Is Obama intentionally, in the words of Reince Priebus, or John Ransom, running a Seinfeld campaign “about nothing,” hoping to win solely on likeability? In listening to XM Sirius’ “POTUS” channel Wednesday in my car I was struck by Julie Mason’s comment that this presidential campaign has lacked serious substance. We did get a brief glimmer of hope when Mitt chose Paul Ryan, as folks seemed encouraged by the boldness of the pick and Mitt’s staking ground in the debate about the size of the Federal budget. Ms. Mason lamented that the campaigns, however, have seemed to retreat from that attempt, and that if she craves something like a debate about the proper size and role of government it must mean there’s a real deficiency in her diet, like when she craves spinach. I agree, and quickly responded with a tweet reminding her that Mitt has a proposal, just one of many not responded to in any way to my knowledge by the Obama campaign (while they focus on attacks on Mitt’s personality), to limit government spending to 20% of GDP. Meanwhile Obama ducks the traditional bi-lateral meetings surrounding the UN General Assembly in New York to be filmed on The View. The administration’s quietly stated reason? Too much room for error. So not having meetings to build international relationships and help avoid little things like war over Iran was a a political calculation. The president is likely to make a gaffe or make a promise he can’t deliver on. So he decided to just keep away from problematic stuff like doing his job so he could cultivate his celebrity image. According to Time:
Of course, meeting with world leaders when you don’t know if you’ll still have your job in the next few weeks, can be potentially awkward. It can lead to unfortunate hot-mic gaffes, of which Obama has not been immune (for example, in Seoul earlier this year he asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to be flexible on missile defense until after the election, when Obama would have more space to maneuver–too much diplomatic candor for the sensitive electoral season). Still, ignoring the opportunity to meet one-on-one with world leaders underlined where Obama’s attention is fixed: the campaign. And it was the election that dominated the taping of The View. That, and the inside skinny of the Obama family’s schedule.
So he seems to want to float above the fray and not engage in the discussion, just repeating the same old lines about Bain Capital and exporting jobs. On that point, if you haven’t seen it yet, read this article in the New York Post pointing out just whose money is at Bain. Hint: unions, retirement funds and academic institutions are who trusted Mitt to make money for them. Turns out corporations he helped succeed are made up of people (their investors) and the left has known it all along!
Why does Obama’s failure to engage for political reasons sound familiar? Kind of like not proposing a budget in the Senate for fear the people will either criticize its size or criticize what it cuts? Like not leading the negotiations to increase our debt limit? Or not even submitting immigration reform, then lamenting how “hard” it was to get passed?
Ms. Mason similarly complained, from her perspective as a member of the White House press corps, that the White House ignores the hard questions, refusing to be held accountable to that annoying press, but makes room for the fluff on The View. Sure it’s nice to get a view into the first family’s private life, but where’s the beef? Mitt’s got a table laid out but there’s nothing from Obama. I’d only encourage Mitt to put out more substance so the contrast is even more stark between his courageous campaign and Barack’s celebrity sellout. I like Natalie Portman’s movies (she’s a vocal Obama fan and was recently featured in an Obama ad) but don’t really need her or Barack as “eye candy,” in his words, as much as I need my president to know how to stimulate the economy and keep us secure from stuff like, say, terrorist attacks?
One article recently compared Obama to Muhammad Ali for trying to “float like a butterfly” above the fray. They point out that this, however:
… is not good for anybody: for the country, for the voters, for the political parties or even for Obama and his administration.
If American democracy is to work — if we are to prevent the blood from clotting in the body politic — presidential elections must be real contests over real ideas and real records, informed by real facts.
This campaign hasn’t really been any of those things.
Presidents do not deserve to be reelected by default. If they did, why would anyone expect that a second term to be any better or wiser?
And elected leaders need to be held to account — pinned up against the wall, so to speak — if citizens aren’t to become utterly disillusioned with the idea that we live in a system of democratic self-government.
He has managed to do all of this [build a lead] without having to seriously and substantively defend his first-term failed promises or shortcomings, and without having to say much, if anything. about what, if anything, he might do substantially differently if he is fortunate enough to win again.
Unless I missed it, the president has yet to give a detailed answer to why he has failed to meet or even come close to his promises about reducing the unemployment rate. Saying that the task was harder than he initially thought isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a convincing explanation.
He hasn’t given a detailed answer as to why he and his top advisers, led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, failed to focus sufficiently on reviving the housing market, rather than just bailing out banks.
He hasn’t explained why his own administration is now saying that at least 6 million Americans, most of them in the middle class, will indeed face a tax increase (penalty) in 2014 if they do not buy health insurance — a new estimate substantially higher than earlier ones.
He hasn’t explained whether he shares any blame for the failure of budget talks on a grand compromise. And if the art of presidential leadership is to cajole your foes into doing deals they don’t want to do, what are we to make of his famous charming effectiveness?
He hasn’t said how, even with a Simpson-Bowles-style budget deal, the country is going to seriously grapple with long-term unfunded liabilities in the tens of trillions.
And this was in the Huffington Post, not some Mitt-friendly outlet. Of course they blame Mitt in part, asking for more specificity from his campaign, but it’s tough to wrestle when your partner won’t show up. In my view the president is intentionally trying to avoid conflict so he can ride out his current narrow lead in the polls and coast into another four years without accountability. Can you imagine? Obama for four more years with no accountability, not even the need to seek re-election? Talk about a do-nothing president. There are dangers to Obama inherent in that strategy, though. See this article in the American Spectator about how Carter appeared to lead in the polls up until election day 1980 and then WHAM. But for those craving our spinach, we can only hope the debates offer some real sparring over substance rather than Obama’s strategy of trying to win on personality and celebrity alone. As I mused to the Twitterverse yesterday, you may delude yourself into thinking you’re one of the cool kids if you’re tricked into voting for a celebrity, but that’ll wear off, and you need to ask yourself: has a celebrity ever found you a job? There’s much more important going on here than a high stakes version of “American Idol.”
More food for thought:
1. At the UN General Assembly the President launched into what was a pretty good defense of freedom of speech, for which I would give him kudos. I just wish it hadn’t been tinged with hints of apology and condemnation of the “two thumbs down” video clip. Does he really need to qualify his “free speech 101” lecture with his opinion about how bad or offensive the speech in question was? Wouldn’t a clear condemnation of violence without the sympathetic tones have sent a more unambiguous message? I’ll point you to this article at Reason.com for a more fully-developed presentation of this idea, but will give you this quote:
If all it takes to earn a White House call for global condemnation of a single piece of expression is some violent protests outside a dozen or two diplomatic missions, then the perpetually aggrieved know exactly what to do the next time they pluck out some bit of cultural detritus to be offended by.
Scary thought: Obama was trying to defend speech, but at the same time he rewarded bad behavior.
2. I’ve been mulling the argument whether it’s reasonable to lay the coming crisis in Iran entirely at the feet of President Obama. There are lots of woulda- coulda- shouldas in life, but could the White House have averted the entire coming nuclear crisis by supporting the 2009 Iranian uprising (remember that?). This article from February is still a propos and says the Iran nuclear crisis would be “moot” if the president had acted timely. The opportunity has now passed and President Obama did not, in fact, act to support a growing rebellion in Iran despite, according to the article, being specifically asked to intervene. What if, just say, we had even “led from behind.” Or helped train insurgents. Or even just provided moral support. Could a real revolution have resulted? It sure seems so. And if it had, while it’s true you never know who will take power, it’s tough to imagine things could have gotten any worse in Iran than their current anti-American, terror exporting religious tyranny, or that the next Iranian regime, which would have been born of democracy, would have wanted to pursue the same path toward nuclear arms and extended international isolation. On the contrary, it’s reasonable to expect a democracy would have taken root and the Iranian people, given the choice, would have thrown off the shackles of their former regime, including the nuclear ambitions that have decimated Iran’s economy as a result of international sanctions. If Obama had acted, would we now be using possibly one of the most ridiculous euphemisms of all time, drawing a “red line” on Iran?
Would we be hearing from Netanyahu that we have six to nine months to make a decision whether to attack or live with a nuclear armed state sponsor of terrorism? No one in the press seems to be making this point, but I’ve heard Mitt make it a few times, so it seems to me that if we have a nuclear crisis in Iran, Barack Obama shares a significant part of the blame. And if Obama was elected because he was somehow more clairvoyant than Hillary Clinton in voting against the Iraq war, should he not lose to Mitt Romney for failure of foresight in Iran?
3. More on Obama’s biggest regrets. It’s not just learning that he can’t change Washington, but, in his 60 Minutes interview, that he “failed to change the tone.” From the Boston Herald editorial staff:
But his “biggest disappointment” is that people who live and work inside the Beltway aren’t being nicer to each other?
Is he serious?
It isn’t persistently sluggish economic growth — or an unemployment rate that has proved resistant to the administration’s repeated attempt at “stimulus”? The fact that 23 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed?
It isn’t the failure to reform Medicare and Social Security in an attempt to shrink the trillion-dollar annual budget deficit?
It isn’t the failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform? (Actually, it just might be, if you believe the president’s answer to a similar question last week on Univision.)
It isn’t the fact that despite the administration’s diplomatic outreach Iran appears closer than ever to developing a nuclear weapon? Or this nation’s frayed relations with Israel?
The White House surely would argue that it is “the tone” that is preventing progress on all those fronts — “tone” substituting for one-sided partisan gridlock (not the Democrats’ side, of course).
But that is a weak excuse from a president whose party enjoyed a majority in both houses of Congress for fully half his term in office. Coupled with Obama’s suggestion last week that “you can’t change Washington from the inside” it is an astonishing admission of his own failure to lead.
4. Last but certainly not least, did the Obama administration actually cause violence in the Middle East by blaming the protest in Egypt on the “Innocence of Muslims” video? Considering the timing of the Egyptian embassy’s and Hillary’s statements about the video (see the timeline at this Politico page), and the subsequent admission by the administration that Libya was not just a demonstration gone bad but a pre-planned terrorist attack, can’t we legitimately say that the administration’s blaming the clip only unnecessarily drew attention to it (I certainly had never heard of it before), resulting in more anti-American violence, such as this subsequent demonstration in Yemen?
By the way, the president went back to blaming the video for the Libyan attack after his UN speech, notwithstanding Hillary Clinton Thursday admitted it was a pre-planned act of terrorism. Unfortunately in my view the White House has been hiding the ball on this topic for a while. More on that in a separate post…
Just a few things to think about. I’ll have a lot less to worry about if we can get Mitt Romney elected in November, including, lest we forget, Obamacare.