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