Friday, February 17, 2012

Santorum's "Gotcha" Moment

Perhaps former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum should take a couple aspirin and get some rest. It appears the pressure of being the front-runner in the Republican presidential sweepstakes is getting to him.

As most successful candidates know, almost nothing can be more frustrating than having a prominent supporter say something stupid that embarrasses your campaign. Take the comments about contraception by Santorum supporter Foster Friess on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell program Thursday. Friess actually said, "Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly."

This left Mitchell stunned. "Excuse me, I'm just trying to catch my breath from that, Mr. Friess, frankly," she said incredulously. Friess most certainly thought he was being funny, no doubt thinking that the "gals" and the boys at the country club would get a big kick out of his comment.

But even Rick Santorum knew that this was a terrible blunder on Friess's part. Of course, Santorum needs Friess's money but he doesn't need the controversy. However, rather then simply asking for Friess to apologize, Santorum decided to go on the attack.

In an interview with CBS This Morning's Charlie Rose Friday, Santorum said, "This is someone who is a supporter of mine, and I'm not responsible for every comment that a supporter of mine makes." Then Santorum began sounding defensive, "It was a bad joke, it was a stupid joke, and it is not reflective of me or my record on this issue [of contraception]."

He then noted, "It's funny that I've been criticized by Governor Romney and Ron Paul for actually having voted for something called Title 10, which is actually federal funding of contraception." As Rose pressed the candidate on his views about contraception Santorum pushed back, "This is the same gotcha politics that you get from the media, and I'm just not going to play that game."

When Rose said he was not playing a "gotcha" game, Santorum countered, "Charlie, when you quote a supporter of mine who tells a bad, off-color joke and somehow I'm responsible for that, that's 'gotcha.'" (Interestingly, Santorum answered similar questions on the Fox News Channel Thursday night and did not raise the "gotcha" issue.)

Then Santorum played the Obama card on Rose: "You don't do this with President Obama. In fact, with President Obama, what you did was you went out and defended him against someone who sat in a church for 20 years, and defended him, that he can't possibly believe what he listened to for 20 years." In full dudgeon, Santorum concluded his point, "That's a double-standard, this is what you're pulling off, and I'm going to call you on it."

Charlie Rose, an exceptional interviewer and a true southern gentleman from Henderson, North Carolina, politely listened to Santorum's rant and then moved on to discuss the Michigan primary. So Santorum's well thought out strategy for dealing with Friess's remark was to attack Rose and reference President Obama's former minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who made controversial statements from his pulpit.

Santorum's handling of the Rose interview may appeal to the anti-mainstream media segment of the population, but it did not come close to looking presidential. And his performance raises questions about whether front-runner Rick Santorum has the temperament and skill to handle the difficult road ahead to secure his party's nomination.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Too Close To Call

President Barack Obama's chances of winning a second term appear better today than at anytime in the past two years, but there are plenty of things that could go wrong between now and November.

According to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll the president's approval rating has reached 50%, in part because the economy is slowly improving. According to the poll, 34% of Americans believe that the economy is getting better, up 6% from a month earlier. Still 59% of those surveyed think the country is on the wrong track, though those saying it is on the right track increased in the last month from 29% to 35%. Yet 50% of the respondents still disapprove of the president's handling of the economy while 44% approve. At a minimum these numbers reflect a great deal of uncertainty about the economy which will likely be the most important issue for voters next November.

With a bit of wind at his back, the president is now leading each of the potential Republican candidates according to the poll. The Republicans have been engaged in a negative and divisive primary that has hurt each of the candidates, especially presumed front-runner Mitt Romney. And 57% of Republicans think the tough primary will hurt their party's chances in November’s presidential election.

The CBS News/New York Times poll shows that former Senator Rick Santorum has surged into the lead over Romney. The Romney campaign immediately responded with a barrage of negative attack ads against Santorum. If the former Pennsylvania Senator can win the Michigan and Arizona primaries in two weeks he will give the Romney campaign a near fatal blow.

Romney grew up in Michigan and he was thought to have a home state advantage. But a recent state poll shows Santorum is in front. Santorum's appeal in this rustbelt state seems to be his genuineness and his blue-collar upbringing. But with success will come more scrutiny into his record in office and his views on social issues. His positions on contraception and women in the military do not reflect the views of most Americans.

While the Republicans duke it out the president must navigate through some very tricky waters. Republicans in Congress have vowed they will do all they can to stop President Obama from winning a second term. Meanwhile, this country’s economic recovery is fragile. Making matters even more precarious, Europe is struggling to manage their difficult economic crisis, the outcome of which will impact the U.S.

Of even greater concern are reports that Iran is continuing to build a nuclear bomb and that it is behind a series of terrorist attacks against Israel. A war between Israel and Iran could break out before the November elections and America’s hand will be forced.  This as Afghanistan, Syria, China and Russia each are ongoing difficult diplomatic challenges for the U.S. 

The president may very well be winning head-to-head against Santorum, Romney, Gingrich or Paul. But when the Republicans select their nominee, no matter who's left standing, the race will tighten. Because this country is deeply divided, perhaps 45% Republican and 45% Democrat, the winner will need an energized base and a majority of the independents.

And maybe an endorsement from Knick Jeremy Lin would help?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Contraception Compromise?

The Obama administration's decision to require religious institutions to provide health insurance that covers birth control and other contraceptive services has resulted in a firestorm of protest from the Catholic Church and Republican presidential candidates. Given the importance of the issue to many Catholics the administration will have to compromise.

There are more than 65 million Catholics in the United States, the country's largest religious denomination. President Obama carried 54% of the Catholic vote in 2008 according to exit polls. The Catholic Church, which is totally opposed to any form of contraception, oversees more than 600 hospitals nationwide and cares for one in six patients each year. Even so, most employees are not Catholic.

President Obama and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York discussed the subject in a meeting at the White House last fall. "The president seemed very earnest, he said he considered the protection of conscience sacred, that he didn't want anything his administration would do to impede the work of the church that he claimed he held in high regard," Dolan said in late January. "I have to say, there's a sense of personal disappointment."

Yet, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, more than two-thirds of all Catholic women use sterilization, the birth control pill, or an IUD. The Institute says that, "making contraceptives more affordable and easier to use reflects the needs and desires of the vast majority of U.S. women and their partners, regardless of their religious beliefs."

Pointing out that 28 states require contraception to be covered by insurance, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the policy Monday in a USA Today op-ed. "Today, virtually all American women use contraception at some point in their lives," Sebelius wrote. "And we have a large body of medical evidence showing it has significant benefits for their health, as well as the health of their children." She noted that the cost of birth control might be too expensive for some women who are not covered by insurance.

Former House Speaker and current Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has accused the Obama administration of waging a "war against religion" because of the requirement that Catholic hospitals and universities must cover contraception as part of their employee health plans.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, called the administration's decision on contraception a "violation of conscience." "We must have a president who is willing to protect America's first right, a right to worship God, according to the dictates of our own conscience," Romney said Monday.

But last week The Boston Globe reported, "Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, even though some Catholics view the morning-after pill as a form of abortion." "President Obama's plan certainly constitutes an assault on the constitutional rights of Catholics," C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, said in an interview with the Boston Globe, "but I'm not sure Governor Romney is in a position to assert that, given his own very mixed record on this."

In her op-ed Secretary Sebelius said, "We specifically carved out from the policy religious organizations that primarily employ people of their own faith. This exemption includes churches and other houses of worship, and could also include other church-affiliated organizations." And she noted that doctors are not required to prescribe contraceptives and no one is required to buy them.

Nonetheless, no matter how the administration explains the decision, most Catholics see the proposal as forcing institutions run by the Catholic Church to violate the churches' own moral teachings. And, while well intentioned, this does not make sense and it is not smart politics.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Heaven or Hell?

The following election story has been lifted from my former high school classmate, Dan Spannraft, who posted it publicly on Facebook:

VIA Dan 'n Liz Spannraft

Something for all of us to ponder this election year.

While walking down the street one day a Corrupt Senator was tragically hit by a car and died.

His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," says the Senator..

"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from the higher ups. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Really?, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the Senator.

"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."

And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.

The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people.

They played a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and the finest champagne.

Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who is having a good time dancing and telling jokes.

They are all having such a good time that before the Senator realizes it, it is time to go.

Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises...

The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens in heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him, "Now it's time to visit heaven.."

So, 24 hours passed with the Senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."

The Senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."

So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell..

Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above.

The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulders.

"I don't understand," stammers the Senator. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?"

The devil smiles at him and says,

"Yesterday we were campaigning ... Today, you voted.."