Question for President Obama

As The Economist expressed it for everyone else who wants to know: “One question, Mr. President…just what would you do with another four years?”

They asked on the newspaper’s cover.

From the Leader story:

In Denver four years ago, an inspiring presidential candidate announced that he would change America. Barack Obama promised to put aside partisan differences, restore hope to those without jobs, begin the process of saving the planet from global warming, and make America proud again.

[This] week Mr Obama will address his fellow Democrats at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, with little of this hopeful agenda completed. Three million more Americans are out of work than four years ago, and the national debt is $5 trillion bigger. Partisan gridlock is worse than ever: health-care reform, a genuinely impressive achievement, has become a prime source of rancour. Businessfolk are split over whether he dislikes capitalism or is merely indifferent to it. His global-warming efforts have evaporated. America’s standing in the Muslim world is no higher than it was under George W. Bush, Iran remains dangerous, Russia and China are still prickly despite the promised resets, and the prison in Guantánamo remains open.

So far, so underwhelming

The defence of Mr Obama’s record comes down to one phrase: it could all have been a lot worse.

The Economist raises some good points and questions in the piece, poised as everyone is to hear the president and his party draw distinctions between their vision and the Republicans as the Democratic National Convention begins.

[H]e needs to distinguish between a creditable desire to help the weak and a dangerous preference for the public over the private sector. The jobs that poor Americans need will be created by companies. Smothering firms in red tape is not the way to help them; Mr Obama should vow to stop adding to it, and to start cutting some of it away. The party faithful in Charlotte might not like centrist ideas much. But they would appeal to the voters Mr Obama needs to win over and, should he be re-elected, they will strengthen him in his dealings with the Republicans in Congress.

We’re watching and listening.

Presidential candidates accuse each other of lying

Great. We get calls for civility, the need to inspire Americans to unity and harmony and optimism, and in the next moment charges and counter-charges descending into uncivil and dishonest rancor, unbecoming of a leader (if we can find even one) and leaders (if we’re able to gather two or more).

This seems like a ‘dog bites man’ story, politicians hurling accusations and getting more negative by the week. Or day.

I would almost rather forego all this stuff until the Fall, or maybe at the end of summer when Republicans and Democrats hold their conventions and hammer out their respective platforms and clarity will be needed on that. The rest is boilerplate politics as caricature of what the electoral process should be. 

It now requires tons and tons of money, for some reason, to do what? Launch hairtrigger ads across every current form of media and there are many old and new media to cover. So one candidate can launch dishonest attacks on the other and the other can counter them almost instantly with flaming arrows to singe the opposition and leave fact checkers beleagured in their work.

On the other hand, some things are easier to refute without much work. Which is why President Obama’s fixation on Gov. Romney’s work with Bain Capital is looking and sounding desperate.

Some charges and counter-charges:

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney’s campaigns traded accusations of lying Thursday, ratcheting up an already heated race for the White House.

The Romney camp’s charge came in a hard-hitting, new TV ad accusing Obama of misleading, unfair and untrue attacks. The Obama campaign hit back, blasting Romney’s “big Bain lie” and raising the possibility that he committed a felony for possibly mischaracterizing his exit from the Boston private equity firm he ran.

So on that point, Charles Krauthammer launched. ‘There’s not a shred of evidence he had any involvement’ after he stepped down, which puts a lie to the Obama charges, says Krauthammer. “Factcheck.org and other sources” not known as right leaning “have looked at this and said the charges were false. So I think the Obama administration can be undoing the advantage it had because it went way overboard here.”

CNN caught on.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday, Candy Crowley grilled Obama campaign adviser and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on the campaign’s recent ad calling Mitt Romney an “outsourcing pioneer.”

Crowley asked Gibbs about the ad, noting that The Washington Post rated it false and gave it four Pinocchios, while FactCheck.org said “..we could find no evidence to support the claim that Romney — while he was still running Bain Capital – shipped American jobs overseas.”

Gibbs responded by suggesting that FactCheck.org should read The Washington Post article that the Obama ad is based on.

I would say that FactCheck.org has to read The Washington Post, which is the one that came up with the report that said looking at SEC filing, that Mitt Romney and Bain Capital were pioneers in outsourcing. They shift jobs all over the world that could and should have been.
Crowley shot back, telling Gibbs that the article’s point was that, in fact, Mitt Romney was not running Bain and had cut his ties and moved on:

Gibbs wasn’t deterred by the facts and told Crowley that wasn’t true and that Romney was the head and sole owner of Bain far longer than he has acknowledged. He said that Romney is also offshoring his bank accounts and hinted that there may be something illegal in Romney’s actions.

To her credit, Crowley didn’t buy that argument and tried again to press Gibbs on the false claims in the ad. She pointed out that not only were they rated false by fact checking organizations, but that fellow Democrats wanted the campaign to move away from the attacks on Bain as well. She cited polling showing that they were hurting the Obama campaign in some battleground states.

In the latest round, Romney’s campaign released this new ad.

Instead of using Hillary Rodham Clinton’s words against Obama in 2008 to underscore the point, the latest Romney ad deploys Obama’s own words from his acceptance speech in Denver four years ago.

“Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, you use stale tactics to scare voters,” Obama said in 2008, as a clip of that speech opens the Romney ad.

The ad titled “What Happened?” is the latest in Romney’s effort to punch back at Obama, particularly at Democratic attacks on his job-creation record at Bain Capital.

So maybe it was startling or shouldn’t have been startling when WaPo ran a story recently headline ‘Can a truly honest politician become president?’

So can an honest candidate, who doesn’t distort his opponents’ records or rhetoric, win the presidency?

Yes. Now more than ever, with a public highly anxious about the economy and worn down after years of promises that things would get better, the time is ripe for a candid candidate…

Being honest doesn’t stop at self-representation; a candidate should be able to secure support without misrepresenting his opponent. This may sound difficult, but it has been done before. John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 treated their rivals’ positions and records fairly, forthrightly forecast their governing approaches and hewed to the facts.

Maybe it’s because of my position in media that allows coverage of greater and deeper human truths and human interest, stories of the common good and civil rights and natural law and true social justice, I don’t know…

But if I had enough straight hours and days, I could fill journals and books with tremendous stories of human striving and dignity and grace and eloquence and magnanimity that dwarfs this political stuff, there’s so much great and hopeful news to share. But major media are obsessed with this, and understandably to some extent in such a historically consequential election year.

As for me, I’ll work it in, when it’s deserving. But this space will be devoted less to the political scorecard and more to the consequences on human individuals of the actions and decisions of other human individuals, and let the snips fall where they may.