Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, fresh off an important primary victory in Florida, found himself quickly in damage-control mode Wednesday after the multimillionaire candidate said he's "not concerned about the very poor."
Mr. Romney's full comment, made in a CNN interview, emphasized his concern for the difficulties faced by ordinary working Americans.
"I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling," Romney said.
Later, the former private-equity executive reiterated that "my energy is going to be devoted to helping middle-income people."
Still, the "not concerned" comment lands Romney in some hot water with many of the voters he would face if nominated by Republicans to run against President Obama this fall. Already, one of Romney's prime tasks is to persuade voters he understands them and doesn't live in a separate world of the ultrarich.
The remark also raises a question: Which groups of Americans are really "struggling" the most now?
Political analysts and economists could slice and dice the electorate in various ways to explore the answers, but here's a look based on the parameter Romney himself mentioned: income.
Last fall, a Gallup survey asked Americans to rate their own personal finances. In that poll, 47 percent of all respondents with incomes of less than $30,000 rated their own finances as "poor." That was a much larger share than for other income groups. About 16 percent of those with income between $30,000 and $75,000 rated their finances poor. And 3 percent of those with incomes above $75,000 called their financial position poor.
Similarly, Americans in the lower-income group in Gallup's October poll were much less likely to say their finances were getting better (26 percent said that). And while large numbers in the other income groups said their finances were worsening, the below-$30,000 group was the only one with an outright majority (60 percent) in that camp.
The poll is one indicator that Romney may be on thin ground asserting that it's especially middle-income Americans who are struggling.
Census data also point in that direction. In the most recent annual report on incomes and poverty, the Census Bureau found that poverty rose in the US between 2009 and 2010, with 46.2 million people classified as poor (a rise of more than 2.5 million people).
In all, 15.1 percent of Americans are classified as poor, or about 1 in 7.
This doesn't mean Romney's remark is without any grounding in reality.
It's true that there's plenty of financial discontent among middle-income Americans. Obama has deployed a task force on that issue, seeking answers to everything from college debts to challenges saving for retirement and paying for health care.
And it's also the case that America does have a significant array of safety net programs. Romney mentioned food stamps, Medicaid, and housing vouchers. The list could go on, including disability insurance, unemployment insurance, and the earned income tax credit.
"My first thought was: hey, I’m glad he recognizes the existence of and need for the safety net," former Obama administration economist Jared Bernstein wrote in a blog post Wednesday. "My second thought was … um … he’s gonna shred it" through his proposed spending restraint.
With Romney in the news for the gargantuan investment-earnings on his tax return, the candidate's comment appears likely to linger as fodder for critics in a possible general-election campaign.
The US government will run a $1.1 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2012, according to the Congressional Budget Office‘s just-released Budget and Economic Outlook. Measured as a share of the nation’s economic output – which is how economists like to measure it – the FY 2012 deficit will constitute 7 percent of US Gross Domestic Product. That’s down a tick from 2011, when the deficit ran to 9 percent of US GDP.
Well, it looks like things are getting a bit better, red ink-wise. What’s going to happen in the budgeter’s magical world of the out years, the fiscal years to come?
According to CBO’s basic forecast, deficits will start to plummet. They will drop below $200 billion annually in fairly short order. Between 2013 and 2022, deficits would average only 1.5 percent of GDP, under CBO’s current-law projection.
RECOMMENDED: Budget stalemate: Why America won't raise taxes
Wow! That’s great, right? So everything’s under control. Nothing to see here in the budget. Move along, folks. Why, over there, we notice an exciting proposal to build a US colony on the moon over there – why don’t you go gawk at that?
Not so fast. Here’s the problem: CBO’s basic forecast is almost certainly wrong – and the folks at CBO, from the director on down, know it.
That’s because CBO has to build its forecasts based on current law. At the moment, existing law calls for a number of fiscally exciting things to happen. Bush-era tax cuts are supposed to expire, for instance.
Congress is more than likely to wrestle over the question of whether, and how, to extend some or all of those cuts. Congress will also consider whether to continue to protect many Americans from the jaws of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and whether to allow deep cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians to take effect, among other things.
“The decisions made by lawmakers as they confront those policy choices will have a significant impact on budget outcomes in the coming years,” wrote CBO director Doug Elmendorf on Jan. uary 31 on his blog.
As it happens, the CBO this time around prepared an alternative budget scenario that is based on what might happen, as opposed to current law. Call it a vision brought to you by the Ghost of Budgets Future.
Under this vision, most expiring tax cuts are extended. (That costs $3.8 trillion from 2013 to 2022.)
The Alternative Minimum Tax is indexed for inflation. (Under current law, it is fixed. The number of taxpayers it affects is scheduled to jump from 4 million in 2011 to 30 million in 2012.)
Medicare’s payments to physicians are kept at the current rate. (Under current law, they’re supposed to be slashed by 27 percent in March.)
The automatic spending cuts mandated by the inability of Congress to agree on a budget reduction plan in the fall don’t take effect. (Right now they’re supposed to whack some $109 billion a year out of the budget beginning in January.)
All of the above actions are at least politically plausible, in varying degrees. Taken together, they’d devastate deficit reduction efforts. Deficits would average about 5.4 percent of GDP during the 2013-2022 timeframe, instead of 1.5 percent.
“Under that alternative fiscal scenario, far larger deficits and much greater debt would result than are shown in CBO’s baseline,” writes CBO chief Elmendorf.
The budget watchdog group Concord Coalition constructs what it calls a plausible budget baseline based on realistic assumptions about what Congress will and won’t do. (Congress has continually acted to prevent the cuts in Medicare payments to doctors from taking effect, for instance.)
Under this realistic scenario, annual deficits remain in the trillion dollar range for years to come. If nothing else, this demonstrates that the budget isn’t going to be brought under control by nips and tucks and an attack on waste, fraud, and abuse, notes Concord Coalition director Robert L. Bixby.
“We need a comprehensive plan that spreads the burdens and sacrifices fairly, and includes all major areas of the budget: entitlement programs, domestic discretionary spending, defense and taxes. In addition, we need reforms in the congressional budget process to help ensure that solid deficit-reduction plans are not derailed,” Mr. Bixby said in a statement linked to the Tuesday release of CBO’s report.
RECOMMENDED: Budget stalemate: Why America won't raise taxes
After the results come in from Tuesday's Florida primary, however – and, if the polls are to be believed, Mitt Romney takes the state's delegates – the candidates head into a very different month of election contests.
February is a month of caucuses, smaller states, and geographic diversity. It's also a month that plays largely to Mr. Romney's advantage.
Next up is the Nevada caucuses on Saturday – an event that has been all but ignored by the media this year, because of Florida jumping ahead in the primary calendar. The last poll there was taken more than a month ago, showing Romney with a slight lead.
Nevada is a natural state for Romney. He won it by a large margin in 2008, when he took 51 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates. It's one of the few states with a sizable Mormon population (Romney is Mormon), and it's close enough to Utah that residents remember Romney's role in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
The only other candidate looking forward to Nevada – and to the other caucus states – is Ron Paul, who has been campaigning heavily there. Representative Paul, whose backers are particularly loyal, tends to do well in caucus states, and his libertarian message is also likely to resonate more with Western voters than with those in the South.
Mr. Gingrich is already playing down his chances. At a campaign event Monday in Florida, Gingrich told a crowd, "Nevada's tricky because of the Mormon influence, but we have a shot at it."
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond acknowledges that February holds some challenges for the former House speaker – particularly the contests in Nevada and Michigan. Romney grew up in the latter state and has a distinct advantage there.
Of those, all but Arizona are caucuses, and none of them have any recent polling data. (A poll in Colorado gives Gingrich an edge, but it was taken nearly two months ago, when Gingrich was at his peak nationally.)
Still, Romney seems to have an edge because of the calendar – along with the geography, which is heavy on the West, with a bit of the Northeast and Midwest thrown in. The lack of debates (only one is scheduled in February so far) doesn't help Gingrich, either.
In many ways, given the small numbers of delegates in play, February is a dead month before the real Super Tuesday showdown on March 6. That means it's unlikely to put an end to Gingrich's (or perhaps another candidate's) campaign. Nevertheless, look for Romney-friendly headlines and momentum in the coming weeks, and a tougher road for Gingrich.
Usually, Mr. Romney recites the words to “America the Beautiful” in his stump speech. But on Monday night, at a rally in The Villages, a big central Florida retirement community, Romney added the tune – and the crowd joined in. Perhaps he was feeling extra chuffed, what with the polls predicting a big victory here on Tuesday.
But if this were "American Idol," Romney might have something to worry about. And he should be grateful Mr. Cain is out of the race. Cain, the former pizza mogul, wowed his audience back in October with a rousing rendition of “Imagine There’s no Pizza” to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” And who can forget President Obama giving us a few enticing lines of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” a couple of weeks ago?
Romney, at least, gave it the old college try. See for yourself.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.
This week, Ron Paul is likely to win more delegates to the 2012 GOP convention than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. In fact, he’s likely to win more delegates than Gingrich and Santorum combined.
“Hold it”, you’re saying, “How can that be? Rep. Paul’s polling in single digits in Florida. He’s going to finish behind Gingrich and Santorum, as well as Mitt Romney, in Tuesday’s Florida primary. How can that translate into beating any of his rivals at all?”
We’ll tell you how – because he’s not winning those delegates in Florida. He’s winning, or will probably win, at least a few delegates in Maine.
Paul took a quick two-day swing through Maine over the weekend, in case you didn’t notice. He met with GOP Gov. Paul LePage. He spoke to big crowds throughout the state – in Lewiston, apparently, event organizers had to expand his conference room to handle the people who showed up.
He even landed the coveted L.L. Bean endorsement – that's Linda Lorraine Bean, heiress of the L.L. Bean empire and a lobster roll entrepreneur in her own right. She endorsed Paul on Saturday from her restaurant in the retail outlet mecca of Freeport.
Asked why she wasn’t supporting fellow New Englander Mitt Romney, Ms. Bean said “I’ve always been for Ron Paul”, according to a statement posted on Paul’s campaign web site.
As we’ve previously reported, unnoticed by most of the DC-based political establishment, the Maine caucuses actually began this weekend. So Paul wasn’t in Maine just because he likes riding around in salt-crusted Subarus.
Most Maine towns will hold their caucuses during the state GOP’s preferred window of February 4-11. But “most” doesn’t mean “all”. Lincoln, Lowell, Burlington, Chester, Enfield, Winn, and Howland held their joint caucus on Saturday. Millinocket’s was on Sunday. And so forth.
Each Maine caucus is holding a presidential preference straw poll, the state-wide results of which will be announced February 11. This poll is non-binding. But each caucus is also starting the process of selecting delegates to the state and national GOP conventions. The Paul campaign is making a big push to get its people involved in politics at this level. It is highly likely that some Paul supporters won delegate slots over the weekend – news reports indicated that the Paul crowd was making a big pitch at some caucus sites.
Asked whether he was going to win Maine’s caucuses, Paul told Crowley, “We did pretty well three years ago [in Maine] and we weren’t nearly as well organized. And Romney’s been popular up there, but less so right now. So I would say that we have a very good chance.”
Now Maine has only 24 delegates total, so it’s not like the Pine Tree State strategy is a springboard that will somersault Paul into the White House. Florida has 50 delegates, almost twice as many, despite the fact that it’s been penalized by the national GOP for advancing its primary.
But Florida is winner-take-all. That means, if Gingrich and Santorum finish behind Romney, as polls currently indicate they will, neither of them will win any delegates. Nada. Zip.
So Paul only had to score one more delegate in Maine this weekend to outperform them, convention-wise.Given that Maine Republicans tend to be more libertarian than socially conservative, and given that Paul actually campaigned there, we think that's a likely occurrence.
Of course, the comparison is not entirely fair. At this stage in the race, the higher priority for both Gingrich and Santorum is maintaining a sense of momentum and a flow of donation dollars. Both could accomplish that by performing well in Florida, whether they win any delegates or not.
Paul, in contrast, already has a core of committed supporters and enough money to keep going to the convention in Tampa. He’s not trying to win the presidency as much as he is trying to maximize his ability to spread his libertarian message.
Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary despite widespread publicity about his messy divorces and multiple marriages. Sarah Palin and some other conservative women have publicly supported the former House speaker, saying that in their view he’s the true grassroots tea party champion in the race.
On Sunday New York Times columnist Gail Collins went so far as to say that the former Speaker could go down in history as the politician who proved that voters don’t care about the dalliances of their elected officials.
But Mr. Gingrich may still have a problem with female voters. In Florida in particular, he’s less popular among women than he is among men. That gender gap is contributing to the sudden reemergence of Mitt Romney as the favorite for Tuesday’s Florida primary.
A new Mason/Dixon survey for a number of Florida news outlets showed Gingrich and Romney virtually tied among men. But among women Gingrich again trailed, by 46 to 27 percent.
Similarly, Public Policy Polling’s overnight tracking results showed the two Florida front-runners tied among males, but Romney leading among women by a whopping 13 points, 43 to 30 percent.
“Mitt Romney is holding steady in our Florida polling,” said Dean Debnam, PPP president, in a Monday press release. “It looks like the main suspense in the state is whether he’ll win by single digits or double digits.”
It’s unclear whether women are reacting against Gingrich’s marital history, his combative nature, or his attempt to position himself as the conservative alternative to, in Gingrich’s words, a “Massachusetts moderate.” But notably, the PPP survey breakdown shows that almost equal percentages of male and female respondents rated themselves as either very or somewhat conservative. So it is not the case that women are disproportionately moderate, and thus more likely to support Romney.
Ms. Palin’s support of Gingrich is an interesting test case. In a statement on her Facebook page, she notes that Gingrich is “an imperfect vessel” for tea party support, but argues that the GOP establishment is simply carpet-bombing him in its attempt to keep control of the party and keep tea partyers down.
“The challenge of this election is not simply to replace President Obama. The real challenge is who and what we will replace him with. It’s not enough to just change up the uniform,” wrote Palin in her Facebook note.
But as of Monday morning the wall section of the chief Mama Grizzly’s Facebook entry was full of comments from her followers (of both genders) discussing whether Gingrich was in fact the right choice for the tea party, with many expressing discontent with Palin’s choice.
Wherever Newt Gingrich goes these days – stumping in Florida, arguing on televised debates with fellow Republican presidential hopefuls, jotting down notes for his umpteenth book – he carries with him a scary but useful ghost: Saul Alinsky.
The radical community organizer (gone now these 40 years) is the specter on which Barack Obama has modeled his life, Mr. Gingrich warns. It’s no coincidence, he says, that both Alinsky and Mr. Obama were from Chicago or that the president passed up far more lucrative possibilities to become … a community organizer.
“The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky,” Gingrich said in his South Carolina primary victory speech, a charge he finds many ways to repeat. "Saul Alinsky radicalism is at the heart of Obama,” he said on CNN.
So who was Saul Alinsky?
Born in Chicago in 1909 to Russian immigrant parents, Alinsky worked his way through the University of Chicago, then dropped out of grad school to organize the poor in the city’s slums, demanding better working and living conditions. He went on to do the same thing in other US cities.
Published the year before he died in 1972, Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals” has been compared with the writing of Thomas Paine, and it inspired many young idealists (including, apparently, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote her Wellesley College senior thesis on Alinsky).
"What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be,” Alinsky begins his book. “The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away."
Some compare Alinsky’s activities and goals with a more recent American political insurgency.
“The Tea Party comes from the same sense of outrage that the elites, as Gingrich calls them, are running the country,” Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political scientist and former Chicago alderman, told Bloomberg News. “The Tea Party has understood how to mobilize their anger and turn it to political results, which is the underlying motif of Alinsky.”
Alinsky, Mr. Simpson says, was “a master community organizer who attempted to organize people without power, people that today we’d call the 99 percent, by using the strength of numbers to overcome clout and wealth.”
FreedomWorks, the tea party group headed by former Republican House leader Dick Armey, gives copies of “Rules for Radicals” to its leaders. “His tactics when it comes to grass-roots organizing are incredibly effective,” FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon told The Wall Street Journal. Tea partyers aggressively confronting lawmakers at town hall meetings is straight from Alinsky’s playbook.
Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. called the Chicago radical "very close to being an organizational genius."
As a former history professor, Gingrich not only understands Alinsky’s motif, he’s made it a key part of his campaign.
“Gingrich's clashes against the establishment are classic Alinsky,” writes Philip Klein, senior editorial writer for the conservative Washington Examiner.
Democrats may rankle at Gingrich’s painting Obama as an Alinsky acolyte – a sort of red-baiting, although Alinsky never joined any organization, communist or otherwise. But some Republicans say the former House speaker himself is destructively channeling Alinsky when, for example, he goes after Mitt Romney’s wealth.
“I expect this from Saul Alinsky. This is what Saul Alinsky taught Barack Obama, and what you’re saying is part of the reason we’re in so much trouble right now,” Mr. Giuliani said.
All of which makes for a very interesting development within conservative American politics, including the Republican Party.
“GOP nomination fights are often described as battles between Rockefeller Republicans and Goldwater Republicans,” writes Mr. Klein. “In 2012, Gingrich has brought us the Alinsky Republican.”
Newt Gingrich wants to establish a colony on the moon, in case you haven’t heard. At a campaign stop on Florida’s Space Coast Thursday he promised that the US would have a permanent lunar base by the end of his second term in the Oval Office.
He talked about it as if it would be a lunar Plymouth, mankind’s brave foray into a lunar unknown, though he himself did not make that direct comparison. He even put out some ideas as to how the place should be governed.
When Moon Base Gingrich holds enough people, it should apply for statehood, he said.
“I think the moon primary would come late in the [campaign] season,” he said, smiling. This was either hubristic or charmingly self-aware, depending on how one views the prospect of the former speaker in the White House.
As Gingrich noted Wednesday, he’s outlined his ideas for space self-government before. As a young member of Congress in 1981, he introduced a bill he now refers to as the Northwest Ordinance for Space, but back then went by the more prosaic name of National Aeronautics and Space Policy Act of 1981.
BuzzFeed has dug up an actual copy of this legislation from the Library of Congress, and it’s pretty interesting. Much of it consists of an order to NASA to set 30-year goals for everything from a new “operational world information system” (Newt invented the Internet!) to manned Mars and moon missions.
Title IV covers “Government of Space Territories.” It begins in a sweeping manner: all persons residing in any US space community (which could be anywhere from the moon to Jupiter, we guess) “shall be entitled to the protection of the Constitution of the United States.”
Wow – this means that any terror suspect caught at a US moon base couldn’t be shipped to Guantánamo, right? Also, any baby born to an illegal US moon base immigrant would be a US citizen, raising the possibility of moon birth tourism.
The second section of Title IV says that when a US space colony holds 20,000 people, it will be able to hold a convention to establish a constitution and form of self-government for itself. Kind of like Philadelphia in 1787, only with external oxygen supplies.
Title IV’s third section establishes that whenever said space colony holds the same number of people as the least populous US state (right now, that’s Wyoming, at 544,270) it will be admitted as a US state “on an equal footing with the original states.”
That raises a question – if you’re the senator from the moon, would you get in trouble with constituents for not traveling home often enough to take the pulse of Tranquility Base? Because you probably couldn’t do that Friday-to-Monday.
Anyway, Gingrich himself kind of poked fun at himself for all this, saying that he’s old enough to have read “Missiles & Rockets Magazine” as a kid, and that the whole thing might be the “weirdest” policy idea he’s ever proposed.
But let’s be honest – he’s running a Florida primary, and Florida’s Space Coast right now suffers from high unemployment. Gingrich might be crazy like a space fox here.
Slate’s Dave Weigel wrote about Gingrich’s speech under the head “Not Actually Crazy.”
“It’s an idea that makes the New York/Washington-Alinskyite media guffaw. It also happens to be a pander to local voters that no one will try to make,” wrote Mr. Weigel.
After all, in the late 1960s, NASA drew up plans to establish a moon base by 1980 and send men to Mars by 1983. But these were cancelled by then-President Richard Nixon, notes Space.com in an outline of presidential visions for space exploration.
Nixon was worried that the government spending was too high – and NASA was a convenient target.
It was the finger wag seen ‘round the world. Or at least arcing across the blogosphere.
“It looks like she’s giving him the business,” said Doug Luzader of Fox News.
Immediately the question became: Was Brewer showing disrespect for the presidency, or merely engaging in brief spirited debate with a fellow politician over one of the hottest issues in an election year?
“With all due respect” has been a cliché forever, usually uttered just before the rhetorical knife gets inserted.
Like the other night when Herman Cain (remember him?) was giving the “tea party response” to Obama’s State of the Union speech.
“With all due respect, Mr. President, some of us aren’t stupid,” Mr. Cain said, finishing the sentence with a phrase that could be considered insulting.
“Politics ain’t beanbag,” humorist Finley Peter Dunne’s fictional Mr. Dooley said back during the early 20th century, and from ridicule to assassination, presidents always have been the brunt of attack.
Abe Lincoln was portrayed in cartoons of the day as ape-like – long before Barack Obama got the same treatment at some early tea party rallies. George W. Bush’s image frequently mirrored the all-ears “What, me worry?” kid on the cover of Mad magazine.
But Obama – the nation’s first African American president – seems to have endured more of that.
Three years after his election, he’s still battered by “birthers” challenging the legitimacy of his presidency – most recently in Georgia, where Republican state lawmakers this week are trying to have him removed from the state’s March 6 primary election ballot based on the charge that he is not a natural born US citizen.
There may have been raucous responses to presidential addresses to Congress in the past, but it was Obama who had to hear Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina shout “You lie!” in 2009 as the president spoke about health care. (Wilson later apologized, sort of.)
This week, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refused to attend a White House event honoring the Stanley Cup champions, a nonpolitical event if ever there was one. Tea partyer Thomas cited a government that is “threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people.”
Thomas’s decision may not have been personal; he says “both parties are responsible for the situation we are in.”
Although some commentators defended his action as reflecting freedom of political opinion, it was widely seen as a snub to Obama – perhaps to the presidency, since the White House ceremony for the professional hockey champions represents national recognition by and for sports fans of all political stripes.
“He’s a phenomenal hockey player and he’s entitled to his views, but it just feels to me like we’re losing in this country basic courtesy and grace,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (a Democrat) said this week.
“I didn’t think much of President Bush’s policies – two wars on a credit card, prescription drug benefit that we couldn’t afford, deficit out of control – but I always referred to him as ‘Mr. President.’ I stood when he came in the room,” Patrick said on WTKK-FM.
Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee Sen. John McCain had heard some of his rally supporters shout that Obama was a “terrorist” and a “liar.” When someone shouted “kill him,” McCain felt the need to respond, and so did the Secret Service.
"We want to fight, and I will fight, but we will be respectful,” McCain said at the time. “I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments and I will respect him. I want everyone to be respectful and let's make sure we are, because that is the way that politics should be conducted in America.”
Perhaps so, but that hasn’t happened so far. Attack ads by “super PACs” that can distance themselves from the candidate they support – a relatively new phenomenon since the US Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision – are just one indicator of today’s political atmosphere.
"It seems like that practice of disrespect is growing and growing and growing," Dahnke said. "It's eating away at the boundaries which say, you go this far and no further."
Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and President Obama got into a little tiff at the airport in Phoenix yesterday, if you haven’t heard. Governor Brewer was waiting at the bottom of the steps when Obama alighted from Air Force One. She handed him a letter, they started talking, and things quickly got, well , out of hand. According to photos from the scene, at one point Brewer appears to be waving her finger in Obama’s face.
Was Brewer disrespecting the President of the United States?
Well, she says she wasn’t. At least she says she wasn’t deliberately waving her digit up around his eyeballs in a threatening manner.
“When I talk I am animated and I talk with my hands,” Brewer told Greta Van Susteren last night on Fox. “The picture was probably shot when I was moving my hands around.”
However, Brewer went on to describe Obama as “thin-skinned.” He was complaining about how she had depicted a White House meeting between them in her memoir, “Scorpions for Breakfast,” she said.
The subject of that meeting was Arizona’s tough law cracking down on illegal immigrants, which Brewer signed into law and the administration opposes.
“It was [as] though President Obama thought he could lecture me, and I would learn at his knee,” she wrote. “He thinks he can humor me and then get rid of me.”
Well, we’ve got a couple of things to say about this.
First, if Brewer’s account of the incident is accurate, why did Obama bring the book up?
Somebody who wrote a book with that title like “Scorpions for Breakfast” isn’t going to shy from a fight, rightly or wrongly. President Bill Clinton would have eased the moment with a joke – handed her a scorpion paperweight, perhaps – and then pulled Arizona’s Medicaid funds when she wasn’t looking.
Second, the subject is fraught right now, so maybe they’re both on edge. The fate of Arizona’s immigration bill is before the Supreme Court, which will make a decision prior to the 2012 election. The bill requires local police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain who they suspect is here illegally, among other things. The high court decision could shape US immigration policy for a generation – so when that comes down, the finger-wagging thing will seem like a minor blip.
Third, politically-speaking, the incident may help both parties.
Look at how it’s already boosted Brewer’s profile: she was on Fox discussing it only hours after it was over. Twitter is full of people who want Newt Gingrich to name her his vice-presidential choice. That wasn’t happening a day ago. And right now, Obama isn’t doing great in Brewer’s state, so the finger-wagging shouldn’t hurt her at home.
A Public Policy Polling poll from last November put Obama’s approval rating in Arizona at only 41 percent. According to PPP, right now Obama trails Mitt Romney in a head-to-head match-up by around six points.
That said, Arizona is a state Obama could conceivably win in the fall. Its large Hispanic population might be energized by the president’s stance on immigration, and could rally around him due to their own governor’s hard-line position. The more threatened Hispanics feel, the more they might turn out in November.
“An Obama victory in Arizona next year isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility, but it looks like an uphill climb,” said PPP in November.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.