Saturday, June 16, 2012

Race for the White House

Just a few days past the one year anniversary of formally announcing his candidacy for President, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney returned yesterday to the same farm in New Hampshire where that occurred last June. The visuals were of larger and more enthusiastic crowds that were present on that June 2011 morning, symbolic of just of the perception that over the last year, Romney has gone from the "nominal front runner that few were excited about" to the general election candidate that insiders in both parties now admit privately has a very good chance of being elected President. While Romney has perhaps grown in some ways as a candidate and won over many in the party who had their doubts, his current competitive standing in the polls and in fundraising numbers continue to be an indication of how polarizing the Presidency of his opponent Barack Obama really is.

Obama made big news this way two different days, back to back. On Thursday, he made a highly touted speech on the economy in Cleveland in which the candidate who a week before, stated the private sector was "doing fine" once again blamed his economic troubles on his Republican predecessor. While polls do show that many Americans assign responsibility (whether that is fair or unfair is a whole other matter in my mind and an argument best left to history as opposed to being hashed out in during a current political debate) for the weak economy to George W. Bush, more and more in those same polls are also holding Obama responsible. Needless to say, only one of them will appear on the ballot this November.

After having tried a variety of ways to after Mitt Romney over the past couple of months, the Obama campaign is clearly once again trying to indicate that a new Republican President would be "going backwards" and would bring back the "same policies that got us into this mess." For obvious political reasons, it is important for Team Romney to show how his policies would best benefit the economy and that he would not be tied to any unpopular policies of the past, but the more the more Obama tries to contrast himself with GWB, the more opportunities there will be to point out that things like gas prices and the national debt were far more favorable when George W. Bush was still President. It could also be pointed out that the overall economy was far better still back in 2006, before Democrats, including Barack Obama, took over Congress, where they still happen to hold the Senate. Maybe the comparisons will go all the way back to 2004 when Obama came to Washington and when Mitt Romney was presiding over a state as Governor that would have very low unemployment when he left office.

While I did not see Obama's Cleveland speech, it has been panned in many quarters, including by those favorable to the Democrats as long-winded, whiny, defensive, and filled with old talking points that were unlikely to make the case for himself or to win anyone over. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Obama did himself more harm than good and that little was done to change the subject from the "doing fine" comment (which I now recognize was perhaps less of a pure political gaffe and more of an honest assessment of how Obama favors the public sector over the private economy). Republicans continue to get mileage out of that comment in ads, as well as an unearthed clip of former President Bill Clinton in 2010 who while campaigning for Democrats in the midterms, implored voters to give the Party two more years to turn things around before it would be acceptable to throw them out of office.

The next day, perhaps unrelated to the bad headlines from the economic speech, Obama took to the Rose Garden (where he got snippy with a rude reporter who did not realize the same Sam Donaldson interrupting Ronald Reagan rules no longer apply to the 44th President) to announce that his Administration would bypass Congress to put a new policy in place, similar to the Dream Act, in which children who were illegally brought to America would not be deported.

There are many layers to this. For one thing, I find it incredible how those on the left who for eight years attacked the George W. Bush Administration for acting too heavy handed and without proper cooperation of Congress applaud a move which seems to fly in the face of enforcing U.S. law, which whether you think the law is good policy or not, is clearly a violation of the Constitution and the duties of the Chief Executive.

While I do not believe the "Dream Act" could pass Congress in this political environment, and while I believe shoring up of the borders is a mandatory first step before there will be any sort of public will for comprehensive immigration reform, I have always differed with some hardline conservatives on issues like this. I do believe that ultimately, there should be some version of a Dream Act,which would be different than amnesty, but would give an opportunity to law abiding adults, who were not responsible for their having entered illegally as children, to demonstrate loyalty to the country and earn a chance of some form of legalization.

Currently, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban refugees,and a much talked about GOP Vice Presidential contender is working on a piece of compromise legislation that would move in that direction,but he criticized Obama's move yesterday as overly political and in the long-run damaging to a long-term solution to the problem. Governor Romney waded carefully into the debate, disagreeing with what Obama announced, but putting himself in a position where it would be easy for him to sign his name to what Rubio proposes.

While this is a complicated issue with no easy answers, I disagree with the way Obama is now attempting to act unilaterally, just months after saying he would be unable to do just that, and am especially cynical by the political motives that might be behind the timing of the announcement. After having already deliberately spent time trying to rally his base by talking about a "War on Women" and by coming out in favor of same sex marriage, this looked like another naked political ploy, this time to energize Latinos, a key constituency crucial to Obama's reelection efforts.

While many Latinos and young people will be buoyed by this White House announcement and praise Barack Obama for it, it is just as likely that anti-Obama conservatives will be equally enraged and motivated to send money and spend time trying to defeat him. Thus is the political reality in these very polarized times, in which the election will ultimately come down to a referendum on the incumbent.

Among the small crowd of people who read these weekly missives, I have recently been accused by some on the left of being a "Romney Cheerleader" who takes the events of the week and spins them in favor of the candidate I have unabashedly supported since the beginning of 2007. Of course, I make "No Apology" for believing in America and for the person I know is best equipped to turn it around, and there is no doubt that perspective will come through in what I write. In fact, I would not want it any other way. However, I also believe I have been completely realistic throughout this entire cycle about the state of the race and the ups and downs for all candidates, including the one I support. Thus, I have to think that some criticism I may have gotten have to be borne out of frustration from Obama supporters, who are likely disillusioned both by the fact that Obama did not turn out to be the "post-partisan" transformational leader they envisioned when they bought into his "Hope and Change" message, but also by the fact that the 2012 Obama campaign is looking far less than an unstoppable juggernaut right about now.