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Posts Tagged ‘Presidential Campaign’

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-23-12

Could it be that despite all that tension and testosterone, that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree a whole lot more about foreign policy than they disagree? I learned from the debate that both candidates hope to stop Iran, contain China, support Israel, and magically conjure up a peaceful solution in Syria while seeing a flourishing Democratic Arab spring. I also learned that both candidates would prefer to speak about domestic issues than foreign issues, as they repeatedly segued into their economic and education programs, claiming that achieving a “strong America” is a foreign policy issue too. These shifts reflected the American people’s mood – this election is much more about domestic policy than foreign policy.

True, at heart Barack Obama is more an idealistic internationalist, preferring multilateralism and global cooperation, while Mitt Romney is a muscular isolationist, yearning for American autonomy and insisting on American strength. But these differences pale before the fact that it is difficult to assess any candidate’s foreign policy ideology – let alone how that candidate will act as president. Predicting how a president will function in foreign affairs is as reliable as guessing how first-time parents will act when their children become teenagers – lovely theories succumb to tumultuous unforeseen squalls.

Foreign policy is particularly elusive due to the unpredictability of foreign events, the mushiness in American foreign policy ideologies, and the often-constructive tradition of presidents abandoning their preconceptions once they actually start governing.  Barack Obama himself is proof of the haziness here.  To the extent that Senator Obama had a foreign policy vision in 2008 as a candidate – when he had as little foreign policy experience as Governor Romney has in 2012 – his presidency has frequently succeeded by forgetting it. As Obama boasts about getting Osama Bin Laden and approving the Afghanistan surge, and as Guantanamo Bay remains open, pacifist leftists are understandably wondering what happened to their anti-war, human rights hero. If Obama is correct that the Republican candidate’s newly moderate domestic policies reflect “Romnesia”; pacifist leftists could mourn many such “Obaminations.”

Ultimately, the convergence offered a welcome reminder, as this campaign intensifies, that America’s greatest foreign policy victories, including winning World War II and the Cold War, were bipartisan moments uniting the nation not dividing parties. Whoever wins will have to lead from the center, in both foreign and domestic affairs – moving from the theoretical clashes of the campaign trail to the necessary reconciliations of governance.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-17-12

The editorial section of Real Clear Politics gives the ultimate verdict on the second debate. It shows the pro-Obama New York Times declaring Mr. Obama Comes Back. It shows the pro-Romney New York Post concluding Romney Wins on Points. And it has the middle of the road USA Today proclaiming Second Debate a Split Decision. In short, Barack Obama did not have a second debate debacle and Mitt Romney continued appearing solid, presidential, and far more moderate than the caricatures of him suggest.

The polls echo these findings, although they tend to be giving Obama a slight edge. Obama’s bigger win was in the campaign narrative wars. Predictably, proving Woody Allen’s insight that “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” when Obama showed up, loaded for bear, he launched hundreds of Obama is back campaign stories. This was a classic pseudo-event, a media-generated moment that fit into the narrative many reporters were looking to right, to keep the campaign alive.

In truth, stylistically, both candidates were more similar than different. They were well-prepared and well-spoken, assertive without being too aggressive, with neither giving much ground. The moment relatively early in the debate when they each looked like they were about to butt heads or chests over gas drilling, was great theatre – but not a game changer.

Substantively, serious issue differences persisted, with important clashes over Libya, taxes, immigration, and energy. Whereas some debates tend to diminish one or both candidates, this debate boosted both. Obama left feeling vindicated that his first-time stumble was a fluke. Romney continued feeling vindicated that the stereotype of him as a fanatic or a fumbler was fading. And the American people should feel vindicated that amid all the hoopla and distractions, this set of debates is proving entertaining and edifying, introducing the candidates and their positions to tens of millions of voters, building excitement and engagement toward Election Day.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

Associated Press, 9-4-12

 

Analysis: Obama has little choice but to persuade

Source: AP, 9-4-12

Remembered for soaring speeches at the last two Democratic conventions, President Barack Obama faces much tougher constraints Thursday when he accepts his party’s nomination for a second time.

Now he has a four-year record and must convince Americans to stick with the status quo in a climate of high unemployment, fallen home values and wide income disparity.

Given the tough environment, less lofty oratory is almost certain. And Obama has little choice but to walk a careful line as he unspools his vision for America’s future while picking apart Republican Mitt Romney’s plans for taxes, Medicare and the environment.

Overtly ambitious or novel proposals could invite an obvious rebuke: If it’s such a great idea, what hasn’t the president already done it?

“Obama is definitely in a presidential pickle,” said McGill University presidential scholar Gil Troy. “The candidate of hope and change now has reality to contend with, including disappointments and messes.”

The best re-nomination speeches — Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “morning in America” and Bill Clinton’s 1992 “bridge to the 21st century” — included “a heroic narrative of renewal,” Troy said. Obama must give a flavor of that Thursday, he said, despite a serious handicap: The economy lacks the obvious upward trend that boosted Reagan’s campaign.

“Obama has not gotten that statistical gift,” Troy said, “so he has to compensate with oratorical gifts.”

Great oratory has a mixed record in presidential campaigns.

Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush are among those who won two terms with lackluster speaking styles.

Obama excelled in big forums from the start. He rocketed to national fame at the 2004 Democratic convention, where his “one America” speech largely overshadowed the nominee, John Kerry.

“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America,” Obama told the adoring crowd in Boston. “There’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

When he accepted the nomination four years later in a huge outdoor stadium in Denver, Obama deplored “the broken politics in Washington.”

“America, we are better than these last eight years,” he said. “We are a better country than this.”

Now, of course, Obama is the incumbent under the microscope. Unemployment is higher, Washington’s politics are more bitterly partisan than before and the notion of no liberal-conservative divide seems naive at best.

Reagan’s “morning in America” optimism might be ridiculed in today’s climate. And rhetorical flourishes by Obama could add fuel to Republican jibes that he is much better at talking than leading.

But Obama can hardly afford to assume the dour demeanor of Jimmy Carter.

A presidential challenger can use big speeches to criticize the incumbent in detail while offering less-specific, even gauzy, alternatives. That’s what Romney did last week in Tampa, Fla., say Democrats, who repeatedly cite his lack of detailed explanations for claims that he can cut taxes, increase military spending and reduce the deficit.

Obama doesn’t enjoy that leeway. He’s constrained in looking both backward and forward.

He must defend his four-year record, of course. But fierce resistance from tea party-influenced Republicans has thwarted some of his key proposals, including jobs bills. His biggest legislative achievement, the 2010 health care overhaul, sharply divided the country and gave Republicans a new battle cry: “Repeal Obamacare.”

The same partisan dynamics could crimp Obama’s ability to offer a second-term agenda. With Republicans likely to retain control of the House along with filibuster powers — if not an outright majority — in the Senate, bold new Democratic proposals might seem implausible.

Still, a range of scholars and operatives urge Obama to err on the side of ambition and specificity.

“We think the country is desperate to know where the president wants to take the country — his vision and plan in the face of weak recovery but more important, the long-term problems facing the country,” veteran Democratic consultants James Carville and Stan Greenberg said in a memo released Tuesday. “The more robust and serious his plans are for American energy production and independence, for infrastructure and America’s modernization, for advancing education and innovation, for getting health care costs down,” they wrote, “the more the Republicans will look irrelevant.”

Carville and Greenberg urged Obama to hammer at Romney’s plans to preserve income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while also cutting taxes on investment income that applies mainly to the rich.

Voters “are rightfully angry and increasingly populist,” the two men said.

Troy agreed that Obama should risk being labeled too liberal if that’s what it takes to defend his stimulus plan and auto industry bailout. Both initiatives generally got higher marks from economists than from average Americans.

The president can talk about the bailout “as a reflection of a government that is good, a government that works,” Troy said.

He said the president should use Thursday’s speech to “invite Americans back into the Obama narrative. He has to sell Brand Obama.”

The president might skip many of the flourishes that wowed the crowd in Boston eight years ago. Instead, expect him to try to use the speech — one of the last remaining prime-time, heavily watched events of the campaign — to put the best possible face on a grim economy, and to convince voters that Romney would make it worse.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 9-3-12


Clint Eastwood at a Take Pride in America rally, 2005. Credit: U.S. Government.

All of us are having a grand old time laughing at Clint Eastwood’s all too breezy escapade in Tampa, where the veteran actor and national political rookie showed that he could never say goodbye to the GOP audience, blasting President Barack Obama any which way he could, as the teleprompter light flashed furiously. With the Hollywood icon now In the Line of Fire politically, journalists, pundits, bloggers and academics are mocking his performance, suggesting that rather than propelling the Romney-Ryan ticket forward with the magnum force of his celebrity, the Eastwood thunderbolt backfired, showing him to be a lightweight.

Clearly, as an academic, I resent the near absolute power Hollywood celebrities seem to have in our universe, and the fact that grace is gone, dignity sacrificed, and substance a thing of the past. Even Mitt Romney’s actual acceptance speech seemed more soundbite-driven than lyrical or statesmanlike, with his one-liners reminding me of the revelations in 1988 that Michael Dukakis’s speechwriters actually wrote addresses with the soundbites they hoped reporters would cull already highlighted in the candidate’s text.

But when I read the attack on Eastwood’s “truthiness,” snickering at his slam that the nation did not want to be governed by lawyers but by a businessman even though Mitt Romney went to law school, I started wondering whether we of the chattering classes were misreading the moment. Mitt Romney may have a law degree, but we all know which candidate is the one accused of being able to “argue everything and weigh both sides,” and which one is “the businessman.” Just as in 2000, most Americans preferred George W. Bush’s periodic assaults on the English language to Al Gore’s beautifully-sculpted paragraphs because Bush’s bumbling sounded more authentic, I started wondering about the real political effect of Eastwood’s antics on the audience that counted, the American voters. In a perfect world, actors would stick to their scripts and celebrities would stay in Hollywood without venturing into the Washington — or other grownup matters. But our political culture walks a tightrope between the popular and the absurd, between that which should work — and that which actually does.

Clearly, the sudden impact of Eastwood’s riffs was impressive. The convention goers laughed and cheered. Let’s wait for the polls and see if it is possible to discern whether millions of Americans were indeed the beguiled, charmed by Clint’s mix of comedy and politicking, which now goes down easier in the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert age of blurred boundaries. Or whether Clint Eastwood truly now is among the unforgiven, a celebrity who overshot, who embarrassed himself and those who sought his help by failing to remember that Hollywood heroes are fictional not real.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

McGill News, 8-31-12

The battle for the White House

Source: McGill News, 8-31-12

Questions & Answers

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill and an expert on U.S. politics and the history of American presidential campaigns. Sylvain Comeau recently approached Professor Troy for his thoughts on the current race between Republican nominee Mitt Romney and U.S. president Barack Obama.

American politics seem to be polarized between right and left. Which side will “get out the vote” most effectively?

The biggest problem both candidates are facing, at the moment, is that neither of them has really excited the American people yet. When you compare Obama in 2012 to Obama in 2008, he’s not going to get the same kind of vote, the same passion and enthusiasm. As for Romney, he hasn’t shown an ability to stir the nation. I believe this will be a vote characterized by a little bit of exhaustion, and a sentiment that “we’d rather have him than the other guy.” My fear is that we won’t have a winner; we will have the one who doesn’t lose. And at this point in American history, I think the nation needs a winner.

So the election will be won by default?

The winner will be the one left standing. Obama should have increased his lead in the polls by now, but that hasn’t happened. On the other hand, Romney should have been able to [capitalize] on the current high levels of anxiety in the country. He hasn’t. So both of them are more distinguished by their weaknesses than by their strengths so far in this campaign. And that’s unfortunate.

Does the incumbent normally have some kind of built-in advantage?

In American politics, that is usually the case. Name recognition, a certain conservatism among voters, fund raising, infrastructure; all these are huge advantages. Also, in the last half-century, the only sitting presidents to lose the White House were the ones who faced very serious challenges in the primaries, before getting the nomination. This year, Obama got the nomination in a cakewalk, so historically, that means the odds are much more in his favour. On the other hand, the economic numbers are pretty weak.

How would you evaluate Obama’s first term?

It would not be controversial to say that it has been a disappointment. But that was inevitable, considering the incredibly high expectations surrounding him, and the set of problems he faced. It has been a very sobering first term. It’s interesting to note a certain convergence between the policy decisions of the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush responded to the initial housing crash and financial crisis by stimulating the economy by pouring in hundreds of billions of dollars. What did Obama do? The same thing. Bush locked away suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, a policy which Obama promised to eliminate; that never happened. The president who tracked down and eliminated Osama Bin Laden was not Bush, it was Obama. What do we learn from that? The world looks very different from outside the Oval Office, compared to inside. Outside the Oval Office, we emphasize the differences. But once in office, there is a lot of similarity [between administrations] when it comes to key government ideas.

Obama inherited many of his administration’s key economic challenges from the Bush administration; will that hamper his chances, or will the voters take that into account?

Obama’s narrative is that he inherited all these Republican problems. He applied Democrat solutions to them, the economy has improved, and we will have improved health care now. The Republican narrative is that those problems were the result of both party’s policies, going back to Reagan and then Clinton, and that we have to take a long term view in order to understand how this mess developed.

What role will health care play in this election?

The Democrats are coalescing around health care as a new American right, and that plays well for Obama. In order to win, Romney has to mobilize the Republican base against universal health care. He has to help them overcome their doubts about him, by making them realize that they need him in order to overturn the health care reforms.

Do you think the bullying incident involving Romney will come back to haunt him during the vote?

So far, Romney appears to be a Velcro candidate: all kinds of negative stories have stuck to him. He has allowed the Democrats to define him by these negative reports. He needs to reintroduce himself to the American public, and to focus on basic issues such as the economy and health care.

What about his “silver spoon” image, in which he is said to be responsible for layoffs at companies where he worked, and to favour tax policies that benefit the rich?

During a time of depression or recession, it is very difficult for a super-wealthy person to succeed in American politics. And yet, [Franklin Roosevelt] pulled it off. How did he do it? He was able to turn his aristocratic air into a jaunty, breezy self-confidence that transcended class barriers. He turned a negative into a positive, and that’s what Romney has to do. Romney has to make the case that his skill set in business is not about outsourcing and destroying American jobs; he has to show that they’re exactly the kind of skills needed to lead the country into a healthy 21st century economy.

Has Romney deliberately positioned himself as a far-right candidate? For example, he said that he would eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, and oppose gay marriages.

American candidates have a tendency to swing to the extremes of the right or left during the primary debates. Campaigns tend to bring candidates back to the centre, but Romney hasn’t really shown that ability yet. So his challenge will be: can he recalibrate and go back to the centre without appearing to be inauthentic? If he only plays to the right, he will not win.

How will his choice of Paul Ryan as vice presidential candidate change the campaign?

Ryan is an experienced congressman with a strong ideological record. This choice shows that Romney is not afraid to run with someone who is articulate, energetic and ideological. This was a bold way of defining the Republican ticket.

Was it a gamble, picking a running mate who is favouring big budget cuts for medicare, and is considered a fiscal hawk?

No matter who he picked, it was going to be someone who is more of a deficit hawk and more fiscally conservative than the Democrats — but picking someone like Ryan defines it very clearly. And I think Romney recognizes that Ryan is not afraid to fight and can articulate his vision — he won’t just sit there and absorb blows.

Romney could have made a “safer” choice. Did he feel that he had to do something, since he has been behind in the polls?

Yes, I think he needed to make a move that shows that this is not business as usual; that was equally important for the morale of the troops as it was for the campaign. This choice also means that the rest of the presidential race will focus on more substantive issues than where Obama was born or what Romney did to the family dog.

Do you think Obama’s handling of the financial crisis, including the unpopular bank bailouts and the ballooning deficits, will hinder his chances?

There is a gut feeling [among the American people] that not enough was done, and yet too much debt was taken on. Also, there is an impression that his decisions are too closely tied in with the philosophy of the Democratic Party, yet he dealt with the crisis in much the same way as Bush. So there are a lot of contradictory, mixed feelings when it comes to the financial crisis.

Do the Republicans face any challenges in this election associated with the fact that the last Republican president, George W. Bush, was not a popular figure when he left office?

I think Obama wants to cast Romney as Bush II — and even Republicans understand that the baggage from the Bush administration persists. Romney has to show — without disrespecting Bush, because some Americans still support the former president — that he is a true Republican, an effective Republican, a competent Republican, and that the Republicans have the answer.

Do you believe that any third-party candidates could dilute support for either of the main party candidates?

Six months ago, I could have speculated about all kinds of people. Today, it doesn’t look like any serious third party contenders are emerging. This is definitely the kind of election in which a third party candidate could have made some noise and possibly done some damage, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the dynamic. On the Republican side, during the nomination process, the third party phenomenon played itself out. They gave a lot of room to a lot of voices, some of them quite extreme, and ultimately, those were defeated. On the Democratic side, the power of the Obama myth, and, frankly, his status as the first African-American president, means that it’s not viable for anyone on the far left to contend with him.

Since Reagan, every sitting president has presided over a ballooning deficit and national debt. Will that continue to colour both the campaigns and the terms of future presidents?

Reagan tried to start a conversation about deficits and limits, but even he failed. He only succeeded in limiting the growth of government. There has been an addiction to government spending and deficit spending, and no politician has had the power, the courage or the standing to really take on this problem. There have been government commissions and lots of good ideas are out there, but what it really take is leadership, and guts. It is a toxic mix of special interests trying to protect their turf, and politicians who are more concerned with the next election than with long term solutions.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 8-29-12


Mahalia Jackson, 1962. Credit: Library of Congress

On August 28, 1963, in front of a quarter of a million people massing at the Lincoln Memorial, a young 34-year-old orator felt a little intimidated, a little overwhelmed. Initially, he delivered a somewhat formal address from prepared notes. Suddenly, the singer Mahalia Jackson called out to Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Tell them about your dream Martin, Tell them about the dream!” Turning to oratory he had been perfecting for a decade, King delivered one of the great speeches of all time.

This week, Republicans are desperately in need of a modern-day Mahalia Jackson to liberate Mitt Romney. So far, Romney has failed to inspire many Americans with his life story. He often seems too stiff, too robotic on the campaign trail. Two things seem to be holding him back. First, he has a bit of the patrician George H.W. Bush in him. In 1988, when running for President, Bush was reluctant to get personal, go emotional, or even use the word “I.” His formidable 87-year-old mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, had taught him not to boast, not to focus on himself, not to be a peacock — and she was still watching him carefully. Eventually, Bush let loose — so much so that he ended up apologizing after the campaign, and after his victory, for being too aggressive.

A second factor reinforcing Romney’s personal and cultural restraint is his religion. Since entering public life, Romney has learned to be circumspect about his Mormonism. He understands that many evangelical Protestants have deep prejudices against Mormon theology. And while during his 2008 campaign he tried to echo John F. Kennedy’s famous Houston remarks about fighting religious bigotry, he has been too afraid of his skeptical base this time around to go there. But trying to explain the most interesting aspects about Romney, including his charitable initiatives and the lure of public service, without mentioning his Mormonism, is like discussing Barack Obama’s calling without mentioning his racial background or absent father.

Especially in American politics, culture counts. Biography counts. Words matter. We are a nation of story tellers and of rapt listeners. Hollywood — and American history — entrance hundreds of millions of people around the world with dramatic tales, inspiring moments, grand lives, compelling ideas. A presidential campaign is a forum for this kind of storytelling and wordsmithing. Americans want to be inspired. They want to know their leaders. They want to be swayed by a compelling narrative, a sweeping vision, and significant ideas. So far, Mitt Romney has failed to provide much of any of that to most Americans. So, when he accepts the Republican nomination for president, the call of history, the call of the people, will be an echo of Mahalia Jackson’s 1963 call to Martin Luther King, Jr.: despite your upbringing, your personality, your religious caution, “Tell them about yourself, Mitt. Tell them about yourself.”

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INTERVIEW ANNOUNCEMENT

Midmorning
Midmorning
Thursday, August 25, 2011Midmorning with Kerri Miller, Minnesota Public Radio

Minnesota Public Radio Stories

MPR News Radio — Listen Now

  • Barack ObamaThe changing presidential campaign
    The 2012 presidential election is 15 months away, and campaign coverage is pervasive in the media. We know about Obama’s summer reading list and can look at pictures of Bachmann eating a corn dog. Has the level of scrutiny changed? What can we expect from the presidential campaigns in the coming months — 9:06 a.m.

    Guests
    Gil Troy: Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal, and a Visiting Scholar affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. His latest book, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”
    Karen Tumulty: National political correspondent for The Washington Post. She joined the Post in 2010 from TIME Magazine, where she had held the same title.
    Resources

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