By Mark Green
Four years ago who'd have believed that GOP nominee Mitt Romney would end up with the slogan "Real Change" and with Barack Obama credibly wearing a bombardier's jacket? Former governor Eliot Spitzer and former Bush-Rumsfeld DOD assistant secretary Torie Clarke agree that Sandy wasn't dandy for Romney but differ on whether the final economic numbers are good enough for Obama to prevail. And if he got so many breaks near the end, why isn't 44 more ahead?
On Sandy and Politics. Both panelists lament the terrible loss of life and up to $50 billion economic hit on the New York Metropolitan area, especially, says Torie, "people on the Staten Island and New Jersey shore who lost everything and have nowhere to go."
Not since the Civil War in 1864 -- and Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and 9/11 mayoral election -- has there been such a large exogenous event possibly impacting an election. Torie acknowledges that Presidents have a natural advantage in natural disasters and that Obama did fine, "but around the country there's cynicism about how much of this is for the cameras." Eliot thinks that the storm damaged the Governor in two specific ways: "it stalled what had been a slow gain for Romney before... and if the narrative of the race had been about the function, scope, role of government, what could be a more dramatic demonstration of what government should do than a hurricane requiring government action? Romney is stuck with a narrative that doesn't fit this moment."
Did it hurt Romney when the media are now running tape of him at a GOP primary debate saying with his customary confidence that FEMA should be shrunk and, to the extent possible, its functions should be transferred to the states or private sector? Torie thinks not at all since "a FEMA report about lessons learned from 2004-2011 emphasized the local governments should have the primary responsibility for providing emergency services and resources." And she adds, what about the 6 percent cut from FEMA in the President's proposed 2014 budget? Eliot says, fine, but "when you have to pump out three tunnels [Host: and ship millions of gallons of gasoline], only the federal government has those resources. That's when states need to shoot up flares and shout for help."
As for Chris Christie giving Barack Obama's candidacy a bi-partisan sheen, there's a consensus that the governor was just doing his job... though it's sure an anomaly for the RNC Keynoter who ridiculed the president for not being able to find "the light switch of leadership in a dark room" to now conclude that he somehow found it after a record storm. We listen to the reliably interesting and conservative columnist Charles Krautheimer gripe that Christie's telegenic embrace "was worth a couple hundred mil" to his state.
Climate Change after the Storm. We also hear Mitt Romney in his acceptance speech tease President Obama for wanting "to slow the rise of the oceans." Not so funny now? And will Hurricane Sandy -- after record heat, tornados in the southeast, fires in the West, melting of the ice caps -- lead finally to a greater focus on extreme weather? Neither think it will matter in Ohio this cycle but both think it will be high on the public agenda in 2013.
Why do Democrats by three to one in polls believe that human activity contributes to global warming while a majority of Republicans don't accept that scientific near-unanimity? Is it because special interests such Koch Industries oppose anything that would impinge on their fossil fuel investments? Torie doesn't think opposition is party-based. Eliot attributes it to Republicans reflexively opposing any government intervention to correct market problems, "like with a carbon tax."
The Economy after the BLS Report. Does the final number of 7.9 percent unemployment change the odds in the presidential race? Torie thinks that Romney has the better argument since Obama promised far more than he delivered and made a foolish proposal this week for a new "Secretary of Business." To the contrary, Eliot argues that "nobody seriously thinks that cutting marginal rates for the top will create jobs... and it's hard to see how Romney differs from Bush's policies. This is a Keynesian demand crisis and I don't see Romney having any policies to deal with that."
So who's right? Romney says that this is "not what a recovery looks like" and reels off data about high numbers of jobless and poor; Obama says that "we're making steady progress and can't go back to the policies that got us into this mess." Answer: talk to you Tuesday night.
*Quick Takes: Why is Romney dark on free TV? Why is Obama only tied? Who survives the Silver-Rasmussen contest?
The Host wonders why, since they're both running for the same job, Romney avoids late night shows and TV interviews while Obama is everywhere? Torie, herself a communications expert, hopes that both would answer questions press conferences but laughs off appearances on the Leno, Stewart, Letterman, The View as unserious (though useful to get out the base).
Since so many variables seemed to go Obama's way -- no primary or third party opponent, no Euro collapse, no Israeli attack on Iran, Hurricane Sandy, improving economic numbers - why isn't he even more ahead? Eliot somberly agrees that while these developments help Obama, "expectations were so high after '08 and the economy is still lousy and part of a 30-year trend line of the middle class losing income -- that's the backdrop and reality."
Last, for months Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com in the New York Times has been predicting a 70-80 percent likelihood of an Obama victory based on a poll of polls and historical trends... but Republican Scott Rasmussen has a methodology that nearly always has Romney doing 3-4 points better than the average of all other polls, hence his popularity with the right-leaning RealClearPolitics.com and especially on Fox and in the New York Post ("Romney gaining!" and "Romney takes lead in Ohio!"... though after months of this, his final poll curiously puts them at 48-48). Which one of them will survive the actual result Tuesday? Eliot and Torie agree that the premise of the question is wrong. Eliot: "both will survive since they play to different audiences, though Silver will be seen to be more accurate." Torie: "Politics is a place where if you fail you can move up!"
Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.
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