Let's not mince words: President Barack Obama is one lucky bastard.
Last week, he got a near-total pass from the press regarding foreign policy due to what was at worst a case of bad timing by GOP challenger Mitt Romney. This week (and possibly beyond), Obama is being helped out big time by the release of a tape in which Romney inveighs against people who receive payouts from the government.
Maybe Romney could have waited another few hours after the killing of our ambassador to Libya but does anyone still think that Obama has any idea of what he's doing with regard to foreign policy?
Yet after disastrous attacks on U.S. people and places in Egypt and Libya—and thoroughly unconvincing claims by the administration that such deadly violence "is not an expression of hostility in the broader sense toward the United States or U.S. policy"—it was Mitt Romney who got tagged as having "the worst week in Washington." According to the media, Romney had finally crossed a line no decent human being ever dare cross by criticizing a sitting president while protesters demonstrated outside something like 20 U.S. embassies around the globe.
As Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki put it, Romney's willingness to criticize the president "does raise a question of whether his team is ready for prime time when it comes to these issues."
You got that? Obama is the president, is the guy who extended the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, still has folks in Iraq, unilaterally decided to drop bombs in Libya (where our ambassador and other people were just killed by an RPG-armed mob ostensibly annoyed at a YouTube clip), maintains a kill list, and pursues drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen (sites of demonstrations). But it's Mitt Romney who's the screwup.
Romney is hardly blameless in all this, of course; as the failure of whatever Obama's mideast and Muslim policies are supposed to be is coming fully into view, he has hardly proposed a meaningful alternative other than looting the treasury to pay for yet more defense and bellicosity throughout the world.
And now, as Peter Suderman noted, his comments about "the 47 percent" will dominate the news cycle from now until the next gaffe. Romney's comments at a private fundraiser were taped and have been released by the progressive magazine Mother Jones under the headline, "Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters."
In the tape, Romney says
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
There are plenty of things to pick apart in this statement—and that's already mostly been done. As it happens, entitlement spending generally increases faster under Republican presidents than under Democratic ones, and Romney's devotion to seniors—who often pay no income taxes due to their retired status and reliance in Social Security—has been repaid with their willingness to vote for him. As the conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru wrote before the tape was released, Mitt Romney, his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and Republicans in general are mistaken when they pin Obama's popularity to welfare payouts. After noting that seniors are increasingly voting Republican even as government payouts to them have increased, Ponnuru goes on to say
It's true that Americans with low incomes—more and more of whom now receive food stamps and federally subsidized health insurance—have generally voted for Democrats over Republicans. But in 2010, these voters shifted toward Republicans even as food stamps, unemployment benefits and the like continued to increase.
Conservatives have even less reason for worrying about people who don't pay federal income taxes. A major reason that the number of those people has grown is that a Republican-controlled Congress created, and the Bush administration expanded, a tax credit for parents. If there is any evidence that in recent years middle-class parents have become more Democratic, relative to the general electorate, I haven't seen it.
While the tape may have a different effect on voters due to its "secret" nature, the fact is that the GOP has been pushing the "makers" versus "takers" line for a long time. If that distinction hasn't pushed "takers" such as seniors and younger households who only pay payroll taxes into the arms of Obama and the Democrats already, it's not clear that this story will. As blogger Ann Althouse summarizes her reaction, "Presented at Mother Jones as if it's quite disturbing, but I don't see anything bad in there at all."
From a purely political perspective, the real question is what effect, if any, on swing voters who voted for Obama in 2008 but are up for grabs. These are the people Romney talks about as "the 5 to 6 or 7 percent that we have to bring onto our side." Recent polls had shown Romney up by 15 percentage points with independents, but that could all vanish if they start to feel an ick factor attached to Romney's fundraiser-event comments (despite however much they mirror his stump speeches).
I know plenty of people who lean toward the Republican rhetoric (and it's only rhetoric) when it comes to economic issues but recoil due to the party's positions and attitudes towards gays, immigrants, and broadly defined secularism.
Gallup reports that a sizable 62 percent of independents still think "government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businessess." That can't be good for Obama, whose worldview is very much about expanding government's role in everything.
For me, the real issue is that this mini-flap again deflects attention away from the state of the economy and related issues regardless of who wins. I have little to no use for Romney's platform such as it is. Indeed, the most compelling case for Romney's election was delivered by Clint Eastwood. The Squint's basic pitch had nary to do with the GOP standard-bearer. Rather, Eastwood argued simply that Obama didn't get the job done so he should be fired. That may or may not be effective, but Romney is pretty incidental to it.
But Obama's actual record is worth sussing through. As spun out at the Democratic National Convention, Obama's domestic policy moves have seen nothing but success. Either the stimulus flat-out worked or, if it didn't actually achieve any of its goals in terms of reducing unemployment, it staved off far worse outcomes. You got that, America: If I hadn't gotten to do what I wanted, says President Obama, you'd be even more out of a job. The illegal auto bailout was so successful that it will never earn back what was spent on it. Health care reform, which expands the budget-breaking program Medicare and yet manages to protect completely the budget-breaking program Medicare, will help the country's bottom line because it forces more people to pay for insurance so good they have to be forced to pay for it. The president's plans for the future include more spending, slightly more taxes (but only on the rich) and deficits for at least the next 10 years (his budget proposal only goes that far).
When the focus shifts from economic policy to things such as the drug war, or immigration, or transparency, well…noboby really wants to discuss those things anyway, right?
So thank god for this latest flap over Romney saying in private essentially what he says in public. Because if it weren't for that, we might actually get around to discussing something/anything that actually has a real bearing on just how bad whoever gets elected in November is going to screw things up even more. After all, a presidential campaign is really just not the place for that sort of discussion.
Related: Read Matt Welch's "Romney's 47 Percent Line is a Common GOP Trope, and It's Wrong." And J.D. Tuccille's "Will Americans Things They're Romney's 47 Percent? Or One of the 53 Percent?"