Obama: I’d like to move “Forward,” but the dog ate my homework
In the wake of the Republican and Democratic conventions, after all the heart-tugging speeches, we are once again left to cut through the campaign rhetoric, and there’s a lot of it, though it’s impact on swaying voters so far is weak at best.
On the Democratic side, a renominated President Obama, with VP Joe Biden in the second slot, gaffes and all, gave one of his best speeches in recent memory. His emphasis on education and jobs for returning servicemembers spoke to a lot of mainstream Americans who are concerned with the spiraling cost of college educations and wish to demonstrate support for the troops.
Democrats solidly support the President, but need to lose the “Blame Bush” tactic that worked in ‘08. Voters know things were bad four years ago. What they have to be sold on is how they are better off than they were four years ago. Sure the economy’s not in free fall anymore, but employment rates are generally languishing, housing is still weak, and the credit and liquidity markets are still frozen.
Perceived GOP obstructionism isn’t popular across the political spectrum, but Mr. Obama’s treading dangerously close to looking too whiny, blaming those darn Republicans for all his troubles and insisting they’re why he needs another four years. In defending no budget from a Democratic-dominated Senate in three years, including 0 votes from Democrats on his own proposed budgets, “You have to pass it to find out what’s in it” healthcare reform, and “You didn’t build that,” Mr. Obama’s going to need a response more presidential than, “The dog ate my homework.”
Revisting the previously shelved Bowles-Simpson deficit commission’s ideas could be a winner for him, but a second major stimulus spending plan, red meat for his left-wing supporters, might cheese off independents, who would question how rehashing a lackluster spending plan from his first four years constitutes going “Forward.”
And as much as he criticizes his GOP opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience, a sitting president is always at risk when outside events engulf him (see Carter, Iran, or Ambassador, Libya).
“Osama Bin Laden is dead,” as Biden proclaimed at the North Carolina convention. True, but also dead or at least on life support is our relationship with Israel, which if you were to ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still somewhere under a bus. What’s still alive is Iran’s nuclear program, and renewed anti-American sentiment, which despite all the kissing up to the new Egyptian government and troop withdrawls recently cost the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya this past week.
Romney has his own problems, but also appears to have gotten at least a little traction from his choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney’s been criticized for his supposed company- and jobs-killing role with Bain Capital, and not releasing more of his tax returns. Some have speculated he’s hiding something nefarious, such as avoiding paying taxes on a ton of money squirreled away in numerous offshore accounts and other dodges. “I had to show more tax returns to buy a house than he does to run for president,” said one friend of mine.
Ryan’s addition to the ticket has taken some of the heat off of Romney, and rekindled his momentum, not to mention helping the Governor stay on his “jobs and the economy message.”
The Obama campaign refers to Ryan’s ideas as reckless and radical, even though it only slows the rate of spending growth. Conversely, some conservatives have indicated it’s not radical enough, wanting more of a full-on assault on spending.
With more than $16 trillion in national debt, a third of it now owned by Mr. Obama, one thing Romney and Ryan are not going to have trouble doing is making a pretty good case that something has to be done, and that their ideas are a major step toward a solution to the current administration, which isn’t the one to get the job done. Romney and Ryan might also seek to further their point by capitalizing on a recent Pew Research study that found a 10% decline in what constitutes the American Middle Class, now at just 51%, down from 61% some 40 years ago.
Ryan could bring warmth to Romney’s more aloof, hard to read manner. Though, as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a 2008 GOP presidential contender himself, put it to FOX News Sunday’s Chris Wallace, “When you don’t have a job, bedside manner doesn’t matter. You want surgical skill.”
Ryan is hailed by conservatives as a so-called “deficit hawk,” but will have to defend his voting record when it comes to spending measures under President Bush, during which many Congress members (including the GOP) were likened to “drunken sailors.” He’ll have to win over seniors, skeptical of his plans to retool Medicare and Social Security.
Romney is aguably challenged when it comes to women and young voters. They helped Mr. Obama win in ’08, and he’s clearly targeting those and other niche groups again this time. As NBC Senior Politics Editor Chuck Todd pointed out on “Meet the Press” last Sunday, “The president’s trying to turn this into a values election,” Todd said, adding that Romney might do well to “take his economic argument and turn it into a values argument rather than just sort of the businessman approach.”
Still some conservatives are not overjoyed with Ryan. Said one area GOP leader: “If we went with [U.S. Senator] Marco Rubio (R-FL) we could have had Florida, more youth, much of the Tea Party and most importantly a lot more of the Latino vote. We could have another 10% right out the gate. [Latinos] want to identify with their candidate. Once again, it ends up two white men. Our party needs much more diversity.”
Voters will be watching the upcoming debates, hoping the candidates finally move off the window dressing sideshow issues. Romney and Ryan will have to pitch economic messages that really resonate, and offer tangible alternatives to stimulus spending packages, and an off-track-betting approach to green jobs, capital markets and auto industry bailouts.
No matter who wins, it likely won’t be by anything close to a landslide. Voters are apparently digging in on both sides, with virtually every poll saying the White House is up for grabs. The margin has never been more than 7% between the two.