace America’s traditional allies in Britain, Poland and Israel in contrast to President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from these nations. In London he will also get reacquainted with British Prime Minister David Cameron with whom he found himself in an unplanned and unnecessary spat about Olympic preparations. But rather than take lessons from him on how to get elected and to govern as a conservative, Cameron provides a sterling example of the bad choices that Romney should avoid during the campaign as well as once in office should he triumph in November.

It should be stipulated that the political cultures and circumstances of the two countries are vastly different. For all of their problems, Republicans are not in the position that Britain’s Conservative Party found itself prior to Cameron becoming PM in May 2010. The Tories needed a makeover after 13 years out of government while Tony Blair’s new Labor ruled. They got it with the handsome Cameron who sought to refashion the party’s image away from Margaret Thatcher’s “nasty party” to a new Conservative leadership that embraced environmentalism, gay rights and any other issue that would make them more popular. But while Cameron remains in residence at Number 10 Downing Street, the experiment of watering down conservative ideology has not been successful. The instinctively moderate Romney needs to take notice of Cameron’s failures. If he doesn’t, it will not only reduce his chances of victory over President Obama but impact his chances of making a difference even if he wins.

Some would argue that Cameron had to take the Tories down a path in which traditional conservative positions were jettisoned. Britain had moved on from Thatcher’s era, and the move of Labor to the center under Blair stood to become permanent if the Tories did not accommodate themselves to the change in the climate. Cameron’s embrace of politically correct positions on social issues and the environment combined with fiscal conservatism seemed the perfect formula for victory. But in spite of Labor’s collapse under Blair’s successor Gordon Brown and the readiness of the voters for change, Cameron’s weak tea approach to policy did not bring the victory he expected. Instead of winning the election outright, he was forced to make a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in order to achieve his goal of becoming prime minister. But in order to do that, he had to further weaken his party’s base.

Two years later, Cameron is saddled with a disgruntled liberal coalition partner and a party base that not only despises him but which is, as Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail writes, literally disintegrating. Though Tories cannot count on the same large, religious and deeply politically conservative base that is the heart of the GOP, the party activists in the shires, without whom future victories are impossible, are abandoning Cameron in droves. He is getting all the blame for Britain’s austerity budget. but having failed to provide a clear ideological alternative to Labor (British writer Melanie Phillips aptly dubbed him “David Obameron” in response to his open affection for the American president), he is unable to frame the issue in a manner that will gain him credit for keeping the nation afloat.

While the dilemmas facing Republicans and Tories are starkly different, what Romney can learn from Cameron is that a politician who tries to be all things to all people can not only snatch near defeat from the jaws of victory as the PM did two years ago but is not likely to be able to govern effectively or retain the loyalty of his party. Standing up for conservative principles can be difficult in the face of the opprobrium that it will bring from the liberal mainstream media, but such brickbats are the price one must pay for principle. Cameron was unwilling to pay that price, and though he may have achieved his ambition to become prime minister, it has cost him the ability to govern effectively and may well lead to his eventual defeat.

Romney should enjoy his British visit, but if he wants a good British model he should look to Cameron’s Tory predecessors such as Thatcher and Winston Churchill (whose bust he has promised to return to the Oval Office after its removal by Obama). If he wants to win he should follow their examples rather than that of the feckless Obama-light Cameron.

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Romney Denies “Anglo-Saxon” Story

This “Anglo-Saxon heritage” story sounded unbelievable from the get-go. An unnamed Romney foreign policy adviser allegedly told the London Telegraph that Romney would usher in better relations with the UK because he understands the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama — a oddly-phrased comment that clearly has racial undertones.

It’s usually a good idea to be skeptical of sensational-sounding Telegraph stories about U.S. politics in the first place, but this article literally relies on a single unnamed source — and yet Washington reporters ran with it anyway. Now the Romney campaign says the story is false, according to WaPo:

An unnamed “adviser” to Mitt Romney who told the London Telegraph that the candidate appreciates “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama is not speaking for the Republican campaign, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday.

“It’s not true,” Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”

The quote has created an early dust-up between the two campaigns as Romney begins his low-key, week-long trip through Britain, Poland and Israel.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” an adviser told reporter Jon Swaine. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The reporter later tweeted to clarify that the quote came from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.”

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This “Anglo-Saxon heritage” story sounded unbelievable from the get-go. An unnamed Romney foreign policy adviser allegedly told the London Telegraph that Romney would usher in better relations with the UK because he understands the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama — a oddly-phrased comment that clearly has racial undertones.

It’s usually a good idea to be skeptical of sensational-sounding Telegraph stories about U.S. politics in the first place, but this article literally relies on a single unnamed source — and yet Washington reporters ran with it anyway. Now the Romney campaign says the story is false, according to WaPo:

An unnamed “adviser” to Mitt Romney who told the London Telegraph that the candidate appreciates “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama is not speaking for the Republican campaign, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday.

“It’s not true,” Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”

The quote has created an early dust-up between the two campaigns as Romney begins his low-key, week-long trip through Britain, Poland and Israel.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” an adviser told reporter Jon Swaine. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The reporter later tweeted to clarify that the quote came from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.”

Jen Rubin writes that the Obama campaign quickly began blasting the story out to reporters, which helped it go viral. It’s pretty clear the Obama campaign is scrambling to pump air into it. David Axelrod has been out front calling the “Anglo-Saxon” comment “unbelievably offensive.” Funny that a line Obama actually said himself is considered off-limits for criticism by his campaign, but an anonymous quote is fine to attack Romney.

WaPo also reports on the loose guidelines for anonymous quotes at the Telegraph:

Romney does have a team of 22 foreign policy and national security advisers, along with 15 working group chairs. British papers have looser guidelines on anonymous quotes than most of the American press. An “adviser” could have no actual role in the campaign; the Republican’s staff rarely talks to the foreign press.

The Telegraph in particular prints many rumors and blind quotes, often infuriating Democrats. “They use anonymous sources to a degree that makes you wonder if they actually have them,” consultant Bob Shrum told Dave Weigel in 2009.

Unless a reporter is able to verify who said this and what his role is in the campaign, Romney’s denial should put this story to rest.

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Is Assault on Romney’s Small Business Record a Wise Move?

BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.

“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.

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BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.

“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.

You can tell this is a moment of desperation for the DNC, because Obama has plenty of weaknesses in his own small business record. Let’s not even get into the fact that the tax cuts for small businesses that he always touts are actually far less than meets the eye. Hasn’t Obama been arguing for months that the tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 should be allowed to expire? The Heritage Foundation crunched the numbers and found that small business owners in that income bracket could end up paying an average of $24,888 in additional taxes under Obama’s proposals:

They are right to be concerned. According to calculations by The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis (CDA), the average American with $250,000 or more in income can expect an average $24,888 tax increase next year under Obama’s proposed policies.

The $24,888 figure is often enough for a salary, and despite what some proponents of the tax hike have argued, many of these successful small businesses do have employees. According to the Treasury Department, 1.2 million small businesses both had employees and earned more than $200,000 in 2007. So the president is putting about 1.2 million jobs—perhaps even more—at risk with this tax hike.

Then there’s Obama’s health care law, which is expected to increase health care costs and the regulatory burden for small businesses. The cost of complying with government regulations is a growing problem under the Obama administration, as the Fiscal Times has reported:

The Business Roundtable just released a list of 60 major new pending rules and regulations from the federal government – all of which may dampen economic activity. The NFIB is so worried about the uncertainty created by Obama’s legislative tsunami that it is supporting the Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act, a bill that would prohibit important new regulations from taking effect before the unemployment rate drops to 6 percent or for two years, whichever is shorter. Embracing such a “time-out” would be an excellent move for the embattled White House, and most definitely for the country.

The Obama campaign is obviously anxious to get back on offense, but picking this particular fight is only going to end up emphasizing Obama’s own weaknesses.

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The White House Shows Fear About Leaks

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.

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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.

Feinstein’s backtracking was so unconvincing, especially after her frank admission on Monday that the White House was the obvious culprit. She may regret that her remarks “are being used to impugn President Obama or his commitment to protecting national security secrets,” but that was the obvious implication of the facts as she originally laid them out.

The problem here is not merely a bad news cycle in which Romney got the better of the president. The leaks investigation is the sort of thing that can and will haunt the president and his senior staff long after the election. The current investigations being conducted by two prosecutors appointed by President Obama have the potential to drag a second term — if he is lucky enough to have one — down in scandal. That should make their anxiety about the outcome in November even greater. Should, as Romney rightly suggests, a special prosecutor be appointed, there’s little doubt that some of Obama’s senior staffers are going to spend the next few years defending their reputations in a scandal that will tarnish the president’s historic legacy. Re-electing the president and keeping Attorney General Eric Holder in office so as to keep the Justice Department from pursuing these charges too zealously is their only hope.

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Obama’s “I’m Not a Witch” Moment

I’m not sure who recommended that Obama cut an ad insisting that “of course” he believes business owners should get credit for building their own businesses. But this seems like a very bad move:

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I’m not sure who recommended that Obama cut an ad insisting that “of course” he believes business owners should get credit for building their own businesses. But this seems like a very bad move:

If there was one takeaway from Christine O’Donnell’s disastrous campaign ad, it’s that this isn’t the way to push back on an attack. When a politician goes on camera to deny a provocative charge that can’t be substantiated either way (i.e. that they don’t engage in witchcraft, or that they believe in individual enterprise) it connects them with the allegation they’re denying and can raise a seed of doubt in voters’ minds.

Typically, when you’re trying to explain that someone took your recorded words out of context, you would simply just play the words in context — that usually settles it. Obama doesn’t do that in this video, which is the biggest red flag for any viewer. They’ve heard Obama’s quote with their own ears in Romney’s ad. If it was taken out of context, why doesn’t Obama’s ad just include it in context?

The second problem is that Obama is elevating Romney’s attacks and bringing more attention to a speech that is out of touch with the general public’s views on business. The ad directs viewers to the Obama campaign website, where they can view the speech for themselves — and will see on their own that the president did say what he claims he did not.

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Romney Blasts Obama on Intel Leaks

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.

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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.

Obama has had decent poll numbers on his national security performance, though that’s mainly because he’s flouted the left’s policy prescriptions and increased the use of drones and other covert operations. The Obama campaign has been trashing Romney’s foreign policy “platitudes” — yes, really — in an effort to show how much more serious Obama supposedly is on these issues.

But Feinstein really undermined that with her acknowledgment yesterday that the intelligence leaks probably came from the White House. This is the last story the Obama campaign wants to be discussing on a day when it’s trying to play up its national security achievements before Romney’s Israel trip. Apparently somebody passed that message along to Feinstein, who backpedaled on her assertion this afternoon:

“I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information,” Feinstein said in the statement on Tuesday. “I shouldn’t have speculated beyond that, because the fact of the matter is I don’t know the source of the leaks.”

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney seized on Feinstein’s remarks in a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Tuesday, accusing President Obama of not trying to find the source of the leaks until after the election.

Feinstein said that she regretted her comments were being used against Obama and said she was “disappointed” in Romney’s remarks.

It’s too bad Feinstein felt the need to backtrack, especially on something that’s so obvious. If some of the leaks were from the Presidential Daily Brief, this means there are a limited number of sources. The fact that the stories ended up benefiting the Obama White House politically gives you a good idea of the type of people who might have had a motive.

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Did Romney Offer an Alternative on Iran?

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.

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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.

Romney was eloquent in outlining the danger from Iran and in noting that Obama’s policies have only brought the nation four years closer to nuclear peril. But he was short on details. He did say that in his administration sanctions on Iran “would be enforced without exceptions.” Though he did not explicitly say so, this is an allusion to the exemptions Obama gave to China and India to go on importing Iranian oil. The Treasury Department has also granted thousands of exemptions to companies wishing to continue doing business with Iran.

In speaking of not allowing Iran any right to refine uranium, Romney also drew a clear distinction between his view and the negotiating position of the P5+1 group that the president has entrusted to negotiate with Iran. The P5+1 alliance led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has made it clear to the Iranians that if they will only agree to some sort of deal, their right to go on refining uranium will probably be protected. If Romney is telling us that his administration takes the position that he will not acquiesce to any kind of Iranian nuclear program, he is articulating a clear difference with Obama. That makes good sense because, as past nuclear talks with both North Korea and Iran proved, leaving Tehran any nuclear facilities ensures they will cheat on any deal and ultimately get their weapon.

Romney also probably knows that at this late date in the game, even the most rigidly enforced sanctions are not likely to make enough of a difference. As Romney told the VFW, the ayatollahs are not going to be talked out of their nuclear ambitions. His veiled reference to the use of force in which he said he “will use every means” to protect U.S. security illustrates a greater understanding that this issue is not going to be resolved with more engagement.

Though his Iran policy is still a loose outline rather than a coherent plan, Romney was still able to show where he differs from the president. On this point as well as on others (such as the president’s attitude toward Israel that will be highlighted by Romney’s upcoming trip to the Jewish state), the GOP challenger made a good start to showing why foreign policy can be a strength rather than a weakness for his campaign.

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Obama Video on “Context” Doesn’t Even Play Speech Clip

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:

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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:

Romney doesn’t even engage the question of whether Obama was referring to businesses or infrastructure. As he says, it’s besides the point. According to Romney, the context tells you all you need to know about Obama’s business philosophy:

We have always been a nation that has celebrated success of various kinds. The kid that gets the honor roll, the individual worker that gets a promotion, the person that gets a better job. And in fact, the person that builds a business. And by the way, if you have a business and you started it, you did build it. And you deserve credit for that. It was not built for you by government. And by the way, we pay for government. Government doesn’t come free. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they’re the ones paying for government. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they’re the ones paying for government. So his whole philosophy is an upside-down philosophy that does not comport with the American experience.

Fighting back over the “context” issue may not be the smartest move for the Obama campaign. As Romney says, Obama’s philosophy puts him very much at odds with most Americans, and it’s baffling why the president would want to draw more attention to that.

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Obama Didn’t Owe Taliban a Victory Plan

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.

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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.

Rather than his “leadership” on the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran showing the administration’s strength, it demonstrates the feckless reliance on failed diplomacy. North Korea successfully bamboozled the Clinton and Bush administrations into deals that allowed them to go nuclear. Iran is following the same pattern. The sanctions that Obama reluctantly and belatedly imposed on Tehran are riddled with exemptions and non-enforcement. As even some of his more candid admirers admit, the president’s only strategy is to kick the can down the road until after he is re-elected, when he might have the “flexibility” to avoid keeping his promise to prevent Iran from gaining nukes.

The hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy has been undermining allies such as Israel, Britain and Poland (not by coincidence, the three nations Romney will visit this week).

As for standing for freedom abroad, it has been a generation since there has been a president who was less interested in promoting human rights than Obama. His favorite tactic of “leading from behind” — a phrase he avoided in his VFW speech — has allowed Syria to disintegrate into chaos and presents a danger to the entire Middle East. The toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, the one instance where his tactic can be said to have worked, has led to trouble in neighboring Mali.

Nevertheless, no part of his speech was as disingenuous as his claim that he has strengthened the military. His budget cuts are gutting the capabilities of our armed forces. For him to blame these policies on the budget standoff with congressional Republicans is the height of chutzpah. The game of chicken he’s been playing with the GOP has led to the sequestration disaster that will hurt defense. But even without that dangerous tactic that he pursued for partisan purposes, the intent of his administration to downgrade defense was already clear. Indeed, he said as much in his speech when he spoke of a mythical post-Iraq and Afghanistan peace dividend he claims will pay down the deficit.

For Obama, even the most serious questions of war and peace always boil down to partisan politics. While Romney has much to prove when it comes to foreign policy (he will be speaking at the same convention this afternoon), Obama’s demonstrated lack of leadership provides his opponent plenty of room for justified criticism.

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Polls Agree: Obama Attacks Not Working

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.

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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.

According to the poll, 36 percent of registered voters said the attacks have given them a less favorable impression of Romney, but Democrats likely make up an overwhelming portion of that statistic.

As for independents, 26 percent viewed Romney less favorably and 13 percent more favorably after hearing attacks on his Bain record. In other words, 74 percent of independents either view Romney more favorably after the attacks, or simply don’t care. That’s the problem for Obama. If independent voters just yawn at his Bain attacks and move on, that’s almost as bad as if the attacks backfire altogether. He’s still sinking tons of money into messaging that isn’t helping him.

Also note that the Reuters/Ipsos poll has a “credibility interval” of plus or minus 8.7 percentage points for independents. That’s a massive margin of error, which makes it difficult to take away anything serious from its findings on independents.

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Obama 2nd Term Israel Visit Vow a Mistake

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.

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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.

It’s true, as the Democrats point out, that the president has not torpedoed the entire alliance. The security relationship between the two countries set in place by his predecessors has been maintained. But to claim he deserves the support of pro-Israel voters because he refrained from destroying the alliance infrastructure is hardly a compelling argument.

Only partisans and those committed to a policy of opposing Israel’s democratically-elected government can pretend that the years prior to the commencement of Obama’s election-year Jewish charm offensive were not primarily characterized by the administration’s determination to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. Though his defenders claim there was nothing new about what he did, Obama’s stands on settlements and Jerusalem did more to undermine Israel’s position than any of his predecessors. But the Palestinians not only did not take advantage of Obama’s gifts but predictably, were encouraged by the rift between Israel and the U.S. to avoid negotiations altogether. The result was that Obama took an already bad situation and found a way to make it worse.

The interesting thing about Obama’s worries about pro-Israel voters is that it wouldn’t have taken much from him to convince them he was Israel’s friend. A visit would have helped, but a stopover in Israel would have contradicted the signals he was trying to send to the Arab and Muslim world that he was more open to them than Bush. An avoidance of needless squabbles about settlements, Jerusalem and borders would have cost him nothing, especially as turning these points into major fights didn’t convince the Palestinians to even return to negotiations or win him the friends he wanted in the Muslim world. If the transition to the charm offensive after three years of battles with Israel seemed effortless, it was because there was never any strategic rationale for Obama’s obsession with downgrading the alliance with Israel.

If the president does go to Israel during his second term, he will be welcomed there as any American president would be. But there is no reason to think a belated attempt to rectify the problems he created will be fixed by such a promise. If Romney benefits from his visit, it is because of Obama’s policies, not just because the president has stayed away.

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Business Owners Responsible for Success

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.

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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.

What Kessler fails to establish is that Obama is referring to infrastructure as opposed to businesses. This is a debate that’s been going on for the past week, and instead of making the case one way or the other, Kessler starts from the assumption the Obama campaign’s explanation is correct. He also cites Charles Krauthammer as someone who has agreed that Obama was referring to roads and bridges, when in fact Krauthammer has specifically said the opposite.

The Obama campaign has a strong incentive to kill this controversy, or at least obscure the meaning of his quote. A Rasmussen poll found that 72 percent of likely voters believe small business owners are primarily responsible for their success:

Most Americans believe entrepreneurs who start businesses do more to create jobs and economic growth than big businesses or government. They also believe overwhelmingly that small business owners work harder than other Americans and are primarily responsible for the success or failure of their businesses.

Seventy-two percent (72%) of Likely U.S. Voters believe that people who start small businesses are primarily responsible for their success or failure. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 13 percent disagree.

Obama’s business philosophy puts him at odds with most voters, and the Romney campaign has been making that clear with its latest ad.

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If Obama Had Been Talking About Olympians….

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.

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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.

Romney also didn’t imply that Olympians have been mooching off society without paying their fair share, which was how Obama framed his speech. Still, let’s try a thought experiment. Here’s what it might have sounded like if Obama’s speech had been directed at Olympians instead of business owners:

Look, if you’re an Olympian, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, ‘well, it must be because I was just so athletically gifted.’ There are a lot of athletically gifted people out there. ‘It must be because I trained harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hard-training people out there. (Applause.)

If you’re an Olympian, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great coach 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’re competing in the Olympics — you didn’t do that. Somebody else made that happen.

The fallacies in the speech become even more clear when you think about this in terms of athletic success. It’s one thing to say people should be grateful for the help they receive from their parents and community. It’s another to say that the successful among us only got that way through sheer luck — not brains, not hard work — and therefore owe a massive debt to the giant societal lottery pool.

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Brown Camp Hits Warren’s Own “You Didn’t Build That” Moment

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.”

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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.”

But everyone knows the end of Johnson’s administration was the end of an era for the Democrats. It’s the consistent appearance of a living ex-president, Bill Clinton, that marks current GOP messaging strategy. The sudden appreciation for the opposing party’s past standard-bearers is common to both the Democrats and Republicans. Once they were pinko commies and neo-fascists, now they are centrist Democrats and compassionate Republicans. Even Bush saw the need for comprehensive immigration reform, says one. Even Clinton signed welfare reform, says the other.

But Clinton polls better among the nation and his own party than Bush, so he will find a place for himself in this campaign on both sides. Democrats will ask him to campaign for them, preferring him to Obama. Republicans will remind Democrats at every turn just how “reasonable” Clinton was compared to Obama. Mitt Romney hit this theme after Obama’s heavy-handed attempt to gut welfare reform by executive fiat:

“President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare,” Romney said.  “The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.”

The Brown campaign’s video is only the latest, but almost surely not the last, time voters will see the GOP attempt to plant a flag on centrist territory abandoned by Obama. Because of Obama’s lack of private-sector experience, and Warren’s apparent attempt to claim minority status–paired with an inability to substantiate that claim–to get ahead in the academic world, the two make easy targets for such ads. Their opponents can criticize them not only for saying such nonsense, but for believing it too.

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Does Obama Have a Foreign Policy Edge?

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.

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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.

Brooks seems enamored of the ambivalence at the heart of many of the president’s foreign policy stands, but that says more about his own confusion about the issues than it does about the administration’s genius. In particular, he seems to think that Obama’s attempt to kick the can down the road on Iran is wise. Brooks deserves credit for stating that this is the president’s clear intention, as the administration and most of its apologists and cheerleaders have bitterly disputed that this is the case despite the overwhelming proof that the White House’s goal is simply to prevaricate on the issue until after the November election. But the Times columnist’s belief that “the delicate dance” that is the president’s excuse for a policy is “useful,” is hard to defend.

Having wasted most of his term on feckless attempts to engage the Iranians and futile diplomacy, all he has appeared to accomplish is to convince Tehran that he isn’t really interested in taking action and is just hoping that something will turn up that will relieve him of the obligation to do something or, as is more likely, to excuse his continued inaction.

Far from “moving aggressively to defeat enemies and to champion democracy,” he has done neither. Even Brooks concedes that his decision to stay and fight in Afghanistan, a stand that deserved praise, was fatally undermined by his setting a date for the withdrawal of American troops that made it clear to the Taliban that all they had to do was to survive until the bug out commenced. As for democracy promotion, this is a point on which the president’s intent to differentiate himself from his predecessor has been heard louder than anything else. It has been decades since we have had a president who was less interested in human rights than Obama, as his disgraceful refusal to back dissidents in Iran showed. Rather than the Arab Spring highlighting the president’s skill, his characteristic ambivalence has resulted in the United States getting the worst of both worlds. Traditional authoritarian allies have fallen without Obama getting the credit while anti-democratic Islamists who hate America and present a profound threat have achieved power. While Libya may be credited as a success (at least for now) for Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy, in Syria it has been a disaster as a far more dangerous country appears on the brink of civil war. The fact that the president touts a destructive force such as Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as his favorite foreign leader tells you everything you need to know about Obama’s misguided approach.

The Middle East peace process is another area where again Brooks must admit that Obama took a difficult problem and made it far worse. By distancing himself from Israel, he encouraged Palestinian intransigence and alienated America’s ally, leaving the region in worse shape than before.

As for Russia, where Brooks sees wisdom, observers who are less enamored of the president can only see appeasement and indecision that, again, alienated our allies and emboldened the Putin regime to believe it can thwart American interests with impunity.

This is a record that seems to speak more of failure than success. One can applaud the president’s willingness to use drones to kill terrorists while still understanding that this is no substitute for a coherent vision of how to deal with threats. Mitt Romney needs to speak out more on foreign policy and give us a better idea of what he will do differently other than not bashing Israel (though this is not a minor point). If there are votes to be won on foreign policy, President Obama does not deserve them.

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Dems to Turn Obama Campaign Talking Points into Legislation

Democrats in Congress frustrated by President Obama’s repeated refusal to release all of his papers from his days in the Illinois state senate and his college transcripts are introducing legislation that would force the president to release his political records and Columbia transcripts–just in case he misrepresented his back story to enable his transfer there.

Just kidding! Democrats are introducing legislation to force Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Running out of retired baseball players to prosecute and looking for some other creative ways to cynically use their taxpayer-funded salaries to waste everyone’s time and money on a political stunt designed to treat the Congress as if it were a liberal super-PAC, Democrats have seized on the issue of Romney’s tax returns as a nifty way to legislate campaign ads from the Senate floor. Senators Carl Levin and Dick Durbin can’t even pretend that this is not what they’re doing, even though the legislation would obviously force all candidates to comply:

Sen. Carl Levin told reporters that the Senate proposal would shed new light on the use of shell corporations based overseas to help U.S. companies and individuals avoid U.S. taxes. But Durbin confirmed the timing of the proposal is designed to highlight Democratic complaints with Romney’s investments.

“Clearly, I think the American people are entitled to more,” Durbin said, of the two years of tax returns Romney has so far said he will release. “I also think he has an obligation to explain why he and his family decided that offshore tax havens are the right place to park their money and their wealth. Those are legitimate questions.”

The two suggested they would move the item as an amendment to some other larger bill in coming weeks, which could force a Senate floor debate.

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Democrats in Congress frustrated by President Obama’s repeated refusal to release all of his papers from his days in the Illinois state senate and his college transcripts are introducing legislation that would force the president to release his political records and Columbia transcripts–just in case he misrepresented his back story to enable his transfer there.

Just kidding! Democrats are introducing legislation to force Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Running out of retired baseball players to prosecute and looking for some other creative ways to cynically use their taxpayer-funded salaries to waste everyone’s time and money on a political stunt designed to treat the Congress as if it were a liberal super-PAC, Democrats have seized on the issue of Romney’s tax returns as a nifty way to legislate campaign ads from the Senate floor. Senators Carl Levin and Dick Durbin can’t even pretend that this is not what they’re doing, even though the legislation would obviously force all candidates to comply:

Sen. Carl Levin told reporters that the Senate proposal would shed new light on the use of shell corporations based overseas to help U.S. companies and individuals avoid U.S. taxes. But Durbin confirmed the timing of the proposal is designed to highlight Democratic complaints with Romney’s investments.

“Clearly, I think the American people are entitled to more,” Durbin said, of the two years of tax returns Romney has so far said he will release. “I also think he has an obligation to explain why he and his family decided that offshore tax havens are the right place to park their money and their wealth. Those are legitimate questions.”

The two suggested they would move the item as an amendment to some other larger bill in coming weeks, which could force a Senate floor debate.

I, for one, agree that the American people are entitled to more. I’d start with a budget–something Senate Democrats steadfastly refuse to do. GOP House Speaker John Boehner also thinks the American people deserve more: “The American people are asking, where are the jobs? They’re not asking where in the hell the tax returns are,” he told the Washington Post.

Well that may be, but what could Durbin and Levin possibly care what Americans are asking for? It’s silly season, after all–a time that seems strangely permanent in Harry Reid’s Senate. Besides, it’s just congressional legislation designed with a specific individual political opponent of Durbin and Levin’s in mind. It’s not like there’s any way such a standard could be abused. What could possibly go wrong?

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Voters Not in Mood for Lofty Promises

President Obama’s attacks on Bain, his deportation order, his gay marriage evolution, his massive spending advantage — all have failed to move the dial nationally, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The Obama campaign will argue that he’s focusing on gaining an edge in swing states and among certain demographics, but this is still a grim picture for them. Despite his significant advantages during the past few months, his national support has flatlined. What’s going to happen once the fundraising playing field evens out?

Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney. …

The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.

When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

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President Obama’s attacks on Bain, his deportation order, his gay marriage evolution, his massive spending advantage — all have failed to move the dial nationally, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The Obama campaign will argue that he’s focusing on gaining an edge in swing states and among certain demographics, but this is still a grim picture for them. Despite his significant advantages during the past few months, his national support has flatlined. What’s going to happen once the fundraising playing field evens out?

Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney. …

The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.

When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

The tax return attack on Romney hasn’t worked because the American people don’t get worked up about that issue. The media and political establishments care — the general public not so much.

Obama’s pandering to various interest groups doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent either, and it’s pretty clear why. He can promise whatever he wants, but he’s just not reliable. Americans trusted him in 2008 when he campaigned as a Washington reformer, and it was only after his failures started piling up when he told them about the fine print — that “change takes time” and “doesn’t happen overnight.” People aren’t mad, they’re disappointed, and they’re not likely to be in the mood for lofty promises this time around.

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The Hands That Built Those Businesses

Something seems to have clicked for Mitt Romney in the past few days. There were a few minutes when he was flailing on the tax return issue, but President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment appears to have reinvigorated Romney. His new web video out this morning which profiles a small business owner in New Hampshire is a prime example:

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Something seems to have clicked for Mitt Romney in the past few days. There were a few minutes when he was flailing on the tax return issue, but President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment appears to have reinvigorated Romney. His new web video out this morning which profiles a small business owner in New Hampshire is a prime example:

The video is great on its own, but with some tweaks and shortening it could be an absolutely brutal TV ad. Obama’s comments sound even more condescending and offensive when juxtaposed against the daily struggles of a small business owner. His sarcastic line about entrepreneurs thinking their success came from being “just so smart” comes off as particularly snide. Imagine the impact if the Romney campaign decided to run one of these ads in every swing state, profiling small business owners from each one.

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Romney Should Send Obama a Fruit Basket

The president’s “you didn’t build that” statement has not only framed the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exactly as Romney  needed, it has transformed Romney’s campaign. He gave a very good speech last week at the NAACP convention, but even the strength of that performance was as nothing next to what he’s done over the past two days. I’ve now watched Romney’s speeches yesterday and today centering on the remark and its meaning, and what I’m seeing is a Mitt Romney come alive—or at least, a Romney new to me. He has always been articulate and with a command of facts and figures, but the distanced awkwardness that accompanied them has suddenly vanished. In their place is a loose, fluid, confident, and passionate spokesman defending the free enterprise system against Obama’s government-centered approach. Romney has done something you hear people talk about theoretically but which doesn’t often happen—he has found his voice as a presidential candidate. And it’s all due to Barack Obama. I hope a fruit basket is on the way to the White House. It would only be polite.

The president’s “you didn’t build that” statement has not only framed the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exactly as Romney  needed, it has transformed Romney’s campaign. He gave a very good speech last week at the NAACP convention, but even the strength of that performance was as nothing next to what he’s done over the past two days. I’ve now watched Romney’s speeches yesterday and today centering on the remark and its meaning, and what I’m seeing is a Mitt Romney come alive—or at least, a Romney new to me. He has always been articulate and with a command of facts and figures, but the distanced awkwardness that accompanied them has suddenly vanished. In their place is a loose, fluid, confident, and passionate spokesman defending the free enterprise system against Obama’s government-centered approach. Romney has done something you hear people talk about theoretically but which doesn’t often happen—he has found his voice as a presidential candidate. And it’s all due to Barack Obama. I hope a fruit basket is on the way to the White House. It would only be polite.

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Voter Enthusiasm Among GOP Rises

Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

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Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

The GOP-Democratic gap is actually less troubling for Obama than the rising enthusiasm among independent voters. What’s causing the trend? The next line in the CBS story might give you an idea:

As for the direction of the country, voters are growing increasingly more pessimistic, however.

Sixty-four percent of those polled think the country is on the wrong track, up from 62 percent in May.

At HotAir, Ed Morrissey raises another good, related point:

The big takeaway, though, is that 49 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of independents express increased enthusiasm for this election, while only 27 percent of Democrats say the same thing. If Obama’s attacks are depressing enthusiasm, it’s pretty clear whose enthusiasm he’s depressing. That was always the risk for a candidate whose main qualification for office was hope and change, and whose signature outcome has been economic stagnation.

This is particularly problematic for Obama because his reelection relies on him either getting his base out to the polls in greater numbers than in 2008 or winning over new supporters to make up for the ones he’s lost. It doesn’t look like he’s made headway in either area, according to this poll. Not only does this point to a troubling trend down the road, it also requires Obama to refigure his current talking points. As Politico’s Donovan Slack reports, the Obama campaign has tended to play up positive enthusiasm numbers to argue it’s in good shape for November.

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