If you want the best case for Narendra Modi, you can do no better than read my colleague Gideon Rachman’s latest column – India needs a jolt. After a decade of prevarication under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (to put it politely), India’s economy is languishing and investors have lost confidence in its reform story. Delhi is almost permanently mired in corruption scandal and politics has turned into a national joke. India desperately needs a change. Who better than Gujarat’s chief minister to give the subcontinent the decisive governance it craves? Read more
Barack Obama’s decision to press ahead with Chuck Hagel as the next Pentagon chief is a sign of a confident president – he feels strong enough to face down the influential pro-Likud groups in Washington. At a time when Mr Obama’s liberal critics are worried he will cave into Republican blackmail on the sovereign debt ceiling, he is showing spine by sticking with Mr Hagel. It also risks provoking some of Mr Obama’s allies: many of the former Republican senators’s biggest detractors are in the Democratic Party.
The nomination also tells us a lot about Mr Obama’s second term foreign policy goals. Following John Kerry’s nomination for the state department, the Obama national security team will now be headed by two decorated Vietnam war veterans both of whom are deeply sceptical of war. Unlike so many of their critics, both men were twice awarded Purple Hearts and both were nearly mortally wounded in combat. In Mr Hagel’s case this will give him credit with the starred generals, most of whom share his scepticism about war with Iran. Whatever exigencies hit the Persian Gulf in the coming months, Mr Obama’s two most senior department heads will be instinctively mistrustful of the military option. Read more
The fiscal cliff may or may not have been averted. But even if the House passes the deal that was hurriedly brokered by Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell on Monday and passed the Senate at 2am yesterday it would merely set up a larger showdown two months from now. Read more
It may not be official. But it seems a fair bet that John Kerry will be the next US secretary of state. Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration – a supremely wise one given how much poison is in the air – leaves the Massachusetts senator somewhere close to being a slam dunk for the job. Read more
Alan Simpson (left) and Erskine Bowles Getty Images
If there is one thing at which Washington does not excel (an admittedly rich menu), it is self-deprecation. The city operates to a kind of Gresham’s Law in which self-importance drives out whatever humour is to be found. Which makes the latest intervention from Alan Simpson, the co-keeper of the nation’s fiscal conscience, along with Erskine Bowles, all the more enjoyable. At 81, the former Republican senator has made his fair share of gaffes – not least his remark in 2010 about the “lesser people” who rely on Social Security. He added: “We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310m tits.” He never really apologised.
With just three weeks to go before the US arrives at a deeply sobering fiscal cliff, Mr Simpson has developed a better line in humour since then. Last week, Mr Simpson said that he hoped that Grover Norquist, the keeper of the Republican anti-tax conscience, would “slip into” the same bathtub in which he famously wants to drown government. Then on Wednesday, Mr Simpson descended into the idiom of the lesser people – or at least the younger ones – with the releases of a “Gangam-style” video exhorting viewers to take to the social networks and campaign against the fiscal cliff . Read more
If I could be a fly on the wall, I would skip today’s White House lunch between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I would rather be buzzing around the caddy when the president next plays golf with John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House.
For a start, no alcohol will be served. Mr Romney’s Mormon faith will forbid him from even accepting a coffee. This puts a ceiling on the potential for candid disclosures – convivial or otherwise. Any half-educated fly knows why the Latin phrase in camomile tea veritas was never coined.
But even if Mr Romney received some kind of a religious waiver and agreed to do a round of tequila shots with the president, this fly would still head for better walls in Washington. For all the White House’s piety about consulting Mr Romney on how to run the federal government better – the main topic of discussion according to Jay Carney, the White House press secretary – real business is unlikely to be conducted. Read more
Another late night in Boston, another Romney fire-fighting operation. “God Bless Half of America,” said one of the milder tweets on the audio of Mitt Romney complaining about the 47 per cent of Americans who “do not pay taxes”.
Viral Romney disaster moments are beginning to crop up with almost metronomic regularity. Read more
Mitt Romney makes remarks on the attack on the US consulate in Libya (Reuters)
There are moments that can indelibly brand a politician and Mitt Romney may just have met his.
The alacrity – and brittle certainty – with which the Republican nominee responded to the violence against US diplomats on Tuesday night offers a snapshot of why his candidacy has failed to attract true believers. On Wednesday morning, Hillary Clinton read out a sombre statement condemning the killing of Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. Forty minutes later, Barack Obama followed suit. Both focused on Mr Stevens’ tragic death. Read more
If Twitter is any guide then Barack Obama may have extracted from Charlotte what Mitt Romney singularly failed to get last week from Tampa – momentum, or what George H. W. Bush once called “the big Mo”. Partly because of what the New York Times described as Michelle Obama’s “high definition” fashion power, the first night of the Democratic convention garnered 3m tweets against 4m for the entire three days in Tampa.
It went off the charts for Bill Clinton’s epic – some would say Fidel Castro-esque – 48-minute primetime address on Wednesday. If Tampa was “good enough” for Mr Romney, but nothing more, Charlotte looks likely to qualify as a boost for Mr Obama’s re-election chances.
But momentum, like many things in life, is not what it used to be. Even if Mr Obama does emerge from Charlotte with “small Mo”, the chances are that it will evaporate pretty quickly. His first hurdle comes on Friday morning with the publication of the jobs numbers for August. Read more
There is no name for people whose job it is dissect the choreography of US conventions. It involves the kinds of skill Kremlinologists used to deploy.
Take the Democratic show in Charlotte this week. Any hardcore politico watching before prime time (between 10pm and 11pm eastern standard time), would see an unabashed celebration of liberal values.
Speaker after speaker defended gay marriage and abortion among other themes guaranteed to get an ovation. They even boasted about Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill – a reform rarely highlighted in campaign events. Every time Mitt Romney’s name was cited, it seemed to be followed by “Swiss bank account”. According to Ted Strickland, the former governor of Ohio: “If Mitt was Santa Claus he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.” Read more
A man sells Barack Obama car air fresheners in Charlotte, North Carolina (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Every four years, Americans ask themselves: “Are you better off than you were before the presidential conventions?” To judge by the falling television ratings, the answer is not good.
This week in Charlotte, Barack Obama and his surrogates will be trying to fend off the Republican line that voters are worse off economically than when he took office. For most Americans, the answer is unfortunately “no” (median incomes have dropped almost five per cent since the recovery began in mid-2009).
The fault may lie more in the stars than with Mr Obama, who can plausibly argue that without his 2009 stimulus people would be far worse off. But his team will continue to respond with an unequivocal “yes” because in the game of politics if you admit any vulnerabilities then nobody – least of all the media – will let you change the subject. The formula is prebaked. Most voters feel worse off than they were four years ago. Yet Democrats are responding with a version of Groucho Marx’s: “Who do you believe? Me or your own lying eyes?” Little wonder the electorate is tuning out. Read more
Condoleezza Rice at the Republican National Convention (Stan Honda/AFP/GettyImages)
Every few years someone takes a convention by storm. At Bill Clinton’s convention in 1992 it was Mario Cuomo, the Hamlet-like governor of New York, who gave delegates a taste of what could have been. In 2004 it was the unknown Barack Obama, who comfortably outclassed John Kerry.
In Tampa in 2012, that moment was expected from Chris Christie, the generously-girthed New Jersey governor. Alas, Mr Christie belly-flopped. Instead, it was Condoleezza Rice, the only prominent former Bush official to be given a speaking slot, who delivered the best speech of the convention – and probably of her career. It was all the more impressive because it was unexpected.
Most people assumed that Ms Rice was invited for two reasons – she isn’t white (a big plus for a Republican nominee who recently got zero – yes zero – per cent rating among African Americans), and because her presence would “validate” Mr Romney. The content of her speech would be neither here nor there. In her short address, Ms Rice pretty much inverted expectations. Read more
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
If there was a word observers most repeated about Barack Obama’s convention in Denver four years ago, it was “soaring”. For Mitt Romney in 2012 it would be “humanising” – making him seem like he is flesh and blood is the key deliverable from the Tampa convention.
By that yardstick there is still some way to go.
On Tuesday night, Ann Romney cleared the low bar the media sets for political spouses by bringing to life a husband who, after 43 years of marriage, “still makes me laugh”. She gave a plausible description of a man who would outwork any other applicant for the job. “He will not fail,” she said to the biggest applause line of the night.
Most tellingly, she described a generous philanthropist who did not like people to know about how generous he is: “This is important. I want you to hear what I am going to say,” she said, lowering her voice. “Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he helps others, because he sees it as a privilege, not as a political talking point.”
Leaving aside the fact that Mr Romney has authorised others to talk about his charitable record (from whom we will hear during the rest of the convention), his wife’s words are not as straightforward as they seem. They contain two messages that Mr Romney will be hoping avoid further scrutiny. Read more
Back in the golden age of the convention, Walter Cronkite may have been the American public’s principal source of news about their candidates. Today, everyone is Walter Cronkite. Read more
So primed was everyone for an iconoclastic Supreme Court ruling that it took a few moments to realise Obamacare had emerged pretty much unscathed. Among those who mis-skimmed the 66-page document were CNN, Fox News and a host of Republican lawmakers. “Individual mandate ruled unconstitutional. Let Freedom ring!” tweeted Dennis Ross, a Republican congressman from Florida. A few minutes later Mr Ross deleted that and followed up with a new one: “Truly disappointed with Justice Roberts and others who allowed this assault on the Republic to stand.”
Legal scholars will pore over what motivated John Roberts to side with his four liberal colleagues and deprive his fellow conservative justices of a majority. Self-preservation might have been one motivation – it would be a rash chief justice who put his name to the obliteration of a sitting president’s signature domestic reform. Political analysts have less patience than scholars. In addition to the pundits, campaign staff for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama instantly agreed that the ruling would offer bigger political benefits to the Republicans. Read more
The gulf between US election fund-raising and the reality of middle-class life beyond the Washington beltway has always existed. But in the 2012 election it is becoming glaring. Read more
Scott Walker at his victory party on June 5. AP Photo/Morry Gash
The great novelist William Faulkner once said: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
On Tuesday night, Republicans issued a warning shot to Barack Obama with the defeat of a recall vote against Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, who last year stripped public sector unions of most of their bargaining rights.
There were plenty of omens for Mr Obama’s November prospects, mostly – but not all – bad (he came ahead of Mitt Romney in the exit polls).
But the fact that normally Democratic Wisconsin is now in play for November may be less important than the relevance of Tuesday’s history lesson. Stalking in the background, and doubtless turning in his grave, was Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin reformer, who championed worker rights more than a century ago. As father to the Progressive Era, La Follette led the reaction against the inequities of the Gilded Age by taking on the great railroad and oil industry money machines. Read more
Donald Trump in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images
Anyone wondering if there is well-concealed method behind the Romney campaign’s continued fraternisation with Donald Trump should watch the following video. Compiled by a Democratic group after Mr Trump’s return foray into “birtherism” this week, it shows what a whopper of a gift the tycoon presents to the Obama campaign. The ad ends with a clip of Mr Romney’s declaration that he likes “to be able to fire people who provide me with services”. The man with the perfect hair should start by firing the man with the imperfect hair. Read more
Inside Obama’s re-election headquarters
As the Republican primary season drags on, the Obama re-election campaign has fired up its engines. This week on Luce Talk, Edward Luce, the FT’s chief US commentator, takes us inside the Chicago headquarters and speaks with Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.
In 2008 Davis Guggenheim made a biographical video of Barack Obama based on hope – the young senator’s lack of experience was studiously avoided. This time round, in Guggenheim’s The Road We’ve Travelled, which, at 17 minutes, is almost twice as long as his first effort, experience is Mr Obama’s chief selling point. It barely even needs a script to press home, although Tom Hanks does a soothing narration. All that is required is to glance at the shots of the youthful president-elect in 2008 versus the grizzled man seeking re-election in 2012. Read more