Saturday, September 10, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

This week saw much coverage of large political events and very little coverage of the smaller ones. Since I try to cover a bit of everything, it is worth nothing that former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who last year seemed likely to launch a quixotic foreign policy bid for the GOP nomination, but who had not done anything towards that end, formally took himself out of consideration. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was much revered this month ten years ago, stated this past week that he will run once again for the White House if the Republican Party is "desperate." While many might still believe that the moderate Giuliani would be a strong general election campaign, his statement did not appear to be a ringing endorsement of his own potential candidacy and it set up a standard that will be almost impossible to meet.

Instead, much of the focus this week was on the incumbent Democrat and on his two leading Republican rivals. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both released jobs plans this week. Romney did so by unveiling a 59 point plan during a campaign visit to Nevada. He received much praise from conservatives for the dept of his proposal, as he did for an appearance earlier in the week in South Carolina, before a Presidential forum hosted by Jim DeMint. Previously, Romney was not planning to attend, but changed his schedule to do so, in what many saw a sign that his campaign feels the need to ramp up their activities to a larger extent. Scheduled to appear at the DeMint forum, but canceling due to dangerous fires in his state, was Texas Governor Rick Perry, who returned home to manage the crisis.

Perry and Romney were both present though at Wednesday night's GOP debate at the Reagan Library in California. Six other GOP contenders were also there, although they failed to do much to gain much notice. Michele Bachmann, declined to forcefully take on Perry, who has seriously hampered the momentum she once had, and seemed far more like an also-ran on stage than a serious contender for the nomination. Jon Huntsman fared better than he did in his first debate, but with so many base Republican voters finding him unappealing, there may not be much he can do. Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum also all tried to break through without much avail. Ron Paul did his usual thing, but broadened it out to include some serious hits on his fellow Texan. Paul, who is also running ads criticizing Perry's Democrat past during the Reagan years (which is interesting since Paul left the GOP to run for President as a Libertarian in 1988) has apparently managed to get under Perry's skin. The Governor was photographed looking quite angry at Paul during up close and personal exchanges during television breaks.

The main contenders in the debate were Perry and Romney of course. They sparred mostly at the beginning over the issue of their job creation records, and while Perry unleashed some pre-packaged zings, Romney responded in a quite effective way. Non-biased observers (which I may not be one of) mostly claimed that Romney got the best out of the exchange. Overall, Romney was seen as having another very strong debate performance, both on substance and presentation. He is improved in the format from his performances during the last cycle. Perry, who had never debated on a national stage before, gave a more uneven performance. Some felt he looked completely not ready for prime time, while others believed the now apparent frontrunner did enough to prove credibility. The MSNBC hosted format did appear to target both Romney and Perry for embarrassment, but especially Perry

There will be several more debates over the next couple of months and the Romney vs. Perry dynamics will continue to be interesting. One of the perhaps surprising aspects of the GOP primary contest is the extent that it now appears likely that Social Security will be discussed. Perry, in a pre-Presidential campaign book labeled it as a "Ponzi Scheme", and when asked about that in the debate, "doubled down" on the claim. Romney, who while admitting the funding mechanism for the program is in need of serious reform to strengthen it, came down on the side of protecting Social Security. In the days after the debate, his campaign has hammered Perry on the issue. While many conservatives will cheer Perry's take on the entitlement program as "principled" or "candid", many also will say that even if they somewhat share his view, talking about it in the way that he does is akin to political suicide. In fact, it is hard to see how Perry could win a general election with that sort of position as a major focus. Romney will push that hard, using the electability issue, while it is also likely that elderly and middle age Republican voters, who vote at high margins, will find Perry's position troubling enough in states like Florida, to also harm him at the polls in the primaries.

The person both Romney and Perry hope to face next year, Barack Obama began his week at a campaign style Labor Day rally in Detroit, Michigan. Before Obama spoke, James Hoffa Jr., the President of the Teamster's Union stirred up controversy by referring to Tea Party sympathizers as "son of bitches." While slightly profane language from a union boss may not be shocking in the political arena, it does of course go against the supposed civility standards that Obama called for early this year. The White House claimed Obama did not hear Hoffa's remarks, and Press Secretary Jay Carney found himself later on in a particularly awkward exchange with the media, in which he refused to denounce the remarks on behalf of the President. This will of course lead to another potential double standard down the road if Democrats wish to take issue with anything offensive that may be said by someone at a Republican rally during the campaign season.

Thursday night saw Obama speak before a Joint Session of Congress on his jobs proposal. It was far more of a campaign style speech that is typically seen in that venue. Democrats seem to enjoy Obama's fighting spirit, while Republicans were far more critical. In fact, there is no actual jobs bill from Obama before Congress, despite his frequent demand during the speech for Congress to "pass this bill now", and despite claims to the contrary, no realistic way to pay for it. While there are aspects of things Obama said that Republicans would be willing to go along with, far more of it appears to just be another stimulus program, similar to the one from two years ago, which failed to improve the unemployment rate. There could be consensus in Congress to pass bits and pieces of what President Obama wanted, but the White House may prefer to demand an all or nothing approach, knowing that the Republican majority in the House would never go along with everything he wants. They seem to mostly be hoping for a political fight on the campaign trail against the "Do Nothing Congress."

The political back and forth of a campaign season, rather it be in a primary or between the two parties is a hallmark of our democracy, and something to feel good about. During this particular weekend though, those healthy political divisions and fights seem to be somewhat less important though when we remember the anniversary of tomorrow's date.

This morning, I attended a meeting with my state's Republican Senator Mark Kirk. The Senator, (who said he will not make any endorsement in the Republican primary battle), recalled that on September 11, 2001, he was at the Pentagon meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when the attack on that building occurred. The memories he had are still very vivid, and so are the ones from that day from just about all of us who lived through it. I can remember so much from that day, from the events, to the emotions I was feeling. I knew our world had changed forever, and seeing the various television specials commemorating the decade anniversary, a lot of that comes rushing back. I would never have imagined on that day, that we would be so lucky as to not have faced another remotely major attack on American soil since. Thursday brought news of an apparent new, credible terrorist threat, which should remind us of how important this all continues to be,

Five years ago on September 11, when this blog of mine was pretty new, I remember being online and reading much political rancor from those of one particular ideology who looked upon the broken post-9/11 unity, and the wars that our military was fighting on a couple different fronts, as a way to focus rage at the then President of the United States. Five years later, conservatives are quite unhappy with the current President, but almost everyone saluted him for signing off on the mission that finally eliminated Osama bin Laden from the Earth. The Ten Year Anniversary is a big deal to many in the media and elsewhere, but it is far less that I might have expected all those years ago. Most of us are going on with our usual weekend activities, watching football, and giving not too much more than a few passing thoughts towards what happened in 2001.

There really are not words, especially in this rushed format, to properly convey a tribute to those who lost their lives on that day, those who have suffered by consequence every day since, and how 9/11/01 did change our country and world forever. Too often, I think we have forgotten that and continue to be far too casual about life in America and what threats still exist.

The economy, jobs, health care, and many other things are important issues that need to be debated, both in the Republican primaries and in the general election. I would also hope that security, both internationally and domestically, issues that in many ways trump all us, are given far more attention, even if, hopefully, we are not ever again faced with a day as horrific as the one we will remember tomorrow.