Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2012 > USA > Politics (III)





President Barack Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention

President Barack Obama addresses the 2012 Democratic National Convention

YouTube > Added 6 September 2012 by DemConvention2012
















What I Learned From Playing the Gipper


September 29, 2012
The New York Times


WHEN Walter F. Mondale, the Democratic nominee for president in 1984, asked me to help him prepare for his debates with President Ronald Reagan by playing the Reagan role, I accepted with enthusiasm.

Fritz Mondale and I had met almost 30 years before, when he was a promising student at the University of Minnesota Law School and I was a promising assistant professor. We had stayed in touch as he went on to serve as senator and vice president, and I was glad to help him, believing he was well qualified — by experience, character, temperament and intelligence — to be president. Though he was the candidate, he enjoyed calling me Mr. President, for I had gone on to become president of Columbia.

I barely hesitated on the question of whether there was any tension between my position as Columbia’s president and a partisan political role. Dwight D. Eisenhower had run for president when he was still nominally Columbia’s president, while another of the university’s presidents, Nicholas Murray Butler, had accepted the vice-presidential nomination on the 1912 Republican ticket after the original nominee died. And while a university president must be sure he doesn’t seem to be committing his institution to a political party, that doesn’t mean he must be a political eunuch himself.

While I “played” Reagan, I was not asked to be a mimic. I could sound like Kermit the Frog for all that mattered. My job was to make Reagan’s arguments and mount his attacks. To prepare, I read all of Reagan’s major speeches and policy statements and watched videos of his previous debates.

Before each of the two debates we met every day, from Monday to Friday, at the Mondale home in Washington, and debated. We stood at lecterns a few feet apart, with another Mondale friend questioning us in the format the actual debate would follow. A video camera fixed on Fritz recorded the entire session. We would then perform a post-mortem, assessing his answers and how he looked when he was speaking and listening.

Fritz’s staff had a special assignment for me. They were not happy with one bit of business he was doing on the campaign trail, but they couldn’t talk him out of it. They were sure he would do it during our debates and asked me to see what I could do to get him to stop. Sure enough, waxing eloquent about Medicare, he said something like this: “My father was a minister, not a wealthy man, and when he died, all he left my mother, apart from our home, was a small insurance policy. When she became ill and exhausted the proceeds of that policy, if it hadn’t been for Medicare, she would have been forced to go on welfare.”

My turn: “That was a very moving story, but I like to think that Mrs. Mondale’s son would have helped out.”

Fritz turned to me and shouted, “You son of a bitch!” He came to enjoy my response, telling others about it, but I don’t think he used that story again.

The debate format suited Fritz. He was warm, quick-witted, knowledgeable and, given the opportunity, very funny. On the campaign trail he was at his best in the question period.

A presidential campaign is always an arduous marathon, but 1984 differed from today in two important respects that made carving out a large block of time for debate preparation a sensible tactical choice. First, both Mr. Mondale and President Reagan had opted for public funding, and so they were spared the money-raising frenzy afflicting this year’s campaign. And, second, the on-all-the-time news cycle was still many years away.

We worked in a very homey atmosphere. Joan, Fritz’s wife, passed to and from the kitchen. On one occasion I overheard their son tell her, “I’m so proud of him.”

In the judgment of most of the press, Fritz won the first debate handily, a judgment with which I naturally concurred. The second was generally regarded as a tie.

The outcomes confirmed two theories of mine based on my viewing of all the available presidential debate videos. First, a candidate challenging an incumbent president has the advantage. The president of the United States is an awesome figure. Merely to share the platform with him on equal terms is to gain in stature: a good performance will be judged even better.

Second, the order in which the candidates answer the first question matters when the format has them answering the same questions. The one who goes second will have time to think about his answer, a luxury his adversary will not have. Not only does that give him a chance to do well on that question; it also helps him to settle in comfortably for the evening.

One other observation about this particular art form: each of the participants has a major objective and a minor one, in addition, of course, to appearing presidential. The major one is to get his messages across even if the questions don’t ask for them. The minor one is to avoid seeming unresponsive. That is why you will see the debaters answer some of the questions quickly, leaving time for what the candidate wants to talk about.

There’s no way to know who will win the first Obama-Romney debate, on Wednesday. Though I am unhappy at the prospect, experience tells me it could well be Mr. Romney. Of course, as Fritz and I learned, the winner of the first debate may not even come close to winning in November.


Michael I. Sovern is president emeritus of Columbia University

and a professor at Columbia Law School.

    What I Learned From Playing the Gipper, NYT, 29.9.2012,







Appealing to Wider Audience,

Recalibrates Message


September 28, 2012
The New York Times


The language Mitt Romney used this week to describe his plan to cut income tax rates was somewhat unusual, at least by the standards of recent Republican presidential campaigns.

“By the way, don’t be expecting a huge cut in taxes,” Mr. Romney cautioned at a rally in Westerville, Ohio, “because I’m also going to lower deductions and exemptions.”

Mr. Romney’s decision to tamp down expectations of the effects of his plan to cut tax rates differed not only from recent Republican campaigns but also, tonally at least, from the way he has sometimes described the plan he unveiled in February during the Republican primary. When one of his challengers, Rick Santorum, charged at a debate in Arizona that Mr. Romney might raise taxes on the wealthy, Mr. Romney countered, “We’re going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent.” Another rival, Newt Gingrich, praised Mr. Romney’s tax plan at the debate as “closer to supply side.”

The caveat Mr. Romney emphasized this week — that his proposed cut in tax rates would collect the same amount of revenue because he would also reduce tax breaks — has been a feature of his plan all along. But his new language, which dismayed some conservative supporters, comes as Mr. Romney has continued to adjust his tone on the campaign trail.

Candidates who emerge from competitive primaries — as Mr. Romney did — often find themselves forced to recalibrate messages and proposals initially aimed at partisan primary voters to appeal to more moderate general election voters. There are signs that Mr. Romney is now doing so, refining the way he discusses taxes, the health care law he passed as governor of Massachusetts and President Obama’s health care law, among other issues.

Mr. Romney’s remarks in Westerville came as the repeated Democratic charge that he plans to cut taxes for the rich appeared to be taking a toll. Another part of Mr. Romney’s tax plan — his proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on household incomes above $250,000 — was opposed by a plurality of likely voters, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll this month.

Independent voters opposed extending tax cuts for higher income households by 50 percent to 31 percent. The poll found that Mr. Obama had a two-point advantage over Mr. Romney on who would best handle taxes, a difference within the poll’s margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Still, some conservatives questioned Mr. Romney’s remark that people should not expect a huge cut in taxes. “What is that all about?” the commentator Larry Kudlow asked in a blog post on National Review Online. “What kind of message is he sending? Is it pro-growth take-home pay? Or is he pulling back and hedging his bet?”

This week Mr. Romney also drew attention to a major part of his record that he almost never talks about on the campaign trail: the health care law he enacted in Massachusetts. That law was in many respects a model for Mr. Obama’s national health care law, which Republicans oppose vigorously and which Mr. Romney has vowed to repeal.

But when Mr. Romney was asked in an interview with NBC News this week how he could better connect with Americans, he pointed out: “Don’t forget — I got everybody in my state insured.”

At a rally that same day, Mr. Romney renewed his call to repeal the president’s health care law.

Half of likely voters oppose the president’s health care law, the recent New York Times/CBS News poll found, but they give Mr. Obama a slim four-point edge over Mr. Romney on the question of which candidate would better handle health care. And some individual parts of the health care law are overwhelmingly popular.

A New York Times/CBS News survey from last March found that 84 percent of likely voters approved of the health care law’s provision requiring insurance companies to cover people with existing medical conditions or prior illnesses — and three quarters of Republicans approved of that provision.

Mr. Romney modulated his tone this month during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when he suggested that as president he would make sure people with pre-existing conditions could get coverage.

“Well, I’m not getting rid of all of health care reform,” Mr. Romney said on the program. “Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.”

But Mr. Romney omitted a significant feature of his health proposal: he would guarantee insurance for people with existing conditions only if they have maintained coverage without a significant gap, which could exclude millions of Americans.

Mr. Romney has also changed the way he talks about the poor after a video surfaced in which he tells donors that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on the government and see themselves as victims and would never vote for him.

After initially standing by the substance of his remarks, while acknowledging that they were “not elegantly stated,” Mr. Romney now talks more of his compassion and takes pains to note that his campaign “is about the 100 percent in America.”


Reporting was contributed by Allison Kopicki, Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro.

    Romney, Appealing to Wider Audience, Recalibrates Message, NYT, 28.9.2012,






Voter Harassment, Circa 2012


September 21, 2012
The New York Times


This is how voter intimidation worked in 1966: White teenagers in Americus, Ga., harassed black citizens in line to vote, and the police refused to intervene. Black plantation workers in Mississippi had to vote in plantation stores, overseen by their bosses. Black voters in Choctaw County, Ala., had to hand their ballots directly to white election officials for inspection.

This is how it works today: In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.

The thing that’s different from the days of overt discrimination is the phony pretext of combating voter fraud. Voter identity fraud is all but nonexistent, but the assertion that it might exist is used as an excuse to reduce the political rights of minorities, the poor, students, older Americans and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.

In The Times on Monday, Stephanie Saul described how the plan works. True the Vote grew out of a Tea Party group in Texas, the King Street Patriots, with the assistance of Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers that works to elect conservative Republicans. It has developed its own software to check voter registration lists against driver’s license and property records. Those kinds of database matches are notoriously unreliable because names and addresses are often slightly different in various databases, but the group uses this technique to challenge more voters.

In 2009 and 2010, for example, the group focused on the Houston Congressional district represented by Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat. After poring over the records for five months, True the Vote came up with a list of 500 names it considered suspicious and challenged them with election authorities. Officials put these voters on “suspense,” requiring additional proof of address, but in most cases voters had simply changed addresses. That didn’t stop the group from sending dozens of white “poll watchers” to precincts in the district during the 2010 elections, deliberately creating friction with black voters.

On the day of the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the group used inaccurate lists to slow down student voting at Lawrence University in Appleton with intrusive identity checks. Three election “observers,” including one from True the Vote, were so disruptive that a clerk gave them two warnings, but the ploy was effective: many students gave up waiting in line and didn’t vote.

True the Vote, now active in 30 states, hopes to train hundreds of thousands of poll watchers to make the experience of voting like “driving and seeing the police following you,” as one of the group’s leaders put it. (Not surprisingly, the group is also active in the voter ID movement, with similar goals.) These activities “present a real danger to the fair administration of elections and to the fundamental freedom to vote,” as a recent report by Common Cause and Demos put it.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits intimidation or interference in the act of voting, but the penalties are fairly light. Many states have tougher laws, but they won’t work unless law enforcement officials use them to crack down on the illegal activities — handed down from Jim Crow days — of True the Vote and similar groups.

    Voter Harassment, Circa 2012, NYT, 21.9.2012,






The Candidates Face Hispanic Voters


September 20, 2012
The New York Times


Mitt Romney and President Obama made direct appeals to Latino voters this week, appearing on successive days at a candidate forum sponsored by Univision, the national Spanish-language television network. The discussion ranged widely, touching on subjects as varied as the Middle East and student loans. But it focused heavily on immigration, a difficult subject providing rich opportunities for evasion and disappointment.

Mr. Romney seized them. He went first, on Wednesday night, and quickly showed why it is so hard to figure out what he means or believes.

“Well, we’re not going to — we’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them,” he said when asked whether he would protect young immigrants who qualify for legalization under the Dream Act, which Mr. Romney has promised to veto. Mr. Obama used executive action this year to spare “Dreamers” from deportation. Mr. Romney refused to say whether he would do the same as president. “That’s not — I said during my primary campaign time and again, we’re not going to round up 12 million people, that includes the kids and the parents, and have everyone deported. Our system isn’t to deport people.”

Except that’s exactly what Mr. Romney’s “system” seems to be. His informal adviser Kris Kobach wrote the radical laws enacted by Arizona and other states that seek to make it impossible for illegal immigrants to survive and much easier for police to round them up. And Mr. Romney has praised Arizona as a model for the nation.

Mr. Romney talks vaguely about possibly exempting a fraction of the undocumented from the purge — service members, maybe some students — but he has never backed away from those on the hard right for whom mass legalization is unthinkable. So if Mr. Romney won’t give 11 million people a way to be legal (that’s “amnesty,” rejected by Republicans), and he is not going to deport them, but he supports Arizona-style laws that make people unable to work, drive, study or otherwise live, then ... what?

Mr. Romney wouldn’t say.

Mr. Obama had a better time of it on Thursday, mostly because he actually supports a solution — comprehensive reform, not just tougher enforcement but also a path to citizenship. Hard questions posed by the interviewers centered on his failure to deliver reform, while deporting more than a million people in his first term.

Jorge Ramos repeatedly reminded Mr. Obama that he had pledged to fix the problem in his first four years: “You promised,” he said, “and a promise is a promise.”

Mr. Obama’s reply was that he had tried, that the economy was terrible, and that a president can’t require Congress to act. It was good to see him forced to acknowledge his failure, though we wish he had been pressed harder about the deportation efforts his administration has expanded, like Secure Communities, which have led to the removal of tens of thousands of noncriminals and left thousands of citizen children in foster care.

Mr. Obama talked proudly about helping Dreamers, saying he had been persuaded by “wonderful kids” he had met. “If you heard their stories, there’s no way you would think it was fair or just for us to have them suffering under a cloud of deportation.” Which is true. But not just for the 1.7 million or so Dreamers. There are about 11 million people waiting for the government to fix the broken system. They did not get satisfactory answers in Miami this week.

    The Candidates Face Hispanic Voters, NYT, 20.9.2012,






In Tight Race, Obama Wields All Levers of Power in Reach


September 19, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — For months, government lawyers and economists worked behind the scenes to develop a trade case against China. Then last month came a eureka moment: They confirmed the existence of a Chinese subsidy program for automobiles and parts that in their view violated international trade rules. They finished a complaint, circulated it among agencies and proposed a time frame for filing.

That’s when President Obama’s political team took over, providing a textbook example of how an incumbent can harness the power of the office to bolster the case for re-election. Rather than leave it to the trade office to announce the complaint, Mr. Obama decided to do it himself. Aides scheduled it for a campaign swing to the auto-dependent battleground state of Ohio, leaked it to the state’s largest newspaper, then sent other journalists a link to the resulting story plus voter-friendly talking points.

Every president lives at the intersection of policy and politics, never more so than during a campaign season. Locked in a tight race with Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama and his team have been pulling every lever of the federal government within reach, announcing initiatives aimed at critical constituencies, dispatching cabinet secretaries to competitive areas, coordinating campaign events to match popular government actions and forestalling or even reversing other government decisions that could hurt the president’s chances of a second term.

On Friday, Mr. Obama will designate Chimney Rock in Colorado a national monument, preserving thousands of acres and aiding tourism in another swing state, a decision shared Wednesday with a Denver newspaper. When he flew to Iowa last month, Mr. Obama arrived just as his administration announced drought relief for farmers and released a report promoting his support for wind power. After critics attacked him for inhibiting oil and gas production by considering an obscure lizard for the endangered species list, the administration decided it wasn’t so endangered after all.

Some of the most significant policy announcements of recent months were keyed to important voter blocs. Mr. Obama reversed position to endorse same-sex marriage before attending a big-dollar fund-raiser with gay and lesbian leaders. Just before addressing a national Latino organization, he used executive power to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country if they had come as children.

White House officials acknowledged that they calibrate announcements and trips to maximize the advantages of incumbency but said the policy decisions themselves were made on substance. They also noted that while cabinet secretaries travel to swing states, they also travel to states that are not competitive. And they said that on some level it is impossible to separate the candidate from the president.

“The president is not going to put off what he believes are important actions, such as protecting jobs for American workers, until after the election,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman. “These decisions are made on the merits by professionals with the relevant policy expertise, are often months in the making and always reflect the president’s longstanding positions.”

Republicans, naturally, see it differently. “He looks like he is aiding his re-election with the power of the Oval Office,” said Matt Schlapp, who was White House political director for President George W. Bush. “He looks worried, reactive. It’s fair to ask that if this China decision was for policy issues alone then why wait until right before the first debate to announce it?”

Each White House tests the boundaries. President Bill Clinton used the Lincoln Bedroom to entertain financial donors. Mr. Bush’s strategist, Karl Rove, oversaw an “asset deployment team” that managed trips and grant announcements. Both got in trouble. Mr. Clinton’s fund-raising triggered Congressional investigations while the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency, concluded that the Bush White House violated federal law by creating a “political boiler room” coordinating campaign activities.

The same agency determined last week that Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, violated the law by advocating Mr. Obama’s re-election during an official trip to North Carolina. The trip was reclassified to political and the cost reimbursed. “Keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task, particularly on mixed trips that involve both campaign and official stops on the same day,” Ms. Sebelius wrote investigators.

Other cabinet secretaries have had active travel schedules to important electoral states. Since July, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has traveled to at least 15 states for public events, according to his schedule, including Wisconsin, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado. During the same period in 2010, he traveled to 10 states, according to agency records. At various stops, Mr. Salazar promoted Mr. Obama’s energy and conservation policies.

Mr. Salazar took an airboat tour of the Everglades in Florida days after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited to announce $80 million for an Everglades protection program. Mr. Vilsack hinted at why that small chunk of Florida had received so much attention when he appeared at the opening of Mr. Obama’s campaign office in Port St. Lucie. “You win Florida and you win the presidency,” Mr. Vilsack said at the event. “And I have been told you win this region, you win Florida.”

While announcing new initiatives during campaign season is standard practice, Mr. Obama’s team also seems focused on stopping policies that may be politically hazardous. In June, the Interior Department rejected their own plans to designate a lizard known as the dunes sagebrush as endangered by oil and gas activities. After analysis, the department declared that “the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction.”

“The administration did not want to face criticism from the oil and gas industry during an election year,” said Taylor McKinnon, a public lands advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Blake Androff, an Interior Department spokesman, said the decision was “based entirely on the best available science and in accordance with the law,” not politics, and came only after industry and state officials agreed to voluntary conservation measures.

He added that Mr. Salazar’s travel was also extensive in non-election years, reflecting the job of overseeing hundreds of millions of acres of public land. A spokesman for Mr. Vilsack said his Florida trip was planned so he could spend one day on official business and another stumping for Mr. Obama on his own time. But on Tuesday, the same day a reporter inquired about the mixing of politics and policy on the trip, the Obama campaign sent a check for $1,606.24 to reimburse taxpayers for airfare and hotel — timing that Agriculture Department officials said was a coincidence.

When it came to the China case, officials said it was in the works for much of the year but took months to find evidence of unfair trading practices. They went down a number of blind alleys before getting the first indication of the Chinese subsidy program over the summer. Then last month, they determined it was real and deemed it a violation. At that point, officials said, there was no justification to delay filing.

And if it happened to help the campaign, Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters, “I’ll let our opponents and all you guys assess whether or not there’s a political benefit for the president.”

    In Tight Race, Obama Wields All Levers of Power in Reach, NYT, 19.9.2012,






Twitter Turns Over User’s Messages

in Occupy Wall Street Protest Case


September 14, 2012
The New York Times


Twitter on Friday turned over to a judge a printed stack of messages written by an Occupy Wall Street protester in October, around the time he and hundreds of others were arrested after walking on the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Manhattan prosecutors subpoenaed the records in January, because the messages could show that the police did not lead protesters off the bridge’s pedestrian path and then arrest them, an argument that the protester, Malcolm Harris, of Brooklyn, is expected to make at trial.

The judge, Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr., of Criminal Court in Manhattan, said he would keep the messages sealed in an envelope in his chambers until Sept. 21, when a hearing is scheduled in a challenge to his earlier ruling requiring that the messages be turned over to prosecutors.

If that challenge fails, Judge Sciarrino said he would review the messages and then turn over the relevant material to prosecutors.

Mr. Harris was one of about 700 protesters who were arrested on the bridge. He was charged with disorderly conduct, a violation.

The case has broader significance for the effect it may have on how much access law enforcement has to material published on social media Web sites. Judge Sciarrino said that once the material was broadcast, it was no longer a private record.

Twitter objected to the demand for messages that were no longer on its public site and has appealed Judge Sciarrino’s ruling.

    Twitter Turns Over User’s Messages in Occupy Wall Street Protest Case, NYT, 14.9.2012,






The Shallow End of the Campaign


September 10, 2012
The New York Times

If the first weekend of Mitt Romney’s general election campaign is any indication, the country is in for eight weeks of wild, often random answers to some of the most important policy questions. Voters trying to understand the positions of Mr. Romney and Representative Paul Ryan are going to have a harder time than ever.

On issue after issue raised in the first weekend of interviews after the conventions, Romney and Ryan actively tried to obscure their positions, as if a clear understanding of their beliefs about taxes, health care or spending would scare away anyone who was listening. Aware that President Obama’s policies in these areas are quite popular once people learn about them, the Republicans are simply sowing confusion. Here are a few examples:

HEALTH CARE After more than a year of denouncing Mr. Obama’s health care law, Mr. Romney said on “Meet the Press” on NBC on Sunday that maybe parts of it weren’t so bad. “There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place,” he said, such as coverage of pre-existing conditions.

There’s just one problem: guaranteeing coverage to people with serious diseases means that sick people would sign up en masse for coverage, driving premiums up for everyone. That’s why Mr. Obama’s law required everyone to have insurance to spread the risk around.

Mr. Romney remains opposed to the mandate (though he supported it in Massachusetts). So his campaign was forced to issue a clarification: he supports coverage for pre-existing conditions only for those with continuous insurance coverage. That jettisons sick people who have lost their jobs or never had coverage. It’s been the law since 1996. But those who only watched the interview won’t know that.

TAXES As an important independent tax study showed, Mr. Romney’s plan to cut tax rates for the wealthy by 20 percent and offset the lost money by eliminating loopholes won’t work because there aren’t enough available loopholes to make up for the rate cut. Taxes on the middle class would have to go up to keep the plan from lowering overall revenues.

Asked about this on “Meet the Press,” Mr. Romney said the study was wrong and promised that the plan would work. He cited a Harvard study, among others, that backed him. But that Harvard study, by Martin Feldstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief economist, does no such thing. As The Washington Post has noted, Mr. Feldstein’s study showed Mr. Romney’s plan would require substantial tax increases on taxpayers making between $100,000 and $200,000, which most people would consider the upper end of the middle class.

DEFENSE SPENDING On “Face the Nation” on CBS, Mr. Ryan tried to wriggle out of admitting that he voted for the law that led to the sequester of $500 billion in defense spending that he is now blaming on Mr. Obama. He told the interviewer, Norah O’Donnell, that she was mistaken in stating the plain fact of his vote. He fully supported the Republican Party’s decision to hold the government’s credit rating hostage for spending cuts and is trying to hide from that.

Mr. Romney thought the weak economy would give him a pass on specifics. But voters expect answers, and the Republicans are demonstrating only shallowness.

    The Shallow End of the Campaign, NYT, 10.9.2012,






A Night of Speeches Under a Magnifying Glass


September 7, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke about the economy, energy policy, Medicare and Afghanistan on Thursday night as they accepted their nominations at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Here is a closer look at some of their assertions:


Mr. Obama, in his acceptance speech, said, “We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years.”

Looking at current trends, it is certainly possible: the nation has added about 222,000 manufacturing jobs in the past year. Moreover, the Obama campaign has several proposals to encourage manufacturers to add workers.

But there is a bigger economic story behind the gains in manufacturing.

For three decades, manufacturers had cut jobs, and then when the recession hit, they slashed hundreds of thousands more. Now, some economists say, they might be adding workers to simply regain some lost capacity.

American workers’ wages have also been stagnant for more than a decade, and in many cases have declined during the recession. Over the same period, pay climbed in many other countries, making American workers’ wages more competitive. Strong blue-collar wage growth here or lower wages in foreign countries would send more jobs back overseas, economists say.

Mr. Obama also repeated his promise to double exports, to about $3.2 trillion a year in 2014 from about $1.6 trillion in 2009. He is roughly on track to meet that goal, with exports running at an annual pace of $2.2 trillion, judging by data from the first half of the year.

But Mr. Obama got help by starting the clock during the depths of the recession in 2009, when global trade dipped and American exports fell. And the strength of the dollar against other currencies — a factor almost entirely outside of American politicians’ control — will mainly determine export growth in the short term, economists argue. ANNIE LOWREY


Mr. Obama, seeking to capitalize on energy trends for which his administration is only partly responsible, announced that he was setting a goal of cutting “our oil imports in half by 2020, and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.”

He intends to achieve that goal by increasing domestic oil and gas production, mandating increases in autos’ and trucks’ fuel economy, substituting ethanol and other alternative fuels for gasoline, streamlining regulation and converting trucks and buses to run on natural gas.

But the campaign said that the administration would continue to lease public lands and offshore areas for drilling, including in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. Industry groups contend that the administration has held back oil development on public lands and that most of the increased production is coming from private property.

A campaign document says that the president is using 2008 as a baseline for the reduction in imports, allowing him to claim credit for several years of declining demand for fuel because of the recession and leasing and production decisions made by President George W. Bush’s administration.

The president’s projections are in line with those of government and independent analysts, who say that if current trends continue, imports will decline to levels not seen for decades, even without additional policy changes. JOHN M. BRODER


Mr. Biden criticized the Romney campaign on Medicare, saying, “What they didn’t tell you is what they’re proposing would cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.” But the actions he described would not end Medicare in four years.

At issue is the Medicare trust fund, which is fed by payroll taxes, and what would happen to it if President Obama’s health care law were to be repealed, as the Republicans have vowed to do.

The solvency of the trust fund has long been in question. Mr. Obama’s health care law extended its solvency by curbing the growth of projected spending — the $716 billion Medicare cut that has been debated in the campaign — and by raising some revenues. As the 2011 annual report of the Medicare trustees put it, the financial status of the “trust fund is substantially improved by the lower expenditures and additional tax revenues instituted by the Affordable Care Act.” Absent those savings, the trust fund will be exhausted sooner.

What would happen then? The most recent report states: “If assets were exhausted, Medicare could pay health plans and providers only to the extent allowed by ongoing tax revenues — and these revenues would be inadequate to fully cover costs. Beneficiary access to health care services would rapidly be curtailed.” But it adds that, in practice, Congress has never allowed the trust fund to become depleted. MICHAEL COOPER


“In 2014, our longest war will be over.” That is what President Obama said tonight about Afghanistan.

Well, maybe. That is the deadline for pulling out all American and other foreign troops. But the White House has said that it envisions an “enduring force” in Afghanistan for years to come that could amount to 10,000 to 15,000 troops. They would not be in combat, but they would be there to stop the Taliban from overtaking Kabul, the capital, and to keep Pakistan from losing control of its 100 or so nuclear weapons. The United States’ combat role may soon be over; it is less likely the war will be. DAVID E. SANGER

    A Night of Speeches Under a Magnifying Glass, NYT, 7.9.2012,






President Obama’s Second Chance


September 6, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama’s dilemma has always been that he has been far more successful a president than his opponents claim, but far less successful than he needs to be at making voters see that. Powerful speeches by former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and others did a lot to fix that impression during the convention. But it was up to Mr. Obama to make the case for another term, with a speech that was every bit as fraught with uncertainty and risk as his 2008 convention address.

Just as he did then, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion.

He could have sold some of his best lines with more passion, but gone was the maddening coyness of recent years in which he has avoided candidly talking about the mess that President George W. Bush dumped into his lap and shied away from the rumble of politics. He didn’t hesitate to go after Mitt Romney. “You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally,” he said.

And he clearly laid out a vision for governing squarely at odds with the one that Mr. Romney has, but was hidden from view at last week’s Republican convention in Tampa, Fla. He promised deficit reduction “without sticking it to the middle class”; to enact a reformed tax code that raises rates on income above $250,000 to where it was under Mr. Clinton; to preserve middle-class deductions; to “never turn Medicare into a voucher.”

Mr. Obama explicitly shifted from his 2008 appeal of hope and change to talk of tough choices and tough paths. “You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear,” he said. “You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

Mr. Obama went into this convention with an actual record at governing — not just the Republican posture of saying “No” to everything. He has far better ideas about how to create jobs, make Americans’ tax burdens more equitable and improve ordinary Americans’ economic prospects than the tired, failed trickle-down fantasies served up by Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

He ended the war in Iraq, tried to rescue the Afghan war that Mr. Bush bungled, stepped up the offensive on terrorists far beyond Mr. Bush’s vision and rallied the world to ratchet up pressure on Iran.

He blunted the extreme message of the Tea Party by offering an alternative vision of government’s obligation to help the neediest, provide everyone with the basic structures of society and the economy and end unconscionable discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. He has protected women’s constitutional rights and liberties, despite his own misgivings about abortion. He ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden — an act that was mentioned repeatedly on the last night of the convention.

But, after he was elected, Mr. Obama allowed himself to believe in his own legend, cheered on by the hundreds of thousands of adoring supporters who thronged his inauguration, by the sheer magnificence of the swearing-in of an African-American president. It was as though he concluded that his election by itself changed the world and had fulfilled his promise of a postpartisan era.

The president and his tight inner circle were oblivious to the Republicans’ explicit warning that he would not get the slightest cooperation from a party and a Congressional caucus driven by an implacable hatred of Mr. Obama that is mostly ideological but also fueled by his race. It took nearly three years for the Obama team to recognize that central fact.

Mr. Obama won passage of an economic recovery bill that not only warded off depression, but actually created jobs, and of a health care reform law that is essential to the long-term economic health of the country. But he ceded the details of lawmaking to Congress, where leaders of his own party did not fully step up to the moment and Republicans stood in stonewall opposition.

And he ceded the national debate on central issues to those same Republicans, mired in his belief that the force of his intellect could melt their obstructionism, that one eloquent speech could change his political fortunes. Mr. Obama allowed his opponents to define the argument and so define him.

Mr. Clinton showed Mr. Obama the antidote. On Wednesday night, Mr. Clinton fought back against the Republicans on Medicaid and Medicare, two areas where the Obama campaign has failed to get real traction. He made the argument for health care reform, financial re-regulation and fair taxation, all while firing up the crowd.

Mr. Obama did not quite match that bravura performance on Thursday. But he met his challenge in Charlotte.

    President Obama’s Second Chance, NYT, 6.9.2012,






Cleaning Up the Economy


September 6, 2012
The New York Times


Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was a remarkable combination of pretty serious wonkishness — has there ever been a convention speech with that much policy detail? — and memorable zingers. Perhaps the best of those zingers was his sarcastic summary of the Republican case for denying President Obama re-election: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.”

Great line. But is the mess really getting cleaned up?

The answer, I would argue, is yes. The next four years are likely to be much better than the last four years — unless misguided policies create another mess.

In saying this, I’m not making excuses for the past. Job growth has been much slower and unemployment much higher than it should have been, even given the mess Mr. Obama inherited. More on that later. But, first, let’s look at what has been accomplished.

On Inauguration Day 2009, the U.S. economy faced three main problems. First, and most pressing, there was a crisis in the financial system, with many of the crucial channels of credit frozen; we were, in effect, suffering the 21st-century version of the bank runs that brought on the Great Depression. Second, the economy was taking a major hit from the collapse of a gigantic housing bubble. Third, consumer spending was being held down by high levels of household debt, much of which had been run up during the Bush-era bubble.

The first of these problems was resolved quite quickly, thanks both to lots of emergency lending by the Federal Reserve and, yes, the much maligned bank bailouts. By late 2009, measures of financial stress were more or less back to normal.

This return to financial normalcy did not, however, produce a robust recovery. Fast recoveries are almost always led by a housing boom — and given the excess home construction that took place during the bubble, that just wasn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, households were trying (or being forced by creditors) to pay down debt, which meant depressed demand. So the economy’s free fall ended, but recovery remained sluggish.

Now, you may have noticed that in telling this story about a disappointing recovery I didn’t mention any of the things that Republicans talked about last week in Tampa, Fla. — the effects of high taxes and regulation, the lack of confidence supposedly created by Mr. Obama’s failure to lavish enough praise on “job creators” (what I call the “Ma, he’s looking at me funny!” theory of our economic problems). Why the omission? Because there’s not a shred of evidence for the G.O.P. theory of what ails our economy, while there’s a lot of hard evidence for the view that a lack of demand, largely because of excessive household debt, is the real problem.

And here’s the good news: The forces that have been holding the economy back seem likely to fade away in the years ahead. Housing starts have been at extremely low levels for years, so the overhang of excess construction from the bubble years is long past — and it looks as if a housing recovery has already begun. Household debt is still high by historical standards, but the ratio of debt to G.D.P. is way down from its peak, setting the stage for stronger consumer demand looking forward.

And what about business investment? It has actually been recovering rapidly since late 2009, and there’s every reason to expect it to keep rising as businesses see rising demand for their products.

So, as I said, the odds are that barring major mistakes, the next four years will be much better than the past four years.

Does this mean that U.S. economic policy has done a good job? Not at all.

Bill Clinton said of the problems Mr. Obama confronted on taking office, “No one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.” If, by that, he meant the overhang of debt, that’s very much the case. But we should have had strong policies to mitigate the pain while households worked down their debt, as well as policies to help reduce the debt — above all, relief for underwater homeowners.

The policies we actually got were far from adequate. Debt relief, in particular, has been a bust — and you can argue that this was, in large part, because the Obama administration never took it seriously.

But, that said, Mr. Obama did push through policies — the auto bailout and the Recovery Act — that made the slump a lot less awful than it might have been. And despite Mitt Romney’s attempt to rewrite history on the bailout, the fact is that Republicans bitterly opposed both measures, as well as everything else the president has proposed.

So Bill Clinton basically had it right: For all the pain America has suffered on his watch, Mr. Obama can fairly claim to have helped the country get through a very bad patch, from which it is starting to emerge.

    Cleaning Up the Economy, NYT, 6.9.2012,






Character, Not Audacity


September 6, 2012
The New York Times


Charlotte, N.C.

As I listened to President Obama on stage in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday night, I thought back to the days more than four years ago, when he spoke at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, or on the night he won the caucuses of that state. There was his romantic vision, the possibility of transformational change.

I don’t know if we are worse off now than we were back then, but we were certainly worse off then than we knew. The financial crisis of the past years has exposed debilitating flaws in our way of life. It’s exposed the crushing burden of debt and the unsustainability of our entitlement system. It’s exposed flaws in our style of capitalism — the overreliance on finance, the concentration of power. It exposed a widening education gap; the educated have recovered from the recession while the unskilled fall further behind. It exposed even deeper dysfunctions in our political system.

Obama was rhetorically grand back then, but many of us have spent this year looking for even bigger strategies and policies.

The Republicans understand the severity of our economic problems, but they put too much faith in tax cuts. The Republicans understand that unless Medicare is reformed, it will swallow everything else, though judging from their convention, they are too timid to explain the problem or champion their own plan.

So, as I looked to President Obama’s speech Thursday night, I was looking to see if he was capable of a new burst of change.

There were parts of his speech that raised the old expectations. I liked the emphasis he put not on himself but on the word “you” — the idea that change comes organically from the bottom up. I liked his extraordinary self-awareness, his willingness to admit that often life on the campaign trail requires candidates to do silly things. I liked the sense of citizenship that pervaded his address, the sense of mutual obligation.

But what I was mostly looking for were big proposals, big as health care was four years ago. I had spent the three previous days watching more than 80 convention speeches without hearing a single major policy proposal in any of them. I asked governors, mayors and legislators to name a significant law that they’d like to see President Obama pass in a second term. Not one could. At its base, this is a party with a protective agenda, not a change agenda — dedicated to defending government in all its forms.

The Obama speech offered some important if familiar hints of big policy ideas. There was a vague hint of a major tax reform. There was a vague promise to accept an agreement based on the principle of the Simpson-Bowles committee on deficit reduction. But it’s hard to be enthusiastic about President Obama truly championing initiatives that get no more than a sentence or a clause.

Over all, the speech had a fierce opposition toward the Republicans and a desire for incremental continuity about what the Democrats themselves would offer. Worse, the speech was dominated by unexplained goals that were often worthy, but also familiar, modest and incommensurate with the problems at hand. The government should help more students attend community colleges. It should recruit more math and science teachers. These are good existing programs, but these are not policies to pinion a presidency around.

It would be nice if exports doubled. It would be nice if deficits came down gradually over the next 10 years. But the goals President Obama set in these spheres will probably be met if everybody in Washington carried on the status quo. They do not entail big change.

President Obama offered other small and worthy ideas, familiar to him since his days in the Senate, that would make America better — more long-lasting batteries, more trade agreements. But these are improvements fit for countries that are already firmly on the right track.

The country that exists is not on the right track. It has a completely dysfunctional political system. What was there in this speech that will make us think the next few years will be any different? America will only be governable again if there is a leader who breaks the mold and reframes the debate. Romney is unlikely to do that, and Obama’s speech didn’t offer much either.

In short, change is still the issue, and the focus of his solid but not extraordinary speech was incremental improvement. The next president has to do three big things, which are in tension with one another: increase growth, reduce debt and increase social equity. President Obama has the intelligence, the dexterity and the sense of balance to navigate these crosscutting challenges. But he apparently lacks the creativity to break out of the partisan categories, the trench warfare gridlock.

Thursday night’s speech showed the character and his potential. It didn’t show audacity and the fulfillment of that potential.

    Character, Not Audacity, NYT, 6.9.2012,






Obama Makes Case for 2nd Term:

‘Harder’ Path to ‘Better Place’


September 6, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for a second term on Thursday night, making a forceful argument that he had rescued the economy from disaster and ushered in a recovery that would be imperiled by a return to Republican stewardship.

Describing himself as “mindful of my own failings,” Mr. Obama conceded the country’s continuing difficulties while defending his record and pleading for more time to carry out his agenda. He laid out a long-term blueprint for revival in an era obsessed with short-term expectations.

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy; I never have,” Mr. Obama told a packed arena of 20,000 party leaders and activists. “You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

He added: “But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future.”

The president’s appearance at the Time Warner Cable Arena underscored the tumultuous journey he and the country have been on since his first nomination in Denver. Four years after fireworks consecrated his storybook campaign to become the nation’s first black president, Mr. Obama took the stage on Thursday as a politician who had come down to earth and was locked in the fight of his life against the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

The stirring outsider’s message had become a policy-laden appeal for continuity; the mantra of reform was now a vigorous defense of his current course. The “Change” signs waved in the audience in 2008 had been replaced with placards saying “Forward.” The word “promise,” which he used 32 times in his acceptance speech in 2008, came up just 7 times on Thursday night. Even the traditional balloon drop was missing since a last-minute site change made it impossible.

Mr. Obama issued a string of promises, including one million new manufacturing jobs and $4 trillion in deficit reductions. But he was largely making the case that he had put in place the foundation for a revived country if voters only give it enough time to work. If at times it had the feel of a State of the Union address, that was an intentional effort to jab at Mr. Romney to be more specific about how he would carry out his promises, maximizing the gulf between the parties.

“They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan,” Mr. Obama said. “And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last 30 years.”

Mr. Obama’s speech punctuated back-to-back political conventions in which the two parties, if nothing else, delivered radically different visions for how to end the economic malaise that has afflicted the country since 2008, and framed the two-month spring to Election Day.

A week after Mr. Romney sought to appeal to American disappointment with Mr. Obama, the president pressed his case that the Republican candidate is so disconnected from the struggles of the middle class that he has no idea how to address them. In sharp language, he linked Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, to what he long described as failed trickle-down economic policies that favor the wealthy, reflecting what has become a central theme.

“On every issue, the choice you face won’t just be between two candidates or two parties,” Mr. Obama said. “When all is said and done, when you pick up that ballot to vote, you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation.”

The Romney campaign released a reaction to the president’s speech before it was even delivered, assailing Mr. Obama as having failed to create enough jobs, cut the deficit in half or increase incomes. “This is a time not for him to start restating new promises, but to report on the promises he made,” Mr. Romney said in the taped statement. “I think he wants a promises reset. We want a report on the promises he made.”

Introducing Mr. Obama on Thursday night was Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who offered testimony to the president’s leadership on everything from the economy to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. “Bravery resides in the heart of Barack Obama,” he said. “This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart and steel in his spine.”

Mr. Biden was left to take the tougher shots at Mr. Romney, the former head of the private equity firm Bain Capital and former governor of Massachusetts. Noting that Mr. Romney had promised to take a jobs tour, Mr. Biden said, “Well, with his support for outsourcing, it’s going to have to be a foreign trip.”

He went on to note that Mr. Romney opposed the federal bailout of the auto industry. “I think he saw it the Bain way,” Mr. Biden said, adding: “The Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits. But it’s not the way to lead our country from the highest office.”

Mr. Biden’s nomination for a second term as vice president was approved by the convention by acclamation after his son Beau, the attorney general of Delaware, put his name up for consideration in a speech that left the vice president teary-eyed for the second consecutive night.

The emotion in the packed hall crested early, when former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, her step faltering, walked tentatively onto the stage in a surprise appearance to lead the pledge of allegiance. Mrs. Giffords, who was shot in the head by a would-be assassin in Tucson, is still recovering, and she stumbled over the word “indivisible.” But she got through the pledge in her first real public speaking since the shooting, and blew kisses to the crowd, which surged to its feet in ovation, chanting “Gabby! Gabby!”

Given that Mr. Romney spent little time on foreign policy during his acceptance speech, it was a foregone conclusion that Mr. Obama would devote time to national security, an area where Democrats believe they have carved out a surprising advantage. They paraded a host of war veterans across the stage, some of whom chided the Republicans as taking little notice of them in Tampa last week.

“Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago,” Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said, turning a Republican line critical of the president into an argument for his re-election.

Mr. Obama said Republicans “want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly,” and Mr. Biden appeared to choke up reciting the numbers of war dead and wounded.

Still, the heart of the argument between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney is about the role of government. “This is what the election comes down to,” Mr. Obama said. “Over and over, we’ve been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way, that since government can’t do everything, it should do almost nothing.”

Highlighting Medicare, which Mr. Ryan has proposed overhauling, the president said, “No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies.”

The president’s speech culminated a three-day convention that included a retinue of Hollywood celebrities and even a former Republican governor, Charlie Crist of Florida, plus a strong focus on social issues like same-sex marriage.

But like its Republican equivalent last week, it did not always go according to script, including an embarrassing floor fight over Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a late decision to move the president’s speech to the Time Warner Cable Arena from the Bank of America Stadium because of inclement weather.

With thunder, lightning and rain forecast — convention goers huddled under plastic sheets as they darted between sites — organizers were left with some 65,000 supporters — many of them traveling from all over the country — without the chance to see the president in person.

The president’s aides understood they could never re-create the power of the past but hoped to convince voters that more has been done than commonly recognized. The “promises kept” theme was intended to address the same swing voters Mr. Romney sought last week to win over.

Mr. Obama directly acknowledged the disappointments. “While I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings,” he said. But he added, “I have never been more hopeful about America, not because I think I have all the answers, not because I’m naïve about the magnitude of our challenges. I’m hopeful because of you.”

The president appeared to become emotional toward the end of his speech as he spoke of wounded veterans who somehow managed to walk and run and bike on prosthetic legs. He said he did not know if they would vote for him, but added that they nonetheless gave him hope that difficulties could be overcome.

His voice started to break. “If you share that faith with me, if you share that hope with me, I ask you tonight for your vote,” he said.

    Obama Makes Case for 2nd Term: ‘Harder’ Path to ‘Better Place’, NYT, 6.9.2012,






The Better Economic Question


September 5, 2012
The New York Times


Democrats have been nervous about the inevitable election-year question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland even stumbled over it a few days ago, saying “no,” before quickly blaming President George W. Bush.

There is really no reason for any hesitancy. The country is unquestionably better off than it was in 2008. The economy has added 4.5 million private-sector jobs since January 2010; even if you subtract the vast job losses in the early months of President Obama’s term, before his policies went into effect, the country is still ahead by 332,000 private-sector jobs.

That level of job growth is close to the recovery following the 1990s recession, and it is actually stronger than after the early-2000s recession. But it doesn’t feel strong because the original hole was so deep and so many people are still suffering: 12.8 million remain unemployed.

The contradiction between the plain facts of the data and the tepid feel of the recovery suggests that the recession created a more important question than the simplistic “are you better off?” Voters should ask themselves — and their leaders — how to keep this and future generations better off. How to prevent future recessions. How to design a tax code that promotes fairness and reduces inequality. How to make sure a safety net is in place for those who inevitably need more help.

And when the question is phrased like that — looking forward rather than backward — it becomes obvious that the Republicans’ answer is inadequate.

“When we vote in this election, we’ll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in,” former President Bill Clinton told the convention Wednesday night. “If you want a winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket.”

The damage Mr. Obama faced when he took office was far greater than any president, current or past, could repair in four years, Mr. Clinton said, yet Mitt Romney wants to return to the policies that caused it. “They want to cut taxes for high-income Americans, even more than President Bush did,” he said.“They want to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts.”

At every step, when Mr. Obama and Democrats have proposed measures to reduce the risk of the kind of recession still haunting the economy, Republicans have opposed them. Mitt Romney regularly sneers at the most fundamental protections against Wall Street excesses and promises to repeal them.

House Republicans, including Representative Paul Ryan, have passed budgets that gutted the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, hoping to prevent it from regulating toxic derivatives that undermined the economy in 2008. They have voted to withhold money needed by the Securities and Exchange Commission to enforce the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

They have sent a clear signal to the corporate executives spending hundreds of millions to elect Mr. Romney that they need not worry about restrictions on their behavior, no matter how destructive to the economy or the lives of millions still struggling to get back on their feet.

As Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate in Massachusetts, told the convention: “Mitt Romney wants to give billions in breaks to big corporations, but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform, voucherize Medicare and vaporize Obamacare.”

Mr. Obama could have demanded even stronger regulation of the banks, but he at least clearly supports the need for government to step in when the financial industry threatens the rest of the economy.

Voters should remember the days when the country was hemorrhaging jobs by the millions, but it is far more important to make certain they never have to remember another financial crisis.

    The Better Economic Question, NYT, 5.9.2012,






Emanuel Takes On New Role as a ‘Super PAC’ Wrangler


September 5, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Senior Democrats put aside any remaining qualms about jumping into the “super PAC” era, enlisting Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago to focus on raising money for outside groups that are seeking to help the White House rather than keep a leadership role in President Obama’s re-election campaign.

With less than nine weeks before the election and with conservative groups outspending their pro-Democratic counterparts, Democrats disclosed Wednesday that Mr. Emanuel would try to help them close the fund-raising gap and said that Congressional leaders would step up their efforts as well.

Mr. Emanuel, who is leaving his honorary position as co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s campaign, intends to help funnel donations to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC founded by two former Obama aides. The group is more than $60 million short of its goal, reflecting a philosophical objection to outside groups among many wealthy liberals, and a feeling among donors that the White House has been insufficiently attentive to them.

The move thrusts Mr. Emanuel into the kind of role long played by Karl Rove, the Republican strategist who advises and raises money for a network of Republican-leaning outside groups that intend to spend as much as $500 million in the campaign. Mr. Emanuel will also raise money for two super PACs that support Democratic Congressional campaigns, beginning with a fund-raiser in Chicago on Monday for one of the groups, House Majority PAC.

“I just find all the special-interest money lined up on the other side, tilting the scales in a way that I don’t want to see. So if I can help, I’m going to help,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview.

Mr. Emanuel is the latest and among the most high-profile examples of how the lines have blurred between campaigns and their outside supporters. A former White House chief of staff to Mr. Obama and the current mayor of the president’s hometown, Mr. Emanuel is deeply immersed in his party’s strategy. Now he is barred from coordinating with the Obama campaign — a prohibition that has proved to be of little consequence to prominent members of either party at a time when relatively weak rules have been exploited to knit the parties’ official and unofficial wings into unified machines.

As the Democrats’ elite donors gathered here this week for the party’s convention, senior officials and Obama “bundlers,” charged with raising money, were fanning out to receptions and happy hours for the party’s super PACs, a full embrace of no-limits fund-raising.

Mr. Emanuel joined the party’s Congressional leaders on Wednesday morning at a private home in the Charlotte suburbs, an event hosted by James Simons, a hedge fund billionaire who is among a small handful of Democratic donors who have made a seven-figure contribution to a super PAC this year.

About 75 donors and potential donors, including the investor Orin Kramer and George Tsunis, a hotel developer, munched on biscuits and salt pork as Mr. Emanuel exhorted them to dig deep.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader; Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader; and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York were also at the event, according to people who attended.

There is deep concern among Democrats about the vast fund-raising gulf between Democratic and Republican outside groups and Mr. Romney’s apparent ease in matching Mr. Obama’s fund-raising.

Mr. Romney is expected to say he raised $100 million in August, far more than Mr. Obama and the Democrats are likely to report. Democratic strategists said the help by Mr. Emanuel — an aggressive fund-raiser with close ties to the Obama and Clinton donor networks — could be pivotal, and not merely as a signal to Democratic donors. The Washington Post first reported the news of his switch on Wednesday morning.

“I think that Rahm’s involvement brings energy and critical mass to an effort that obviously badly needed it,” said Michael Feldman, a former aide in President Bill Clinton’s administration. “He will reach people and by sheer force of will persuade people to get involved on a level they might not have otherwise” done.

Strategists affiliated with the Democratic groups worked the busy sidewalk between the Convention Center and the Ritz-Carlton, one of three hotels playing host the Obama campaign’s top donors and bundlers.

“At the Democratic convention, you can get a lot of work done just walking down the street,” said Bill Burton, an official with Priorities USA. While some donors, Mr. Burton said, have opened their checkbooks in Charlotte, the groups were more interested in harnessing the enthusiasm of the convention and exploiting the presence of so many top financial contributors.

“The goal is to give people a clear sense of what our plans are for the fall and catch them up on what we’ve done so far,” Mr. Burton said.

His group raised $10 million in August, by far its best month. Mr. Burton and others raising money for the group — including Harold Ickes and Paul Begala, both veterans of the Clinton administration, and a growing number of Mr. Obama’s top bundlers — have tried to persuade donors that they need not match groups like Crossroads dollar for dollar.

“As an investor, I don’t want to give to the guys blowing their money all over the airwaves, oversaturating the market,” said Christopher G. Korge, a Florida real estate developer who is helping raise money for both the Obama campaign and Priorities USA. “I want to invest in the guys who are being strategic. I think Priorities is being very strategic in how they are using their money. They have to be.”

Unlike Crossroads, whose advertising barrages helped Republicans take control of the House in 2010, and Restore Our Future, which claims credit for helping Mr. Romney win the Republican nomination, the Democratic groups have a less obvious record of success. None of them existed until last year, in part because of the initial reluctance of Mr. Obama, who has publicly criticized outside groups and the 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped pave the way for the super PACs.

In briefings, Democratic strategists working with Priorities USA have argued that its relatively modest advertising campaign has helped weaken Mr. Romney and put him on the defensive over his business record.

“Our mission for the first half of the race was to take Romney’s greatest strength, his business record, and make it his weakness,” Mr. Begala said Tuesday. “He can’t talk about his business record anymore. And he’s just left with his charm.”

Mr. Begala had just headlined a cocktail hour at a Charlotte restaurant, where a crowd of potential super PAC supporters enjoyed an open bar. They were young — younger than the millionaires and billionaires who have provided most of the money for Republican groups — and fashionably dressed, some of them rising fund-raisers for Mr. Obama and some gatekeepers for major donors. The gathering to some extent reflected the shape of Democratic super PAC fund-raising: a smattering of large contributions from wealthy donors, but far more checks in the five-figure range.

“As soon as Soros and Lewis said no, we knew we weren’t playing the Republican super PAC game,” said one Obama donor who attended, referring to George Soros and Peter Lewis, the liberal philanthropists who gave tens of millions to outside groups in 2004 but have been far less supportive this time. “We’re going to get there 50, $100,000 at a time,” the donor said.


Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

    Emanuel Takes On New Role as a ‘Super PAC’ Wrangler, NYT, 5.9.2012,






Bill, Barack and Us


September 5, 2012
The New York Times


Charlotte, N.C.

On Wednesday, the Democrats got to the point.

That was thanks to Bill Clinton, Beloved Democrat, a man who got negative ratings from only 27 percent of Americans in one recent national poll. There are pictures of kittens that get worse grades.

Everyone at the convention was eager to hear what Clinton had to say, particularly Barack Obama’s aides who had been pacing around all day waiting to get a look at the transcript.

A lot! Clinton ran overtime — surprise! — talking for nearly 50 minutes about a President Obama who had saved the auto industry, passed a stimulus that totally worked, improved the environment, reduced student loan costs, passed a transformative health care law, offered a reasonable and workable plan for debt reduction and helped create millions of private-sector jobs. If there was still stuff left undone, it was because “no president — not me, not any of my predecessors — could fully have repaired the damage he found in just four years.”

He also said cooperation is better than conflict and a broken clock is right twice a day. He supports our men and women overseas. It’s not like every word was golden.

But, really, it was some endorsement from a guy who’d been consigned to the Alpha Doghouse for trash-talking Obama during the 2008 primaries. Remember what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about there being no second acts in American lives? So wrong, Scott. Let me introduce you to Mr. Act Twelve.

The Democrats had been waiting for Clinton’s speech for two days, during which they diverted themselves with a couple of brief platform fights, one about inserting a mention of God, who had inadvertently been cut out of the platform’s 40 pages. (The Republicans left Tampa, Fla., wondering who had invited Clint Eastwood. The Democrats are now wondering who disinvited God.)

There was, of course, a lot of talk about rising from humble roots. The Republicans played that card hard, too. But Ann Romney’s story about eating off an ironing board in college couldn’t match Michelle Obama’s saga of riding in a car “so rusted out I could actually see the pavement going by in a hole in the passenger side-door.”

When she mentioned that, I remembered that when my husband and I were in graduate school, he had a car with exactly the same problem. I wonder if the president had to park in out-of-the-way places to conceal the fact that the safety sticker on the windshield was four years out of date. If so, perhaps it’s just as well not to go into it.

Michelle was a wow, but there’s something kind of ironic about a woman wearing the best dress in the history of political conventions, one that offers a particularly flattering view of the best upper arms in the history of the female gender, giving a speech in which she earnestly explains how she is just like us.

The first lady had a lot to say about the burden of student loans, but in her eagerness to press a mom-centric theme, never mentioned her work life after Harvard Law. One of the unremarked-upon factoids in recent political history is that the last two Democratic presidents both had their careers underwritten by lawyer spouses who served as the chief family wage-earners.

That brings us back to Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president to be the target of the wild-eyed hatred of a new far right that seemed incapable of accepting the fact that more people had voted for him than their alternative. In 1993, he got his party to raise taxes to get the soaring national deficits under control. It was a huge lift, and politically disastrous. The Democrats lost Congress in 1994. A freshman House member from Pennsylvania, who reluctantly cast the deciding “yes” vote, was politically ruined forever. (Chelsea is now married to her son. Really, you cannot make these Clinton stories up.)

The country got the reward. By the time Clinton left office, trailed by yet another scandal involving presidential pardons, the unemployment rate was 4 percent. Then he handed the country over to George W. Bush, who was pressured to cut taxes by the right wing that is now running the Republican show.

We’re saddled with monster deficits, and the Republicans refuse to let this president do the brave thing Bill Clinton did, and get us more revenue.

So, we’re almost done, convention-wise. We’ve learned that both parties like God and moms, particularly moms with humble roots. They both have faith that people who work hard and play by the rules can overcome exposure to secondhand furniture while they’re in college. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of whether you want to raise taxes and balance the budget like Clinton, or cut taxes and plunge us into a hopeless sea of debt like Bush. Let the fight begin.

    Bill, Barack and Us, NYT, 5.9.2012,






Clinton Delivers Stirring Plea for Obama Second Term


September 6, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former President Bill Clinton and President Obama hugged onstage Wednesday night after Mr. Clinton delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of Mr. Obama’s re-election, the 42nd president nominating the 44th to a second term with a forceful and spirited argument that Democratic values would restore the promise of the middle class.

The former president delivered a point-by-point rebuttal of the arguments made during the Republican National Convention last week, warning against Republicans taking back the White House and declaring, “We can’t let it happen.”

He offered an equally detailed affirmative case for the re-election of Mr. Obama, saying there was no question the country was in a better position than it was four years ago.

“We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down,” Mr. Clinton said, repeatedly bringing the crowd at the Democratic convention to its feet. He added, “I love our country so much and I know we’re coming back.

Mr. Clinton drew sharp lines between the choices facing voters in November. He made the case in a deeply personal way, sometimes articulating the argument for Mr. Obama more forcefully than the president has done throughout his race with Mitt Romney.

“We believe ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own,’ ” Mr. Clinton said.

The delegates at the Democratic convention conducted the ceremonial roll call vote after Mr. Clinton’s speech, with Ohio putting Mr. Obama over the top and formally elevating him as the party’s presidential nominee at 12:06 a.m.

In a convention hall still buzzing from Mr. Clinton’s speech well after it ended, delegates said they believed the former president had managed to give the defense of Mr. Obama they had been waiting for.

“Some people just have to have it spelled out for them,” said Linda Brooks, 64, of Hampton Roads, Va. “He speaks in plain words people can understand.”

In the 45-minute speech, Mr. Clinton paid tribute to a spirit of bipartisan political cooperation that he lamented was now missing. He characterized Mr. Obama as a president who wanted to bring that spirit back, noting that the president appointed Republican cabinet secretaries and former political rivals like Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mr. Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The relationship they built, he said, sent a signal abroad.

“Democracy does not have to be a blood sport,” Mr. Clinton said. “It can be an honorable enterprise.”

The arrival here by Mr. Clinton had the feel of a valedictory, particularly as Mr. Obama arrived on stage at the end of the speech, while thousands of Democrats here thundered their approval. It was, perhaps, a capstone in the political career of Mr. Clinton, who was delivering his eighth speech to a Democratic National Convention.

Mr. Clinton offered a comprehensive, even exhaustive, assessment of Mr. Obama’s first-term priorities, from the auto bailout to the health care law. Brandishing statistics with a familiar vigor, he laid out a case that each of Mr. Obama’s initiatives had met the Republican litmus test: leaving Americans better than four years ago.

“Is the president satisfied? Of course not, but are we better off than we were when he took office?” Mr. Clinton said, pausing as the crowd roared in approval. He added, “The answer is yes.”

Mr. Clinton used the successful economic record of his presidency to offer an illustration of the magnitude of the problems Mr. Obama inherited when he took office in 2009.

“President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did,” Mr. Clinton said. “No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, could have repaired all of the damage he found in just four years.”

Following the speech by Michelle Obama on Tuesday night, the appearance of Mr. Clinton was the highlight of the convention’s second night and underscored the tight nature of the presidential race. He was invited by Mr. Obama himself, who asked him earlier this summer to become more involved in his re-election campaign.

It was in many ways a poignant evening, in part because it marked the full reconciliation of the two most popular Democrats of the past 30 years, but also because Mr. Clinton has been increasingly talking about his own mortality.

Mr. Clinton’s voice was hoarse, as it has often been through his career, but that seemed to do little though to tamp down his energy, enthusiasm or appeal to the crowd.

Mr. Clinton’s presence here inspired gratitude among Mr. Obama’s aides and followers, particularly given the close nature of the presidential race, but it also stirred at least a degree of speculation about the future of one of America’s most prominent political families. For all of Mr. Clinton’s ebullient praise of Mr. Obama, he also was seen by some Democrats as setting the stage for his wife’s possible return to politics in 2016, a prospect yearned for by many of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters.

He made only a quick reference to his wife, drawing laughter from the crowd as he raised another attribute of Mr. Obama, declaring: “Heck, he even appointed Hillary!”

For Mr. Clinton, the speech dramatized the evolution in his relationship with Mr. Obama, from bitter antagonism to cautious embrace and now a full-throated endorsement. People who know both men do not play down the lingering tension between them, a legacy of the 2008 Democratic primary, when Mr. Obama defeated Mrs. Clinton in a fierce battle that seemed to leave Mr. Clinton more wounded than his wife.

“President Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination,” said Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, who worked for both men. “President Clinton loves his wife. It took him a little longer to get over it; she got a job.”

This time, Mr. Clinton may have had the dual purpose of not only defending his wife’s boss, but also enhancing her political prospects, should she decide on another presidential run in 2016. Mrs. Clinton, who plans to step down as secretary of state in January, was in Beijing on Wednesday, negotiating with the Chinese on Syria and the South China Sea.

The speech from Mr. Clinton concluded an evening that began on a discordant note when party leaders, at the behest of Mr. Obama, pushed through a vote to change language in their platform to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. With the hall noisily divided, it took three tries before the vote was declared passed, leaving some delegates grumbling and analysts saying that the organizers had botched the proceedings.

The Jerusalem reference, which was in the 2008 platform, had been dropped this year, prompting criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel groups. Mr. Obama, bowing to pressure, decided to restore the language, even though official American policy is that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved through negotiations.

The second night of the Democratic convention unfolded in a series of hard-hitting speeches aimed directly at the Republican ticket, with speaker after speaker assailing the records of Mr. Romney and Representative Paul D. Ryan, his running mate.

Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, delivered a forceful critique of Mr. Romney’s business background and invoked anti-Wall Street language to make her case on behalf of Mr. Obama, who she said would fight tirelessly for the middle class.

“People feel like the system is rigged against them,” she said. “And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.”

Tightening their embrace of social issues, the Democrats also showcased Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law School graduate who earlier this year became a symbol of women’s reproductive rights in a fight over insurance coverage of contraception.

Her speech, which was delayed so it would be included in the network’s prime-time coverage, lit into Mr. Romney and his running mate for their positions against abortion rights — and, in Mr. Romney’s case, for staying silent initially after the talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut.”

On the eve of Mr. Obama’s acceptance speech, a threat of rain and storms prompted convention organizers to move his speech from an outdoor rally at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday to the significantly smaller Time Warner Cable Arena, where the convention is being held.

It was a disappointment for the Obama campaign, which had been working for months to build a crowd of at least 65,000 supporters for the president’s speech.

    Clinton Delivers Stirring Plea for Obama Second Term, NYT, 6.9.2012,






Pushed by Obama, Democrats Alter Platform Over Jerusalem


September 5, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama, seeking to quell a storm of criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel groups, directed the Democratic Party on Wednesday to amend its platform to restore language declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital.

The change, approved in a voice vote that had to be taken three times because of a chorus of noes in the arena, reinstated the line “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” in a section that describes Mr. Obama’s policy toward the country. That sentence was in the 2008 platform, but the Democrats removed it this year, saying that they wanted to spotlight other elements of Mr. Obama’s policy and that the platform should reflect a sitting president rather than a candidate for office.

After a day of protests, however, and the prospect of an onslaught of Republican attack ads, the president and the Democrats abruptly reversed course. The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, said in a statement that the change was made to “maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the president and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008.”

A senior administration official emphasized that the president had intervened to bring the platform in line with his own views. “The president expressed his view in 2008, and it hasn’t changed,” the official said. “The party platform has not changed from 2008. And the position of the United States government hasn’t changed in decades as it relates to Israel’s capital and peace negotiations.”

Delegates also voted to put “God” back in the platform, amending a section about the government’s role in helping people reach their “God-given potential.” The removal of “God-given” had left the platform without any references to God, giving Republicans a target to paint the party as out of touch with family values.

The changes were meant to be a routine bit of business, conducted by the convention’s chairman, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. But they turned into a minor spectacle after the hall seemed balanced between yes and no votes, providing an unruly start to an evening meant to showcase attacks on Mitt Romney by former President Bill Clinton and others.

The Romney campaign pounced, saying that “Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” Claiming that Mr. Obama had refused to state his position, Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, said, “Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”

The restoration of Jerusalem puts the platform, a largely symbolic document, at odds with the official position of the government, which is that the city’s status should be determined in a negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, proposed including language about Jerusalem’s status as the Israeli capital in written testimony to the platform drafting committee. People close to the group said it was troubled by the omission of Jerusalem.

“We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language reaffirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” the group said in a statement after the vote.

The political status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in any potential peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority asserting that the holy city is their capital.

Among those shouting “no” on the convention floor was a delegate from Washington State, Majid al-Bahadli, who said, “Jerusalem is Arab and Jewish and Christian; it cannot be for one country.” Mr. Bahadli, an Iraqi-American who said he had been in a prisoner of war camp under Saddam Hussein, said the vote process was undemocratic.

The drafting committee held two public hearings on the text, a Democratic official said, and none of the Jewish advocacy groups in attendance, including Aipac, proposed inserting language on Jerusalem. People close to the advocacy groups said that the committee shared only “flashes” of the language with them.

The Democrats have accused Republicans of making Israel a political football by painting Mr. Obama as an unreliable partner. But it is the Democrats who have tripped up on Israel at their convention this week.

On Tuesday, Ms. Wasserman Schultz got into a dispute with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, when she told a Democratic training group that Mr. Oren had accused Republicans of endangering Israel by criticizing Mr. Obama’s record on it.

Mr. Oren issued a statement saying: “I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel. Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.”


Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.

    Pushed by Obama, Democrats Alter Platform Over Jerusalem, NYT, 5.9.2012,






Words Not Spoken


September 4, 2012
The New York Times


Not many people know it, but the Democratic Party supports a ban on assault weapons. It’s a position that, if enacted, could save many lives by reducing the lethality of mass shootings, but you have to flip more than halfway through the party’s new 26,500-word platform to find it.

President Obama purportedly agrees with that position, but he never talks about it on the campaign trail and has done nothing to make it happen. In light of the many murders committed by gunmen who never paused to reload, renewing the ban is something that speakers at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., should pound the lectern to support. But don’t hold your breath. Most of the time on Tuesday was spent bashing Mitt Romney.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but to persuade a nation of skeptics, the party needs to do more than explain what it is against. As a statement of party principles, the Democratic platform contains much to applaud, so why aren’t Democrats applauding it louder?

Party leaders have chosen a series of popular programs to run on, often avoiding topics that make pollsters nervous. At the convention on Tuesday, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, a co-chairman of the platform committee, spoke of Democratic ideals and common sense, like deficit reduction where “everyone from elected officials to the wealthy and the superwealthy pay their fair share.” (The platform also seeks dramatic reductions in domestic spending, which is unnecessary and unfortunate.)

Mr. Booker talked about the need to help people retire with dignity, to become the world’s “No. 1 educator,” to cut taxes for small businesses, and to prevent predatory lending. “When your country is in a costly war with our soldiers sacrificing abroad and our nation is facing a debt crisis at home,” he said, “being asked to pay your fair share isn’t class warfare. It’s patriotism.”

All good, and it duplicates what Mr. Obama has been saying on the stump. But why not also talk about the section of the platform that issues a call to “make ending poverty a national priority”? Granted, the section is only four paragraphs and consists of mostly familiar ideas like raising the minimum wage and expanding low-income tax credits. But those are four more paragraphs than Mr. Obama has spoken about poverty lately. Michelle Obama, the first lady, spoke movingly about families struggling with a variety of hardships, but the larger subject is unlikely to come up regularly in Charlotte.

The platform, unlike the ticket, speaks at length about climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions to slow it down. (The section is a strong counterweight to Mr. Romney’s provocative charge that the Obama administration is waging a “war on coal,” though it should have dropped “clean coal” as an energy choice.) The platform talks about reducing nuclear proliferation, confronting North Korea and combating narcotics trafficking.

And it demands campaign finance reform — by constitutional amendment if necessary — to require greater disclosure of the unlimited contributions that are turning this election over to the biggest check writers. Taking a stand against the rising influence of money in politics is a sharp contrast to this year’s Republican platform, which retreated from the party’s longstanding support for disclosure. But Mr. Booker did not mention it, and no convention speaker on Tuesday made it a priority. Like the assault weapons ban, it has been relegated to a document that few will ever read.

Convention speakers have but a few minutes in the spotlight to reach listeners and cannot be expected to run through every line item in a long platform. But Democrats also have a limited amount of time left to persuade the nation to let them hold the White House and increase their position in Congress. If they don’t start talking about their fundamental principles, going beyond the easy sound bites, they will lose voters who are hoping for more.

    Words Not Spoken, NYT, 4.9.2012,






New Democratic Voice Challenges Republican Vision


September 5, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio made his national debut on Tuesday evening at the Democratic convention, presenting himself as a generational testament to American opportunity that would not have been possible without hard work and a helping hand.

“The American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay,” Mr. Castro said. “Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation, but each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.”

Mr. Castro, 37, was the first Latino to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and the applause in the arena was reminiscent of the party’s convention eight years ago in Boston when an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama brought delegates to their feet.

In his address, Mr. Castro offered a blistering critique of the Republican Party, sharply questioning whether Mitt Romney could understand the challenges of the middle class. He smiled as he assailed the policies of the Republican ticket, declaring, “Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it.”

His speech was not a call for a new spirit of bipartisanship, as Mr. Obama had pledged in 2004, but rather a spirited assault on the Republican philosophies offered up by Mr. Romney and Representative Paul D. Ryan, his running mate. Mr. Castro offered a direct rebuttal to the argument presented at last week’s Republican convention in Florida.

“Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it,” Mr. Castro said. “If we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead.”

Introduced by his twin brother, Joaquín, a Texas state representative who is a candidate for Congress, Mr. Castro stood before the convention as a new face of the Democratic Party. Elected mayor only two years ago, he is a rising figure in a party that has a far smaller bench than its rival.

He suggested that Mr. Romney and other Republicans were out of touch, noting a speech Mr. Romney gave in Ohio this year in which he urged students to start a business by borrowing money from their parents.

“Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” Mr. Castro said with a smile. “Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn’t determine whether you can pursue your dreams. I don’t think Governor Romney meant any harm. I think he’s a good guy. He just has no idea how good he’s had it.”

Mr. Castro told the story of his grandmother Victoria, an orphan who moved to San Antonio as a young girl and dropped out of school after the fourth grade. He repeatedly paid tribute to his mother, who was seated in the convention arena here, saying that she “fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone.”

    New Democratic Voice Challenges Republican Vision, NYT, 5.9.2012,






Michelle Obama Tops Opening Night for Democrats


September 4, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democrats opened their convention here on Tuesday night with a parade of officials telling voters that Mitt Romney does not get it and with a rousing speech from Michelle Obama making the case that President Obama does.

Mr. Obama’s roster of Democratic promoters spent the first hours detailing a political indictment of Mr. Romney, blistering him as being out of touch with the middle class and intent on taking the country back to the policies that caused the economy’s problems.

But the main attraction of the evening was the appearance of Mr. Obama’s lead character witness: the first lady, who, wearing a pink-and-gold-speckled sleeveless dress, was greeted with chants of “Four more years!” from the excited arena, to which she responded: “With your help.”

“Barack knows what it means when a family struggles,” she said in remarks that electrified the party faithful in the Time Warner Cable Arena and were broadcast nationally by the television networks. “He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American dream because he’s lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”

Four years of partisan sniping, Washington gridlock and continued economic challenges may have dulled the luster of the man this party nominated four years ago. But Mrs. Obama sought to remind his 2008 voters that the same person they supported then is underneath the tarnish she sought to buff away.

The address was meant to lay the foundation for a convention program devised to remind wavering working- and middle-class voters — the same ones Mr. Romney is working so hard to woo away — what they liked about the president when they supported him four years ago, and how his own humbler roots have helped inspire his policies to help them.

“He believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you,” Mrs. Obama said, her impassioned delivery drawing the crowd to its feet as it waved red, white and blue “Michelle” placards. “You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

It was one of the few times Mrs. Obama came close to even a subtle reference to the very direct argument being made against her husband’s opponent here. She argued that Mr. Obama’s experience as president had taught him that “no amount of data or numbers will get you the right answer.” Her portrait of her husband was the inverse of the one that other Democrats have sketched of Mr. Romney, who former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio said viewed the “American worker” as “just numbers on a spreadsheet.”

As someone with whom she was “so young, so in love, and so in debt,” Mrs. Obama said, her husband believes “success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

Mrs. Obama’s was almost the only voice lacking an explicit anti-Romney edge, conveying a personal tone and touch after speeches that were personal in a different way when it came to the president’s opponent. As the other speakers undertook a program that amounted to a thundering response to the Republican convention last week in Tampa, Fla., they went after Mr. Romney on just about every conceivable issue.

The keynote speaker, Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio, offered the overarching argument against Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconson.

“Their theory has been tested. It failed. Our economy failed,” Mr. Castro said in what seemed to be the second-most rousing speech of the night for the Democratic audience. “The middle class paid the price. Your family paid the price. Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it.”

After what has at times been a tentative approach to promoting the health care law, perhaps Mr. Obama’s signature legislation, the program included a full-throated defense of the overhaul and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.

And an Arizona woman, Stacey Lihn, took the stage with her toddler, Zoe, who has a congenital heart disease, and said her daughter’s health insurance would run out if Mr. Romney won and followed through with his promise to get Mr. Obama’s health care law repealed. “But we’re also scared,” she said. “Governor Romney repealing health care reform is something we worry about literally every day.”

The Democrats even got the spirit of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts into the act in a tribute video. It showed Mr. Kennedy in his 1994 debate with Mr. Romney during their Senate race, mocking Mr. Romney for his shifting position on abortion rights and calling him “multiple choice.”

The program never addressed the disappointment of many wavering Obama voters in the president’s handling of the economy, as Republicans will note. But the speakers pounded Mr. Romney on immigration, on health care, on Medicare, on foreign policy, on the 2009 auto bailout and on his tax policies, which they said would benefit the rich at the expense of the working class and cause the kind of economic damage that they said Mr. Obama had worked to undo.

Mr. Romney’s wealth was given full attention, with Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland referring to the Swiss bank account Mr. Romney no longer has by saying: “Swiss bank accounts don’t put cops on the beat or teachers in our classrooms. Swiss bank accounts never created American jobs.”

Apparently concerned about alienating voters with too much negativity, Mr. Obama’s strategists were careful to ensure that speakers always included a positive element about Mr. Obama.

“Mitt Romney is walking away from us,” Representative Nydia M. Velázquez of New York said. “He walks with people who disrespect us and people who divide us and people who do not believe that the American dream means all of us. President Obama has walked with us for the last 12 years — in good times and in tough times — and right now we are going to walk with the president to the polls and onward to victory.”

Mindful of the need to address a sometimes deflated group of liberal, grass-roots supporters, speakers stressed core party social issues like abortion rights and the president’s support for gay marriage.

A group of Democratic women in the House of Representatives came to the stage together — led by Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader — to criticize Republican moves against the so-called Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would make it easier for women to press discrimination cases, and various elements of the president’s health care overhaul, including its coverage of contraception.

When Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark gave a speech introducing the party platform and its first-ever declaration of support for same-sex marriage,” the delegates broke into a standing ovation and cheers of “Cory!” and “U.S.A.!”

“No matter who you are, no matter what color or creed, no matter how you choose to pray or who you choose to love,” Mr. Booker shouted, “if you are a citizen of the United States of America, you should be able to find a job that pays, you should be able to afford health care for your family, you should be able to retire with dignity and respect, and you should be able to give your children the kind of education that allows them to dream even bigger, to go ever farther and accomplish more than you could ever imagine.”

    Michelle Obama Tops Opening Night for Democrats, NYT, 4.9.2012,






The Explanation Election


September 3, 2012
The New York Times


NEW YORK — Bill Clinton was talking to a small group of people at a private gathering the other night and said a couple of things that made a big impression on me.

The first was: “When people are afraid, explanation beats eloquence any day.”

That’s right. Americans are fearful right now — about keeping their jobs, making the next mortgage payment, paying for college and, well, the future. They want answers. Mitt Romney provided none in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. If he was short on eloquence he was nowhere on explanation. He said he would turn things around but failed to say how.

Even The Wall Street Journal was critical of Romney on its editorial page: “Neither he nor the entire GOP convention made a case for his economic policy agenda. He and Paul Ryan promised to help the middle class, but they never explained other than in passing how they would do it.”

This has become the explanation election. Romney, in part through his wife, Ann, in part through some moving testaments to his kindness, and in part through a weird touchy-feely delivery, managed to soften himself a little even if the enigma endures. I don’t think American en masse will buy the pitiless capitalist label the Obama campaign wants to pin on Romney. You can’t change the fact that most Americans admire business success.

People are disappointed in Obama. He is not going to address that by trying to deflect ire on to “Mittens” of the cuddly smile.

No, the big opportunity that has opened up for the president as the Democratic National Convention begins is to do something he has not been very good at: explain in plain language how the United States came to its present pass and how he plans to set the country on a path to growth and jobs again. That in turn will explain why a second term would differ from the first.

As Clinton remarked, and this was the second phrase that made an impression, “You’ve got to put the corn where the hogs can get to it.” (That sentence alone says a lot about the differences between his presidency and the current one.) People have to understand. Politics at its best is simple.

Obama needs to deal briefly with the past: President George W. Bush’s unfunded wars, at a time of unfunded tax cuts, had a lot to do with America’s current fiscal woes; and it was Bush’s bi-polar America (half at war, half on limitless credit at the mall) that suffered a financial meltdown in 2008 of such dimensions that it will take a decade to recover. Things are better than four years ago (even in Ohio the numbers are better), but not enough so as to lift Americans’ mood or fulfill the hopes of “change you can believe in.”

The president needs to deal with the nature of American promise: the very Republicans hostile to immigration have just gone through a week devoted largely to rags-to-riches immigrant stories supposedly illustrating what the United States stands for. The hypocrisy, even from a fact-shy crowd, was staggering. An America that turns its back on immigration turns its back on itself: end of story.

Above all Obama needs to deal with the future: The deficit-reduction plan of Romney’s running-mate Paul Ryan — at least in its current form — does not add up, but Obama’s plan is so long-winded nobody really gets it. Britain illustrates the perils of deficit-cutting without growth: so how will Obama spur growth, control spending and increase revenue, the three essential ingredients of a healthier budget?

On energy, corporate and personal taxation (both shot through with absurd loopholes), education and training, incentives to small businesses, innovation, infrastructure and finding efficiencies in health care, Obama has to offer ideas that pass the policy-wonk test. If only a policy wonk can understand, forget it.

Clinton will help. His own speech will certainly address these issues in ways that get the hogs to the corn. But the onus is on Obama to occupy the explanatory space the Romney-Ryan campaign has left wide open.

One other huge space looms. It is of lesser importance given Americans’ domestic concerns, but offers Obama an opportunity. On foreign policy the Romney speech was a disgrace: a couple of flippant lines (one the fact-free allegation that the president had thrown Israel “under the bus”), no mention of the 11-year war in Afghanistan, nothing on Europe or China.

There are things that must be said, not least that any American recovery in a globalized world will involve a smart foreign and trade policy; that wars are expensive, easy to start, hard to end; that the bravery and sacrifice of the U.S. military must be honored even if the wars fought this past decade have often tarnished America’s standing; and that the tyrants of the Arab world are falling in the largest — if still uncertain — wave of political liberation since 1989.

The world is out there — and, like the economy, needs explanation if there is to be an American awakening.


You can follow Roger Cohen on Twitter or join him on Facebook.

    The Explanation Election, NYT, 3.9.2012,






They’re Not What They Used to Be


September 3, 2012
The New York Times


What did I miss while I was away? Ah, yes, the Republican National Convention. I hear the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for president and vice president. Imagine that.

In truth, I didn’t miss the convention entirely. I watched it the way I suspect most nonpolitical junkies did. I peeked in when the big networks were showing it, tuning into the handful of speeches I was most interested in: Ann Romney’s, Chris Christie’s, Paul Ryan’s and, of course, Mitt Romney’s. Expecting a gauzy, uplifting video before Romney’s speech, I got Clint Eastwood instead. It was an unexpected bonus.

As usual, journalists vastly outnumbered the delegates. As usual, the thing was so finely scripted, Eastwood aside, that there wasn’t a whole lot of genuine news to report. As Jeremy Peters put it in The Times, “Today’s media labor to enliven coverage of what typically are endless hours of preordained events.” The decision by the major networks to cut back coverage to an hour a night is not irrational.

It’s not that we didn’t learn anything. I, for one, saw with my own eyes that Paul Ryan, whom I had viewed as a wrongheaded-but-essentially-honorable conservative, was willing to turn his back on his supposedly courageous positions the minute his own ambition was at stake. Mea culpa.

On the other hand, from the moment Romney picked him as his vice-presidential candidate, Ryan began displaying that side of himself. And I wound up thinking, do we really need three days and nights (and it would have been four if not for the hurricane threat) for the Republicans to “frame” their “narrative” and “humanize” their candidate? I think not. We certainly don’t need taxpayers to be footing the bill. This year, each convention is costing the government $18 million and change — plus another $50 million in taxpayer-financed security. I heard the security was really tight.

There is a reason journalists began flocking to conventions once upon a time. Up until 1960, they were the exact opposite of what they are now. Rather than an exercise in public relations, they were essentially a huge fight, with cajoling and horse-trading and balloting that could go on into the wee hours. Conventions, not primaries, were the process by which the parties selected their nominees for president and vice president.

Here was Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, winning the nomination on the fourth ballot in a tense all-night session. Here was his opponent in 1940, Wendell Willkie, winning the Republican nomination in dramatic fashion on the sixth ballot. Here was Adlai Stevenson in 1956 deciding to let the convention choose between two senators, John F. Kennedy and Estes Kefauver, as his vice-presidential candidate. “It kept going back and forth,” recalls Charlie Peters, the founding editor of The Washington Monthly. “It was very exciting.”

Henry Brady, the dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley — and an expert on political conventions — says that he thinks the last truly meaningful convention was 1968. “There was still a sense that the convention was a decision-making body,” he said.

Indeed, that convention chose Vice President Hubert Humphrey as its nominee — even though he hadn’t entered any primaries and even though Eugene McCarthy, the antiwar candidate, had done well in the primaries. In the aftermath of that debacle, the Democrats established a special commission, which shifted the rules so that primaries became the essential way to collect delegates and win the nomination. One of the co-chairmen of that commission, George McGovern, then used the new rules to win his party’s nomination in 1972.

One ought not get too misty-eyed about the old-style conventions, with their handful of power brokers pulling the strings. The convention system gave us Franklin Roosevelt — and also Herbert Hoover. The primary system has also given us our share of good presidents (Ronald Reagan) and bad ones (George W. Bush).

On the other hand, old-style conventions, for all their flaws, demanded compromise that is essential for governing. Nor were the party bosses willing to throw their weight behind candidates who were too far outside the mainstream.

The primary system has allowed the two parties to be captured by their more extreme elements. Compromise is now a dirty word. Centrism is for losers. Conventions now enforce the views of the hard-liners.

“The real problem is that you have voters who are really intense — and you are not going to capture them with your convention,” said Brady. “And the voters who are less intense, the undecideds, are probably not watching.”

Now it is the Democrats’ turn. They, too, will spend $68 million or so throwing their three-day party, framing their narrative, positioning the president as the man to lead us out of our doldrums.

I’ll be watching — on television.

    They’re Not What They Used to Be, NYT, 3.9.2012,






The Elevator Speech


September 3, 2012
The New York Times


Why did God put Barack Obama on this earth? If you had asked that question between his 2004 convention address and his 2008 campaign, the answer could have been summarized in a short elevator speech.

Obama was here to heal our politics, to move us beyond the stale debates and the childish partisanship that lead to stagnation, futility and silliness.

This purpose did not survive contact with reality. But President Obama found other clear missions. In 2009, his mission was to avert the worst of the financial crisis. In 2010, it was to expand health insurance coverage.

During this time, you knew what Barack Obama was about, where his priorities lay. But, since 2010, that has not been the case. Since then, Representative Paul Ryan has been driving the Washington policy debate with his plan to cut spending and restructure entitlements. President Obama, meanwhile, has produced a string of budgets so inconsequential that members of his own party have not even noticed them.

Obama has been reactive. He has been defined by the various negotiating positions he has taken in his confrontations with Congress. He’s used a more partisan political style to mask his small-bore policy substance. It’s not clear what he is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years.

The Democratic convention is his best chance to offer an elevator speech, to define America’s most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it.

He has three clear options.

First, global warming. President Obama has occasionally said he’d like to do something about climate change if he gets a second term. Given the country’s immediate economic and fiscal problems, this seems obtuse to me. But if this is really where Obama’s passion lies, he should go for it.

He could vow to double down on green energy and green technology. He could revive cap-and-trade legislation that would create incentives for clean innovation. He could propose a tax reform package that would substitute gasoline and energy consumption taxes for a piece of our current income taxes. He could say that his No. 1 international priority will be to get a global warming treaty ratified by all the major nations.

This would be a big, intellectually serious agenda, designed to address a big problem.

Second, broken capitalism. Obama could go before the convention and say that there has been a giant failure at the heart of modern capitalism. Even in good times, the wealth that modern capitalism generates is not being shared equitably. Workers are not seeing the benefits of their own productivity gains.

Obama could offer policies broad enough to address this monumental problem. He could vow to strengthen unions. He could promise to use federal funds to pay for 500,000 more teachers and two million more infrastructure jobs. He could cap the mortgage interest deduction, cap social security benefits, raise taxes on the rich, raise taxes on capital gains and embrace other measures to redistribute money from those who are prospering to those who are not. He could crack down on outsourcing and regulate trade. He could throw himself behind a new industrial policy to create manufacturing jobs.

This agenda wouldn’t appeal to moderates, or people like me, but it’s huge, it’s serious and it would highlight a real problem.

Third, Bowles-Simpson. Everybody pays lip service to the Bowles-Simpson plan to reduce the deficit, but neither campaign really embraces it.

Obama could use his convention to throw himself wholeheartedly behind the general Bowles-Simpson approach. He could argue that America is weighed down by rotting institutions and faces fiscal ruin. He could vow to push through tax reform that would lower rates and reduce loopholes. He could endorse a 22 percent cap on government spending. He could commit to limiting the growth of domestic and defense spending. He could double down on his health care cost containment ideas. He could restructure Social Security and make it more progressive.

This, too, is a big, serious agenda, addressing a real national need. This, too, is an agenda commensurate with the size of the problem that confronts us.

Personally, I wish Obama would use this convention to embrace Bowles-Simpson. That would lay the foundation for decades of prosperity. It would galvanize a new center-left majority.

But, mostly, I wish he’d be for something. I wish he’d rise above the petty tactical considerations that have shrunk him over the past two years. I wish he’d finally define what he stands for. A liberal populist? A Clintonian moderate? At some point, you have to choose.

Four years ago, Obama said we could no longer postpone tackling the big problems. But now he seems driven by a fear of defeat. His proposals seem bite-size. If Obama can’t tell us the big policy thing he wants to do, he doesn’t deserve a second term.

    The Elevator Speech, NYT, 3.9.2012,






Democrats Say U.S. Is Better Off Than Four Years Ago


September 3, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A day after fumbling a predictable and straightforward question posed by Mitt Romney last week — are Americans better off than they were four years ago — the Obama campaign provided a response on Monday that it said would be hammered home during the Democratic convention here this week: “Absolutely.”

The focus on the campaign’s handling of the question, after halting and contradictory responses from Democrats on Sunday, complicated the White House’s effort to begin striking a set of themes the president intends to highlight here and carry through the general election.

That effort starts with an argument that Mr. Romney, the Republican nominee, would raise taxes on the middle class while cutting them for the wealthy. It seeks to pitch forward to the next four years the case that Mr. Obama and his allies have made over the spring and summer — that Mr. Romney’s business career showed him intent on profit even at the expense of workers and that his wealth has given him tax advantages not enjoyed by regular people.

“The problem is everybody’s already seen his economic playbook,” Mr. Obama said at a campaign stop in Ohio before a Labor Day audience largely consisting of United Auto Workers union members. “On first down he hikes taxes by nearly $2,000 on the average family with kids in order to pay for a massive tax cut for multimillionaires.”

The Obama campaign began running a new commercial making the same point, and asserting, “The middle class is carrying a heavy load in America, but Romney doesn’t see it.”

As delegates streamed in for the opening of the convention on Tuesday, Mr. Obama and his team were putting the finishing touches on a program that requires a different kind of political daring from the one they showed four years ago, when Mr. Obama gave his speech in a stadium on a stage compared by some to a Greek temple.

This week Mr. Obama is planning to undertake a tricky two-step of convincing wavering supporters being aggressively courted by Mr. Romney that they made the right decision in choosing him four years ago and that he has the country on its way to a sustainable recovery even if they do not always feel it. He will make the argument in an outdoor stadium again, on Thursday night under the threat of rain, but aides say there will be no Greek columns.

Obama campaign aides indicated they were moving into a new phase, applying their case that Mr. Romney has no history of looking out for the middle class to the question of what the next four years would look like under a Romney presidency.

But Republicans showed that they were not going to give Mr. Obama a free ride this week, with Mr. Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, coming to North Carolina to keep the focus on the last four years.

“The president can say a lot of things, and he will, but he can’t tell you that you’re better off,” Mr. Ryan said on Monday at a rally in Greenville, N.C. “Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are right now.”

Mr. Obama’s aides initially appeared to stumble when television interviewers asked them to respond to Mr. Romney’s charge in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night that Americans were not better off under Mr. Obama.

On Fox News Channel, Mr. Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, said, “We’re in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy.” But Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Democrat, answered “no” on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” though he blamed Republicans. Other aides equivocated.

Mr. O’Malley provided another answer on Monday on CNN: “We are clearly better off as a country because we’re creating jobs rather than losing them. We have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That’s why we need to continue to move forward.”

In fact, on Monday the campaign settled on a definitive answer of, as the deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter put it, “Absolutely.”

Followed down a hallway by a local news crew asking the “better off” question in the convention center here, Ms. Cutter described the economic scene four years ago — the auto companies teetering near bankruptcy, bank failures — and said, “Does anyone want to go back to 2008? I don’t think so.”

Speaking in Detroit on Monday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said during a union rally, “You want to know whether we’re better off?” He answered: “I’ve got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

Aides said that over the next three days they would show video testimonials of people who have been helped by Mr. Obama’s policies, hammering home the success of his auto bailout and the benefits of his health care overhaul.

“We’re not running from our record, which we’re proud of,” Mr. Axelrod said in an interview.

But, he added, “We’re also going to burnish the choice — it’s fair to say there will be more discussion of their ideas at our convention than there was at theirs.”

While Democrats pointed to polls showing that Mr. Romney appeared to get little polling “bounce” out of his convention, some Democratic strategists here conceded that Republicans had succeeded in muddying the waters on a traditional Democratic strong point, Medicare.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan support a plan that would change the program into one in which beneficiaries would get a fixed amount of money from the government each year to use to purchase private health insurance or traditional Medicare, a shift that Democrats say would leave the elderly vulnerable to rising health care costs. Many Democrats had assumed the issue would be a major political help to them, but some Democratic strategists said Republican claims that Mr. Obama had cut $716 billion from the program had at least partly neutralized the Democratic advantage and constrained their ability to emphasize Medicare in their campaign message.

In a brief interview, the minority leader in the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, seemed to acknowledge as much when she said of Republicans, “Confusion is the name of their game,” though she added that the Democrats could regain the advantage. “We don’t agonize over that, so we’re organized to make sure the truth is known by the public.”

Democrats here expressed relief that Mr. Obama took some potentially contentious issues out of the intraparty debate here — supporting gay marriage, ending the military policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and easing the threat of deportation for many young immigrants in the country illegally — and those were expected to be highlighted here, as well.

Produced by the same team that put on Mr. Obama’s last convention — the strategists Jim Margolis and Erik Smith — the program this week will include a video version of Mr. Obama’s logo, now overlaid with silhouettes of people, which loomed over the empty Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday. The theme emblazoned on the hall is “Americans Coming Together.”

In a nod to austerity, there will be no band, but, rather, a DJ — more specifically, Deejay Cassidy, a favorite of the Obamas.

Where the main priority for Mr. Obama’s team four years ago was to prove he could be president, this year it is to show that he is connected to the middle class.

So, organizers said, the stages in the arena and the Bank of America Stadium, where Mr. Obama speaks Thursday night, will be smaller and “intimate,” allowing speakers “to be surrounded by delegates,” Theo LeCompte, the chief operations officer of the convention, said in a statement.

But this convention will be less about stagecraft than about the argument Mr. Obama will make to woo back straying supporters and recast his presidency in a light of accomplishment amid often gloomy monthly job reports. The next report is to come out Friday, less than 10 hours after Mr. Obama finishes speaking.


Jackie Calmes contributed reporting.

    Democrats Say U.S. Is Better Off Than Four Years Ago, NYT, 3.9.2012,






The Hex on Paul Ryan


September 3, 2012
The New York Times


Charlotte, N.C.

The best morsel of political advice I can offer? If you catch even the faintest whisper that you might be nominated for the vice presidency, make for the hills. Run as fast as Paul Ryan pretends to. Your reputation depends on it. Maybe your sanity, too.

The veep nod befouls everything. It’s a cruel pivot. One minute, you’re a largely respected, minimally dissected public servant sitting on some harmless commission or tending to some humdrum state. The next, you’re attaching gratuitous vowels to unsuspecting carbohydrates (Dan Quayle), spraying your septuagenarian hunting buddy with birdshot (Dick Cheney), espying Vladimir Putin’s reared head in the Alaskan airspace (Sarah Palin) or suffering delusions of marathon grandeur (Ryan).

While the veep nod is only occasionally a springboard to the presidency, it’s almost always a trapdoor to mortification.

Look at Ryan. Mere weeks ago, he was as close to a matinee idol as a House Budget Committee could hope to produce, his crush on Ayn Rand noted in passing but his wonky earnestness taken on faith. Now he’s a veritable poster boy for hyperbole and hypocrisy, his record and words generating fresh headlines almost daily. At this pace, a truly fleet one, he’ll be on trial in The Hague by year’s end. Unless he’s moving into the residence at the Naval Observatory, which would be the worse fate for him by far.

Look at that residence’s current occupant, Joe Biden. Before he was visited by the giddy dream of the vice presidency, his habit of unfiltered utterances was considered endearing. Afterward, he was deemed “a clownish gasbag” and “a human I.E.D.,” to cite two phrases from this week’s cover story on him in New York magazine. I.E.D. is short for “improvised explosive device,” emphasis on the improvisation, and the story, by John Heilemann, is actually among Biden’s more flattering profiles.

The White House is regularly rapping his knuckles and he’s forever being dissed. You wouldn’t expect to encounter a rope line at a Virginia bakery with a name like Crumb and Get It, but when an advance team sought permission for Biden to stop there during a campaign swing in mid-August, the bakery’s owner declined to give it. No crumbs for the vice president.

And at the Democratic National Convention here this week, he’s been booted from the vice presidential nominee’s customary speaking slot on Wednesday, when Bill Clinton will be the headliner instead. Biden is wedged in on Thursday, which is really President Obama’s night.

The office of the vice presidency seems to addle many occupants, and that goes back centuries before Cheney. In Aaron Burr’s final year as the country’s third vice president, he killed Alexander Hamilton, his political rival, in a duel.

Thomas Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson, was utterly sidelined during the many months after a stroke left the president bedridden. The first lady ran the show. He felt so understandably marginalized in his job that he said: “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea. The other was elected vice president. And nothing was ever heard of either of them again.”

F.D.R.’s first vice president, John Nance Garner, famously characterized the job as not being worth “a warm bucket” of urine, which was euphemized in the retelling as “spit.” Hubert Humphrey saw his favor among liberals shredded by his loyalty to L.B.J., who got us deeper and deeper into Vietnam.

But you don’t have to inhabit the vice presidency to be undone by it. The nomination suffices. The spell commences then.

It was cast on Joe Lieberman (the 2000 Democratic nominee), and a senator in good standing soon morphed into an exasperating political vagabond. It was cast in a much bigger way on John Edwards (the 2004 Democratic nominee), stoking his narcissism and recklessness to a point where he not only fathered a child with his mistress but coaxed a sycophantic aide to claim paternity.

And while the veep nod made Palin rich, it also has made her a laughingstock. Until a light as brutal as the one that comes with a coast-to-coast campaign is shined on you, no one’s aware of your pores or pockmarks. Or — back to Quayle — your inability to spell “potato.”

You endure almost as much scrutiny as the person on the top of the ticket, get only a dollop of the glory and, judging from recent years, aren’t likely to succeed him. That last happened with the election of the first George Bush in 1988.

The role of running mate is a curse masquerading as a compliment, a hex in red, white and blue drag. Taking it on represents the triumph of hope over Thomas Eagleton, Spiro Agnew and the words of Daniel Webster, who reputedly turned down the assignment in the mid-1800s with this explanation: “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.”

    The Hex on Paul Ryan, NYT, 3.9.2012,




home Up