Saturday, March 17, 2012

November Madness?

"How do we understand this President and his time in office?" asks actor Tom Hanks in his narration for the documentary "The Road We've Traveled," which the president's reelection campaign released Thursday evening. "Do we look at the day's headlines or do we remember what we as a nation have been through?" Well that all depends on your political point of view.

For supporters of President Obama, the documentary is a well-crafted 17-minute story about a man who has achieved an enormous amount despite difficult challenges.  "Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has so much fallen on the shoulders of one president," Hanks says.  It tells of a man who is consistently doing what he believes is best for the country rather than what may be most popular. 

The documentary cites the benefits of the health care reform act, a.k.a. "Obama care", by reminding viewers that the elderly, young adults under 26 years old, and people with preexisting conditions will no longer be without health care. It points to the fact that the controversial stimulus package passed in 2009 added or saved millions of jobs.  The film also highlights the great success of the automobile bail out, which is still criticized by the Republican candidates.  Of course, the documentary spends time detailing the president's actions that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. 

The timing of the film, released on the normally unlucky "Ides of March", marks the true beginning of the president's reelection effort.  Simultaneous with the film's release, candidates Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sharpened their attacks on their Republican opponents.

On Thursday the vice president said, “Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — these guys have a fundamentally different economic philosophy than we do.” He continued, “We are for a fair shot and a fair shake. They’re about no rules, no risks and no accountability.”  Speaking of the auto bailout, Vice President Biden then said, “he made the tough call and the verdict is in. President Obama was right and they were dead wrong.”  A few hundred miles away the president criticized at his opponents, “If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they probably must have been founding members of the "Flat Earth Society". They would not believe that the world was round."

But, flat earth or not, recent national polls showed a sharp decline in the president's approval rating.  The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows Obama's overall approval rating at 41 percent, down 9 percentage points in one month.  The president's rating also slid about 10 percent in a month according to a Washington Post/ABC poll.  Rising gas prices and a slow recovery seem to be dragging the president's numbers down.  The heated debate over contraception and religious rights are not as high a priority to most Americans.

Of course, the man in charge is held accountable for rising gasoline prices, even though they are caused by events that the president has little control over.  Speculators and the fear of war with Iran are driving the prices up.  If all the suggestions that Republicans are making to deal with the problem were enacted they would have little impact on the price.  In fact, the last time gas prices were this high was in July 2008, when George W. Bush was president, and they came crashing down because of the recession that soon followed.  

Here we are in the height of college basketball's exciting tournament known as "March Madness."  Already many fans who have forecast the outcome of the tournament, the "bracketologists," have seen their predictions turn out wrong.  That is because several top-seeded teams have gone down to defeat at the hands of lower ranked opponents. The fact is that any team has a chance of winning on any given day. 

We are still many months away from "November Madness," and the race will not be a slam-dunk for either candidate.  While it is pretty clear that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be matched up against President Barack Obama, the election will be very close.  Victory will depend on who has the better ground game and passionate voter support.  But, chances are that many voters will be more motivated by "the day's headlines" than "what we have been through" as a nation.      

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