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To Walk It Back or Double Down, That is the Question.

Bill Santiago   |   September 20, 2012    9:48 AM ET

When politicians or other public figures get in hot water over something they said, they have a choice. Either they can walk it back or they can double down. I used to get confused about which was which. But I think I have a handle on it now.

Walking it back is a form of back pedaling in response to push back that behooves you to back down, although you really don't want to entirely take it back. Doubling down is a refusal to back down, whatever the backlash, even unto a smack down, in hopes that your critics will back off on the double.

Those are your only two options, apparently, when there's a surge of people getting their panties in a wad over your latest sound bite. At least that's the impression I get from the chatter blowing up today's punditsphere.

Presently, it's Mitt Romney's turn. After a trouncing in headlines such as the New York Daily News' "Mitt Hits the Fan," over his tacit dismissal of 47 percent of the electorate as freeloaders, he's making the damage control rounds. As we listen to what he has to say about what he said, let's remember that the visible squirming is typical when walking back or doubling down on secretly videotaped remarks.

If a comment backfires, generating public outcry, protest or ridicule, whoever made it may feel chastised enough to cede a little ground, but prefer to save as much face as possible. In which case, they can try taking the offending remark for a leisurely stroll, escorting it as discreetly as possible, sometimes on tippy toe, back in the direction from whence it came.

"Ryan Walks Back Exaggerated Marathon Time." "Obama Walks Back Claim That Economy is 'Doing Fine.'" "Mitt Romney Walks Back London Olympics Comment." "Bloomberg Walks Back Comment That Police Should Threaten Strike After Aurora." "Why Didn't Team Obama Walk Back Joe Biden's 'Back in Chains' Remark?" "Carney Starts Walking Back Claim That Anti-Islam Video Inspired Riots."

On the other hand, if the comment sparks outrage, but whoever made it isn't feeling particularly conciliatory (either out of conviction or stupidity), they can defiantly up the ante on the original statement, by issuing a full-throated: Yeah, I said it.

"Obama Doubles Down on 'You Didn't Build It.'" "Mitt Romney Doubles Down on His Decision to Politicize Diplomat Deaths." "White House Doubles Down: Obamacare Not a Tax." "Allen West Doubles Down on Obama's 'Crap Sandwhich.'" "Rush Limbaugh Doubles Down on 'Slut' Claim." "Trump Doubles Down on Birther Nonsense." "Clint Eastwood Doubles Down on Empty Chair."

Of course, no one ever actually announces, "Hey, on second thought, I am going to walk that back." Or, "You know what? I am going to double down, baby!" The media, abounding in able referees, decides whether you've walked or doubled, depending on how you deal with the commotion.

If you stand by what you said, or declare it even more emphatically, it's considered a double down. But if you downplay your remark, without making a retraction, admitting a mistake or God forbid apologizing, that's a textbook walk back. A full mea culpa, or unequivocal "my bad," could be considered an extreme walk back, but the whole idea of walking it back is to avoid walking back that far.

Yes, some will try to walk it back and double down simultaneously, admitting fault with the rhetoric but not the gist, or the details but not the plan, or the policy but not the spelling. And it's not unheard of for someone to only pretend to walk it back, when actually just doubling back to walk it forward on the down low.

Here's the really fun part. You don't only walk back comments when you get caught lying, or when private remarks about what you actually think get leaked. Nor do you only double down because you meant what you said, and or know the facts back you up.

It's perfectly common to walk back something that's absolutely true, or that you openly stated you believe and still do, if you nevertheless change your mind about having said it. "Cheney Walks Back Remark About Palin Pick Being 'A Mistake.'" And certainly you can double down on something that you know is totally bogus, if you're the type of person that doesn't let facts get in the way. "Palin Doubles Down on Paul Revere History Lesson."

Whether to double down or walk it back can be a tricky question. Obviously, you don't double down after saying that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy. But if you only walk it back to "forcible rape," you better keep on walking. In fact, if you're up for re-election, you might want to double down on walking it back.

Which, by the way, is much easier than walking it back after you've doubled down. Bill Clinton had an awful time walking it back after he doubled down on the claim that he "never had sex with that woman." So much so that he practically got walked back out of the White House.

Yet in his resurrection speech at the Democratic National Convention, he deftly exploited the current "walk it back," "double down" mania, doubling down on Obama by warning voters not to "double down on trickle down." The speech effectively walked back years of Clinton's previous Obama digs, if only to double down on Hillary's prospects in 2016.

Probably no one was more jealous of that masterful walk back than Rev. Jesse Jackson. Things have been a little testy between Jackson and Obama, ever since the reverend, not realizing his mic was live during a Fox News appearance, said that he would like to cut then Senator Obama's "nuts off."

Castration threats are nearly impossible to walk back. And for all the good his apology did, Jackson might as well have doubled down on his gonadular gaffe. That would take real balls (I know you saw that coming). But if you want to make history, sometimes you have to man up when circumstances double dog dare you to double down.

To be sure, history is rife with examples of its principle characters defending, downplaying or disavowing what they said. While my two new favorite buzz phrases are currently trending in our 24-7, news-spin-repeat cycles, they could have easily applied throughout the ages.

"Moses Doubles Down on 'Let My People Go.'" "Galileo Walks Back Claim That Earth Orbits Sun." "Marie Antoinette Doubles Down on 'Let Them Eat Cake.'" "Columbus Walks Back on Discovering 'India.'" "P.T. Barnum Doubles Down on 'Sucker Born Every Minute.'"

I like to keep that kind of historical perspective in mind. It helps me remember that it makes no difference what anybody says today. What really matters is whether they will walk it back or double down tomorrow.

Bill Santiago, resident comedian on CNN Saturday Mornings with Randi Kaye, has also appeared on Comedy Central and Showtime. He's written for The New York Times, Washington Post and Miami Herald, and his latest one man show, "My Fellow Republicans," premieres Oct, 25, and 26 at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, CA. Checkout his new website here.

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* Bill Clinton's philanthropic summit in NY Sept. 23-25

* Obama, Romney to address separate sessions on final day

* Nigerian, Mexican, Rwandan presidents also due to attend

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK, Sept 10 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are expected to set aside their political differences later this month to speak at Bill Clinton's eighth annual philanthropic summit.

Obama and Romney were invited earlier this summer to attend the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a summit official said, well before Clinton's Democratic National Convention speech last week where he gave a rousing endorsement of Obama and a detailed attack on the Republican presidential candidate.

Obama and Romney will address separate sessions on Sept. 25, the final day of the three-day summit in New York City that brings together heads of state, business leaders, humanitarians and celebrities to make commitments to tackle the world's woes.

It was not known what topics they planned to speak about.

"I'm grateful that President Obama and Governor Romney are taking time to join leaders from all parts of society who choose to address our greatest global challenges through the Clinton Global Initiative," Clinton said in a statement on Monday.

"CGI is built on the spirit of non-partisan, cross-sector collaborations that drive action and I'm proud that, since we began in 2005, CGI members have made more than 2,100 commitments that are already improving the lives of 400 million people all over the world," he said.

Clinton, who this week is due to campaign for Obama in the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio, gave point-by-point criticism of Romney and his vice presidential running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, during a prime-time address to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Relishing being back in the political spotlight, Clinton said Obama should not be blamed for the poor economy he inherited in 2009 and has set the foundations for strong growth - if voters will give him more time and re-elect him on Nov. 6.

But campaigning is expected to be set aside for the Clinton Global Initiative. A summit official said the philanthropic summit was traditionally a non-partisan event.

"The president of the United States, G20 heads of state and U.S. presidential nominees of both parties have always been invited," the official said.

"Senator Obama and Senator McCain both addressed the CGI annual meeting in September of 2008," he said, referring to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

"The invitations to President Obama and Governor Romney for the 2012 annual meeting were extended earlier this summer, prior to the conventions," the official said.

Clinton's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Obama in 2008 - is also slated to appear at the Clinton Global Initiative, along with her Republican predecessor at the State Department, Condoleezza Rice.

The world's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, Spain's King Juan Carlos and Jordan's Queen Rania are also due to attend.

The idea for the summit came from Clinton's frustration while president from 1993 to 2001 at attending conferences that prompted no action. So far the Clinton Global Initiative says it has produced more than 2,100 pledges valued at nearly $70 billion.

The full agenda for the summit can be seen at (Editing by Eric Beech)

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

A Tale of Two Conventions

David Coates   |   September 8, 2012    9:28 AM ET

Charles Dickens came to mind again this week -p his opening to A Tale of Two Cities -- his intriguing contrast between "the best of times....the worst of times...the age of wisdom...the age of foolishness." His cities were London and Paris. Ours were Tampa and Charlotte, but the contrasts remain the same. As we vote in November we need to decide. Tampa? Charlotte? Which offers us "the season of Light," which "the season of Darkness?"

Maybe the conventions can offer us a clue because they were so very different -- different on honesty, different on compassion and equality, different on economic growth and social justice, different on civil rights. Different -- so making it easier to choose -- different, so making it even clearer than it was before, just how vital it is for America's long-term future that Democrats, and not Republicans, win in November.


The first convention, the one held in Tampa, was marked by an all-pervasive lack of respect for the present occupant of the White House and for the truth about his record in office. There was Clint Eastwood and the empty chair. There was Paul Ryan and the Medicare cuts, the failure of Bowles-Simpson and the closure of the Janesville GM plant. There was Mitt Romney on the support Republicans supposedly gave the Obama presidency at its outset, on the "apology tour," and on the throwing of Israel under the bus. There was the persistent subterranean soft birtherism of the Party's repeated claim that only Republicans understood and valued American exceptionalism. (Barack Obama certainly did not. How could he, since he supposedly "just doesn't get it." ) Republican speakers struggled in Tampa to hold together two intrinsically incompatible claims; that America is still the greatest country on the face of the earth, and yet is currently so scarred by un-American levels of unemployment, poverty and indebtedness to China that it requires new leadership at the top. The only way that Republicans could square that circle was to blame the president (and the president alone) for all our contemporary economic difficulties, even though in truth the unemployment, poverty and indebtedness with which we now struggle -- as Republicans well know -- was a legacy from the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama Administration did not create the crisis. They inherited it. Because they did, and because Republicans cannot afford to admit that they did, systematic lying had to become central to the presentation of the Republican case in Tampa. For the underlying truth here is that the policies now being proposed by Romney and by Ryan are the very ones that created our present economic difficulties when pursued by George W. Bush. But no self-respecting Republican dare admit that. After all, "elect us and we will make things worse" will hardly be a winning slogan for Republicans in November. Lying is so much more preferable to truth, when the truth could be so costly in votes.

Now compare that to the underlying accuracy of the message coming from the Democrats in Charlotte. Unlike the Republicans in Tampa, the Democrats were not selling a policy package that was basically fraudulent. On the contrary and convention hyperbole apart, they had an honest story to tell, one indeed that they told endlessly. It was a story of difficult conditions inherited and of best efforts made to address those conditions -- and of those best efforts being made in spite of unprecedented degrees of Republican resistance. "Facts are facts," as Martin O'Malley put it. "No President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Great Depression inherited a worse economy, bigger job losses or deeper problems from his predecessor." Or as President Clinton had it, Barack Obama "inherited a deeply damaged economy." "He started with a much weaker economy than I did." "He put a floor under the crash. He began the long hard road to recovery." He "laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy." Indeed the case for Obama's record was put far better by Clinton than by Obama himself. "No president," Clinton said, "no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years." And particularly could not have done it in the political conditions to which Clinton also properly drew attention. "Maybe," he said, "just because I grew up in a different time... though I often disagreed with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats." It wasn't just honesty that was available in greater volume in Charlotte than in Tampa. It was also civility and the toleration of difference.


Why? Well perhaps because the Tampa convention was attended by a Republican party-base that seemed uniquely low on diversity, high on anger, and short on the compassionate conservatism that more liberal Republicans like Jeb Bush still so enthusiastically espouse. When Mitt Romney, in his acceptance address, spoke of his capacity to create a united America that "will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need," the audience in Tampa largely forgot to clap. When earlier Jeb Bush spoke of every child in America having an equal opportunity regardless of their ethnic background, that same audience was largely silent. But when both men spoke of school choice, the hall became immediately ecstatic. For "choice" encapsulates the escape route theory of poverty resolution. It is Republican code for breaking from poverty by leaving the poor behind. You don't solve poverty. You just shake it off yourself, leaving it for others to endure; and you measure your own success by your distance from the rest. Speaker after speaker at Tampa provided us with personal stories to that effect. Nowhere in those Republican narratives was there any concession to the way in which market competition produces losers as well as winners; or to the resulting inequality of resources experienced by the children of both the winners and the losers, as they -- the children -- begin their own market-based competitive struggle to realize the American Dream. So committed were the speakers in Tampa to a politics that privileged equality of opportunity over equality of outcomes that they entirely failed to grasp the extent to which the "outcomes" produced by the unbridled pursuit of "opportunity" in the years since Ronald Reagan abandoned the war on poverty are now so unequal that only public policy to level the playing field can make the competition in any way fair for the next generation of Americans.

Now compare that to the basic message coming from the Democrats in Charlotte -- to and from a convention audience which was visibly more diverse in its composition than that in Tampa, and arguably also less angry, more hopeful, much higher on genuine compassion. True, the content of last Tuesday's keynote speech paralleled in many ways the personal success stories rolled out in Tampa, but it did so with one key additional element. That although Texas (Julian Castro is the mayor of San Antonio) "may be the one place where people still actually have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them," even so, Democrats "also recognize there are some things we can't do alone. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow." "We all celebrate individual success," Castro said, "but the question is, how do we multiply that success?" Not, according to Michelle Obama, "when you've worked hard and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, by then "slam[ming] it shut behind you." No, "you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed." Instead of leaving the poor behind, the responsibility of middle-class and super-rich Americans alike was and is to address the problem of poverty head-on. We cannot afford, Deval Patrick told the Democratic crowd, to leave the children of the poor "on their own to deal with their poverty: with ill-prepared young parents, maybe who speak English as a second language; with underfunded schools; with neighborhood crime and blight; with no access to nutritious food and no place for mom to cash a paycheck; with a job market that needs skills they don't have; with no way to pay for college." Why? Because those children, he said, are yours and mine too -- and among them are "future scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, engineers, laborers and civic leaders we desperately need. For this country to rise, they must rise." As the party platform put it, "we must make ending poverty a national priority:" not least by raising the minimum wage and by fighting "for equal pay for equal work, a strong labor movement, and access to a world-class education for every child."


The way the Republicans tell it, we have so much federal debt now because Big Government has mushroomed in Washington D.C. And because we have, the best way to restore prosperity to the American middle class -- cutting unemployment and poverty quickly and effectively -- is to reduce the size of government, take the regulatory burden off business (especially off small businesses), lower taxes on everyone (including the super-rich) and let private-sector job creators get on with the thing they do best: taking risks and making profits. The Tampa story was one of a uniquely American individualism and entrepreneurial spirit blocked by a Democratic Administration's enthusiasm for European-style welfare capitalism or -- in more extreme cases -- for Cuban-style totalitarianism. Lost from that narrative was any concession to the fact that federal debt mushroomed after 2008 only because the private sector had already gone into crisis. Lost was any concession that the economy was well on its way to recession before Barack Obama took office, and was heading towards recession primarily because of the excesses of an inadequately regulated private financial sector. Missing from the Tampa narrative too was any recognition that the most successful American economic sectors -- from armament production and finance, through big agriculture, big energy and "Big Pharma" -- are the sectors closest to government and most dependent on federal aid. The Republicans in Tampa kept claiming that "we built it," entirely missing in the process the extent to which both President Obama was right (when he said the "building" relied on publicly provided infrastructure as well as on private initiative ) and that earlier Elizabeth Warren had been right: companies rely on more than the highly-paid person in the top office. They rely too on the quality and commitment of their other stakeholders: not least the people who work diligently to make and sell the products/services the company generates; and the consumers whose income (if rising fast enough) enable those products to be sold, so making profit-taking possible. There was a time when both Republicans and senior business leaders knew that, but visibly those days have now gone.

Compare that to the view of the relationship between public policy and private gain in the basic message coming from the Democrats in Charlotte. "This Republican narrative - this alternative universe," President Clinton called it, "says that every one of us... who amounts to anything, we're all completely self-made.... As Bob Strauss used to say...e very politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself. But as Strauss then admitted, it ain't so. We Democrats think the country works better with... business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. We believe that 'we're all in this together' is a far better philosophy than 'you're on your own.'" "In times like this," as Deval Patrick earlier put it, Democrats "believe that government has a role to play, not in solving every problem in everybody's life, but in helping people help themselves to the American Dream." "We don't think government can solve all our problems," the President told the convention in the midst of his acceptance speech, but also "we don't think that government is the source of all our problems" On the contrary, public spending has a vital role to play in the upgrading of social capital, one reason presumably why the Democratic Party platform is currently replete with proposals for public investment in "clean energy, manufacturing... research, and a network of manufacturing hubs;" and in "roads, bridges, rail and public transport systems, airports, ports, and sewers - all" presented as "critical to economic growth."


The speakers in Tampa were also united in one other general set of assertions: a shared view that market-generated outcomes are everywhere preferable, that state-designed outcomes are everywhere inferior, and that strong market-generated outcomes are never the product of previous sound public policy. The starkest example of that myopia was the speech by Condoleezza Rice, her celebration of her own life as the quintessential story of the American Dream. She told the story as one that took her from the racially-segregated south of her childhood to the color-blind senior positions of the American state; but she told it without once mentioning the civil rights struggles that had won the legislative change which alone had made her personal story possible. Nor did she even genuflect to, let alone condemn, that wing of the current Republican Party that is prepared to undo that legislation on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Add to that too Ann Romney's remarkable opening tribute to the struggles of working mothers, including single mothers -- a tribute worthy of any Democratic Party convention -- but one made in Tampa without any recognition that easing those struggles requires a set of public policies entirely at variance to those now being proposed by a uniquely misogynistic Republican Party. (Given the disproportionate presence of woman among the poor and the old in America, you don't help single mothers by cutting welfare, or retirees by making Medicare a voucher program.) And her husband then capped it all by accusing those of us who favor a degree of progressive taxation of setting Americans against one another: entirely failing to recognize that it is the existing level of class-based, race-based and gender-based inequality that divides Americans one from another, and that sensitively deployed progressive taxation is a highly effective way of bringing us all closer together in a genuine sharing of our collective wealth.

Compare that to the message coming from the Democrats in Charlotte. Against a Republican platform opposed to trade unions, opposed to abortion even after incest or rape, and opposed to any repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Democratic Party platform asserted its commitment to a wide set of civil rights. The comparison between the two platforms is illuminating. "Through Obamacare," according to the Republican platform, "the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life." We "support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children" This, in a section of the Republican program insisting that "marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard," and following one welcoming the spread of right-to-work legislation and proposing the "enactment of a National Right-to-Work law." The Democratic Party platform could not be more different. "Democrats believe that the right to organize and collectively bargain is a fundamental American value; every American should have a voice on the job and the chance to negotiate for a fair day's pay after a hard day's work." "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay." "Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor and her clergy: there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way." And this: the Democratic Party unambiguously "supports marriage equality and...the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples."


So don't let anybody tell you that these parties are the same, or that now is the time for third-party voting. The parties are not the same, and the choice could not be starker. For progressives, the domestic record of the Obama Administration in its first term has been, and remains, a mixture of some things done well and many things done badly: particularly things done badly on home foreclosures, and on poverty programs. But however unsatisfactory the Obama first-term ledger may look when measured against the grandest of progressive hopes in 2008, its center of gravity is still way to the left of anything that the Republicans are offering. So all the important stuff still to be done -- like saving the legacy of the New Deal, setting the path towards renewed middle-class prosperity, having some chance of alleviating poverty on any significant scale, and meeting the civil rights of oppressed minorities and an entire gender -- all this requires that we campaign for and vote for Democrats in November: campaign for Democrats in earnest and vote for Democrats in volume. Whatever else we need in this country right now, we certainly need Barack Obama back in the White House and liberal Democrats back in control of both Houses of Congress -- and we have just two months left to make sure that they are.

The opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities also contain another contrast: one between "the spring of hope" and the "winter of despair." As November 6th approaches, it is time once more to pick a season. We need to pick wisely and we need to pick well.

First posted, with fully notes than is possible here, at

The Old Dawg Still Can Hunt

Robert L. Borosage   |   September 6, 2012    8:05 AM ET

The old dawg can still hunt. At the top of his game, gaining energy from the crowd, Bill Clinton, the "old country boy from Arkansas," tore it up last night in Charlotte. Political junkies, pundits of all stripes and Democratic activists were agog, watching the maestro at work. Fox News talking heads were reduced to muttering that maybe voters got tired and changed the channel.

Clinton set out the frame (kudos to progressive economist Jared Bernstein): the choice between "you are on your own" or "we are in this together." And then he made the case for what Obama had accomplished -- and a crushing indictment of the poisons Romney Ryan are peddling.

Clinton treats his audience as adults, willing to entertain and inform. He pays them the respect of laying out policy arguments. And then delights them with his humor, his animation, his blarney.

He made the points -- repeatedly urging Americans to "listen to this" -- that too often are ignored. That Democratic presidents produce more jobs than Republicans and that modern Republican presidents "tripled the debt" in the twelve years before Clinton took office and doubled in the eight years after he left.

He went after Republicans not simply for abandoning the middle class but for traducing the poor. Perhaps the most telling point in his speech was his explanation that Republicans would reduce Medicaid by one-third -- hurting poor kids, seniors in need of nursing homes and the disabled. The middle class had a stake in the prospects of the poor. Here he was teaching Democrats how to argue this case.

He took the Romney/Ryan mendacities -- Obama made things worse, is cutting Medicare and gutting welfare reform -- and forged them into a club to pummel them with.

But note the contrast between Clinton's address and the powerful speech by Elizabeth Warren that preceded it. Warren reprised many of the same themes about investing in our future -- but she didn't stop there. She let Americans know what the problem was: that the system was rigged against them. That rich and entrenched interests -- "Wall Street CEOs strutting in the halls of Congress" after we bailed them out -- rigged the game for their own benefit. They pushed through the tax breaks and deregulation -- much of it during the Clinton years when Goldman Sachs' Bob Rubin drove US economic policy. They cleaned up and the middle class took it on the chin. Reviving the American Dream takes more than the right policy, it requires taking back Washington and cleaning out the stables.

For all of Clinton's mastery, progressives can't go back to the Clinton economy. That economy was built on the bubble. Clinton championed the deregulation of Wall Street that opened up the financial wilding that eventually drove the economy over the cliff. He pushed through the corporate trade policies -- NAFTA, China's admission to the WTO -- that contributed to our record trade deficits, the off shoring of jobs abroad, the hollowing out of American manufacture. His New Democrats argued that equal opportunity was all that mattered, not equality of outcomes. And then they helped usher in an era in which the wealthiest 1% captured most of the rewards of growth, while working families lost ground. And even last night, Clinton essentially signed Obama onto a version of the Simpson-Bowles agenda which promises debilitating cuts in domestic programs, cutbacks in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in return for "tax reform" that lowers rates on the top for the wealthy and corporations. That's a grand bargain even the old dawg can't sell.

Obama's challenge has always been that he had to build a new foundation for the economy. There is no return to an old economy built on bubbles and debt, on Wall Street gambling and feckless corporate trade policies. The inequality of wealth and income has translated into a money-drenched politics where the rules are rigged.

If this economy is to work for working people once more, workers have to be empowered, skewed CEO compensation deals have to be fixed, global trade imbalances must be corrected, vital investments have to be made in education and training, in children and in the sinews of a 21st economy -- from roads to cutting edge broadband to a smart grid and renewable energy. And that requires progressive tax reform that starts with raising rates on the top, not lowering them, taxing financial speculation, not unleashing it.

As Clinton showed, the case for Obama over Romney/Ryan is clear. We can't "double down on trickle down." But to rebuild the American dream, to revive the middle class, we better make certain that Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown are elected to spearhead a new generation of progressive reform. And we'll need to build a powerful people's movement able to challenge the money politics that now dominate Washington.

What Is the Fundamental American Promise?

Carol Smaldino   |   September 5, 2012   10:10 PM ET

Michelle Obama gave a great speech last night; that's what I heard and what I read. My husband and I, still in Italy, are devout Democrats -- me longer because he came to America when he was 29. So the last thing I want to do to Michelle or Barack Obama is to add to any negative liberal sentiment at the moment. I just have to put in my own vote for a more holistic awareness of America, including the vitriolic tone and the basic divisions that haunt our ability to have due process. With that, I vote for far greater honesty about our confusions and mistakes as well as for efforts to understand the intensity of hate at home.

Mrs. Obama began her speech with talk of our soldiers overseas and those who fight the fight not to walk but to run marathons, the hope "in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said simply, 'I'd give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I still can do.'" She then used the special words many Americans seem to want to hear, after she added that every day she meets people who inspire her. Ready? "Every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth".

I have to object to the exceptionalism for many reasons. I think it's divisive in the midst of a need to respect not only ourselves but others on the planet. I think it's destructive because it leads to avoiding the conversations we need to be having so we can intervene in present wars and learn from history. Afghanistan continues to be a bloody and savage war (see The Savage War: The Untold Battles of Afghanistan, by Murray Brewster, 2011; see the film Charlie Wilson's War for historical background on U.S. involvement). For all the veterans and soldiers Michelle Obama may meet, there are others dead and maimed also psychologically -- forever, with no pride about their "mission" or what they did and saw.

The fact that the Taliban still is so violently present and devastating and that missions to get necessary safety, health services, education and jobs to Afghan citizens have been interfered with by Afghan internal corruption, doesn't really help us resolve what many see as an interminable situation. Yes, we can pull out troops, but who will govern in their stead? This isn't just also about acts of torture committed by soldiers but by the Afghan police as documented by Brewster, a senior defense journalist from Ottawa, Canada.

We are human, and I speak as someone who loves the human side of America, the festivals of light and art and music and the creativity and community in so many of our cities and smaller counties elsewhere. We are just not above the other nations, and many -- too many of us -- are not blessed at all. In fact, many are becoming either so overwhelmed by the hardships of life or on the other end of the spectrum, cold to the needs of the less fortunate.

I desperately want Obama to win, to not lose the gains of women's reproductive choices and not lose the possibility of a coherent health plan. I hope I become blessed enough to understand it. It's not any of that. I just feel that Obama owes us the leadership to face problems head on, to say we are in a tough war in Afghanistan that has been faltering and has been tragic. I want him to say that not enough young people are feeling hopeful about their future and about their bringing wisdom to ours.

The election will be a set of sales pitches, and now that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama seem closer than ever in their purpose of Obama's re-election and who knows what for the wives, he might have a better chance. But there is a lot of resistance to Obama (and there will be that if he wins) from people who demonize him and see him as the terrible socialist he is surely not. And the one thing I understand about leadership that is therapeutic, healing in a general way is and maybe therapeutic to our nation, is to bring the resistance to the fore and discuss it.

Okay, Carol, let's be realistic, it won't happen now. But if Obama does win, and in my way I pray he does, I hope he lifts his head, all of his body and his humanity and begins to discuss not only the distortions the conservatives are heaping on him -- as in he is the cause of the economic downturns and a danger to business -- but other issues along the same lines, out loud. We are in grave need, not just of winning an argument or a vote, but of accepting the challenge of a country that is filled with acrimony and accusation.

The way to solve problems in life and maybe in politics is to study them, to study the why and to come together to compromise. We as citizens can't afford to let politicians at whatever level, settle disputes through golf dates and temporary alliances. We need help, leadership, to organize ways for us to come together and humanize our stories of each other and of our country.

Every time I study the complexity of superstitions, I find my own. In reading this book on Afghanistan, I realize how ignorant I've been, how detached from the war as well. But now in addition to increased knowledge I gain, not only respect, but empathy for most contingents not purposefully involved in brutality -- the Afghan civilians as well.

One way of seeing the fundamental American promise, is that we include the use of our freedom and knowledge to humanize issues and one another, so together we can devise and invent solutions that work. Wow -- if we could start to make that promise.

  |   September 4, 2012    9:06 AM ET

CHARLOTTE -- Four years ago in Denver, Bill Clinton was given the assignment of making the world believe that he liked Barack Obama and wanted him to be president.

Building a World of Greater Freedom and Less Violence, Mr. Romney

Frank Vogl   |   September 2, 2012   10:58 PM ET

Speaking to the Republican Party Convention, Mitt Romney said, "A free world is a more peaceful world." He provided no explanation. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to support his assertion.

Where there is scant freedom, there is also abundant violence and rampant governmental corruption. Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, consistently trail in the global rankings of freedom by Freedom House, of perceived corruption by Transparency International, and in the Global Peace Index published by the Vision of Humanity organization.

Mr. Romney has failed to provide how he will promote greater freedom across the world, while Condoleezza Rice, speaking to the Convention in Tampa, ridiculed the Obama Administration for failing to provide leadership. In fact, President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have taken a courageous stand in supporting civil society campaigners in very difficult, autocratic countries, to the anger of the host governments.

Indeed, there was no mention in prominent speeches at the Republican Convention of the Arab Spring -- a seminal event that inspired public protests in dozens of countries. Tens of thousands of Tunisians and Egyptians started it, overcoming their fears of vicious state security forces, to denounce their illegitimate governments. Their courage has given anti-corruption, pro-democracy campaigns unprecedented momentum in many parts of the world.

Supporting this momentum is vital. When it comes to backing civil society's ability to speak truth to power, the Obama administration has displayed vital leadership. The president set the tone and the strategy early in his administration when on a visit to Moscow in July 2009, he attended a high-profile meeting of civil society leaders.

Typical of the leadership, for example, was a meeting with international civil society groups that Secretary Clinton had in Krakow, Poland in mid-2010, where she stressed, "For the United States supporting civil society groups is a critical part of our work to advance democracy." And, on the same overseas trip a few days later in Yerevan, Armenia, she told another group of civil society activists that, "Democracy requires not just elections, but open dialogue, a free exchange of ideas, government transparency and accountability, and above all, an empowered citizenry, who constantly work together to make their country fairer, juster, healthier and freer."

The rising energy behind many civil society campaigns for justice and personal freedom owe an enormous amount to the efforts of rising numbers of activists, investigative journalists, public prosecutors and swelling ranks of academics in dozens of countries. They have been raising public awareness of corruption, building networks to pool research and ideas, and exploiting the full potential of social media, to encourage protest and reform. U.S. support for those leading campaigns for democracy and against corruption is important.

Too often we fail to fully recognize the courage of those on the front lines. In 2000, as the Vice Chairman of Transparency International, the global anti-corruption non-governmental organization, I had the honor to present our annual integrity award to investigative reporter Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka. On Jan. 8, 2009, he was gunned down when driving to work. He was 52. His last article, penned the day before his death, was titled, "And Then They Came For Me."

Lasantha had consistently investigated and reported on government corruption. His friend, J.C. Weilamuna, who has faced kidnapping, death threats and office bombings, heads Transparency International, Sir Lanka. He knows the dangers, yet he and his team of colleagues persevere convinced that their efforts will secure rising public support and contribute to both freedom and peace in his country.

I believe that in a rising number of countries today we are at a tipping point where bribe-takers and bribe-payers have ever fewer places to hide, where the prospects of sustainable reforms to curb corruption are improving significantly, and where the skeptics can now be sent packing. Yes, huge challenges remain and none are greater than sustaining civil society movements in many countries, from Russia to Egypt, where democracy and personal freedom are under serious threat; and in countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Venezuela, where activists are under daily threat.

The Obama administration has understood how important it is for the U.S. to support civil society, despite risks to government relationships. At stake is the prospect -- now more real in many countries than ever before -- of reducing barriers to freedom and creating less violent societies. Mr. Romney was right to connect freedom and peace; now he needs to show that he will follow the Obama example, if elected, and boldly support civil society led movements for freedom and against corruption.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 10, 2012    3:40 PM ET

COTONOU, Benin — On an epic journey through Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton braved an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda, escaped a swarm of angry bees in Malawi and witnessed a rare snow in South Africa. She even shimmied on a dance floor, gaining the nickname "Secretary of Shake."

As she wrapped up her nine-nation African tour Friday in Benin, Clinton shattered her own travel record, logging 865,000 miles and stops in 108 countries – 10 more countries than her nearest competitor, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 7, 2012   11:06 AM ET

PRETORIA, South Africa — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting the country with the world's highest rate of HIV infection, said Tuesday that American-sponsored efforts to stop the virus "have saved hundreds of thousands of lives" in South Africa.

In the capital of Pretoria, Clinton met with Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and other senior officials in the second cabinet-level strategic dialogue between the two nations. She also participated in a summit of leading U.S. business executives and their South African counterparts with the aim of boosting trade between the two countries.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 4, 2012    1:39 PM ET

NAIROBI, Kenya — Looking ahead to Kenya's national vote in March, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday warned leaders and citizens in the East African nation not to repeat the deadly violence that plunged the country into chaos after disputed presidential elections five years ago.

Clinton said Kenya had the potential to be prove its democratic maturity and be an international model for free, fair and transparent elections. But she made clear that further election unrest would damage Kenya's economy and global standing.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 3, 2012    7:34 AM ET

ENTEBBE, Uganda — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she hopes drones will soon be able to see through jungle cover so they can locate warlord Joseph Kony.

Clinton made the remark in Uganda as she watched a small U.S.-made drone that the Ugandan military uses in Somalia to fight al-Qaida-linked militants.

KEVIN FREKING   |   July 27, 2012    3:48 PM ET

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama raised nearly $2.5 million Friday at three fundraising events, including one where he crossed paths with President Bill Clinton. The other two were hosted by a Virginia businessman and philanthropist who helped hundreds of struggling Americans attend Obama's inaugural in 2009.

Obama met Clinton at a hotel where Obama was attending an intimate fundraiser with 25 donors that brought in $1 million for his re-election bid. Clinton was there hosting a fundraiser for Rep. John Lewis, the Democratic congressman from Georgia. The White House said the two presidents had the opportunity to say hello.