Obama’s Pennsylvania Polka; Iran Threatens President’s Foreign Policy Advantage
Obama Tries Again to Woo Pennsylvanians
"And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
-- Then-Sen. Barack Obama at an April 6, 2008 fundraiser in Marin, Calif. talking about the reason for the conservative traits of small-town Pennsylvania Democrats.
As Frank Yankovic told us, the Pennsylvania Polka “started in Scranton” but goes “on and on until the dawn.” And Pennsylvanians had better get ready for lots of turns with dance partner Barack Obama.
President Obama is in Scranton today to bash Republicans for resisting his proposal for an extension of the payroll tax holiday first instituted in Obama’s February 2009 stimulus. The president has to hurry if he wants to have the chance to attack the Red Team since Republicans have now made clear that they support the extension of the holiday until after the next election when a more comprehensive tax overhaul can be conducted.
That leaves Obama with the attack line of sniping at Republicans as to how they plan to cover the lost revenues. The problem with the Obama tax holiday is that it comes at the expense of the already impossibly under-funded Social Security program. The president wants to fund his tax holiday extension by… wait for it… increasing taxes on top earners. The Republicans don’t want any tax increases and will soon put forward their own plan for ending the three-year raid on the insolvent Social Security trust fund to finance the stimulus measure.
So, that leaves Obama with the “millionaires and billionaires” attack on Republicans, which is the Democratic focus as the Blue Team gets ready to face half-billionaire Mitt Romney next year. The idea is simple: keep Pennsylvania Blue by proving to the working-class residents on northeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania that Romney is the same kind of guy who sent their manufacturing jobs to China.
If Democrats don’t have Pennsylvania, where the president’s job approval numbers have been poor and voters elected conservative Republicans to the Senate and governor’s mansion last year, it’s hard to see how Obama could win a second term.
But Obama has always been a bit mystified by the politics of the state. His anthropological approach to the 2008 primary, in which he cast small-town Pennsylvanians as a tribe of pitiful homunculi clutching at the old talismans of a vanished culture, kind of said it all.
The Ivy League-educated Hawaiian could show sympathy, but not empathy for the bitter clingers of Pennsylvania. But now, he and his campaign suppose that they can make Romney into an even more foreign creature to Keystone State voters and one whose worldview favors Wall Street fat cats.
Obama’s 2008 success in Pennsylvania came mostly in the Philadelphia suburbs, where Romney aims to use his moderate policy views and high-finance background to cut in to Obama’s margins in places like Bucks and Montgomery counties.
But if Obama can deny Romney the support of culturally conservative, blue-collar voters in the rest of the state, Romney’s suburban success wouldn’t matter.
Obama’s “eat the rich” strategy for 2012 is all about Romney, but as today’s visit shows, it’s all about Pennsylvania too.
If the Republicans don’t nominate Romney or if Pennsylvania voters continue to ignore the president’s economic message, it will be back to the bandstand to call for another tune.
Regional Chaos Threatens Obama’s Foreign Policy Advantages
"To suggest the future of Iraq rests upon our relationship, I think gives us too much credit.”
Facing deep dissatisfaction over foreign policy among Democrats and broad disapproval for his two-year old nation-building surge in Afghanistan, President Obama wants out.
Vice President Joe Biden is on a goodwill mission to Iraq as the last garrison of troops gets ready to roll out of the country. When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki turns up in Washington at the end of the year, Obama will be able to say that he has “brought the troops home.”
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the administration is looking to expedite the drawdown set for 2014. With a politically weakened Obama facing re-election next year and voters unhappy with the surge he announced at West Point in December 2009, the White House is sending increasing signals that the American withdrawal will occur ahead of schedule.
It must look like good politics to a president stuck in the low 40s on his job approval, particularly because his campaign is willing to brandish the scalp of Usama bin Laden to quiet any Republican suggestions of weakness.
But the problem is that the whole region seems very rapidly to be going to Hell.
In Iraq, violence of the old kind – sectarian, al-Qaeda-linked – has been on the rise with the added worries about the rise of Islamism in what was formerly known by supporters as the Arab Spring. In Afghanistan, the American-backed government is not credible and tribal rivalries continue to rend the nation.
The U.S.-Pakistan cold war continues to heat up, with Western forces wiping out dozens of Pakistani troops in a firefight on the Afghan border and Pakistani lawmakers demanding the expulsion of the massive U.S. military, defense and diplomatic cohort located within the borders of our nominal ally. President Zardari, kept in power largely by the Pakistani military’s desire to keep getting U.S. billions, seems helpless to curb the rise of Islamist nationalism.
But the real problem comes from the country at the center of it all, Iran.
Once, America had Iran essentially surrounded. With U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and allies in Turkey and Pakistan plus the well-armed Arab petrocracies just across the Persian Gulf, the West had a tight, five-point collar on Iran.
Iran, the 800-mile wide bridge connecting the Middle East and Central Asia, is closing in on nuclear weaponry. A nuclear-armed Pakistan has been a nightmare. Imagine how much worse global politics will be with a crazier, more centrally located Iran waving an atomic scattergun in everyone’s faces.
Iran is already a destabilizing force, with the help of ascendant Russia and China, both interested in ending U.S. dominance in the region.
With the U.S. speeding its retreat in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan in constant Islamist upheaval, Turkey reversing nine decades of movement toward Western, secular values, and the Gulf States hampered by internal strife and worsening U.S. relations brought on by the revolutionary movement in the region, Iran has a much freer hand.
Iranian mobs have driven the British out of their embassy in Tehran over the latest round of sanctions against the Islamic republic, and the threat of Western powers essentially shutting down Iran’s central bank may drive the ruling mullahs to more daring acts.
Certainly the price of oil will rise as the currency boycott tightens the petroleum supply for the already shell-shocked European economy and drives up gold prices as the clerics trade in bullion instead of rial, rubles and yuan for their oil.
None of that is to say that if Obama were to reverse course on the withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan it wouldn’t be a heavy political blow to the already hobbled president. Far from it.
But, with the situation in the region devolving so rapidly, Obama may not be able to realize the political advantage he seeks in his approach. A muscular Iran, higher oil prices and a resurgence of sectarian terrorists in places where thousands of Americans have fought and died would badly undercut Obama’s current narrative of giving voters everything they want – the end of al Qaeda and the end of a decade of boots on the ground overseas.
The irony for a president who has been obsessed with domestic policy is that foreign policy has been his brightest spot in the polls. If that dims in the coming months, Obama could be at risk of a wipeout.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I didn't hear the word "federal." I think it's a fine distinction, but I wouldn't exactly hang him on that. I think you can say that the entire idea of what he did in Massachusetts is mistaken, and that would be a significant and substantive attack.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.