David Cameron also spoke to the President about the potential to launch negotiations for an EU-US trade deal during the summit.
The pair gave a press conference following their talks, at which the Prime Minister said, “The relationship between Britain and the United States is a partnership without parallel”
EU-US trade deal
Writing in today’s Wall St Journal, the PM explained that a free trade area between Europe and the US could add £10 billion to the British economy:
Trade is not a zero sum game where one nation’s success is another’s failure. Trade makes the cake bigger so everyone can benefit. Take the free trade area between Europe and the US on which we hope to launch negotiations when President Obama is in Northern Ireland for the G8 next month. This deal could add as much as £10 billion to the British economy and £63 billion to US GDP. But the rest of the world would benefit too, with gains that could generate 100 billion euros worldwide …
An EU-US deal is just one building block of a more dynamic world economy. If G8 countries complete all of their current trade deals and those in the pipeline, it could boost the income of the whole world by more than $1,000 billion.
Fairer taxes and greater transparency
The PM also wants action at the G8 to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance and to increase corporate and government transparency around the world:
I am meeting President Obama at the White House today to get America’s full support for this agenda. By promoting more trade, fairer taxes and greater transparency, Britain and America can once again lead the way in meeting the greatest challenge of our time: securing the growth and stability on which the prosperity of the whole world depends.
Syrian conflict and responding to terrorism
The PM and President Obama also discussed how to find a political solution in Syria.
Speaking at a joint press conference with President Obama, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would be providing an extra £30 million of humanitarian support for the victims of the Syria crisis.
The UK continues its work supporting the moderate opposition as a means of increasing pressure on the regime. David Cameron was keen to discuss how the UK and US can together help to establish a stronger and more credible opposition inside Syria.
Later today, the PM visited FBI headquarters in Washington for a detailed briefing on their experience of responding to terrorist incidents. He asked for the meeting in the wake of the Boston bombings to establish if there are any lessons that the UK can learn from the FBI’s handling of the attack.
After this, the PM flies to Boston for further talks about how US authorities responded to the Boston marathon attack. On Tuesday 14 May, the PM travels on to New York for meetings of the UN High Level Panel on development goals.
Deficit hawks rely on media allies to report budget doom to advance their agenda of cutting Medicare and social security
Many of the nation’s most important news outlets openly embrace the agenda of the rich and powerful that colors its coverage of major economic issues. This is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than during the current budget standoff between President Obama and Congress, which the media routinely describes as the “fiscal cliff”. This terminology seriously misrepresents the nature of the budget dispute, as everyone in the debate has acknowledged. There is no “cliff” currently facing the budget or the economy.
If no deal is reached this year, then on 1 January, daily tax withholdings will rise by an average of about $4 per person. Any money actually deducted from pay checks will be refunded if a deal is subsequently reached that returns tax rates to 2012 levels. Government spending probably won’t change at the start of the new year, since President Obama has considerable discretion over the flow of spending. No one can think that this modest increase in tax withholdings would plunge the economy into a recession, but the Wall Street types seeking to dismantle social security and Medicare have used their enormous wealth and allies in the media to generate this kind of fear-mongering across the country.
One way in which they have pushed their agenda has been in misrepresenting projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO’s projections show that if higher tax rates and lower spending are left in place for the whole year, then it will substantially slow growth and push the economy into a recession. However, these projections explicitly assume that we go a whole year without reaching a deal. They say nothing about what happens if the government cuts a deal by the second or third week in January. Even a Washington Post editor should be sharp enough to understand this distinction; nonetheless, many stories have implied that the recession projections apply to missing the 1 January deadline.
Wall Street types have also pushed this idea that the markets are demanding for programs like social security and Medicare be cut. This sort of assertion, which is treated as a fundamental truth by the Washington insider crowd, has the wonderful feature of escaping contradiction. Of course, none of us knows exactly what will trouble the financial markets or by how much that trouble would hurt the economy. (In fact, even a sustained drop in the stock market has a limited effect on the economy, and short term fluctuations have almost no impact.) This means that when Wall Street, or their designated mouthpieces, make authoritative-sounding claims that the markets will be upset if we don’t cut social security or Medicare as part of a budget deal, there is no direct way to refute them. After all, it is possible that they might be right.
If economic reporters did their job, though, they would be looking for evidence to support these assertions about financial markets. They could start by looking at the track records of those issuing the warnings. If they examined the track records of people at organizations like the Campaign to Fix the Debt, and other deficit hawks, they would reveal to their audiences that these “experts” have the distinction of being almost 100% wrong on just about all their economic predictions over the last five years.
This crew has been predicting that large budget deficits would cause interest rates to skyrocket ever since President Obama’s first round of stimulus, almost four years ago. Many also predicted that inflation would explode. Yet, none of them warned us about the housing bubble: they were too busy running around the country yelling about the budget deficits even when the deficits were small enough that the debt to GDP ratio was actually declining.
In short, major national news outlets have adopted the agenda of the Wall Street elite that displays zero evidence of any understanding of what drives the economy, wholesale. Their assertions that the markets will panic without a budget deal that cuts social security and Medicare have no apparent foundation in reality. It is just a threat that they have concocted to advance their agenda. Now, that would make for a very good news story.
The Conservatives and Labour should both note that President Obama won re-election by capturing the centre
As soon as one race for the White House ends, another begins – the sprint among British politicians to try to associate themselves with the winner. “Warm congratulations to my friend @BarackObama. Look forward to continuing to work together,” tweeted David Cameron – or more likely the under-strapper manning the prime minister’s account since the message was sent at 6.07am. Ed Miliband’s team were caught snoozing under their duvets. It was not until 8.41am that a rival tweet went out in the name of the Labour leader: “Congratulations to @BarackObama – great victory based on building fairer economy and optimism about what politics can achieve.”
Whether or not he can use his historic second term to heal America, Barack Obama did succeed in uniting David Cameron and Ed Miliband – and Nick Clegg for that matter too. All three wanted to see him returned to the Oval office and all three think his victory is encouraging for their own fortunes.
The most obvious reason for Tories to be celebrating is that he won re-election in adverse economic circumstances. Nick Clegg has also been drawing some comfort from the fact that President Obama did not join Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi and the rest of the political casualties of the age of austerity to become the 18th leader hurled from office since the crash of 2008. The Lib Dem leader taunted Labour with the thought: “The lesson of the presidential election is that voters’ memories are longer than opposition members seem to think. Voters remember who created the mess in the first place.”
It has been frequently said that this is the first major victory for incumbency in the west since the credit crunch. That’s not actually right, unless you don’t count Australia, Canada and New Zealand as important countries.
Julia Gillard, who became Australia’s Labor prime minister after deposing Kevin Rudd in a party coup, was returned to office in 2010, though it was a narrow squeak. In 2011, Stephen Harper, the Canadian Conservative, turned a minority government into a majority one. Also last year, John Key secured re-election for the conservative National party in New Zealand. So Barack Obama is not the only exception to the rule that incumbency is a liability in austerity. He is the most striking. As one of David Cameron’s aides puts it: “Breaking the hoodoo of incumbents being chucked out is very significant.”
They have one thing in common, this select group of leaders who have defied the anti-incumbency trend. They initially took power after a long period of rule by the other side. Labor came to office in Australia after 11 years of Liberal government. The Canadian Conservatives had been in opposition for 13 years. Labour-led governments had ruled New Zealand for nine years before Mr Key. Mr Obama became president after eight years of Republican control of the White House. This made it more plausible for them to assign blame for economic travails on their inheritance from the other lot. “Obama told the American people it’s not our mess, but we’re doing our best to fix it,” says one Conservative strategist. “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to work out that this will be a core Conservative message at the next election here.’
Labour retorts that, in contrast to the austerity economics of the coalition, President Obama pursued a policy of stimulating growth, avoided a double dip recession and, in the final stretches of the campaign, could point to a positive turn in some key indicators to argue that the worst was behind America. No one can say with confidence whether that will be the case in Britain in 2015. Even if there is a return to growth, some Tories worry that it will be a voteless recovery if it does not translate into an improvement in living standards. President Obama’s victory shows it is possible for incumbents to be re-elected in tough times. It in no way guarantees that we will get the same result here in two and a half years’ time.
All the British parties will try to learn from other dimensions of this American election, especially the use of data mining to maximise votes, the exploitation of social media and the superb organisation of the Obama campaign which proved very effective at mobilising his supporters to the polls. But the biggest lesson from this American campaign is not a new one at all; it is a very, very old one. Elections are won by getting more people to support your guy than the other guy. Put like that, it sounds so obvious as to be stupid. I put it that way, nevertheless, because it is remarkable how often political parties neglect or even wilfully defy this basic rule of winning power.
The Republicans in America forgot it and they duly lost. Some have contended that it was the Hispanic vote, which went to Mr Obama by such a large margin, that denied the presidency to Mitt Romney. You could equally well argue that it was the African American vote or the female vote or the young vote or the urban vote or the moderate vote or the independent vote. The Republicans did not make themselves attractive to key sections of the American electorate – indeed they often went out of their way to be offensive to them – on the fatalistic assumption that they were not going to vote Republican anyway and on the deluded basis that the election could be won without them. It couldn’t. As one Republican wittily put it, his party “ran out of angry white men”. In states in which they were once dominant, California with its mighty 55 electoral college votes being a prime example, the Republicans were not even competitive.
The Tory predicament here is not quite the same, but there are transatlantic similarities which aren’t encouraging for the Conservatives. Like the Republicans, the Tories have a problem appealing to women and ethnic minorities. Like the Republicans, the Tories are uncompetitive in a lot of the country, a problem for them which gets more severe the further north you travel. Like the Republicans, the party’s leadership has to contend with a shrill, zealously ideological faction which seems to think it is enough to get the votes of “angry white men”.
The Conservatives’ Tea party tendency have become more and more noisy in urging Mr Cameron to shift rightwards – perhaps I should say further rightwards – by being even more aggressive in cutting public spending, even more belligerent towards the European Union, even fiercer on issues such as immigration and crime. At the same time, they have clamoured for him to ditch what remains of his original modernisation of the Tory party by abandoning the commitment to gay marriage, scrapping the pledge on international aid and giving up entirely on any pretension to be interested in tackling climate change. Had Mitt Romney won, we know what the Tory right would be saying this weekend; they would be hailing it as confirmation of their view and pressing even harder on the prime minister to move in their direction. For them, this is a major reverse- or should be. While it is not always wise to make a direct read-across, it is fair to observe that if America rejects this form of politics, it is even less likely to succeed in Britain.
“The Tea party candidates got caned,” gleefully notes one centrist Tory, who hopes that what happened in America will strengthen his wing of the party against the right. Mr Cameron was quick to try to impress this lesson on his colleagues, saying that President Obama’s victory demonstrated that “elections are won in the common ground, the centre ground… That is the message loud and clear from this election… You win elections in the mainstream.” Whether his party is really capable of absorbing this message is moot.
Labour people say they didn’t need a tutorial from America to understand that you don’t win elections by narrowing your appeal. “We knew that already,” says one shadow minister. They have been a bit ridiculously excited that President Obama used the phrase “one nation” in his soaring, bipartisan victory speech, though I find it unlikely that the American president studied Ed Miliband’s party conference speech for inspiration.
Labour’s team have noted the ruthlessness with which the Obama campaign defined his opponent as a vulture capitalist, negative framing from which Mitt Romney never escaped. They are already trying to do something similar to the Conservatives by depicting them as people who govern only in the interests of people as rich as themselves. In the Labour argument, Obama won because he was “on the side of the 99%” rather than a friend of millionaires.
A less crude way of putting this is that Mr Obama prevailed because he persuaded more voters that he was on their side. Ed Miliband cannot yet claim the same. His “one nation Labour” is more of a concept than a practicality at the moment. There is still a lot of work to do if Labour is to reassemble a coalition of support wide enough to make it a majority government.
The essential lesson from America is the same for all the parties and it is the more potent because it comes from a country in which politics is so polarised. Austerity may have changed many things, but it has not changed the basic law. Elections are still won and lost in the centre.
In an election year already marked by extreme weather events, Superstorm Sandy put the environment back on the US agenda
For Americans concerned about the environment, disaster was avoided on Tuesday. President Obama – with his somewhat lackluster record, if decidedly more exalted rhetoric, on global warming – defeated the Republican challenger who had vowed to gut federal emissions standards, and kill loan programs and tax breaks for green energy companies.
But activists say that it would be wrong to read the election as a stamp of approval for four more years of business as usual. They argue that voters have sent a clear signal that they want more aggressive action on the environment during the president’s second term.
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) cites the defeat of three members of their “Flat Earth Five” – Anne Marie Buerlke (Republican, New York), Francisco Canseco (Repub;lican, Texas) and Joe Walsh (Republican, Illinois) – Republican representatives who were outspoken for their anti-science stance on climate change. (One race remains too close to call.) And ten of the League’s “dirty dozen” candidates – targeted for “consistently voting against clean energy and conservation” – lost their election bids.
Meanwhile, 11 out of 12 of the office-seekers dubbed “climate heroes” by a coalition led by environmental activist Bill McKibben, prevailed in Tuesday’s vote. The 12th “hero”, Jay Inslee, a gubernatorial candidate in Washington state who wants to jump-start the state’s lagging economy by transforming it into a national green-tech hub, continues to hold a small lead over Republican Rob McKenna and looks poised to win that race.
The election results overturn the conventional wisdom that voters don’t care about green issues, according to LCV’s spokesperson Jeff Gohringer:
“We went into this election cycle and the notion was that environmental champions were going to be wiped off the map. We did $3m-worth of advertising on climate change in places like Texas, and we won.”
This sentiment was echoed by Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council who wrote to her members on Wednesday that:
“By rejecting Big Oil’s candidates, voters sent a message loud and clear that they want more clean energy, less climate denial and an end to the $4bn in taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels.”
Some environmentalists have characterized Obama’s very re-election as a mandate for strong action on climate change. This is a hard argument to make given that the topic scarcely came up during the presidential race. Obama, who frequently expressed concern about the climate during his first run for the presidency in 2008, failed to talk about it on the stump this time around. The president’s campaign advisers apparently calculated that there were few votes to be won, and potentially many to be lost, if Obama were to appear to advocate tougher regulations on industry at a time of low economic growth and high unemployment in America.
Romney attacked Obama in TV ads broadcast in the swing state of Ohio for what he characterized as “job-killing” regulations on coal, which is a big player in mining and electricity production in much of the midwest. But the president’s bailout of the auto industry turned out to have been more persuasive to voters in the “rust belt” states, which went solidly for Obama on Tuesday.
With the candidate’s relentless focus on the economy, climate change was a non-issue – until Nature herself brought it savagely into focus with Hurricane Sandy, the largest and most destructive weather event on record for the mid-Atlantic states. Climate scientists have been saying for years that warmer ocean temperatures, together with rising sea levels, would lead to an increase in punishing hurricanes. This prediction has tragically proved accurate ever since Hurricane Katrina, which killed over 1,800 people in New Orleans in 2005.
Many political observers called the latest storm, Sandy, “a game-changer” in Tuesday’s election. It gave Obama a chance to “act presidential”, touring the coast of New Jersey with the state’s grateful Republican governor, Chris Christie, at a critical moment just days before the vote. It also earned the president a timely endorsement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who applauded Obama for acting to stem climate change, taking steps to raise the fuel-efficiency standards on cars and tighten pollution rules on power plants.
Americans’ views on global warming shifted markedly during the past summer, which saw record heat waves and drought in over two-thirds of the nation. As I reported in the Guardian last month, a Brookings survey conducted in July indicated that over 70% of Americans believed that climate change is happening, up from the 52% who held that view in 2010.
The number of climate-change believers has undoubtedly risen still further since Superstorm Sandy, which powerfully demonstrated that global warming is not a theory about the indeterminate future, but a snowballing catastrophe that is with us right now. A study by insurance giant Munich, released days before Sandy struck, reported that North America has suffered $1.06tn in extreme weather damage since 1980. That mind-boggling number is five times the average loss in prior decades.
It is perhaps no coincidence that six of the critical swing states which President Obama won – Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, New Mexico and Wisconsin – all suffered an uptick of extreme weather events, including massive tornados and crop-destroying drought, within the past year. ThinkProgress reports that oil and gas companies, and political PACs poured in $270m to pay for TV ads in support of Mitt Romney and other, mostly Republican candidates. Billionaire oil magnates, the Koch brothers, added $400m of their own funds to the GOP kitty. With so many of its favorites going down in defeat, however, these fossil-fuel advocates have virtually nothing to show for their whopping investment.
Environmental activists are urging President Obama to harness his victory at the polls to enact stringent new limits on CO2 emissions, and to push hard for concerted global action on the climate. In one of his first references to the threat of climate change since the convention, the president warned of “the destructive power of a warming planet” in his victory speech in Chicago.
But Obama will, undoubtedly, face the same opposition in Congress in the next four years as he did in the last. Republicans in Congress last year voted no fewer than 247 times (nearly once a day for every day the House was in session) to weaken EPA protections that have been in place for decades, and to defeat proposed new climate legislation. This led Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey to issue a report in June that called the 112th Congress the most anti-environment in history.
That is the bad news. The good news is that, if the election results are to be trusted, the public’s patience for Republican obstructionism on the environment may have just run out.
Prime Minister David Cameron has given his reaction to Barack Obama’s victory in the US Presidential election.
The Prime Minister spoke during his visit to Jordan:
“I would like to congratulate Barack Obama on his re-election.
“I have really enjoyed working with him over the last few years and I look forward to working with him again over the next four years.
“There are so many things that we need to do: we need to kick start the world economy and I want to see an EU-US trade deal.
“Right here in Jordan I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.
“Above all, congratulations to Barack. I’ve enjoyed working with him, I think he’s a very successful US president and I look forward to working with him in the future.”
No wonder the deficit commission’s report ignored calls for a Tobin tax when its co-author is a corporate finance insider
Erskine Bowles is widely known in Washington policy circles as a co-chair of President Obama’s deficit commission, along with former Senator Alan Simpson. The report that he and Simpson co-authored is held up as the basis for a grand bargain on the deficit.
This report has riled many people across the political spectrum, in part because of its cuts to social security, the most immediate of which is a reduction in the annual cost of living adjustment (Cola). Reduced Cola would amount to a benefit cut of close to 3% for a typical retired worker. Since the median income for households of people over age 65 is just $31,000, this would be a big hit to a segment of the population that is already struggling.
By contrast, in their quest for every possible source of savings, Bowles and Simpson seem never seriously to have considered a financial speculation tax that would target the country’s bloated financial sector. The United Kingdom has imposed taxes on its financial sector for centuries, and much of the European Union is considering a tax that could go into effect as early as next year. A tax comparable to the one the UK has on stock trades, but applied to all financial assets, could raise close to $1.5tn over the course of a decade.
There is evidence that our overgrown financial sector is a serious drag on growth, pulling resources away from productive segments of the economy. In addition, the financial sector is also where many of the highest earners get their income. This means that a tax on financial speculation could be a real win-win-win: it could raise money to reduce the deficit; make the economy more efficient; and reduce inequality. That should place it on top of anyone’s list for deficit reduction.
But the tax apparently didn’t make it to the Simpson-Bowles list. While we may never know why, it is worth noting that Erskine Bowles sits on the board of directors at the huge Wall Street investment bank Morgan Stanley, where he is paid several hundred thousand dollars a year. Interestingly, Bowles also sits on many other corporate boards, also being paid millions for his services over the last decade.
Out of curiosity, CEPR constructed an Erskine Bowles stock index to measure how well stocks at the companies where he has been sitting on the board performed, compared to the overall S&P500. It turns out that the Erskine Bowles index has not fared very well. Since April of 2003, the Erskine Bowles stock index has lost 33.5% of its value. By contrast, the S&P500 is up by 53.1% over this period.
It’s probably not fair to blame Erskine Bowles himself for the poor performance of the companies with which he serves as a director. Directors usually only attend four to six meetings a year and rarely play any role in actually running the company. However, the millions Bowles makes for this kind of work is symptomatic of a larger problem in corporate governance. Directors are essentially paid-off to look the other way, as CEOs and other top management plunder their companies.
In principle, directors should be demanding hard work and low pay for CEOs in order to maximize returns for shareholders. In reality, directors generally just take their pay and keep their mouths shut. This allows top executives even at failing companies to draw paychecks that are an order of magnitude larger than the compensation packages of their counterparts at the most successful firms in Europe and Asia.
The directors perform a valuable service for top management since they act as validators, assuring shareholders, regulators and the public that everything is kosher. The directors are usually people who have high reputations from their work in politics, academia (many university presidents sit on corporate boards), philanthropy and other businesses.
If a director were to begin to ask whether the company was getting real value for its senior executives’ compensation packages, he or she would likely be ostracized (the other members of the board just want their paycheck) and then removed at the first opportunity. Directors are, in theory, elected by shareholders, but the election process is about as democratic as the Soviet Union’s was: top management gets their candidates approved with almost the same frequency as the Communist party chiefs on the Politburo.
The excessive salaries of top corporate executives are not only a problem because they pull money away from the corporations they run, but because they also set a pattern of compensation across the economy. It is now common for heads of universities, and even charities, to get million-dollar packages, pointing out that they would receive much more if they ran a comparably-sized company. This is a big part of the upward redistribution of income we have seen over the last three decades.
So Erskine Bowles gives us a real trifecta. He used his position as co-chair of President Obama’s deficit commission to protect Wall Street. He pockets millions as part of a flawed system of corporate governance that allows CEOs to rip off the companies they run. And he wants to reduce social security benefits for seniors who are already living on the edge.
In short, Erskine Bowles is a true hero of the Washington establishment.
By being ‘the party of no’ to Obama on jobs, stimulus, healthcare and all, the GOP has left Romney with no positive offer to voters
Barack Obama should be losing the 2012 presidential election – or so says the conventional wisdom. With unemployment above 8%, a recovery that is mediocre at best and economic uncertainty far more the rule than the exception, there is certainly something to this argument. Yet, according to polling guru Nate Silver, President Obama is currently a 76% favorite for re-election.
So why does Obama continue to maintain a small, yet stubborn lead not only in general election polling, but – more importantly – in a majority of key swing states? It’s the same reason he should be losing the presidential race: his Republican opponents.
That might seem like a confusing explanation, but it’s emblematic of the extent to which the GOP has been Obama’s worst enemy over the past four years while, at the same time, may ensure that he is re-elected president.
To unpack this admittedly convoluted argument, let’s begin with focusing on the dominant political dynamic of the past four years. It’s not about President Obama’s legislative agenda or his post-partisan dreams, but rather the unceasing and unprecedented obstructionism of the Republican party. From day one of his presidency (actually, even before Obama took office), Republicans made the conscious decision to not just simply oppose Obama’s entire policy agenda, but to actively and flagrantly thwart it. They promiscuously used the filibuster to block even the holding of votes on Democratic proposals in the Senate and punished party members who contemplated the idea of working together with Obama or – even worse – compromising with him.
Indeed, that Obama was even able to pass an $800bn stimulus measure and comprehensive healthcare reform is perhaps the single most surprising political story, not just of the past four years, but indeed the past 40.
The Republicans’ obstructionist “successes” have taken a heavy toll and can be seen most dramatically in US economic performance since 2009. When fiscal policy has been expansive – as in the case of the stimulus being passed only a few weeks after Obama took office – the result has been job creation and economic growth (albeit of the more tepid variety). When Congress has adopted GOP-favored policies of austerity – spending cuts and reliance on tax cuts to stimulate the economy – the results have been far worse. By consistently opposing and blocking any effort by Obama and the Democrats to grow the economy through additional stimulus measures, like the president’s job bill, and even seeking to intimidate the Federal Reserve into focusing its attention on inflation rather than unemployment, they have actively undermined policies with the potential to spark an economic turnaround.
While one can debate the morality of such an approach, the political results speak for themselves. An underperforming economy has harmed the president’s political prospects and made him far more vulnerable to defeat than he would have been if Republicans had supported or, at least, not completely obstructed his stimulus efforts. This creates a rather disturbing political dynamic: namely, that the GOP strategy of obstructing Obama’s agenda was political savvy and their only real hope of ensuring his defeat in 2012.
Opposition was the only real alternative for a party intent on taking back the White House in four years, and it certainly helped Republicans to take back the house in 2010.
Had Republicans been more supportive of his agenda, or at least allowed the Senate to hold votes on it, the economy would likely be in better shape and Obama would be in a far better position for re-election. From that perspective, obstructionism has been a net political plus for the GOP.
But obstruction is not opposition, and this is where Republicans have left the door open for Obama. By giving the president no support for even the smallest bits of legislation (including programs they once supported) and by not even allowing votes in the Senate on the president’s agenda, they went from loyal oppositionists to relentless and partisan scolds – a point brilliantly reiterated by former President Clinton in his speech at the Democratic convention Wednesday night.
This is the downside to the GOP’s four-year scorched-earth policy. By adopting such extreme anti-Obama positions, by taking the stance that any and all efforts to use the resources of the federal government to grow the economy are incipient socialism, and by making the political defeat of Obama, rather than just his policies, the party’s central priority has opened up Republicans to the charge that they have been needless obstructionists who had no plan of their own for fixing the economy. It’s hard not to see Romney’s failure to offer any serious policy proposals for turning the economy around at his own convention as evidence of a party that refuses to contemplate any policy that doesn’t include cutting taxes or shrinking regulation.
So the same radical anti-government forces that push Republicans to reject every element of President Obama’s policy agenda also make it impossible for the party’s standard-bearer to offer voters anything more than empty platitudes.
Far worse, the GOP has learned the hard way that, metaphorically, if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Implicit acceptance of the far right’s narrative of Obama as an America-hating socialist has activated the GOP’s most radical wing of voters. Republicans took a position not simply of implacable hostility to Obama’s policies, but to the man himself. As these extreme voices have increased their influence within the party, they’ve moved Republicans further and further to the uncompromising right on a host of issues – from immigration to birth control and abortion – forcing their party’s nominee to take policy positions that alienate even those voters disappointed in Obama’s economic performance and inclined to look elsewhere.
Perhaps the greatest cost of this approach is that while polls show that voters believe Romney would be a better steward of the economy, they view Obama as someone who is more likely to favor the middle class and is more in touch with the challenges that affect them directly. That reservoir of trust, combined with the GOP’s paucity of ideas, might just be enough for Obama to slide in for a second term.
Finally, by adopting such stridently oppositionist positions, not just against Obama but against the notion that the federal government had any responsibilities beyond shrinking itself into oblivion, Republicans have provided a boost to the Democrats’ vision of government. Voters may still recoil habitually at the idea of big government, but they almost certainly recoil even further from the uncompromising alternative offered by the GOP. In desperate pursuit of political advantage, they have given Obama and the Democrats an opportunity to capture the political middle and redefine liberalism in terms that make it more palatable to a broad cross-section of voters.
This is only one part of the long-term damage. By adopting stances of such rigid ideological purity, by needlessly offending the fastest growing minority groups in the country, as well as young voters, and, finally, by basing the party’s short-term renaissance on the oldest and most reactionary voters, Republicans have left themselves in a political no-man’s land, should they lose this election. Rebuilding a party that has bet its entire political future on unceasing hostility to Obama will not be so easy. In the end, Republicans placed all their chips on seeking to defeat Obama’s agenda and, above all, Obama himself. That opposition has brought with it consequences that might not only backfire on election day, but may well also ensure that the GOP spends more than just four more years toiling in the political wilderness.
For Obama, Republican hostility has left him bruised and in far worse shape politically than perhaps he should be in. But as he gives his acceptance speech at the Democratic national convention, he has the opportunity to turn the tables on those who have sought so lustily to thwart him. I’m guessing he won’t miss the opportunity.
Republicans seek to make special election to replace Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona hinge on national politics and economy
Finally, President Obama held a fundraising campaign event – one of a half dozen or so – today in Owings Mills, Maryland – which is where his joke about the Republican policies fitting into a single tweet came from.
After casting the next election as “a very stark choice,” Obama went on to say:
The good news is, is that the American people generally agree with our vision. I mean, if you just put in front of them issue after issue and you present the Democratic approach and the Republican approach, we win. The challenge is because folks are still hurting right now, the other side feels that it’s enough for them to just sit back and say things aren’t as good as they should be and it’s Obama’s fault. I mean, you can pretty much put their campaign on a tweet and have some characters to spare.
There’s also a quartet of Senate primaries being voted on today:
• Virginia: Former Senator George Allen is the strong favourite to win Virginia’s Republican Senate primary. The winner takes on Democratic candidate and former governor Tim Kaine.
• Maine: Six Republicans and four Democrats are running to fill the US Senate seat being vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe. The current front-runner, former Maine governor Angus King, is running as an independent.
• Nevada: Republican Senator Dean Heller and Democratic Representative Shelley Berkley each are expected to win their respective US Senate primaries easily, before a tough battle between the two in November.
• North Dakota: Representative Rick Berg and businessman Duane Sand are vying for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Senator Kent Conrad. Heidi Heitkamp is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Gabrielle Giffords cast her vote in Tuscon for the special election to find her replacement for Arizona’s eighth congressional district.
The Arizona Republic newspaper has more background on the race to replace Giffords:
Congressional District 8 includes Tucson, Sierra Vista and cities like Douglas along the state’s southeast border with Mexico. Most of the district’s 414,494 voters are in Pima County with smaller amounts in Cochise, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties. Republicans enjoy a 26,000 voter registration edge over Democrats, with another roughly third of the electorate being Independents.
A survey by Public Policy Polling released Monday showed Barber with a 12 point lead over Kelly, however Democratic strategists said that number appeared high and Kelly’s campaign argued internal polling showed him a few points ahead.
Regardless of Tuesday’s election results, both Barber and Kelly have filed to run in the fall elections for the seat’s full term. That election will be held in the redrawn District 2, which has different boundaries due to redistricting.
Polls close at 10pm ET.
Jamelle Bouie looks at Mitt Romney‘s latest remarks about the economy as he attempts to walk back his “more firefighters” scorn:The sensible
Romney’s pledge to reject aid to states would be a disaster; further lay-offs would harm the economy, in addition to have a deleterious effect on localities across the country. Indeed, as Ari Berman points out, this gets to the broader problem with Romney’s stance on the economy; he doesn’t have a job creation plan. What he has is a Republican Party wish list of policies that would be passed regardless of the economic situation: new tax cuts, deep spending cuts and a dramatic increase in military spending.
If carried out, this agenda would plunge the United States into a second recession, and cause further misery for millions of vulnerable people. Like Scott Walker did in Wisconsin, Romney is planning a bait-and-switch for the American people, and his constant misleading attacks on Obama’s economic record are an attempt to conceal that fact.
AP has some background on the special election going on in Arizona today involving Gaby Giffords’s former seat, and a close race involving Giffords’s former aide Ron Barber:
The Republican candidate, Jesse Kelly … continued to make the case in the election’s final hours that Barber and Obama are out of touch with people in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. Republicans have a 26,000-person edge over Democrats in voter registrations.
“It’s time to put a stop to the Barber-Obama team,” Kelly’s campaign said in its final ad.
Outside groups have spent more than $2m on the Arizona race. Barber, 66, had a sizable fundraising lead in late May, but spending from conservative groups helped reduce it.
The Arizona 8th is a rare swing district that is competitive virtually every election. Giffords defeated Kelly by about 4,000 votes in 2010 when the election focused on immigration and when tea partiers rallied to the tough-talking former Marine. Now, the economy and jobs are atop voters’ concerns.
Both Obama and Romney are in heavy fundraising mode today.
Patricia Zengerle of Reuters feels the irony: earlier today Mitt Romney was telling supporters that Obama was “out of touch”.
Meanwhile, Mike Memoli of the LA Times hears Obama deliver a Twitter-themed zinger at his own fundraiser.
But North Carolina is looking far less secure, according to PPP:
PPP’s newest North Carolina poll finds Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama 48%-46%. It’s a small lead but still significant in that it’s the first time we’ve found Romney ahead in our monthly polling of the state since October.
Romney’s gained 7 points on Obama in North Carolina since April, when the President led by a 49-44 margin. Since then Romney’s erased what was a 51-38 lead for Obama with independents and taken a 42-41 lead with that voting group. He’s also increased his share of the Democratic vote from 15% to 20%, suggesting he’s convincing some more conservative voters within the party to cross over.
Romney, whose views have been shaped both by his years in politics and his nearly three decades in private business, has made a keep-it-under-wraps approach a hallmark of his campaign. He’s often broken precedent set by presidential candidates of both parties.
“He is reluctant to disclose information that is standard for disclosure and has become the norm,” said Angela Canterbury, policy director for the Project on Government Oversight. And she and others say there’s no reason to think that style would change if Romney becomes president.
The details are still mainly vague but he did even go so far as say he wanted to keep some aspects of the current reforms – such as continued coverage for people with pre-existing conditions – in place, although without saying how exactly:Mitt Romney actually made some comments about what he would like to replace the Obama administration’s healthcare reforms with.
Let’s say someone has been continuously insured and they develop a serious condition, and let’s say they lose their job or they change jobs, they move and they go to a new place. I don’t want them to be denied insurance because they’ve got some preexisting condition.
Let’s see what the fine print says. Romney also likened health insurance to “the tire, automobile and air-filter markets that he said keep costs down and quality up,” the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reports from Orlando:
Romney said his top priority is to care for the nation’s uninsured, but that he would make states responsible for providing that service. Romney said he would divert federal Medicaid dollars, as well as other funding, to state governments to help them cover uninsured residents.
After attracting much attention with his “Ronald Reagan is turning in his GOP-grave” remarks (I paraphrase) yesterday, Jeb Bush takes to Twitter today to explain what he was talking about in a series of tweets:
A plague on both your houses? How very bipartisan.
Racine County’s Journal Times reports that the final vote tallies show the Democratic candidate won the final outstanding state senate recall vote – meaning that the Democrats briefly control the Wisconsin state senate:The Wisconsin recall election wasn’t all bad news for the Democratic party.
The official results from last Tuesday’s recall election show former state Senator John Lehman, D-Racine, defeated state Senator Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, by 834 votes.
That is up from the 779 vote difference before the official election canvass was held Tuesday morning at the Racine County Courthouse, 730 Wisconsin Ave.
The final total was Lehman with 36,351 and Wanggaard with 35,517 votes, County Clerk Wendy Christensen read Tuesday after finishing the canvass for the 21st Senate District.
There’s a possible recount but it’s thought unlikely to overturn the current margin. So that means the Wisconsin result was only 98% bad news for Democrats.
recent Pew study that showed Americans to be more divided along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years:The Guardian’s Ruth Spencer follows up on the
As part of our people’s panel, we asked you if bipartisan friendships or relationships can survive this increasingly divided American society and how this election is affecting your bipartisan relationships.
The answers are revealing and unexpected – such as this from Greg Staples, a retired teacher:
I am a liberal living in the reddest county in the state of Wisconsin. “Stand with Walker” signs festooned with miniature flags were literally everywhere until the recall election was over. My neighbor is a Limbaugh/Tea Party advocate. Despite this, civility remains. These are mostly good and decent people. The Tea Party guy next door is an excellent neighbor.
Jeb Bush’s remarks yesterday about the GOP’s immigration problem and Hispanic voters had the ring of truth:Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller says
Not all of Bush’s advice has made as much sense. But on this, he is right. We should stress the fact that welcoming immigrants is consistent with our values. America isn’t about building walls, but tearing them down. The fact that others want to come here is something Americans should note with pride.
In many ways — such as religiosity, work ethic, industriousness, and the centrality of the family unit — Hispanics should be a natural Republican constituency. The fact that they’re clearly not speaks to why Bush is right about changing the tone.
While all eyes are on Arizona and the special election taking place there today, let’s not forget the other races taking place around the nation.
The congressional primary season is in full bloom today in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia, while Arkansas is holding run-off elections.
In Maine’s biggest primary, six Republicans and four Democrats are running for nominations for the US Senate seat held by the retiring GOP moderate Olympia Snowe. But the winning candidates from both party will be up against Angus King, a popular independent candidate who was Maine’s governor from 1995 to 2003.
Mitt Romney popped up on Fox & Friends for a holds-barred discussion and was given the opportunity to explain his own gaffe-tastic statement from last week – “[Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin?” – which he promptly got tangled up in:
Well, that’s a very strange accusation. Of course teachers and fireman and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen. So obviously that is completely absurd, but [Obama]‘s got a new idea though and that is to have another stimulus and to have the federal government to try and bail out cities and states. It didn’t work the first time. It certainly wouldn’t work the second time.
Is it really so strange? Paul Krugman thinks not.
Top 50 Twitter accounts to follow for the 2012 US election campaign:Here’s the Guardian’s artisanal, hand-curated
With the 2012 US presidential election heating up, we’ve selected the top 50 Twitter accounts for following the latest news and analysis, so you can keep up with all the talking points, attack ads, surprises and polling throughout the 2012 campaign as they happen.
This list is constructed entirely from Fair Trade, organic, locally-sourced Twitter ingredients foraged from the internet. It will soon open retail outlets in Park Slope, NYC, and 14th Street in DC, before being sold to Unilever.
take their opponents words out of context, and the New York Times is ON IT:Guys! Politicians sometimes
By the time November rolls around, it’s possible that the dueling moments on Friday will have been forgotten amid the hype over national political conventions, Mr Romney’s vice-presidential pick, three debates and the final run-up to Election Day.
Or, one — or both — of the phrases may becoming a significant moment in the effort to define the two candidates.
Only time will tell.
Now there’s a conclusion no one has ever used before: “Only time will tell.”
[Hat-tip to @NYTOnIt for the meme.]
The Romney campaign, via press secretary Andrea Saul, has responded to the latest attack ad on Romney’s record as governor:
President Obama has overseen trillion-dollar deficits, soaring national debt and the first credit downgrade in history. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, closed a $3bn budget shortfall, balanced four budgets, left a $2bn rainy day fund and received a credit rating upgrade. President Obama will do anything to distract from his abysmal economic record and – despite that record – the fact that he thinks the private sector is ‘doing fine.’ Mitt Romney knows our country can do better and, under his leadership, it will do better.
The ad is scheduled to run in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
via reporting and research done by ProPublica, on how Microsoft and Yahoo sell political campaigns “the ability to target voters online with tailored ads using names, zip codes and other registration information that users provide” when they sign up for web services.Here’s a scary story,
Users get no notification that their information is being used for political targeting – and the two companies can maintain they have clean hands because the matching is done elsewhere:
Microsoft and Yahoo said they safeguard the privacy of their users and do not share their users’ personal information directly with the campaigns. Both companies also said they do not see the campaigns’ political data, because the match of voter names and registration data is done by a third company. They say the matching is done to target groups of similar voters, and not named individuals.
ProPublica reports that Google and Facebook do not sell similar services.
despite the unhappy circumstances that lead to Gabrielle Giffords relinquishing it earlier this year:The special election today in Arizona may see another victory for the Republican party,
The names on the ballot will be Ron Barber as the Democrat and Jesse Kelly as the Republican. But perhaps the two more important names in the race are those of Giffords and President Obama – the former still invoking significant goodwill here, the latter far less so.
Mr Barber is a former top aide of Ms Giffords and is her hand-picked successor and was also injured in the January 2011 Tucson shooting that killed six people and injured 13 at the congresswoman’s meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store. In the final hours leading to the special election, Giffords, who rarely appears in public, stumped for Barber at a weekend get-out-the-vote concert in Tucson.
Political battles over the state of the US economy continue – with new figures showing the net worth of American families falling to levels last seen in 1992 – as voters in Arizona go to the polls in a special election to replace Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic congresswoman who survived being shot in the head last year.
There are primary elections in several states today but the special election in Arizona’s eighth congressional district will be the focus, as Republicans seek to make it about national issues, including the economy and healthcare.
Here’s a summary of the latest news:
• American families suffered a record decline in household wealth between 2007 and 2010 because home values tumbled, according to a new Federal Reserve report that highlighted the severity of the recession. The median family’s net worth dropped 39% from 2007 and in 2010 was at levels last seen in 1992. The median net worth – which is the value of assets minus debt – fell to $77,300 in 2010 from $126,400 in 2007.
• The Obama campaign unveiled yet another attack ad aimed at Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts.
• Barack Obama is going to take another swing at selling his economic message after last week’s “the private sector is doing fine” gaffe. The president will use a campaign policy speech on Thursday “to contrast his preferred approach for the country’s economic future with ideas proposed by his likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The speech isn’t expected to include major new proposals.
• Romney camp jumps on Obama remark on economy
• Obama challenges Congress to explain opposition to jobs bill
• European recovery important for US growth, Obama says
And that was our Week in Review live chat. Thanks for joining in! It’s nice to have such a thoughtful and informed and civil readership.
Our Week in Review live chat with Richard Adams is now live. The chat will run for one (1) hour. Join us!
Ten minutes to live chat: What should we talk about? Let us know in the comments, and then grab a sandwich and join Richard Adams here for lunch break politics talk.
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— Richard Adams (@RichardA) June 8, 2012
Mitt Romney is in Council Bluffs, Iowa talking about the US economy. “It’s time to have a president who remembers this is one nation,” Romney says.
“These are tough times for a lot of people. People are having a hard time making ends meet.”
It’s a regular campaign stop but the crowd is responding with enthusiasm. There’s a sense that Romney has traction with this economic stewardship argument.
The Congressional Republican leadership has announced a news conference to reply to the president’s remarks this morning. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor will address reporters early this afternoon.
One line from the president’s news conference that is raising online eyebrows: “The private sector is doing fine.”
The line was in a response to a question about criticism that the president is blaming troubles in Europe for a lagging American economy. The president basically replied that he’s not blaming Europe but he will blame Congress, thank you very much. He attacked Congress for not extending a hand to state and local governments. Here’s what he said:
“We’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the past 27 months. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing problems is with state and local government. Often with cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help they’re accustomed to from the federal government.
“IF Republicans want to be helpful… what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments.”
The “private sector” line was a one-beat step toward the point the president was making about how Congress has hung local governments out to dry.
Still it doesn’t sound very good on its own. IN contrast to the public sector the private sector may be doing “fine.” But by most other measures it’s still touch-and-go.
Is private sector doing “fine”? If you mean “between bad and good,” yes. But no, not if you mean “satisfactory.” bit.ly/LdhcIR
— David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) June 8, 2012
Retail politics. Nice tablecloths.
— Mitt’s Body Man(@dgjackson) June 8, 2012
Join us for a chat in just over an hour: What do you think of what the president said? What do you think about the race so far?
After covering the Wisconsin elections and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s statements to Congress this week, Richard Adams is taking a slight breather to chat with readers about the week’s news – including President Obama’s earlier comments on the US economy, and what Clinton’s support may mean for Obama ahead of November.
If you’re a regular commenter, we invite you to chat with us in real-time by using the module above. You’ll be able to use it from 1230 ET until 130 ET and access the chat transcript afterwards. You can also ask questions on Twitter using the #USPoliticsLive hashtag or log into our Guardian US Facebook page to follow along.
The next question refers to consecutive NY Times front-page reports on the presidential “kill list” of terrorists and the White House cyberwarfare program.
How did the story leak? How do you answer accusations that the information was leaked to make you look tough on national security?
The president answers:
“First of all I’m not going to comment on the details of what are supposed to be classified items. Secondly, as Commander in Chief, the issues that you’ve mentioned touch on national security, touch on critical issues of war and peace, and they’re classified for a reason. Because they’re sensitive. Because the people involved may be in danger … and when this information surfaces on the front page of newspapers, that makes the job of folks on the front line tougher, and it makes my job tougher. Which is why since I’ve been in office the policy has been zero tolerance.”
The president says some leaks are “criminal acts.”
He is coming down quite hard on the question. He threatens leakers with retribution. THen he attacks the idea that the information about the terrorist “Kill list” and about the cyberwarfare program was deliberately leaked by the White House to burnish the president’s toughness on national security in an election year.
“THe notion that my White House would purposely release classified security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And People I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how people around me approach this office. We’re dealing with the safety and security of the American people … and so we don’t play with that.”
“The writers of these articles have stated unequivocally that this information has not come from the White House.”
A second question: Discuss accusations that you are blaming your administration’s poor economic performance on Europe.
Also, what do you make of President Clinton’s remarks suggesting that it might be a good idea to extend the Bush tax cuts?
Obama says the economy is global and the US isn’t insulated from European economic turmoil. “What we try to do is to be constructive, to not frame this as us scolding them, but to give them advice based on our experiences here” in shoring up the financial sector.
The president moves on to a discussion of the US economy and Clinton’s remarks. He begins with a discussion of economic dynamics. He says there are short-term and long-term problems.
The short-term problem is putting people back to work and stoking growth. The long-term problem is sustainable growth. The point Clinton made, Obama explains, is that the government must avoid cutting short a nascent growth cycle.
Obama turns to the question of blaming Europe.
“We’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the past 27 months. THe private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing problems is with state and local government. Often with cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help they’re accustomed to from the federal government.
“IF Republicans want to be helpful… what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments.”
First question is about European debt crisis.
“The situation in Europe is not simply a debt crisis.” The president says Greece faces debt. But there’s also a housing crisis and a financial crisis. “The markets are getting nervous, and that makes it much more difficult to borrow.”
The president says he’s been talking with European leaders regularly about solutions to the economic crisis. “The challenges they face are solvable. RIght now their focus has to be on strengthening their banking system, much as we did in 2009 and 2010.”
Obama is comfortable on the European crisis. Now he’s moving on to the challenge of achieving growth as “countries like Spain and Italy” carry out structural reforms – “everything from tax collection to labor markets, a whole host of different issues.”
The president speaks. He jumps right into the state of the economy. He says the United States is working back from the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. He mentions 4.3 million new jobs created under his administration. He says Europe is a mess.
Obama is talking about Europe. He calls on European leaders to inject capital into their economies and to collaborate on the budgeting process and banking policy. On Greece, “It is in everybody’s interest that Greece remain in the Euro-zone while respecting its need for reform.”
The president is talking mostly about Europe. He mentions Merkel and Hollande and calls for a “growth agenda” to go with austerity plans. “The sooner they act, the sooner people and markets will regain confidence and the easier cleanup will be down the road.”
Now Obama goes after Congress. He says Congress failed to pass the American Jobs Act when he presented it last September.
“Congress refused to pass this jobs plan in full. They did act on a few parts, most importantly the payroll tax cut… [but] they left most of the jobs plan just sitting there. And in light of the headwinds we face right now I’m asking them to reconsider.”
Obama says Congress could put unemployed firefighters and nurses back to work. He calls on Congress to pass legislation giving homeowners a break on their mortgages. He calls for tax breaks on business that hire new workers.
“There’s no excuse for not passing these ideas. We know they can work. If Congress decides in spite of all this that they’re not going to do this because it’s an election year, they should explain to the American people why.”
President Obama is about to speak on the economy at the White House. He’s expected to take questions. The press corps has just received a two-minute warning. We’re going to listen in.
Hello, and welcome to today’s politics live blog. It’s Tom McCarthy here in New York, but here’s my colleague Ryan Devereaux with a round-up:
• Mitt Romney and the Republican party raised $76m last month, marking the first time the GOP candidate has collected more money than president Obama. Yesterday Obama and the democrats reported raising $60m in May. Romney’s latest fund raising total also tops the $40m he and the Republicans collected in April.
• Romney has released a new ad directly challenging the president’s persistent attacks on his record as governor of Massachusetts. The ad claims Romney oversaw “the best jobs record in a decade” and “balanced every budget without raising taxes.” In recent weeks the president’s team has repeatedly targeted Romney’s record in the state, painting him as an abysmal failure.
• Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum has started new organization intended to raise money for fellow Republicans and push them to be more conservative. Santorum unveiled Patriot Voices on Fox and Friends this morning. “A lot of people have some basic anxiety about where America is going, and I tried to talk about those [issues] in the campaign,” Santorum said. “The adherence to the constitution, and the importance of understanding where our rights come from and who we are as a people, and the culture and how that is being changed by this administration, whether it’s liberty or life or marriage,” are all issues Santorum says Patriot Voices will respond to.
Santorum enthusiastically describes the group in this video while wearing sweater vest with his own name stitched on the front.
• Kentucky senator Rand Paul, son of Texas congressman and presidential hopeful Ron Paul, has endorsed Romney. The junior Paul articulated his support for the former governor less than 24 hours after his father issued a statement to supporters saying that he would not collect enough delegates to win the nomination.
The singular sartorial style of David Cameron’s former adviser smacks not of eccentricity, but arrogance
Ridiculously, the search engine for the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies retrieves nothing about local dress codes. All that can be assumed from related images is that scholars within this prestigious research centre, part of Stanford University in California, favour dark suits and ties for formal occasions, open-necked pale blue shirts for seminars, accessorised with a pair of trousers and, one gathers, shoes. Steve Hilton, whose arrival at the institute is expected any time, has been celebrated, throughout his residency in Downing Street for coming to the office in a T-shirt, shorts and plimsolls, the latter removed on arrival.
There is a hint of the man’s daring, perhaps, in the FSI’s announcement of its new asset, in which he is introduced to unsuspecting suits as “Cameron’s top adviser”. His academic function is to “focus on innovation in government, public services and communities around the world”. But omitted from this encomium is what must surely pass for Hilton’s greatest contribution yet to modern international relations: wearing socks to meet President Obama.
In The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie claimed dress as a means of communication, albeit one which can be a bit one-sided. “Even if we are never introduced,” she explains, “clothes tell about class status, age, family origin, personal opinion, taste, current mood or even give information about erotic interest and sexual status.”
So: Steve Hilton. What have his clothes been telling us or, more specifically, the prime minister and the US president? Not forgetting those bureaucrats who have been treated, these past two years, to his lectures on the uselessness of bureaucrats? Sometimes, given that a Hilton T-shirt might say “Big Society”, the message was necessarily incomprehensible. But was there meaningful content, too, in his Bart Simpson-wear? In the Downing Street context – one in which, like many offices, people are expected to dress formally or pay the price – Mr Hilton’s creased shorts seem, at their most polite, to have been a permanent reminder to colleagues that he was/is different, to wit, a dashing free spirit, young beyond his years and endowed with creative talents on a scale that liberate him to move on any time his plans for trashing the state should cease to be appreciated by the resident dullards, including the neatly pressed prime minister.
His determination to affirm this specialness to Barack Obama through the ancient language of socks is slightly less easy to read and may even have been a miscalculation, given that sock-wearing can mean, in some cultures, “I’m a complete git”. Was it wise, now that Hilton has transferred his mission to the States, to advertise his intellectual superiority to the White House’s dapper, highly polished black shoe-wearer? Even Hilton’s greatest rival for in-your-face sartorial insolence, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, wore a jacket, tie – and shoes – to meet the president.
Definitely indecipherable, to those of us communicating at a distance with Mr Hilton’s clothes, has been their level of hygiene. Now, thanks to the political writer Sue Cameron, who chose the week of Hilton’s departure to record a story about his arrival at a policy meeting in shorts and shoe-less, with a plastic bag of oranges, we can experience his clothing in Sensurround. “Mr Hilton started inexpertly peeling an orange,” she says. “There was juice everywhere, not least over the crotch of his brushed cotton shorts. Unabashed, he went off to his next meeting – with some military top brass.”
Compared with this, Boris Johnson’s trademark I’m-too-clever-for-my-shorts state of dishevelment is actively ingratiating. Hilton’s power stains were a clear “fuck you” to passing dignitaries, more akin to Mark Zuckerberg’s historic visit in pyjamas to a venture capital firm called Sequoia, which had previously sacked his partner. David Kirkpatrick, his biographer, quotes Zuckerberg saying he now regrets the insult: “I assume we really offended them and now I feel really bad about that.”
But Zuckerberg has, of course, stuck doggedly to his old, Harvard genius outfit of hoodie and jeans, Silicon Valley’s answer to ermine. “He’s actually showing investors he doesn’t care that much; he’s going to be him,” a suited analyst, Michael Pachter, complained to Bloomberg TV recently, having received, accurately, Zuckerberg’s message of unshakable entrepreneurial confidence. “I think that’s a mark of immaturity,” he added, usefully enhancing the young Facebook brand at the same time that he condemned Zuckerberg to a lifetime in formal slobwear. In fact, thanks to Zuckerberg and The Social Network, it could be many years before any other technological visionary gains access to venture capital without being dressed in whatever would get a normal person banned from Tesco.
Perhaps this modern adaptation of sumptuary laws, whereby only the very richest and most powerful enjoy a licence to dress like losers, helps account for a reported tendency for Oxford students to arrive in their pyjamas for breakfast in college halls where, since the catering staff are presumably washed and dressed, their disarray can be read as a crass assertion of privilege. Unless, as some disgusted comment assumes, far from being inspired by brainy iconoclasts, the students are simply replicating the habits of that other, growing section of the British population that has taken to staying in pyjamas and slippers for the rather different reason that, like depressives, they see no point in getting dressed. Alternatively, now that leading designers have, inevitably, attempted their own dismal take on outdoor pyjamas, the students may merely attest to the terrifying reach of fashion’s Stella McCartney. Whatever the reason, public confusion around the language of pyjamas suggests enough lingering interest in dress codes to make public nightwear a risky choice outside Wall Street.
With their hypersensitivity about appearances, our Olympic authorities will naturally be wondering how to raise standards. What will the world make of our pyjamas? Our mayor? Will it be enough to clear the litter, exile Hilton and tie a large label reading “English eccentric” to Johnson’s ear? How worrying is it that, in Shanghai, prior to the 2010 World Expo, its traditionally pyjama-wearing citizens proved remarkably resistant to dedicated nightwear police and signs saying: “Pyjamas don’t go out of the door”?
As so often, President Obama has something sensible to say on the matter. Asked about another clothing nuisance mysteriously overlooked by Tesco – that of visible underpants and low-slung jeans – he rejected official action. “Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. There are some issues that we face, that you don’t have to pass a law, but that doesn’t mean folks can’t have some sense and some respect for other people and, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear – I’m one of them.”
Bear in mind, however: this was the liberalism of a brother who had never seen Steve Hilton with orange stains all over his crotch. But that is America’s problem now.