If President Barack Obama loses the election, the defeat will be traced back to the first October 3 debate, where Mitt Romney first gained traction. From here on, it is up to Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to recover. Everything else in the Obama campaign is on track.
Romney’s campaign strategists decided that they would invest in a media deluge at the end, on the assumption that there would be plenty of undecided voters still open to persuasion. Obama’s team, on the other hand, decided to barrage Romney early in order to frame him as a Bain Capital salesman with a far-right social agenda.
Romney jumped out of the trap set for him by Obama with an incredible acrobatic fabrications. He seems prepared to do the same on foreign policy when the candidates meet Tuesday, October 16. In the meantime, Biden is all Democrats have to stop the bleeding.
Obama threw away his previous script attacking Wall Street and the Far Right, gave Romney credit for protecting Social Security, failed to respond to obvious lies and tried instead to channel his “inner Bill Clinton” to criticize Romney for lousy mathematics.
But these campaigns do not come down to the math or managerial competence; they come down to the fundamental question of politics, which is whose side are you on?
Wall Street knows the answer. Goldman Sachs has switched sides and now is the top source of money for Romney’s campaign. (Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2012) So do J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Collectively, the big 5 Wall Street firms have given the incumbent Obama $658,000 this year compared to $3.4 million in 2008. No companies have switched sides “so abruptly” in the history of the campaign finance system, according to Journal analysis. Class war indeed.
The moment may have passed to return to Goldman Sachs in the debates. Ahead, however, like opportunities on foreign policy, women’s rights and the environment. The question is whether Obama will draw sharp distinction with Romney or still seek to be more “reasonable,” “centrist” and obsessed with numbers. No one can say. His advisers may push him in the opposite direction in which Obama comes off as a scold, which would be disastrous.
On foreign policy, Obama has a case to make. If he backs off, he surely will lose his base and be put on the defensive. He should frame the debate from the beginning, for example in these ways:
- When he ran in 2008, Obama promised to end the Iraq War. He did so, saving over $100 billion in unfunded tax dollars per year and saving thousands of lives while Romney supported an unfunded unwinnable war;
- Obama promised to escalate the Afghanistan war for one year before “winding it down,” which he is doing, while Romney has supported whatever the generals demand;
- Obama focused the war on Al Qaeda, over questions from the left, and continues to do so, while Romney complains that Obama has not intervened in other countries;
- Obama has avoided Natanyahu’s military saber rattling toward Iran, while Romney is inclined to support a war between the US and Israel against Iran.
That is far from enough for the left and the peace movement. But there needs to be a significant space between Obama and Romney on these issues in the debate, not a narrowing of their differences into bipartisan centrism.
Obama failed on October 3 to offer a vision to voters about a better future the next four years. He cannot afford to make the same omission on foreign policy. It is important, but not enough, for Obama to argue against a return to the Bush years on either the economy or national security policy. But he knows the power of hope. He might say, for example, that while he opposes Iran getting a nuclear weapon capability he also wants to move in his second term to reduce the nuclear arsenals that threaten the world. There will be no progress on nuclear weapons reduction with a President Romney who believes that Russia is our “number one geopolitical foe.”
Or Obama also might declare that global warming is a national security threat and promise new environmental leadership, while Romney is vowing to “take a weed whacker” to environmental regulations – eliminating human health effects as a standard under the Clean Air Act, setting new ozone standards, regulating coal ash and mountaintop removal coal mining, setting fuel efficiency standards, limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and so on.
The grave danger is that if Obama does not go on the offense to frame these issues, Romney will switch as he did in the first debate to the new, more moderate Mitt Romney, defend women’s rights in Afghanistan, and take credit as a former Massachusetts governor for suing the EPA in 2007 to identify carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases as causes of climate change. Romney surely will add that he is will every oppressed person in Bahrain, Syria and Iran with a shake of his fist. Not impossible. The Republicans have been brushing off “fact-based” policies in favor of “faith-based” ones, and getting away with it, for a very long time.