Some good news for Obama in the final campaign days

Ninety dead, including 38 only in New York City, and around 50 billion dollars in damages — Hurricane Sandy could be the costliest hurricane in the United States, ever.

And suddenly, in the last frenetic hours of the presidential election, the environment, climate change, and global warming have become part of the campaign. When New York City’s independent Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, endorsed Obama’s re-election yesterday, he referred particularly to the president’s vision on global warming, a priority issue for Bloomberg, but something that neither Obama nor Romney unfortunately have talked about at all in this campaign.

“Our climate is changing. And while the Increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the danger that it might be – given this week’s devastation – Should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action … . One (Obama) sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet, one (Romney) does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”

The think tank Center for American Progress writes in a new report about the links between extreme weather and climate change. The report, called Preventing Future ‘Frankenstorms’, states that Sandy is unfortunately just the latest in a long series of extreme weather events over the past two years. These include droughts, heat records, forest fires, floods, tropical storms, hurricanes, winter storms, and they have collectively caused nearly a thousand deaths and over 110 billion dollars in damage.

However, only four days to Election Day, the environment and climate change are unlikely to decide the election. But Hurricane Sandy has given Obama a new wind in his back. According to a new Washington Post/ABC survey 79 percent of the respondents said that Obama did a good job during Sandy. And today, the president got more good news when jobs figures from October pointed to the continued rise — 171,000 new jobs in October – far more than the expected 125,000. Unemployment rose slightly, from 7.8 to 7.9 percent, but that was mainly due to the fact that many more Americans now actively are looking for jobs, another positive signal for the economy and its future.

Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has a president been re-elected with an unemployment rate of more than 7.2 percent. It was in 1984 and Ronald Reagan. Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936 as well as in 1940 with unemployment at 16.6 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. When Obama became president in January 2009, unemployment was 7.8 percent. That’s almost exactly like today. Will that be enough to bring Obama four more years? I think so.

Lower unemployment brings consolation to criticized Obama

Unemployment in the United States has fallen below 8 percent for the first time since Barack Obama became president in January 2009. The new figures suggest that unemployment in September fell 8.1 to 7.8 percent.

Jubilation in the Obama campaign? Hardly, but, surely, relief, and, definitely, consolation for the president after all the brutal criticism of his performance during the Denver debate last Wednesday.

“Never has such a strong political hand been so needlessly, carelessly, calamitously thrown away,” wrote historian and Columbia University professor Simon Schama on the Daily Beast.

On the Republican side, joy is mixed with relief and new hope. Columnists like George Will, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer lined up in their praise for Mitt Romney’s effort. The Romney campaign has undoubtedly new wind in its sails. But will it last? And is there enough time in campaign for Romney to reinvent itself in the eyes of voters?

Obama campaign will of course make every effort to prevent this from happening. Counterattacks are already underway zeroing in on the question: who is really Mitt Romney — the candidate who moved steadily to the right during the Republican primary election campaign, or the new, “moderate Mitt”, the Massachusetts Governor who worked with Democrats and passed Romneycare?

The Democrats have plenty of ammunition. Just look at Jonathan Cohn’s blog at The New Republic!

In the remaining three debates, on 11 October between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan and on 16 and 23 October between Obama and Romney, we will certainly see a very different president than Wednesday. He, with the help of Biden, must now go on the offensive, because we have a new race.

Democrats come out ahead after Charlotte convention

The two political conventions are over and the question is: who won?

We will know in a week or so. The Republicans, with a bland speech by Mitt Romney, a speech by Paul Ryan that drove the fact-checkers crazy, and with Clint Eastwood…, they did not have a strong convention. It seems that they received only the smallest of bounces in the polls, but the verdict is not in yet, for either party.

I would be surprised, though, if the Democrats do not come out ahead, thanks to the cumulative effect of the past three days in Charlotte. It had the better speeches and the greater enthusiasm. It had the unforgettable testimony by Michelle Obama and the equally unforgettable, masterly lecture by Bill Clinton. And, of course, last night it had Barack Obama himself, whose speech left the delegates enthusiastic and strengthened in their resolve to win in November, although he did not deliver another glorious, mesmerizing speech that we have almost been spoiled with. It was a good speech, more than ok, solid, and, at times, eloquent, but there was also somehow something missing.

Joe Klein on his blog in Time Magazine was disappointed. He wrote that the president did not close the deal and it left Klein him wondering what Obama will do in his second term, if he is re-elected. And John Cassidy in The New Yorker wrote that the president was playing it safe, short on new ideas and policy proposals, knowing he was head in the polls and not wanting to give the Republicans new ammunition.

I don’t know, maybe our expectations were set too high, maybe we failed to take into account the fact that, this time, it was the President speaking, not a young State Senator like in 2004, or a presidential candidate like in 2008. Here was a battle-hardened leader of the country, who had been dealt an awful hand, and who realized that things were not improving as fast as he, or the country, would like. Yet, he said that the country was better off today than four years ago and that the choice in November was one between going forward and turning back to the failed policies of the Bush years, policies that got us in this fix in the first place.

“All they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last thirty years: “Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.” “Deficit too high? Try another.” “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”

And, he asked for more time:

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

Today, on Friday morning, the hard reality struck when the latest job figures were published, pointing to a continued slow recovery. Only 96,000 new jobs were created in August, although unemployment decreased from 8.3 to 8.1 percent, but mostly because so many had stopped looking for a job.

Will such numbers decide the election or will the American people let Obama continue his unfinished work? That’s the big question.

“Kamikaze politics” led to republican capitulation

Capitulation. Humiliation.

The vote for the Senate payroll tax compromise today in both houses of Congress must be biggest political capitulation of the year for the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

How did that happen? It came about as a result of the Republican “kamikaze politics,” according to the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post today.

To continue the resistance to the bipartisan compromise in the Senate would have meant tax increases next year for 160 million Americans at an average of 1,000 dollars, an impossible political position of the “party of tax cuts,” in addition to 1.8 million unemployed no longer receiving unemployment benefits.

Clearly, the House Republicans overplayed their hand. How did they get here, many wondered, while watching with increasing alarm President Obama’s rising poll numbers. He and the Democrats have clearly benefited from the Republican “kamikaze politics,” and there is a new spring in their steps ahead of the coming election year.

The pressure on the House Republicans had steadily increased since their no to the Senate compromise earlier in the week and after their demands for renegotiations had met with firm refusals by President Obama and Senate Democratic majority. Crucial to the eventual capitulation, however, were the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on Wednesday about a Republican “tax fiasco” and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s appeal yesterday to his Republican colleagues in the House to adopt the compromise.

Speaker John Boehner saw that the battle was lost and threw in the towel, although he tried to the end to make the best of the humiliating situation:

“This may not have been the politically smartest thing in the world, but I’m going to tell you what, I think our members waged a good fight.”

You’re not kidding – it might just have been the dumbest of all political strategies. And it was another nail in the coffin for Congress, which has had a really miserable year with a record low 11 percent of Americans approving of how it does its job. Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post names someone every week for having the worst week in Washington. It is always a fun read. Last Sunday, he named Congress as having the worst year in Washington of all.

Merry Christmas!

A somber Labor Day and thoughts of Jimmy Carter

Labor Day today – America’s First of May – but it is somber and gloomy, no music orchestras and no marches, no resounding speeches and appeals, like in the Stockholm of my youth.

At dinners recently here in Washington, old journalist friends, lawyers, lobbyists, all of them passionately interested in politics and in the future of America, are worried — zero job growth, unemployment stuck at 9.1 percent, which means 14 million unemployed plus 9 million who have had to settle for part-time jobs, and over 6 million who are no longer looking job. “Not since World War II,” writes Robert J. Samuelson in today’s Washington Post.

Like most people of Greater Washington, my friends are Democrats and voted for Barack Obama in 2008. They still like him, but they are troubled, even disappointed, in his leadership and his willingness to compromise with the Republicans. They want him to stand up and fight for what he believes in and for what is right. Obama should know by now that it is futile to try to work with Republicans and the tea party movement, for they hate him. Their goal is to ensure that Obama is not re-elected next year, and any compromise that might help him must be avoided.

My friends hope that in his speech on Thursday before Congress Obama will be bold and grand and revive their enthusiasm for him and bring optimism back to this country. But they are not sure, burned by last year’s budget deal and last summer’s debt crisis. They don’t know if Obama has it in him.

And so the dreaded name Jimmy Carter comes up in our conversations, an intelligent and Democratic president, just like Obama, who in 1980 became a one-term president. Obama a new Jimmy Carter? One almost dares not say it. But Jimmy Carter’s famous, or infamous, “malaise” speech in July 1979 contained some things that ring true today:

“The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”

Carter’s speech was no hit. On the contrary, it contained little of what the American voters wanted to hear, and they didn’t even think it was true. And so they elected the eternal optimist Ronald Reagan President the following year.

Thursday is an important day for President Obama, and for America.  And I still have hope.