Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Choice

This election comes down to a simple choice - competence versus ideology.

Governor Romney has been successful at everything he has done. This is through a combination of innate ability and his willingness to work hard to master whatever skills he needs to succeed. When he took over the Olympics he expected to have a public relations problem to manage. Instead he found a failing organization. He worked very long hours (80-100 hours a week) and ignored his personal life but the Olympics were a success. His career in business was based on taking failing enterprises and turning them around. During his term as governor Massachusetts saw major improvements in job creation and education.

All of the objections to Romney are on ideological grounds which brings me to President Obama. Obama was the least distinguished man to become president since the 19th century, possibly ever. Despite teaching constitutional law and editing a prestigious law review he never published a single legal opinion. While in the Illinois Senate he never sponsored any significant legislation. His entire (partial) term as a US Senator was spent running for president. He became president on the basis of a stirring keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and a pair of autobiographies. Once in office, Obama decided not to put in the hours or effort needed to be a great president. He retired to the residential wing in mid-afternoon and makes most of his decisions by putting check-marks beside bullet points on memos.

When Obama took office the country was reeling from a financial crisis. Unemployment was at its second highest since the Great Depression. But, rather than concentrate on jobs and the economy, his top priority was securing his legacy. He wanted to create something on par with Social Security or Medicare. When asked about ignoring the economy for his first two years, Obama told the Des Moines Register editors that he has no regrets. Despite being three years into a recovery the Federal Reserve still feels it necessary to push a stimulus - their third. Worse, the economy has slowed since last year.

Obama is running on a platform of raising taxes on the rich, providing free birth control for everyone, and saving Big Bird. This is an ideological agenda. We are unlikely to see a real recovery while Obama is in office.

Given his record of success in business and in a state dominated by Democrats Romney is objectively the best person to revive the economy and restore America.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Jeep Ad

The Obama campaign is crying foul over a new Romney ad. The ad starts with a shot of a couple of cars being crushed while a voice-over says that President Obama sent GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to an Italian company. The ad then complains that the Jeep portion of Chrysler will be building Jeeps in China.

The complaint is not that anything in the ad is incorrect. Every word is factual. The complaint is that it gives the wrong impression. This is ironic.

"But Romney wanted to take GM and Chrysler through the same bankruptcy process that Obama used!" they cry. This is true but, after months of accusing Romney of wanting to break up GM and Chrysler, they don't have much room to complain. The Jeep ad may have omitted a fact but the ads that Obama has been running told outright falsehoods.

The part about producing Jeeps in China is a little more nuanced. These cars will be made in China to be sold in China. No American jobs will be lost. At the same time, no American jobs will be gained, either. Instead of making cars in the US for export, Jeep will be making them overseas.

The Obama campaign has no cause to complain here. What Jeep is doing is the exact thing that some of the companies Romney invested in have done - ramp up overseas production to service an overseas market. Team Obama has said that this amounts to shipping American jobs overseas so they cannot complain that it only counts when a Romney company does it.

The Jeep ad is not the most factual one aired this campaign but it is far from the worst. The Obama campaign cannot complain when Romney uses the same tactics that they have used.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Romney on FEMA

Liberals are pulling up a quote from Mitt Romney from a few months ago about FEMA, the federal agency that oversees emergency relief. The implication is that Romney wants the federal government to end emergency aid and leave emergencies to the individual states to manage out of their own resources.

Let's put this in context. If you Google FEMA mismanagement you get 200,000 hits. A few top examples:

  • FEMA mismanaged $40M IT system, IG says -- FCW
  • FEMA Mismanaged Katrina Recovery Effort, GAO Says
  • Emergency Mismanagement -
  • Commentary on FEMA Mismanagement | FreedomWorks
  • FEMA Presents: Mismanagement on Ice! | ThinkProgress
  • Homeland audit says Katrina contracts were mismanaged - The ...
  • FEMA Mismanaged $3.6 Billion in Katrina Contracts

When both ThinkProgress and FreedomWorks says that an organization has major mismanagement problems there must be something to it. Also, these links cover several years and multiple events.

Some of the criticism assumes that the problem was exclusive to the Bush administration and that a new administration could easily clean things up. That just isn't how huge government agencies work.

Romney's proposal was consistent with his platform in general - remove a layer of management at the top and let the people closer to the problem deal with emergencies. The more layers of management you have the worse the decision-making.

Here's one example of mismanagement. FEMA had 120,000 trailers constructed as emergency shelters after Katrina. These were found to have dangerous levels of formaldehyde vapors. Some of the surplus trailers made it onto the open market as late as 2010. There are also reports that they were being used as temporary shelter for workers cleaning up the Gulf oil spill in 2010.

Given their track record, why should anyone want to preserve FEMA? Mainly because the knee-jerk response from the left is that the solution to any problem is a federal agency. If that doesn't work then we need a bigger federal agency.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Attending a Romney Campaign Rally

Last night my wife noticed that Romney would be attending a rally less than an hour away in Marion, Ohio. She had been wanting to go to one of these and most have been during work hours so we went.

We think that Romney had been scheduled for an event in Virginia that was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. That meant that a Ryan event became a Romney/Ryan event. Marion was a bit overwhelmed.

The rally was held at the Marion Fairgrounds. The building was large enough (barely) but the streets and parking were not.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Traffic was stopped a mile from the fairgrounds and all of the cross-streets were also stopped. It took us a half-hour to go a half-block. At that point I took an alley and parked on a side-street.

Team Obama's ground game was off. We expected some sort of counter-protest but all we saw were two young women carrying a single Obama yard sign. They looked spontaneous.

Once we got into the fairgrounds we got into line for the metal detectors. After around fifteen minutes this was what was in front of us.

And here is what was behind us.

They had two metal detectors each at two doors For some reason, very few people were going through the side door so we got in a little earlier than some people.

The campaign staff was filling in sections. It was still an hour before things started so they were filling in behind the speaker's platform first. We were fairly close to the stage but behind and to the side. By the time things started, all of the sections plus most of the floorspace were full. I tried to do some estimates but there were too many people for me. All I can say for certain is that there were several thousand.

They handed out some long vinyl inflatable Romney things to the bleacher behind the speaker's platform. Some of them were blue, some were white. I'm not quite sure what the purpose was. Maybe they were Romney's answer to "lady parts". You can see some being waved here.

Right on schedule the event started with the Oak Ridge Boys. They sang several songs to pre-recorded tracks then left, promising to perform "Elvira" in their second set.

Then someone I don't know introduced the entire local ticket. Senate candidate, Josh Mandel and others got to speak.

The audience knew that something was up. The Secret Service seemed more animated. Someone finally came through distributing Romney signs to our section.

Sure enough, the Oak Ridge Boys did their second set. They started with "Elvira" then did "Amazing Grace".

While this was going on, Romney and company sneaked in. The Oak Ridge Boys left the stage and there were the candidates. Somehow the idea of the candidate coming in without a big fanfare seems typical for Romney and something that Obama would never have done.

Ryan's wife and Ron Portman were also on the stage.

Ryan introduced Romney, starting out with the quote from Obama in 2008 about what you do when you don't have a record to run on.

Romney started speaking at 7:20 and spoke for around a half hour. I was pleased with this. I saw George H. W. Bush in 1988 and he only spoke for five or ten minutes.

Romney's speech was divided into three parts. The first was a contrast between himself and Obama. The second was about his plans including his five point plan. The final part was about America itself. Romney began this part with a personal story about his days as a scoutmaster. His troop had a new flag and wanted to get it sent into space. They talked NASA into it and it was on the Challenger when it exploded. Amazingly, the flag survived intact and was presented to the scout troop. Romney used the experience of touching the flags and tying that to the Americans who have lost their lives for scientific exploration. From there he went into the military.

Romney did not hit Obama on any specific issues except the economy. This was material he has used before - the unemployment rate, the under employment rate, the rise in prices and the corresponding loss in family income. With a small but growing lead and only nine days to the election, this was not the time to be trying new attacks. This was a front-runner's campaign.

All told, the rally lasted around an hour and a half.

At dinner, the manager of a local restaurant told us that a lost of out-of-town people had been through. He assumed that most were there for the rally. He said that several were from Michigan.

While the crowd was fired-up, I had the feeling that the biggest draw was being able to see the next president of the United States in person.

Here is a picture of Romney on his way out. The top of his head is cut off but it gives an idea of how close we were.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Obama's Mistakes

President Obama has made many mistakes that have hobbled his reelection chances and may cost him reelection. The worst of these go all the way back to the first days of his administration. Here are a few of them.

Ignoring the economy. When deciding his agenda, Obama someone pointed out that staving off a second Great Depression would be a good legacy. Obama replied that it wasn't big enough and went for health care reform instead. He recently told an the Des Moines Register editorial board that he does not regret this decision. He should.

Ignoring the Republicans. During his the two years, the Obama Administration attitude toward the Republicans was "We've got the votes. F--- them." The Obama people never figured out how to work with the Republicans. He stopped even trying in mid-2011. Even the widely disseminated quote about the number one priority being to ensure that Obama is a one-term president was said in the context of Obama refusing to work with the Republicans.

Class Warfare. The 99%. Making the rich pay a "little bit more" or "their fair share". We've been hearing this stuff for four years and I'm sick of it. I imagine that a lot of other people are, too. Obama has repeatedly shown that he would rather throw the country over a fiscal cliff than let the rich keep their current tax rates.

Trickle Down Economics. For all of Obama's rhetoric about the rich, his economic stimulus mainly consists of giving subsidized loans to Wall Street in the hope that it will spark a wider recovery. This is why the stock market and corporate profits are up but the general economy is still sputtering.

The campaign team. Obama's campaign team is not as good as they are often credited for being. Yes, they got him elected in 2008 but they had a strong tail-wind. Hillary Clinton (primaries) and McCain (general election) were not strong candidates. Clinton burned through all of her campaign money by Super Tuesday. That gave Obama two months of uncontested primaries to give a sense of inevitability. Even then, he did not capture an outright majority of the delegates. In the general election, Obama bypassed federal matching funds which let him spend twice as much as McCain. He used the extra money to run more negative ads than ever before. Add in the economic crash and Bush fatigue and all Obama needed was a competent campaign staff, not a great one.

The Big Question. Since 1980, the big question has been "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Romney didn't ask this, the media did and for a week the Obama campaign couldn't give a straight answer. They must have know this was coming? It doesn't help that the economy may be doing better but a lot of individual voters are worse off.

These were general problems that would hurt him against any candidate. Here are the problems that hurt him against Romney.

Hitting Romney too hard and too early. Team Obama wanted to define Romney before he could define himself. They should have learned from 1988 when Dukaksis defined himself on the basis of the Massachusetts Miracle. That made attacks on Dukaksis more devistating. Instead, the attacks came so early that they lost effectiveness. People stopped caring about Bane last Summer.

Hitting Romney as being too conservative. Romney is a moderate and we all know it. If he had been the red meat conservative that Obama tried to paint him then he would have wrapped up the nomination much earlier. Team Obama would probably have done better with their original plan of calling Romney a flip/flopper.

Relying on a "Hit Mitt" strategy. For months the Obama campaign didn't have a single positive ad. All they had were anti-Romney ads. As Romney pointed out in the last debate, attacking him is not an agenda. The Obama people felt that the key to winning the election was to base it on likeability. The debates turned this around because Romney may come across as a throwback to the father in a 1960s sit-com but those were likeable figures.

Having no agenda. This is the flip side of the Hit Mitt strategy. Obama did not want to be tied down by campaign promises so he never said what he plans for a second term. Hope and Change is no longer enough and Forward is not inspiring. Without concrete promises, Obama has nothing to run on except "more of the same". To be fair, items that Obama will probably push like same-sex marriage and immigration reform are controversial and may not being him any net votes.

Lack of honesty. People are beginning to check some of Obama's assertions. Letterman looked up Romney's 2008 editorial on Detroit bailouts and found that he did not want GM to go out of business. Libya looks worse every day. Once the public stops trusting you, you never get its trust back.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Foreign Policy Debate

Here is a truth that neither candidate will ever tell you: President Obama's foreign policy is not very different from President Bush's and the foreign policy of President Romney would not be much different from either.

That's why last night's debate seemed so light weight. Romney only identified a few places that he would be different: Syria, Iran and Israel. In addition, he would not cut military spending.

But most people are not going to vote on a candidate because of his commitment to a foreign nation. Voters just want to be sure that the president knows what he is talking about. Romney spent a lot of time dropping names to show that he has become a foreign policy expert. That was his goal for the debate, to make himself seem credible, and he carried it off.

Obama's goal was to "win" the debate so he tossed off a few well-rehearsed zingers - "The 90s called. They want their foreign policy back." and the line about horses and bayonets. Neither line helped Obama. They seemed rude and juvenile, especially the part about "We have these things called air craft carriers and planes land on them." This was also an example of ducking the issue.

The election is mainly about the economy and domestic policy which is why the debate kept veering back to domestic policy.

While Obama may have scored more points, Romney probably won the real contest  - who comes across as being more presidential?

Another major change since the first debate is that the position of the two candidates has changed. At the first debate, Obama was the likely winner and Romney the challenger whose campaign was collapsing around him. A month later Romney is ahead and Obama is the challenger, trying to pull down Romney's lead. All that Romney had to do was keep from making a mistake that would cost him momentum. He succeeded since the Obama did not find any "Big Bird" moments.

Obama's new goal - an asterisk

After George W. Bush won the Electoral Collage but lost the popular vote, the comic strip Doonsbury decided that his avatar would be an asterisk.

As Barack Obama comes out behind in national poll after poll, his campaign has turned its focus to the swing states. In other words, he has given up hope of winning the popular vote but still hopes to win the Electoral Collage, just as Bush did.

The difference is that Bush retained a Republican Congress. His weak showing in the popular vote did not give him much of a mandate but his party controlled two branches of government and had an often sympathetic Supreme Court. Even if Obama wins, the Democrats are likely to have a tiny majority in the Senate while the Republicans control the House and the Supreme Court continues to swing slightly conservative.

In 2001, Democrats were urging Bush to adopt Gore's positions and talking about the need to reform the Constitution and end the Electoral College. I doubt that they expect Obama to adopt any of Romney's positions. I wonder what they will say about reforming the Constitution?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Gaffe or Distraction?

First a little background on Libya.

President Obama can be forgiven for not saying the words "terrorist attack" during his speech the morning of September 12. Libya was the bigger tragedy but the embassy in Egypt had also been attacked as part of a protest over the anti-Mohamed film trailer (although the demonstration may have been incited by al Qaeda). The State Department and the CIA may have known that there was no demonstration in Libya but the information had not had a chance to trickle up to Presidential levels.

Possibly Obama may have gotten intelligence if he had stayed around for his security briefing instead of running off to Las Vegas for a fund raiser. Regardless, he used the phrase "acts of terror" for the first couple of days after the assassinations.

But by the weekend that phrase had vanished from official statements. Instead the White House began to insist that the attacks were a direct response to the video and had nothing to do with the US. We were just innocent bystanders, unlucky enough to host the person who caused all of the trouble.

Two weeks after the attack the President was still referring to the video while addressing the UN.

But that story had started unraveling. By the time the White House began its "nothing to do with us" line the Libyan government was saying that it was a terrorist attack. The President must have known that there was no demonstration by the time he gave his UN speech.

So why continue to disseminate an incorrect story? And for that matter, who decided that a directive should go out to all embassy staff that September 11 was to be treated as an ordinary day? Was this based on security analysis or was it a political decision to reenforce the concept that the threat from al Qaeda died with bin Laudin?

Which brings me to the debate. Governor Romney started to bring all of this up but was interrupted by Obama. This turned into a quibbling session about when the word "terror" was first used and totally sidetracked Romney's point.

The strange thing is that Obama asked for the transcript to be checked and moderator Candy Crowley proceeded to check it.

Think about that. Since when does a moderator being transcripts of speeches to a debate? And how did Obama know that she had it?

This turned Obama's biggest vulnerability into a triumph. The next day the Huffington Post had the headline, "Romney caught in lie about Libya". The story did contain a note at the end in which quoted Crowley as admitting that Romney's larger point was correct, that the Obama administration continued to blame the video days after that story had been discredited.

There can be no doubt that Crowley favored Obama. She picked the questions and the order that they were asked. Many of them sounded as if they were written by the Obama campaign. She interrupted Romney at least three times as often as she interrupted Obama (an average of once every three minutes) and she gave Obama more time.

But on Libya, she and Obama seemed to be working in concert, playing gotcha over the work "terror" in order to distract from substantive questions.

It is hard not to ask if this strategy was preplanned?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why the Obama Campaign is Foundering

Polls have been close for months but up until the last couple of weeks, nearly every poll showed President Obama with a slight lead. In the last two weeks this has reverse and Romney now has the slight lead overall and is gaining strength in most swing states. He is even gaining in states that seemed to be a lock for Obama a month ago. What happened? There is more at work here than one debate performance.

Obama has three basic problems. His campaign made some bad choices in its handling of Mitt Romney, the economy is still doing poorly, and Obama has expressed no vision for his second term.

In 2008, the electorate was tired of George W. Bush. A lot of the initial enthusiasm for Obama was that he was the anti-Bush. He made a lot of promises, twice as many as most presidential candidates by Politifact's count, but few people paid attention. What they understood was that "Hope and Change" were code words for "not Bush". When the economy crashed just before the election it strengthened Obama's campaign. Bush had crashed the economy and the anti-Bush would save it. Obama even got a Nobel Peace Prize for being the anti-Bush. Obama is still trying to run on this by equating Romney and Bush and warning against a return to the policies that caused the crash in the first place (which were not what he says they were).

But Bush is long-gone. Obama is trying hard to run as the anti-Romney but Bush was a known quantity and Romney is not.

The Obama campaign decided that their best chance was to define Romney before he could define himself. Both Obama (Hope and Change) and Clinton (the Man from Hope) came up with an unbeatable narrative during their initial campaigns. Romney had the makings of one as a successful businessman so the Obama campaign decided to poison that image. They were sure that once they took away Romney's business career and his term as governor that he would be left with likability and "no one likes Mitt Romney".

So they struck early and hard. They carpet bombed Ohio and other swing states during the primaries. And it worked for a long time. But there is a reason that most campaigns wait until Labor Day before going into high gear. You can't keep repeating the same attacks forever. They lose their sting through repetition. The Obama has nothing substantive to attack Romney on so it is reduced to using Big Bird and Binder Full of Women.

They also made a mistake on content. Originally they planned on attacking Romney as a man with no moral core. Attacking a candidate for being a flip flopper often works and Romney has changed positions on major topics over his career. But, possibly at Bill Clinton's urging, they changed and attacked Romney as being too conservative. Obama warned that Romney was the most conservative candidate on the ballot since Goldwater. This was a strange claim since few people even remember who Goldwater was (he ran before Obama was born). Eventually they settled on the claim that Romney wants to raise people's taxes in order to give tax breaks to the rich and send jobs overseas.

The months of negative advertising probably backfired. Most people had never seen more than a ten second soundbite of Romney prior to the debates. The real Romney is fairly moderate (which is why primary voters kept flirting with more conservative candidates during the primaries). He sounds reasonable. People who planned on sitting out the election gave Romney a second look and decided that he isn't so bad anyway. Romney didn't need to win the debated to attract these voters. He only had to look like a creditable alternative to Obama.

Obama likes to brag about the number of jobs created during his administration. In the last couple of weeks he had put out ads bragging about how well "his" recovery is going. The problem here is that you cannot manufacture a "morning in America" with feel-good ads. Obama had to cherry-pick his numbers. He quoted private-sector job growth while ignoring public-sector job loss and he only started counting from the lowest point. If you start counting from his inauguration then we are barely even. If you start at the height of employment under Bush then the economy is in terrible shape. People knew this even before Romney pointed out that job growth under Reagan was twice what it is now and that the economy is slowing down instead of speeding up.

You have to ask yourself, if the economy is doing so well then why is the Fed doing a third round of stimulus?

Romney is often criticized for being vague about his plans but he has at least announced them. Obama's reelection theme is "Forward" but he does not tell us where he is going. We know that he had an opertunity to pass a whole slate of legislation when his party controlled both houses of Congress and he squandered it by limiting his focus to Obamacare. He has suggested that his reelection would somehow shock the Republicans into working with him but if this fails, what does he hope to accomplish?

Obama has been asked this question multiple times. The best that he can come up with is that he wants to maintain a holding action to keep his accomplishments from being rolled back. This isn't much of a vision but "Forward" makes a better slogan than "Stand Still".

Obama's other reason for running - that he really, really hates Romney and will do anything to keep him out of the White House - it even less inspiring to voters.

So far, after months of campaigning, all we know for sure is that Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich and increase government spending. He isn't even willing to cut the amount we are spending on wars (which, as he points out are paid for with borrowed money). Instead he wants to redirect that money to other spending.

This is not a coherent case for reelection.

A lot of voters still have fond feelings for Obama and the Democrats are solidly behind him regardless of how poor a job he does but that leaves enough swing voters to turn the election against him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debate Number Two

A few impressions from the second presidential debate:

Obama did much better. He actually took this one seriously. This was to be expected. Obama is very competitive and hates to lose. Even if he no longer really desires being president he does not want to lose two debates in a row to someone he despises.

Obama's main lessons from Biden's performance last week were 1) interrupt often and 2) a Democrat can get away with telling bald face lies as long as he does it confidently.

The format was designed to be as favorable as possible to Obama. The questions sounded as if they were written by the Obama campaign. The moderator allowed Obama more time, interrupted Romney more than once, and only asked for follow-up from Romney.

When asked about Libya, Obama ran as fast and as far from the question as he could. When Romney tried to point out that the Obama administration spent most of two weeks blaming the killings on a video instead of admitting that they were a terrorist attack, the moderator overstepped all bounds of moderation by quibbling over the term "terrorism". Later in the exchange she admitted that Romney was essentially correct.

The audience which was supposed to be silent and uncommitted broke out in applause after Obama asked the moderator to "say that again louder" that he had used the word "terror" on September 12.

Obama projected righteous anger at the suggestion that he and his staff played politics over the Libyan slayings. Romney did not pursue this but how else to explain two weeks of misinformation? An old debater's trick is to act offended if your opponent scores a hit.

The only real body blow landed by either candidate was when Romney responded to Obama's list of accomplishments. Romney listed Obama's failures when compared to Obama's own promises and to the Reagan recovery. He rightly pointed out that under Reagan the economy created twice as many jobs in the same period and that Obama's vaunted five million jobs created barely made up for the five million jobs lost.

So where does that leave us. I doubt that either candidate convinced many voters to change their mind. Obama probably stopped the bleeding induced from his first debate but he needed a clear win to reverse the damage and he did not get it.

The debate may help Romney regardless of his performance. For the past several weeks, Romney has done best when he is actually seen by the electorate but a sitting president has more opportunities for exposure than a challenger. It was assumed that Obama got a lasting bounce from his convention because he remained high in the polls until the first debate. But, right around the time that the embassy attacks happened. Tragedies give presidents a chance to gain stature and Obama's Rose Garden statement probably gave him a second bounce just as the one from the convention was dying down. Accordingly, sharing the same stage as Obama helps Romney. It doesn't hurt that he seemed marginally more mature.

Obama partisans have already labeled the debate a win for the President but that is based on a combination of wishful thinking and Obama not stumbling.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Things I would like to hear Mitt say during the next debate

Obama has promised that he will bring up the 47%. This gives Romney a chance to bury that quote. I would love to hear him say something like this:

During a campaign we have hundreds of meetings and inevitably say some things that are wrong. In 2008 President Obama called the voters of Pennsylvania bitter and said that they cling to guns, religion, and racist. Earlier this year he told people who create business "You didn't build this."

In my case I was trying to make a point about our current tax system. It is already so progressive that nearly half of the country pays no income tax and the top 10% pays 60% of the taxes. President Obama wants to make this even more progressive and I was trying to point out how easy it is for him to buy votes by promising to pay for his proposals by raising other people's taxes.

It is easy to say that someone else has too much money and that the government should take some of it but this overlooks how that money is used. The tax increases that the President proposes would hurt small businesses and take away jobs, not create them.

On Libya:

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said "The buck stops here". If President Obama had a sign it would say, "Send the buck to the Secretary of State".

In the days after the attack on the Libyan consulate and the assassination of the ambassador and three other Americans the administration made several inaccurate statements. Last week the Vice President excused these because they had not been informed about what actually happened. I guess they were shooting first and asking questions later.

This indicates a detached White House that prefers to delegate vital functions such as the safety of embassy personnel.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What Didn't the President Know and Why Didn't He Know It?

The consulate in Libya was attacked by terrorists. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed. The attack was made by a local affiliate of Al Qaeda and was monitored in real-time by the State Department.

The attack came after several pleas for more security at the consulate and after the Ambassador had expressed fears that he was being targeted personally. Benghaze had been getting more dangerous in general. The Red Cross pulled out of the city. The State Department admits that Al Qaeda has growing influence in Libya and there are larger areas that are friendly to them than to the US.

And the attack came on September 11. The first September 11th since the death of Osama bin Lauden.

So, why didn't the government issue warnings to the State Department staff? Why was the Ambassador traveling without sufficient guards? Why did the White House and the Ambassador to the UN insist for days that the attacks were nothing more than an out-of-control demonstration over a YouTube video?

The current excuse is "We didn't know any better. No one told us."

This is also the excuse given for Operation Fast and Furious. That involved allowing guns to be sold to people who would "walk" them across the border and sell them to drug gangs. Guns sold through this program have been used in the death of hundreds of Mexicans and at least one American. When asked about this, President Obama claimed that the program had been started during the Bush administration and ended as soon as Attorney General Holder was made aware of it. This combines an outright lie (the program started nine months after Obama's inauguration) and a prevarication (Supposedly no one though that the deaths of hundreds of Mexicans was important enough to inform Holder of the program. He wasn't informed until after Congress began asking for details.)

President Truman was know for the plaque on his desk that read, "The buck stops here". This meant that he took responsibility for everything that happened under his administration. The same is true in the military. An officer is responsible for the actions of his men.

Granted, there is too much information for anyone at the top to know everything. Part of being in command is prioritizing the flow of information. What is important and what is not?

How is this handled in the Obama White House? While we don't know specifics, we do know that Obama dislikes briefings. He prefers to be handed a stack of memos. On policy decisions he is given options and he places check marks or minuses beside his choices. On rare occasions he will pencil in a one or two line question.

There is no direct feedback, no way for subordinates to know what issues the President is interested in and no subtlety. Just checks and minuses.

Since the President reads these papers by himself at night there is no way of knowing if he even reads security briefings.

The whole system is designed to discourage the flow of information to the President. It is quite possible that the White House is being truthful when they say that they did not have any information about the attacks. But that raises the question, "Why didn't they know?"

We can get some indication of the President's priorities by his actions on September 11 and 12. He was informed that the consulate was under attack and the Ambassador missing at 10 pm. He then disappeared into the residential portion of the White House and went to bed. The following day he cancelled a security briefing to announce that the ambassador was dead then he flew to a fund raiser at Las Vegas (remember when he threatened banks that had accepted TARP funds to avoid Las Vegas?).

The President did not want to know. How far down does this attitude extend? Are the people who can make decisions like authorizing more guards getting the requests?

During the Bush administration, Democrats complained that he was exaggerating the threat of al Qaeda attacks on the anniversary of September 11. Did this attitude cause the State Department to downplay real threats?

The Obama campaign is insisting that we should not care about these issues and that anyone who asks these questions is just playing politics. This is a shameful response. The death of Americans overseas is always an issue. The death of an ambassador elevates it.

Obama is asking for four more years so it is only right that we be allowed to ask if the security of America is being adequately addressed. This is not a question of politics, it is a question of competence and it needs to be answered.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The VP Debate

Going into the debate, Biden seemed like the underdog. He has a long history of saying strange things. Surprisingly, he did great. He was everything that Obama was not. He was animated and belligerent. As the debate continued he allowed Ryan less and less time to talk. He stole a page from Sarah Palin's book. When asked a tough question like Libya, he went off on a different subject, refusing to answer the actual question.

Biden also lied with ease. At one point he managed to tell two lies in one statement - he asserted that the economic crash was caused by Bush's Medicare Drug Benefit and two unfunded wars and that he voted against them. These had nothing to do with the crash and he voted for both wars and was a supporter of the drug benefit up to the final vote.

This is not to say that Biden's performance was perfect. He forgot to practice his expression. At times he looked angry like he was about to attack Ryan, possibly biting him. Other times he smiled or even laughed at inappropriate times. He was probably reacting to Ryan making statements that Biden had rehearsed answers to but it came across as strange. This may be the main thing that people remember from the debate.

Ryan did a decent job when he was able to speak without being interrupted. He didn't make any mistakes and he pushed the party line.

The moderating was terrible. At different points the moderator started arguing with the candidates. She also never made an attempt to stop Biden's constant interruptions.

If these guys were at the top of the ticket I would be worried. Instead, Obama is at the top and it just isn't in him to act this way. He likes to speak in a professorial voice. He is not a street brawler.

One thing that will help Romney in the long run: Biden telegraphed the attacks that Obama will use. This gives Romney time to rehearse defenses against them.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Debate #1

In the first debate Mitt Romney did everything that he had to do. His most important accomplishment was in coming across as both likeable and presidential. He opened with a joke about President Obama's anniversary which got a smile from Obama. When the moderator tried to cut him off, he replied "Fun isn't it?" and kept going. For most of the country (including me), this was the most exposure they have had to Romney. Romney was a completely different person from the one portrayed in Obama's attack ads and the contrast will help him.

Romney also got to challenge some of the claims that have been the heart of the Obama campaign, especially the one that he plans on raising taxes on the middle class. Obama kept saying it and Romney kept correcting him.

Obama seemed unprepared and peevish. When Obama spoke Romney watched politely with a half-smile on his face. When Romney spoke, Obama looked down or simply glared out at the audience. This was probably the first time in years that someone has called Obama a liar to his face (even if he was telling a lie). The President did not care for the experience.

The contrast between the two men was notable. It goes beyond Romney being better prepared. He has a clearer understanding of the issues. Without that, Obama was forced to repeat talking points.

Many people have questioned why Obama didn't bring up Bain or the 47%. This was probably a good move on Obama's part. Romney will have well-rehearsed answers to both, especially Bain. Obama has been misrepresenting what Bain does for months. The last thing he needs to do is to give Romney an excuse to refute another lie.

Obama probably did himself no favors by using John Kerry as his stand-in for Romney during practice. The thinking was that one stiff politician from Massachusetts is just like another but Romney is much more animated and forceful than Kerry. Romney not only dominated the debate, at times he seemed to be moderating it, also.

It will be days before we know how much the debate helped Romney. In the short-term, it inspired my wife to make a small donation to Romney and a liberal that we know decided that his previous donations to Obama were wasted money. In general, Republicans are energized and Democrats are demoralized.

There are still two debates to go. Obama could rally but the odds are against him. Regardless of how well prepared he is, he has to run on his record and he has few successes to justify reelection.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Debate and Romney's Chances

Mitt Romney is behind in the polls, especially in important swing states but he is not so far behind that the race is a forgone conclusion. Both sides are running ads but these are unlikely to have much effect. The swing states have been buried with ads since last Spring. It is hard to believe that anyone who is still undecided will be moved by further advertizing.

That leaves the debates as Romney's best chance. There are three reasons why they will help him:

1) President Obama support is soft. Even the most positive polls have his support in the 50%-51% range. This does not leave him any margin for error. Undecideds often break for the challenger. If Romney can erode Obama's support by a couple percent and look good to the undecideds he can win.

2) This gives Romney national exposure. Romney's support has been highest when he gets coverage outside of campaign ads. Since the convention he has struggled to get any news coverage and when he does, it is often turned into a negative by hostile press. By contrast, Obama gained support after the killings in Libya because he was able to stand in front of the camera and look "presidential" (it also helped that he was able to disseminate a false story for a week about the basis for the attacks). The debates are Romney's last chance to reach the general public without going through the media filter. He doesn't have to "win" the debates. Simply standing on stage with Obama will give Romney stature. It also will help Romney that Obama is at his worst when speaking without a prepared speech on a teleprompter. Romney does not need a zinger to win. He just needs to look like a viable choice to be president.

3) Obama cannot avoid his record in the debates. He will try to frame it in the best possible light but Romney has multiple openings - yes, 4 million jobs were created but the workforce today is smaller than when Obama took office. Yes, there is a recovery but it is so weak that the Fed promised to keep pushing stimulus money for as long as it takes (QE3).

Both Reagan and Clinton saw gains from the debates. The same forces are at work here and will give Romney his make or break moment(s).

Obama's Math

In an ad currently playing President Obama proposes ending the war in Afghanistan and using half of the money saved to pay down the national debt and to invest the rest in America. He made a similar proposal in his State of the Union speech.

There have been hints that the President had credit problems at one point in his life. This may be an example of how it happened.

We are not paying a trillion dollars a year on the war but the deficit is over a trillion (for the third time). We are paying for the war with borrowed money. You cannot pay down the debt with borrowed money. You can reduce the deficit but not eliminate it. Any talk of taking the "savings" and investing it is totally misleading. What he is really calling for is to keep borrowing but to use the borrowed money for something different than the war. This is a valid choice if you are honest about it. The President is not.