Bobo has been drinking again, or smoking Mexican Marlboros. In “The Upside of Opportunism” he babbles that if Mitt Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform, and if President Obama is re-elected, it’d be more of the same small stuff. Mr. Cohen, in “The Jews of Cuyahoga County,” says divided loyalties among the 80,000 Jews of Greater Cleveland are raising the stakes in Ohio. Mr. Nocera has a question in “The Right Man For the Job?” He asks what did Mark Thompson, the incoming chief executive of The New York Times Company, know, and when did he know it? Mr. Bruni, in “Sandy the Soothsayer,” says in the neck-and-neck presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, even the meteorological is political. Here’s Bobo:
Let’s try to imagine what the world would look like if President Obama is re-elected.
Washington over the next four years would probably look much as it has over the last two: Obama running the White House, Republicans controlling the House and Democrats managing the Senate. We’d have had a long slog of an election before a change-hungry electorate, and we’d end up with pretty much the same cast of characters as before.
Obama would probably try to enact the agenda he laid out most clearly in his recent interview with The Des Moines Register:
Obama said he would try to recreate the Obama-Boehner budget deal of two summers ago, with $2.50 of spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Then he’d try immigration reform. Then he’d cut corporate tax rates as part of corporate reform. Then he’d “weed out” unnecessary regulations. All the while, he would implement Obamacare and increase funds for infrastructure. This is a moderate and sensible agenda.
The first order of business would be the budget deal, averting the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama would first go to Republicans in the Senate and say, “Look, we’re stuck with each other. Let’s cut a deal for the sake of the country.” He would easily find 10 Republican senators willing to go along with a version of a Grand Bargain.
Then Obama would go to the House. He’d ask Eric Cantor, the majority leader, if there were votes for such a deal. The answer would probably be no. Republican House members still have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than from a general election challenge from the left. Obama is tremendously unpopular in their districts. By running such a negative presidential campaign, Obama has won no mandate for a Grand Bargain. Obama himself is not going to suddenly turn into a master legislative craftsman on the order of Lyndon Johnson.
There’d probably be a barrage of recriminations from all sides. The left and right would be consumed with ire and accusations. Legislators would work out some set of fudges and gimmicks to kick the fiscal can down the road.
The ensuing bitterness would doom any hopes for bipartisan immigration reform. The rest of the Obama second term would be about reasonably small things: some new infrastructure programs; more math and science teachers; implementing Obamacare; mounting debt; a president increasingly turning to foreign affairs in search of legacy projects.
If you’re a liberal Democratic, this is an acceptable outcome. Your party spent 80 years building the current welfare state. This outcome extends it.
Now let’s try to imagine the world if Mitt Romney were to win. Republicans would begin with the premise that the status quo is unsustainable. The mounting debt is ruinous. The byzantine tax and regulatory regimes are stifling innovation and growth.
Republicans would like to take the reform agenda that Republican governors have pursued in places like Indiana and take it to the national level: structural entitlement reform; fundamental tax reform. These reforms wouldn’t make government unrecognizable (we’d probably end up spending 21 percent of G.D.P. in Washington instead of about 24 percent), but they do represent a substantial shift to the right.
At the same time, Romney would probably be faced with a Democratic Senate. He would also observe the core lesson of this campaign: conservatism loses; moderation wins. Romney’s prospects began to look decent only when he shifted to the center. A President Romney would look at the way Tea Party extremism had cost the G.O.P. Senate seats in Delaware and Nevada — and possibly Missouri and Indiana.
To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate. To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.
As President Romney made these concessions, conservatives would be in uproar. Talk-radio hosts would be the ones accusing him of Romneysia, forgetting all the promises he made in the primary season. There’d probably be a primary challenge from the right in 2016.
But Republicans in Congress would probably go along. They wouldn’t want to destroy a Republican president. Romney would champion enough conservative reforms to allow some Republicans to justify their votes.
The bottom line is this: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform. Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama. He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done.
I wonder where he gets his drugs… Next up is Mr. Cohen, who’s in Cleveland:
Things are getting ugly among the Jews of Cuyahoga County, with family splits and dinner invitations declined. “I have never seen the divisions this acute,” said James Ratner, an executive of the Forest City real estate group.
The pressure of a very tight presidential race whose outcome Ohio could well decide has been compounded by the Senate candidacy of a conservative Jewish Republican, Josh Mandel, who has divided loyalties among the 80,000 Jews of Greater Cleveland.
An advertisement in the Cleveland Jewish News this week, paid for by a group called Jews for Israel 2012, asked this question: “Are you willing to bet the life of the Jewish people on this president?” It questioned Barack Obama’s willingness to defend an Israel “threatened by nuclear annihilation.”
Automated calls pour into Jewish households from John Bolton, the hawkish former U.N. ambassador, in which he warns that a vote for Romney is needed to save Israel from an Iranian bomb and Islamist extremists.
Mandel, a 35-year-old ex-Marine who has raised more than $20 million through conservative backers, has appalled Ohio’s socially progressive Jews — who are still the clear majority — with an anti-abortion stance that has included calling the Indiana Senate nominee Richard Mourdock a “class act” after Mourdock said pregnancy resulting from rape was “something that God intended to happen” and life was always “a gift from God.”
Oy vey. Does all this matter? Yes it does. It is that close in the Buckeye State. Ohio, with its 18 electoral votes, is about tied, according to most polls. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio. This is the swing state most likely to swing things. Conservative-backed billboards screaming “Voter fraud is a felony” have prompted the countermessage that, “Voting is a right, not a crime.” Republican intimidation meets Democratic determination.
Obama needs to win big in Cuyahoga County, which includes the strongly Democratic inner city of Cleveland, to carry the state. That is what he did in 2008, gaining 68.5 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of nearly 250,000 votes — enough to secure victory by just over 200,000 votes in Ohio. The Romney campaign reckons that if it can cut Obama’s margin in Cuyahoga to about 175,000 it will take the state.
About 80 percent of Cleveland’s Jews are believed to have voted for Obama last time. Robert Goldberg, former chairman of the United Jewish Communities (now The Jewish Federations of North America) and a Romney supporter, said he believed that number would drop to 60 percent this time. “Jews just don’t trust Obama on Israel,” he told me. “The president has no sympathy for Israel. His sympathy is for the Muslim world he knew as a child.”
If Goldberg is right about a shift, that would be significant. He argues that Obama is anti-business and anti-Israel and believes a faltering economy above all is pushing Jewish voters to change position. (Polls in Israel show Israelis strongly favoring a Romney victory.)
The case I heard in Ohio against Obama on Israel was the usual Republican hodgepodge of insinuations: The president went to Cairo but not Jerusalem, he snubbed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reached out to Muslims but showed no love for Jews. They ignore all the defense and intelligence cooperation that led the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, to say Obama had done “more than anything that I can remember in the past” for Israeli security.
Mandel has also been playing the Israel card in pursuit of the Jewish vote, despite the fact his opponent, the Democrat incumbent Sherrod Brown, co-sponsored the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, legislation that deepens defense cooperation.
Among those troubled by Mandel’s campaign is Austin Ratner, a novelist and the son of James Ratner. Mandel is related by marriage to the Ratner family. Austin Ratner wrote a piece this month in the Jewish Daily Forward arguing that family and tribal Jewish loyalty were misplaced in the political sphere, where reason must prevail.
He quoted his aunt, Deborah Ratner, a major Democratic fund-raiser, telling Mandel at a family gathering: “I don’t want this to be awkward, but you represent everything I’ve spent my life working against.” He also said some Democrat relatives “have supported Mandel’s campaign out of family loyalty” — a form of loyalty, he suggested, that “leads deeper into the darkness.”
The Jews of Cleveland are arguing at high volume. They are good at disputation. In this case the argument could change the course of things far beyond Cleveland.
James Ratner sent me an e-mail saying, “This may well be a case where the noise is obscuring the music.” Beneath all the shouting, he suggested, Jewish sentiment remains solidly Democratic. “In a meeting this week of 60 members of a woman’s group at Park Synagogue there was absolute unanimity behind Obama. No one was voting for Romney.”
Those Jewish women know exactly what Romney and Mandel represent: an obscurantist and invasive threat to their rights in the name of a God whose wishes these men presume to know.
Now here’s Mr. Nocera:
The position of chief executive of The New York Times Company is not the easiest to fill.
There are, to start with, the obvious business challenges: like all newspaper companies, the Times Company has struggled financially as the Internet has eroded its traditional revenue sources. Its third-quarter results, announced on Thursday, were typical: It reported a 9 percent drop in advertising revenues and an 85 percent decline in net income compared with the same period in 2011. Its battered stock price tumbled another 22 percent.
Then there is the Sulzberger family, which controls the Times Company. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., is both the company’s chairman and the publisher of the flagship newspaper. Seven other family members work at The Times. No chief executive can expect to be able to make decisions independent of the Sulzbergers. The previous C.E.O., Janet Robinson, left abruptly in December, amid speculation that her relationship with Sulzberger had become strained.
So it was with no small relief that, after a lengthy search, Sulzberger announced in mid-August that Mark Thompson, the departing director general of the BBC, had agreed to take the job. Although the BBC has a radically different business model from The Times — it gets most of its money from an annual fee levied on every British television watcher — his tenure as the BBC’s boss included an international expansion and strong digital growth, two areas where The Times could use his skills.
Thompson is scheduled to start his new job on Nov. 12. His nameplate is already on his office door. He is getting to know Times employees. Yet, since early October, all anybody has asked about Thompson are those two most damning of questions: what did he know, and when did he know it?
The questions are being asked, of course, in the wake of an enormous sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the BBC. At its center is Jimmy Savile, who for three decades was one of the BBC’s best-known personalities, his television shows aimed at the teenage set. He has also been accused of being an incorrigible pedophile; the number of young girls he is said to have molested could run into the hundreds. Although he stopped being a BBC regular in the mid-1990s, his enduring fame was such that when he died last fall, people in his hometown of Leeds lined the streets to mourn his passing.
Soon after his death, a BBC current affairs program called “Newsnight” began an investigation into Savile’s sexual proclivities. Yet despite getting at least one woman on tape who said she had been molested by Savile, the piece was killed. Then, earlier this month, a BBC competitor, ITV, ran a devastating exposé of Savile. The ITV investigation raised subsequent questions about whether the BBC had covered up Savile’s wrongdoing.
Plainly, the answer is yes. What is far less certain is how high the cover-up went. Thompson first said that he never heard the rumors about Savile, and that he didn’t learn about the “Newsnight” program until after it was canceled. Given the byzantine nature of the BBC bureaucracy, these are plausible denials.
Here is where it gets a little less plausible. Thompson now says that at a cocktail party last December, a BBC reporter said to him, “You must be worried about the ‘Newsnight’ investigation into Jimmy Savile.” Soon thereafter, Thompson asked his underlings about the investigation and was told that it had been killed — for journalistic reasons. He claims to have inquired no further, not even to ask what the investigation was about.
A few months later, the news broke in the British press that the BBC had, as The Daily Mail put it in a headline, “shelved Jimmy Savile sex abuse investigation ‘to protect its own reputation.’ ” Given the seriousness of sexual abuse allegations — look at what it did to Penn State — you would think that Thompson and his underlings would immediately want to get to the bottom of it. But, again, they did nothing. Thompson winds up appearing willfully ignorant, and it makes you wonder what kind of an organization the BBC was when Thompson was running it — and what kind of leader he was. It also makes you wonder what kind of chief executive he’d be at The Times.
Arthur Sulzberger is in a difficult spot. He believes strongly that he’s got the executive he needs to lead The Times to the promised land of healthy profits again. Although he declined to be interviewed for this column, he appears to have accepted Thompson’s insistence that he knew nothing about the explosive allegations that became public literally 50 days after he accepted the Times job. Sulzberger is backing his man unreservedly.
For the sake of Times employees — not to mention the readers who want to see a vibrant New York Times Company — let’s hope his faith in Thompson is warranted. Otherwise, the BBC won’t be the only organization being asked tough questions about its judgment.
Last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:
If you’ve watched whole sections of your home sail away, been stranded in a shelter or can’t make contact with a loved one whose safety isn’t certain, it’s probably unsettling at best — and galling at worst — to hear Sandy referred to as an “October surprise,” on a par with a bimbo eruption or corruption scandal, wreaking havoc on the presidential race above all else.
But there’s no solipsism like political solipsism, and this election has addled people like few I’ve witnessed, with even the most peripheral developments and random polls scrutinized to smithereens for their outcome-auguring significance. Why should weather be exempt from such hyperventilation?
This week will be remembered as one when meteorology and punditry became strange bedfellows and a measure of perspective was gone with the wind.
I’ve read that Sandy will diminish the impact of homestretch advertising, because people whose electricity is out cannot watch TV.
I’ve also read that Sandy will intensify the impact of homestretch advertising, because people whose electricity is not out are raptly monitoring local stations, where such advertising is concentrated.
It has been opined that Sandy could hurt President Obama, disrupting early voting and depressing turnout. It has been opined that Sandy could help President Obama, affording him the opportunity to look presidential as he marshals federal resources and directs the emergency aid effort.
The wind-lashed tree outside my window is bending to the left, an omen clearly in the president’s favor. But if I were looking at it from the building across the yard, it would be tilting right, an obvious nod for Mitt Romney.
Someone somewhere has no doubt produced a chart that breaks down storm categories and their electoral consequences.
Blizzards: pro-Romney. Snow evokes winter. Romney rescued the Winter Olympics. And one of his nicknames — Mittens — is an icy, slushy, flaky one.
Tsunamis: also pro-Romney. They affect coastlines, where cosmopolitan types cluster, and thus divert liberals’ attention from the contest at hand, granting more power to the folks living in the flyover.
Tornados: pro-Obama. They distract the folks in the flyover, and are also known as twisters, which remind voters everywhere of Romney’s pretzel of disparate positions over the course of his political career or, for that matter, the last five minutes.
From the Mother Jones Web site I learned that “all other things being equal, the incumbent party does less well when it’s too wet or too dry,” as opposed to when it’s just right. This was the assessment of Larry Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who has apparently made a study of this.
But how does the incumbent party do when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars? Who, pray tell, is making a study of that?
President Obama suspended campaigning in order to man command central in Washington. This meant that a rally in Orlando, Fla., that he was supposed to do with Bill Clinton had to be headlined by Clinton alone. The former president, needless to say, was devastated.
Joe Biden detoured from New Hampshire to Ohio, which is also where Clinton headed after Florida. Romney stumped there too. Will Ohioans never know a moment’s peace?
The Obama and Romney campaigns think that dropping in on a swing state over and over again will win them favor, but that’s questionable. Given the traffics jams, flight delays and hordes of sarcastic columnists that candidates bring with them, I wouldn’t want a personal visit. Maybe just a gift basket.
As Sandy churned, so did the political panic. Would the storm down enough phone lines to impede daily tracking polls? A column in The Huffington Post articulated this dark fear, which I’d characterize instead as a delightful reprieve.
Would the surge of tides end the surge of Mitt, his momentum washed away by the storm’s domination of the news?
And would the Labor Department seize on Sandy and the shutdown of federal offices as an excuse not to release new unemployment figures on Friday, saying that work on them had been delayed? Republicans went into anticipatory conniptions, until officials with the department announced that there probably wouldn’t be any lag.
Reality checks were imperative. The state whose cancellation of early voting was most often cited was Maryland. Obama doesn’t need early voting to win Maryland. He almost doesn’t need a pulse.
And climate change was brought up. “It’s as if Mother Nature is sending yet another message to American voters: ignore me no longer,” wrote Heather Taylor-Miesle, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, in a blog post e-mailed to many journalists.
Of course Obama and Romney themselves ignored climate change in their three debates. So maybe Mother Nature isn’t so much putting her thumb on the scale as showing both candidates the back of her hand.