Candidates Express Competing World Views
For those wondering when or if the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign would ever delve into foreign policy in a meaningful way, this is probably it. Upheaval in the Middle East and what the United States can or should do about it was front and center as the two major candidates spoke in New York.
Mitt Romney spoke to the Clinton Global Initiative forum and while his tone was softer than in recent days, he offered criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the recent events in Libya, Egypt and Iran. Mr. Romney said Americans are “troubled by the developments” in the Middle East and he went on to say that “we feel we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events.”
Mr. Romney has pointed to recent events in the Middle East as proof that the president has lost control of his foreign policy goals and has been reduced to being a watcher, and not a player. It’s also the latest attempt by the Romney campaign to change the subject away from its own problems, especially Mr. Romney’s comment at a fund-raising meeting months ago about the “47” percent of Americans who will support the president no matter what, are dependent on the government and see themselves as victims.
Obama’s Tougher Tone at U.N.
It seemed as though President Obama was punching back a bit at the Romney critiques on his speech before the United Nations General Assembly. Mr. Obama began by paying homage to the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, who died along with three others in what the administration says was a terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi earlier this month.
The president said the attacks targeting U.S. interests in the Middle East were not just an assault on America, but an assault “on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded—the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully.”
Mr. Obama went on to talk about how the United States supports the forces of change in the Middle East embodied in the Arab Spring. He referred to the recent anti-Muslim video that sparked protests as “crude and disgusting” and said it was not only an insult to Muslims, but to the United States as well.
Vigorous Defense of Free Speech
At the same time, the president laid out a vigorous defense of free speech, one of the cornerstones of American democracy and the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Obama noted that as president he has to accept that people call him “awful things” every day, but that he will always defend their right to do so. He also said there are no words that “excuse the killing of innocents” and said it is the obligation of leaders everywhere to “speak out forcefully against violence and extremism.”
Some of this seemed aimed at rebutting the recent narrative from the Romney campaign that he is weak on foreign policy and weak on defending U.S. values. Mr. Obama said those who condemn the slander against Islam must also condemn the hate associated with desecrations of the image of Jesus Christ or those who deny the Holocaust.
The president also recommitted the United States to walking alongside those who will work for a secure state of Israel next to an independent and prosperous Palestine. He also sounded a tough line on Iran, pledging the U.S. will “do what we must” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
All in all, the U.N. speech seemed to be aimed just as much at a domestic audience as an international one — no surprise with the election just six weeks away.
Swing States Swinging Obama’s Way
The latest Washington Post public opinion polls give the White House plenty of encouraging news. The latest survey in Ohio shows the president ahead of Mr. Romney by a margin of 52 to 44 percent among likely voters. The president also had a lead in the latest Post poll in Florida, 51 to 47 percent.
There is no way Mitt Romney gets elected if he loses both Florida and Ohio. So he has to win Florida. The thing about Ohio is, no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio, so he would have to make it up by winning some combination of other states, probably Colorado and Virginia. Colorado is close, though some polls give the president a slight lead. Mr. Obama also had a modest lead in Virginia as well.
Both campaigns are paying extremely close attention to the swing state polls in the final weeks. If Ohio continues to trend badly for Mr. Romney, his campaign could pull the plug there and focus its resources on Florida, Colorado and Virginia.
The Obama firewall in Ohio, if it holds, is one of the big electoral state stories of this election cycle. And the fact is the improving economy in both Ohio and Virginia may be helping the president and hurting Mr. Romney, even though both states have Republican governors.
The next few weeks will tell a lot. If the Romney campaign can’t get any traction in Ohio or Iowa, they may refocus on what for them may be a dwindling number of battleground states where they hope to turn the tide.