Sunday, October 28, 2012

Racism in America

The 2012 presidential election campaign has been disappointing.   Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this election is that were President Barack Obama white it is likely he would be on his way to a landslide victory.  

President Obama inherited a disastrous mess. When he entered office the economy was shrinking at 9 percent annually due to the Bush Recession.  About 800 thousand Americans were losing jobs each month.  The banking system was on the verge of collapse, the housing market was a disaster, and the American car industry was dying.  The country was engaged in two difficult and costly wars, both in lives and resources, with no end in sight.  Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, and mastermind of the worst attack on U.S. soil, continued to plot against America and its allies. 

In his inaugural speech, at the U.S. Capitol before nearly 2 million people, the president said, "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."  But, inside the Capitol, Republicans met and formulated a plan to obstruct, deny and delay the president's agenda.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would later publicly state that making President Obama a one-term president, not the economy, was the number one priority of his party. 

The new president, facing fierce partisan opposition, signed into law the Recovery Act, a.k.a. the stimulus package.  Although it was smaller than he originally proposed, most economists credit it with righting the stalling economy.  Even Representative Paul Ryan requested stimulus money to help businesses in his district.  The president also signed tough banking reform legislation to assure a similar crisis would not occur. He enacted the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that assures fair pay for women.  He bailed out the American auto companies over the objections of many Republicans, including Governor Mitt Romney, who wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece that they should be allowed to go bankrupt.  The auto bailout saved one million jobs, and now the industry is vibrant again.  

The president's signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) will make health care more affordable and accessible to all Americans, and protect consumers from abuses by insurance companies.  For instance, no longer can insurance companies deny people health care benefits because they have a pre-existing condition.  More importantly, 40 million uninsured Americans will be covered and the government will realize $1 trillion in health care savings over the next decade, according to its sponsors. . 

But Republicans have used Obamacare (sounds like Romneycare) as a major rallying cry against the president, falsely charging it is a government take over of health care, that it would restrict an individual's choices, and that it would set up death panels.  While they offered no credible alternatives, they demonize the president as a socialist.   

The president had promised to end the war in Iraq, and he did.  But Republicans were vociferous in their criticism, saying he withdrew too early.  The president promised a military build up in Afghanistan, where the war was nearly in its tenth year, and he did.  The president also set a deadline of June 2014 for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from that country.  But Republicans criticized the president for announcing a deadline.  And just last week candidate Mitt Romney announced at the third debate that he agreed with the president's deadline after all. 

The president made getting Osama bin Laden a top priority early on in his administration.   Bin Laden had eluded capture for nearly a decade, and was a low priority for both President George Bush and candidate Romney.  But in May 2011, U.S. forces killed the world's most heinous terrorist leader in Pakistan.  The president took a huge political risk by ordering the killing, but now Republicans claim that anyone would have done the same thing.  

The president has had some missteps during his first term.  The U.S. economy is still sluggish and too many people remain unemployed.  But the world is a different place today than it was in the early 1980's, when President Ronald Reagan revived a bad U.S. economy.  Economic growth in China and India has slowed; much of Europe is still in a recession.  Nonetheless, under President Obama the U.S. economy has enjoyed 31 straight months of jobs growth and unemployment is at its lowest point, 7.8 percent, since he took office.  

At the Democratic Convention, President Bill Clinton said, "No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, could have repaired all of the damage he found in just four years."  When one considers the animus and vitriol that has roiled the American political scene, stirred by Republicans and Tea Party loyalists, it is a wonder that the man who called for "unity of purpose" has succeeded at all.

Mr. Obama has been labeled "the food stamp president" and an "anti-colonialist" by leading Republicans.  He has repeatedly been treated with unprecedented disrespect, including on the floor of the House of Representatives.  His place of birth has been constantly questioned, as have his academic records.  About a third of all Republicans think the president is a Muslim and not a Christian.  Most recently, when General Colin Powell, a leading Republican, war hero and African American, announced his thoughtful endorsement for the president's reelection, right wing critics sniped.  Former Vermont Governor John Sununu, and chief Romney surrogate, said, "Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."

On Saturday, the Associated Press released a poll that found, "51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey."  According to AP, "Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, President Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney."  Racial prejudice actually increased in America over the past four years with an African American in the White House, a president who has rarely raised the issue of race.

Americans should vote for the candidate who they believe will be the best president.    But to use race as a factor would only reward those who have divided the nation by using fear and hatred to achieve their political agenda.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Romney Tales

The story of the third presidential debate is not that President Barack Obama handily defeated Governor Mitt Romney. Rather, what was most noteworthy was how Romney suddenly embraced many of the president's foreign policy stances, as if to say, "Disregard all my previous positions."

Prior to the first debate Governor Romney was flailing and stumbling. President Obama was beginning to take a commanding lead in the polls as even some Republicans were making the switch. A debate win by the president would have effectively ended the Romney campaign. Of course, Romney had the president right where he wanted him.

President Obama, perhaps a bit overconfident, basically phoned in his first debate performance, while Romney came with a clear strategy, energy and purpose. The first debate was a game changer for Romney because it made him look like a legitimate contender. In contrast, President Obama looked as if he didn't care about a second term. Instead of a fatal blow to Romney, the first debate was a near fatal blow for President Obama.

While the president clearly won the rancorous second debate, held at Hoftra University, the results seemed to have little impact on voter sentiment. A bullying Romney commanded the stage, even treating the president disrespectfully. The debate devolved into a sparring match that did not benefit either candidate. Meanwhile, the president's lead in the national polls evaporated.

The third debate was on foreign policy, and moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. For months candidate Romney had harshly criticized every aspect of President Obama's foreign policy. But in Monday night's debate Romney heaped praise on many of Obama's policies. At long last the governor had decided to come home to a more centrist position. He had won the nomination by being a "severe conservative," but Monday night he "Etch a Sketched" his persona into a moderate.

Romney agreed with many of the president's policies, even praising him a couple of times. Of course, there were a couple of tough exchanges, including over military spending. "Our Navy is older -- excuse me -- our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285." Romney said. "That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy."

President Obama was ready with an answer, "You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- (laughter) -- because the nature of our military's changed. " He concluded, "And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's -- it's what are our capabilities."

Going into the final debate Romney had a clear strategy: avoid looking like a warmonger and sound reasonable. He was attempting to appeal to women. As a consequence his responses were so moderate it appeared he was doing all he could to distance himself from the neocons and the "Bush Doctrine." Romney has no foreign policy experience at all. In the past he has staked out very aggressive foreign policy positions against China, Russia, Syria and Iran.

What is most troubling is that Romney has had no problem changing his deeply-held positions to appeal to some constituency. This pattern has repeated itself throughout his political career. He was pro-choice before he was pro-life. He was for Romneycare before he was against Obamacare, which is based on the former. The reason Romney is a serial flip flopper is because he will do and say anything he needs to in order to become president. He has even changed his position on an issue mid-debate.

Romney is a salesman; he is a closer. He sounds convincing, confident and certain. But while he is never in doubt, he is frequently wrong. And worse, he is often misleading. Take his tax cut proposal, which does add up to $5 trillion over 10 years, and most benefits the truly rich. There currently aren't enough tax deductions to eliminate, including mortgage and charity, to pay for the tax cuts. But tax cuts do not grow the economy. The economy barely grew during President George Bush's presidency even though he had signed into law two unpaid for tax cuts, a.k.a., the Bush Tax Cuts.

For those who are now considering voting for Romney, buyer beware.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama Delivers

President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney collided at the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University in a historic and rancorous face off. The president won this debate, but Romney showed that his performance in Denver was not a fluke.

Results of a CBS News "snap poll" of uncommitted voters had 37% calling President Obama the winner, while 30% gave the nod to Romney. A CNN poll gave Obama the win 46% to 39%.

Both candidates were in full attack mode, each delivering direct verbal blows on their opponent. The president did not shrink from the fight, and neither did Romney, who at times came off as bullying the moderator and the president. There were several raw and emotional exchanges in response to questions asked by undecided voters chosen for the town hall debate.

Romney was strongest on the economy, touting his own five-point plan while calling the president's term a failure. "The president's policies have been exercised over the last four years, and they haven't put people back to work." But the president retorted, "He doesn't have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan, and that's to make sure people at the top play by different rules...The last thing we need to do is go back to the same policies that got us there," into a recession.

Romney spoke of his proposal to lower taxes, "I'm going to bring rates down across the board...I'm not going to have people at the high end paying less than they pay now...I will not under any circumstances increase taxes on the middle class." But the president criticized his opponent for not specifying how he would pay for the $5 trillion tax cut. Speaking directly to Romney, he said, "You wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal, and neither should the American people, because the math doesn't add up."

The president scored points on immigration, reminding viewers that Romney believed in "self-deportation." He also scored points on equal pay for women when he pointed out that the first thing he did as president was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women. This also gave the president a chance to remind viewers that Romney would defund Planned Parenthood, an all important issue for many women.

One questioner asked about what happened at the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, where 4 Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. The former governor criticized the president's foreign policy in the region, and the White House's evolving explanation of the incident. But Romney mistakenly claimed the president did not call it "an act of terrorism" in the White House Rose Garden the next day, an inaccurate right wing blog claim. But moderator Candy Crowley, of CNN, embarrassingly corrected Romney.

Romney' returned again and again to the president's failures in his first term. For his part, the president listed his successes, including saving the auto industry, adding more than 5 million private sector jobs, health care, ending the war in Iraq and decimating Al Qaeda.

Romney kept coming back to the economy, always speaking confidently about his ability to fix it if he is elected president. He reminded viewers he was a successful businessman who knows how to create jobs. In his summation, at the end of the debate, he said, “I care about 100% of the American people. I want 100% of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future. I care about our kids.”

President Obama didn't miss this opportunity to remind viewers that the former governor once told donors at a Florida fundraiser that 47% of Americans do not pay taxes and are not personally responsible. "Think about who he was talking about: folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives, veterans who've sacrificed for this country," the president said, “That wasn’t a handout, that was something that advanced the entire country, and I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That's why I'm asking for your vote and that's why I'm asking for another four years.”

Now the campaigns can look ahead to next week's final debate in Florida. After the Hofstra debate it is clear that this tightly contested election will be a fight to the finish.



Friday, October 12, 2012

The Veep Debate

Vice President Joe Biden's debate performance on Thursday was feisty, energetic and aggressive.  Representative Paul Ryan, his opponent, was largely composed, well rehearsed and often on the defensive.  Biden gave the performance his party was looking for while Ryan comported himself well.  

In a CBS News snap poll of 500 uncommitted voters, 50% of those asked said Biden won the debate, while 31% gave the nod to Ryan.  The poll also showed that the perception of each man improved because of their performance.  

The debate, which took place at Centre College in Danville, Ky., covered both foreign and domestic issues.   ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz moderated it.  Unlike the last week's debate, she drove the 90-minute intense exchange with sharp questioning.  Biden smiled and shook his head at many of his opponent's answers, while Ryan smirked at several of Biden's answers. 

Raddatz began by asking the vice president about the attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed.  Republicans have criticized the White House for not immediately admitting it was a terrorist attack.  In the debate, Ryan called it a "massive intelligence failure" promising that a Mitt Romney administration would provide marines to protect U.S. outposts.  Biden, who said the administration was investigating the attack, pointed out that Republicans in Congress voted to cut embassy security by $300 million.  

The candidates sparred over Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.  On Iran, Ryan charged, “This administration has no credibility on this issue,” as Biden smiled and shook his head.  Then Ryan criticized the president for not meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he was in New York for a United Nations meeting, and instead appearing on ABC's talk show, The View. 

“This is a bunch of stuff,” Biden said.  “What does that mean, a bunch of stuff?” Raddatz asked. “It’s Irish,” Ryan chimed in. “We Irish call it malarkey.”  Then Biden said the president had a one-hour call with Netanyahu just before the UN meeting and criticized Romney and Ryan for not having a plan for Iran.

On Afghanistan the debaters argued over the president's commitment to pull U.S. troops in 2014.  Ryan said the White should not have announced the timetable, which already was well known. But Biden was emphatic, "We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period."

Taxes, Medicare and Social Security were heated debate topics.  Biden pinned Ryan on defending tax cuts for top income earners.  He repeatedly, speaking directly into the camera, called for a level playing field for the middle class.  He also highlighted Romney's remarks, to a closed fundraiser, that 47% of Americans aren't personally responsible.  Ryan, turning to Biden, said, “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”  Biden responded, "But I mean what I say." 

Biden called the Ryan proposal on Medicare a voucher plan that would result in future seniors having to pay money for care.  And Biden attacked a Republican plan to privatize Social Security, which would leave Americans vulnerable to swings in the stock market.  

Near the end of the debate, Raddatz asked the candidates if their Catholic faith "informs" their decision on abortion.  Ryan said yes, but said the Romney policy  "will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother." It was clear that Ryan would rule out all abortions.  Biden said he is personally against abortion, but that, "It's a decision between (women) and their doctor, in my view, and the Supreme Court. I'm not going to interfere with that."  He then pointed out that the next president would appoint one or two Supreme Court justices, which could swing the balance on Roe V. Wade.  

Representative Paul Ryan has bragged about his ability to catch fish barehanded.  However, in the debate he could not catch the vice president, whose lengthy experience with foreign policy and domestic issues worked in his favor.  While Biden consistently spoke from his heart, Ryan often seemed to be reciting talking points, especially on foreign policy issues.  

Now the stage is set for the next week's presidential debate at Hofstra University.  President Obama's supporters know that he must build off of Biden's strong performance, because the alternative could be devastating for his reelection hopes.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Romney's Debatable Performance

Governor Mitt Romney exceeded expectations in his debate performance at the University of Denver while President Barack Obama seemed to be trying to protect his lead. 

Romney needed to have a strong performance and he did.  According to a CBS News "snap poll", 46% of the 500 of uncommitted voters asked said that Romney won the debate, 22% said the president won, and 32% said it was a draw. 

It was clear that Romney and his debate team planned to exploit the debate format, moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer, with an aggressive performance.  The challenger often has the advantage because the incumbent has to defend his record.  But Romney got help from his opponent and the moderator because he was not challenged on his statements.

President Obama was not confrontational.  He failed to raise Romney's embarrassing comments at a fundraiser that 47% are not personally responsible and depend on the federal government.  The president failed to get Romney to explain what loopholes he would eliminate in his tax reform plan to pay for his 20% across the board tax cut, which would cost $5 trillion.  That gave Romney the chance to say over and over his program would not cost $5 trillion.

Romney used, in Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's words, "theatrical aggression."  Romney sounded confident as he gave the appearance of offering specifics without doing so.  He criticized the president for "cutting" $716 billion from Medicare, the exact same amount Representative Paul Ryan, his running mate, and Republicans have voted to cut from the program.  Romney did admit his would turn Medicare into a voucher program, but glossed over its impact.

Romney said he would repeal Obamacare, the president's signature health care legislation, but failed to clearly explain in detail how he would replace it.  However, at one point he said his Massachusetts health care plan initiatives can apply nationally.  That would seem to mean that his individual mandate, which is unpopular, would also apply.  The president did not seize that opening.

For his part, President Obama did not mention his record of 30 consecutive months job growth, which has added more than 5 million private sector jobs to the U.S. economy.  He also did not take credit for saving the U.S. auto industry, which saved a million U.S. jobs.

The president was consistent, persistent, but he played it safe.  He was not forceful and he was not passionate.  He did not make a clear case for his reelection. 

The Romney campaign had leaked that their candidate would use zingers in the debate, but there were none.  Instead, he attacked the incumbent's record and surprisingly even used human anecdotes.  And in his strong summation he claimed he would turn the economy around and create 12 million new jobs in his first term.  Never mind that economic forecasters predict that the U.S. economy is currently on track to add 12 million jobs. 

Romney's performance was welcome relief to Republicans after several weeks of poor performances and embarrassing gaffs.  He was convincing, and his debate appearance revved up his own base.

But did Romney convert any new voters?  Will Americans support a candidate whose numbers do not add up?