Once again, Barack Obama has proven to be the luckiest politician alive.
Just when the race was tightening to a dead heat in the election’s closing days, one spectacular betrayal and one rank miscalculation on the Republican side have turned the contest back in Obama’s favor.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who will tour his storm-ravaged state today with President Obama, was all over the networks Tuesday telling what a wonderful leader his president was.
“I spoke to the president three times yesterday,” Christie boasted, calling Obama “outstanding.” When Fox co-host Steve Doocy meekly asked Christie if he planned any events with Romney, Christie snarkily replied, “I have no idea nor am I the least bit concerned or interested.”
David Walker announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney this week. The name might not ring a bell, but Walker was head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the number one funder of deficit-hawkery in the United States. Walker, a former Comptroller General, has described himself and his crusade as bipartisan, and it is actually helpful that he has come out of the closet as a Republican.
One part of the dreaded fiscal cliff actually presents an opportunity that could be good politics and good economics. The temporary two-point cut in the payroll tax expires January 1 (along with the Bush tax cuts). The $1.2 billion sequester also kicks in.
Deficit hawks of both parties have been saying that it’s irresponsible to extend the payroll tax cut, while defenders of Social Security such as the AARP are opposed to an extension for fear of diverting revenue from the Social Security trust funds and adding ammo to the crusade for cutting back the system’s benefits.
Obama did very well in the foreign-policy debate, but it remains to be seen if his success will change the trajectory of the race, which has been trending toward Romney.
Several things about this debate were a surprise. The most surprising thing was the emergence of Mild Mitt. Romney sounded almost as if he were on downers. His campaign must have decided that he was coming across as too ferocious or two bellicose. But his performance tonight was underwhelming.
Obama, by contrast, took the debate to Romney right from the first exchange. He was almost too aggressive, calling the former Massachusetts governor on his inconsistencies and policy recommendations that would have backfired. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” the president said.
This was supposed to be about a six-point race in Obama's favor. That's sure how it looked on the eve of the first debate. But now it's dead even.
First, of course, Romney cleaned Obama's clock in the first debate. Obama came back strong in debate number two, but evidently a lot of swing voters formed their impressions in that deadly first encounter.
But there is a more fundamental problem here. The narrative of the past four years should have revolved around free-market ideology, Wall Street plunder, Republican rule, and the fact that Republicans first crashed the economy and then blocked a recovery.
President Obama did what he needed to do tonight. He took the debate to Mitt Romney. He was relaxed, even jaunty, as he scored one point after another. He seemed to be enjoying himself at Romney’s expense. He looked more comfortable and commanding as the debate wore on, while Romney looked more stiff, edgy, and salesman-like.
Obama needed to remind voters that Romney is a very rich man out of touch with regular people, and he did that well. He got in Romney’s face and he got under Romney’s skin, but stopped just short of being overly aggressive.
The most bizarre thing about the deficit and the campaign is the fact that the risk of a fiscal cliff—which everyone agrees will crash the economy—is being used to justify a slightly smaller fiscal cliff. There are several players here, so the arguments are worth sorting out. Herewith, some Cliffs Notes:
Biden did a lot better than his president did in the first debate. But Obama still needs to hammer home all of the inconsistencies and evasions in the Romney-Ryan positions on such key issues as Social Security, Medicare, and taxation.
Between moderator Martha Raddatz’s questioning and the vice-president’s persistence, the viewer just about grasped that the Romney-Ryan arithmetic was entirely bogus when the Republicans claim that there were $5 trillion worth of loopholes that can be closed to pay for new tax cuts without cutting programs, giving further breaks to the rich, or increasing the deficit.
President Obama gets a lift from a relatively positive employment report for September. The nation gained 114,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate declined to 7.8 percent, the lowest since Obama took office. Earlier disappointing figures were revised upwards, by 40,000 for July and 45,000 for August.
All this gives Obama some bragging rights, and heads off what would have been a withering attack had the news been bad.
But Obama makes a mistake by emphasizing what the progress the economy is making. Median household incomes are down, young people face rough going as they enter the job market, and the elderly have dwindling pension coverage and almost no returns on their savings in a zero interest rate environment.
(AP Photo/The The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, File)
For once, the Republicans were right.
They have been obsessively claiming that voter-suppression measures are necessary because of widespread “ballot fraud.” However extensive investigations by the mainstream media have shown that ballot-fraud is a convenient myth.
The Obama administration got good news and bad news on the economy Thursday.
The bad news: The Commerce Department revised the economic growth rate downward, to just 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2012, down from an earlier estimate of 1.7 percent. That’s close to stall speed, not nearly enough to generate enough jobs or income growth. To add to the administration’s bad day, durable-goods orders dropped 13.2 percent in August.
The European authorities seem determined to drive the continent into a repeat of the Great Depression.
The European Central Bank keeps playing a cute game designed more to impress the Germans than the financial markets or to provide real relief. Mario Draghi, ECB president, offers to buy unlimited amounts of the bonds of states that are being pummeled by speculators, but then undercuts his own offer by conditioning it on punishing austerity.
By all accounts, this was the Republicans’ election to win: an economy stuck at a level insufficient to generate enough jobs or income gains; a somewhat disillusioned Democratic base; and a stunted generation of young adults who supported Barack Obama last time by a margin of 71-29 and are unlikely to do it again.
Yet Obama’s lead keeps widening. It’s worth unpacking why.
The most obvious reason, of course, is the sheer clumsiness of Mitt Romney, God’s gift to the Democrats. If a computer had been asked to generate a candidate guaranteed to alienate independents and divide his own base, it could not have done better.
Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect as well as a Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe. He co-founded the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and serves on its executive committee.