Mitt Romney’s strategy was to make this election a referendum on President Barack Obama, one in which voters unhappy with the struggling economy would vote out the incumbent. Obama sought to make this a “choice” election, presenting himself as the better pick.
Now, Romney, through his own actions, has done the unfathomable: He is bringing the campaign back to a referendum. But it is increasingly becoming a referendum on Romney.
There were so many missteps in Romney’s response to the tragic murder of a respected, career U.S. ambassador and three other Americans that it’s hard to decide which was most troubling. The former governor issued a hasty statement—and on a day of remembrance for the 9/11 victims, despite a gentleperson’s agreement not to campaign negatively on that day—accusing the Obama administration of making an “apology” to those who attacked U.S. embassies and killed four people in the service of the U.S. government. This was based on a simple and very defensible statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo hours before the outposts in Egypt and Libya were breached: It simply said that the United States condemns the “misguided” efforts by a few to insult a religion—any religion.
To Romney, this was an “apology” to assassins. In fact, it was basic diplomacy. Hordes were beginning to gather outside the Cairo embassy, reportedly because they were upset by a very offensive film that depicts the prophet Muhammed as a killer, enslaver, child abuser, and pervert. It’s useless to have an intellectual discussion about whether it’s reasonable for Muslims abroad to associate the film with the United States or American policy. The point is that many do, and basic diplomacy (not to mention aversion of a violent crisis) dictates a response to assure people that no, that is not the view of the U.S. government. That is not an abrogation of American values as the GOP nominee suggested—it was a reaffirmation of the basic and proud American value of respecting all religions. One would think that Romney, who has suffered insults and misconceptions about his own Mormon religion, would understand that.
Hours after the deadly attack in Libya, Romney defied basic diplomatic procedure and issued a statement attacking the commander in chief in the middle of a still-unfolding international crisis. That was not only poor manners, but raises questions about how much thought Romney would give before reacting to an international crisis should he end up occupying the Oval Office. When something that tragic and yet potentially headed toward something even worse occurs, the sensible thing is to gather all the available intelligence and act in a manner that protects and affirms U.S. interests without escalating things—particularly when there are other American diplomats still in potential danger. True, Romney is not privy to classified intelligence. That’s all the more reason to hold one’s rhetorical fire.
Then Romney doubled-down, ignoring an overwhelmingly negative early reaction to his first statement. He repeatedly used the word “apology”—whether he’s trying to sell more copies of his book No Apology or whether he’s desperately trying to keep alive the canard that Obama has gone around the world “apologizing for America,” is not clear. But it was a political statement, not a reasoned response of someone who hopes to be the nation’s chief diplomat. One wonders who is advising Romney on foreign policy. One of them is former Ambassador Richard Williamson, who went on MSNBC to defend the governor. When Williamson was reminded of criticism levied by respected former diplomat Nicholas Burns, he interjected to assault Burns’s own record. Burns is a career foreign service officer and White House foreign policy adviser, and has served in the administration of both former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Williamson shot back to host Andrea Mitchell that Burns had worked for Carter. That’s true—that’s what foreign service officers do; like soldiers, they work for whomever is in office. But Williamson’s effort to diminish the star diplomat by connecting him to an unpopular president is pathetic and an insult to every member of the diplomatic corps who serve honorably—sometimes risking their lives—for their country. Williamson’s experience has been as a political appointee, and some of his career has been indeed driven by politics: He ran for Senate as a GOP candidate from Illinois and served as the state’s Republican chairman. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a different experience than being a career foreign service officer, as Burns—not to mention slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens—was.
And the episode exposes another problem for challengers for federal office: You can try to keep your campaign focused on issues you think work for you. But when you’re in office—be it in the White House or Congress—you can’t pick your issues anymore. Romney may try persistently to stay on message, answering questions on other topics by saying, “What I think Americans really care about is the economy,” but you can’t do that when you’re commander in chief. Even if voters indeed are most worried about the economy, stuff happens, and a president has to respond. A CEO can plan, and Romney seems like a good planner. But being chief executive of the U.S. government means dealing with things that were not part of the plan. A venture capital executive can choose his or her investments. The U.S. government by definition, because of its role in the world, is automatically invested in a wide array of issues and regions. The president, whomever it is, must be able to respond responsibly to all of them.
Romney’s comments do not come under the category of “gaffe,” since they were not made off-the-cuff or off-mike. He—or someone—clearly thought this through, and very deliberately decided that it made sense for Romney to use an ongoing international tragedy to portray the president as ineffective or inconsistent on foreign policy. Instead, Romney revealed himself as a man who is more interested in a blustering, “no apology” approach to dealing with other people—not a good sign for domestic negotiations, either, given that whoever occupies the White House next year is likely to face even more closely-divided chambers in Congress. And his reaction put on display a startling lack of understanding of basic diplomacy—something we already saw, with far fewer potential consequences, during his trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland. It was a big risk—and apparently, a calculated one—Romney took. It may have succeeded only in turning the attention away from Obama’s performance in office and put it squarely on Romney’s readiness for office.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, September 13, 2012
“Bob Woodward Is Still Useless”: The Fetishization Of Compromise And The “Magical President” Theory Of Governance
Remember that long New York Times Magazine “tick-tock” (“tick-tock” is an asshole phrase for “long article about how an important thing happened involving lots of interviews with observers and participants”) about the debt ceiling deal falling apart? And then that Washington Post one? And remember how we all basically know exactly what both sides thought of the other, and how all the accounts of the negotiations collapsing amount to partisan Rorschach tests in which each side thinks the other bears responsibility for the breakdown? Well, Bob Woodward is finally bringing us the definitive (unnecessary, redundant, pointless and late) account of this thing that we have read so many accounts of already. Aaaand it turns out that both sides are to blame for everything, always.
The book is out Tuesday. Naturally, the Post was allowed to run a news story detailing some of the book’s juicier bits before the book’s release. Likewise, various other news organizations got their hands on embargoed copies (by going to bookstores and buying them early) and served up their own summaries. And so any interesting nuggets of information in this book will have been endlessly chewed over by the time the thing is officially on sale.
Not that there’s that much nugget material! The New York Times:“The book highlights problems that are well known in Washington, but Mr. Woodward manages to get the president, Mr. Boehner and their inner circles to talk about them.” Quite the journalistic coup!
The Times goes on, in a slightly catty fashion:
Last summer’s bitter budget negotiations have been hashed over in several lengthy news accounts and Mr. Woodward’s is the most exhaustive, although it is not clear how much new information, if any, he has uncovered.
The big “revelation” is that President Obama chews Nicorette and John Boehner drinks merlot. Merlot! That’s a sissy big-city effete liberal drink. Oooh, merlot, I bet that’s real refreshing after you’re done mowing your lawn (and weeping).
More revelations (that have already been reported elsewhere): Pelosi and Reid don’t work well with the president. Eric Cantor constantly undermines Boehner, and they hate each other. Everyone — Democrats and the entire GOP leadership — thinks the Tea Party people are insane. Everyone in Washington is super petty and very easily offended!
The book reflects the surreal Washington consensus surrounding the importance of immediate deficit reduction in as regressive (“tough”) a fashion as possible. All Serious People agree that it is Very Important that we rein in “entitlements” in the midst of a prolonged and disastrous employment crisis and that it is a tragic thing that we missed an opportunity to get some retirement ages raised last year, to Save The Economy. And a major theme, of course, is that Obama didn’t use his magic president powers hard enough.
The problems of a bitterly divided government, one involving dozens of choke-points for any legislative proposal and with one arm being presided over by a guy with absolutely no control over the large apocalyptic death cult wing of his party, are of course all described as failures of President Obama to “lead.” Why couldn’t he “lead” John Boehner to “lead” the fanatics in the House to do something none of them had any interest in doing??? Why couldn’t he “lead” John Boehner to call him back when Boehner was too scared to call him back because he knew he didn’t have the authority or power to promise enough votes to pass anything???
From the Post:
In his final chapter, Woodward faults both Obama and Boehner for their handling of the fiscal crisis, concluding that “neither was able to transcend their fixed partisan convictions and dogmas. Rather than fixing the problem, they postponed it. … When they met resistance from other leaders in their parties, they did not stand their ground.”
He has tougher words for Obama. “It is a fact that President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition,” he writes. “But presidents work their will — or should work their will — on important matters of national business … Obama has not.”
This is rich. The fetishization of compromise for the sake of compromise — merit or lack thereof of “each side’s” position wholly ignored! — plus the Magical President Theory of governance. Presidents should “work their will … on important matters of national business,” according to the guy who co-wrote “All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days.” What a wonderful combination of meaningless and craven that “work their will” construction is. Bob Woodward refuses to acknowledge the limits of a president’s power but also thinks the president has a responsibility to exceed them in the name of accomplishing a policy shift that few Americans (and not even a majority in Congress) actually want.
(The other lesson is that economic hostage-taking will never actually be punished, especially if it’s successful. Screw the economy to win a political battle over tax rates, and Democrats will be attacked for not acquiescing to large enough cuts in programs for the poor! And now here come the hacks like David Feith using the book to pin the defense cuts in the hilarious sequestration deal on the White House.)
The book also apparently features yet another entry in the “Obama fails to talk to CEOs in a way that they find sufficiently deferential” genre. This time it’s the CEO of Verizon, a corporation that is pretty much horrible.
From the Post:
In the same vein, Woodward portrays Obama’s attempts to woo business leaders as ham-handed and governed by stereotype. At a White House dinner with a select group of business executives in early 2010, Obama gets off on the wrong foot by saying, “I know you guys are Republicans.” Ivan Seidenberg, the chief executive of Verizon, who “considers himself a progressive independent,” retorted, “How do you know that?”
“Who considers himself a progressive independent.” Oh, sorry, I guess it was very rude to assume the rich, union-busting telecom CEO is a Republican and not a made-up vague other thing. IT GETS WORSE:
Nonetheless, Seidenberg was later pleased to receive an invitation to the president’s 2010 Super Bowl party. But he changed his mind after Obama did little more than say hello, spending about 15 seconds with him. “Seidenberg felt he had been used as window dressing,” Woodward writes. “He complained to Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama aide … Her response: Hey, you’re in the room with him. You should be happy.”
Thank god Bob Woodward is around to make sure the American people know the truth about whether or not the CEO of Verizon had fun at the White House Super Bowl party.
Anyway thank god this horrible deal collapsed. Good work squabbling and fighting, vile partisans!
Hey, remember when Bob Woodward said a Biden/Hillary VP switch was “on the table” and then it turned out that his source was apparently Mark Penn, who has nothing to do with this administration because he is a reviled grifter? Because no one will bring that up when Woodward makes the rounds to promote this new book.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, September 10, 2012
Mitt Romney has not exactly distinguished himself in the foreign policy arena: his disastrous trip abroad and misplaced comments, his failure to even mention the troops and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in his convention speech, and now his crass attempt to politicize the deaths and demonstrations overseas.
Instead of ready, aim, fire, with Romney it is fire, ready, aim. When he should wait and get the facts, he fires off a political attack that is designed to boost his candidacy. Sadly for him and for America’s foreign policy his statements had devastating consequences.
He called the Obama administration “disgraceful” and accused them of “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks.” He put out an early release of that statement in an attempt to get news coverage, after initially embargoing it until midnight.
He threw an incendiary bomb in the middle of a horrible and life -hreatening international situation. This is not the mark of a leader but rather the mark of a desperate candidate who puts his political survival above those who serve this country. In short, it is his actions and words that are “disgraceful.”
At a time when the rhetoric should be ramped down, Romney ramps it up. At a time when the activities of a mob should be condemned by those of all political stripes and the activity of a deranged individual ridiculing Mohammed should be universally rejected, Romney plays politics.
Chuck Todd called it on Morning Joe today “a bad mistake they made last night….an irresponsible thing to do.”
I couldn’t agree more.
By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, September 12, 2012
Many of us were shocked, including a lot of Republicans, when Mitt Romney did not reference the troops nor Afghanistan in his speech at the Republican National Convention. Now aids in his camp will say Mitt wanted to focus on the economy; but that doesn’t seem to sit well with most, even in GOP land. After all, the military is normally part of the Republican package.
There are those close to the Romney campaign that said he was advised to visit Afghanistan and talk to commanders while he made his world tour visiting England, Poland, and Israel at the time of the Olympics. After all, Mitt Romney’s not interviewing to be the CEO of a financial company like Bain Capitol, nor is he looking to be elected the governor of a state like Massachusetts; he is vying for the title commander in chief, so how can he ignore the military, Afghanistan, and other issues of national security?
And one would think Mitt would redeem himself in the days since the convention has passed. But he has not. He still has avoided any opportunity to repair the damage from that omission. On Saturday, Romney sat down with Bret Baier of Fox News and said, in response to a question about this omission:
I only regret you’re repeating it day in, day out. [Laughter] … When you give a speech, you don’t go through a laundry list. You talk about the things that you think are important and I describe, in my speech, my commitment to a strong military.
And on Sunday, on NBC’s Meet the Press he stated:
I find it interesting that people are curious about mentioning words in a speech as opposed to policy … I have some differences on policy with the president. I happen to think those are more important than what word I mention in each speech.
Well Romney, it’s going to be repeated, especially by the Democrats, and it will be day in and day out for the remaining nine weeks until this presidential election. National security and Romney’s lack of knowledge on this issue is not a laughing matter. When you addressed the Republican convention, you did go through a laundry list, as did Obama, who managed to tick each box needed to address each issue and each group’s concerns within the party. Doesn’t Romney feel that the military, our troops being in our longest war to date in Afghanistan, and national security are issues that are “important?”
And when did he describe in his speech his “commitment to a strong military?” Guess I missed that one—as did the rest of America. And as far as Romney finding it interesting that people are concerned about the words a politician uses, he better hang on if he wants to sit in the oval office and call it his for four years. It’s not the “word” people are concerned with, it’s the entire military and war we are involved with and matters of national security that Romney omitted in his speech and continues to avoid discussing.
And with the upcoming debates upon us, Romney better do his homework—especially with regards to national security issues—because the president will be ready and the president will beat Mitt’s butt on that issue if Romney isn’t prepared. (Of course I as a Democrat have my fingers crossed on that one.)
Nearly 40,000 people tweeted when the president tore apart Mitt Romney for saying Russia rather than al Qaeda was our enemy; for not being willing to work with China; and for offending our closest ally, the United Kingdom, during the Olympics.
And now with the attacks in Libya and Egypt, and the death of an American ambassador, rather than work toward a solution to this problem, former Governor Romney chooses to politicize the death of an American ambassador. Romney attacked the Obama administration’s response to the incidents in Libya and Egypt. In a statement he released at 10:24 p.m. Tuesday night, he said, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
And that, we know, is a lie. At 10:10 p.m. the Obama administration disavowed the statement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. At 10:44 p.m. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. And Wednesday Obama campaign Press Secretary Ben LaBolt responded, “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”
If Mitt Romney continues to ignore discussing our military, the war in Afghanistan, and national security issues, and attacks the current administration, using an ambassador’s death for his own political gain and to further divide our nation, is he truly fit to be commander in chief? Come November, the voters will answer that question.
By: Leslie Marshall, U. S. News and World Report, September 13, 2012