Karl Rove, a star political strategist, is outraged that Donald Trump, a star real-estate mogul and reality show host, is staging a reality show with real Republican presidential candidates and calling it a debate. Yet, with all due respect, Trump is only exploiting a process that political strategists like Rove already hijacked.
Trump, you may recall, earlier this year considered a presidential run and says he might yet consider one again. Meanwhile, he will host a debate on Dec. 27 in Iowa that will be televised on the conservative Newsmax website and the ION cable television network.
And with the typical Trump hyperbole that would embarrass P.T. Barnum, the website describes the event as “the most important meeting of the major Republican candidates before the Iowa caucus and primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida!” Exclamation theirs.
But Rove, speaking on Fox News Channel Monday, sees the event as an abomination.
He accused Trump of helping to “trivialize the most important decision that we Americans have, which is who we're going to elect as our president.”
Forgive me, but I see a certain poetic justice that Rove is riled. After all, he is one of the reigning kings of the political spin-doctor community, an industry that has taken over the political process in the TV age with the gusto of Occupy Wall Street protestors planting themselves in city parks.
Yet, with or without the consultants, TV is a reality that candidates cannot ignore. With that in mind, Rove, now a Fox News contributor, raises at least a couple of legitimate points for anyone who might mistake Trump’s event for a conventional debate. One, Trump has said he intends to endorse one of the candidates later. Indeed, don’t look for impartiality in this debate moderator. Look instead for something like the glowing respect paid to The Donald by the contestants on his reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.”
And, “More importantly, what the heck are the Republican candidates doing showing up at a debate with a guy who says ‘I may run for president next year as an independent,’” said Rove. “I think the Republican National chairman ought to step in and say we strongly discourage every candidate from appearing in a debate moderated by somebody who’s going to run for president.”
Trump characteristically responded by attacking Rove. The mogul called the consultant-commentator “highly overrated,” not “a smart person” and “basically ... a loser.” That’s also pretty much how Trump described Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, the first candidates to flatly turn down his invitation.
By contrast, Trump was all smiles after a meeting Monday with current frontrunner Newt Gingrich, who accepted Trump’s invite in keeping with Newt’s tradition of taking advantage of every offered microphone.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus washed his hands of the spat Sunday, leaving it up to individual candidates to make up their own minds. That’s wise. Leave it up to the candidates and ultimately the voters — and TV viewers — to decide whether Trump’s latest reality show is worth watching.
By the way, I’m using “reality” in the way the broadcasting industry uses it, not to imply that I believe, say, “Jersey Shore” or the Kardashian family’s televised adventures reveal anything very real. That is, unless your concept of reality is talent-free people clowning it up for ever-present TV cameras.
“Unscripted” is more accurate description. It is the possibility of surprise — like Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “Oops!” as he forgot one of three government departments that he wanted to cut — that keeps the curiosity suckers, uh, seekers coming back for more.
In that spirit, I offer this suggestion to Trump: Why not go all the way? Bring in some guest judges from “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars,” to help the audience make up its mind.
Imagine, say, “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson gushing, “I really dug your deficit reduction plan, dawg!”
Or “Dancing With the Stars” judge Bruno Tonioli, with his grand hyperbole. “Mah-vel-lous! Your rhetoric soars! It glides like a drone missile over Islamabad!”
Hey, we want to get more people to care about politics. Maybe a little show biz is the price we pay.
Seldom has anybody’s scholarship kicked up so much controversy.
Critics are outraged that UCLA, strapped for cash in California’s budget crisis, has awarded a $54,000 merit-based athletic scholarship to Justin Combs, son of hip-hop impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs, who hardly needs the cash.
You don’t have to live in California to understand the outrage. Soaring college costs, battered state budgets and shrinking opportunities for rising income are a national crisis.
But, as they say in hip-hop culture, let’s be real.
Justin’s scholarship money doesn’t come from taxpayer funds, UCLA says, and wouldn’t even tickle the state’s projected $16 billion deficit if it did.
And picking on Diddy’s fortune or his son’s hard-earned achievements distracts us from the issue burning at the core of the discontent: How do we make higher education more affordable for young strivers who don’t have wealthy parents?
No question that Diddy is rich. In April, he topped Forbes’ latest list of the wealthiest moguls in hip-hop with an estimated net worth of $550 million, which makes Justin’s scholarship sound like pocket change. On the youngster’s 16th birthday in January 2010, daddy gave him a $360,000 Maybach, which is to cars what Beverly Hills is to neighborhoods.
Yet Justin, to his credit, defies the slacker-rich-kid stereotype. He finished his senior year at Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle, N.Y., with a reported 3.75 grade point average and football scholarship offers from at least four colleges.
That’s why he tweeted on May 30 to all the haters out there: “Regardless what the circumstances are, I put that work in!!!! PERIOD.”
Indeed, it appears that he did. While a good ethical argument can be made for directing scholarship money to students based on their economic need, another also can be made for motivating students toward excellence with rewards that are based on their own achievement, regardless of their family’s wealth or lack of it.
In the best of times, colleges have enough money to offer both. These are not the best of times. With that in mind, we can only hope that Diddy will become a generous football dad, creating new scholarships in his son’s honor to show his appreciation. Just a suggestion.
After all, I suspect the rage over Diddy and son largely has been inflamed by the way daddy Diddy symbolizes our society’s unresolved issues of income inequality, class divisions and culture wars. The rap music mogul embodies both the “one percent” that Occupy Wall Street protests and the hip-hop industry that outrages cultural conservatives.
Yet, the real source of our national frustration is less glamorous and more widespread. Upward mobility in America is not what it used to be. It’s easier to climb the socioeconomic ladder in many parts of Europe than it is in the U.S., according to recent reports from the Brookings Institution, the Pew Research Center and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In other words, today’s aspiring youths on average have an easier time moving up the socioeconomic ladder in many parts of traditionally class-conscious Europe than here in the home of the American Dream.
Without some schooling beyond high school, it is becoming increasingly difficult to enter the middle class or stay in it. Yet Washington has been gridlocked in budget fights or simply brain dead about new ideas that could lead to comprehensive remedies.
For example, while lawmakers argue, hundreds of thousands of low-income students will see their Pell Grant assistance either decrease or disappear come July 1. That’s because of a little-noticed congressional decision to save billions of dollars over the next 10 years by reducing or eliminating aid to the most effective program for helping low-income students move up the educational ladder.
As we see doors closing on opportunities for advancement, Diddy and his kid’s scholarship are only visible symbols of our frustration.
We can’t all be leaders of hip-hop or other industries, but we all deserve to have a chance to try. That used to be the American Dream. We hate to see it go. — (NNPA)
Martin R. Delany (1812–1885) has been called the “Father of Black Nationalism,” but his extraordinary career also encompassed the roles of abolitionist, physician, editor, explorer, politician, army officer, novelist and political theorist.
Despite his enormous influence in the 19th century and his continuing influence on Black nationalist thought in the 20th century, Delany has remained a relatively obscure figure in U.S. culture, generally portrayed as a radical separatist at odds with the more integrationist Frederick Douglass. Moonstone Arts Center Director Larry Robin is leading the local commemoration of Delany’s 200th birthday in May.
“He is just the most amazing character to have been ignored by history,” Robin said. “He is incredibly important because while there were lots of people that were anti-slavery, he’s the first person, I think, who challenges the thinking behind it. He says the thinking is wrong. The whole paradigm of white supremacy, of race, is wrong. What he does, and the reason why he is the ‘Father of Black Nationalism,’ is that he embraces his Blackness.”
Delany was one of the first Black men to found a Black newspaper; be admitted to Harvard Medical School; negotiate a treaty with the Yoruba chiefs so African Americans could emigrate to Africa; write a novel and be an officer in the Union army.
“The arch of the idea of these 20 programs is here is a guy who is neglected by most history books,” Robin said. “But there’s more than that because now with DNA research we know there’s no biological basis of race, so what does that do to those definitions? What does that do to the concept of white supremacy? What does that do to the concept of Black Nationalism — if there is no race? But there is racism, and we still need to confront that.”
Moonstone Arts Center hosts Martin Delany Week which begins May 3. The “150 Years Challenging Racism” program speakers include Molefi Asante, Bill Ayers, Erica Armstrong, Robert Levine, Frank Meeink, Alondra Nelson, Ewuare Osayande, Clarence Page, Sonia Sanchez, Linn Washington and Tim Wise. Details on all this and more about Delany is available at www.moonstoneartscenter.org/martindelany or (215) 735-9600. There is also printed material at the Philadelphia Free Library.
Talk about a “post-racial” America when President Barack Obama was elected has pretty much gone away, for good reason. Even he didn’t believe it.
In fact, four years later, some disgruntled conservatives defensively accuse him of running the “most racial” presidency. That’s a laughable notion, given how much this president learned the hard way (the controversies involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and slain teen Trayvon Martin come to mind) what a flashpoint public comments on race or racism can become.
Yet, so much “post-racial” happy talk was generated by the election of the nation’s first president of African descent that a new divide has opened up on the question of whether his election has helped race relations or set them back.
For example, the percentage of Americans who feel race relations are getting better under Obama slid to 33 percent in an April poll by the National Journal and the University of Phoenix. Another 42 percent said they are staying about the same and 23 percent said things are getting worse.
That’s a big slide from the almost-70 percent who told a poll by the Gallup organization on the day after Obama’s election that they thought race relations were improving. Only 10 percent thought they were getting worse.
By October 2009, those optimistic numbers seemed to have rolled off of a cliff. After months of tea party protests and partisan bickering over Obama’s health-care overhaul, only 41 percent of Americans said race relations had improved under Obama. Thirty-five percent said there was no change and 22 percent said race relations were worse.
By August of last year, Gallup found that only 35 percent saw improvement after Obama’s election while 23 percent said things had gotten worse. The largest group, 41 percent, was in the “no change” column.
Tough crowd. Many are disappointed, I suspect, because they set their expectations too high. Our national divide is defined by differences in attitudes and experiences, which makes race particularly vexing. It’s easy to think racism is no big deal, for example, if you haven’t had to live much on the receiving end of it.
That’s why the differences between Black and white responses in the above-mentioned polls look almost like a slow-motion version of the racially divided reaction to the O.J. Simpson homicide verdict: Blacks happily surprised, whites gloomily disappointed.
For the first time in the history of American polling, Blacks have been expressing a rosier outlook than whites toward their long-term futures since Obama’s election, despite the short-term miseries of the recession.
Unfortunately that joy sparked dread in quite a number of white Americans who didn’t know what to expect from this skinny man with the funny-sounding name. Obamaphobia turned into a cottage industry on the political and social right.
This helps to explain, I believe, why recent polls show the number of Americans who think Obama is a Muslim has actually gone up. A July poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds 17 percent of registered voters still believe that he is a Muslim.
Not surprisingly, the poll showed the sharpest increase in self-identified Republicans, 30 percent, and “conservative Republicans,” 34 percent, who say that Obama is a Muslim. That’s up from 16 percent of both groups in October 2008.
By the way, Obama is a Christian, in case you missed the news.
But an expression of doubt about Obama’s religion, birth certificate or — in Donald Trump’s odd case — college grades has become a tribal identifier for many conservatives. For them it is a sign of true-blue membership in the anti-Obama flock. Just don’t call it racist. That would be insensitive, even if it sounds true.
Obama “never bought into the notion” that “somehow we were entering into a post-racial period,” he told Rolling Stone this year. Yet he showed in 2008 that he can find common ground with many conservatives on social issues. His sermon to a Black church on the value of marriage and good parenting offended the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but reassured almost everyone else.
That’s the sort of theme that he should pick up again. He might not win a lot of conservative votes, but maybe they’ll treat him more like what he is, a fellow American.
It may not rank highly in polls of voters’ priorities compared to the jobs and the economy, yet immigration has taken on a central role in the 2012 presidential campaign drama.
Republican presidential debates have been a contest to see who can sound more ferocious toward illegal immigrants. But President Barack Obama can’t afford to enjoy watching his adversaries destroy one another. He’s catching heat from his own base, especially Hispanic voters, for being more punitive than he needs to be.
As a candidate, Obama promised to fix the nation’s immigration system with comprehensive reform — a mixture of, say, secure borders and employer sanctions with a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who properly earn it.
However, as president, facing a fiercely uncooperative congressional Republicans, he has contented himself with a numbers game, racking up record numbers of detentions and deportations.
Since Obama took office, detentions and deportations have totaled more than a million, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s rapidly approaching the 1.57 million that President George W. Bush deported in two terms.
In the past decade, detentions and deportations have almost doubled, DHS says in its latest annual report, from 209,000 undocumented immigrants in 2001 to almost 400,000 in the fiscal year that just ended.
Unfortunately, with that increase in detentions and deportations there also have come an increase in forced family separations, a rise in complaints of sexual assault and other brutality in detention centers, and a sharp uptick of outrage from Hispanic voters, including supporters who wanted to believe Obama’s promises to fix the broken immigration system.
Even though the president’s stated deportation policy gives priority to murderers, sex offenders, drug traffickers and other hardened criminals, DHS figures show even more have been detained whose only known crime was their illegal status.
The latest annual DHS report says more than half of all immigrant detainees in the fiscal year 2010 had no criminal records. (Of 387,242 total detainees who were deported, only 168,532 were convicted criminals.) Of those with any criminal history, almost 20 percent were merely for traffic offenses.
One disappointed Obama supporter, Maria de Los Angeles Torres, director of Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago, called the policy “shameful” in locking up thousands of men and women whose only crime was their illegal status.
“The deportation policy over the past two years has succeeded in criminalizing hard-working people,” she said in a telephone interview. “This policy, as my mother used to say in Cuba, has a first and last name — and it is Barack Obama.”
Although many Hispanic voters think voting Republican would be “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” said pollster Gary Segura of Latino Decisions in a recent PBS Frontline documentary on immigrant detentions, their disaffection could hurt Obama’s election turnout enough to make a difference in closely contested states.
“He got about 70 percent of the Latino vote in 2008,” Segura said. “But the percentage of Latinos saying that they’re certain to vote for the president for reelection hovers in the mid-40s.”
Politics aside, could Obama handle detentions and deportations in a better way? Yes, say immigration lawyers, who point out a list of alternatives available for a president that don’t require congressional approval.
They include prosecutorial discretion and several forms of temporary and humanitarian relief that can be awarded to individuals or groups that can restore some semblance of due process to a system that deprives detainees of almost all rights that those who are officially arrested and charged would have.
It’s hard to believe that President Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer and grassroots community organizer, would not be aware of these alternatives. Instead, with hostile Republicans in Congress giving him the border blues, he has chosen to look tough — even if it causes new problems for thousands of families on top of the rest of the problems he is trying to solve.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.
Presidential candidate Herman Cain came to Washington to talk about his tax plans, but ended up talking about sex. Welcome to the life of the top-tier candidate, Mr. Cain.
After his sexual harassment scandal broke over the weekend, celebrity conservatives predictably rallied to his defense. They charged media bias, attacked his accusers and blamed racism as a paranoid one-size-fits-all excuse. In short, they reacted with the same sort of baloney that they usually criticize in liberals.
In fact, Cain has no one to blame but his own political inexperience for the legs on this story. As the old Watergate-era saying goes, it’s not the scandal that hurts you; it’s the cover-up. In Cain’s case, it is not the allegations that are throwing him off his message, it’s his waffling answers.
Politico reports that during Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association at least two female employees left their jobs in the late 1990s after accusing him of sexually inappropriate behavior.
Citing “multiple sources” and documentation, Politico reported that the women signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave both of them financial payouts “in the five-figure range” to leave the association, but also barred the women from talking about their departures.
After 10 days of attempts by the political news website to get a straight answer from his campaign office, Cain declined to comment Sunday when a Politico reporter confronted him in a tense street interview outside the Washington bureau of CBS News.
Over the course of televised public appearances the next day, Cain’s powers of recall improved. He acknowledged the allegations, but insisted that he had recused himself from the complaint process. He didn’t know whether there was a settlement, he said at a National Press Club event that I attended, but quipped, “I hope it wasn’t for much, because I didn’t do anything.”
But Cain amended his statement on the settlement in a later interview with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, saying he did recall hearing of a complaint and settlement with only one woman. He didn’t remember for how much and maintained that he had done nothing inappropriate.
Whatever the truth may be, Cain created new problems for himself by trying to brush off this controversy. He’s playing in the big leagues now and, as he himself quipped, “This bull’s eye on my back is getting bigger.” Indeed, but you don’t need to help it to grow, Mr. C.
Like any other top-tier candidate, Cain faces increased scrutiny from media and his opponents’ research teams. He has to avoid even the appearance of evasion.
Yet his conservative allies tried mightily to deflect attention back onto familiar irritants of the political right, such as the media and Justice Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation fight against Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations.
Radio star Rush Limbaugh tore into Politico’s story as an “unconscionable, racially stereotypical attack” and “the politics of minority conservative personal destruction.”
Best-selling firebrand author Ann Coulter also referenced the Thomas case on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, saying, “Liberals detest, detest, detest conservative Blacks,” she said, partly because “our Blacks are so much better than their Blacks.”
And Brent Bozell, head of the conservative Media Research Center, borrowed a memorable Clarence Thomas metaphor, calling the Politico story a “High-tech lynching” of Cain.
“In the eyes of the liberal media,” Bozell wrote on the conservative Newsbusters website, “Herman Cain is just another uppity Black American who has had the audacity to leave the liberal plantation.”
Well, as an African American, I find it heartwarming that so many conservatives have become eagle-eyed watchdogs against any hint of racism, even if it only seems to show itself when liberals are the suspected instigators.
But liberals aren’t Cain’s biggest headache at this point in his campaign. His base already expects the “liberal media” won’t give him an even break. His biggest concern has to be his fellow Republicans and the independent swing voters the party’s eventual nominee will need in order to win the White House.
As an accomplished success story in the corporate world, Cain is a novice to politics. That’s a great virtue to his fans, who hate “big government” and “big media” except big conservative media. But amateurism is a handicap in big-time politics. Cain has soared in Republican polls with his straight talk. Now it is time for him to give some straight answers.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.
As with other mass shootings, the killings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., triggered a familiar chain of reactions: horror, remorse, rage and a call for new restrictions on guns.
And in the recent past, at least, that call for action has been followed by little or no legislative action at all.
For example, after the January 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and 13 others injured, President Barack Obama delivered a moving nationally televised address but a call for new gun laws was conspicuous in its absence.
Instead, in an Arizona Daily Star op-ed he repeated his support for the Second Amendment and called for stricter enforcement of gun laws that are already on the books. That stance perfectly matches the position of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s leading gun owners’ advocacy group. But if NRA leaders were pleased, they are not about to show it.
Quite the opposite, there are too many votes to be won, money to be raised and new members to be enlisted by tagging Obama as “anti-gun” for the NRA or other gun lobbyists to be deterred by mere facts.
Remember the dramatic surge in gun and ammunition sales that immediately followed Obama’s election? They’re surging again, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group, as owners fear the weapons won’t be available if Obama is re-elected.
“He’s his own stimulus plan for the gun industry,” said Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, according to Politico.
Fear of what Obama might do is being fed by NRA leaders like Wayne LaPierre, who warned in February that Obama’s plan is to “get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom.”
The organization’s 2008 website, gunbanobama.com, is up and running with its headline, “Obama Would Be The Most Anti-Gun President in History” and a link touting, “If Obama Is Pro-Gun, Why Are Leading Anti-Gun and Anti-Hunting Groups Endorsing Him?”
One might just as easily ask, if Obama is so anti-gun, why did one of those endorsers, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, give Obama an “F” for his gun record the following year? The Brady Campaign and other gun control advocates continue to express frustration over actions and inaction by Obama that should bring the NRA delight.
Obama has signed a law that permits Amtrak passengers to carry guns in their checked baggage and another that allows visitors to national parks and wildlife refuges to possess concealed guns. He has not pushed for actions he supported in his 2008 campaign, including closing the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows unlicensed private firearm sellers to sell weapons at gun shows without conducting the background checks and reporting required of registered gun dealers.
Yet the NRA, which went after Obama with a $40 million advertising and direct-mail campaign last time around, has set aside at least that much for this go-round, Politico reports. Their biggest hot-button issue is Fast and Furious, the Republican-promoted controversy in which Obama invoked executive privilege to block the disclosure of some Justice Department documents to a House committee involving a botched gun-running investigation. If the operation was really part of an Obama plot to ban guns, as some of his critics charge, it would be a far-fetched way to do it.
In this way, the NRA, which likes to call itself the nation’s oldest “oldest continuously operating civil rights organization,” exhibits one of the worst attributes that critics often attribute to conventional civil rights organizations: manufactured outrage. If they don’t have a real enemy of gun rights in the White House, they hammer the administration with inflated accusations and unfounded predictions anyway.
But activist gun owners tend to come from the same demographic that gives the least support to Obama: older white men from rural or outer suburban communities. Even unfounded accusations carry convincing weight with people who already are inclined to believe them.
President Obama “slow jams the news”? Is this a nakedly bold pitch for the youth vote or what?
I’m talking about the president’s appearance Tuesday night on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” In front of a live audience at the University of North Carolina, the nation’s commander-in-chief took charge in “slow jamming the news,” an occasional feature on the late-night show.
It consists of reciting some news of the day with anchorman seriousness while backup singers and The Roots, Fallon’s house band, lay down some smooth jazz in the background, punctuated with appropriate repetitions of “baby.”
The stunt posed a risk, even to Obama’s famously cool stagecraft. Many a middle-ager has bombed with lame attempts to sound cool in front of their children and other young’uns. As a parent, I speak from hard-learned experience. But I can get away with it. It is part of my unwritten job description as a parent to embarrass my kid from time to time. Politicians in public aren’t that lucky.
Obama wisely stuck to a familiar script. Speaking to his collegiate audience, he filled his slow jam with applause lines from the stump speech that he was barnstorming to campuses in Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina — three states that he won in 2008 but that appear to be up for grabs now.
His main issue has strong appeal to the hearts and wallets of college students, post-grads and their families: student loans. It also has a new urgency at the moment. Unless Congress acts, the current subsidized rates on new Stafford student loans will expire in July, doubling the rate borrowers pay from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That difference amounts to an average increase of $1,000 per year per student.
Mellowed by his mood-music background, the president injected the hopelessly stodgy student loan issue with a comical dose of hip and cool:
“Now is not the time,” he said, directly addressing the camera, “to make school more expensive for our young people.”
“Ohhhh, yeah,” Fallon chimed in like Isaac Hayes murmuring sweet nothings into his microphone. “You should listen to the president.”
That’s what the president hopes, especially if it leads to more re-election votes. He needs to rekindle the Yes-We-Can enthusiasm among young voters that propelled him to the Oval Office in 2008. He has a 17 percentage point advantage over his presumptive Republican rival Romney among voters between 18 and 29, according to a nationwide poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. But almost a third in that age group is undecided. Obama has an advantage with under-30 voters that he needs to energize to offset his deficits with older voters, particularly white, blue-collar males.
One wonders how Romney might attempt to reach more millennials, as many are calling the first youngsters to come of age in this century. He could try a David Letterman “Top Ten List,” although that’s already been done. Texas Gov. Rick Perry tried it as Romney’s Republican rival. He did a good job, but his campaign fizzled out anyway.
Romney is better off playing it straight, as when he offered a straightforward response to Obama’s position on student loans that amounted to two words: Me, too.
“I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” he told reporters on Monday in what may be his first major move toward the middle as Republican frontrunner.
That’s a switch from his earlier support of the Republican budget plan proposed last month by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a plan that calls for removing the subsidies that keep Stafford loan rates low.
And Speaker John Boehner appeared to be moving toward the middle, too, as he rushed a mostly party-line vote on a $5.9 billion bill to maintain low interest rates for Stafford loans. But familiar partisan disputes erupted over the measure’s funding. The money would come from a provision of Obama’s health care law for breast cancer screening and other preventive measures. Democrats wanted to fund the bill by cutting oil subsidies.
Take careful notes, students. As the clock ticks away, your student loan rates may well be the prize in Congress’ next big partisan faceoff. Choose your own background music.
News media depict presidencies as long-running soap operas. The story doesn’t end, but it goes through changes.
In this, President Barack Obama’s autumn of discontent, a new and potentially disastrous media narrative is emerging about him: He’s the kind of liberal who loves humanity but hates people.
Such was the subtext of a stinging full-page essay that has political junkies all abuzz. Headlined “The Loner President,” the essay by White House correspondent Scott Wilson in Sunday's Washington Post says Obama has a “people problem.”
“This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, refuses to coddle even his biggest donors,” Wilson observes. “His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer.”
Of course, it is fair to ask: Is that a bad thing? After all, it is fair to say, Obama was elected by voters who sounded a lot like today's Republican primary voters do. They wanted an outsider to Washington, a new face who was not part of the back-slapping, glad-handing, noddin'-and-winkin' and donor-coddling Washington insider establishment.
But, oh, what a difference a bad economy and a stubborn congressional opposition can make. Many Obama supporters who were looking for a return of John F. Kennedy's charisma now wish they had another Lyndon B. Johnson, a tough-minded, back-slapping arm-twister. Hey, he got things done.
Most damaging to Obama's narrative is Wilson's depiction of the “No-Drama Obama” we all know as a 9-to-5 president. That's unlike, say, Bill Clinton, whose former senior advisor Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, is quoted as remembering Clinton lobbying lawmakers at 3 a.m. to secure passage of his crime bill. "After hours, Obama prefers his briefing book and Internet browser," Wilson writes, "a solitary preparation he undertakes each night after Sasha and Malia go to bed." Of course, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were not midnight oil burners, either, but that's probably not a comparison that Obama welcomes.
Sure, Obama barnstormed the country, pitching his American Jobs Act, casting himself once again as a man alone against the Grand Old Party's stubborn congressional leaders. But to put real pressure on the House Republican majority, he needs the Senate to pass some version of the bill. Unfortunately, his political capital on Capitol Hill is running out as lawmakers face re-election races of their own.
And some of Obama's allies in the Congressional Black Caucus and the left-progressive activist communities continue to grumble that he's treating them like a stand-by date — a reliable companion for Saturday night, only to be forgotten for the rest of the week.
Left-progressive activists, including his former White House green jobs advisor Van Jones, hardly mentioned Obama's name at their Take Back the American Dream Conference, an annual gathering of liberal activists in Washington. Obamamania has dimmed as Obama, in the words of one activist leader, has become “too cautious” and “pre-compromised.”
However, before Obama's rivals on the political right become too gleeful over his political misfortunes, they should take his tale as a cautionary note about presidential campaigns in both parties: The qualities that look most attractive in a presidential candidate can prove to be disastrous in a president.
We loved Bill Clinton's jolly, freewheeling charm and lust for life — before those qualities looked in the White House like a serious lack of discipline and organization, costly to the power and majesty of his office.
And we similarly were wooed by candidate George W. Bush's folksy, straightforward and resolute certainty. But after debacles like Hurricane Katrina and Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, his reassuring certainty looked like old-fashioned, irrational stubbornness.
We think we're voting for candidates, but we're really voting for narratives, the grand epic presidential story that we hope will come true. President Barack Obama offers us yet another case of a winner whose narrative is turned unfavorably on its head by his presidency. He has a year to turn his story around or, at least, to hope his opponent spins a narrative that sounds even worse.
Suddenly, Campaign 2012 is looking like déjà vu all over again. Remember how President Barack Obama’s fast rise to the White House was boosted here and there by remarkably unlucky opponents? The Republican challengers to his reelection seem almost determined to help him to get lucky one more time.
Obama’s 2004 Senate election memorably came after his top opponents in the primary and general election were sidelined by embarrassing revelations from their divorce records. The chosen Republican replacement candidate, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, lost in a landslide — making it no longer necessary for him to move from Maryland.
Also fortunately for Obama, his 2008 presidential bid came at a time when voters were hungry for “change.” That role is now reversed. Republicans have the “change” advantage, unless they blow it by offering changes that voters don’t want.
Meeting that challenge has a large array of Republican candidates and their backers quarreling among themselves, divided between the Grand Old Party’s establishment, which is focused on electability, and its upstart tea party-energized grassroots, who seem more determined to be right — extreme right — than to win the White House.
The teas should be happy to see a recent CNN/ORC International poll. It shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry maintaining his lead for the nomination with 28 percent of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney trailed at 21 percent.
However, that does not settle the nervous tummies of party leaders. The same poll showed that Romney fares best against Obama. He basically ties with the president with 48 percent to Obama’s 49 percent. But Obama leads Perry, 51 percent to 46 percent.
And Perry has proved to be less pure than many believed. Republicans went gaga over the Texas governor when entered the race in August with press attention and poll numbers that edged Romney out of the spotlight, along with Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, despite her victory in Iowa’s Republican straw poll.
An audience almost as lively as a tea party rally cheered Perry’s record for executing more convicts than any other governor in memory, creating the sort of awkward moment that even causes some conservatives to gasp.
But Perry was roundly booed for his opposition to a border fence stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico and his signing of a bill that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition at public colleges in Texas. His opponents pounced on both positions, as well as his initiative to require Texas girls to be inoculated against the cancer-linked human papillomavirus, unless their parents opted out.
Lingering discontent with the Republican field showed itself two days later, when Florida Republicans handed a resounding straw poll victory to Herman Cain, the colorful former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, who hardly has a pepperoni’s chance of actually being nominated.
Immediately, a familiar sign of Republican panic surfaced: breaking news of efforts to draft New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, despite his having asked publicly “What do I have to do short of suicide to convince people I’m not running?”
That’s a good question, since I don’t think the party’s conservative wing is going to be tickled with Christie, either, once they get to know him. He favors “a legal path to citizenship” which tea partiers boo as “amnesty.” He favored “some of the gun-control measures we have in New Jersey” in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who immediately razzed it as a “bad idea.”
Christie also has said climate change “is real,” although conservatives like Perry call it a hoax. And, horror of horrors, he has been known to praise President Obama’s Race to the Top education program and apply for funds. That’s reasonable for a big-state governor, but reason doesn’t get you very far as a GOP candidate in these angry times.
No wonder Christie is reluctant to run. But that doesn’t stop his suitors from asking. “It’s starting to look like dysfunctional dating,” said Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace on NBC’s “Today Show.” True. Or a circular firing squad.