Les anglonautes

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

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2012 > USA > Politics (IV)





Complete Third Presidential Debate on Foreign Policy 2012:

Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney Oct 22, 2012 Streamed live on Oct 22, 2012

The third presidential debate on foreign policy

between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

in the run up to the general election in November.

Watch full coverage at nytimes.com: http://nyti.ms/Sigmi1

Get complete up to the minute coverage: http://nyti.ms/SAIK

YouTube > TheNewYorkTimes













The G.O.P.’s Existential Crisis


December 13, 2012
The New York Times


We are not having a debt crisis.

It’s important to make this point, because I keep seeing articles about the “fiscal cliff” that do, in fact, describe it — often in the headline — as a debt crisis. But it isn’t. The U.S. government is having no trouble borrowing to cover its deficit. In fact, its borrowing costs are near historic lows. And even the confrontation over the debt ceiling that looms a few months from now if we do somehow manage to avoid going over the fiscal cliff isn’t really about debt.

No, what we’re having is a political crisis, born of the fact that one of our two great political parties has reached the end of a 30-year road. The modern Republican Party’s grand, radical agenda lies in ruins — but the party doesn’t know how to deal with that failure, and it retains enough power to do immense damage as it strikes out in frustration.

Before I talk about that reality, a word about the current state of budget “negotiations.”

Why the scare quotes? Because these aren’t normal negotiations in which each side presents specific proposals, and horse-trading proceeds until the two sides converge. By all accounts, Republicans have, so far, offered almost no specifics. They claim that they’re willing to raise $800 billion in revenue by closing loopholes, but they refuse to specify which loopholes they would close; they are demanding large cuts in spending, but the specific cuts they have been willing to lay out wouldn’t come close to delivering the savings they demand.

It’s a very peculiar situation. In effect, Republicans are saying to President Obama, “Come up with something that will make us happy.” He is, understandably, not willing to play that game. And so the talks are stuck.

Why won’t the Republicans get specific? Because they don’t know how. The truth is that, when it comes to spending, they’ve been faking it all along — not just in this election, but for decades. Which brings me to the nature of the current G.O.P. crisis.

Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. So what’s a radical to do?

The answer, for a long time, has involved two strategies. One is “starve the beast,” the idea of using tax cuts to reduce government revenue, then using the resulting lack of funds to force cuts in popular social programs. Whenever you see some Republican politician piously denouncing federal red ink, always remember that, for decades, the G.O.P. has seen budget deficits as a feature, not a bug.

Arguably more important in conservative thinking, however, was the notion that the G.O.P. could exploit other sources of strength — white resentment, working-class dislike of social change, tough talk on national security — to build overwhelming political dominance, at which point the dismantling of the welfare state could proceed freely. Just eight years ago, Grover Norquist, the antitax activist, looked forward cheerfully to the days when Democrats would be politically neutered: “Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’ve been fixed, then they are happy and sedate.”

O.K., you see the problem: Democrats didn’t go along with the program, and refused to give up. Worse, from the Republican point of view, all of their party’s sources of strength have turned into weaknesses. Democratic dominance among Hispanics has overshadowed Republican dominance among southern whites; women’s rights have trumped the politics of abortion and antigay sentiment; and guess who finally did get Osama bin Laden.

And look at where we are now in terms of the welfare state: far from killing it, Republicans now have to watch as Mr. Obama implements the biggest expansion of social insurance since the creation of Medicare.

So Republicans have suffered more than an election defeat, they’ve seen the collapse of a decades-long project. And with their grandiose goals now out of reach, they literally have no idea what they want — hence their inability to make specific demands.

It’s a dangerous situation. The G.O.P. is lost and rudderless, bitter and angry, but it still controls the House and, therefore, retains the ability to do a lot of harm, as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream.

Our best hope is that business interests will use their influence to limit the damage. But the odds are that the next few years will be very, very ugly.

    The G.O.P.’s Existential Crisis, NYT, 13.12.2012,






How Romney Would Treat Women


November 3, 2012
The New York Times


IN this year’s campaign furor over a supposed “war on women,” involving birth control and abortion, the assumption is that the audience worrying about these issues is just women.

Give us a little credit. We men aren’t mercenaries caring only for Y chromosomes. We have wives and daughters, mothers and sisters, and we have a pretty intimate stake in contraception as well.

This isn’t like a tampon commercial on television, leaving men awkwardly examining their fingernails. When it comes to women’s health, men as well as women need to pay attention. Just as civil rights wasn’t just a “black issue,” women’s rights and reproductive health shouldn’t be reduced to a “women’s issue.”

To me, actually, talk about a “war on women” in the United States seems a bit hyperbolic: in Congo or Darfur or Afghanistan, I’ve seen brutal wars on women, involving policies of rape or denial of girls’ education. But whatever we call it, something real is going on here at home that would mark a major setback for American women — and the men who love them.

On these issues, Mitt Romney is no moderate. On the contrary, he is considerably more extreme than President George W. Bush was. He insists, for example, on cutting off money for cancer screenings conducted by Planned Parenthood.

The most toxic issue is abortion, and what matters most for that is Supreme Court appointments. The oldest justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a 79-year-old liberal, and if she were replaced by a younger Antonin Scalia, the balance might shift on many issues, including abortion.

One result might be the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which for nearly four decades has guaranteed abortion rights. If it is overturned, abortion will be left to the states — and in Mississippi or Kansas, women might end up being arrested for obtaining abortions.

Frankly, I respect politicians like Paul Ryan who are consistently anti-abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. I disagree with them, but their position is unpopular and will cost them votes, so it’s probably heartfelt as well as courageous. I have less respect for Romney, whose positions seem based only on political calculations.

Romney’s campaign Web site takes a hard line. It says that life begins at conception, and it gives no hint of exceptions in which he would permit abortion. The Republican Party platform likewise offers no exceptions. Romney says now that his policy is to oppose abortion with three exceptions: rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at stake.

If you can figure out Romney’s position on abortion with confidence, tell him: at times it seems he can’t remember it. In August, he abruptly added an exception for the health of the mother as well as her life, and then he backed away again.

Romney has also endorsed a “personhood” initiative treating a fertilized egg as a legal person. That could lead to murder charges for an abortion, even to save the life of a mother.

In effect, Romney seems to have jumped on board a Republican bandwagon to tighten access to abortion across the board. States passed a record number of restrictions on abortion in the last two years. In four states, even a woman who is seeking an abortion after a rape may be legally required to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.

If politicians want to reduce the number of abortions, they should promote family planning and comprehensive sex education. After all, about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research on reproductive health.

Yet Romney seems determined to curb access to contraceptives. His campaign Web site says he would “eliminate Title X family planning funding,” a program created in large part by two Republicans, George H. W. Bush and Richard Nixon.

Romney has boasted that he would cut off all money for Planned Parenthood — even though federal assistance for the organization has nothing to do with abortions. It pays for such things as screenings to reduce breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Romney’s suspicion of contraception goes way back. As governor of Massachusetts, he vetoed a bill that would have given women who were raped access to emergency contraception.

Romney also wants to reinstate the “global gag rule,” which barred family planning money from going to aid organizations that even provided information about abortion. He would cut off money for the United Nations Population Fund, whose work I’ve seen in many countries — supporting contraception, repairing obstetric fistulas, and fighting to save the lives of women dying in childbirth.

So when you hear people scoff that there’s no real difference between Obama and Romney, don’t believe them.

And it’s not just women who should be offended at the prospect of a major step backward. It’s all of us.

    How Romney Would Treat Women, NYT, 3.11.2012,






Romney Versus the Automakers


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


When General Motors tells a presidential campaign that it is engaging in “cynical campaign politics at its worst,” that’s a pretty good signal that the campaign has crossed a red line and ought to pull back. Not Mitt Romney’s campaign. Having broadcast an outrageously deceitful ad attacking the auto bailout, the campaign ignored the howls from carmakers and came back with more.

Mr. Romney apparently plans to end his race as he began it: playing lowest-common-denominator politics, saying anything necessary to achieve power and blithely deceiving voters desperate for clarity and truth.

This started months ago when he realized that his very public 2008 stance against the successful and wildly popular government bailout of G.M. and Chrysler was hurting him in the valuable states of Ohio and Michigan. In February, he wrote an essay for The Detroit News calling the bailout “crony capitalism on a grand scale” because unions benefited and insisting that Detroit would have been better off to refuse federal money. (This ignores the well-documented reality that there was no other cash available to the carmakers.)

When that tactic didn’t work, he began insisting at the debates that his plan for Detroit wasn’t really that different from President Obama’s. (Except for the niggling detail of the $80 billion federal investment.)

That was quickly discredited, so Mr. Romney began telling rallies last week that Chrysler was considering moving its production to China. Chrysler loudly denounced it as “fantasies,” saying it was only considering increasing production in China for sale in China, without moving a single American job.

“I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” Chrysler’s chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, said in a statement. “Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.” In fact, 1,100 new jobs will be added in Toledo to produce a new generation of Jeep.

The Romney campaign ignored the company, following up with an instantly notorious ad saying President Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.” If the false implication wasn’t clear enough, the campaign put out a radio ad on Tuesday saying “Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry. But for who? Ohio or China?” What happened, the ad asks, “to the promises made to autoworkers in Toledo and throughout Ohio?”

What happened was that those promises were kept. Nearly 1.5 million people are working as a direct result of the bailout. Ohio’s unemployment rate is well below the national average. G.M.’s American sales continue to increase, and Chrysler said this week that its third-quarter net income rose 80 percent. These companies haven’t just bounced back from the bottom; they are accelerating.

What Mr. Romney cannot admit is that all this is a direct result of the government investment he would have rejected. It’s bad enough to be wrong on the policy. It takes an especially dishonest candidate to simply turn up the volume on a lie and keep repeating it.

By doing that in a flailing, last-minute grab for Ohio, Mr. Romney is providing a grim preview of what kind of president he would be.

    Romney Versus the Automakers, NYT, 31.10.2012,






G.O.P. Turns Fire on Obama Pillar, the Auto Bailout


October 29, 2012
The New York Times


TOLEDO, Ohio — The ad from Mitt Romney showed up on televisions here early Saturday morning without the usual public announcement that both campaigns typically use to herald their latest commercials: Chrysler, a bailout recipient, is going to begin producing Jeeps in China, an announcer says, leaving the misleading impression that the move would come at the expense of jobs here.

And so began the latest, and perhaps most important, attempt by Mitt Romney to wrest Ohio into his column. His effort to do so is now intently focused, at times including statements that stretch or ignore the facts, on knocking down what is perhaps the most important component of President Obama’s appeal to blue-collar voters in Ohio and across the industrial Midwest: the success of the president’s 2009 auto bailout.

Mr. Obama’s relatively strong standing in most polls in Ohio so far has been attributed by members of both parties to the recovery of the auto industry, which has helped the economy here outperform the national economy. At the same time, the industry’s performance and the president’s claim to credit for it appear to have helped Mr. Obama among the white working-class voters Mr. Romney needs.

With the race under most expected circumstances coming down to Ohio, and Ohio potentially coming down to perceptions of how the candidates view the auto industry, Mr. Romney has spent the last few days aggressively trying to undercut Mr. Obama’s auto bailout narrative.

In the past few days his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, has accused Mr. Obama of allowing the bailout to bypass nonunion workers at Delphi, a big auto parts maker with operations in Ohio; Mr. Romney has characterized Mr. Obama’s bailout plan as based on his approach; and Mr. Romney incorrectly told a rally in Defiance, Ohio, late last week outright that Jeep was considering moving its production to China. (Jeep is discussing increasing production in China for sales within China; it is not moving jobs out of Ohio or the United States, or building cars in China for export to the United States.)

It is a high-risk strategy: Jeep’s corporate parent, Chrysler, had already released a scathing statement calling suggestions that Jeep was moving American jobs to China “fantasies” and “extravagant”; news media outlets here and nationally have called the Romney campaign’s statements — initially based on a poorly worded quotation from Chrysler in a news article that was misinterpreted by blogs — misleading.

Mr. Obama’s campaign, seeking to maintain what it sees as its advantage in Ohio, responded on Monday by releasing a commercial calling Mr. Romney’s ad false and reiterating that Mr. Romney had opposed the bailout on the terms supported by Mr. Obama. And on Sunday it dispatched the investment banker who helped develop the bailout, Steven Rattner, here to discuss Jeep’s plans and the auto rescue with local news organizations.

Democrats are hoping that Mr. Romney’s latest move will draw a backlash in a city so dependent on Jeep, which has announced plans to add 1,100 jobs to an assembly plant here that is currently being refitted for the next iteration of what is now called the Jeep Liberty.

Bruce Baumhower, the president of the United Auto Workers local that oversees the major Jeep plant here, said Mr. Romney’s initial comments on moving production to China drew a rash of calls from members concerned about their jobs. When he informed them Chrysler was, in fact, is expanding its Jeep operation here, he said in an interview, “The response has been, ‘That’s pretty pitiful.’ ”

The fight over the auto bailout shows the enduring power of the issue but also its complexities in a campaign that is about both the strength of the economy and the size and role of government.

The auto bailout was one of the first major moves of Mr. Obama’s presidency, and gave Mr. Romney an early chance in opposing it to prove his conservative credentials.

Mr. Romney has portrayed himself as an automobile maven. As he frequently says in his stump speeches, his father was credited with keeping American Motors in business during the 1950s and early 1960s. (The company, it happens, owned Jeep from 1970 to 1987.)

Just as the incoming Obama administration was beginning to contemplate a bailout, Mr. Romney wrote an Op-Ed article in the The New York Times — given the title by the newspaper “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’’ In the piece Mr. Romney wrote that in the event of a bailout, “You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.”

The plan the administration settled on first helped Fiat buy Chrysler and then put both Chrysler and General Motors into managed bankruptcies as part of a program that brought total government assistance for Detroit to almost $80 billion between the Obama and Bush administrations. Coming as the Tea Party was beginning to form, it seemed like risky politics for Democrats being accused of taking big government to an extreme.

At the third and last debate last week in Boca Raton, Fla., Mr. Romney emphasized his position that “these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees.”

Mr. Romney has stepped up his offense on the issue since.

So it was that he told those at the exuberant rally on Thursday in Defiance, “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”

Mr. Romney was apparently referring to a Bloomberg News article that said Jeep would return to manufacturing in China that had been misinterpreted by several conservative blogs to mean Jeep was shifting its production to China; the company made clear in a statement that Chrysler was only resuming production in China for Chinese consumers, which it had done for years before halting in 2009 before its sale to Fiat.

Mr. Romney’s ad treads carefully, with an announcer saying Mr. Obama “sold Jeep to the Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China” and the screen flashing, “Plans to return Jeep output to China.”

Calling it “blatant attempt to create a false impression,” former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat, demanded Mr. Romney take it down on Monday. Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney adviser, disputed that the ad is misleading.

“Right now every Jeep built is built in America by an American and sold to the world,” he said. “Now instead of adding jobs in Toledo, they will be making Jeeps in China by the Chinese and selling them in China.”

Jeep began a joint manufacturing venture in China in 1984 and today makes some vehicles in Egypt and Venezuela. While it does produce cars for Chinese export here now, it has discussed returning some production to China since last year.


Jim Rutenberg reported from Toledo, and Jeremy W. Peters from New York.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Sabina, Ohio.

    G.O.P. Turns Fire on Obama Pillar, the Auto Bailout, NYT, 29.10.2012,






Storm Pushes Aside Presidential Politics, Mostly


October 30, 2012
The New York Times


DAYTON, Ohio — The presidential campaign entered a delicate and disrupted phase on Tuesday morning, suddenly becoming a sideshow to a devastating storm that posed an improvised leadership test to both sides as they sought to navigate the politics of a natural disaster.

Mitt Romney, a challenger without the trappings and authority of office to respond to the crisis, has scheduled what his campaign called a “storm-relief event” here in the same location where he was previously set to hold a traditional campaign rally. The celebrity guests scheduled to appear will also be at the storm-relief event. As the crowd gathered, a long campaign video for Mr. Romney played on a giant screen, describing the candidate as a “charismatic” and “authentic.” A woman in the audience held up a T-shirt that said “Obama, you’re fired.”

His aides, sensitive to the image of the Republican nominee engaged in electioneering when cities across the East Coast are flooded, said Mr. Romney would make no political remarks. Attendees are being asked to bring canned food, which will be shipped off to areas damaged by the torrential storm.

Yet the event means that Mr. Romney would still appear on television, as a candidate, after his aides said they would cancel “all events currently scheduled” for Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, on Tuesday out of sensitivity to the storm’s victims. On local television here Tuesday morning, an Ohio Republican official said the event was “not a campaign event per se.”

President Obama has withdrawn from the campaign trail and will spend his day at the White House where he will conduct briefings and survey the impact of the severe weather, aides said. But, he too, may speak to the country as both a president and a candidate, two roles that are inextricably linked at this late stage in the campaign. The White House said the president spent much of the night Monday monitoring the storm’s impact and talking with elected leaders throughout the affected region.

Mr. Obama earned repeated praise on Tuesday from an unlikely source: Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey and one of Mr. Romney’s top surrogates. In several appearances on morning news programs, he called Mr. Obama’s efforts for his state “wonderful,” “excellent” and “outstanding.”

“It’s been very good working with the president,” Mr. Christie said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful.”

Speaking about the damage to his state on NBC’s “Today” show, Mr. Christie called the president “outstanding” and said the response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. had been “excellent.”

In a Twitter message from his official account, Mr. Christie said he wanted to “thank the president personally for all his assistance” as New Jersey recovers from the storm.”

The effusive comments about the president from Mr. Christie come after Mr. Christie has spent weeks criticizing the president and his leadership on behalf of Mr. Romney’s campaign. Some Republicans on Tuesday privately expressed frustration that Mr. Christie went as far as he did in thanking Mr. Obama a week before the election.

The effects of the storm are being felt in Ohio, where wind gusts of 60 miles per hour were reported Tuesday morning in the central part of the state, along with scattered power outages and school closings. The banner headline of the Columbus Dispatch said, “A Storm For The Ages.”

But even as the candidates altered their campaigning, their dueling television commercials were roaring along on Tuesday. The campaigns and their third-party allies are making a final push on already saturated airwaves with millions of dollars worth of new commercials. A “super PAC” backing Mr. Romney’s campaign began broadcasting a new ad in eight states that features a woman expressing disappointment about Mr. Obama’s first term in office. Another released two ads across the battleground states criticizing Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy.

Mr. Obama’s campaign continued to broadcast ads criticizing Mr. Romney’s economic proposals and promoting the president’s plans for a second term. Ads by Mr. Obama’s campaign also urged people to vote early.

Representatives for the candidates are still planning to hold campaign rallies on Tuesday. Former President Bill Clinton stood in for Mr. Obama in Florida on Monday and planned to press ahead with three stops in Iowa on Tuesday. Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, will attend a “victory rally” in Iowa after making a stop at a storm-related event in Wisconsin.

With a razor-close election just seven days away, each camp confronted the same quandary: whether pressing ahead in campaigning would earn them the votes they needed to win or whether it would be seen as crass, unpresidential behavior at a time of power failures, flooding and mass evacuations.

Both sides reached a similar conclusion after holding urgent discussions among their top advisers — talks that included up-to-the-minute weather updates and airings of logistical concerns about the dangers of air travel. Within hours of each other, the campaigns suspended appearances by their candidates at least through Tuesday.

Mr. Obama, shouldering the responsibilities of a sitting president, acted first, abandoning a planned Florida rally to fly back to the White House on Monday morning. In a statement after a Situation Room briefing with emergency response officials, Mr. Obama said that the election “will take care of itself next week. Right now our No. 1 priority is that we’re saving lives.”

Just before noon, Mr. Romney’s campaign announced that it, too, had decided to cancel the candidate’s scheduled events, including one in Wisconsin on Monday night and his entire schedule on Tuesday, “out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy.”

On Monday night, it announced the new storm-relief event in Dayton. Richard Petty, the racecar driver, and Randy Owen, the singer, will appear with Mr. Romney.

Top aides to Mr. Romney said they feared the possibility of a split-screen moment that showed Mr. Romney attacking the president next to images of flooded homes. They said canceling traditional campaign events allowed Mr. Romney to be part of the storm story, not apart from it. Both campaigns also halted fund-raising across the East Coast in favor of an appeal to donors for Red Cross contributions.

For the campaigns, the storm forced critical judgment calls as they addressed the need to campaign while being sensitive to the effects of the storm that swirled around them. Among the questions: How long will the huge storm continue to paralyze a campaign that is racing toward its conclusion?

The answer inside both campaigns appeared to be: at least through Tuesday. Still, neither side would rule out the possibility of further cancellations Wednesday or beyond. David Axelrod, the president’s top strategist, said the campaign had already begun thinking about how to start rescheduling the stops that have been canceled.

“We’re obviously going to lose a bunch of campaign time, but that’s as it has to be, and we’ll try to make it up on the back end,” he told reporters on Monday.

Also on the table for both campaigns was how to deal with the grim aftermath of the storm. A visit to a ravaged area by the president would be traditional and expected, but could further interrupt Mr. Obama’s campaigning. Mr. Romney’s advisers said that they were discussing the possibility of Mr. Romney visiting a site damaged by the storm well after it has dissipated, but that they had not yet completed plans.

Polls released over the weekend continued to show a tight race between the two men, nationally and in some of the battleground states that will decide which one reaches 270 electoral votes. A Gallup poll of likely voters on Sunday gave Mr. Romney an edge of 51 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

Inside his headquarters in Boston, advisers to Mr. Romney were engaged throughout the weekend in marathon conference calls about how and where to schedule his time in the midst of the storm.

Mr. Romney’s aides were holding out hope throughout most of Monday morning that he could continue his full campaign schedule on Tuesday. But that changed after a 10:45 a.m. conference call among his advisers in Boston, officials at the Republican National Committee and Mr. Romney’s top aides on the campaign bus in Ohio.

“There are families in harm’s way that will be hurt either in their possessions or perhaps in something more severe,” Mr. Romney said in brief remarks after a rally in Avon Lake, Ohio. “This looks like another time when we need to come together all across the country, even here in Ohio, and make sure that we give of our support to the people who need it.”

Mr. Obama’s initial decision to go to Florida on Sunday night in the face of dire weather attests to the political pressures he is facing. The president’s advisers calculated that he could squeeze in one more rally in a closely fought electoral battleground by moving up the event’s start time by two hours and still return to Washington in time to take charge of storm preparations. But they changed course after determining Air Force One might not be able to make the trip any later.

After returning to Washington, Mr. Obama led a meeting in the Situation Room with top emergency response officials. In his statement to reporters afterward, Mr. Obama warned Americans that “this is going to be a big storm; it’s going to be a difficult storm.” He added: “The great thing about America is when we go through tough times like this, we all pull together. We set aside whatever issues we may have otherwise to make sure we respond appropriately.”

Storms can have a treacherous effect on the fortunes of a president, most notably in the case of Hurricane Katrina and George W. Bush in 2005. But they can also help rally support, as in final four months of the 2004 campaign, when Florida was pounded by three successive hurricanes, Charley, Frances and Ivan.

Mr. Bush was well aware of how, in 1992, the chaotic response of the government to Hurricane Andrew in Florida had hurt his father, then seeking re-election. Twelve years later, the younger Mr. Bush marshaled a more effective federal response, which some analysts said helped him secure a clearer victory in the state against Senator John Kerry than he had against Al Gore in 2000.


Michael Barbaro reported from Dayton, Ohio, and Michael D. Shear from Washington.

Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington, and Ashley Parker from Boston.

    Storm Pushes Aside Presidential Politics, Mostly, NYT, 30.10.2012,






The Jews of Cuyahoga County


October 29, 2012
The New York Times


CLEVELAND, OHIO — Things are getting ugly among the Jews of Cuyahoga County, with family splits and dinner invitations declined. “I have never seen the divisions this acute,” said James Ratner, an executive of the Forest City real estate group.

The pressure of a very tight presidential race whose outcome Ohio could well decide has been compounded by the Senate candidacy of a conservative Jewish Republican, Josh Mandel, who has divided loyalties among the 80,000 Jews of Greater Cleveland.

An advertisement in the Cleveland Jewish News this week, paid for by a group called Jews for Israel 2012, asked this question: “Are you willing to bet the life of the Jewish people on this president?” It questioned Barack Obama’s willingness to defend an Israel “threatened by nuclear annihilation.”

Automated calls pour into Jewish households from John Bolton, the hawkish former U.N. ambassador, in which he warns that a vote for Romney is needed to save Israel from an Iranian bomb and Islamist extremists.

Mandel, a 35-year-old ex-Marine who has raised more than $20 million through conservative backers, has appalled Ohio’s socially progressive Jews — who are still the clear majority — with an anti-abortion stance that has included calling the Indiana Senate nominee Richard Mourdock a “class act” after Mourdock said pregnancy resulting from rape was “something that God intended to happen” and life was always “a gift from God.”

Oy vey. Does all this matter? Yes it does. It is that close in the Buckeye State. Ohio, with its 18 electoral votes, is about tied, according to most polls. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio. This is the swing state most likely to swing things. Conservative-backed billboards screaming “Voter fraud is a felony” have prompted the countermessage that, “Voting is a right, not a crime.” Republican intimidation meets Democratic determination.

Obama needs to win big in Cuyahoga County, which includes the strongly Democratic inner city of Cleveland, to carry the state. That is what he did in 2008, gaining 68.5 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of nearly 250,000 votes — enough to secure victory by just over 200,000 votes in Ohio. The Romney campaign reckons that if it can cut Obama’s margin in Cuyahoga to about 175,000 it will take the state.

About 80 percent of Cleveland’s Jews are believed to have voted for Obama last time. Robert Goldberg, former chairman of the United Jewish Communities (now The Jewish Federations of North America) and a Romney supporter, said he believed that number would drop to 60 percent this time. “Jews just don’t trust Obama on Israel,” he told me. “The president has no sympathy for Israel. His sympathy is for the Muslim world he knew as a child.”

If Goldberg is right about a shift, that would be significant. He argues that Obama is anti-business and anti-Israel and believes a faltering economy above all is pushing Jewish voters to change position. (Polls in Israel show Israelis strongly favoring a Romney victory.)

The case I heard in Ohio against Obama on Israel was the usual Republican hodgepodge of insinuations: The president went to Cairo but not Jerusalem, he snubbed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reached out to Muslims but showed no love for Jews. They ignore all the defense and intelligence cooperation that led the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, to say Obama had done “more than anything that I can remember in the past” for Israeli security.

Mandel has also been playing the Israel card in pursuit of the Jewish vote, despite the fact his opponent, the Democrat incumbent Sherrod Brown, co-sponsored the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, legislation that deepens defense cooperation.

Among those troubled by Mandel’s campaign is Austin Ratner, a novelist and the son of James Ratner. Mandel is related by marriage to the Ratner family. Austin Ratner wrote a piece this month in the Jewish Daily Forward arguing that family and tribal Jewish loyalty were misplaced in the political sphere, where reason must prevail.

He quoted his aunt, Deborah Ratner, a major Democratic fund-raiser, telling Mandel at a family gathering: “I don’t want this to be awkward, but you represent everything I’ve spent my life working against.” He also said some Democrat relatives “have supported Mandel’s campaign out of family loyalty” — a form of loyalty, he suggested, that “leads deeper into the darkness.”

The Jews of Cleveland are arguing at high volume. They are good at disputation. In this case the argument could change the course of things far beyond Cleveland.

James Ratner sent me an e-mail saying, “This may well be a case where the noise is obscuring the music.” Beneath all the shouting, he suggested, Jewish sentiment remains solidly Democratic. “In a meeting this week of 60 members of a woman’s group at Park Synagogue there was absolute unanimity behind Obama. No one was voting for Romney.”

Those Jewish women know exactly what Romney and Mandel represent: an obscurantist and invasive threat to their rights in the name of a God whose wishes these men presume to know.


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

    The Jews of Cuyahoga County, NYT, 29.10.2012,






Tracking Voters’ Clicks Online to Try to Sway Them


October 27, 2012
The New York Times


A few weeks ago, Thomas Goddard, a community college student in Santa Clara, Calif., and a devoted supporter of President Obama, clicked on mittromney.com to check out the candidate’s position on abortion.

Then, as he visited other Web sites, he started seeing advertisements asking him to donate to Mitt Romney’s campaign. One mentioned family values, he said, and seemed aimed at someone with more conservative leanings.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Mr. Goddard said. “I’m the opposite of a Romney supporter. But ever since I went to the Romney site, they’ve been following me.”

One of the hallmarks of this campaign is the use of increasingly sophisticated — but not always accurate — data-mining techniques to customize ads for voters based on the digital trails they leave as they visit Internet sites.

It is a practice pioneered by online retailers who work with third-party information resellers to create detailed portraits of consumers, all the better to show them relevant marketing pitches. Mr. Goddard, for example, may have received those Romney ads because of “retargeting” software designed to show people ads for certain sites or products they have previously viewed.

Now, in the election’s final weeks, both presidential campaigns have drastically increased their use of such third-party surveillance engines, according to Evidon, a company that helps businesses and consumers monitor and control third-party tracking software.

Over the month of September, Evidon identified 76 different tracking programs on barackobama.com — two more trackers than it found on Best Buy’s Web site — compared with 53 in May. It found 40 different trackers on mittromney.com last month, compared with 25 in May.

The report provides a rare glimpse into the number of third-party tracking programs that are operating on the campaign Web sites — as many as or more than on some of the most popular retailers’ sites.

The campaigns directly hire some companies, like ad agencies or data management firms, that marry information collected about voters on a campaign site with data about them from other sources. But these entities, in turn, may bring their own software partners to the sites to perform data-mining activities like retargeting voters or tracking the political links they share with their social networks.

Now some consumer advocates say the proliferation of these trackers raises the risk that information about millions of people’s political beliefs could spread to dozens of business-to-business companies whose names many voters have never even heard. There is growing concern that the campaigns or third-party trackers may later use that voter data for purposes the public never imagined, like excluding someone from a job offer based on his or her past political affiliations.

“Is the data going to be sold to marketers or shared with other campaigns?” said Christopher Calabrese, the legislative counsel for privacy-related issues at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We simply don’t know how this information is going to be used in the future and where it is going to end up.”

Evidon offers a free software program called Ghostery that people can use to identify third-party trackers on the sites they visit. On Oct. 18 the program identified 19 different trackers on the Obama Web site and 12 on the Romney site. A reporter contacted 10 for comment.

Among those who responded, Cassie Piercey, a spokeswoman for ValueClick, whose MediaPlex marketing analytics division was identified as operating on the Obama site by Ghostery, said she could not comment on specific clients and referred a reporter to the company’s privacy policy. The policy says that ValueClick may collect information about users — like their Internet Protocol addresses, Web browsing histories, online purchases and searches — that does not involve identifiable information like their names, and that the company may share that data with its clients and marketing partners.

Adam Berke, the president of AdRoll, an advertising and retargeting company identified by Evidon on the Obama site, said the company did not aggregate user data or share it with other clients.

Meanwhile, Nanda Kishore, the chief technology officer of ShareThis, a service found on the Romney site by Ghostery that collects information about the links visitors share with their social networks, said the company collects only “anonymous” information about users and does not share or sell it.

The privacy policies on the campaigns’ Web sites acknowledge that they work with third parties that may collect user data.

Evidon executives said the tracking companies on the campaign sites included services that collect details about people’s online behavior in order to help mold ads to their political concerns; advertising networks that track people’s browsing history to measure the effectiveness of ads; and companies that record user behavior so they can analyze the effectiveness of sites to attract and hold on to Web traffic.

Officials with both campaigns emphasize that such data collection is “anonymous” because third-party companies use code numbers, not real names, to track site visitors.

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said the Web site does not allow its partners to share data collected from visitors with other clients or use it for other purposes like marketing consumer goods.

“We are committed to protecting individual privacy and employ strong safeguards to protect personal information,” Mr. Fetcher wrote in an e-mail. “We do not provide any personal information to outside entities, and we stipulate that third-party partners not use data collected on the site for other purposes.”

In response to a reporter’s query about whether the Romney site placed limitations on the collection or use of voter data by its partners, Ryan Williams, a campaign spokesman, wrote in an e-mail: “The Romney campaign respects the privacy rights of all Americans. We are committed to ensuring that all of our voter outreach is governed by the highest ethical standards.”

Evidon compiled the statistics on campaign tracking by aggregating data from a panel of about seven million volunteers who use its Ghostery program.

From May to September, Evidon identified 97 tracking programs — “far more than the average site employs,” a company report said — on the Obama and Romney sites combined. (Some trackers appeared on both sites.)

The campaigns’ increased use of tracking technology represents “a significant windfall for online data collectors and ad targeting companies,” Andy Kahl, the director of consumer products at Evidon, wrote in the report. But, he added, “the campaigns need to realize that being on top of which technology partners are appearing on their site, and ensuring clarity into what these partners can and can’t do with the data, is essential.”

Industry executives say the campaigns simply use data-mining to show the most relevant message to each voter.

“Political campaigns now for the first time can actually reach out to prospective voters with messaging that addresses each person’s specific interests and causes,” according to a recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group.

But privacy advocates say such personalization raises questions about transparency.

“Individual voters may not be aware that the message they are getting is based on information that has been gleaned about their activities around the Web and is precisely targeted to them,” said Mr. Calabrese of the A.C.L.U. “It may be a private message just for me that is not the type of statement the campaign makes publicly.”

While some voters may be turned off by the customized campaign appeals, for others, they are expected.

“Companies are doing it, why shouldn’t campaigns?” said Michael James, a New Jersey high school teacher who visited both campaign sites this year to determine whom he would support. “The Internet has changed privacy. We can’t expect either campaign to pretend we’re living in the past.”

    Tracking Voters’ Clicks Online to Try to Sway Them, NYT, 27.10.2012,






Barack Obama for Re-Election


October 27, 2012
The New York Times

The economy is slowly recovering from the 2008 meltdown, and the country could suffer another recession if the wrong policies take hold. The United States is embroiled in unstable regions that could easily explode into full-blown disaster. An ideological assault from the right has started to undermine the vital health reform law passed in 2010. Those forces are eroding women’s access to health care, and their right to control their lives. Nearly 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, all Americans’ rights are cheapened by the right wing’s determination to deny marriage benefits to a selected group of us. Astonishingly, even the very right to vote is being challenged.

That is the context for the Nov. 6 election, and as stark as it is, the choice is just as clear.

President Obama has shown a firm commitment to using government to help foster growth. He has formed sensible budget policies that are not dedicated to protecting the powerful, and has worked to save the social safety net to protect the powerless. Mr. Obama has impressive achievements despite the implacable wall of refusal erected by Congressional Republicans so intent on stopping him that they risked pushing the nation into depression, held its credit rating hostage, and hobbled economic recovery.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has gotten this far with a guile that allows him to say whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. But he has tied himself to the ultraconservative forces that control the Republican Party and embraced their policies, including reckless budget cuts and 30-year-old, discredited trickle-down ideas. Voters may still be confused about Mr. Romney’s true identity, but they know the Republican Party, and a Romney administration would reflect its agenda. Mr. Romney’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate says volumes about that.

We have criticized individual policy choices that Mr. Obama has made over the last four years, and have been impatient with his unwillingness to throw himself into the political fight. But he has shaken off the hesitancy that cost him the first debate, and he approaches the election clearly ready for the partisan battles that would follow his victory.

We are confident he would challenge the Republicans in the “fiscal cliff” battle even if it meant calling their bluff, letting the Bush tax cuts expire and forcing them to confront the budget sequester they created. Electing Mr. Romney would eliminate any hope of deficit reduction that included increased revenues.

In the poisonous atmosphere of this campaign, it may be easy to overlook Mr. Obama’s many important achievements, including carrying out the economic stimulus, saving the auto industry, improving fuel efficiency standards, and making two very fine Supreme Court appointments.


Health Care

Mr. Obama has achieved the most sweeping health care reforms since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The reform law takes a big step toward universal health coverage, a final piece in the social contract.

It was astonishing that Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Congress were able to get a bill past the Republican opposition. But the Republicans’ propagandistic distortions of the new law helped them wrest back control of the House, and they are determined now to repeal the law.

That would eliminate the many benefits the reform has already brought: allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents’ policies; lower drug costs for people on Medicare who are heavy users of prescription drugs; free immunizations, mammograms and contraceptives; a ban on lifetime limits on insurance payments. Insurance companies cannot deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2014, insurers must accept all applicants. Once fully in effect, the new law would start to control health care costs.

Mr. Romney has no plan for covering the uninsured beyond his callous assumption that they will use emergency rooms. He wants to use voucher programs to shift more Medicare costs to beneficiaries and block grants to shift more Medicaid costs to the states.


The Economy

Mr. Obama prevented another Great Depression. The economy was cratering when he took office in January 2009. By that June it was growing, and it has been ever since (although at a rate that disappoints everyone), thanks in large part to interventions Mr. Obama championed, like the $840 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say it failed, but it created and preserved 2.5 million jobs and prevented unemployment from reaching 12 percent. Poverty would have been much worse without the billions spent on Medicaid, food stamps and jobless benefits.

Last year, Mr. Obama introduced a jobs plan that included spending on school renovations, repair projects for roads and bridges, aid to states, and more. It was stymied by Republicans. Contrary to Mr. Romney’s claims, Mr. Obama has done good things for small businesses — like pushing through more tax write-offs for new equipment and temporary tax cuts for hiring the unemployed.

The Dodd-Frank financial regulation was an important milestone. It is still a work in progress, but it established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, initiated reform of the derivatives market, and imposed higher capital requirements for banks. Mr. Romney wants to repeal it.

If re-elected, Mr. Obama would be in position to shape the “grand bargain” that could finally combine stimulus like the jobs bill with long-term deficit reduction that includes letting the high-end Bush-era tax cuts expire. Stimulus should come first, and deficit reduction as the economy strengthens. Mr. Obama has not been as aggressive as we would have liked in addressing the housing crisis, but he has increased efforts in refinancing and loan modifications.

Mr. Romney’s economic plan, as much as we know about it, is regressive, relying on big tax cuts and deregulation. That kind of plan was not the answer after the financial crisis, and it will not create broad prosperity.


Foreign Affairs

Mr. Obama and his administration have been resolute in attacking Al Qaeda’s leadership, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. He has ended the war in Iraq. Mr. Romney, however, has said he would have insisted on leaving thousands of American soldiers there. He has surrounded himself with Bush administration neocons who helped to engineer the Iraq war, and adopted their militaristic talk in a way that makes a Romney administration’s foreign policies a frightening prospect.

Mr. Obama negotiated a much tougher regime of multilateral economic sanctions on Iran. Mr. Romney likes to say the president was ineffective on Iran, but at the final debate he agreed with Mr. Obama’s policies. Mr. Obama deserves credit for his handling of the Arab Spring. The killing goes on in Syria, but the administration is working to identify and support moderate insurgent forces there. At the last debate, Mr. Romney talked about funneling arms through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are funneling arms to jihadist groups.

Mr. Obama gathered international backing for airstrikes during the Libyan uprising, and kept American military forces in a background role. It was smart policy.

In the broadest terms, he introduced a measure of military restraint after the Bush years and helped repair America’s badly damaged reputation in many countries from the low levels to which it had sunk by 2008.


The Supreme Court

The future of the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance in this election — and along with it, reproductive freedom for American women and voting rights for all, to name just two issues. Whoever is president after the election will make at least one appointment to the court, and many more to federal appeals courts and district courts.

Mr. Obama, who appointed the impressive Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, understands how severely damaging conservative activism has been in areas like campaign spending. He would appoint justices and judges who understand that landmarks of equality like the Voting Rights Act must be defended against the steady attack from the right.

Mr. Romney’s campaign Web site says he will “nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito,” among the most conservative justices in the past 75 years. There is no doubt that he would appoint justices who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade.


Civil Rights

The extraordinary fact of Mr. Obama’s 2008 election did not usher in a new post-racial era. In fact, the steady undercurrent of racism in national politics is truly disturbing. Mr. Obama, however, has reversed Bush administration policies that chipped away at minorities’ voting rights and has fought laws, like the ones in Arizona, that seek to turn undocumented immigrants into a class of criminals.

The military’s odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule was finally legislated out of existence, under the Obama administration’s leadership. There are still big hurdles to equality to be brought down, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the outrageous federal law that undermines the rights of gay men and lesbians, even in states that recognize those rights.

Though it took Mr. Obama some time to do it, he overcame his hesitation about same-sex marriage and declared his support. That support has helped spur marriage-equality movements around the country. His Justice Department has also stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act against constitutional challenges.

Mr. Romney opposes same-sex marriage and supports the federal act, which not only denies federal benefits and recognition to same-sex couples but allows states to ignore marriages made in other states. His campaign declared that Mr. Romney would not object if states also banned adoption by same-sex couples and restricted their rights to hospital visitation and other privileges.

Mr. Romney has been careful to avoid the efforts of some Republicans to criminalize abortion even in the case of women who had been raped, including by family members. He says he is not opposed to contraception, but he has promised to deny federal money to Planned Parenthood, on which millions of women depend for family planning.

For these and many other reasons, we enthusiastically endorse President Barack Obama for a second term, and express the hope that his victory will be accompanied by a new Congress willing to work for policies that Americans need.

    Barack Obama for Re-Election, NYT, 27.10.2012,






In Final Days of the Race, Fighting County by County


October 27, 2012
The New York Times


WESTERVILLE, Ohio — President Obama and Mitt Romney are plunging into the final nine days of a multibillion-dollar presidential race focused not only on the seven most competitive states, but also on battleground counties within them that could tip the balance of an exceedingly close contest.

They include the suburbs here in Franklin County, Ohio, where many young married women turned to Mr. Obama in 2008 out of frustration with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but could turn against him now for perceived failures on his campaign promises and a slow-to-recover economy.

In Colorado, the contested territory is Arapahoe County, where Mr. Romney’s campaign is courting Hispanic business owners who are frustrated with the national health care law. It is Hillsborough County in Florida, where both sides agree that whoever wins the independent voters is likely to be president.

At this late stage of the race, the fight for the White House is being waged on intensely local terrain, in places whose voting histories and demographics have been studied in minute detail by both sides. Mr. Obama is intent on replicating an electorate that swept him into office four years ago and is heavily dependent on younger, female and minority voters. Mr. Romney is relying on an older, whiter and more conservative voting group, along the lines of the ones that turned out in 2004 and 2010.

The Romney campaign, worried about its options in the seven top battleground states, opened a fund-raising drive on Saturday to try to expand the playing field into Pennsylvania and Minnesota, two states that Mr. Obama has considered safe. Mr. Romney is also making a deeper push this week into Wisconsin, which he will visit for the first time in two months.

“The switch that went on after that first debate is still on,” said Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican. “I still think people are undecided, they are still listening.”

Obama loyalists are wondering whether the campaign organization, with its focus on the mechanics of getting its voters to the polls, was built to withstand late decisions by voters to give Mr. Romney another look. The president flew to New Hampshire on Saturday — the last day to register to vote by mail — to protect the state’s four electoral votes in hopes of avoiding a narrow loss or an Electoral College tie.

The biggest fear for Mr. Obama’s team is that a large number of voters suddenly will get so fed up with the back-and-forth of the campaign, the economic outlook and the partisan rancor that they break for Mr. Romney, if only to try something new in Washington.

The biggest fear for Mr. Romney’s campaign is that he is coasting on a wave of enthusiasm rather than building upon it. Or in the words of one top campaign adviser: “Did we peak too soon?”

Mr. Obama now has a solid lead in states that account for 185 electoral votes, and he is well positioned in states representing 58 more, for a total of 243, according to a ranking of states by The New York Times, based on polls and interviews with strategists in both campaigns.

Mr. Romney has solid leads in states with 180 electoral votes and is well positioned in states with 26 more, according to the Times rating, for a total of 206. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

In the closing days of the race, seven states representing 89 electoral votes — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — are now considered tossups. Here is a look at their dynamics and the potential path for each candidate.


Mr. Romney’s swing through Florida on Saturday — the first day of in-person early voting there — included a visit to a Republican county in the Panhandle where he wants to pump up his vote count (Escambia) and where a huge crowd met him with chants of “10 more days,” a Democratic county where he wants to cut into Mr. Obama’s expected lead (Osceola), and a swing county (Pasco).

For good reason.

Mr. Romney cannot afford to leave any base untouched. If he loses Florida, his chances of winning the presidency depend on sweeping nine other states, including Ohio and Nevada.

Florida has been considered challenging territory for Mr. Obama all year. Even when polls have shown him ahead, both campaigns have expressed skepticism that the edge would hold.

But at Mr. Obama’s headquarters in Chicago, his aides said in interviews last week that they believed they had at least a 50 percent shot in Florida, based on mail-in ballots, voter registrations and polling. A new wave of Puerto Rican voters in Central Florida is highly influential, Democrats say, along with younger Cuban-Americans in South Florida.

Republicans, still bullish about victory, say Mr. Obama’s aides are overestimating his support among Puerto Ricans. And, they said, Mr. Romney can rely on a very strong showing in Polk County, a Republican stronghold, and push for an edge in the swing county of Hillsborough as well as in Volusia County, home to Daytona.

New Hampshire

On Mr. Obama’s trip on Saturday to Nashua, N.H., with the singer James Taylor in tow, he wooed a state that revels in its reputation for unpredictability. In a stop at a union hall, he said, “We don’t know how this thing is going to play out.”

Mr. Obama won every county there in 2008, a feat that even Bill Clinton did not pull off in 1992 and 1996. But Mr. Obama’s sometimes comfortable lead in polls has dwindled.

Mr. Romney’s aides have been somewhat optimistic about his chances in the state. He was the governor in Massachusetts next door, and he vacations there. His lakeside home in Wolfeboro is in Carroll County, which he will need to win.

He and his campaign have plied the state’s two traditionally Republican-leaning counties in southern New Hampshire — Rockingham and Hillsborough — with attention since he announced his run for the presidency (in the Rockingham town of Stratham). His assertions that Mr. Obama has allowed the budget deficit and national debt to get out of control speaks to the state’s long tradition of thrift.

New Hampshire has only four Electoral College votes. But they would make all the difference if Mr. Romney also wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio and Mr. Obama takes Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The state has extra resonance for Democrats: if Al Gore had won there, he would have been president.


There is a potential outcome that has tantalized political addicts everywhere: that Colorado will become the new Florida, the state that decides it all.

For it to come to that, Mr. Romney must win four of the most competitive states — New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida and Wisconsin — leaving Mr. Obama with Ohio and Iowa. That would give Mr. Romney 262 Electoral College votes to Mr. Obama’s 267, leaving both in need of Colorado’s 9. In 2008, Mr. Obama became the first Democrat to win the state in 16 years by stealing the counties north and south of Boulder — Jefferson and Larimer — and Arapahoe County near Denver and by shaving down the Republican margin in conservative areas like Colorado Springs.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist College poll released on Thursday showed Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney to be tied among likely voters.

Democrats are counting on Hispanic and young voters and what they say is a superior organization. “The closer and closer we get to the election, the more the organizing matters,” said Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat.

Mr. Romney is trying to cut into Mr. Obama’s advantage with Hispanics and hoping for support from military and evangelical voters. His political director, Rich Beeson, has an added incentive to secure victory there: It is his home state.


No state among the battlegrounds is more sentimental and symbolic to Mr. Obama. Iowa christened his presidential candidacy in 2008; his victory in the caucuses there helped pave the way to his winning the Democratic nomination.

Iowa’s unemployment rate is significantly lower than the national average, but Mr. Obama has campaigned in the state as if his candidacy depended upon it. And perhaps it does.

Mr. Romney is looking for backup options if the battleground map does not tilt his way. And the six electoral votes in Iowa could be a critical piece to that puzzle.

The suburban areas around Des Moines (Polk County) and Davenport (Scott County) are crucial for both candidates. The Des Moines Register, whose editorial pages supported Mr. Obama in 2008, announced its endorsement of Mr. Romney on Saturday evening, saying he “offers a fresh economic vision.”

Social conservatives are working to deliver a record turnout in northwestern Iowa. Democrats are taking steps to keep outpacing Republicans in early voting, which means Mr. Romney will have to deliver a strong performance on Election Day to win. Four years ago, Mr. Obama received fewer votes on Election Day than Senator John McCain, but still carried the state because of the ones he banked early.


Mr. Romney spent four of the last five days in the state trying to break through with middle-class voters, making the case that the recovery under Mr. Obama has been inadequate. With 18 electoral votes at stake, both candidates are treating the state as if they were running for governor.

To win, Mr. Romney needs added strength in rural and suburban areas, where Mr. Obama drew more support in 2008 than did previous Democratic candidates. On Sunday night, Mr. Romney will hold a rally at the fairgrounds in Marion, Ohio, a Republican-leaning county, where he needs the margin of victory to return to the levels seen in 2004.

The results in Cincinnati, in Hamilton County, will be among the closest watched in the country. The county supported Mr. Obama in 2008 — the first time a Democrat won in four decades — and is one of the most highly-competitive this year.

“You want to peak at the right time, and we are peaking at the right time,” said Scott Jennings, the Ohio campaign manager for Mr. Romney.

Before Election Day, officials estimate that at least one-third of registered voters will have already cast their ballots.


Virginia is vital to almost every one of Mr. Romney’s paths to the White House if he does not win Ohio, which explains why he has spent so much time visiting the state, including what were to be three rallies on Sunday before they were canceled because of Hurricane Sandy.

Mr. Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since 1964. The tide he rode among black voters in places like Hampton, on the coast, is likely to roll again. And the northern part of the state, in the Washington area, is still considered Obama country.

Mr. Romney has focused much of his effort in areas like those around Norfolk, heavily populated with military personnel, where he asserts that Mr. Obama has allowed the Navy to wither, and in coal-mining country in the south, where he portrays Mr. Obama as hostile to the industry and quick to impose costly regulations on business.

A run of polls in the late summer showed Mr. Obama to be on his way to establishing a real advantage, but in recent weeks the race has fallen into an effective tie. Mr. Romney’s improving standing among undecided women after the debates — which he stoked with an advertisement that sought to soften his stance against abortion — made Mr. Obama’s aides especially nervous.

The president’s campaign has been buoyed by recent indications that those wavering women in the north seem to be returning to his column, especially as Democrats remind them of the anti-abortion measures that state Republicans pursued this year.


The 2008 presidential election, when Mr. Obama carried the state by 14 percentage points, is a distant memory. The electorate is far more polarized this year, particularly after the contentious recall attempt of Mr. Walker in June, which failed.

The organization that Mr. Walker put together to fend off the recall effort by labor unions is the muscle behind Mr. Romney’s on-the-ground operation. In an interview last week, he said, “We set the stage for the Romney campaign before the Romney campaign was fully engaged.”

Another factor is the pride that comes from a native son, Representative Paul D. Ryan, on the ticket. His hometown, Janesville, is a strong Democratic-leaning city, so any votes he wins from there could help the Republican margins in a race that both sides agree seems more like 2000 and 2004, when George W. Bush lost by only a sliver.

Mr. Romney is set to campaign in the state on Monday, focusing on Milwaukee and the suburbs of Waukesha County that offer the biggest Republican margins in the state.

A day later, Mr. Obama is scheduled to visit Green Bay. In 2008, he turned many counties in the Fox River Valley from red to blue. Consider the results of Brown County: Mr. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry by 10 percentage points, while four years later Mr. Obama defeated Mr. McCain by nearly the same margin.

The Romney campaign does not consider Wisconsin one of its best prospects, but a victory would break the Midwestern firewall that Mr. Obama is trying to build. And if Mr. Romney could win the state’s 10 electoral votes — coupled with Colorado’s 9 — it would counterbalance a potential loss in Ohio.



Jeff Zeleny reported from Westerville, Ohio, and Jim Rutenberg from Chicago.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 27, 2012

A caption that accompanied an earlier version of this article misstated the location where President Obama was seen in a photograph on Saturday. He was in Nashua, N.H., not Manchester, N.H.

    In Final Days of the Race, Fighting County by County, NYT, 27.10.2012,






In Virginia,

Romney Scours Coal Country for Edge Over Obama


October 26, 2012
The New York Times


When Jay Swiney emerges from the night shift in the coal mines to assume his duties as mayor of Appalachia, Va., it is hard for him to miss the partisan forces rocking the heavily unionized Democratic hamlets in the mountains along the Tennessee border.

Billboards proclaim “America or Obama — You Can’t Have Them Both!” and “Yes, Coal; No-bama.” Out-of-work miners are sporting baseball caps that say “Coal=Jobs” and T-shirts with the sarcastic message: “Make Coal Legal.” Yard signs and TV ads for Mitt Romney are everywhere.

Mr. Romney’s campaign is aggressively tapping into anger at President Obama’s environmental policies throughout the Appalachian counties where the state’s coal miners live, hoping that huge margins there will offset Mr. Obama’s equally aggressive campaign to woo female voters in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, just outside Washington.

The battle playing out in Virginia has echoes across the battleground states, where the final days of the presidential campaign have become a test of geographical strategies and an all-important focus on motivation, intensity and turnout. Republicans are pushing hard in suburban Denver and central Florida to appeal to Hispanic small business owners. Mr. Obama’s campaign is probing for white male voters around Toledo, where there are major auto plants that benefited from the auto bailout.

In Virginia, Republicans hope to keep the race razor-close in other parts of the state. If they do, aides believe Mr. Romney’s appeal in the sparsely populated coal country could tip Virginia’s 13 electoral votes into his column, a victory vital to his White House bid. With just 10 days left, few self-described hillbillies in southwest Virginia are undecided.

“I definitely will vote for Romney this time,” Mr. Swiney, 43, who considered backing Mr. Obama four years ago before deciding on Senator John McCain, said in a telephone interview this week. “Not just because of the devastation that’s going on with coal now. I’m a firm believer in giving somebody a chance. We’ve given Obama a chance for the last four years.”

The mayor, whose post is nonpartisan, points to the men in the coal camps on the outskirts of the 2,800-person town, some of whom are losing their jobs as tougher environmental regulations make coal more expensive to mine. Plummeting natural gas prices are discouraging the use of coal to generate electricity. The region feels under siege and at war, he says, a sentiment that is also common in coal-mining regions of Ohio, another battleground.

“I personally blame him for it,” Mr. Swiney said of the president.

Mr. Obama argues that he has been supportive of coal by pumping government money into clean-coal technologies. He regularly mocks Mr. Romney for presenting himself as a champion of the coal industry while conveniently forgetting his criticism of coal mines when he was governor of Massachusetts.

“If you say that you’re a champion of the coal industry when, while you were governor, you stood in front of a coal plant and said, this plant will kill you, that’s some Romnesia,” Mr. Obama said at a rally in Fairfax, Va.

But the president, who lost much of that part of the state in 2008, seems at risk this time of losing by even larger margins. State Senator Phillip Puckett, the longtime Democrat from the region, says he will not support Mr. Obama’s re-election because, telling a local television station last year, “It’s very clear to me that the administration does not support the coal industry.”

Strategists for Mr. Obama say coal miners and their families — many of whom are elderly — should be attracted to the president’s position on Social Security and Medicare. The president’s campaign is running ads in the region accusing Mr. Romney of wanting to turn Medicare into a voucher system. And surrogates are pressing the case.

“Romney is a political chameleon,” says Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and a former head of the United Mine Workers. “He will say anything that he thinks people want to hear. For him to say he’s a friend of coal is absolutely ridiculous.”

But even longtime Democrats in the state concede that Mr. Romney is making a forceful push for votes in the Ninth Congressional District, which encompasses the state’s half-dozen coal counties. One of Mr. Romney’s ads, appearing frequently on television, begins with a coal miner saying, “Obama is ruining the coal industry.” Mr. Romney held a rally in Abingdon, Va., this month. His son Matt spoke to 7,500 people last week in Grundy, a town of just 996 people.

Dave Saunders, a veteran Democratic strategist who lives in the region, said: “Three things are sacred in Southwest Virginia — the Holy Bible, moonshine and coal. That’s all I got to say. They will get big numbers in the Ninth. No question at all.”

The Republican effort to gather votes for Mr. Romney has been supplemented by an aggressive and mostly negative campaign by third-party groups backed by conservatives and energy interests. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has a television ad blasting “heavy-handed E.P.A. regulations.” A radio ad by the American Energy Alliance says the “president and his Washington cronies have declared war on affordable energy.” A TV ad by the same group urges miners to “Vote no on Obama’s failing energy policy.”

The president has cited reports that the coal miners in Mr. Romney’s ad were coerced by their employers to be there, an accusation that some of the miners have denied. But even if some of the outrage at Mr. Obama is being exaggerated by outside groups, locals say that much of it is a genuine expression of the frustration at seeing jobs die in the region.

In September, several hundred coal miners were furloughed for at least two months because of rising costs and shrinking demand. The company, Consol, announced on Wednesday that some workers will remain idled even after mining resumes the first week of November.

Other plants have shut down for good, citing in part foreign competition. Larry Lambert, 61, is one of the unlucky miners who spent a day this week at a résumé-writing seminar, which was a requirement for picking up his unemployment check.

“The E.P.A. has put so many strangleholds on the power companies they can’t burn the coal we are mining,” Mr. Lambert said. He added that Mr. Obama seemed appealing four years ago, but has betrayed coal miners.

And yet, it is not clear that there are enough voters like Mr. Lambert to offset the president’s strength in Northern Virginia. About 750,000 people live in southwest Virginia, less than a third of the number in the suburban counties near Washington.

Democratic strategists working on Mr. Obama’s behalf said Mr. Romney would probably win 60 percent of the vote in the region. But they say the shift in the state’s population means that the huge margins will not be worth as much for Mr. Romney’s campaign.

“In the 12 years I’ve been in elected office, we continue to see pretty dramatic population shift,” said Mark Warner, one of the state’s two Democratic senators. “The numbers just aren’t there.”

    In Virginia, Romney Scours Coal Country for Edge Over Obama, NYT, 26.10.2012,






The Sprint to Election Day


October 25, 2012
The New York Times


The final weeks of a presidential race are supposed to give the candidates a chance to choose their biggest ideas and strongest pitches to win wavering voters and drive supporters to the polls. So how does Mitt Romney choose to address one of the biggest challenges facing the nation — its faltering education system?

“We’re going to finally fix our schools,” he said on Wednesday in Reno. And that’s all he said about his education policy. Not even a hint of how he proposes to do that, especially given his hope to make the Department of Education “a heck of a lot smaller.” (He did give the usual verbal shove to teachers’ unions for resisting charter schools, which have hardly proved to be a panacea.)

By contrast, President Obama talked about the subject in detail on his whirlwind tour of swing states this week. In Tampa, Richmond and Cleveland on Thursday, he said he wants to recruit 100,000 math and science teachers, train two million workers at community colleges in the skills needed for employment, and pressure colleges to restrain tuition growth. He made it clear that he will spend money on a national priority that Mr. Romney apparently feels can be left to the whims of individual states.

That’s only one example of how the campaigns are approaching the finish line, but it illustrates the contrast in their conceptions of what voters want to hear.

Mr. Romney is providing nostrums instead of policies. “I’ll balance the budget,” he promised, though his plans to cut taxes and raise military spending would do the opposite. By comparison, Mr. Obama, though he waited too long to begin providing specifics on his second-term agenda, has decided to spend the last two weeks describing them. In his speeches and in a new publication, he is talking about using tax breaks to prod American manufacturing; spending money on repairs of roads, bridges and schools; investing more in renewable energy; and raising taxes on the rich to help pay for all of this. In an interview with The Des Moines Register, he said (after agreeing to go on the record) that he intends to renegotiate the sequester and focus on immigration reform if re-elected.

Mr. Romney, who has moved up in the national polls, has apparently decided to play it safe in the final stretch, as wary of explaining how his tax or jobs plans would actually work as he has been through the campaign. The latest swing-state poll numbers suggest that he will have to do better. In the crucial state of Ohio, Mr. Romney hasn’t been ahead in any poll for the last two weeks, and on Wednesday, a Time magazine poll showed Mr. Obama ahead there by five points.

For Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama’s decision to bail out the auto industry and his own rejection of it is proving to be an Electoral College challenge. Several states are also feeling the benefits of an improved economy. Obama campaign officials say that to win, Mr. Romney would have to pick off voters already committed to the president in states where Mr. Romney has never been ahead. “We think we maintain a lot more plausible pathways to 270 than Governor Romney, who we think has to essentially pull an inside straight,” said David Plouffe, the president’s chief strategist.

Those pathways exist because millions of voters still harbor doubts about Mitt Romney. He has apparently decided that in the final days of the campaign, he will do little to dispel them.

    The Sprint to Election Day, NYT, 25.10.2012,






Obama, Romney and Their Parties

on Track to Raise $2 Billion


October 25, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama and Mitt Romney are both on pace to raise more than $1 billion with their parties by Election Day, according to financial disclosures filed by the campaigns on Thursday.

From the beginning of 2011 through Oct. 17, Mr. Obama and the Democrats raised about $1.06 billion, and Mr. Romney and the Republicans collected $954 million, including some money for the party’s Congressional efforts, setting up 2012 to be the most expensive presidential campaign in history.

But the sources of that money, raised over the course of a deeply polarizing campaign, echo the sharp divisions between the two men and their parties over issues like abortion rights, the role of government in regulating industry and the country’s economic future.

Wall Street has invested more heavily in Mr. Romney, a former financier who has pledged to repeal Mr. Obama’s new financial regulations, than in any presidential candidate in memory. Employees of financial firms had given more than $18 million dollars to Mr. Romney’s campaign through the end of September and tens of millions more to the “super PACs” supporting him.

Insurance companies, doctors and law, accounting and real estate firms are giving less to Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee than they did four years ago, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Yet donors in other industries have stepped in. With Mr. Obama making repeated trips to Silicon Valley and holding round tables with executives there, the technology industry has donated about $14 million to the president and the Democrats, substantially more than in 2008.

Retirees, the biggest single source of money for both sides, have given the Democrats much more than they did four years ago, as have employees of women’s groups, retailers and hospitals and nursing homes.

To make up for the loss of business money that flowed to his campaign four years ago, Mr. Obama has also turned to the very smallest donors, building an army of millions of supporters who have given as little as a few dollars each. About 4.2 million people sent donations to Mr. Obama and the D.N.C., his campaign said on Thursday, roughly one million more than in 2008.

Over all, 55 percent of the Obama campaign’s money through the end of September came in donations of less than $200, including from many people who have repeatedly sent in small checks over the course of the campaign. Just 13 percent of his checks were for $2,500, the maximum that donors are allowed to contribute for either the primary or general election.

Mr. Romney, by contrast, has cultivated business leaders and benefited from a Republican donor establishment that is eager to defeat Mr. Obama, raising an unprecedented amount of money from wealthy donors who gave the maximum allowed. Just 22 percent of his cash has come from donations of less than $200. Through the end of September, 45 percent of checks to Mr. Romney’s campaign were for the maximum $2,500 contribution.

Neither candidate is likely to raise as much money directly for his own presidential committee as Mr. Obama did in 2008. A flood of online donations that year, and support from many traditionally Republican donors, helped Mr. Obama raise $748 million for his presidential committee. The D.N.C. raised another $244 million, bringing the combined total to a little under $1 billion.

This time around, Mr. Obama, as an incumbent, has raised more of his total through the D.N.C., which can accept five-figure checks from each of Mr. Obama’s wealthiest supporters. By raising more money from his very biggest and very smallest donors, Mr. Obama has been able to offset his losses from the business world and from previous contributors who gave less or not at all this time, whether because of the recession or fading enthusiasm.

Mr. Romney, after becoming the presumptive Republican nominee in the spring, almost immediately began a fund-raising effort with the Republican National Committee, several state parties and the two Congressional campaign committees. Mr. Romney’s total through September included about $13.6 million that was raised for and transferred to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The overall totals do not include hundreds of millions of dollars being raised and spent by “super PACs” and other outside groups, mostly to benefit Mr. Romney and other Republicans. Groups aligned with Mr. Romney have spent $302 million on campaign advertising that they are required to disclose to the F.E.C., compared with about $120 million for groups aligned with Mr. Obama. Tens of millions of dollars more has been spent on issue advertisements whose precise costs are difficult to measure.

“As the Romney campaign and their ‘super PAC’ allies continue to outspend us on the air, we’re making every effort to expand our donor base heading into the final stretch,” said Adam Fetcher, an Obama spokesman.

Mr. Romney and the Republicans raised about $21.3 million more than Mr. Obama and the Democrats during the first 17 days of October, according to the disclosures filed on Thursday, as Mr. Romney rose in the polls and performed well in debates, emboldening his supporters.

Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee took in $92.4 million during that period, after surpassing Mr. Romney in August and September.

Mr. Romney and the R.N.C. raised $113.7 million over the same period, the final days for which the campaigns are required to report their fund-raising before the election on Nov. 6. Mr. Romney and his party also spent about $146.2 million during the first 17 days in October, slightly less than the $149.7 million spent by Mr. Obama and the Democrats.

While Mr. Obama’s team invested tens of millions of dollars early in the campaign to identify, contact and raise money from grass-roots voters, those expenditures have left the Republicans with more cash in the final weeks of the election that could finance a late surge of advertising. Mr. Romney and the G.O.P. ended the final filing period with $169 million in cash on hand, significantly more than the $123.8 million held by Mr. Obama and the Democrats.


Michael Luo and Derek Willis contributed reporting.

    Obama, Romney and Their Parties on Track to Raise $2 Billion, NYT, 25.10.2012,






Obama Campaign Endgame:

Grunt Work and Cold Math


October 25, 2012
The New York Times


CHICAGO — This is what “grinding it out” looks like at President Obama’s election headquarters: scores of young staff members intently clicking away at computer keyboards as they crunch gigabytes of data about which way undecided voters are leaning, where they can be reached, and when; strategists standing at whiteboards busily writing and erasing early voting numbers and turnout possibilities; a lonely Ping-Pong table.

The wave of passion and excitement that coursed through Mr. Obama’s headquarters here in 2008 has been replaced with a methodical and workmanlike approach to manufacturing the winning coalition that came together more organically and enthusiastically for him the last time, a more arduous task with no guarantee of success.

As Washington and the cable news commentariat breathlessly discuss whether Mitt Romney’s post-debate movement in the polls has peaked, Mr. Obama’s campaign technicians — and that’s what many of them are — are putting as much faith in the multimillion-dollar machine they built for just such a close race as in the president himself.

“We are exactly where I thought we would be, in a very close election with 12 days left with two things to do and two things only: persuade the undecided and turn our voters out,” said Jim Messina, 43, the president’s technocratic campaign manager, slightly paler and more hunched than he was when the campaign began. Pointing to the rows of personnel outside his office on Thursday, he added, “Everything in that room has been focused on that.”

Four years ago, Mr. Obama’s political team here was preparing one of its trademark showstoppers: a half-hour prime-time program extolling Mr. Obama’s character and plans across four networks, culminating in a live feed from a boisterous rally in Florida.

There will be no such razzmatazz this time around. Any extra money in this tight final phase of the election is being wired to Nevada and Florida for more Spanish-language ads, to Iowa and Ohio for more on-the-ground staff members, and to Google and Facebook for more microtargeted messaging to complacent, maybe even demoralized, young supporters.

Mr. Obama emphasized the importance of their task during a stop at a phone bank here in Chicago on Thursday, telling volunteers, “If we let up and our voters don’t turn out, we could lose this election.” He added quickly, “The good news is, if our voters do turn out, we will definitely win the election.”

At the White House, it is clear that the action has moved to Chicago, with some staff members, who are legally prohibited from even wearing campaign buttons to work, pining to be on the trail and others whiling away the time preparing for the lame-duck Congressional wrangling on the budget impasse.

For Mr. Obama’s campaign staff in a nondescript office tower here, the task now comes down to creating an electorate more favorable to Democrats than most major pollsters have assumed, with percentages of Obama-friendly black, Latino and young voters that rival those of 2008, at least enough to offset the large drop in support among other segments of the population, like independent men.

An ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll on Thursday had Mr. Romney with a 50-to-47-percent edge among likely voters nationwide, the first time the challenger had reached 50 percent in the poll. But Mr. Obama’s aides here are at least projecting an air of confidence. They say their system, which they began building long before the Republican primaries, is exceeding expectations. Eleven days will tell whether they are bluffing.

After using their huge database to increase registration among favorable voting groups in crucial states, they are now pinpointing people who ordered absentee ballots and need a nudge to send them, or sporadic voters who indicated they would vote for the president but may need to be pushed to show up at their polling place.

“We made a strategic choice very early on that getting our supporters — and the right types of supporters — to the polls before Election Day was a big priority for us,” said Mitch Stewart, the Obama campaign’s battleground state director, who has been helping organize Mr. Obama’s supporters since the 2008 election and started at the campaign some 19 months and, in his words, “20 pounds ago.”

With a box of Tastykakes sitting on his desk in his spartan office, Mr. Stewart added, “The electorate’s going to look much more like 2008 than 2010.”

Some polls in recent weeks have shown Mr. Obama with an advantage among all registered voters, and Mr. Romney with an advantage or tied among likely voters. Mr. Obama’s aides are contending that the pollsters are wrongly assuming that Mr. Obama’s voters are less enthusiastic and that turnout among his key groups will be down, that is, he has fewer likely voters than he had four years ago.

A new Time magazine poll this week showed Mr. Obama ahead by a two-to-one ratio among those who voted early in Ohio.

His aides pointed to statistics showing that a slightly higher percentage of African-Americans had voted early in North Carolina compared with the percentage at this point four years ago, and that their percentages are up along with those of Hispanics in the early mail-in vote in Florida, which they attributed to their turnout operations.

Officials with Mr. Romney’s campaign disagree, and they said that whatever gains Mr. Obama had would be unsustainable through Election Day, contending that he is succeeding only in getting those most likely to support him to show up early, an assessment that Mr. Obama’s aides dispute.

“Every cycle, when someone is losing, they claim they are altering the electorate,” said Rich Beeson, Mr. Romney’s political director.

Of course, at this stage of the race, each campaign is engaged in a bit of bravado, aimed at giving supporters and undecided voters alike a sense that it is the winning team to be on.

There is little dispute that for Mr. Obama to at least come close enough to matching his 2008 coalition to win he will need to induce people to vote in a way he did not have to four years ago, before the full impact of the Great Recession was followed by intensive partisan wrangling.

Mr. Obama’s aides here said they had prepared for the need to rebuild his coalition all along, and that is why they have kept careful tabs on his former supporters, and worked to identify potential new ones, since he took office, all the while perfecting ways to keep track of them, keep in touch with them, and, ultimately, persuade them to vote.

The campaign is refocusing its advertising to scare less motivated supporters to vote. One new ad presents a reminder of Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in the Florida recount of 2000, which, the ad says, made “the difference between what was, and what could have been.”

But ultimately, if Mr. Obama does win, it could come down to the huge room of technicians and data crunchers in a corporate office here, sitting on exercise balls or squeezing stress toys as they dispatch information to volunteers knocking on doors hundreds of miles away.

In interviews, Mr. Obama’s aides wistfully recalled when the office had just opened, a vast, mostly empty space with a countdown of the days scrawled in Magic Marker — then well into the hundreds. Now it is done with a digital clock, ticking off the very last minutes and seconds.


Peter Baker contributed reporting from Chicago,

and Mark Landler and Jackie Calmes from Washington.

    Obama Campaign Endgame: Grunt Work and Cold Math, NYT, 25.10.2012,






Romney’s Economic Model


October 24, 2012
The New York Times


Mitt Romney’s best argument on the campaign trail has been simple: Under President Obama, the American economy has remained excruciatingly weak, far underperforming the White House’s own projections.

That’s a fair criticism.

But Obama’s best response could be this: If you want to see how Romney’s economic policies would work out, take a look at Europe. And weep.

In the last few years, Germany and Britain, in particular, have implemented precisely the policies that Romney favors, and they have been richly praised by Republicans here as a result. Yet these days those economies seem, to use a German technical term, kaput.

Is Europe a fair comparison? Well, Republicans seem to think so, because they came up with it. In the last few years, they’ve repeatedly cited Republican-style austerity in places like Germany and Britain as a model for America.

Let’s dial back the time machine and listen up:

“Europe is already setting an example for the U.S.,” Representative Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican, said in 2010. (You know things are bad when a Texas Republican is calling for Americans to study at the feet of those socialist Europeans.)

The same year, Karl Rove praised European austerity as a model for America and approvingly quoted the leader of the European Central Bank as saying: “The idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect.”

Representative Steve King of Iowa, another Republican, praised Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for preaching austerity and said: “It ought to hit home to our president of the United States. It ought to hit all of us here in this country.”

“The president should learn a lesson from the ‘German Miracle,’ ” Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, a Republican, urged on the House floor in July 2011.

Also in 2011, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, denounced Obama’s economic management and said: “We need a budget with a bold vision — like those unveiled in Britain and New Jersey.”

O.K. Let’s see how that’s working out.

New Jersey isn’t overseas, but since Sessions and many other Republicans have hailed it as a shining model of austerity, let’s start there. New Jersey ranked 47th in economic growth last year. When Gov. Chris Christie took office in 2010 and began to impose austerity measures, New Jersey ranked 35th in its unemployment rate; now it ranks 48th.

Senator Sessions, do we really aspire for the same in America as a whole?

Something similar has happened internationally. The International Monetary Fund this month downgraded its estimates for global economic growth, with only one major bright spot in the West. That would be the United States, expected to grow a bit more than 2 percent this year and next.

In contrast, Europe’s economy is expected to shrink this year and have negligible growth next year. The I.M.F. projects that Germany will grow less than 1 percent this year and next, while Britain’s economy is contracting this year.

Karl Rove, that sounds a lot like stagnation to me.

All this is exactly what economic textbooks predicted. Since Keynes, it’s been understood that, in a downturn, governments should go into deficit to stimulate demand; that’s how we got out of the Great Depression. And recent European data and I.M.F. analyses underscore that austerity in the middle of a downturn not only doesn’t help but leads to even higher ratios of debt to economic output.

So, yes, Republicans have a legitimate point about the long-term need to curb deficits and entitlement growth. But, no, it isn’t reasonable for Republicans to advocate austerity in the middle of a downturn. On that, they’re empirically wrong.

If there were still doubt about this, we’ve had a lovely natural experiment in the last few years, as the Republicans in previous years were happy to point out. All industrialized countries experienced similar slowdowns, and the United States under Obama chose a massive stimulus while Germany and Britain chose Republican-endorsed austerity.

Neither approach worked brilliantly. Obama’s initial economic stimulus created at least 1.4 million jobs, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. But that wasn’t enough, and it was partly negated by austerity in state and local governments.

Still, America’s economy is now the fastest growing among major countries in the West, and Britain’s is shrinking. Which would you prefer?

I’m not suggesting Obama distribute bumper stickers saying: “It Could Be Worse.” He might want to stick with: “Osama’s Dead and G.M. Is Alive.”

Yes, there are differences between Europe and America. But Republicans were right to call attention to this empirical experiment.

The results are in. And, as Representative King suggested, the lessons “ought to hit all of us here in this country.”

    Romney’s Economic Model, NYT, 24.10.2012,






Standard of Living Is in the Shadows as Election Issue


October 23, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Taxes and government spending. Health care. Immigration. Financial regulation.

They are the issues that have dominated the political debate in recent years and have played a prominent role in this presidential campaign. But in many ways they have obscured what is arguably the nation’s biggest challenge: breaking out of a decade of income stagnation that has afflicted the middle class and the poor and exacerbated inequality.

Many of the bedrock assumptions of American culture — about work, progress, fairness and optimism — are being shaken as successive generations worry about the prospect of declining living standards. No question, perhaps, is more central to the country’s global standing than whether the economy will perform better on that score in the future than it has in the recent past.

The question has helped create a volatile period in American politics, with Democrats gaining large victories in 2006 and 2008, only to have Republicans return the favor in 2010. This year, economic anxiety, especially in industrial battlegrounds like Ohio, is driving the campaign strategies of both President Obama and Mitt Romney.

The causes of income stagnation are varied and lack the political simplicity of calls to bring down the deficit or avert another Wall Street meltdown. They cannot be quickly remedied through legislation from Washington. The biggest causes, according to interviews with economists over the last several months, are not the issues that dominate the political debate.

At the top of the list are the digital revolution, which has allowed machines to replace many forms of human labor, and the modern wave of globalization, which has allowed millions of low-wage workers around the world to begin competing with Americans.

Not much further down the list is education, probably the country’s most diffuse, localized area of government policy. As skill levels have become even more important for prosperity, the United States has lost its once-large global lead in educational attainment.

Some of the disconnect between the economy’s problems and the solutions offered by Washington stem from the nature of the current political debate. The presidential campaign has been more focused on Bain Capital and an “apology tour” than on the challenges created by globalization and automation.

But economists and other analysts also point to the scale of the problem. No other rich country — not Japan, not any nation in Europe — has figured out exactly how to respond to the challenges. “The whole notion of the American dream,” said Frank Levy, an M.I.T. economist, “described a mass upward mobility that is just a lot harder to achieve right now.”

For the first time since the Great Depression, median family income has fallen substantially over an entire decade. Income grew slowly through most of the last decade, except at the top of the distribution, before falling sharply when the financial crisis began.

By last year, family income was 8 percent lower than it had been 11 years earlier, at its peak in 2000, according to inflation-adjusted numbers from the Census Bureau. On average in 11-year periods in the decades just after World War II, inflation-adjusted median income rose by almost 30 percent.

Matching the growth rates of the postwar period — when the country was poorer, when harsh discrimination against women and minorities was receding and when the rest of the world was weaker — is probably impossible. Yet there is still a vast difference, both economically and politically, between incomes that are rising modestly and not at all.

Historically, periods of economic stagnation have tended to bring pessimism, political turmoil and a lack of social progress, said Benjamin Friedman, an economic historian and the author of “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.” The political volatility and partisan rancor of the last several years seem to fit the pattern.

The recent stagnation has also led, economists say, to confusion and even scapegoating about the real sources of the problem. The causes that can seem obvious, and that often shape the political debate, are not necessarily the correct ones.

Take immigration, especially illegal immigration. Whatever other problems it may cause, evidence suggests that it has not played a significant role in the income slump.

It may have caused a slight decline in the wages of native-born workers without a high school diploma (and maybe not even that). But most illegal immigrants lack the skills to compete with the bulk of native workers, according to research by Giovanni Peri, Chad Sparber and others. Notably, incomes in some states with large immigrant populations, like California, have risen faster than in states with relatively few immigrants, like Ohio.

The minimum wage, similarly, appears to play only a minor role in the income slump. It has risen faster than inflation since 2000, even as overall pay at the bottom of the income distribution has not. And the size of the federal government also looks like a dog that is not barking: Washington collected taxes equal to 15.4 percent of gross domestic product last year, down from 20.6 percent in 2000.

A second group of much-cited forces have indeed played a role in middle-class stagnation and inequality, many economists argue, just not as big a role as automation, globalization or education.

Health care costs have grown sharply over the last decade, leaving employers with less cash to use on salaries. Labor unions have shrunk; all else equal, unionized workers earn more, often at the expense of corporate profits. Tax rates have fallen more for the affluent than for anyone else, directly increasing the take-home pay of top earners and indirectly giving them more incentive to earn large amounts.

But many of these factors are particular to the United States, while globalization and automation are obviously universal forces.

One of the more striking recent developments in economics has been economists’ growing acceptance of the idea that globalization has held down pay for a large swath of workers. The public has long accepted the idea, but economists resisted it, pointing to the long-term benefits of trade. “That is starting to change only in the face of very strong evidence over the past decade,” said Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In particular, job growth and wage growth have been weaker in sectors exposed to global competition — especially from China — than in sectors that are more insulated.

Automation creates similar patterns. Workers whose labor can be replaced by computers, be they in factories or stores, have paid a particularly steep price. The American manufacturing sector produces much more than it did in 1979, despite employing almost 40 percent fewer workers.

Workers with less advanced skills have also suffered disproportionately. The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else is near a record. Despite the long economic slump — and the well-chronicled struggles of some college graduates — their unemployment rate is just 4.1 percent.

What is the solution to this thicket of economic forces?

That question is the one that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are trying to convince voters that they can best answer. They both accept that the government and the market have a role, but they put a different emphasis on those roles.

It is hard to see how either globalization or automation can be stopped. The proposed solutions instead tend to involve managing them.

If the economy can be made to grow fast enough, incomes can still rise across the board, as they did when the unemployment rate fell below 5 percent in the 1990s and briefly below 4 percent in 2000. If educational attainment rises, more people will be able to get jobs that benefit from technology and global trade, rather than suffer from it. And if inequality continues to soar, the government could choose to use the tax code to ameliorate it — a solution that Democrats favor and Republicans say will hurt economic growth.

Maybe the biggest reason for optimism is that there is still a strong argument that both globalization and automation help the economy in the long run. This argument remains popular with economists: Trade allows countries to specialize in what they do best, while technology creates opportunities to extend and improve life that never before existed.

Previous periods of rapid economic change also created problems that seemed to be permanent but were not. Neither the cotton gin nor the steam engine nor the automobile created mass unemployment.

“When technology reduces the need for certain kinds of labor, we know that some inventive people will one day come along and find a way to use that freed-up labor making things that other people want to buy,” said Mr. Friedman, the economic historian. “That’s what in the long run made the Luddites wrong.”

He added, “How long does it take the Luddites to be wrong — a few years, a decade, a couple of decades?”

Perhaps just as important, what happens to the workers who happen to be living during a time when the Luddite argument has some truth to it?

    Standard of Living Is in the Shadows as Election Issue, NYT, 23.10.2012,






With Debates Over,

Candidates Race to Clinch Vital States


October 23, 2012
The New York Times


DAYTON, Ohio — President Obama started making his closing argument for a second term on Tuesday, beginning a furious two-week effort to beat back a late surge by Mitt Romney and hang on to battleground states where voters are already casting ballots in large numbers.

At the beginning of what the campaign described as a round-the-clock blitz, and on the day after his final debate, Mr. Obama tried to address what polling has shown is a consistent question among voters: What kind of agenda does he have for a second term? He released a 20-page booklet encapsulating previously announced policies and contrasting his positions to those of Mr. Romney.

The document contains no new proposals, and was derided by a spokesman for Mr. Romney as a “glossy panic button.” But along with a new television advertisement that began running in nine battleground states, the president’s aides predicted it would help counter the Romney assault plan for the next two weeks that aims to convince voters that Mr. Obama has no plans to fix the ailing economy.

Mr. Romney and his campaign spent Tuesday pounding away at points Mr. Romney made during the debate on Monday night, including accusing the president of apologizing for the United States and cutting military spending excessively. Mr. Romney flew from Florida to Nevada, where he mocked Mr. Obama’s attacks on him as desperate moves by a losing candidate.

“You know, the truth is that attacks on me are not an agenda,” Mr. Romney said to a crowd of about 6,000 people in Henderson, Nev. “His is a status quo candidacy. His is a message of going forward with the same policies of the last four years, and that’s why his campaign is slipping, and that’s why ours is gaining so much steam.”

In the president’s minute-long ad, and in appearances at the start of a frenetic week, Mr. Obama stepped up his effort to convince the nation that he had brought it back from the brink of economic collapse and that Mr. Romney would embrace the policies that caused the problems. Looking directly into the camera, the president asks voters to “read my plan, compare it to Governor Romney’s and decide which is better for you.”

But even as he sought to strike a positive note at the start of a three-day swing that is taking him through Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida and Virginia, Mr. Obama also enthusiastically stepped up his attacks. The Republican candidate, the president said at a rally in Florida, wants to “turn back the clock 50 years for immigrants and gays and women” and is pursuing a foreign policy that is “all over the map.”

Appearing later with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at a raucous rally before 9,500 people in Dayton, the president went into a spirited assault, using his new favorite attack word — “Romnesia” — to highlight his rival’s position on the auto bailout, which the White House says was vital to saving jobs in Ohio and throughout the Midwest.

“Last night, Governor Romney looked me right in the eye, tried to pretend he never said, ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt,’ ” Mr. Obama said, one of many instances all day when he suggested Mr. Romney was not being honest about his positions as he seeks to appeal to a general-election audience after a Republican primary campaign in which he emphasized conservative stances.

With some polls suggesting that Mr. Romney is closing the gap, Mr. Obama’s top strategists described twin approaches: to make final appeals to independents, moderates, women and minorities as they offer lacerating assessments of Mr. Romney’s qualifications and credibility.

Still, Mr. Obama’s schedule and the tenor of his campaign appearances made clear that his primary mission now was to energize his own supporters and get them to vote, preferably right away. In Florida, where he appeared in the morning, and later in Ohio,the constant refrain at his rallies was “Vote! Vote! Vote!” Early voting begins in Florida on Saturday and is already under way in Ohio.The terrain that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are covering this week illustrates a battleground within a battleground. The campaigns are advertising in nine states — stretching from North Carolina to Nevada — but are spending most of their most crucial resource — their time — in the Midwest.

Mr. Romney is scheduled to zip back and forth on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between Ohio and Iowa. Winning those states is the most efficient way for him to block Mr. Obama from returning to the White House or for Mr. Obama to lock down a path to 270 electoral votes.

In a sign of the closeness of the race, a “super PAC” supporting Mr. Romney, Restore Our Future, reserved television time in Maine, traditionally a Democratic state. Maine allocates its electoral votes by Congressional district, and Mr. Romney’s supporters hope they may be able to pick off the single electoral vote available from the state’s more conservative Second District.

In the final two weeks Mr. Romney has the challenge of maintaining a strategy of presenting himself as more reasonable and pragmatic than the image the White House built of him over the summer: that of an out-of-touch, job-killing plutocrat. But to the degree that strategy involves emphasizing more moderate positions than he stressed during the Republican primary campaign, it creates the potential for him to face renewed questions among conservatives on his ideological commitment.

Conversations with a half-dozen conservative activists on Tuesday suggested that many were cutting Mr. Romney some slack. “There’s a caricature of Romney that the Obama campaign has put out, and when he doesn’t fit the caricature he is accused of changing his view,” said Gary L. Bauer, president of the Christian advocacy group American Values.

In the final weeks, Mr. Romney’s campaign has been discussing ways to build on gains that have shown him closing Mr. Obama’s lead in polls in states like Ohio. Mr. Romney plans to deliver what the campaign describes as a major jobs and debt speech on Thursday in Cincinnati, the third in a series of policy addresses laying out how he would govern.

A new ad released Tuesday night shows Mr. Romney’s closing statement from the last debate, arguing that voters have a choice between “two very different paths” for the country. “The president’s path means 20 million people out of work, struggling for a good job,” he says. “I’ll get people back to work with 12 million new jobs.”

The campaign is also mulling whether to expand distribution of the 10-minute biographical video it first showed to rave reviews at the Republican National Convention, or to buy time for a similar biographical commercial in swing states, said two senior strategists, who had participated in those internal deliberations.

Democrats monitoring Republican ad spending said the Romney campaign had begun asking individual television stations about the possibility of buying time for a long commercial.


Ashley Parker contributed reporting from Henderson, Nev.,

Jeff Zeleny from Columbus, Ohio, and Jim Rutenberg and Erik Eckholm from New York.

    With Debates Over, Candidates Race to Clinch Vital States, NYT, 23.10.2012,






Poll Addict Confesses


October 22, 2012
The New York Times


Hello, my name is David, and I’m a pollaholic. For the past several months I have spent inordinate amounts of time poring over election polls. A couple of times a day, I check the Web sites to see what the polling averages are. I check my Twitter feed to see the latest Gallup numbers. I’ve read countless articles dissecting the flawed methodologies of polls I don’t like.

And do you know what I’ve learned from these hours of attention? That if the election were held today (which it won’t be), then President Obama would be a bit more likely to win. At the same time, there seems to be a whiff of momentum toward Mitt Romney. That’s it. Hundreds of hours. Two banal observations.

I have wasted a large chunk of my life I will never get back. Why? Because I’ve got a problem.

Look, I know in the cool light of rationality how I should treat polling data. First, I should treat polls as a fuzzy snapshot of a moment in time. I should not read them, and think I understand the future.

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior. Financial firms with zillions of dollars have spent decades trying to create models that will help them pick stocks, and they have gloriously failed.

Scholars at Duke University studied 11,600 forecasts by corporate chief financial officers about how the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index would perform over the next year. The correlation between their estimates and the actual index was less than zero.

And, if it’s hard to predict stocks or the economy, politics is a field perfectly designed to foil precise projections.

Politics isn’t a game, like poker, with an artificially limited number of possible developments. National elections are rare, so we have ridiculously small sample sizes. Political campaigns don’t give pollsters immediate feedback, so they can gradually correct their errors. They have to wait for Election Day for actual results, and only the final poll is verifiable.

Most important, stuff happens. Obama turns in a bad debate performance. Romney makes offensive comments at a fund-raiser. These unquantifiable events change the trajectories of tight campaigns. You can’t tell what’s about to happen. You certainly can’t tell how 100 million people are going to process what’s about to happen. You can’t calculate odds that capture unknown reactions to unknown events.

The second thing I know is that if you do have to look at polls, you should do it no more than once every few days, to get a general sense of the state of the race. I’ve seen the studies that show that people who check their stocks once a day get lower returns than people who check them once a quarter because they get distracted by noise and make terrible decisions. I’ve seen the work on information overload, which makes people depressed, stressed and freezes their brains. I know that checking the polls constantly is a recipe for self-deception and anxiety.

I know all this. But do I obey? Of course not. I check every few hours. I’m motivated by the illusion of immanent knowledge. I imagine that somehow the next batch of polling will contain some magic cross-tab about swing voters in Ohio that will satisfy my voracious curiosity and allay this irritable uncertainty.

I’m also motivated by the thrill of premature celebration. Elections aren’t just about policy choices. They’re status competitions. When the polls swing your way, you feel a surge of righteous affirmation. Your views are obviously correct! Your team’s virtues are widely recognized! You get to see the humiliation and pain afflicting your foes.

When the polls swing the other way, well, who believes the polls anyway? Those idiots are obviously skewing the results. This has been a golden age for confirmation bias.

Finally, I’m motivated by the power of cognitive laziness. It’s hard to figure out how each candidate will handle the so-called budgetary fiscal cliff or the uncertainties involved with Iran. But the polling numbers are like candy. So clear and digestible! Just as the teenage mind naturally migrates from homework to Facebook, just as the normal reader’s mind naturally wanders from Toynbee to Twitter, so the political junkie’s brain has a tendency to slide downhill from policy to polling.

Look, I went into a profession — journalism — committed to the mission of describing the present. Imagine how many corrections we’d have to publish if we tried to predict the future. Yet, despite all that, every few hours, I’m on my laptop, tablet or smartphone — sipping Gallup, chugging Rasmussen, gulping Pew, trying to figure out how it will all go down.

Come on, David, think through the poll. This is the first day of the rest of your life.

Wait a second! The 7-Eleven Coffee Cup Poll is out! Just one more look. Obama is up big!

    Poll Addict Confesses, NYT, 22.10.2012,






Where the Candidates Agree


October 22, 2012
The New York Times


Judging by the first two presidential debates — I’m writing this on the eve of the third — there is one area where Mitt Romney and President Obama are in at least quasi agreement: the need for serious tax reform.

“I want to bring the rates down; I want to simplify the tax code; and I want to get middle-income taxpayers to have lower taxes,” said the Republican challenger during the second debate. He added that he would limit “deductions and exemptions and credits, particularly for people at the high end” — while getting us “on track for a balanced budget.”

In response, President Obama said that he, too, wanted to bring rates down for the middle class. But, he said, “in addition to some tough spending cuts, we’ve also got to make sure that the wealthy do a little bit more.”

As my old friend Jeffrey Birnbaum pointed out recently, the two men really aren’t all that far apart. Romney and the president both want to lower the corporate tax rate and get rid of numerous loopholes. (Romney, of course, has yet to say which loopholes he favors eliminating.) Romney would cap deductions and credits — which would have the effect of raising taxes on the wealthy, which the Democrats want. “The plans differ in detail,” Birnbaum wrote in a note to his clients, “but they aren’t unbridgeable.”

Birnbaum, the president of BGR Public Relations, is a former Washington journalist. As a young reporter for The Wall Street Journal, he co-wrote, with The Journal’s Alan Murray, a minor classic about government: “Showdown at Gucci Gulch,” which chronicled the arduous, multiyear effort that led to the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Tax reform — real tax reform that rewrites the tax code top to bottom — is so rare that it has happened only once in my lifetime. Birnbaum, however, believes that it could happen again.

Then, as now, voters were upset about the state of the tax code. Stories about millionaires paying lower rates than their assistants give people the gnawing sense that the system is unfair. Corporations that pay little or no taxes amplify that feeling.

What’s more, the need for tax reform is probably more urgent now than it was in the 1980s. Then, the deficit wasn’t nearly the problem that it is today. Now, tax reform is just about the only politically palatable way for Congress to begin the process of lowering the deficit. Lowering tax rates will give Congress and the president — whomever he turns out to be — cover for broadening the tax base, reforming entitlement spending and raising additional revenue.

Yet what struck me as I reread “Showdown at Gucci Gulch” recently is not the similarities between then and now, but the differences. For starters, we had, in Ronald Reagan, a president deeply committed to lowering tax rates — because during his days as an actor, the marginal tax rate was 90 percent. We had a senator, in Bill Bradley, who was obsessed with creating a fairer tax system and wouldn’t let go of the issue. Today, that role is played by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles — neither of whom is an elected official.

We had plenty of money sloshing around politics in the 1980s — not to mention powerful special interests — but it wasn’t close to the kind of money that is routinely tossed around today, especially after the Citizens United decision. Members of Congress and senators are more beholden to special interests than they were a quarter-century ago.

Most of all, we had a Congress in which Democrats and Republicans, whatever their differences, talked to each other and were willing to cut deals. (Stunningly, one of those deals in 1986 led to the elimination of the capital gains differential, which is almost unimaginable today.) Both Democrats and Republicans got things they wanted — and lost things they wanted. “Compromise,” said Bradley the other day, “is the essence of democracy.”

Today, of course, compromise has become a dirty word. That’s partly because Republicans and Democrats have differing goals: one side wants to use tax reform to shrink the government; the other wants to use it to raise revenue. But it is also because Congress has simply become a nastier, more partisan place than it was in the 1980s. Last year, the lack of trust and communication between the two parties led to debt-ceiling crisis and the collapse of the so-called Grand Bargain. Why should anybody think it will be any different next year?

Right around the corner lies the “fiscal cliff.” It offers Congress and the president a golden opportunity to begin a process that will lead to tax reform and, ultimately, deficit reduction. Birnbaum likes to point out that back in the 1980s, nobody really believed tax reform could ever happen. Miraculously, after many fits and starts, it did. One can only hope that lightning can strike twice.

    Where the Candidates Agree, NYT, 22.10.2012,






Campaign Moods Shift as Contest Tightens


October 22, 2012
The New York Times


BOCA RATON, Fla. — With a last aggressive debate performance behind him and 14 grueling days ahead, President Obama is now facing what he worked so hard to avoid: a neck-and-neck race with a challenger gaining ground when it matters most.

Over the last month, through the debates and a gradual moderation of the conservative tone he struck during the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney undermined the Democrats’ expensive summertime work of casting him as the candidate of and for the rich, emerging as a far more formidable opponent than Mr. Obama had ever expected.

He continued down the path of moderation here on Monday night, agreeing with Mr. Obama almost as often as he disagreed.

“For the first time in this race, I’d rather be us than them,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, crediting Mr. Romney’s strength in the first debate as a critical shift in the campaign. “They spent months building him up as one thing and one night he disproved it.”

The president, aware of deepening worry among Democrats about the prospect of losing the White House, was aggressive at the debate, belittling his rival’s foreign policy experience in a bid to keep voters from seeing him as a credible commander in chief.

But Democrats could only hope the candidates’ final encounter here would level out a steady rise for Mr. Romney that has brought him to even with or leading the president in several national polls of likely voters. The race is suddenly so tight in the nine battleground states that each side is looking at a single Congressional district in Maine whose one electoral vote, in the event of an exceedingly tight outcome, could decide whether Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama is in the White House come Jan. 20.

The growing sense of optimism inside the Romney campaign about his place in the race was visible in the newly relaxed faces of its senior advisers as they lounged poolside at their hotel in nearby Delray Beach before Monday’s debate, ticking through states where they see new opportunities and rising poll numbers. Back in Boston, a senior aide marveled at how much the mood had changed from one month ago, gallows humor giving way to a realization that “we’re in it.”

It remained a question whether Mr. Romney was gaining steam or riding a head of it from the strongest month of his campaign. Obama officials argued that the president’s showing at the debate on Monday would remind wavering voters of his leadership in foreign affairs, a strong suit. They emphatically pointed to advantages he still holds in enough important swing states as their life line.

“This race has automatically tightened as everybody in the Obama campaign predicted that it would, but he’s ahead in the critical states,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mr. Obama’s debate sparring partner.

But it is now unmistakable that Mr. Obama, who leaned forward in his chair at several points during the debate and glared at his rival, is focused on protecting some of his safest turf and Mr. Romney is seeing new opportunities to take it.

Though polls have shown a mix of results, it is more often than not Mr. Romney who is on the upward trajectory, if not always overtaking Mr. Obama, then, at least, cutting into his leads among important constituencies. For instance a CBS News poll released Monday showed his edge among women was down to 5 percentage points from 12 a month ago. Another, from CBS News and Quinnipiac University, showed Mr. Obama’s lead in Ohio among likely voters narrowing to 5 percentage points from 10 points last month.

Mr. Obama will spend the next two weeks pitting the campaign machinery he built to push his voters to the polls against Mr. Romney’s sense of momentum and new signs of hope in states that were tilting away from him only a month ago.

Yet Mr. Romney still faces more of a challenge in the Electoral College and must win more of the battleground states than does Mr. Obama, who won all of them four years ago.

Though they had been basking in their new sense of momentum, Mr. Romney’s aides acknowledged that their hardest work could still lie ahead. They were hoping to break through Mr. Obama’s firewall of supportive states while seeking new opportunities in places previously believed to be slipping out of reach, like New Hampshire and Nevada.

Underlying it all will be a defining fight, as Mr. Obama and his allies seek to recreate the image of Mr. Romney as a plutocrat whose policies will punish the middle class. Television ads from Democratic groups began appearing on Monday, reprising the accusations that Mr. Romney killed jobs to make a profit at Bain Capital.

Mr. Romney’s aides say voters now know him well enough to reject that image. They say they will continue to present Mr. Romney as a credible leader whose plans have a specific appeal to women, who have provided Mr. Obama much of his support in polls.

Heading into the final phase of their advertising war, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have contrasting imperatives.

Mr. Romney is seeking to win over the last remaining undecided voters — many of them 2008 Obama supporters — by presenting himself as a credible president ready to work in the bipartisan manner swing voters crave. Mr. Obama has to keep that from happening.

And that is making for a jarring contrast during the commercial breaks — giving Mr. Romney the opening to show himself as the transcendent politician of a sort Mr. Obama has sought to be as Mr. Obama pounds away at him in his commercials.

The question for Mr. Obama is whether attacks on Mr. Romney’s business record can still work. Aides to Mr. Romney argue that Mr. Obama and his allies ran so many ads painting Mr. Romney as plutocrat whose policies would harm the middle class that they turned him into a caricature. It was shattered when he showed up as someone else — himself, they say — on the debate stage.

“He wiped out millions of dollars in attack ads portraying Mitt Romney as a rich guy from Bain Capital,” Senator John McCain said.

Democrats say they are confident about the continued power of their attacks against Mr. Romney based on his business practices at Bain Capital, as well as on his secretly taped remarks that 47 percent of Americans are so reliant on government they will not take responsibility for themselves.

“It’s not that this line of questioning of his business record doesn’t have salience,” said Bill Burton, a senior strategist with Priorities USA Action, a “super PAC” supporting Mr. Obama. “It’s just that as we get to the end of the campaign folks need a reminder.”

And Obama campaign officials argue that the line of attack is precisely what is behind his continued edge in polls in the Midwest.

The best path to victory for Mr. Romney is to win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio — and one more state, with campaign advisers putting Colorado at the top of the list.

The narrowest path to victory for Mr. Obama is by winning Ohio, Wisconsin and at least one other state — the president’s personal top favorite, aides say, is Iowa. Along with other safely Democratic states, that would be enough to block Mr. Romney from winning.

As a sign of how tight the election could be, the president is heading to New Hampshire on Saturday to avoid what one aide described as “the Al Gore problem.” In 2000, Mr. Gore lost New Hampshire to George W. Bush, which made the entire presidential race hinge on Florida.

    Campaign Moods Shift as Contest Tightens, NYT, 22.10.2012,






Looking Closely at Statements

From Candidates on Foreign Policy


October 23, 2012
The New York Times


Who knew that fact-checking the sole foreign policy debate of the presidential campaign would include the ranking of Massachusetts schools and how best to administer Medicaid? Repeatedly, the two candidates swerved to the economic issues that have dominated the campaign.

Even the dispute over the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which was expected to be a centerpiece, got less attention than the now-familiar dispute over what kind of bankruptcy Mitt Romney had proposed for the ailing auto industry.

But when Bob Schieffer, the moderator, wrestled them back onto foreign policy, the two candidates offered starkly different views of the world. President Obama described a tough, realistic America engaged with allies in “decimating” Al Qaeda. Mr. Romney, even as he markedly moderated his tone and spoke repeatedly of “peace” as his goal, described a far scarier world in which Iran is four years closer to a nuclear weapon.

In many cases, the contrasting claims were a matter of perspective, and on several occasions Mr. Romney said explicitly that he agreed with the president. But both men also made statements that were misleading or exaggerated or that contradicted previous statements.


Here are some of the highlights:

Change in Tone on Iran

Mr. Romney’s remark that he wants to use “peaceful and diplomatic means” to persuade Iran not to pursue its nuclear program was a striking departure from the more hawkish tone he has used throughout the campaign.

He urged preparations for war against Iran last year in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal. “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” he wrote. “That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Mr. Romney also called for more muscle-flexing aimed at Iran in a speech on Oct. 8 at the Virginia Military Institute.

“For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions — not just words — that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated,” he said.

Mr. Romney has long been dismissive of Mr. Obama’s attempts to use diplomacy to persuade Iran to abandon its weapons programs. “In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran,” Mr. Romney said in his speech at the Republican National Convention in late August. “We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”

Last year, when asked in an interview what military action he would consider against Iran, Mr. Romney said, “There’s a lot more information I need to have to know what type of military strike would be appropriate and effective.”

“Would you be prepared to do it unilaterally if need be?” Bret Baier of Fox News asked.

“Of course,” Mr. Romney said. MICHAEL COOPER


Troops in Iraq

Mr. Obama suggested that Mr. Romney was mistaken in seeking to keep 10,000 American troops in Iraq. But the Obama administration initially sought to do just that — but never managed to negotiate an agreement allowing them to remain.

Mr. Obama sought to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed United States troops to stay in Iraq after 2011. Initially, the Obama administration was prepared to keep up to 10,000 troops in Iraq. Later, the Obama administration lowered the number to about 5,000.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki indicated that he might be willing. But the Iraqis did not agree to an American demand that such an agreement be submitted to their Parliament for approval, a step the Obama administration insisted on to ensure that any American troops that stayed would be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

Mr. Obama relied on Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well as American officials in Iraq to negotiate the agreement. The president spoke to Mr. Maliki only twice during the negotiations. Also, the administration did not begin formal talks with the Iraqis until June 2, 2011, leaving little time for negotiation.

After the talks broke down, the Obama administration withdrew the remaining American troops in December 2011, the deadline set for withdrawing all American forces from Iraq under the Status of Forces Agreement.

Iran has taken advantage of the absence of American forces to fly hundreds of tons of military equipment through Iraqi airspace to Syria. MICHAEL R. GORDON


The Arab Spring

Mr. Obama spoke of the role the United States has played during the Arab Spring uprisings, saying, “We have stood on the side of democracy.” But that is not true across the board.

Consider Bahrain, where thousands of people rose up more than a year ago to demand political liberties, social equality and an end to corruption. Its Sunni monarchy, seen by the United States and Saudi Arabia as a strategic ally and a bulwark against Iran, was never left to face the rage on its own.

More than a thousand Saudi troops helped put down the uprising, and the United States called for political changes but strengthened its support for the government. MICHAEL COOPER


Afghan Withdrawal

Has Mr. Romney changed his view on an Afghan withdrawal and timeline? About an hour into the debate, Mr. Romney seemed to adjust his long-held position.

In the past, he has said that while he wanted to follow the same 2014 withdrawal timeline as the Obama administration and NATO allies, he would seek the advice of military commanders on the ground before making a decision. This prompted critics to suggest that Mr. Romney was giving himself wiggle room to keep regular combat brigades in Afghanistan past 2014. (Both the Obama administration and the Romney campaign have talked about keeping a small residual force, presumably of Special Operations forces and military trainers, after 2014 — if the government of Afghanistan allows it.)

But on Monday night, Mr. Romney seemed to draw a much clearer line that he would take all regular combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2014, without the caveat of first asking military commanders whether they believed that was a good idea.

In response to a question about whether he would withdraw troops even if it were obvious that the Afghans were not able to handle their own security, Mr. Romney said, “We’re going to be finished by 2014, and when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.”

He made no mention of first getting input from military commanders, as he has in the past. “We’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of 2014, so our troops will come home at that point,” Mr. Romney said. RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.


‘Apology Tour’

Mr. Obama responded to Mr. Romney’s claim that he had undertaken a foreign “apology tour” as “probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign.”

Fact-checkers have repeatedly found the claim to be inaccurate. Mr. Obama has admitted American failings at times — and like President George W. Bush has apologized for specific acts of American wrongdoing abroad — but he has never explicitly apologized for American values or principles.

Republicans often refer to Mr. Obama’s 2009 speech in France in which he said that “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.”

But critics typically ignore what Mr. Obama said next: “But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what’s bad.”

In other words, Mr. Obama was saying that the United States and Europe had at times each dealt unfairly with each other; he never said he was sorry for American values or diplomacy.



China and Cheap Tires

President Obama said that China was flooding the United States with cheap tires and that he put a stop to it and saved jobs. In fact, many economists criticize the administration’s action.

In 2009, the Obama administration unilaterally imposed a duty on imports of Chinese tires, a move sought by the United Steelworkers union. It was one of nine trade enforcement actions taken by the United States against China under Mr. Obama and, some economists argue, the most questionable. The tariff protected 1,200 American jobs at most, according to a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

But the same study found that the tariff cost American consumers $1.1 billion last year alone in higher-priced tires, or about $900,000 per job. Moreover, China responded by slapping tariffs on imports of chicken parts that cost American poultry producers an estimated $1 billion in lost sales. Last month, the Obama administration let the tire tariff quietly expire.


    Looking Closely at Statements From Candidates on Foreign Policy, NYT, 23.10.2012,






A Tight Rope on China’s Currency


October 22, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — At the presidential debate on Monday night, Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ nominee, repeated his promise to brand China a currency manipulator and to rebalance the trade relationship between the two countries.

“I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency,” Mr. Romney said.

But formally citing Beijing as a currency manipulator may backfire, economic and foreign-policy experts have said. In the worst case, it could set off a trade war, leading to falling American exports to China and more expensive Chinese imports.

“The economic credibility of that action would be pretty thin,” said Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington. “Moreover, it would be blatantly provocative at a time when the new leadership was getting in place in China, and the new administration as well.”

Asked about the possibility of a trade war at his debate with President Obama, Mr. Romney said one was already under way. “It’s a silent one, and they’re winning,” he said. “We can’t just surrender and lose jobs.”

American officials largely, if tacitly, agree that China manipulates the value of its currency to aid its economy.

In its most recent installment of a twice-yearly report to Congress on the exchange and economic policies of the United States’ major trading partners, the Treasury Department said that China has “resisted very strong market pressures” for currency appreciation and that its “real effective exchange rate exhibited persistent and substantial undervaluation.”

But since 1994, the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have declined to formally designate China as a currency manipulator for a number of economic and strategic reasons.

For the Obama administration, one reason is that China has made significant progress in allowing its currency to appreciate against the dollar of late — making Chinese imports relatively more expensive and American exports relatively more competitive. A dollar currently buys about 6.25 renminbi, down from about 6.8 when Mr. Obama took office.

Administration officials have urged China to do more in frequent behind-the-scenes negotiations: to allow further currency appreciation, to protect American companies’ intellectual property, to reform its financial system, to even the playing field for companies that might want to invest in China and many other issues.

The administration has also filed new trade cases against China at the World Trade Organization, and set up a trade task force to ensure all countries are playing by the rules.

They have also praised the country for the progress it has made. “I think the cumulative effect of what China has done on the exchange rate side is, and the external side, is very significant and very promising,” Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, said this year.

Congress has pushed a more aggressive approach, repeatedly putting forward bipartisan bills to punish countries, like China, that manipulate their currencies.

“The jig is up, it’s time to stop gaming the system or face severe consequences,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a statement last year, co-sponsoring a bill that focused on Beijing. “China’s history of half-truths and broken promises on currency makes passing this legislation an economic imperative.”

Second, economic and foreign-policy experts argue that taking more aggressive actions against China might not result in a stronger American economy — instead pitting the two countries against each other.

“In the worst case, a Romney decision to go to the brink with Beijing on the value of its currency would result in a mutually damaging trade war that slowed economic growth and increased unemployment in both countries and caused inflation and higher interest rates in the United States,” Richard C. Bush III of the Brookings Institution wrote in a recent analysis.

Labeling China a currency manipulator would not automatically put in place tariffs, sanctions or other trade actions. But the measure would signal the United States’ intention to take such measures — and China might take countervailing ones in turn. Beijing might stop granting contracts to American companies, like General Electric or Boeing, for instance. It might issue levies or tariffs itself.

Antagonizing China would threaten the trade relationship with one of the United States’ fastest-growing export markets, economists note. Chinese investment in the United States has also been increasing.

“Today China is a minor U.S. employer compared to longtime foreign investors such as Germany or Japan, but the potential for Chinese investment-led job creation is tremendous,” concluded a report released last month by the Rhodium Group, a research firm in New York. “If investment from China remains on track, Chinese firms will employ 200,000 to 400,000 Americans by 2020,” up from about 27,000 today.

More broadly, if the United States leveled sanctions or tariffs against China, other low-wage countries — in many cases, countries that also engage in currency manipulation — might fill its void, economists said.

“Smaller U.S. trade deficits with China, offset by larger bilateral deficits with other countries, cannot be expected to provide material job growth,” concluded recent research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

On top of any economic concerns come pressing foreign-policy concerns. Designating China as a currency manipulator might cast a shadow on relations with the Asian power.

For months, Chinese officials have quietly telegraphed their displeasure at the idea that a new administration might brand them as a manipulator.

At the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings in Tokyo this month, Yi Gang, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, made a point of noting the country’s progress — the country’s current account surplus has fallen to 2.1 percent of economic output from 10.1 percent in 2007, he said, for instance.

“This has been primarily driven by structural factors, including the substantial appreciation of the real exchange rate,” Mr. Yi said. “In the face of the uncertain global environment, the Chinese government will continue to take effective measures to maintain growth stability and accelerate the restructuring of the economy.”

    A Tight Rope on China’s Currency, NYT, 22.10.2012,






Romney Seeks Out Center, Avoiding Hawkish Tone


October 23, 2012
The New York Times


Mitt Romney’s task in Monday night’s foreign policy debate was to demonstrate that he could be a credible commander in chief, prepared to execute American power with more muscle and less compromise than President Obama but without veering into what Mr. Obama called the “wrong and reckless” policies of the last Republican in the Oval Office, George W. Bush.

But in a combative 90-minute debate that veered from whether the United States could control events in the fractious Middle East to which man has a better chance of forcing Iran’s mullahs to surrender their nuclear program without resorting to war, Mr. Romney avoided the more bellicose tone he often struck during the Republican primaries.

While he pushed back at Mr. Obama at times, he explicitly said he would not intervene militarily in Syria, remain beyond 2014 in Afghanistan or rush into a confrontation with Iran. He ended up agreeing with the broad outlines of Mr. Obama’s approach on the use of drones, and opposed a breach of relations with Pakistan, arguably America’s most frustrating ally.

Mr. Romney had a narrower political task on Monday night: to show he was conversant in the subject matter and to reassure a war-weary public that he would not plunge the country into new conflicts.

As he did in his previous two debates with Mr. Obama, he shifted to the middle, and at times he even sounded the nation-building themes the president talked about as a candidate in 2008 and abandoned after he was elected. “We’re going to have to do more than just going after leaders and killing bad guys,” Mr. Romney argued several times, saying he would provide aid to build up democracies and discourage terrorism — something he previously has rarely stressed. He frequently talked of bringing about a “peaceful planet.”

Yet time and again, the president suggested that managing a world that at once craves and resents American power requires a lot more than martial-sounding declarations about calling in airstrikes or threatening to turn on and off American foreign aid. And he relentlessly cast Mr. Romney as a man unwilling to recognize how perceptions of American strength have changed: When Mr. Romney complained that the Navy had fallen to its smallest size since World War I, Mr. Obama dismissed the criticism. He noted that the capabilities of American ships are far beyond what they once were and added, “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

For Mr. Romney, this final debate before the election in two weeks was clearly his weakest. While he seemed familiar with a range of topics, speaking about rebellions in Mali and ticking off the insurgent groups in Pakistan, he also took every opportunity he could to turn back to economic issues at home, his campaign theme. Soon the two men were arguing about job creation at home and support for education and teachers, until the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, said with some exasperation, “We all love teachers.”

Even when the conversation turned to the intersection of international affairs and economics, Mr. Obama attacked his challenger, contending not only that Mr. Romney’s prescription for America’s automakers in 2009 would have put Americans out work, but also that it would have strengthened the Chinese.

“We’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China,” Mr. Obama argued, before the two men engaged in a now-familiar argument over whether Mr. Romney’s call for allowing General Motors to head into bankruptcy, without government investment, would have weakened Detroit.

On most of the specifics they argued about, Mr. Romney had a hard time explaining how he would act differently from Mr. Obama. He said he would not send the American military into Syria, or even attempt a no-fly zone over the county. Though he noted several times that 30,000 people had died in the Syrian uprising, he said: “I don’t want to have our military involved in Syria. I don’t think there’s a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage.” It was Mr. Obama, oddly enough, who made the case for the use of force, saying he had made the call to hunt down Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, and noting that Mr. Romney had called that “mission creep” and “mission muddle.”

Mr. Romney’s response was to argue that he was better suited to rein in the chaos in the Arab world, mostly by projecting American strength. But he was less than specific about how he would accomplish that task. For example, when Mr. Schieffer asked him whether he would have “stuck with Mubarak,” referring to Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt and longtime American ally, Mr. Romney said that “the idea of him crushing his people was not something that we could possibly support.” What Mr. Obama lacked was “a better vision of the future” for the Middle East, he said.

It was on the confrontation that could well erupt in 2013, the nuclear face-off with Iran, that the friction between these two men, and their underlying agreement on tactics, became most evident.

Asked whether there was a deal to be had with Iran, Mr. Obama argued that the country was weaker than ever because he had invoked “crippling sanctions” as a result of “painstaking” work that began “the day we got into office.” But Mr. Obama was elusive about what exactly Iran would have to do to convince him that it had given up any plan to build a nuclear weapons capability, simply vowing, “We’re not going to let up the pressure until we have clear evidence” that the Iranians are backing down.

Mr. Romney returned to a main themes of his campaign: that the mullahs had moved ahead with their program because “they saw weakness where they had expected to find American strength.” One result, he said, is that “now there are some 10,000 centrifuges spinning uranium.”

It was an accurate statement, but avoided any mention of the fact that the construction program was initially begun just before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, in President Bush’s first term. And Mr. Obama, in his response, was constrained by secrecy laws from talking about his most aggressive action against Iran: his decision to expand a cyberwarfare campaign against the country.

Inevitably, the two men descended into an argument over whether Mr. Obama had conducted an international “apology tour,” leading Mr. Obama to declare that “this has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign.” Mr. Romney shot back that the president had said in his speeches in the Middle East that in the past “America had dictated to other nations.”

“Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations,” Mr. Romney said. “We have freed other nations from dictators.”

In fact, America has done both, and the debate on Monday night that whether Mr. Obama is re-elected or Mr. Romney moves into the Situation Room, the United States will still find itself making compromises between America’s values and its interests, because it usually has little other choice.

    Romney Seeks Out Center, Avoiding Hawkish Tone, NYT, 23.10.2012,






Role Reversal Gives President Harder Line, and Punch Lines


October 23, 2012
The New York Times


Mitt Romney came in peace. He said he wanted better education, more financial aid, gender equality and rule of law, and he was talking about the Middle East, not the Midwest. He even said he was consulting a group of “Arab scholars” sponsored by, of all things, the United Nations, to shape his plan for fixing the troubled region. “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” he said.

And all his expressions of internationalism and support for women’s liberation overseas made President Obama, by contrast, almost sound like a Republican hard-liner.

“Well, my first job as commander in chief, Bob, is to keep the American people safe,” President Obama told the evening’s moderator, Bob Schieffer.

Monday night’s debate provided an odd role reversal that made Mr. Romney seem on the defensive, particularly because he at times stuttered and sputtered in his haste to make his points. He pronounced foreign names and countries correctly, but also carefully, worried perhaps that a mispronunciation would sink his credibility. Usually, it is Mr. Obama who seems professorial and long-winded. There were long moments when Mr. Romney made the president sound succinct and sharp-edged.

Perhaps trying to demonstrate the breadth of his knowledge, Mr. Romney careened from Iran to Poland to China to Latin America to Greece to balanced budgets. He delivered a long lecture on the strategic importance of Pakistan that was the same as Mr. Obama’s position, then later complained, in detail, about spending cuts to the Navy.

“Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” Mr. Obama said, eliciting a laugh from the audience that echoed on Twitter, “because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Mr. Romney tried a few jokes of his own, beginning the night with a crack that sounded more like a confession of jitters than good humor. Citing their recent exchange of jokes at the annual Al Smith dinner last week, Mr. Romney noted: “We were together at a humorous event a little earlier, and it’s nice to maybe be funny this time not on purpose. We’ll see what happens.”

What happened wasn’t particularly funny, but it was startling. Mr. Romney kept talking about American “strength” and the need to be “tougher,” but he seemed at times unnerved by the president, a man he accused of being too weak.

When Mr. Romney complained about what he described as Mr. Obama’s “apology tour” on his first overseas trip, he accused the president of snubbing Jerusalem. “And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Obama, finally comfortable with the fact that debates require confrontation, replied sharply: “When I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fund-raisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the — the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the — the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”

Incumbency has its advantages in a foreign policy debate, but often inexperience can also be its own asset. Domestic policy focuses on what a candidate wants to do, be it raise taxes or cut them, reduce the deficit, invest in infrastructure, increase military spending, cut Medicare or save it.

But foreign policy is often presented as what the candidate will not do: add troops in Afghanistan, abandon Israel, start another war in the Middle East, negotiate with terrorists, put nuclear missiles in Europe.

Mr. Romney didn’t really elaborate on Mr. Obama’s mistakes and say what he would have done differently. Instead, he often highlighted where he agreed with the president. When asked by Mr. Schieffer if he regretted, in retrospect, calling for the fall of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Mr. Obama said no. So, too, did his opponent.

“No, I believe, as the president indicated and said at the time, that I supported his — his action there. I felt that — I wish we’d have had a better vision of the future,” Mr. Romney said.

“But once it exploded, I felt the same as the president did.”

    Role Reversal Gives President Harder Line, and Punch Lines, NYT, 23.10.2012,






Romney and Obama Bristle From Start


October 22, 2012
The New York Times


BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Obama and Mitt Romney wrapped up a series of defining debates on Monday night with a bristling exchange over America’s place in the world as each sought to portray the other as an unreliable commander in chief in a dangerous era.

Picking up where he left off in last week’s debate, Mr. Obama went on offense from the start, lacerating his challenger for articulating a set of “wrong and reckless” policies that he called incoherent. While less aggressive, Mr. Romney pressed back, accusing the president of failing to assert American interests and values in the world to deal with a “rising tide of chaos.”

“Governor, the problem is that on a whole range of issues, whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s Afghanistan, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s now Iran, you’ve been all over the map,” Mr. Obama charged.

“I don’t see our influence growing around the world,” Mr. Romney countered. “I see our influence receding, in part because of the failure of the president to deal with our economic challenges at home.”

The debate here at Lynn University, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News, was dedicated to foreign policy even though it veered occasionally into domestic issues, and presented the last opportunity for the candidates to face each other before the Nov. 6 election. While international relations have often taken a back seat to the economy during the marathon campaign, whoever wins in two weeks will inherit a world with increasingly complicated challenges, from the turmoil in the Middle East to a resurgent Russia to an emerging China, and Monday’s debate highlighted the vexing issues ahead.

For all its fireworks, the debate broke little new ground and underscored that the differences between the two men on foreign policy rest more on tone, style and their sense of leadership than on particular policies. Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney seemed to align on matters like withdrawing from Afghanistan, the perils of intervening in Syria and the use of drones to battle terrorists.

While they varied in degree, the heart of their clash rested on who would pursue the same national goals more effectively and ensure America’s enduring economic and security role overseas.

Chopping the air with his hand, Mr. Obama came armed with a host of zingers, at times lecturing and even mocking Mr. Romney on the details of certain policies, hoping to expose his challenger as an uninformed pretender at the risk of coming across himself as condescending. Mr. Romney sat stiffly, his hands before him, back ramrod.

At one point, when Mr. Romney complained that the Navy “is smaller now than any time since 1917,” Mr. Obama pounced and noted that the comparison works only if aircraft carriers are equated with gunboats. “We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed,” the president said.

Slowing his words, he added sarcastically: “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.” The issue, he said, “is not a game of Battleship, where we are counting ships.”

The enmity between the men surfaced again and again, and the president seemed to have studied each attack line that Mr. Romney had used in the past, in case he used it again, like his oft-repeated criticism of Mr. Obama’s supposed “apology tour” of the world. “You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations,” Mr. Romney said. “Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.”

Mr. Obama hit back fast. “If we’re going to talk about trips we’ve taken,” he said before pausing dramatically, in a reference to Mr. Romney’s foreign trip this summer, when he was widely derided for insulting Britain’s ability to host the Olympic Games and for holding fund-raisers in London and in Israel. “When I was a candidate for office, the first trip I took was to visit our troops,” he continued. “And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors. I didn’t attend fund-raisers.”

Mr. Romney pinned the cascading crises around the world on Mr. Obama’s shoulders, saying the president had failed to live up to his promises from his 2008 campaign and left the country in a weaker position.

“Look at the record,” Mr. Romney said. “You look at the record of the last four years and say: Is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is Al Qaeda on the run, on its heels? No. Are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement? No.”

He sought to use the words of the Iranian leader, a hard-line Islamist who considers the United States the “Great Satan,” to bolster his argument that the United States has become weak. “When the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says our debt makes us not a strong country, that’s a frightening thing,” Mr. Romney said.

The subject of Iran’s nuclear program came up repeatedly during the debate, and both men talked tough, at one point seeming to compete with each other to show how much they are in the corner of Israel, which considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its existence.

“As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Obama said. He cited international sanctions as having brought the Iranian economy to its knees. Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had allowed “daylight” to show between the United States and Israel and vowed to tighten sanctions and seek a war crimes indictment against Mr. Ahmadinejad for inciting genocide against Israel.

But at the end of the night, for all the sound and fury on Iran, there was little substantive difference between the candidates. Both are in favor of strong international sanctions, and both said they would use military power if necessary to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Obama appeared to contradict himself at one point on Iran. He labeled “not true” a report in The New York Times that the United States and Iran have agreed in principle to direct talks on Iran’s nuclear program after the elections. But he later welcomed Mr. Romney for supposedly agreeing: “I’m pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program. But just a few years ago, you said that’s something you’d never do.”


The candidates arrived here as foreign policy, which had been a political asset for Mr. Obama, has gained importance lately, particularly after the attack that killed the American ambassador to Libya last month. Mr. Obama’s 10-point advantage in July on who would be a better commander in chief has shrunk to a three-point edge in the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.

For all the attention to Libya at the second debate, the two men seemed to have exhausted the topic this time. There was no chatter over whether Mr. Obama had called it an act of terror, and Mr. Romney made only a couple of perfunctory references.

Instead, he tried to broaden his critique, praising the president’s counterterrorism efforts but quickly pivoting to call for a more comprehensive strategy to diminish radicalism in the Middle East. “I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in Al Qaeda,” Mr. Romney said, “but we can’t kill our way out of this mess.”

Mr. Obama countered sharply. Facing Mr. Romney directly, he said, “I have to tell you that your strategy previously has been one which has been all over the map,” a phrase he would use three times during the debate.

“My strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys,” Mr. Romney replied. “But my strategy is broader than that.” It is important to get the Muslim world to reject extremism, he added. “We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan.”

The two men also clashed over Syria, China and Russia. Mr. Obama ridiculed Mr. Romney for saying Russia was America’s No. 1 one geopolitical foe. “The 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” the president said.

Mr. Romney distinguished a “geopolitical” rival from a more pressing national security threat like Iran, but said he would not be naïve about Moscow. “I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin,” he said. Mr. Romney said Mr. Putin would not see more "flexibility" after the election, as the president was overheard telling another Russian leader. “After the election, he’ll get more backbone."

    Romney and Obama Bristle From Start, NYT, 22.10.2012,






‘Gender Gap’ Near Historic Highs


October 21, 2012
5:59 pm
The New York Times


If only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election, equaling or exceeding his margin of victory over John McCain in 2008. Mr. Obama would be an overwhelming favorite in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and most every other place that is conventionally considered a swing state. The only question would be whether he could forge ahead into traditionally red states, like Georgia, Montana and Arizona.

If only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney, who might win by a similar margin to the one Ronald Reagan realized over Jimmy Carter in 1980. Only California, Illinois, Hawaii and a few states in the Northeast could be considered safely Democratic. Every other state would lean red, or would at least be a toss-up.

Although polls disagree on the exact magnitude of the gender gap (and a couple of recent ones seemed to show Mitt Romney eliminating the president's advantage with women voters), the consensus of surveys points to a large one this year - rivaling the biggest from past elections.

The gender gap is nothing new in American politics. Since 1972, when exit polling became widespread, men and women split their votes in three elections: 1996, 2000, and 2004. They came close to doing so on several other occasions. In 2008, for example, Mr. Obama won resoundingly among women, beating Mr. McCain by 13 points, but only won by a single point among men.

The biggest gender gap to date in the exit polls came in 2000, when Al Gore won by 11 points among women, but George W. Bush won by 9 points among men - a 20-point difference. The numbers this year look very close to that.

Since the first presidential debate in Denver, there have been 10 high-quality national polls that reported a breakout of results between men and women. (I define a "high-quality" poll as one that used live telephone interviews, and which called both landlines and cellphones. These polls will collect the most representative samples and should provide for the most reliable benchmarks of demographic trends.)

The results in the polls were varied, with the gender gap ranging from 33 points (in a Zogby telephone poll for the Washington Times) to just 8 (in polls by Pew Research and by The Washington Post). On average, however, there was an 18-point gender gap, with Mr. Obama leading by an average of 9 points among women but trailing by 9 points among men.

If that difference carries forward to the exit polls, it would reflect among the largest gender splits ever, rivaling the 20-point difference from 2000, and a 17-point difference in both 1980 and 1996.

The gender gap has been growing over time. It was nearly absent, for instance, in 1972 and 1976, the first two years that the exit polls tested it.

But after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, reproductive rights became a greater focus in presidential elections -- particularly under Ronald Reagan in 1980, who was more willing to campaign on the issue of abortion than most of his predecessors. The gender gap jumped to 17 points that year, with men much more likely to vote for Mr. Reagan.

The gender gap has sometimes been widest when there is a Democratic president running for re-election, as in 1980 or 1996 (or a Democratic vice president looking to ascend to the presidency, as in 2000). Women, apart from their tendency to vote Democratic, also seem slightly more inclined than men to give the incumbent party another chance. When the incumbent is a Republican, as in 1976 or 1992, this can mitigate the gender gap. When the incumbent is a Democrat instead, as for Mr. Obama this year, both trends operate in the same direction, making it wider.

One area where gender politics is less important is in planning Electoral College strategy, since roughly equal numbers of men and women vote in each state. Nevertheless, the Electoral College can serve as a way to demonstrate to scope of the difference in how men and women vote.

If the current FiveThirtyEight forecast were re-calibrated to show an overall 10-point lead for Mr. Obama -- his lead among women in polls since the Denver debate -- he would be a clear favorite in states totaling 347 electoral votes. Mr. Romney would be favored in states containing just 140 electoral votes. Another 51 electoral votes would be too close to call.

About the opposite would happen if Mr. Romney led nationally by 9 points -- his current advantage among men. He would be all but certain to win states with a total of 321 electoral votes, and would be highly competitive in traditionally blue-leaning states like New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.

The large gender gap comes despite the fact that men and women's economic roles are becoming more equal -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represented 47 percent of the labor force as of September -- and that women suffered at least as much as men in the recent economic downturn.

The unemployment rate among women was 7.5 percent as of September -- up from 7.0 percent when Mr. Obama took office in January 2009.

The unemployment rate among men is higher -- 8.0 percent as of September -- but it has declined rather than increased since Mr. Obama took office. It had been 8.6 percent in January 2009, and peaked at as high as 11.2 percent later that year.

This suggests the gender gap instead has more to do with partisan ideology than with pocketbook voting; apart from their views on abortion, women also take more liberal stances than men on social issues ranging from same-sex marriage to gun control.

Presidential candidates have faced increasing pressure to align with the bases of their parties on social issues. Mr. Obama reversed his previous position to support same-sex marriage this year. Mr. Romney has long since abandoned a number of moderate stances he took on social issues as governor of Massachusetts, when he said he supported abortion rights. So long as the ideological gap between the parties grows, the gender gap may grow as well.

    ‘Gender Gap’ Near Historic Highs, NYT, 21.10.2012,






The Myth of Job Creation


October 21, 2012
The New York Times


The headlines from the last presidential debate focused on President Obama challenging Mitt Romney on issue after issue. There was a less noticed, but no less remarkable, moment when Mr. Obama agreed with Mr. Romney on something — and both were entirely wrong.

The exchange began with a question about the offshoring of American jobs. Part of Mr. Obama’s answer was that federal investments in education, science and research would help to ensure that companies invest and hire in the United States. Mr. Romney interrupted. “Government does not create jobs,” he said. “Government does not create jobs.”

It was a decidedly crabbed response to a seemingly uncontroversial observation, and yet Mr. Obama took the bait. He said his political opponents had long harped on “this notion that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer. That’s not what I believe.” He went on to praise free enterprise and to say that government’s role is to create the conditions for everyone to have a fair shot at success.

So, they agree. Government does not create jobs.

Except that it does, millions of them — including teachers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, sailors, astronauts, epidemiologists, antiterrorism agents, park rangers, diplomats, governors (Mr. Romney’s old job) and congressmen (like Paul Ryan).

First, the basics. At last count, government at all levels — federal, state and local — employed 22 million Americans, with the largest segment working in public education. Is that too many? No. Since the late 1980s, the number of public-sector workers has averaged about 7.3 for every 100 people. With the loss of 569,000 government jobs since June 2009, that ratio now stands at about 7 per 100.

Public-sector job loss means trouble for everyone. Government jobs are crucial to education, public health and safety, environmental protection, defense, homeland security and myriad other functions that the private sector cannot fulfill. They are also critical for private-sector job growth in two fundamental ways. First, the government gets its supplies from private-sector companies, which is why Republican senators like John McCain have been frantically warning about the dire effects on job creation if Congress moves ahead with planned military spending cuts. (Republicans insisted upon the cuts as part of their ill-advised showdown over the debt ceiling.) Second, government spending on supplies and salaries reverberates strongly through the economy, increasing demand and with it, employment.

That means the economy suffers when government cuts back. A report by the Economic Policy Institute examined the effect of recent cutbacks at the state and local level — including direct loss of government jobs and indirect loss of suppliers’ jobs; the jobs that should have been added to keep up with population growth; and the reduction in purchasing power from other cutbacks. If not for state and local budget austerity, the report found, the economy would have 2.3 million more jobs today, half of which would be in the private sector.

The government does not create jobs? It most certainly does. And at this time of state budgetary hardship, a dose of federal fiscal aid to states and localities could create more jobs, in both the public and private sectors.

    The Myth of Job Creation, NYT, 21.10.2012,






Twisting the Facts About Health Care


October 20, 2012
The New York Times


The outcome of the presidential election will determine which of two opposing paths the nation will follow on health care for all Americans. If voters re-elect President Obama, he will protect the health care reforms that are his signature domestic achievement. If they elect Mitt Romney, they will be choosing a man who has pledged to repeal the reform law and replace it with — who knows what?

The competing visions are often difficult to evaluate because the Republican candidates — Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan — have become so artful about obfuscating their plans for Medicare, Medicaid and what they will do to reform the whole system. Almost nothing the Republican candidates say on these or other health care issues can be taken at face value.

Here are some of their bigger evasions:

REPLACING OBAMACARE Although Mr. Romney has said he wants to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, he has provided few details on what he would replace it with. When challenged to do so at the first presidential debate, Mr. Romney never quite answered and made some egregious misstatements along the way, some of which were repeated by Mr. Ryan in the vice-presidential debate.

Mr. Romney asserted that his plans had already been laid out in “a lengthy description,” implying that anyone could read the whole story by turning to his campaign Web site. As it turns out, the site has a page-and-a-half statement that says he would rely on private markets and state leadership but gives no hint of what it would cost or who would pay. A one-page list of frequently asked questions about his Medicare plan assures us that “Mitt continues to work on refining the details.”

He continues to assert that his plan would cover people with pre-existing conditions when it clearly would not. People who have pre-existing conditions — and are not already covered by insurance — are often refused coverage or charged exorbitant rates by private insurers. Starting in 2014, the reform law will require insurers to accept all applicants and charge them without regard to health status. By contrast, Mr. Romney has simply pledged to protect people who had insurance but then lost it, provided they take out a new policy within a short time. But this protection is already required by law and offers absolutely nothing for millions of people who can’t get or can’t afford private insurance.

He has also implied that the reform law created an unelected board that’s “ultimately” going to tell people what treatments they can have. The advisory board is specifically precluded by the law from recommending cuts in benefits or eligibility; its job is to propose cuts in payments to providers and insurers if necessary to meet budget targets.

A major goal of the law was to cover some 30 million more people by expanding Medicaid and subsidizing coverage for middle-income people. That goal would be lost if the law was repealed. The Republicans, of course, have no plans for covering the uninsured beyond assuming they can use emergency rooms, leaving the problem to the states.

MEDICARE Mr. Romney has misrepresented what would happen to both current beneficiaries and future generations under his proposals. He says his plans would have no effect on people now on Medicare or nearing eligibility. But if he succeeded in repealing the reform law, which has many provisions that hold down costs for Medicare enrollees, most beneficiaries would see their annual premiums and cost-sharing go up. The average beneficiary in traditional Medicare would pay about $5,000 more through 2022, and heavy users of prescription drugs about $18,000 more over the same period, if the act is repealed, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Romney also argues that the reform law will weaken Medicare because it cuts some $716 billion from future Medicare spending by slowing the rate of increase over the next decade. Of course, that is essentially the same amount of Medicare cuts in Mr. Ryan’s budget resolutions, approved this year and last year by House Republicans.

The reform law justifiably reduces the excessive subsidies to private plans (known as Medicare Advantage) that enroll many beneficiaries. It also lowers the annual rate of increase in payments to providers, like hospitals, nursing homes and home care agencies, to force them to become more efficient. Mr. Romney wants to keep overpaying the plans and providers simply to pander to elderly voters.

For future generations, the Romney-Ryan ticket would turn Medicare into a premium-support — or voucher — program in which the federal government provides a fixed amount of money to beneficiaries each year and allows it to grow by a small amount annually, which may not keep pace with medical costs. The whole point of turning to vouchers is to reduce federal spending on Medicare, so it seems likely that many beneficiaries would end up worse off than now. (At the vice-presidential debate, Mr. Ryan tried to pretend his premium-support proposal was bipartisan, but the sole Democrat who backed an early version — Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — has disavowed his plan.)

Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan insist that the magic of competition among health insurers — both private plans and a public option like Medicare — will bring down premiums. But if competition fails to do that, beneficiaries would almost certainly get socked with added payments or fewer benefits.

They say that lower-income beneficiaries would get more-generous premium support and wealthier individuals would receive less support. But, of course, they provide no numbers on what those support levels might be.

MEDICAID The Republicans want to repeal the reform law’s expansion of Medicaid to cover millions of low- and middle-income people and instead shrink federal funding by turning Medicaid into a block grant. States would be given a fixed amount of money equal to what they had been getting in federal payments for Medicaid, and that grant would then grow at a rate tied to inflation. If those increases failed to keep up with medical costs, states — faced with the necessity of balancing their budgets every year — would probably have to cut enrollments or benefits or payments to providers. That could include cuts to coverage for long-term and nursing home care that millions depend on.

The block grant proposal in Mr. Ryan’s budget resolution would reduce federal Medicaid payments to the states by more than $800 billion over 10 years and would cut federal funding by a third in 2022, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Mr. Romney blithely said that if a state got into trouble “Why, we could step in and see if we could find a way to help them.” Or maybe not. It’s another of those vague promises.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 21, 2012

An earlier version of this editorial misstated the additional amounts Medicare beneficiaries would pay if the health care reform act is repealed. The average beneficiary would pay about $5,000 more through 2022, not $4,200 more over the 2011-2012 period. Heavy prescription drug users, on average,
would pay about $18,000 more through 2022, not $16,000 more over 2011-2012.

    Twisting the Facts About Health Care, NYT, 20.10.2012,






Sympathy for the Undecided


October 20, 2012
The New York Times


IN public, the American political class makes idols of undecided voters. We put them in focus groups, we let them pose questions during debates, we interview them and pitch ads to them and fold them into elaborate theories about “soccer moms” and “Reagan Democrats.” Officially, their existence justifies everything that pundits and pollsters and consultants get paid to say and do.

In private, though — and, O.K., sometimes publicly as well — political insiders tend to discuss undecideds with a mix of exasperation, condescension and contempt. Especially at this point in the presidential season, after months of debates and ads and op-eds have made the case that “the choice is clear” in “the most important election of our lifetimes,” it can be hard to imagine how anyone with an ounce of savvy can still be on the fence.

Some of this frustration is justified. As anyone who’s watched a cable-news focus group can attest, many undecided voters do tend to be ill-informed bandwagon jumpers with little coherence or consistency to their worldview.

If you live and breathe politics, chances are that you care deeply about a particular issue — abortion or the environment, foreign policy or health care. But when the liberal writer Chris Hayes, now an MSNBC host, canvassed undecided voters for John Kerry in 2004, he noticed that “more often than not, when I asked ... what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds, I was met with a blank stare, as if I’d just asked them to name their favorite prime number.”

As we enter this campaign’s last two weeks, though, it’s worth putting in a sympathetic word for a rarer species: the highly informed, highly engaged, yet still conflicted voter.

Whatever partisans on both sides may insist, there are good reasons that a high-information voter with views somewhere near the American median might still regard this November’s decision as a harder-than-average call.

That’s because on one of the biggest issues the campaigns are arguing about — the question of how to bring our spending in line with our revenues — the median voter is probably pretty happy with the status quo. Conservatives think we tax too much and liberals think we spend too little, but the present combination of relatively low middle-class taxes and relatively generous entitlement spending is one that most Americans would happily maintain in perpetuity.

Unfortunately, the status quo can’t actually continue: the combination of the baby boomers’ retirement and rising health care costs means something has to give. But to a voter who doesn’t bring strong ideological priors to the table, neither party’s vision for how to manage this transition probably looks like a sure bet.

The White House is arguing that we can limit health care spending largely by bureaucratic fiat, by empowering experts to change the way doctors and hospitals spend and treat and charge. But we’ve tried variations on centralized cost control for years — “Medicare Whac-A-Mole,” Reason magazine’s Peter Suderman has called it — without reaping anything like the promised benefits.

The Republicans are arguing for a more competition-driven approach, which would allow private insurers to compete for Medicare dollars, and hopefully bid down the cost of coverage. There are studies and pilot programs that suggest this kind of structural change might lower costs. But there isn’t a large-scale example that conservatives can point to as the template for the United States to follow. For a voter with a skeptic’s eye rather than a believer’s faith, the Romney-Ryan plan could easily seem like a leap in the dark.

That same skeptic’s eye would also tell our hypothetical undecided that neither side is being entirely honest about the costs of its approach. The Democrats are pretending that taxing the rich can pay for almost everything. The Republicans are pretending that neither today’s taxpayers nor today’s seniors need bear any of the burden. The high-information swing voters are basically left to decide which dishonesty is worse, and which unacknowledged cuts or tax hikes they’d rather risk having to bear.

Finally, the more our hypothetical voter knows about how Washington works, the more obvious it becomes that all of this will be hashed out over years of negotiated back-and-forth — because no legislation passed with a razor-thin majority can endure unchanged for decades, and any enduring settlement will have to leave both sides a little unsatisfied.

If you want to think well of swing voters, and imagine them as wise Athenians rather than a Colosseum-going mob, you could see the improving odds for what once seemed like an unlikely 2012 outcome — a Romney victory in which Democrats hold the Senate — as a nod to the necessity for bipartisanship, and an attempt to make a significant change in Washington while also forcing both parties back to the negotiating table.

And if you want to go on thinking poorly of the undecideds — well, I’m sure that some of the post-debate focus groups this week can help with that.


I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DouthatNYT.

    Sympathy for the Undecided, NYT, 20.10.2012,






A Romney Stance Causes Turmoil for Young Immigrants


October 20, 2012
The New York Times


An immigration stance that Mitt Romney took with little fanfare this month has created turmoil for many young immigrants living in the country illegally, lawyers and immigrant advocates say.

Mr. Romney said that if elected president, he would end the program that offers hundreds of thousands of those immigrants two-year reprieves from deportation, which the Obama administration began in August.

Mr. Romney’s statements have prompted many young people to hold back from applying, worried that if he won the presidency, those who applied and were not approved by the time he took office could be pursued by immigration authorities.

His position “has created a lot of confusion and a lot of anxiety,” said Cheryl Little, the executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice, a legal aid group based in Miami that has assisted hundreds of young immigrants applying for reprieves.

Mr. Romney has said that he would honor any reprieves already approved by the government, and that he would not order the deportation of immigrants who did not get deferrals.

Even so, his position on the reprieves has heightened already existing doubts about how he would handle the program, said Gregory Chen, the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has monitored it closely. “For young people who have been living in the shadows for years, coming forward now to the authorities is a big act of faith,” Mr. Chen said. “They are concerned their information could be used at a later date against them.”

Also, at least 800,000 young people, according to estimates by immigrant organizations, will be unable to apply in time to be approved before the inauguration in January because of document requirements and filing fees. They are now facing the possibility that if Mr. Romney prevailed, they could miss out on the deportation deferrals and the work permits that come with them.

By independent estimates, as many as 1.2 million illegal immigrants are currently eligible for President Obama’s deportation reprieves. Since Aug. 15, when the program began, 179,794 immigrants have applied, according to official figures published on Oct. 12. But only 4,591 deferrals have been approved, despite what lawyers praise as unusually fast work by the federal agency in charge, Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Alberto Martinez, an adviser to Mr. Romney, said the candidate’s goal was to eliminate “perpetual uncertainty” for young immigrants. Since the deferrals are based only on a presidential action and do not provide any path to legal immigration status, he said, “it is just another stage of limbo for these young people.”

In the general campaign, Mr. Romney has moderated his immigration positions as he tries to appeal to Latino voters, hoping to chip away at Mr. Obama’s big lead among that group. In the presidential debate on Tuesday, Mr. Romney endorsed proposals giving legal status to young immigrants who have been in the country illegally since they were children.

“The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids I think should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States,” Mr. Romney said.

Without providing much detail, Mr. Romney said he would work with Congress on “real, permanent immigration reform” to give legal status to young immigrants. He has said that illegal immigrants who serve in the military should get permanent residency.

But Mr. Romney has criticized the temporary reprieves, which Mr. Obama created in June by executive action, as a political “stopgap measure.”

For young people who have grown up without documents, the deferrals and permits allow them to work legally and, in some states, obtain driver’s licenses and attend college at in-state tuition rates. In a recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, 86 percent of registered Latino voters said they approved of the program.

To qualify for the program, immigrants must be under 31, have come to America before they were 16 and have lived here for at least five years. They must also be current students or high school graduates. Since there is no filing deadline and no appeal if an application is denied, administration officials have urged young people to take their time to get it right. Many immigrants have also struggled to gather the papers they need and to raise the $465 filing fee.

Leading Republicans who are concerned about the party’s standing with Latino voters have differed on Mr. Romney’s position on the deferrals. In a recent interview on Spanish-language radio, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, lauded Mr. Romney’s plan for broader legislation. But he said, “I think it makes all the sense in the world to maintain what exists right now.”

But Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said at an event on Tuesday that he agreed with Mr. Romney. “We are not going to give out new permits because we are going to replace the system with a new one,” Mr. Rubio said. “And I think that is very promising.”

Mr. Romney’s statements have prompted some immigrants to rush to apply, hoping they could still gain approval before January. Many more are hanging back, lawyers said.

And then there is Claudia Trejo, 18, one of those who could miss the chance to apply. Born in Mexico and raised in Denver, she said she had been living in this country illegally since arriving with her parents when she was 10. Both she and her 16-year-old sister qualify for deferrals. They want to apply together so that neither would be left unprotected from deportation.

But their parents, also here illegally, do not have the money for two $465 filing fees. Ms. Trejo has been working odd jobs to raise the cash, hoping to apply at the end of the year. “Honestly, the only thing I am waiting on is the money to apply,” she said.

Ms. Trejo graduated from high school in May but cannot afford the out-of-state tuition rates she must pay to go to college in Colorado. With a deferral, she said, she could get a driver’s license and a regular job, and a chance to earn her tuition.

“I just want to go to college as soon as possible,” Ms. Trejo said. “The things Romney is saying are devastating.”

But groups opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants praised Mr. Romney’s stance on the deferrals. “We have been hopeful he would immediately stop them,” said Roy Beck, the president of NumbersUSA, which advocates reduced immigration. He contends that Mr. Obama exceeded his authority with the mass deferrals, and his organization has supported a federal lawsuit in Texas to try to stop the program.

In the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Mr. Romney wants to hold on to Republicans who supported his early calls for tough immigration enforcement. He also hopes to draw some Latinos, who are likely to cast crucial ballots in at least three battleground states: Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

“We understand the power our communities have,” said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a leader in Texas of the United We Dream Network, a national youth organization, who said she received one of the earliest deferrals. Although she cannot vote, Ms. Cabello, 21, said she had been busy organizing Latino citizens to do so. “We urge both candidates to continue this program,” she said, “and we will be mobilizing.”

    A Romney Stance Causes Turmoil for Young Immigrants, NYT, 20.10.2012,






Gosh, Who Talks Like That Now? Romney Does


October 20, 2012
The New York Times


GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — At a campaign stop in Rockford, Ill., not long ago, Mitt Romney sought to convey his feelings for his wife, Ann. “Smitten,” he said.

Not merely in love.

“Yeah, smitten,” he said. “Mitt was smitten.”

It was a classic Mittism, as friends and advisers call the verbal quirks of the Republican presidential candidate. In Romneyspeak, passengers do not get off airplanes, they “disembark.” People do not laugh, they “guffaw.” Criminals do not go to jail, they land in the “big house.” Insults are not hurled, “brickbats” are.

As he seeks the office of commander in chief, Mr. Romney can sometimes seem like an editor in chief, employing a language all his own. It is polite, formal and at times anachronistic, linguistically setting apart a man who frequently struggles to sell himself to the American electorate.

It is most pronounced when he is on the stump and off the cuff, not on the stuffy and rehearsed debate stage. But Mr. Romney offered voters a dose of it during his face-off with President Obama last week, when he coined the infelicitous phrase “binders full of women.”

Mr. Romney’s unique style of speaking has distinguished him throughout his career, influencing the word choices of those who work with and especially for him. Should he reach the White House, friends and advisers concede, the trait could be a defining feature of his public image, as memorable as Lyndon B. Johnson’s foul-mouthed utterances or the first President Bush’s tortured syntax.

Mr. Romney, 65, has spent four decades inside the corridors of high finance and state politics, where indecorous diction and vulgarisms abound. But he has emerged as if in a rhetorical time capsule from a well-mannered era of soda fountains and AMC Ramblers, someone whose idea of swearing is to let loose with the phrase “H-E-double hockey sticks.”

“He actually said that,” recalled Thomas Finneran, the speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives when Mr. Romney was governor. “As in, go to ‘H-E-double hockey sticks.’ I would think to myself, ‘Who talks like that?’ ”

Mr. Romney, quite proudly. In fact, he seems puzzled by the fascination with something as instinctive (and immutable) as how he talks, as if somebody were asking how he breathes. “It’s like someone who speaks with an accent,” he said in an interview. “You don’t hear the accent.”

His Mormon faith frowns on salty language, and so does he. A man of relentless self-discipline, he made clear to lawmakers in Boston and colleagues in business that even in matters of vocabulary, he “held himself to a high standard of behavior,” said Geoffrey Rehnert, a former executive at Bain Capital, the firm Mr. Romney started in the 1980s. Mr. Romney’s father, George, whom he idolized, shared the same style of refined and restrained speech.

Those around him are so accustomed to his verbal tics that they describe them in shorthand. “Old-timey,” said one aide. “His 1950s language,” explained another. “The Gomer Pyle routine,” said a third.

Asked about his boss’s word preferences, Eric Fehrnstrom, a veteran Romney adviser, responded knowingly: “You mean like ‘gosh, golly, darn’?”

For Democratic strategists, Mr. Romney’s throwback vocabulary feeds into their portrayal of a man ill-equipped for the mores and challenges of the modern age. David Axelrod, a top adviser for an Obama campaign that has adopted “Forward” as its slogan, once quipped that Mr. Romney “must watch ‘Mad Men,’ ” the hit television show set in Manhattan in the 1960s, “and think it’s the evening news.”

His exclamations can sound jarring to the contemporary ear — or charming, depending on whom you ask. Midway into a critique of Mr. Obama’s economic policies a few months ago, Mr. Romney declared: “They’ve scared the dickens out of banks,” he said. “They’ve scared the dickens out of insurance companies.”

He declared, “To heck with it!” while urging reporters to use their fingers to dig into a box of pastries he was passing around on a plane. “Darn good question,” he replied to a voter in Kalamazoo, Mich., who asked how he would work with Congress if elected. (His wife also got the “darn” treatment in Michigan, when he enthused, “Gosh, darn, she is amazing!”) “Thank heavens” is another favorite.

For people used to peppering their speech with four-letter words, time with Mr. Romney can prove an exercise in self-control. A half-dozen people recalled the precise moment when they swore — almost always accidentally — in his presence.

When Robert Travaglini, then the Democratic president of the Massachusetts State Senate, would curse in front of Mr. Romney, the governor would frown and interject, “Well, I wouldn’t choose that diction,” Mr. Travaglini recalled.

Mr. Rehnert, the former Bain executive, was mortified when a potential client he took into Mr. Romney’s office promptly dropped a string of profanities. “Mitt wanted to know what cats and dogs I was dragging in here,” Mr. Rehnert said.

His cussing colleagues said Mr. Romney took pains not to judge them publicly. “He did not impose his language preferences on us,” Mr. Finneran said. “But I wonder if we became a little bit more restrained because we knew this about him.”

Mr. Travaglini recalled lawmakers’ discussing how Mr. Romney “should be more in tune with the vernacular of the day and express himself more passionately.”

“But,” he added, “that’s not who he is.”

Mr. Romney does have his own distinctly G-rated arsenal of angry expressions — “Good grief,” “flippin’,” “good heavens” and even the occasional “crap.”

Perhaps the most intriguing of these is “grunt.” Most people just grunt. Mr. Romney, however, talks about grunting. “Grunt” he says, onomatopoetically, when annoyed with a last-minute change in his campaign schedule.

Many of Mr. Romney’s verbal habits can sound like those of a hyper-literate graduate student who never left school. (In college, he majored in English.) He favors the gentlemanly qualifier “if you will,” which he invoked three times during a recent speech.

On how to reduce the debt: “You have to start accumulating, if you will, reserves.”

On speaking to a group of soldiers: “The cadets were all lined up and sitting at attention, if you will.”

On his business background: “I’ve had the experience of working in the real world, if you will.”

In interviews, voters expressed an equal measure of admiration for and curiosity about his quaint dialect, which many described as a conspicuous break from the normally harsh tone of politicians.

“It’s a wonderful change,” said Irene Sperling, a retiree from Allentown, Pa. “He’s a gentleman.”

Wendy Tonn, 63, a Romney supporter who splits her time between Michigan and Florida, said she found comfort in his vocabulary, comparing it to the simple innocence of “Leave It to Beaver.” “We are of that era, and we’d like to be returned to that kind of era,” she said.

Even Dennis Miller, the comedian, has weighed in, suggesting that after four years of having a “hipster president” in the White House, Americans craved a “gosh president.”

A few acquaintances have tried to drag him linguistically into the 21st century. Mr. Finneran, an admitted serial curser, said that after years of working closely with Mr. Romney, he began to fantasize about provoking him to utter a particularly crude word.

“It got to the point where I started to think that my greatest achievement of all time would be if I somehow or other got him to say the word,” he said.

Once, Mr. Romney seemed on the cusp of fulfilling that wish during a heated discussion. But he caught himself. “And I thought, ‘Oh, God, my closest moment ever,’ ” Mr. Finneran said. “But it’s not going to happen.”


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 20, 2012

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated

the location and date of a campaign stop by Mitt Romney.

He was in DeWitt, Mich., in June, not in Virginia this month.

    Gosh, Who Talks Like That Now? Romney Does, NYT, 20.1.2012,





Mr. Obama Comes Back


October 17, 2012
The New York Times


There is a price to pay when a president appears disengaged, and President Obama obviously learned how much his diffidence cost him in the first debate this month. On Tuesday night, in the second debate, he regained full command of his vision and his legacy, leaving Mitt Romney sputtering with half-answers, deceptions and one memorable error.

Instead of windy and lethargic answers, the president was crisp in reciting his accomplishments and persuasive in explaining how he has restarted economic growth. Instead of letting Mr. Romney get away with a parade of falsehoods and unworkable promises, he regularly and forcefully called his opponent wrong. Having left many supporters wondering after the first debate whether he really wanted another four years, he finally seemed like a man who was ready to fight for another term.

What he did not do was describe how a second term would be more successful than his first has been, and, in particular, show how he would cut through the thicket of Republican opposition if re-elected. He missed opportunities to call for a more forceful opposition to assault weapons in another term, and to put forward a clear immigration policy.

But the contrast with the weak and failed ideas that Mr. Romney proposed could not have been clearer. The president noted that he had signed legislation that increased pay equity for women; Mr. Romney not only refused to say whether he would have done so, but condescendingly said he had hired many women when he was the governor of Massachusetts and had given them flexible schedules.

Mr. Obama pointed out that Mr. Romney’s tax numbers did not add up, and called the plan a “sketchy deal”; Mr. Romney responded in a huff. “Of course they add up,” he said. “I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years and balanced the budget.” Apparently he thinks it should be self-evident that a private equity mogul knows how to cut taxes drastically and still balance the budget, but it is not evident to any of the independent experts who have looked at his plan, as Mr. Obama icily pointed out.

The president reminded listeners that Mr. Romney’s immigration adviser was the author of Arizona’s radical, unconstitutional immigration law. And Mr. Romney himself repeated his cruel prescription to have undocumented immigrants “self-deport” by making it impossible for them to find work and aggressively demanding their identification papers. Mr. Obama offered the better, broader view on fixing immigration, though his own administration has also deported tens of thousands of noncriminals through a crackdown similar to Arizona’s law.

The president even got off a few good lines, pointing out that his pension was considerably smaller than Mr. Romney’s, and that his opponent was far more extreme than President George W. Bush in proposing to turn Medicare into a voucher system and to eliminate financing for Planned Parenthood. He finally took the opportunity to bring up Mr. Romney’s dismissal of 47 percent of the country as people who consider themselves victims and do not take personal responsibility for their lives.

But the most devastating moment for Mr. Romney was self-inflicted. Continuing his irresponsible campaign to politicize the death of the American ambassador to Libya, he said it took two weeks for the president to acknowledge that it was the result of an act of terror. As the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, quickly pointed out, the president referred to it as an act of terror the next day, in the Rose Garden. “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” asked Mr. Obama, having fully regained his stride and confidence.

Voters who watched the first debate might have been left with an impression that Mr. Romney was the candidate of ideas and that Mr. Obama’s reserves of energy and seriousness had been tapped out. On Tuesday night, those roles were reversed.

    Mr. Obama Comes Back, NYT, 17.10.2012,






Rivals Bring Bare Fists to Rematch


October 16, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama and Mitt Romney engaged Tuesday in one of the most intensive clashes in a televised presidential debate, with tensions between them spilling out in interruptions, personal rebukes and accusations of lying as they parried over the last four years under Mr. Obama and what the next four would look like under a President Romney.

Competing for a shrinking sliver of undecided voters, many of them women, their engagements at times bordered on physical as they circled each other or bounded out of their seats while the other was speaking, at times more intent to argue than to address the questions over jobs, taxes, energy, immigration and a range of other issues.

Mr. Obama, criticized by his own party for a lackluster debate performance two weeks ago, this time pressed an attack that allowed him to often dictate the terms of the debate. But an unbowed Mr. Romney was there to meet him every time, and seemed to relish the opportunity to challenge a sitting president

Mr. Obama’s assertive posture may well have stopped the clamor of concern from supporters that had been weighing on his campaign with three weeks and one more debate to go before the election.

The president’s broadsides started with a critique of Mr. Romney for his opposition to his administration’s automobile bailout in his first answer — “Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt” — and ended more than 90 minutes later with an attack on Mr. Romney’s secretly taped comments about the “47 percent” of Americans who he said did not take responsibility for their own lives.

“When he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility — think about who he was talking about,” the president said toward the end of the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

It was as if a different, highly charged president had taken the stage rather than the reluctant, disengaged-seeming candidate who showed up to meet Mr. Romney at their first debate two weeks ago.

Mr. Romney stayed acutely focused on Mr. Obama’s record in the face of it all, saying that the president had failed to deliver what he promised in his 2008 campaign and arguing repeatedly and strenuously, “We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”

He credited Mr. Obama for being “great as a speaker and describing his vision.” But then he brought down the ultimate hammer in a challenge to an incumbent: “That’s wonderful, except we have a record to look at. And that record shows he just hasn’t been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need.”

The two took pains to fashion their arguments toward female voters, with the debate seeming at times directed entirely at them. Mr. Obama mentioned Mr. Romney’s vow to cut government funding for Planned Parenthood at least four times; Mr. Romney repeatedly mentioned that under Mr. Obama: “There are three and a half million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office. We don’t have to live like this.”

And Mr. Romney sought to broaden his appeal to women by softening his tone on reproductive issues, saying: “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.”

Emphasizing his record of diversity as governor based on his own recruiting, he said, “I brought us whole binders full of women.”

It is a bit of conventional wisdom that undecided voters seek comity in their leaders. There was none of that Tuesday.

At times the back and forth was personal in small ways. Having already invoked the 14 percent effective tax rate that Mr. Romney personally paid, Mr. Obama mentioned Mr. Romney’s investment in Chinese companies. Then Mr. Romney asked if Mr. Obama had looked at his own pension for its investments.

“I don’t look at my pension,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not as big as yours.”

But at other moments the verbal sparring took on a deeper, emotional resonance, such as when Mr. Romney suggested that the administration was intentionally misleading in its shifting explanations for the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans there.

“The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive,” Mr. Obama said, standing and looking intently at his opponent. “That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president.”

Mr. Obama noted that he had gone to the Rose Garden the day after the attack to say “this was an act of terror.”

Mr. Romney asserted that Mr. Obama had not said that until 14 days later, prompting the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, to interject, “He did in fact, sir.” Mr. Obama, interjected with a hint of anger, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” (She said Mr. Romney’s broader point, about shifting explanations, was “correct.”)

The vitriol that has been coursing through the campaign for months, in television ads and dueling speeches, played out at exceptionally close range for much of the 90-minute debate.

The exchanges were intense and personal, with Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney repeatedly leaving their stools and invading each other’s space on the stage, Mr. Romney frequently looking at the president intently from his stool and interrupting as much as the president interrupted him.

At times they were within striking distance of each other as they forcefully made their points.

“If I could have you sit down, Governor Romney,” Ms. Crowley said. “Thank you.”

But while Mr. Romney was on the defensive for much of the debate, his arguments were built around a theme he returned to again and again: the Obama administration’s record and its failure to restart the economy, saying his business know-how was what was called for now. He used a litany of statistics to make his case that the economy has not improved and that the president has not lived up to his pledges.

At least a half-dozen times, Mr. Romney said that 23 million Americans are out of work. And he said that 580,000 women had lost jobs in the last four years.

“The president has tried, but his policies haven’t worked,” Mr. Romney said, calling Mr. Obama a great speaker with a poor record.

The two tangled over tax policy, health care and spending, delivering what have become familiar arguments at this late stage in the campaign, but they also covered new ground under questioning from an audience of undecided voters. One woman said she was disappointed by Mr. Obama, but worried that Mr. Romney would return to policies of the Bush administration.

In blunt terms, Mr. Romney distanced himself from former President George W. Bush, criticizing him for leaving behind a rising budget deficit, failing to deal aggressively on trade deals with China and for favoring big business over small ones.

“President Bush and I are different people,” he said, “and these are different times.”

Ms. Crowley, the moderator, defied the rules of the Commission on Presidential Debates — negotiated by the two campaigns — pressing the candidates for a follow-up after the very first question. Ms. Crowley had made it clear that she would do that and had not signed anything agreeing to those conditions, but she also stood to the side and let the two men go after each other throughout the debate.

The questions came from voters who said they had not decided between Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney or were open to changing their minds in the final three weeks of the race. A question about the nation’s immigration laws prompted one of the longest exchanges between the men, with Mr. Romney pointing out that the president did not meet his promise of achieving comprehensive immigration legislation during his first term.

“This is a president who has not been able to do what he said he’d do,” said Mr. Romney, who pledged to pass an immigration overhaul in his first year as president, a sharp departure from his anti-immigration tone in the Republican nominating fight one year ago.

The pressure on both men was intense.

Three weeks before Election Day, there was a sense within both parties that Mr. Romney had succeeded in using the first debate to break an important psychological barrier by putting himself on equal footing with Mr. Obama and showing a presidential bearing before an audience of roughly 70 million people. And Tuesday night was Mr. Obama’s opportunity to try to restore his campaign’s momentum,.

Mr. Obama’s performance came just as the Romney campaign was starting its own huge advertising blitz — after months of lopsided pummeling by Mr. Obama on television — in the closing phase of the race.

On Tuesday his campaign placed $12 million more in commercials in the nine major battlegrounds,.

And, unannounced, it began running a new commercial featuring a woman who identifies herself as a former Obama voter who researched Mr. Romney’s record on abortion and found it was not as anti-abortion as Mr. Obama has said, noting, for instance, that he supports abortion in cases of rape and incest.

    Rivals Bring Bare Fists to Rematch, NYT, 16.10.2012,






If Roe v. Wade Goes


October 15, 2012
The New York Times


It is no secret that Mitt Romney and his running-mate, Representative Paul Ryan, are opponents of abortion rights. When Mr. Ryan was asked at last week’s debate whether voters who support abortion rights should be worried if the Romney-Ryan ticket were elected, he essentially said yes.

They would depart slightly from the extremist Republican Party platform by allowing narrow exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the woman. Beyond that, they would move to take away a fundamental right that American women have had for nearly 40 years.

Mr. Romney has called for overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to make her own childbearing decisions and to legalized abortion nationwide. He has said that the issue should be thrown back to state legislatures. The actual impact of that radical rights rollback is worth considering.

It would not take much to overturn the Roe decision. With four of the nine members of the Supreme Court over 70 years old, the next occupant of the White House could have the opportunity to appoint one or more new justices. If say, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest member, retired and Mr. Romney named a replacement hostile to abortion rights, the basic right to abortion might well not survive.

The result would turn back the clock to the days before Roe v. Wade when abortion was legal only in some states, but not in others. There is every indication that about half the states would make abortion illegal within a year of Roe being struck down, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenges abortion restrictions around the country, puts the number at 30 states. For one thing, abortion bans already on the books in some states would suddenly kick in. And some Republican-controlled state legislatures would outlaw abortion immediately.

Even with Roe and subsequent decisions upholding abortion rights, more than half the states have enacted barriers like mandatory waiting periods, “counseling” sessions lacking a real medical justification; parental consent or notification laws; and onerous clinic “safety” rules intended to drive clinics out of business.

Mr. Romney is a vocal supporter of this continuing drive in the states and in Congress to limit the constitutional right, even without overturning Roe. To a large degree, the anti-abortion forces have succeeded. In 1982, there were about 2,900 providers nationwide; as of 2008, there were less than 1,800. In 97 percent of the counties that are outside of metropolitan areas, there are no abortion providers at all.

We do not need to guess about the brutal consequences of overturning Roe. We know from our own country’s pre-Roe history and from the experience around the world. Women desperate to end a pregnancy would find a way to do so. Well-to-do women living in places where abortion is illegal would travel to other states where it is legal to obtain the procedure. Women lacking the resources would either be forced by the government and politicians to go through with an unwanted or risky pregnancy, attempt to self-abort or turn to an illegal — and potentially unsafe — provider for help. Women’s health, privacy and equality would suffer. Some women would die.

Mr. Romney knows this, or at least he used to. Running for the United States Senate in Massachusetts in 1994 against Edward Kennedy, Mr. Romney spoke of a young woman, a close relative, who died years before as result of complications from an illegal abortion to underscore his now-extinct support for Roe v. Wade. In a report in Salon last year, Justin Elliott, a reporter for ProPublica, found that when the young woman passed away, her parents requested that donations be made in her honor to Planned Parenthood. That’s the same invaluable family-planning group that Mr. Romney has pledged to defund once in the White House.

    If Roe v. Wade Goes, NYT, 15.10.2012,






After Fiery Florida Rally, Obama Focuses on Debate Work


October 11, 2012
The New York Times


CORAL GABLES, Fla. — To campaign or to study? For President Obama, that has become the question.

On the calendar, there are 25 days until the election. But if there is one thing that emerged after Mr. Obama’s performance in last week’s debate in Denver, it is that it may be better for him to spend his time preparing for the next one than to stump for votes.

So his advisers are sending the president to study hall. He will hole up in Williamsburg, Va., starting on Saturday to get ready for debate No 2 on Long Island next Tuesday, and then will do the same thing next weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in rural Maryland. His aides have been impressing upon him the need to aggressively confront Mitt Romney — who spent part of Thursday on debate practice himself — for shifting his position on a variety of issues.

On Thursday, in a speech at the University of Miami’s basketball arena, the president sounded like a student who has been paying attention in class. He delivered a full-throated, derisive attack on Mr. Romney’s move to the center.

“Now, Governor Romney thinks we have not been paying attention for the last year and a half,” Mr. Obama said. “He is going to say exactly anything he can to close the deal.”

Then the president adopted the cadence of a Baptist preacher: “Now, Florida, we gotta tell them his plan will not create jobs; it will not help the middle class. We can’t afford it, we’re not going back, we’re moving forward, and that’s why I’m running for a second term as president of the United States.”

Mr. Obama, when he wants, is light years more effective on the stump than he is in a debate hall. At the University of Miami, the president was energized, displaying the fire that he did not show during the debate. He worked the audience, making people laugh and cheer. And he directed zinger after zinger at Mr. Romney.

Mr. Romney, the president charged, “is trying to go through an extreme makeover.”

“After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney’s trying to convince you that he was severely kidding,” Mr. Obama said.

He chuckled. “Suddenly, he loves the middle class. Can’t stop talking about them. He loves Medicare, loves teachers. He even loves the most important parts of Obamacare,” he said, referring to the health care overhaul.

Where this Barack Obama was during last week’s debate is anybody’s guess. But here, he took Mr. Romney to task time and again.

“Tax breaks for outsourcers? He’s never heard of such a thing!” the president said. “Kicking 100,000 young Floridians off their parents’ insurance plan — who, me?”

Yet the new study schedule, which leaves the president with a bare 16 days to campaign after debate preparation, could take away his more potent weapon: himself. Mr. Obama’s advisers, aware that far more people watch the debates than a campaign appearance, say they must strike a balance.

The tightened race — polls show that Mr. Romney has narrowed Mr. Obama’s lead in some crucial states — heightens the impact of the shortened time frame. That is particularly true here in Florida, which has 29 electoral votes and which became the nation’s most infamous swing state after the Bush-Gore election recount in 2000. Its electorate is a diverse mix of conservative Southerners, Hispanics, African-Americans and elderly and Jewish voters.

Mr. Romney faces similarly vexing demands on his time. After debate practice Thursday morning, he traveled to Asheville, N.C., a state that has received fewer visits from the two presidential campaigns than other battlegrounds, even though polls show the race to be tight there.

Some local Republican strategists expressed frustration that Mr. Romney had not already taken the state out of competition, given that North Carolina’s unemployment rate is the fifth-highest in the nation and Mr. Obama’s margin of victory in 2008 was the slimmest of any state.

They questioned the Romney campaign’s messaging strategy in the state, which seems generic rather than tailored to North Carolina. Mr. Romney has run an advertisement starring Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is not well known in North Carolina, and he appeared at an Asheville rally with House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio — a symbol to independent voters of gridlock in Washington.

A key reason for Mr. Romney’s trip to the state was to pay a visit to the Rev. Billy Graham, a religious adviser to Republican presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Retired and frail at 93, Mr. Graham remains a potent symbol to evangelical Christian voters, an important part of the Republican base Mr. Romney will need to turn out strongly in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.


Helene Cooper reported from Coral Gables, and Trip Gabriel from Asheville, N.C.

    After Fiery Florida Rally, Obama Focuses on Debate Work, NYT, 11.10.2012,






Buying the Election?


October 8, 2012
The New York Times


Do you remember that moment in the first Austin Powers movie when Dr. Evil, back in action after being cryogenically frozen for 30 years, gets his hands on a nuclear warhead? “If you want it back,” he snarls to a group of world leaders who have gathered in a secret United Nations bunker, “you will have to pay me” — here he pauses for dramatic effect — “one million dollars!” The assembled leaders burst into laughter because it was such a pathetically small sum.

Campaign finance these days reminds me a lot of that scene. I lived for a few years in Washington, right around the time that Congress, aroused by the Watergate scandal, was reforming the country’s campaign finance laws. It instituted a system for presidential elections that combined small contributions from individuals ($1,000 or less), public financing from the taxpayers and a cap on how much the candidates could spend. In the Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter year of 1976, the two candidates were allowed to spend — can we pause here for dramatic effect? — around $35 million each.

Fast forward 36 years, to last weekend’s news that the Obama campaign had raised $181 million in just one month, September. Not all that long ago, the ability to partake of public financing was a sign that you had arrived as a serious candidate; today no candidate in his right mind would want to be so constrained.

Four years ago, Obama became the first presidential candidate since campaign reform was instituted to opt out of public financing for the general election. He raised $750 million. John McCain, who accepted public financing, was only able to directly spend the $84 million or so he was allotted under the system. (Although the Republican Party raised millions more.) This election season, Mitt Romney and President Obama could end up spending more than $1 billion each. They seem to spend more time fund-raising than pressing the flesh with voters. According to Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the United States Naval Academy, Obama has held six fund-raisers in a single day. Twice.

And that doesn’t even account for what’s truly different about this election: the rise of the “super PACs” and 501(c)4s, which are essentially a form of campaign money-laundering, allowing wealthy people to contribute millions toward supposedly “independent” spending on campaign advertising, polling and other expensive campaign goodies. Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, whose main political interest appears to be Israel, has pumped $10 million into Restore Our Future, the biggest Republican super PAC. Although individual contributions to a particular candidate remains severely restricted — no more than $5,000 — the amount someone can pour into a super PAC is limitless. The means by which the country finances its campaigns is utterly broken.

In a recent cover story in The Atlantic, James Bennet, the editor, traces how that happened. He focuses on a man named Jim Bopp Jr., a lawyer from Terre Haute, Ind., who has largely devoted his life to freeing the nation of campaign spending limits. To him — and, indeed, to the majority of the current Supreme Court, in the Citizens United case — limits on political spending are a violation of the First Amendment.

What is astonishing is the way Bopp makes unlimited spending seem actually democratic. “Most people don’t even know who their congressman is,” Bopp tells Bennet. If there were more spending on campaigns, voters would be more educated about the candidates. The Supreme Court majority, meanwhile, has essentially said that, by definition, campaign spending that is independent of the candidate cannot be corrupting.

But, of course, what we are learning in the real world is that super PACs and 501(c)4s are hardly independent. Karl Rove, who absolutely knows what the Romney campaign needs at any given moment, runs the most important of the Republican super PACs. Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Obama’s first chief of staff, is helping to raise money for a Democratic super PAC.

What we also know in the real world is that unlimited spending will not serve to enlighten voters. It will deaden them to political argument — as is happening in just about every swing state, where the ads are running with such frequency that people are tuning them out. Finally, we know from hard experience that the money that comes into politics has the potential to corrupt.

In Congress we see it every day. A congressman gets on an important committee, begins to raise money from the companies that care about the committee’s issues — and, suddenly, the congressman is writing legislation the company wants.

What feels different now is that the sums are so large, and that it has the potential to influence not just Congressional and Senate candidates but the presidential candidates as well. If Romney wins, will he really be willing to take a position on Israel that is different from Adelson’s? One suspects not.

“This can’t be good for Democracy,” Bennet told me in an e-mail. It’s not.

    Buying the Election?, NYT, 9.10.2012,






The Cacophony of Money


October 7, 2012
The New York Times


Two-thirds of the $50 million spent on Mitt Romney’s behalf in Ohio has come from outside “super PACs” and other so-called independent groups, and yet Mr. Romney has lagged behind in all of the major Ohio polls. Hundreds of millions in third-party spending from unlimited checks, much of it from undisclosed donors, has also failed to give Mr. Romney a clear lead in any of the other swing states.

If Mr. Romney loses the presidential race — which is far from a sure thing — does that mean the big check writers will declare the process a waste of money and stay out of politics the next time around? Don’t count on it.

This is only the first presidential election in the Citizens United era of unlimited spending, and the first since 1976 in which both presidential candidates spurned the public finance system. All the big players are learning lessons about how the process works in an ugly new world, and will be fine-tuning their strategies once they determine what was effective and what was not.

There may be some changes in how unlimited money is spent, but now that it has been unleashed, only a constitutional amendment or a careful system of regulation can bottle it back up. The need to do so will remain one of the most urgent challenges facing every lawmaker.

Most of the approximately $593 million that has been spent so far by outside groups during this election cycle has gone into television advertising, and it has oversaturated hundreds of markets in the important swing states, in combination with ads from the campaigns themselves.

Iowans have had to endure an unending stream of political ads, in some cases six times as much as in 2008. The two presidential campaigns and associated “independent” groups have run more than 100,000 ads to win the state’s six electoral votes, as many as six an hour in Sioux City. And that’s nothing compared with Ohio, where ads run all day in the big markets, as many as 10 per half-hour.

In many cases, reporters and campaign officials have found that the ads have reached the point of diminishing returns. Viewers are muting them, or mentally tuning them out. “People just aren’t paying attention to political ads the way they used to,” David Winston, a Republican pollster, told The Wall Street Journal.

Chances are super PACs and related “social welfare” groups will find more effective ways of spending their money. There is already evidence that many groups are moving their spending from the presidential race to Congressional contests, where they can have a bigger impact, and are buying vehicles other than TV ads. Karl Rove, founder of one of the biggest Republican groups, American Crossroads, recently said the group would spend $32 million to keep the party’s House majority. The group intends to spend money on research, direct mail and calls, and polling, along with ads.

It also seems likely that more spending will shift to the primaries, where the relentlessly negative tone of the independent ads has a stronger effect on party regulars. Mr. Romney would not have become the Republican nominee without the power of his super PAC ads pounding on his party rivals.

More than two-thirds of the independent money in this election cycle has been spent on behalf of Republicans, according to the Sunlight Foundation, and the business interests behind those hundreds of millions are not going to give up the influence and the power that spending has given them. That’s the reason this unlimited money is so corrupting: win or lose, it binds lawmakers, corporations and special interests ever closer.

    The Cacophony of Money, NYT, 7.10.2012,






Drop in Jobless Figure Gives Jolt to Race for President


October 5, 2012
The New York Times


The jobless rate abruptly dropped in September to its lowest level since the month President Obama took office, indicating a steadier recovery than previously thought and delivering another jolt to the presidential campaign.

The improvement lent ballast to Mr. Obama’s case that the economy is on the mend and threatened the central argument of Mitt Romney’s candidacy, that Mr. Obama’s failed stewardship is reason enough to replace him.

Employers added a modest 114,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported on Friday, but estimates for what had been disappointing gains in July and August were revised upward to more respectable levels.

Unemployment fell to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, crossing what had become a symbolic threshold in the campaign. Mr. Romney was deprived of a favorite line of attack, mocking the president for “43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.”

The new numbers may have less economic than political import, since they represent only one month of data that can be quite volatile and give little indication that the plodding recovery has accelerated.

“We’ve been amazingly resilient thus far in the face of all these headwinds,” said Ellen Zentner, the senior United States economist for Nomura Securities International, referring to global obstacles like the slowdown in China and domestic ones like the looming expiration of tax breaks. “But it’s awfully hard to see getting significantly above that growth range given that these headwinds are still in place.”

Still, an energized Mr. Obama seized on the statistics as he campaigned in Virginia and Ohio, seeking to regain his footing after a listless performance in the first debate this week. Mr. Romney, whose muscular showing in Denver had emboldened his campaign, scrambled to play down the report, saying it merely confirmed that millions of Americans had given up looking for work.

In back-to-back rallies in Virginia, the president declared, “This country has come too far to turn back.” His Republican challenger then insisted, “We don’t have to stay on the path we’ve been on. We can do better.”

Some Romney backers, led by the former chief executive of General Electric, John F. Welch Jr., suggested that the White House had massaged the Labor Department data to make it more favorable. The Obama administration, economic experts and some Republicans dismissed that notion as a groundless conspiracy theory.

The jobs report was preceded by other signs of growing economic strength, including a jump in consumer confidence, the strongest auto sales in four years, rallying stock prices and, at long last, a stabilization of housing prices.

According to the monthly survey of employers, the bulk of the gains came from service jobs, particularly in education and health care. Though government downsizing has been a drag on the recovery, government over all added 10,000 jobs in September, the third consecutive month of gains.

The nation’s employers have added an average of 146,000 jobs a month in 2012, just ahead of the numbers that are considered necessary to absorb new workers into the labor force. “This is not what a real recovery looks like,” Mr. Romney said in a statement.

Areas of weakness included manufacturing, one of the bright spots that Mr. Obama has showcased throughout the re-election campaign. It lost 16,000 jobs after a revised 22,000 drop in August in the face of a global slowdown. The number of temporary jobs, usually considered a harbinger of future growth, fell 2,000. Speaking to a rain-soaked crowd of 9,000 at Cleveland State University, Mr. Obama said, “Today’s news should give us some encouragement. It shouldn’t be an excuse for the other side to talk down the economy just to try to score some political points.”

“We’ve made too much progress to return to the policies that led to this crisis in the first place,” the president said to cheers.

The nation now has nearly the same number of jobs as when Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. Since the economy stopped hemorrhaging jobs in February 2010, there has been an increase of more than 4.3 million. A mere 61,000-job increase would allow Mr. Obama to claim a net gain in jobs over his tenure.

The White House has already made that claim based on one measurement. In an annual recalibration last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 400,000 more jobs were added in the 12 months that ended in March than previously thought. Such revisions are common, but the adjustment process is slow — that new benchmark will not be incorporated into the monthly jobs figures until early next year.

Mr. Romney, on other hand, said the lower rate spoke to a nation short of hope. The rate, he asserted, would be about 11 percent if the same percentage of people were looking for work now as on the day Mr. Obama was elected.

“If you just dropped out of the labor force, if you just give up and say, ‘Look, I can’t go back to work, I’m just going to stay home,’ if you just drop out altogether, why, you’re no longer part of the employment statistics, so it looks like unemployment is getting better,” Mr. Romney said at a farm equipment dealership in Abingdon, Va.

That was true in August, when the rate dropped to 8.1 percent, from 8.3 percent. But this time, the statistics showed that more people were working, not that discouraged job seekers had stopped looking for work.

The jobs report is based on two surveys, one of businesses and one of households, that can present different pictures.

While the survey of businesses showed mediocre growth, the household survey had a whopping increase of 873,000 people working in September. The household survey is much more volatile and prone to sampling error, but it captures aspects of the labor market that the business survey does not, like self-employment and household workers. Economists said that this month’s household survey probably overstated the improvement, but that its credibility was bolstered by an unexpectedly robust rise in consumer confidence.

The polling firm Gallup pinpointed the improvement in consumer confidence last month to the first day of the Democratic National Convention and attributed it almost entirely to increased optimism among Democrats, while confidence among Republicans remained at low levels. But Gallup could not say whether politics or economic conditions had driven the change.

The employment gains were not spread equally. While for older workers, the unemployment rate was the lowest in years, the unemployment rate for black men improved only 0.1 percentage point and the portion of all black men with jobs actually fell, to 57.5 percent.

There was no movement between August and September in a broader measure of underemployment, which includes the jobless who have stopped looking for work and those who work part time but would like to work full time. That stayed at 14.7 percent, though it is down from 16.4 percent a year earlier.

And 4.8 million people are in the group that has had the toughest time finding work — those who have been unemployed for longer than six months.

Sarah Thurman, a civil engineer in Kansas City, Mo., has been looking since May 2010. “The smaller firms are starting to post job openings, and that hasn’t been like that for over two years, but there’s so many of us without jobs that there’s so much competition,” she said. “I’m hearing from the headhunters that it’s going to be opening up, it’s going to be opening up — but when?”

Like Republicans and Democrats, consumers and businesses have divergent views of the economic situation. Consumers have brightened along with the better outlook for employment, calmer stock markets and whispers of rising home values.

Business leaders have been hanging back, more focused on a global slowdown and domestic concerns. They say they are uncertain what the election will mean for the business climate and are waiting in part for a resolution of the host of tax increases and budget cuts that will be set off at the end of the year if Congress fails to act.

The discrepancy between consumers’ mood and companies’ outlook can be easily explained, economists said. “Businesses are much more forward-looking,” said Ms. Zentner at Nomura.

In a survey of 400 chief financial officers conducted this summer, Grant Thornton, a management consulting firm, found that only 37 percent foresaw the possibility of adding workers while 18 percent said they expected to shrink over the next six months.

Harry Kazazian, the chief executive of Exxel Outdoors, a maker of camping equipment based in Alabama, said the election, the fiscal cliff and rapidly shifting regulations had put him in a cautious mood.

With sales on the rise, Exxel has slowly resumed a capital investment plan that it suspended three years ago. “We’re moving forward, but we’re doing it in steps rather than being much more aggressive and putting ourselves out there,” Mr. Kazazian said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if things start turning the other way, meaning down.”

But at a Walmart in Atlanta, shoppers were loosening the reins a bit, buying what they described as small indulgences like scented candle oil and seasonal beer.

Michael Peacock, 43, said that although his house was in foreclosure, he could sense enough activity in his chosen field, online marketing, that he could afford to turn down some work outside his specialty. “I’m not superconfident in the economy. But in my line of work, things have been getting better. There seems to be some improvement.”


John H. Cushman Jr. contributed reporting.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 5, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the increase in jobs since February 2010 and the number of jobs needed for President Obama to claim an increase during his tenure. More than 4.3 million jobs have been added since February 2010, not more than 400,000, and an increase of 61,000 jobs, not 62,000, would allow Mr. Obama to claim a net gain. The earlier version also misidentified the city where Sarah Furman lives. She lives in Kansas City, Mo., not Kansas City, Kan.

    Drop in Jobless Figure Gives Jolt to Race for President, NYT, 6.10.2012,






A Clash of Philosophies


October 4, 2012
The New York Times


DENVER — Somewhere in the wonky blizzard of facts, statistics and studies thrown out on stage here on Wednesday night was a fundamental philosophical choice about the future of America, quite possibly the starkest in nearly three decades.

As President Obama and Mitt Romney faced off for the first time, their largely zinger-free styles may have disguised a fierce clash of views not only over taxes, spending and health care, but over the very role of government in American society in a time of wrenching problems.

On one side was an incumbent who, while recognizing that government is not the solution to all problems, argued that it plays an essential part in promoting economic growth and ensuring fairness for various segments of the population. On the other was a challenger who, while recognizing the basic value of government, argued that its greatest goal was to get out of the way of a free people and unleash the American entrepreneurial spirit.

“Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes skewed towards the wealthy and roll back regulations, that we’ll be better off,” Mr. Obama said. He asked: “Are we going to double down on the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into this mess or do we embrace a new economic patriotism that says America does best when the middle class does best?”

Mr. Romney fired back with an indictment of Mr. Obama. “The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more — if you will, trickle-down government — would work,” he said. “That’s not the right answer for America. I’ll restore the vitality that gets America working again.”

There was little of the overt nastiness that has characterized the campaign this year. Instead, the debate was perhaps as direct an articulation of the profound schism in this election as has been heard over the course of the campaign. The candidates spent much of the 90 minutes here at the University of Denver defining it in narrow policy details that may have bled some of the passion out of their arguments and made them sound smaller than they were. But at its core, the debate brought home a divide over domestic policy greater than any since President Ronald Reagan and Walter F. Mondale faced off in 1984.

Mr. Romney came in with the greater hurdle of explaining his vision for the future and convincing the shrinking pool of undecided voters that it represents a better path for a country plagued by stubborn unemployment and rising national debt. He calmly and persistently rebutted Mr. Obama’s characterizations of his plans while pressing his more-in-sorrow line of attack on the incumbent.

Whether he succeeded enough to change the dynamics of the race may take a day or two to become evident.

But the Romney camp hoped his performance was strong enough to fuel a sense of comeback heading into the final month of the campaign. After a rough few weeks, Mr. Romney’s advisers were heartened coming into the debate by new polls showing that the race was close nationally and somewhat closer in a few battleground states. The Obama team arrived here worried that a bored news media would exaggerate any perceived turnaround by Mr. Romney to promote a more compelling race.

What they got was a substantive if sometimes hard to follow dialogue over far-reaching issues. Both cast their positions in terms of concern over everyday Americans, but from opposite ends. Mr. Obama expressed worry about those who would lose out if government programs are cut too deeply, while Mr. Romney talked about those who feel constrained by excessive government taxation and regulation.

“The magnitude of the tax cuts that you’re talking about, governor, would end up resulting in severe hardship for people, but more importantly would not help us grow,” Mr. Obama said.

Referring to possible cuts in Medicaid, he said, “that may not seem like a big deal when it just is, you know, numbers on a sheet of paper, but if we’re talking about a family who’s got an autistic kid and is depending on that Medicaid, that’s a big problem.”

Mr. Romney talked about the impact of the continuing economic problems, noting that the cost of gasoline, electricity, food and health care has grown. “I’ll call it the economy tax,” he said. “It’s been crushing.”

The Republican focused on the impact on small business of Mr. Obama’s policies. “It’s not just Donald Trump you’re taxing,” he said. “It’s all those businesses that employ one-quarter of the workers in America.” He added, “You raise taxes and you kill jobs.”

Mr. Obama cited Abraham Lincoln and his efforts to finance a transcontinental railroad, land-grant colleges and a National Academy of Sciences. It was those sorts of investments, made by presidents of both parties, that helped make America great by providing opportunity for progress, the president argued.

“If all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off,” Mr. Obama said. “That doesn’t restrict people’s freedom. That enhances it. And so what I’ve tried to do as president is to apply those same principles.”

Mr. Romney pointed to the president’s efforts to stimulate the growth of clean energy with $90 billion in taxpayer assistance as an example of what government should not be about.

“The role of government is not to become the economic player picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the health care system,” he said. “The right answer for government is to say how do we make the private sector become more efficient and more effective?”

In a way, it was the inevitable culmination of a polarized debate that ultimately spawned the Tea Party backlash against activist government. Mr. Obama has searched for the right blend of policies and messages to diminish antipathy toward government, debt and liberalism. Mr. Romney, while an imperfect messenger from the right, advanced a revision of the Great Society social compact that even President Reagan never could achieve.

As it happens, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney may actually be more moderate at heart, given their records. But the debate exposed little nuance or agreement. As they battled it out Wednesday night, neither shied away from the fight of a generation.

    A Clash of Philosophies, NYT, 4.10.2012,






Taking Stock of Some of the Claims and Counterclaims


October 4, 2012
The New York Times


Mitt Romney repeatedly questioned President Obama’s honesty at Wednesday night’s debate — likening the president and vice president at one point to his five sons repeating things that were not true — but he made a number of misleading statements himself on the size of the federal deficits, taxes, Medicare and health care.

“I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals,” Mr. Romney said to Mr. Obama, describing his plan to cut tax rates by 20 percent. “I know that you and your running mate keep saying that, and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it, and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that is not the case, all right?”

But among other misleading statements, Mr. Romney falsely stated that Mr. Obama had doubled the deficit. “The president said he’d cut the deficit in half,” Mr. Romney charged. “Unfortunately, he doubled it.”

Mr. Obama made a number of misleading statements of his own — mainly by filling in the blanks of some of Mr. Romney’s vague plans, usually in the least politically palatable way. He described Mr. Romney’s tax plan as a $5 trillion tax “cut” and said the average middle-class family would pay more, contrary to Mr. Romney’s pledges.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are hardly the first presidential candidates to use debates to challenge the honesty of their opponents.

But this year, as the line between acceptable political debate and sophistry has often been crossed, the accuracy of campaign statements has emerged as a campaign issue. Here is an examination of some of the claims and counterclaims.


Doubling the Deficit

Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had doubled the deficit. That is not true. When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, the Congressional Budget Office had already projected that the deficit for fiscal year 2009, which ended Sept. 30 of that year, would be $1.2 trillion. (It ended up as $1.4 trillion.) For fiscal year 2012, which ended last week, the deficit is expected to be $1.1 trillion — just under the level in the year he was inaugurated. Measured as a share of the economy, as economists prefer, the deficit has declined more significantly — from 10.1 percent of the economy’s total output in 2009 to 7.3 percent for 2012. JACKIE CALMES


The $5 Trillion Tax Cut

Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney repeatedly sparred over whether Mr. Romney has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut.

It is true that Mr. Romney has proposed “revenue neutral” tax reform, meaning that he would not expand the deficit. However, he has proposed cutting all marginal tax rates by 20 percent — which would in and of itself cut tax revenue by $5 trillion.

To make up that revenue, Mr. Romney has said he wants to clear out the underbrush of deductions and loopholes in the tax code. But he has not yet specified how he would do so.

This week, in a television interview, Mr. Romney did shed some light — floating the idea of capping each household’s deductions at $17,000.

“As an option, you could say everybody’s going to get up to a $17,000 deduction. And you could use your charitable deduction, your home mortgage deduction, or others, your health care deduction, and you can fill that bucket, if you will, that $17,000 bucket that way,” he said. “Higher-income people might have a lower number.”

The deduction cap has the virtue of avoiding the tough negotiations over which tax expenditures to unwind. Many tax expenditures are highly popular, like the deduction for charitable giving. Moreover, many are important to the stability of the economy. Suddenly ending the home mortgage interest deduction, for instance, would threaten to destabilize the housing market.

But a number of unanswered questions about Mr. Romney’s tax plan remain.

For instance, Mr. Romney did not address how his proposed cap on deductions would affect tax credits. (Generally, deductions lower a family’s level of taxable income and credits erase part of their overall tax bill.)

It is also unclear whether his proposal to cap deductions would raise enough revenue to pay for his income tax rate cuts — at least not without increasing the tax burden on families making less than $200,000 a year, which Mr. Romney has vowed that he will not do. ANNIE LOWREY


Government ‘Takeover’ Of Health Care

Mr. Romney said that Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul would allow the federal government to “take over health care,” an assertion rejected by the president.

The 2010 health care law clearly expands the role of the federal government. But it also builds on the foundation of private health insurance, providing subsidies for millions of low- and moderate-income people to buy private insurance.

Under the law, close to 30 million Americans are expected to gain health coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Many of them would receive insurance through the expansion of Medicaid. The federal government will initially pay the entire cost of Medicaid coverage for newly eligible beneficiaries and would never pay less than 90 percent.

In addition, the federal government would subsidize the purchase of private insurance for millions of people with incomes up to four times the poverty level (up to $92,200 for a family of four). Private insurers would thus have many new customers.

Projections by the nonpartisan office of the actuary at the Department of Health and Human Services show that federal, state and local government health spending will account for nearly 50 percent of all health spending in the United States by 2021, up from 46 percent in 2011. The federal share of all health spending is expected to rise to more than 31 percent, from slightly less than 29 percent.

The changes reflect the expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the new subsidies for private insurance, as well as the increase in Medicare enrollment as baby boomers join the program.

When Mr. Romney and other Republicans complain of a federal takeover, they are referring to more than spending and enrollment in government health programs. They say the new health care law will require most Americans to purchase “government-approved insurance” or pay a new tax. The tax issue was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s much-debated 5-to-4 decision in June to uphold the president’s health care overhaul law, the Affordable Care Act. ROBERT PEAR


Green Energy

Mr. Romney said that half the companies backed by the president’s green energy stimulus program have gone out of business. That is a gross overstatement. Of nearly three dozen recipients of loans under the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, only three are currently in bankruptcy, although several others are facing financial difficulties. Mr. Romney also said that “many” of the companies that received such loans were supported by campaign contributors. George Kaiser, a major fund-raiser for Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, was an investor in Solyndra, the failed solar panel maker, but there are also examples of Republican and Democratic campaign contributors who also invested in firms supported by the loan guarantee program. JOHN M. BRODER


The $716 Billion Cut From Medicare

Mr. Obama first brought up Mr. Romney’s frequent criticism that the president cut $716 billion from Medicare, by saying the cost savings were from reduced payments to insurance companies and other health care providers. But Mr. Romney repeated the claim, suggesting that the $716 billion in Medicare reductions would indeed come from current beneficiaries.

While fact-checkers have repeatedly debunked this claim, it remains a standard attack line for Mr. Romney.

The charge that Mr. Obama took $716 billion from Medicare recipients to pay for “Obamacare” has several problems — not least the fact that Mr. Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, included the identical savings in his budget plans that House Republicans voted for in the past two years.

Mr. Obama did not cut benefits by $716 billion over 10 years as part of his 2010 health care law; rather, he reduced Medicare reimbursements to health care providers, chiefly insurance companies and drug manufacturers. And the law gave Medicare recipients more generous benefits for prescription drugs and free preventive care like mammograms.

According to nonpartisan analysts, it is Mr. Romney who would both cut benefits and add costs for beneficiaries if he restored the $716 billion in reductions. Restoring higher payments to insurers and other companies would in turn increase Medicare premiums because beneficiaries share in Medicare’s total cost. Marilyn Moon, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, has calculated that a Medicare recipient’s out-of-pocket expenses would increase $577 a year on average by 2022.

Also, the Obama reductions added eight years to the life of Medicare’s financially troubled trust fund, to 2024, according to Medicare trustees. If the cuts were restored, the insolvency date would revert to 2016.

But the cuts to providers could cause private Medicare plans to raise their premiums, which is expected to reduce enrollment in them. Those changes have not materialized yet.


    Taking Stock of Some of the Claims and Counterclaims, NYT, 4.10.2012,






Obama and Romney,

in First Debate,

Spar Over Fixing the Economy


October 3, 2012
The New York Times


DENVER — Mitt Romney on Wednesday accused President Obama of failing to lead the country out of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, using the first presidential debate to invigorate his candidacy by presenting himself as an equal who can solve problems Mr. Obama has been unable to.

The president implored Americans to be patient and argued that his policies needed more time to work, warning that changing course would wipe away the economic progress the country is steadily making. The two quarreled aggressively over tax policy, the budget deficit and the role of government, with each man accusing the other of being evasive and misleading voters.

But for all of the anticipation, and with less than five weeks remaining until Election Day, the 90-minute debate unfolded much like a seminar by a business consultant and a college professor. Both men argued that their policies would improve the lives of the middle class, but their discussion often dipped deep into the weeds, and they talked over each other without connecting their ideas to voters.

If Mr. Romney’s goal was to show that he could project equal stature to the president, he succeeded, perhaps offering his campaign the lift that Republicans have been seeking. Mr. Obama often stopped short of challenging his rival’s specific policies and chose not to invoke some of the same arguments that his campaign has been making against Mr. Romney for months.

At one point, Mr. Romney offered an admonishment, saying, “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.” He forcefully engaged Mr. Obama throughout the night, while the president often looked down at his lectern and took notes.

A boisterous campaign, which has played out through dueling rallies and an endless stream of television commercials, took a sober turn as the candidates stood at facing lecterns for the first time. Mr. Obama, who has appeared to take command of the race in most battleground states, seemed to adopt an air of caution throughout the evening that left some of his liberal supporters disappointed in his performance.

“Are we going to double down on the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into this mess,” he said, “or do we embrace a new economic patriotism that says, ‘America does best when the middle class does best’ “?

For much of the debate, the candidates commandeered the stage, taking control away from the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, as they kept trying to rebut one other. At times, the moderator seemed as if he had walked off the stage, a result of new rules that were intended to allow for a deeper and more freewheeling discussion.

On a basic level it was a clash of two ideologies, the president’s Democratic vision of government playing a supporting role in spurring economic growth, and Mr. Romney’s Republican vision that government should get out of the way of businesses that know best how to create jobs.

Mr. Romney sought to use his moment before a prime-time audience of tens of millions to escape the corner Mr. Obama and his allies have painted him into, depicting him as an uncompromising adherent to policies that have been tried before. He instead turned the focus on his opponent’s record.

“You’ve been president four years. You’ve been president four years,” Mr. Romney said at one point. He ticked through a list of promises he said Mr. Obama had not lived up to, and said, “Middle-income families are being crushed.”

Neither candidate delivered that knockout blow or devastating line that each side was hoping for. Still, style points went to Mr. Romney, who continually and methodically pressed his critique of Mr. Obama. The president at times acted more as if he were addressing reporters in the Rose Garden than beating back a challenger intent on taking his job.

Throughout the evening, Mr. Romney escaped Mr. Obama’s attempts to pin him down on which deductions he would eliminate in his tax proposals.

“At some point,” Mr. Obama said, “the American people have to ask themselves: Is the reason Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret, is it because they’re going to be too good? Because middle-class families benefit too much? No.”

Mr. Obama criticized Mr. Romney for his answer to a primary debate question last year in which he joined his fellow Republicans in saying he would not accept a budget deal allowing $1 of tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts. “Now, if you take such an unbalanced approach,” Mr. Obama said, “then that means you are going to be gutting our investments in schools and education.”

Mr. Romney said his position on the tax-for-revenue deal was because of the state of the economy, not necessarily ideology. “I’m not going to raise taxes on anyone because when the economy’s growing slow like this, when we’re in recession, you shouldn’t raise taxes on anyone,” he said.

He said his proposals were unlike those of other Republicans because he was combining tax reform with lowered tax rates. “My plan is not like anything that’s been tried before,” he said. He said he would not support any tax cuts that added to the deficit, in other words, that were not paid for.

The debate, held at Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver, was the first of three face-to-face encounters between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. It took place even as voters across the country were already casting early ballots.

All year Democrats have been waiting for Mr. Romney to make a more overt appeal to the sort of moderate voters he needs to win over by highlighting the more centrist positions from his years as Massachusetts governor. And on Wednesday he seemed to highlight his record in ways he had yet to do.

Even as he repeated his plans to repeal the president’s health care plan, he happily embraced the plan he pushed into law in Massachusetts — the basis for the president’s — that is anathema to many in his party.

“I like the way we did it in Massachusetts,” Mr. Romney said of his health plan. “We had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together.”

But an argument for bipartisanship animated much of Mr. Romney’s message through the night. He said he had worked with Democratic legislators in Massachusetts. And he said that he would do the same thing on his first day in the Oval Office.

The claim drew one of Mr. Obama’s sharpest retorts of the night. “I think Governor Romney’s going to have a busy first day,” he said, “because he’s also going to repeal ‘Obamacare,’ which will not be very popular among Democrats as you’re sitting down with them.”

Mr. Romney pressed Mr. Obama on a provision of his health care overhaul that cut $716 billion from the growth in Medicare, saying that by cutting fees paid to providers it was certain to affect treatment. And he emphasized that his plans for Medicare would not affect current beneficiaries or people close to entering the system.

But Mr. Obama interjected, saying that if “you’re 54 or 55, you might want to listen because this will affect you.” He said that Mr. Romney’s plans to offer subsidies for private insurance would mean “the traditional Medicare system will collapse.”

The discussion between the candidates often unfolded in a staccato of statistics, making it difficult to follow. The candidates quarreled over subsidies for the oil industry, Medicare cuts, taxes and government spending.

In the opening half of the debate, Mr. Obama sought to link Mr. Romney to former President George W. Bush. For his part, Mr. Obama sought to link himself to the economic policies of former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Romney pushed back against Democrats arguments that he is proposing a form of “trickle-down” economics that would benefit the rich and hurt he middle class. He accused Mr. Obama of proposing “trickle-down government.”

“We know the path that we’re taking isn’t working, and it’s time for a new path,” Mr. Romney said.

Both campaigns acknowledged that the race is close enough that the first debate could reorder a contest that has recently appeared to be tilting in Mr. Obama’s favor, in spite of continued economic hardship throughout the nation and a slower recovery than he promised four years ago. The candidates meet for their second debate on Oct. 16 in New York.

While acrimony has deepened between the rivals, the men smiled broadly as they strode briskly onto the stage Wednesday night and exchanged a hand shake that lingered for several seconds. The president opened his remarks by wishing his wife a happy 20th anniversary and offered her a promise: “A year from now, we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people.”

Mr. Romney congratulated Mr. Obama and drew laughter from the crowd when he joked: “I’m sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine — here with me.”

    Obama and Romney, in First Debate, Spar Over Fixing the Economy, NYT, 3.10.2012,






Resurfaced ’07 Talk by Obama Renews Questions on Race


October 3, 2012
The New York Times


In the summer of 2007, his campaign for the White House well under way, Senator Barack Obama waded into the minefield of racial politics and accused President George W. Bush of sitting idly by as a “quiet riot” simmered in black communities.

The news created a stir. NBC News featured it on its “Nightly News” broadcast. The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune wrote about it, and it was mentioned in a New York Times Op-Ed column. The conservative writer and pundit Tucker Carlson devoted an entire segment to it on his MSNBC program.

Then the speech largely faded away — until last month, when someone calling himself “Sore Throwt” started e-mailing conservative activists and news media outlets claiming to have a bombshell video that would jolt the presidential election.

On Tuesday, the eve of the first presidential debate between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, Mr. Carlson’s current venture, The Daily Caller, a Web site started with financial help from the conservative donor Foster Friess, put the video back in circulation.

And its report brought to the forefront a wave of questions that have long been favorite topics in conservative circles: about Mr. Obama’s views on race; his associations with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.; and whether the mainstream media was willfully ignoring embarrassing episodes from Mr. Obama’s past.

The video of Mr. Obama’s 2007 remarks shows him saying complimentary things about Mr. Wright, questioning whether race was a reason that federal aid was slow to reach New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and speaking in a more distinctly African-American cadence than he normally uses in public addresses. By Wednesday morning, it had mushroomed into a lead story on the network news programs, a dominant theme of cable news coverage and a developing story online.

For conservatives like Mr. Carlson, the episode was complete vindication. Months ago, many Republicans rushed to distance themselves from an aborted plan by another conservative donor, Joe Ricketts, to finance a campaign that would have touched on similar themes, and Democrats dismissed the video this time as old news. Yet with the campaign moving into its final stages, and Republicans struggling to overcome the fallout from a video in which Mr. Romney was secretly taped making disparaging comments about the “47 percent,” the Obama video quickly caught fire.

Mr. Carlson and the editors of his Web site, which was founded with $3.5 million in seed money from Mr. Friess, who was a leading backer of Rick Santorum’s “super PAC,” immediately saw the relevance of the tape to their conservative audience. To them, what Mr. Obama said in the video was a perfect confluence of all their complaints about the way the mainstream media has covered Mr. Obama: credulously and insufficiently.

The Drudge Report picked up word of the news before it broke, alerting readers on Tuesday afternoon that a major scoop was coming. “The Accent ... The Anger ... The Accusations,” the headline teased.

After Mr. Carlson posted the article on his Web site, timed for the prime-time Fox News programming lineup, he appeared on the Sean Hannity program on Fox to explain what he had found. More than three million people tuned in, a substantially larger audience than usual. There was the president, speaking in a way that he usually does not in public, telling a black audience, a group of clergy members at Hampton University in Virginia, that the government did not care about them.

The president was using racial tensions to try to divide America into different classes of people, Mr. Carlson argued. And the accent? To him, it was further evidence of the argument that many Obama opponents on the right have been pushing in their writings, talk shows and films for years: We don’t really know who this man is.

A conspiracy theory cottage industry has sprung up around the notion that Mr. Obama is somehow foreign, if not by birth than by ideology. Donald Trump breathed new life into a career as a cable news pundit by repeatedly questioning if the president’s birth certificate was authentic.

Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative author and filmmaker, has a new movie in theatrical release called “Obama 2016” that argues that Mr. Obama’s father, a Kenyan, instilled anti-Americanism in his son at an early age.

One of the film’s financial backers was Mr. Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, who considered getting behind a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that would have linked Mr. Obama to his former pastor, Mr. Wright, who became a source of embarrassment for the president.

In many ways, Mr. Hannity was an ideal first stop for Mr. Carlson. Throughout the year Mr. Hannity has featured a segment called “Vetting the President,” often focusing on foibles from Mr. Obama’s past or over his tenure. As Mr. Hannity said in March, “We call it ‘Vetting the President.’ Because the mainstream media, they’re not going to do it. They helped elect him. They hid a lot of things about his past.”

And after the video’s release on The Daily Caller and Mr. Hannity’s program, it was the talk of the rest of the conservative news media. “Clearly race-baiting, clearly angry, and I’m telling you: This is who he is to this day,” Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience on Wednesday. Mr. Carlson declined to say on Tuesday how he acquired the video, which news networks have had in their libraries since it was shot. He said only that he had received the video in the last few days.

The video had apparently been circulating in conservative circles at least a week. One person contacted about it described receiving an e-mail pitch from someone calling himself Sore Throwt, a pun on Deep Throat, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal.

Sore Throwt wanted to be paid in exchange for handing over the video, this person said, speaking anonymously in order to divulge a conversation he had promised to keep confidential.

Mr. Carlson would not say whether he paid for the tape.

But he scoffed at the notion that he was merely recycling old news. What he thought was most provocative about it — Mr. Obama’s apparent attempt to link race to the slow Katrina recovery effort — did not, he said, receive coverage at the time, including on his own program. “We’ve already seen this? Really? That’s untrue,” he said, objecting to criticisms that the tape offered little new. “I feel like I’m in an alternative universe.”

    Resurfaced ’07 Talk by Obama Renews Questions on Race, NYT, 3.10.2012,






‘Electoral College 101’


October 2, 2012
The New York Times


“How long did you rehearse the scene where those third graders freak out about the Electoral College?” I’ve been asked that several times after screenings of “Electoral Dysfunction,” from which this Op-Doc video is adapted.

The answer is we didn’t. We simply held an election: Colored Pencils vs. Markers. When Markers won the popular vote but Colored Pencils prevailed in the Electoral College, it got ugly fast. Turns out third graders have an uncorrupted sense of fairness.

The men who foisted this system on us were hardly more enthusiastic about it. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention voted at least 60 times on how presidents were to be chosen. They rejected the idea of popular election — and they repeatedly scrapped versions of the Electoral College. In other words, they were against it before they were for it.

Proponents like to say it was created to protect “small states,” which is a much nicer way of saying it was created to protect “slave states.” Indeed, that’s one of the reasons it was created. Under the Constitution’s 3/5 clause, each slave — otherwise treated as 0/5 of a person — was counted as 3/5 of a person, thereby bolstering Southern states’ share of electoral votes.

Today it certainly favors states with smaller populations: about 139,000 eligible voters in Wyoming get one Electoral College vote. But it takes nearly 478,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania to get an Electoral College vote. (Does Wyoming really need to be protected? I’m pretty sure the Cowboy State can take care of itself.)

Most of these smaller states are red, which may be why I’ve found more Republicans than Democrats defending the Electoral College. But Mitt Romney is polling better nationally than in swing states. And three Republican electors have threatened to cast their votes — votes that actually count — for Ron Paul.

They can do that.

Should Romney win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College vote, both sides will have been burned in 12 years. And the Electoral College will lose its accreditation faster than you can say “one person, one vote.”

One effort to eliminate the Electoral College has momentum. The National Popular Vote Initiative is an interstate compact under which participating states pledge their Electoral College votes to the national vote winner. It will take effect only when states totaling the winning number of 270 electoral votes commit. States with 132 electoral votes have already signed on.

I don’t know if this initiative will succeed — but if it does, it will transform American presidential contests by making them truly national races, in which every vote counts equally.

And I know a bunch of 9-year-olds ready to vote for it.

Mo Rocca is a correspondent for “CBS Sunday Morning” and the host of “Electoral Dysfunction,” a feature-length documentary airing on PBS in October, from which this Op-Doc — the third in a series of four — is adapted. He also wrote the foreword to “Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for Voters” by Victoria Bassetti, which includes a chapter on the history and flaws of the Electoral College.

    ‘Electoral College 101’, NYT, 2.10.2012,




home Up