Obama and Romney begin
Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012 7:00 pm
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — This is the silly season of presidential politics. The latest hyped-up outrage is over President Obama’s whispered comment to Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” after the November election, and for Medvedev to convey that to Vladimir Putin, newly elected for a second time as Russia’s president. Mitt Romney huffed and puffed that Russia is America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” a bit of hyperbole that Medvedev dismissed as reminiscent of Hollywood stereotyping from the Cold War era.
Republicans warned darkly that Obama once elected would make so many compromises that he would sell out U.S. national security interests.
Russian commentators said they were flattered that American politicians were taking them so seriously. They worry more about being ignored as a former super power.
What Obama was doing when an open microphone caught his words is negotiating to protect the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that was ratified by the Senate after the 2010 election. The Russians are threatening to scuttle the treaty over NATO’s plans for a missile defense system that the Russians believe takes aim at their arsenal.
Obama told reporters that the only way he can reach accommodation with the Russians on missile defense is if he works with the Pentagon and with Congress, and if he gets bipartisan support. “And frankly, the current environment is not conducive to these kinds of thoughtful considerations,” he said, a frank admission of the limits that a hotly contested election impose.
Republicans are seeking any opening to assail Obama on national security and foreign policy, and the president’s whispered words on the eve of a Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Korea, handed them an opportunity. Yet it shouldn’t be a surprise that Obama is negotiating with his counterparts over nuclear weapons stockpiles and missile defense; that’s why he came to the Summit. Romney’s shock is reminiscent of the scene in the 1942 movie “Casablanca” when Captain Renault, asked why he was shutting down Rick’s café, says, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on here!”
Obama is engaged in real-world negotiations with implications for the planet, and for citizens the world over, while Romney is play-acting to score political points. Coincidentally, in the days immediately following the flap over Obama’s gaffe, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found Romney’s unfavorable rating had reached a high of 50 percent among all voters, and 52 percent among registered voters, with only 34 percent of those polled expressing favorable feelings about the likely GOP nominee.
The same poll found Obama’s approval rating at 53 percent, with 43 percent disapproving, the best set of numbers Obama has seen in some time. Obama’s rising score is attributed to Independents who have swung noticeably towards the president, giving him a positive score of 50 percent compared to Romney’s 35 percent. Obama is also credited with rallying his base more successfully than Romney, who is still battling his fellow Republicans to gain the nomination.
Romney has time to re-set his campaign and recover his equilibrium before the fall campaign, but it will take more than faux controversies to win over voters wary of any candidate who has changed his political stripes as often as Romney. In 1994, when Romney ran against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, he presented himself as pro-choice and pro-gay rights. As governor, he signed a health law that has an individual mandate at its core. Now he wants voters to take his word that he’s an arch-conservative on everything from immigration to social issues, but how can voters be sure?
Obama may have slipped up in talking privately while a microphone was open, but voters have a pretty good idea where he stands on nuclear issues and a lot of other things. With Romney, nothing is sure except his willingness to say whatever he thinks it will take to win the presidency. Published in The Messenger 4.5.12