09/16/2012 07:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES : Is Romney "Better Off" After Conventions & Libya?

By Mark Green

The issue is not whether it's been a bad two weeks for Romney-Ryan but whether it's been, in the words of Daily News veteran Thomas DeFrank, "a self-inflicted game changer"? Hard to recall when the mainstream media (and many conservatives) so collectively dressed down a GOP nominee as Mitt Romney for construing a Cairo Embassy comment about an Islamophobic film as an Obama "apology" for America. Combined with a measurable poll vault for the President, there's much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing by Republicans over whether the campaign has died at the starting blocks or only just begun.

*On the Obama Bounce -- Why? Adding up major polls (and ignoring the tilt of Rasmussen), what's clear is that Obama has increased his national lead from fractions of a percent to about 5 percentage points -- what happened at the back-to-back Conventions that produced this result? And why the panicky assessments from hard-core regressives -- Limbaugh, Palin, O'Reilly, Ingraham, Caddell ("this is the worst campaign in my lifetime!") -- on their nominee?

"Two words," answers Eliot: "Paul Ryan." The former governor argues that the VP pick initially "energized the Republican base" but then his "acceptance speech was so false and out of touch especially on social issues" that viewers and voters were turned off. Then when the presidential nominee failed to lay out clear, specific policies, people morphed Ryan into Romney. As for the Republicans engaging in the usual Democratic-like "circular firing squad," Eliot attributes it to pundits and prospects getting ready to explain a likely loss and position themselves for 2016.

Kellyanne doubts this Ryan affect though acknowledges that "the frustration with Romney has always been -- he changes his mind, he's a flip-flopper... This should be an easy run against Obama given jobs and the economy. Romney still looks uncomfortable and can't or won't define himself. Go stand in front of a Sports Authority [a Bain Capital success story]!"


The Host suggests a different theory: Republican leaders have so often repeated that Obama is an un-American amateur with no record to run on that when some viewers saw for themselves these were Fox fictions, there was a shift. Granholm/Kerry/Patrick/Michelle/Bill/Joe/Barack were all so on message about POTUS's record that they validated David Axelrod's assertion that "we have a better candidate and arguments." For example: speakers in Tampa praised their nominee about 200 times; speakers in Charlotte praised their president three times as much -- and the line that "Bin Laden is Dead and GM is Alive" is a sticky one.

*On Romney's Comments about Libya. We listen Peggy Noonan on WSJ TV conclude that Romney looked "weak" in the Muslim film-rioting imbroglio -- and then hear NBC's Andrea Mitchell speculate that his unusual attack came right after many conservatives [described above] were urging him to get tougher.

Kellyanne says that Romney did better in his next morning comment than his first evening's press release but wonders why Both Sides Now is focusing on someone who wasn't the President rather than the one who had a) so mishandled the Arab Spring, b) was himself inexperienced internationally and has shown it , c) hadn't adequately called out al-Qaeda for the murderers they are and d) hadn't visited or treated Israel well as President.

Eliot vehemently pushes back. It was George W. Bush's world views, he argues, that led him to make "every conceivable error including the war in Iraq and now his people are advising the feckless, etch-a-sketch Republican nominee." His initial comments on the riots in Egypt and Libya "were beyond a mistake. Just as John McCain looked like a deer-in-the-headlights after the Lehman collapse in 2008, now that foreign policy is on the table Romney has shown himself to be incapable." As for President Obama, "he's been a strong friend of Israel despite the efforts of those who don't understand the matter or distort the issue. Also, Libya now has a pro-U.S. government although there are still radical elements there."

*On the Reagan-Romney Question -- "Are You Better Off" Four Years Later?

We listen to the usually smooth and trenchant Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland mis-answer this seminal question at the Convention when CBS's Bob Schieffer asks it. "No, but that isn't the question... " So the Host asks it again, this time on the exact fourth anniversary of the day Lehman Bros. collapsed in 2008.

With 30 continuous months of private sector job growth and a doubled stock market, Eliot is incredulous that anyone could conceivably maintain that we're now worse off. Then we were enroute to a 10 percent unemployment rate and a GDP decline of 9 percent in the first quarter of 2009. "We were sliding toward a depression -- indeed Chicago School founder Richard Posner thought we were in a depression -- and on the verge of disaster in the auto industry and by every economic metric. Now we've come back. It's not even a close call. Yet now some argue we should go back to the same misguided policies that created this calamity?"

Kellyanne, however, notes that unemployment has exceeded 8 percent for 40 straight months, with the poverty rate for women being at a record high and black youth unemployment being at 16 percent. "People are asking whether they can afford to purchase the essentials, make college payments, keep grandma at home... Polling shows that people say they don't feel better."

So why then is Obama then ahead in current polls? She answers that Bill Clinton's smart formulation in his Convention speech -- "none of my predecessors and not me could have turned this around in one term" -- has started to convince some voters that we should give our economic captain more time to steer the ship to safety.

*On the Chicago Teachers Strike. We listen to Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis -- and then Gov. Chris Christie and AFT president Randi Weingarten -- describe this epic fight through very different lenses. What is the strike about and how might it end [which is happening as this is written Sunday evening]?

Eliot and Kellyanne agree that charter schools should continue to grow. OK, most analysts and teachers themselves will say that charter schools can be a good way to experiment... but what should be done about the 96 percent of children now in regular public schools in Chicago and NYC? Both agree that the short school day and year in Chicago should be extended and that using students test scores should be part of a teacher's evaluation, though neither can say specifically how much of a part. According to Weingarten, they should play a role but this data "should be comprehensive and fair and not tied significantly to an old measure that no longer works."

*On Quick Takes: Ex-Seal's Book; Jackson's Political Diagnosis. Role reversal! Eliot says that he could sympathize with Matt Bissonnette, the former Navy Seal who wrote the #1 best-selling "No Easy Day" on the Bin Laden Raid, watching the White House leak information about it while he couldn't share his personal perspective. Kellyanne, though, thinks he was selfish and reckless to disclose secrets in order to be part of the celebrity culture and make money. "If anything should be sacrosanct, it's the military." Might he prosecuted for violating his oath of office? Eliot doubts that AG Eric Holder would end up suing the guy who shot (a prone) Bin Laden.

Rep. Jackson couldn't be found two months ago and then his family and doctors disclosed that he was being treated for bipolar disorder (like the fictional CIA agent Carrie Mathison in Showtime's Homeland). Now that he's been released and is running for reelection, should voters care and should he openly discuss his condition to demystify it? Finally, some consensus: It's up to voters to decide what matters to them and he'd probably be better off being transparent about a situation that everyone now knows about and most probably sympathize with.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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