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Did Gaza Save Jordan?

Daoud Kuttab   |   November 22, 2012   10:03 AM ET

The Israeli onslaught on Gaza this week coincided with one of the worst periods in Jordan's history. Protesters, angry with the price hike of energy products, were more violent and protests larger and more widespread than the Kingdom ever witnessed.

Faced with these unprecedented and extensive demonstrations, Jordan's security personnel were spread very thin, leaving some sectors of the country vulnerable.

It is a well-known fact that populations voluntarily agree to be governed, but when this natural loyalty is shaken, it is very difficult to do so. In the absence of the rule of law a vacuum is created and at times, hooligans and criminals fill this vacuum.

Fortunately for Jordan, local groups of citizens came together to protect strategic and vulnerable locations. One photo that went viral on social media showed a group of young men in Madaba creating a human chain to protect the local Housing Bank. The bank, which has the largest number of branches in Jordan, was chosen by the government to disburse up to JD420 in cash to families making less than JD10,000 a year.

While some destruction and looting took place in some Jordanian cities, the protests and rioting passed without any major or continuous damage.

The police chief, Hussein Majali
, held a press conference and tried to restore the stature of the state, insisting that the rules of engagement had not changed and that peaceful demonstrations will be respected.

While Majali insisted that the police treat all citizens equally, he delegitimized some protest leaders, saying that they had previous criminal records and blaming them for some of the thefts and acts of hooliganism that occurred in the first days of protests.

The protests died down over the weekend, despite a large, and peaceful, post-Friday noon prayers and after the nationwide teachers' strike.

The combination of soft and harsh security responses, the prime minister's blitz media campaign and the beginning of cash payments to the needy contributed to a gradual calming of the internal scene. Externally, however, Jordan and its reputation were facing some harsh evaluations.

A statement issued by the U.S. State Department, calling on the government to widen political discussions, must have worried the government. If Amman could not count on Washington for support, who could it count on?

The Americans quickly remedied the situation with a phone call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the King, followed by public support from the spokeswoman of the U.S. State Department.

The calm in Jordan and the exchange with Washington did not stop the world media from converging on Jordan. Journalists and pundits published and broadcast reports of doom about the Kingdom even before the two-day protests died down.

Fortunately for Jordan, however, the Israeli military campaign against Gaza stole the media lights and ended this short spike in unwanted media coverage of the Kingdom.

The media began following the daily shelling of Gaza and the rocket attacks against Tel Aviv, making the troubles in Jordan appear to be a sideshow.

The scaling down of the protests and the disappearance of the world media from the scene gave the government a badly needed reprieve to consider what has happened in these troublesome days. While there is consensus that the economic situation is dire, there is also a realization that decisions affecting the pocket of the average citizen should not be taken with such harshness and all at once. Furthermore, the absence of the political elite defending the government decision also caused harm to the effectiveness of the government in carrying out its policies.

Having chosen to take difficult decisions few months before parliamentary elections -- based on a controversial law -- meant that no politician wishing to participate in elections is willing to publicly defend this unpopular decision.

Politics and economics intertwine, but this time, Jordan, which has a large population of Palestinian descent, has not carried out large anti-Israeli demonstrations for its onslaught on Gaza, as was usually the case. If anything, this proves that in this instant, economics trumped all other issues, putting even more pressure on the country's leadership to find both an economic and a political solution to the dangerous situation it finds itself in

Sabrina Siddiqui   |   November 15, 2012   11:00 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney claimed during a call with donors on Wednesday that he received a call from former President Bill Clinton, who told Romney that had it not been for Hurricane Sandy, he might have won the election.

ABC News offers the following transcript of the former GOP presidential nominee’s comments:

”I spoke with President Clinton the day before yesterday, he called and spent 30 minutes chatting with me. He said a week out I thought you were going to win. And he said, but the hurricane happened, and it gave the president a chance to be presidential, and to look bipartisan, and you know he got a little more momentum, and of course he also said that when he was watching Ann speak at the Republican convention, he decided he was tempted to join the Republican Party. So he may have just been effusive with generous comments as he chatted.”

Clinton, of course, served as one of President Barack Obama’s chief surrogates in the latter months of the campaign, playing a significant role in breaking down and debunking the vague components of Romney’s proposed tax plan.

The former president would not be the first to frame Sandy for Romney’s loss. In the days leading up to the election, Republican strategist Karl Rove and aides within Romney’s campaign began pointing fingers at the hurricane for halting the candidate’s momentum. Republicans also decried top Romney surrogate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for lavishing the president with praise over his response efforts in the wake of the storm.

But the theory that Sandy is accountable for the president's victory is questionable. Little evidence in both national and swing state polling supported the idea that Romney had sustained the momentum he gained following the first presidential debate.

A spokesperson for Clinton did not immediately return a request for comment.

During the same call reflecting on his loss, Romney also attributed his defeat to "gifts" the president handed out to Latino, black and youth voters.

"The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift," he said. "He made a big effort on small things."

  |   November 13, 2012    8:41 AM ET


* A decade on, former president revisits health inequality

* Initial focus on Arkansas, California

* Verizon, NBC, General Electric among first partners

By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - In one of his last messages to the U.S. Congress as president, Bill Clinton declared disparities in health "unacceptable in a country that values equality and equal opportunity for all," and called for a national goal to eliminate the disparities by 2010.

It didn't happen. But what Clinton couldn't accomplish with his final-days fiat in 2001, he hopes to achieve through his William J. Clinton Foundation.

On Tuesday, he announced one of the foundation's most ambitious efforts yet: The Clinton Health Matters Initiative will try to close the gap in health based on income, race and education, and also take aim at preventable disease.

Health disparities and preventable illness "are robbing people of a lot of good years. We can't let that continue," Clinton said in an interview.

The two issues have proved to be among the most intractable in healthcare, and it is anyone's guess whether Clinton might succeed where others have failed. But his foundation is amassing a record of success on issues from HIV/AIDS in Africa, where it has persuaded drug companies to slash the price of anti-HIV drugs, to childhood obesity in the United States, partnering with beverage companies to get sugary drinks out of schools.

Clinton is taking a similar approach with the new initiatives, enlisting Verizon, General Electric Co. , Tenet Healthcare Corp. and NBC/Universal as corporate partners.

All four - which together employ some 600,000 people - will start or extend wellness programs in their workplaces and communities to fight preventable illness through free exercise classes, organizing walking groups in poor neighborhoods, bringing farmers' markets to "food deserts" where grocery stores are rare and smoking-cessation programs.

The effort to reduce health disparities will start in California's Coachella Valley - where health disparities between communities like Palm Springs and neighboring rural towns are among the highest in the country - and Little Rock, Ark., Clinton's home state.

Verizon is rolling out a number of technologies to help cut the health gap between often-poor rural areas and wealthier suburbs and cities.

Among them, said Dr. Peter Tippett, chief medical officer of Verizon's health information technology practice, are networks that will allow rural doctors to send X-ray images and EKG readings to hospitals for analysis, wireless networks so patients can take their own blood pressure and other readings and have them sent to their doctor, and technology that automatically alerts a physician when a patient with a chronic disease takes a turn for the worse.


LOST YEARS

Reducing health disparities is not only a matter of justice, Clinton said, but also of economics.

"We're devoting more than 17 percent of our GDP for healthcare costs, and the next highest-spending countries - Germany and France - are at 11 or 12 percent," Clinton said in an interview. "But we're not getting healthier."

The U.S. ranks well below many other industrialized countries in infant mortality, deaths from heart disease and other measures.

If U.S. healthcare costs fell to the percentage of GDP of the next-highest-spending countries - the 6 percent savings is just under $1 trillion - "the savings could be used for pay raises and education and technology investments," Clinton said.

Some of the nation's poor health and resulting healthcare spending comes from the gap between rich and poor, black and white, educated and not.

Babies born to black U.S. women, for instance, are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to die than those born to white or Asian-American women, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year. While 29 percent of white Americans have hypertension, 42 percent of blacks do.

Wealth-based health disparities are just as stark. Poorer Americans are so much more likely than better-off ones to be hospitalized, largely due to preventable illnesses such as diabetes and asthma, that eliminating this rich-poor gap would prevent some 1 million hospitalizations and save $6.7 billion in health-care costs annually, found the CDC.

The Foundation has made forays into improving Americans' health in the past. With the American Heart Association, it formed the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in 2005 to reduce childhood obesity. The group forged an agreement with Coca Cola , PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple and the American Beverage Association to remove most sugar-sweetened drinks from schools.

Treating preventable illnesses such as obesity-related diabetes already costs more than $150 billion a year and is poised to cost another $48 billion to $66 billion a year, Clinton said, citing a recent study by researchers at Columbia University. That contributes to the soaring cost of healthcare - now $2.6 trillion, or $8,400 per person and 18 percent of the economy.

"Big employers with a coherent culture of wellness can make a massive difference" by reducing preventable disease, Clinton said. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

Progressive Group Already Taking Stand Against Secretary Of State Rumor

Zach Carter   |   November 12, 2012    1:31 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The progressive advocacy group Demand Progress is taking a stand against Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), amid rumors that he is being considered as a potential replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The group is arguing that Berman's work on a host of controversial Internet issues, particularly his advocacy for the Stop Online Piracy Act, disqualifies him from the position.

"It's outrageous that Berman's name is even being floated for secretary of state, where he'd play a key role in developing global Internet policy," Demand Progress executive director David Segal told HuffPost. "He's made a career of shilling for Hollywood, and Hollywood's been leading the charge for Internet censorship here at home and abroad -- backing SOPA, compelling the government to block access to scores of sites, and even having website owners extradited for posting links to Hollywood movies."

Berman's office was unavailable to comment on a federal holiday. Due to redistricting, this year Berman lost to fellow Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman in a bid for reelection.

SOPA failed in January 2012 after scores of Internet websites and advocates warned that it would violate free speech protections and do irreparable damage to the web. At the time, the Obama administration was divided over the legislation, with some officials who had longstanding relationships with the entertainment industry quietly praising the bill. But the State Department was packed with SOPA opponents, who viewed the bill as inconsistent with the department's own global call for Internet freedoms.

SOPA would have given the government wide powers to censor sites, including the ability to black out entire Internet domains based on the activity of a few users. Twitter, for instance, could be taken down over a tweet linking to an illegal song. This kind of activity, known as DNS blocking, has been explicitly criticized by the State Department when used in China.

Berman ensnared Clinton in a minor misunderstanding during the legislative wrangling over SOPA. In the late fall of 2011, Clinton wrote a noncommittal letter to Berman that argued ending illegal piracy and protecting Internet freedom were compatible policy goals. Although the letter was written prior to SOPA's introduction in the House, Berman and the Motion Picture Association of America touted the letter as evidence of support for the bill. The State Department was forced to clarify that it had not taken a position on the legislation, as the White House had not done so.

Berman is just one of several names that have been floated as a potential replacement for Clinton, who is widely expected to leave at the end of President Barack Obama's first term, a common move for cabinet officials. Others who are rumored to be up for consideration include Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Susan Rice, currently U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

  |   November 5, 2012    7:59 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- By Sunday, Bill Clinton sounded awful, as if he had been gargling with Liquid-Plumr.

Vote for the B-

Robert Scheer   |   November 5, 2012    5:30 AM ET

It's crunch time, and I want to be on record, just in case some still undecided independent voter cares what I think. And one might, since I did write a decidedly non-partisan book on the origins of the economic crisis entitled The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street while mugging Main Street. I have been a harsh critic of Barack Obama for continuing that bipartisan capitulation to Wall Street, but on this and every other matter of serious contention in this election, Romney is decidedly worse.

A vote for Obama in a swing state is a no-brainer because, on a host of issues, including immigration, women's rights, gay rights, health care, campaign finance, income inequality, tax breaks for the rich and the legitimacy of trade unions, there is a vast partisan difference that should not be ignored. It matters greatly who appoints an anticipated two justices to the Supreme Court, which is already dominated by right-wing ideologues.

In a state where a protest vote will not elect Romney, a vote for the Green Party's admirable Jill Stein, the consistent Libertarian Gary Johnson or the populist Rocky Anderson sends an appropriate but measured signal of contempt for the sorry state of our two-party system.

That disgust is warranted by the fact that this president has followed the broad ideological outlines of his predecessor on national security. Witness the continuing assault on due process that is the island prison of Guantanamo and the killing of innocent civilians through drone attacks, as well as the unwarranted Nixonian persecution of alleged whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.

But on all of that, Obama is the lesser evil compared to Romney, who has promised to increase military spending to fight a new Cold War that might, under his stewardship, turn hot against China, Russia, the forlorn Palestinians and anyone else with whom he can pick a fight. Romney is as dangerous as he is inexperienced in such matters. To compensate for his ignorance, he has turned to the same pack of neoconservative ideologues that lied us into Bush's invasion of Iraq.

On economic policy, Romney has attempted to smear Obama as some kind of big government socialist, although the former vulture capitalist would surely have wasted just as much money as Obama rescuing his friends on Wall Street. Neither candidate would stop the Federal Reserve from continuing to purchase toxic assets to save the banks from their own folly. The candidates split on a bailout of the auto industry, with Obama helping save some decent American jobs, and they disagree about how much the obscenely wealthy should pay in taxes, although sometimes Romney disagrees with himself on that score.

Obama sold out to Wall Street when he appointed Lawrence Summers, who had pocketed more than $8 million in bank and hedge fund fees while serving as a top Obama campaign adviser, to be his key White House expert on the economy. This was an egregious error vastly compounded when he appointed as his Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, former head of the New York Fed and faithful ally of the Bush Administration in filling the lifeboats to capacity with bankers. However, Romney blasts Obama for not being solicitous enough in catering to Wall Street greed and defines the extremely minor reforms of Dodd-Frank as an attack on capitalism, when it is anything but.

As Gretchen Morgenson, the sharpest business journalist of our day, noted in a recent column in the New York Times:

Many Americans probably think the Dodd-Frank financial reform law will protect taxpayers from future bailouts. Wrong. In fact, Dodd-Frank actually widened the federal safety net for big institutions. Under that law, eight more giants were granted the right to tap the Federal Reserve for funding when the crisis hits.

But Romney finds objectionable even the slightest improvement in transparency and accountability in Dodd-Frank, including a much needed consumer protection agency championed by Elizabeth Warren. He absolves Wall Street and the Bush Administration that let greed run wild of any responsibility for the economic mess and, indeed, seeks to cut funding for programs that aid its victims.

Romney's talk of the deficit is specious. He would spend multiples of Obama's stimulus on the military, alone, while castigating the unemployed, disabled and impoverished to the hope of charity and warm weather. Consider the millions of Americans kept fed by Obama's hard-won extensions of unemployment benefits and food stamps during the worst lows of the recession. How would President Romney have handled such a crisis?

To employ the vernacular used in my day job teaching college students, I give Obama a generous B- grade for initiating a national health care plan that, while flawed, is a start, ending discrimination against gays in the military, easing the student loan crisis, signing equal pay legislation and appointing reasonable Supreme Court justices, among other achievements. Meanwhile, the rapacious capitalist-turned-candidate Romney -- poster boy of the 1 percent -- denigrates the less economically fortunate among us while growing filthy rich by slicing and dicing good American jobs out of existence and exploiting every tax loophole to aggrandize his own fortune. He earns a solid F and makes Obama look quite good in comparison.

Obama: 'I'm Sort Of A Prop In The Campaign'

Elyse Siegel   |   November 4, 2012   12:14 AM ET

In a speech to supporters in Virginia on Saturday night, President Barack Obama told the crowd, "I'm sort of a prop in the campaign."

"You know, I was backstage with David Plouffe, some of you guys know he's sort of a mastermind of campaign organization and we were talking about how as the campaign goes on, we become less relevant," the president said. "I'm sort of a prop in the campaign. He's just bothering a bunch of folks, calling, asking what's going on."

He continued, "You know, but the power is not with us anymore. The planning, everything we do, it doesn't matter because now it's all up to you. It's up to the volunteers. It's up to somebody knocking on a door. It's up to somebody making a phone call. It's up to somebody talking to their mom, or their dad, or their wife or their husband, or their grandma or grandpa, and that's how democracy is supposed to be. It's up to you. You've got the power."

Obama delivered his remarks after former president Bill Clinton delivered a fiery speech to introduce the president in the critical battleground. The AP reports:

Clinton, his voice hoarse from a flurry of campaign events, said he had given "my voice in the service of my president." The former president vouched for Obama's economic agenda, saying he had done a good job with a bad hand.

Obama, in his fourth rally of the day, sought to draw a connection between the flush economy Clinton presided over and his own policies for a second term, including increasing taxes on upper income earners.

The joint rally drew more than 24,000 people to an outdoor arena on a chilly November night. Obama and Clinton will campaign together again Sunday morning in New Hampshire.

The latest polls out on the presidential race show Obama holding a slim advantage over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in key swing states, including Virginia.

JULIE PACE   |   November 3, 2012   11:23 PM ET

BRISTOW, Va. — With the White House race in its final days, President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail together Saturday night.

Clinton, his voice hoarse from a flurry of campaign events, said he had given "my voice in the service of my president." The former president vouched for Obama's economic agenda, saying he had done a good job with a bad hand.

Clinton Could Remain Secretary Of State Longer Than Expected

Elyse Siegel   |   October 25, 2012   10:20 AM ET

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Hillary Clinton indicated that she could remain President Barack Obama's secretary of state longer than expected.

"A lot of people have talked to me about staying," Clinton explained.

When asked if current events will force her departure date to slip, she said it was "unlikely," but for the first time left open that possibility for the short term.

Clinton has previously said that she plans to step down from her position in the Obama administration after the president's first term should he win reelection.

What the future holds for Clinton, however, remains to be seen.

Clinton reiterated in the interview that she does not plan to mount a bid for the White House in 2016. Despite previously having made the statement on her political future, it hasn't stopped speculation from swirling that she could run in the next election cycle.

Earlier this year, Clinton herself responded to the 2016 buzz during an appearance on MSNBC.

"It's very flattering, but, you know, I'm not at all planning to do that," she said. "I have no, you know, desire or intention."

Veep Debate: Ready to Rumble?

Chris Weigant   |   October 10, 2012    8:49 PM ET

With just four short weeks to go until the election, the 2012 race for the White House has tightened up considerably. Romney's performance in the first presidential debate has given him a solid boost, for now, and Obama is slipping in a number of very key states. Romney has still not "sealed the deal" by any stretch of the imagination, but then again, neither has Obama -- even though a week ago, that's where it looked like he was heading.

Barring an unforeseen "October Surprise" of some sort, we've got three big political events remaining. The vice-presidential debate happens tomorrow night, and there are still two presidential debates on the calendar. Days before the election, one more monthly unemployment number will be released, but the impact this will have may be minor, since history shows that the closer any political event is to voting day, the less impact it tends to have (for better or for worse).

Before tomorrow night, we'll be hearing a whole lot of "vice-presidential debates haven't ever mattered," mostly uttered by the same people who told us, a week ago, that "presidential debates rarely change anything." Since these nattering nabobs of negativism (to use a famous vice-presidential phrase) were wrong before, one has to at least consider that they may be wrong again. Tomorrow's debate may matter a great deal to the voters. The first presidential debate was watched by a jaw-dropping record number of viewers (upwards of 70 million), and it's all anyone's been talking about since in the political world (even the Big Bird stories were tied in to the debate). So perhaps quite a few folks will tune in tomorrow night as well, and perhaps Joe Biden and Paul Ryan may prove to move public opinion this time around.

Handicapping Biden and Ryan is almost impossible. Both men have solid records in one sense, and are on shaky ground in another. Starting with Ryan, he is a very good speaker in contentious question-and-answer settings. The proof of this is his many, many appearances on cable news shows before being named Mitt Romney's running mate. Ryan is always sure of himself, and always has a bevy of numbers to toss in the air. He's a fast-talker, too. Not in the pejorative sense (make your own mind up about that), but in the literal sense -- he speaks so quickly he can uncork a whole lot of ideas in a very short space of time. The quickness of his verbiage actually reaches the extremely high bar set by the fictional characters on the West Wing television show (who were always rushing through hallways, talking a mile a minute, it seemed). Crucially for Ryan, he has the ability of taking very complex concepts, seeing them through his own ideological lens, and presenting the result as the most eminently reasonable way of looking at things. Bill Clinton had the same magic touch.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has had actual debating experience. He's good in debates in an entirely different way. He not only presents his facts, but does so with emotion -- a key ingredient missing from Obama's last debate. Joe also has plenty of real-world political experience both in foreign policy and in the ways of Washington. He's been around the block quite a few times, to put it another way. Also in his favor in debate settings, Biden has a wonderful way of pointing out when the other side is just flat-out being ridiculous. He even had to tone this down in the last debate he took part in, so as not to appear to be "beating up" on Sarah Palin too much. This time, he'll have no such restraint. Finally, Biden relates to his audience well, especially those further down the economic scale. Again, like Clinton, he has the shining ability to feel people's pain.

Both participants have negatives, too. Ryan has never been on a national debate stage, for instance. I would bet this isn't going to be much of an impediment, though, because of all that time he's spent on cable television practicing the modern debating style rather than the formal, traditional style. Look for Ryan to attempt to talk all over the moderator and over Biden, because that's what plays well on cable. It'll appear aggressive, and the only question is whether it'll appear too aggressive to viewers at home. Since almost nobody said Romney appeared too aggressive last week, Ryan will probably feel pretty unconstrained here. Ryan's other big drawback -- one that seems to be coming to light more often -- is that he is pretty short-tempered with people who disagree with him and question his pronouncements. Look for Biden to really try to get under Ryan's skin, in the hopes that Ryan will fly off the handle in some unguarded moment. The last big drawback Ryan's got is the handcuffs the Romney team has placed upon him. Paul Ryan has a few budget bills to his name, but he's only the number two guy on the ticket, and has had to squelch a lot of his own bright ideas because Romney won't fully back them. He's had to say things like "but that's my budget plan you're talking about, not Mitt Romney's," and this could be a big handicap tomorrow night. If Biden hammers Ryan on Ryan's own budget, Ryan will be reduced to using this line over and over again, which may come off as rather weak.

Joe Biden's negatives are... well, tune in to just about any late night comedy show to see. Sigh. Joe Biden has (like it or not) been cast as the comic relief in the Obama administration. Joe occasionally says things inelegantly, to put it nicely. To put it not-so-nicely, the entire punditary world will be on high "gaffe alert" tomorrow night, just salivating over the possibility that Biden will say something they can cut down to a five-second laugh line. Biden's other problem is that at times he can seem almost too emotional. He gets so caught up in being indignant that what he is actually talking about tends to get lost. Paul Ryan will doubtlessly be looking to exploit both of these perceived weaknesses tomorrow night. Biden can also slip into a slightly-annoying speaking trait, where he gets rather repetitive of certain words and phrases (notably, starting his answers with "Look..."). Now, I realize that me saying this of Biden is entering pot/kettle territory (...so to speak... to put it another way... one might say... in other words... etc., etc.), but the real question is whether the voters tune such things out or not.

Tomorrow night's debate should prove to be a fascinating one. It may get downright brutal at times. Both Ryan and Biden are fully capable of going for the jugular, and the Obama team knows it is in a slump. Joe Biden has relished the traditional campaign role of "attack dog" so far this year, and Paul Ryan is equally capable of baring his teeth and getting in the fray as well. Both men will be trying mightily to provoke the other to the point of saying something they really shouldn't, which should certainly make for some interesting television. Biden is more experienced at this sort of thing, and he's got a lot of real world experience to draw upon, although there likely will be no opening for a "You're no Jack Kennedy" type of line for Biden to showcase Ryan's inexperience. Ryan's a lot better than Dan Quayle ever was, in other words.

Tomorrow will be an important night. In normal times, of course, "veep" debates aren't that big a deal. After last week's presidential debate -- and Romney's subsequent surge in the polls -- this time around the stakes are a lot higher than normal. Viewership may set a record (although likely not as high as the record set last Wednesday). Of course, this is how the media loves to frame these events, but this time it may actually be true. The media also loves underdogs, and at this point, the Obama/Biden team occupies this role.

The only thing I'd bet on in both the lead-up and aftermath of tomorrow night's debate is that the media focus will be on feistiness and snarkiness. Look for endless boxing ring metaphors to be deployed. The veep debate coverage will be downright pugilistic in nature this year:

"Who will be the creep and who will put us to sleep? Will Republicans sweep or will Democrats reap? Will one campaign be thrown on the trash heap? Tune in Thursday... Thursday... Thursday! It's the 2012 Battle For Veep! Let's get ready to RU-UMM-MMM-BLE!!!"

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:
ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
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Vive le Bill (Clinton)

Layla Demay   |   October 2, 2012    1:53 PM ET

Oh Mon Dieu. Bill, mon président!

While Bill Clinton was the uncontested winner of the Democratic National Convention and its aftermath, many thought, if only he could be president again.

Think no more: Bill Clinton, being the genius that he is, has found the solution.

And I support this message.

Bill Clinton can, and should be president of France!

Earlier this week, he explained to Piers Morgan on CNN that he could become president of France, because Arkansas where he was born, was once part of French Louisiana, and as such, Bill is eligible to receive French citizenship, the (almost) only requirement to run for higher office in France.

It is so thrilling to know that Bill wants to lead my country. Vive le Bill. Vive la France.

Unfortunately, while it used to be true, this whole Arkansas-Louisiana-France connection no longer works. But there are many other simple ways to gain French citizenship. So let me volunteer to marry Bill.

As spouse of a French citizen, he could immediately apply for citizenship. You might argue that the process would take a long time. No problem. The next French election is five years away anyway. By then, I can guarantee that under my training, Bill would be fluent in the French language (another requirement) and mores. French political lingo is full of English words anyway and impeachment and term limit are not among them.

Bill would have to own a home in France, which sounds only a sensible thing to own whether you are planning your retirement or launching your next political gig. He would not even have to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

As French president, he would know how to charm Angela Merkel into embracing a European stimulus package. He would (finally) pass healthcare reform. Who better than him to bring France onto the path of a three-trillion surplus? And trust me, the Socialist party is so much further to the left than he is, that no one would even think of calling him a Socialist! Sign me on!

The French have always liked Bill Clinton's personality, lifestyle and values. When he came under fire during his presidency, France felt outraged at this invasion of privacy.

But since he left the presidency, Bill Clinton has changed. Bill has cleaned up his act. No more excess. No more ravenous appetite. And the French don't like that.

We have traditions in France. We expect our politicians to be bon vivants. And Bill no longer is.

He used to eat burgers and steak and chicken enchiladas. According to CNN, "At one campaign stop in New Hampshire, he reportedly bought a dozen doughnuts and was working his way through the box until an aide stopped him."

Today, Bill is a vegan and France simply can't relate. As my friend Guillemette Faure, a French correspondent who covers French and American politics, noted, "You can't rule France if you don't eat dairy."

President Charles de Gaulle once said: "How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?"

So Bill, let me tell you: If you want to be president of France, you'd have to eat them all!

"Is He One of Us?" The Only Real Issue in the Debates

Blake Fleetwood   |   October 1, 2012    4:48 PM ET

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful... They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are...
- "The Rich Boy" (1926), F. Scott Fitzgerald

Not all rich politicians fail the "Is He One of Us?" test. Nelson Rockefeller, John Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt all convinced us that they had our interests at heart. But in the end, they had to become traitors to their class to prove it.

Mitt Romney is not made this way. He is a Republican. He thinks that we should all get rich, and as nice a notion as that is, it's magical thinking.

In the good old days, when political bosses picked candidates who had the best chance of winning, the central question they thought the voters would ask was:

Is He One of Us?

More and more, the 2012 presidential campaign has turned from a referendum on economic issues -- have Obama's policies worked? -- to a question of comparative trust.

It's not that we want candidates who are just like us, but we ask: Do they really know us? Will they take care of us? Will they fight for us?

Voters don't really care about other issues. Most issues are boring.

Voters have a "what's in it for me?" mindset.

Am I going to get a job? Am I going to keep my job? Will the stock market go up? Will my pensions hold up in the future? Can I afford medical care? Will my kids be able to get job? Who will protect my country best?

And the candidate who can convince voters that he cares, that he is one of them, is the one who will get their votes. The candidate who can tell voters a clear story of what they are going to get and how it's going to help them, is the one who will win.

Presidential candidates -- and all politicians -- are salesman. The number one rule of any car salesman? The customer is always right.

Does he really care about us? Will he take care of us?

Voters believe they can tell this by how candidates look and act under pressure. It all counts -- personal associations, beliefs, character, and statements at private fundraisers. Personal baggage tells a lot, even if it's trivial. Will Romney be able to seize the moment? Fifty million viewers will be watching and 200 million will hear about it from Jon Stewart and the rest of the media and social networks.

As Romney has stumbled from gaffe to gaffe, he seems to have, again and again, lost sight of the critical answers that he has to deliver to win.

One example is the choice of Paul Ryan, which has backfired with loyal senior citizens -- who were once the Republican's most reliable supporters -- and who are now deserting the party over fears of Medicare cutbacks and Social Security.

Another instance of Romney's tone deafness are his "inartful" comments about not caring about the 47 percent of Americans who get money from the government. Lots of people, it turns out.

Neither candidate is really a good debater. Despite Obama's vaunted oratory skill, in debates the president rambles and becomes professorial. Romney seems uncomfortable in his own skin and, when pressed, tends to rely on statistics to make his points. He needs to be more visceral. Think: "I feel your pain."

His staff has been prepping him with a series of zingers and one liners. But can he deliver them without being stiff and stilted?

Neither candidate is a good storyteller, as Bill Clinton was in his speech at the 2012 Democratic convention, when he enthusiastically articulated a better path forward.

In fact, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are elitists.

Obama surely cringes when he is reminded that in front of wealthy donors in 2008, he commented on the folks in Pennsylvania, who cling to guns and Bibles as "crutches" because they cannot cope with the global economy.

But Obama transcended that difficult question -- "Is he one of us?" -- with middle-class white voters. He brought back the auto industry and saved millions of jobs for middle-class workers. You don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Obama needs more fluency with the kind of sound bites that will resonate with ordinary voters. Overall, he has a good hand going into the first debate. Political pundits say he will try to run out the clock and take no risks, which was his strategy in the 2008 McCain debates. But the race may be too close for such complacent tactics. It's Obama's debate to lose, but he has to keep reminding himself to connect to people.

If the debates -- and the election -- turn into a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy, he will lose. If the question becomes which of the two candidates has the best answers for the future, Obama will win. Obama will tie our economic woes to the Republicans, and ask, "Why in the world should we give back control of the country to the very people who got us into this mess in the first place?"

Unless Romney makes a credible, detailed case as to why his policies would be different from those of President Bush, he is going to have an uphill struggle. It is not going to be enough to just attack Obama.

Romney has to play offense. His past debate performances against Ted Kennedy (1994), John McCain (2008), and at the Republican primaries (2012) have not been very sure-footed. He should try to goad Obama into such mean-spirited gaffes as "You're likable enough, Hillary," which Obama uttered in the 2008 primary debates.

In the past, Republicans have managed to win presidential elections by sticking an elitist, far-left image on Democratic candidates: Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Al Gore and John Kerry all went down this way.

For the next six weeks, the Republicans are going to cram this elitist perception of Obama down the throats of the voters. They will try to "define" the Democratic nominee, just as they defined Kerry as an elitist windsurfing snob, instead of the war hero he was.

Of course, most Americans already know who they are going to vote for by start of the debates (and many will have already voted), but there still remains the possibility to reset the dynamic for the 6 percent who haven't really made up their minds.

Write to: jfleetwood@aol.com.

The Obama and Romney Debates Do Matter

Earl Ofari Hutchinson   |   September 28, 2012   10:16 AM ET

The conventional wisdom is that debates are virtually meaningless. Countless studies, surveys and polls have tracked presidential debates and their impact on voters over more than five decades. They looked at the gaffes, the routine ducks and dodges, the gestures, and the physical appearance of the candidates. The Nixon and Kennedy debate in 1960 showed a disheveled and nervous Nixon. In the 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford uttered the colossal gaffe, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." In the 1980 debate, Reagan zinged Carter with the classic question to the audience," "Ask yourself, 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago'?" In the 1988 debate with Bush Sr., Michael Dukakis horribly fumbled a question about the death penalty. In the 1992 debate against Clinton and Ross Perot, Bush Sr. repeatedly glanced at his watch. In the 2000 debate with George W. Bush, Al Gore sighed and rolled his eyes impatiently and exasperatedly.

Their fumbling performances barely nudged their poll numbers down. Though, in a close race the bump up for the debate winner can be huge. But it usually doesn't last. The proof of that is Democratic presidential contender John Kerry. He beat the pants off Bush II on the issue of foreign policy in their 2004 debate. Kerry got an instant poll bump-up. Yet Kerry still lost. The reason for the problematic importance of presidential debates is not hard to find. No matter how ineffectual, or just plain bad, a Republican presidential contender, the overwhelming majority of Republicans will still dutifully pull the lever for him. Likewise, no matter how ineffectual or just plain bad, a Democratic presidential contender is, the majority of Democrats will dutifully pull the lever for him. The hard balkanization of American voters along party lines was glaring apparent in 2008. Despite the endless warning that Obama might be done in by racism, namely that hordes of white Democrats would not vote for a black candidate, it never happened. Obama got more white votes than Gore or Kerry, and a crushing majority of the vote of white Democrats.

By the time of presidential debates most voters have already heard enough and seen enough of both candidates. They have long since made up their minds who they'll pick. They don't generally flip to the other side on a whim or based on something that they heard from the other candidate that suddenly touched a nerve.

It will be the same this time around. Obama and Romney are well prepped, rehearsed, and skilled, and won't stray from their talking points. Republicans will claim victory for Romney. Democrats will claim victory for Obama. It will be tantamount to an NFL game with a tie score after one overtime period. It goes down in the books as a tie. The Romney versus Obama debate will be the same.

Still, the debates do matter. More Americans will be watching the candidates at one time than at any other time during the campaign. They can't totally slip and slide for an hour or so around every thorny issue and talk in vague and sound bite generalities on the issues. They'll have to be at least marginally specific on how they'll deal with policy issues and problems. This will give some glimpse of what they're likely to say and do if they wind up in the Oval Office on these issues. Americans will also get a rare chance to see the candidates show a flash or two of emotion in answering the scripted questions. This in itself is the rarest or rarities in the age of the dumbing-down gossip, mayhem, sports, and celebrity chitchat that passes for news and information and is spoon-fed daily to American audiences.

The jousts that Obama and Romney will engage in and the barbs they will toss at with each other will tell much about which candidate is the niftiest and nimblest on their feet with a pointed response or rebuttal to an attack. Americans want presidents to be able to think on their feet and respond thoughtfully and swiftly to a crisis. They regard this as firm leadership. This instantly tags an administration as a resounding success or a dismal failure. Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton had the gift to respond or at least were perceived to respond effectively and quickly to demanding situations. Their administrations are given high marks by historians. Nixon, Carter, and Bush Sr. were seen as sorely lacking in that area and their administrations are downgraded accordingly.

Then there are the events and issues that define the candidate and that give them an edge with the public before the debates. Dukakis's death penalty answer and Ford's Soviet Union gaffe didn't sink either of them in their poll numbers after their debate. But it did reinforce the notion among Democrats and Republicans that their man was the best choice for the job. This gave them even more incentive to get to the polls to punch the ticket that they had already decided to punch for them.

Romney needs a big and impressive win in the debates to claw back into the race. But as the history of presidential debates show the chance is that whatever bump up he gets from that won't last. When the dust settles, the Obama and Romney debates will do little to change the minds of most voters. They will simply further convince Obama's backers that their guy is the right choice for the White House. They will do the same for Romney's backer. Their debate will still be great political theater, though.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.

JULIE PACE   |   September 28, 2012    8:14 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton will be back on the campaign trail on behalf of President Barack Obama.

Obama's campaign says the former president will hold an event in New Hampshire on Wednesday, the day of the first presidential debate. Obama and Republican Mitt Romney debate two more times in October.