A Record to Run on and a Romney to Run From

President Obama’s first term has not been the uninterrupted tale of disappointment and broken promises that the media, his opponents, and even pessimistic liberals might have you believe. He promised to reform health care, and passed a bill that will allow the United States to finally join the club of developed nations with universal health insurance. He said he would increase the regulation of the financial sector so that we would not repeat the disaster of 2008, and signed such a bill in his second year. He pledged to cut taxes for the middle class; the stimulus and debt ceiling compromise both included tax cuts that gave struggling families a much-needed reprieve. His plan to increase standards-based educational assessment earned opposition in the primary, but his “Race to the Top” initiative set off an unprecedented wave of school reform. He vowed to end the war in Iraq; our troops are home.

He repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay men and women to serve their country openly, and refused to defend the shameful and unconstitutional “Defense of Marriage Act.” His administration passed laws that made it easier for women to sue for equal pay and for students to receive college loans. He dramatically increased fuel economy standards for automobiles and the regulations on coal pollution. Oil imports are at their lowest level in decades. The General Motors assembly lines that seemed at risk of forever falling silent four years ago now churn faster than ever. Osama bin Laden lies on the bottom of the Arabian Sea.

In America, we view the President as wielding near-dictatorial levels of power. We credit him for the good things that happen during his time in office, whether or not he had anything to do with them, and we blame him when things over which he has little control go wrong. This President, time and time again, has taken bold risks that—had they backfired—would have combined him to the place in history occupied by the likes of Carter and Hoover. Let us not forget that President Obama never had an honest partner in the Congressional Republicans who have held dozens of votes on repealing Obamacare but few on fixing the economy or investing in our future. This is neither an accident nor an oversight. Their only agenda is to defeat this President. If Barack Hussein Obama can win a second term despite their rancor, their disrespect, and their selfish obstructionism, they will have failed.

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The math keeping the Obama campaign up at night

President Obama’s electoral college “firewall” is a paper tiger. Even without Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Republicans have several clear paths to victory. A change of a point or two in the polls – caused by the hurricane, a slip up, a bad jobs report, or simply the passions of the moment, could mean waving goodbye to a second Obama term.

The average of popular vote polls has Governor Romney leading by one percentage point. For better or for worse – that’ll be an issue for after the election – that number doesn’t matter more than symbolically. The electoral college, the collection of 51 winner-takes-all (except in Nebraska and Maine) popular vote competitions, tells a different story. As of now, Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight predicts that President Obama will win 295.5 electoral votes and the election by a reasonably comfortable margin. Drew Linzer of Votamatic is even more bullish. He predicts that the President will win 332 electoral votes, including those of Florida and Virginia. With little over a week left until the Presidential Election, it’s impossible not to obsess over the possible electoral college scenarios. 

Source: fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com

At this point in the race, polls have stabilized significantly. The Obama campaign has dedicated a huge proportion of its resources on Ohio and it seems to be working. Barring some huge shift before election day, it seems as if the President will carry both Ohio and Pennsylvania. Even with these states, though, there are a number of paths to a Romney victory that some recent polls have hinted at. Florida seems to have sunk into the Republican column, and Virginia – never a considered swing state before 2008 – is close to going that way as well.

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Whole binders of thoughts on the Presidential debate

Romney, with a binder full of women \\Photo credit: Reuters

Barack Obama, who apparently skipped the first debate in order to celebrate his wedding anniversary, showed up for last night’s debate. There was little similarity between the sad, defeated, petulant shell of a man from the first contest and the aggressive, feisty President that slapped Romney all over the stage at Hofstra. 

There was something unsettling about hearing Mitt Romney advocating for increased coal use, as though this were 1912 and not 2012. To make things even weirder, he referred to oil as one point as a “vast new resource” as if its wonders had just been discovered. President Obama had an excellent response here about using a combination of wind, solar, and natural gas to increase energy independence and job growth. The other interesting part of Romney’s rhetoric on energy is that he always talks about creating energy independence for North America. Every President going back to Nixon has set a goal of making the United States energy independent. For Romney to expand the area is a lowering of the goalposts, and would be significantly easier to accomplish given the vast reserves of oil in Canada and Mexico. Obama also got the better of him on gas prices: asked why gas prices had gone up so far in his time in office, Obama replied that they’d been low because of the financial collapse, and then suggested that Romney could make them low again if his deregulation triggered another one. BOOM! Policy slam!

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Mittens the Kitten vs. Newt the Slewt

Never has a presidential campaign been so absent of concrete ideas. Sure, Obama had “Hope” and “Change” but at the same time he had healthcare, race to the top, and ending the war. The Republican establishment can’t seem to get a handle on why Romney has failed to resonate and why Gingrich has caught on, despite his legendary pile of personal baggage, but the answer is simple: the American people like a candidate with actual ideas.  It doesn’t matter how good or practical those ideas are, really—we are a nation that likes to be excited about the future, rather than terrified of it.  For his many, many faults, Newt Gingrich seems and has always seemed excited for the future.  Romney treats the future like an alcoholic uncle—something not to talk about in public but that creates private stresses.  At the heart of things, he’s not a man who deals well with confrontation.  He says that the income disparity in this country, one of our greatest problems moving forward, should not be discussed on the campaign trail.  Instead, it should only be talked about “in quiet rooms.”  Romney was born for quiet rooms: Perrier in hand, light jazz in the background, hair gelled into a firm helmet. Most Americans would prefer to have campaign issues discussed openly.

At the beginning of this absurd process, Mitt Romney was a candidate that I respected.  He seemed reasonable and intelligent.  He didn’t seem like he’d be a terrible president, even though I disagreed with nearly all of his positions.  Now he’s devolved, once again, into a robotic caricature of himself. The only plank in his platform is that tired and dangerous notion that America is the unquestioned greatest nation in the world. If you can tell me one policy proposal that Romney has campaigned on, other than more tax cuts we can’t afford or repealing the progress of the last four years, where he actually differs from Obama—one original suggestion that justifies his candidacy—come to Forest 334 and I will give you five dollars.  There are none; his entire campaign has been reduced to the laughable claims that Obama is alternately a crony capitalist or weak on foreign policy. Somebody should tell his staff that for attacks to resonate with the public, they need some basis in truth. 

Newt Gingrich is a man of ideas. He has a solution for everything, from poverty to resource depletion. I’m particularly fond of his obsession with building a moon base. True, they range from impractical to blatantly racist. But at least you know he’s thought about the problems of the day and tried to come up with an original solution; at least he has a reason to run other than nice hair and a photogenic family. These, ideas, more than anything, are why he has caught on with the Republican base. Romney represents nothing. Newt represents a Conservatism that actually looks for solutions to the problems of the day and the challenges of the future. 

My last column predicted confidently that Romney would win. That may no longer be the case.  Gingrich’s support has increased throughout the nation and he’s taken the lead in Florida, the next state in the primary calendar. While the Obama campaign would rather face Newt than Mittens in the fall—polls show that two percent of the public think that’s his real first name—there’s a lot of danger in that; the American people want a reason to be excited about the future. Romney does not offer that.  Obama offered that in 2008, but his communications staff seems to have retreated into a black hole where they no longer have any contact with the media.  There’s little exciting about his presidency right now, and little hope that he’ll recapture it. America has not learned its lesson, though. We’re not ready to “settle” for the nice man with the steady paycheck, or several steady paychecks in Romney’s case. We’re not ready to settle for good, boring policy. We want the guy who promises us the moon. In 2012, Newt may be that man.