Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Presidential campaign is nice, and then again not

In a split-screen race for the presidency, Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama were on their best campaign behavior in public Tuesday, all the while slashing away at each other in paid television ads.
In separate appearances in New York, they swapped criticism on foreign policy. But they did it politely, without mentioning each other by name. 

Romney found fault with Obama's approach to education, but did so after paying a public compliment to Arne Duncan, who has the administration's Cabinet portfolio for the subject. 

There was an outbreak of self-deprecating humor from Romney, as well, as he received a glowing introduction from former President Bill Clinton before speaking to the annual Clinton Global Initiative.
"If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good," joked the Republican candidate for the White House, referring to the former' president's strong speech on Obama's behalf at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month.
"All I got to do now is wait a few days for that bounce to happen," Romney quipped. 

Joking or not, it was as close as the Republican challenger has come to publicly acknowledging recent polls showing Obama moving ahead in several battleground states and gaining ground in national surveys.
Cut to the television ads, and the political reality both campaigns are trying to create for voters 
in battleground states. 

Of the five commercials the Obama campaign says it is airing most frequently, one accuses Romney and running mate Paul Ryan of backing a plan for Medicare that would raise out-of-pocket costs for seniors. Another says the Republican challenger favors tax cuts for millionaires that could be paid for by reducing existing tax breaks for education expenses.

A third says Obama, not Romney, has pushed back against China's unfair trade policies. A fourth asserts that part of Romney's personal fortune is invested in China and says he's never stood up to the country. "All he's done is send them our jobs," it says. 

The Romney campaign listed six ads currently airing, four of which criticize Obama. 

"Dear Daughter. Welcome to America," says the announcer in a commercial that shows a young baby. "Your share of Obama's debt is over $50,000." 

Two spots feature coal miners accusing the administration of pursuing policies that go after their industry. "Obama said he was going to bankrupt any new power plants that opened up ... He's keeping his promise," says a miner shown in one. "I've got two young grandsons. I'm scared for their futures, let alone mine."
A fourth accuses Obama of failing to "stand up to China" and asserts, "His policies cost us 2 million jobs."
In the world not made up of television commercials, one report released during the day showed consumer confidence climbing to the highest level since February. A second report said home prices increased in July as sales rose and foreclosures fell. 

Taken together, that amounted to encouraging news for the president, given that the slow-growing economy and 8.1 percent national unemployment are the public's top issues in the race for the White House.
Whatever the economic news itself, voters increasingly say the country is heading in the right direction. In an Associated Press-GfK poll taken at mid-month, 48 percent of registered voters said they expect the economy to improve in the next 12 months, compared to only 41 percent who said so in a survey in August.
Additionally, 41 percent of registered voters said in this month's poll that the nation is heading in the right direction, up from 34 percent saying the same in August. 

Obama's handling of the economy, still tepid, is better than it has been. The latest AP-GfK poll finds 48 percent of registered voters approve of the president's handling of the economy, while 49 percent disapprove. In June, 56 percent disapproved and 43 percent approved. 

Romney spoke first during the day, speaking to Clinton's organization. 

He said the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya two weeks ago was caused by a terrorist attack, something Obama has refrained from saying. 

"Many Americans are troubled by the developments in the Middle East," Romney said. "Syria has witnessed the killings of tens of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. ... And Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability. 

"We feel that we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events," he added. 

Although Romney did not overtly criticize Obama's foreign policy in the speech, as he had on Monday, his words took on a sharper edge when he suggested to CNN during an interview that the White House had misled the American people by not characterizing the violence in Libya as a terrorist attack. 

"The White House's failure to acknowledge that the assassination of our ambassador was a terrorist attack, a terrorist event, suggests that they are trying to paper over the seriousness of what's happening in the Middle East," Romney said. 

In his New York speech, Romney said that if he is elected, he will create "prosperity pacts" in the Middle East, private-public partnerships designed to remove barriers to free markets around the region. He said developing countries would receive U.S. assistance "focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law and property rights." 

Obama, in a speech later in the morning to the U.N. General Assembly, said the recent assaults on U.S. citizens in Libya "were attacks on America" and called on world leaders to join in confronting the root causes of the rage across the Muslim world. 

But in a slap at Romney, Obama said "let us remember that this is a season of progress" in the Arab World, where autocratic leaders have been deposed in several countries. 

In another jab, he said, "Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on peace." 

Obama didn't mention it, but Romney says on a videotape that recently came to light that "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace. The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Clinton delivers for Obama – and himself

There’s nothing like an almost-depression to put the sins of philandering Bill Clinton in perspective. Your choice: an Oval Office sexcapade vs. full employment, a house that’s not underwater and some hope of retiring by 75.

Clearly, America’s chosen. Most of us have forgiven the seducer-in-chief, whose favorability ratings — along with Hillary’s — reached 66 percent in July. That compares to 41 percent for the struggling president whom Clinton called “cool on the outside” last night.

But there was nothing cool and calm last night about Bill Clinton, basking before the swooning faithful. He remained the powerful, passionate, coy, charming, talk-a-dog-off-a-meat-wagon Southern boy who used to jog to McDonald’s and lick secret sauce from pudgy fingers, all the cameras tolling. And last night he showed he still can convince us he feels our pain — and knows how to ease it.

“Are we better off then when he took office?” he asked, stealing the line used over and over at last week’s GOP convention. Yes, he answered himself. Then he went right down the list: jobs added since Obama saved the economy from a free fall into depression. A saved auto industry that Romney wanted to go bankrupt. He praised the cost savings from so-called Obamacare — something I’ve never heard from Obama himself. Clinton praised Obama’s willingness to compromise and reach across the aisle.
“Heck, he even appointed Hillary.”

Like Obama, Clinton said, “I have never learned to hate (Republicans) the way the far right who controls their party seems to hate our president.”

And then he answered the other question hanging over Obama’s re-election. He said the economy Obama inherited was in such drastic shape that “no one” could have fixed all the damage done in just four years. Said Clinton, “I believe it with all my heart.”

Speculation’s been rampant this week about what was in it for Clinton to show up last night. It looked to me like he enjoyed himself immensely during his biggest, best, latest moment in the sun. The New York Times [NYT] reported yesterday that Clinton talks frequently about living on borrowed time. At 66, he’s outlived most men in his family. Of his foundation, he said, “We trying to build it to make sure it’ll still run if I drop dead tomorrow.”

It does occur to you, watching him: He’s not so robust anymore: But it occurs to you, too, how often we’re blind to a politician’s enormous talent until years after he exits the stage. Bill Clinton wowed ’em in Charlotte last night. He wowed anybody watching. And if Barack Obama pulls off a second term, Bill Clinton can expect — and will get — lots of credit.