When it comes to presidential candidates and foreign affairs, there are basically two kinds of candidates: those who point to their vast experience (Biden, Kerry, H.W. Bush) and those who point to their vision and instincts (Obama).
Then there’s Mitt Romney, who doesn’t quite fit into either camp.
During his first presidential campaign, Romney struggled badly on foreign policy and international affairs, arguing, for example, that it was “entirely possible” that Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
But the inexperienced former one-term governor has had four years to read, get up to speed, and shape a coherent vision. How’s that going? Not at all well.
But don’t worry, Romney has a plan.
Mitt Romney’s campaign is considering a major foreign policy offensive at the end of the month that would take him to five countries over three continents and mark his first move away from a campaign message devoted almost singularly to criticizing President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, sources tell POLITICO.
The tentative plan being discussed internally would have Romney begin his roll-out with a news-making address at the VFW convention later this month in Reno, Nev. The presumptive GOP nominee then is slated to travel to London for the start of the Olympics and to give a speech in Great Britain on U.S. foreign policy.
Romney next would fly to Israel for a series of meetings and appearances with key Israeli and Palestinian officials. Then, under the plan being considered, he would return to Europe for a stop in Germany and a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia. Romney officials had considered a stop in Afghanistan on the journey, but that’s now unlikely.
So, the candidate whose foreign policy experience has been limited to missionary work in France and stashing cash in the Cayman Islands hopes to gain some credibility by heading abroad.
At the surface, there’s nothing especially wrong with this idea, but there is a problem lurking below the surface: what is it, exactly, Mitt Romney is going to say about foreign policy that will be coherent and sound? Or more to the point, how will the candidate choose between the arguments presented by his advisors, most of whom disagree with one another?
About a month ago, the New York Times reported that many members of Team Romney disagree with one another — and at times, even the candidate — about foreign policy, and occasionally, Romney’s own advisors have no idea what he’s trying to say. Last week, Reuters had a similar article, reporting that Romney’s foreign policy advisors are constantly at odds.
The same day, the NYT added that the diplomatic crisis surrounding Chen Guangcheng was seen as an opportunity for the Romney campaign, but they couldn’t get their act together, and couldn’t even agree on what the candidate’s position should be.
Fred Kaplan took stock of what we’ve learned thus far and concluded that Romney is a “foreign policy lightweight” whose ideas “range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous.”
Is Romney an extremist? Or, in keeping with the GOP approach to politics in general these days, has he simply calculated that it’s best not to agree with Obama on anything? Either way, one thing is clear: He is not a serious man.
Observers can certainly pick their favorite evidence of Romney’s foreign policy ineptitude — my personal favorite was his profound ignorance during the New START debate — but the point is the Republican candidate seems wholly unprepared to lead on the global stage.
In fact, it’s not even clear if he cares about the subject at all. Inexperience need not be a disqualifier, if voters are given reason to believe there’s a sensible vision and sound judgment that undergirds a coherent set of positions. But Romney hasn’t even met this low threshold, preferring instead to pull together veterans of the Bush/Cheney administration — some of whom have no credibility whatsoever — who’ve been left to argue amongst themselves and leak to the press about their frustrations.
I realize foreign policy probably won’t shape the 2012 race over the next four months, but for a guy who’s supposed to embody “competence,” Romney doesn’t appear to know what he’s doing.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 6, 2012
“Turning America Into One Big Pottersville”: Obama Can Really Hurt the GOP By Focusing On Its Radical Economic Plan
Three years ago, two years ago—heck, six months ago—I and a lot of people I know thought: Surely the jobs situation will have picked up as we round the clubhouse turn toward Election Day. I envisioned Barack Obama at the Democratic convention, being able to claim… something fairly modest, but something: three straight months of 200,000-plus-jobs growth. Some kind of hook for an upbeat narrative.
Well, it looks like it ain’t gonna happen. Obama will be able to make some claims, and he damn well better make them without apology or fear of how the 48th Street Fantasy Factory will spin them. But the story isn’t good enough, so there’s but one alternative: convince people that Mitt Romney and a Republican Congress will make things worse. In a rational world, that wouldn’t be too hard, because except for Ronald Reagan’s second term, making things worse is all Republicans have ever done since Nixon. But our world isn’t rational, and Obama is going to have to confront that fact in a huge way or risk being sent to the showers early.
It’s amazing, first of all, the importance now of these jobs numbers. Partly it’s because the economy is bad, true; but partly it’s also the blog-and-tweet, more-faster-now political culture. Romney was having an awful week—and, by the way, still did have an awful week. Those issues—the mandate confusion, Bain, the offshoring, the million-dollar IRA—aren’t going anywhere, and they’ll resurface. But obviously, they had to be relieved up in Boston when the 80,000-jobs number came out Friday morning. Big conversation changer.
It’s the third straight month of anemic growth, and the economists seem to agree that it means we’re not going to be seeing the bulls run any time soon. A decent unemployment picture—say, 170,000 jobs a month being gained, which might, by election time, have gotten the jobless rate back down below the 7.9 percent it was when Obama was sworn in—augured for one kind of Obama fall campaign. Emphasize that we’re finally getting out of the woods first, and bash Romney second.
But the treeline is still on the far horizon. So Obama and the Democrats’ No. 1 job is clear: tie all the Republicans together—Romney, congressional Republicans, and George W. Bush—and warn people about how much worse things could be.
Romney is Bush on steroids. His tax plan is far more extreme. He wants to give millionaires an average—average!—tax cut of $250,000. The same plan would add $3 trillion to the deficit over a decade. Haven’t we tried this before, and didn’t it help lead—along with massive deregulation, which Romney also promises to pursue—to the biggest meltdown in 80 years?
The radical tax plan and its affect on the deficit hasn’t stopped Romney from backing “cut, cap, and balance,” a congressional GOP plan that calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment! Imagine that chutzpah. It’d be as if I torched all my neighbors’ azaleas and then demanded we form a block-beautification committee. Cut, cap, and balance is so extreme, so ludicrous, that 35 GOP senators—a pretty hardened assemblage, you’ll agree—haven’t signed it. It’s out there in Tea Party land.
Want more hypocrisy? Glad you asked. Cut, cap, and balance requires gargantuan and immediate cuts to the federal budget. But remember what Romney told Time magazine in May?: “if you take a trillion dollars, for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5 percent. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.”
Then there’s the Ryan budget and assaults on Medicare. The fact that Romney has no actual jobs plan beyond letting the free market work its magic… It’s just endless. Complete and willful vacuity. Vacuity as a matter of principle. Almost virginal vacuity, as if intercourse with facts were somehow deflowering, leading to a lapsarian state of loss of ignorance. Nothing adds up at all. No attempt is made for things to add up. Except, of course, for those core items that Romney and the congressional Republicans will agree on: cut taxes for the rich, deregulate as much as possible, and re-wreck the economy.
It’s so bad it’s almost hard to believe. I mean this literally. Via Kevin Drum and Jon Chait, I note this nugget from Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece coming up Sunday. The Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, did some polling on Romney. Here’s one thing they found, and place your hand below your jaw, so you don’t hurt yourself as it hits the table: “For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan—and thus championed ‘ending Medicare as we know it’—while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”
There’s some word beyond “perverse” for that—a politician benefiting from the fact that his plans and commitments are so radical that voters simply can’t believe he’d pursue them. That isn’t the only perversity at work here. As Greg Sargent noted on his blog Friday, you might think that when the jobs picture is unsatisfactory, the political debate would be about which candidate has better policies. But instead, it’s a “referendum on Obama.” This is dumb, especially when the other guy is running on such a nest of contradictions and obfuscations. But it’s how life is. I get that. Even so, it shouldn’t stop Obama from making it a co-referendum on Romney and the GOP. Obama’s Bedford Falls may have problems, but the GOP’s Pottersville—no General Motors, no Chrysler, no health care for 32 million, no public investment at all, no regulation of banks, and all the rest—is an ugly place where we don’t want to live.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 7, 2012
President Obama wasn’t pleased with the new jobs numbers, but he urged Americans today to remember the mess he inherited and appreciate the progress.
Using exactly the kind of rhetoric Republicans dismiss as “tired excuses,” the president told reporters, “I came in and the jobs had been just falling off a cliff…. It takes a while to get things turned around. We were in a recession; we were losing jobs every month. We’ve turned it around and now we’re adding jobs…. We want to keep that going to the extent we can.”
Wait, did I say Obama today? I meant Mitt Romney, six years ago.
For those who can’t watch clips online (http://youtu.be/ArRj-dQXX3Y), Romney appeared at a press conference in 2006 and offered a defense for Massachusetts’ weak job numbers during his only term in office.
“You guys are bright enough to look at the numbers. I came in and the jobs had been just falling off a cliff. And I came in and they kept falling for 11 months. And then we turned around and we’re coming back. And that’s progress.
“And if you’re going to suggest to me that somehow the day I got elected, somehow jobs should immediately turn around, well that would be silly. It takes a while to get things turned around. We were in a recession; we were losing jobs every month, we’ve turned around, and since the turn around we’ve added 50,000 jobs. That’s progress.
“There will be some people who try to say, ‘Well governor, net-net you’ve only added a few thousand jobs since you’ve been in.’ Yeah, but I helped stop. I didn’t do it alone, the economy’s a big part of that, the private sector is what drives that, up and down, but we were in free-fall for three years and the last year of that I happened to be here and then we’ve turned it around as a state, private sector, government sector turned it around and now we’re adding jobs.
“We want to keep that going to the extent we can. We’re the, you know, we’re one part of that equation but not the whole thing. A lot of it is out of our control.”
I really shouldn’t be surprised, but quotes like these just amaze me. It’s almost as if Romney 2006 is endorsing Obama 2012.
The double standards are just extraordinary:
* Does the first year in office count? Romney says his first year doesn’t count, but Obama’s does.
* Does progress count? Romney says he’s a success because the economy went from losing jobs to adding jobs on his watch, but Obama’s a failure because the economy went from losing jobs to adding jobs on his watch?
* Does patience count? Romney says it’s “silly” to think a chief executive can turn an economy around immediately, except when he’s condemning Obama, when it’s fair and reasonable.
* Do inheritances count? Romney says what matters is that jobs were “falling off a cliff” when he took office, but when jobs were really “falling off a cliff” when Obama took office, voters aren’t supposed to care.
* Do excuses count? When Romney said, “A lot of it is out of our control,” it’s fine; when Obama says the same thing, it’s not.
* Does the public sector count? Romney said he helped turn the job market around by relying on, among other things, the “government sector.” But if Obama wants to do the same thing, the president is a misguided, big-government liberal.
Honestly, Obama could recite Romney’s comments, almost word for word, right now. And if he did, Romney, Republicans, and most of the media would reject it as unpersuasive, borderline desperate, spin.
The facts, however, are plain for anyone who cares about them. When Obama took office, the global economy was on the verge of collapse, the domestic economy was contracting at a level unseen since the Great Depression, the nation was hemorrhaging jobs, the American auto industry was collapsing, and we were shoveling money at Wall Street.
Nearly four years later, the economy is growing, America is adding jobs, the American auto industry is thriving, and the Obama administration made sure the Wall Street bailout was paid back.
By Mitt Romney’s own stated standards, President Obama has been a success. To argue otherwise is “silly.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 6, 2012
President Obama’s bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania late last week offered a striking look at the evolution of a president. In 2008, Obama used soaring rhetoric and personal biography to talk about binding together a red-blue nation. His message today is about the urgent need to defeat a stubborn opposition party in order to move the country forward.
Four years ago, Obama used themes of hope and change to suggest that he could bring a new politics to Washington. He was open to the idea that, as he sometimes put it, the solutions to the country’s problems were somewhere between the rhetoric and visions of both parties. His goal, he said, was to help guide the country, through his leadership, to that imagined golden mean while sticking to his principles.
Today, the battle-scarred president who has met almost uniform resistance from the Republicans sees the world differently, or so it seems from the way he talked in Ohio and Pennsylvania. At nearly every stop, he made it clear that he sees November in the starkest of terms and that there can be but one winner. He asked supporters to help deliver a victory in November that would carry a message that his vision is superior to that of the Republicans.
In Maumee, Ohio, under a blazing sun on Thursday, he put it this way: “What’s holding us back from meeting our challenges — it’s not a lack of ideas, it’s not a lack of solutions. What’s holding us back is we’ve got a stalemate in Washington between these two visions of where the country needs to go. And this election is all about breaking that stalemate.”
On Friday morning in Poland, Ohio, just two hours after the latest jobs report showed another month of tepid growth: “We’ve got two fundamentally different ideas about where we should take the country. We’re trying to put Congress to work. And this election is about how we break that stalemate. And the good news is it’s in your power to break this stalemate.”
That is a change from the way he talked as a candidate in 2008. His message then was not so much about either-or choices. That was not the message he delivered when he first appeared on the national stage at the 2004 Democratic convention, nor was it the message he offered the night he scored his breakthrough victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses that launched him toward the White House. He did not talk about elections as tiebreakers between two sides but of a country hungering for a new model for its politics.
“You came together as Democrats, Republicans and independents,” he said that night, “to stand up and say that we are one nation. We are one people . . . You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that’s been all about division, and instead make it about addition; to build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states.”
There was more to his message in 2008, certainly. He ran plenty of negative ads against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Republican nominee. He drew distinctions between his ideas and those of Republican Party. He ran hard against then-President George W. Bush, especially the war in Iraq, and promised a change in direction.
But what resonated most was the aspirational side of his message. The country would meet its challenges only one way — together. Contrast that with the way he talked about the election as the sun was setting Thursday night in a park in Parma, Ohio. “There are two fundamentally different visions about how we move the country forward,” he said. “And the great thing about our democracy is you get to be the tiebreaker.”
There are obvious reasons why he sees things differently today. All presidents are changed by their experiences, and Obama’s battles, including polarized fights over the stimulus, health care, financial regulatory reform and ultimately the showdown over the debt ceiling, have given him a different perspective.
The turn came last summer. At this time in 2011, Obama was in the middle of negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise the debt ceiling, talks that included a grand bargain to reduce the deficit and to begin to deal with the future costs of entitlement programs. Those talks later collapsed, amid recriminations and finger pointing.
Out of that debacle has come the rhetoric, from both sides, that frames the choice between the president and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the starkest of terms. Both Obama and Romney genuinely believe the other’s vision is deeply flawed, even dangerous for the country.
On both sides, it is a choice between black and white with little in between. On one side, it is seen as the threat of big government, shackles on the economy and an end to freedom. On the other side, it is seen as shredding the middle class in order to reward the rich. Swing voters in the middle are being asked to pick one side or the other, not to aspire to become part of the kind of united coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents that Obama talked about in 2008.
Many Democrats say it’s about time that the president got tough, that he spent too much time trying to negotiate with Republicans who weren’t interested in negotiating with him. At the White House, the 2012 campaign really began in the aftermath of the debt ceiling debate. Let the voters settle what Washington politicians cannot.
The president may believe that by asking voters to break the tie — by delivering him a second term — Americans would be voting for an end to stalemated politics in Washington — sending a message to Republicans that they should finally start to bargain with him rather than opposing him.
So as he spoke across Ohio’s northern tier, there were faint echoes of 2008. “I’m not a Democrat first,” he told the audience in Maumee. “I’m an American first. I believe we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. And I believe what’s stopping us is not our capacity to meet our challenges. What’s stopping us is our politics. And that’s something you have the power to solve.”
But at its core, Obama’s message has shifted. The urgency in his appeal is grounded in his conviction that this is an election about ideas and policies and political philosophies, that the country faces a crucial moment and a clear choice. The country is in a far different place than it was when he first ran for office, and he is in a far different battle. And he has decided how he will fight it between now and November.
By: Dan Balz, The Take, The Washington Post, July 7, 2012
So the ongoing fiasco of Bobby Jindal’s “let the parents decide” voucher program in Louisiana is finally beginning to get some national media attention, for the simple reason that its logic is carrying it in directions that horrify its strongest proponents and intended beneficiaries. Via Amy Sullivan at TNR, we read this amusing story from the Livingston Parish News:
Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools. “I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.
“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.
Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”
Seems a Muslim school applied to receive voucher-backed students. It hasn’t been approved so far—guess that rigorous “vetting” process utilized by the Louisiana Department of Education finally kicked in—but the awful specter has been raised, and will be difficult to banish, at least in the imagination of lawmakers like Valerie Hodges:
We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.
So down plunges the Pelican State into the political and constitutional thicket of how to shovel money to conservative evangelical schools without looking too closely at what they are teaching, while at the same time keeping away schools that conservative evangelicals hate and fear. Having implicitly embraced the idea that not only Muslims, but liberal Protestant Christians like Barack Obama, aren’t actually religious, Republicans can’t complain too much when “the base” can’t understand why such distinctions can’t be written into the law.
Good luck with that, Governor Jindal—and you, too, Mitt Romney, with your own no-strings voucher proposal.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 6, 2012