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July 6, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

A study in contrasts: Obama and Romney at VFW

You had to be there.

At the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, that is, to appreciate just how different the tones were and how different the responses were to speeches to the VFW by President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

The addresses to the throng of veterans epitomized the campaign’s state of play — Obama, trying to be above the fray, boastful of what he has accomplished, insistent that he deserves another term/chance while Romney went into the trenches, excoriated the president’s leadership, determined not to let the commander in chief take the high ground. It is no coincidence that Obama’s performance echoed his new ads — a kinder and gentler approach because of his high unfavorables — and that Romney’s was, as The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin described him, “forceful, even aggressive, throughout, bashing the president in blunt language,” as he has been for months.

The crowd, slightly larger for Romney on Tuesday than it was for Obama on Monday, liked much of what the president had to say, including his recognition that Vietnam veterans still were owed a thank-you, but the vets were noticeably roused by Romney’s call for a new “American century” and his bellicose criticism of Obama. It was a microcosm of the campaigns — Romney wants the election to be a referendum on the president’s record while Obama wants to frighten people about what choosing Romney might mean to the putative progress he has made.

These speeches, each about 30 minutes long, put up a mirror to campaigns and candidates, revealing strategies and presaging what’s to come when normal people start paying attention after Labor Day. It seems somehow fitting that this took place in THE swing county in what may be THE swing state in the country.

The VFW convention would seem to be a venue that favors Romney, with polls consistently showing that veterans favor the Republican candidate. Obama, though, clearly saw a chance to gain ground because neither candidate served and he theoretically had a chance to win the favor of 6,000 or so who watched the speeches.

Surely the Romney campaign cringed when VFW national commander Richard DeNoyer introduced the president by saying, “He said he would take care of vets and their families, and he has been true to his word.”

That cuts against the grain of everything Romney would say the following day, portraying Obama as betraying veterans with his policies. Not bad to have the VFW commander gushing — I hope he’s ready for his Obama For America campaign ad close-up.

Obama’s speech did not mention Romney, and although it had a few moments of eloquence, it essentially was a laundry list of what he saw as the reasons veterans should support him — the killing of Osama bin Laden, his ending wars “responsibly” and his commitment to veterans health care.

He was received warmly if not wildly, but he could not have asked for much more. The president’s oblique references to Romney were designed to make the veterans wary of voting for him — the election is a choice, not a referendum.

Romney’s address the following day could not have been more different, a scathing indictment of Obama’s record and essentially portraying him as a weakling who had weakened America in the eyes of the world. His rhetoric was tough, even harsh, and unrelenting.

“We haven’t seen much in the president’s first term that inspires confidence in a second,” Romney told the crowd. And this: “But sadly, this president has diminished American leadership, and we are reaping the consequences. The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic.”

Romney ratcheted it up even more on national security leaks, declaring, “This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field.”

The VFW folks loved much of this, clapping more heartily, it seemed to me, than they did for the president. Romney may not have presented alternatives or a foreign policy blueprint on the eve of his European trip. But he and his team believe he doesn’t have to because they want this election to be a referendum, not a choice.

The only time the candidates took the identical approach was on the automatic cuts in defense. Obama pledged to hold veterans harmless, drawing a huge round of applause. Romney made the same promise, eliciting an identical reaction.

But this is the agreement that Obama made with the House leaders to get that debt deal — thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s negotiations — and now he wants to pretend he can make exceptions? And Romney, in attacking the president on these cuts, seems to forget that Speaker John Boehner, nearly three-quarters of House Republicans and more than half of the Senate GOP caucus agreed to that deal, too.

So was it just shameless pandering to veterans by both men on that issue?

You didn’t have to be there to answer that one.

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  1. Typical election year campaigning.

    However, Iran is an interesting ingredient with Romney off to see his personal friend, Netanyahu.



    Iran is pulling the American political strings again.

  2. As I have stated many times, Jon Ralston is a great reporter and a fair one. However, in recent columns -- including this one -- he has sought to portray shamlessness and misrepresentations in equal terms, when Mitt Romney has been far worse. And the way Ralston has done it, has actually made the Democrats look worse. Because of restrictive space limitations, let me do it in capsule form:

    1. Mitt Romney could make it possible to address the Department of Defense cuts now by having the Republicans pass the George W. Bush tax cuts with the exception of those in the upper bracket. The truth is he doesn't want to do so because he and Republicans in the House and Senate want to hold the defense cuts hostage to get their way on tax cuts for billionaires/millionaires.

    2. We don't know how much the Bushista tax cuts for the upper class is saving Romney money because he steadfastly refuses to release most of his tax returns. Ralston in a previous column minimized his position on that.

    3. Romney crucified Obama about national security leaks, but he has some of the most notorious leakers of the George W. Bush era as his key foreign policy advisers. In fact to answer question about the leaks he charged Obama with the Romney campaign sent out a close associate Scooter Libby.

    4. Seventeen of the key national security advisers to George II are now advising Romney. These guys lied us into the Iraq War with very selective national security leaks.

    5. When Joseph Wilson wrote an op ed piece in The New York Times exposing one of the George II Iraq lies, Bushista aides leaked the identity of Wilson's wife as a CIA agent. President George H. W. Bush called leaking of CIA agent identity "treason."
    6. Why does Ralston not point out these points, explain them and why does he minimize Republican abuses while assigning equal blame to the Democratic ones?

    Ray A. Cohn, retired political/investigative journalist.

  3. Part 1.There is a significant reference inpresumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has made that has gotten little attention from Jon Ralston -- nor anybody else in the mainstream media -- the corporate press.

    Romney has repeatedly talked about this being "the American century." This is not an accidental reference and it refers to some of the actions that got us into the Iraq War.

    Back in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president and the Republicans were out of power Dick Cheney formed a group called the Project for a New American Century. It was, in effect, like Cheney's government ion exile.

    It called for a very agressive foreign policy, including the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and "spreading democracy" throughout the Middle East.

    But the report lamented all this will take a long time"absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a New Pearl Harbor." Of course, such an event happened with 9/11. And people who were involved with PNAC -- such as Richard Perle, Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowicz, Elliott Abrams and others were by this time members of the George W. Bush administration and played a key role in lying us into the Iraq War.

    Before I go on, let me make it clear I am not a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and do not imply or charge that the Bush administration either let 9/11 happen or particpated in it. The right wing consistently tries to smear anybody who asks many unanswered questions about 9/11 as a conspiracy nut.

    PNAC did not predict 9/11. It just said something on the magnitude of Pearl Harbor would have to occur if the agressive policies it was advocating -- including the overthrowing of Saddam -- would have to occur for such a policy to come quickly. Ray A. Cohn

  4. Part 2 of 2 parts. Several of the staff members or in positions of power on PNAC were unofficial Benjamin Netanyahu advisers the first time he was prime minister. I was born in Tel Aviv and immigrated with my parents to the US in late 1957 and have been a naturalized US citizen since 1964. I am strong Israel supporter and still have family there.

    However, I have to question whether these advisers and later key people in the George II regime had a clear conflict of interest.

    Also be careful what you wish for. Egypt is a good example. The government that was overthrown as the result of the uprising of the people was certainly corrupt and like semi dictatorship with rigged election. But if we had true democratic election, the Muslim Brotherhood would now rule Egypt. Would the Bushistas, especially those close to Netanyahu really want that? Do they want Saudis who may have ties to al Qaeda be elected and reoplace the Saudi monarchy?

    These are legitimate questions since 17 of the national security advisers to George II are now key advisers to Romney. And the tone of Romney's speech was much in line with the failed policies of George W. Bush. So by the way, are his economic policies.

    Romney -- like Ralston points out about the VFW speech -- is vague on specifics. But if you look at the policies he is advocating to improve the economy they are even more tax cuts for billionaires and millionaires, more massive deregulation and lack of enforcement of financial regulatory laws. These are precisely the policies the great business Schlemiel used to mismanage us into the greatest recession since the Great Depression.

    Ralston accuses Democrats of not sufficiently defending the Obama policies. But he doesn't fault the corporate press -- or his family owned mildy progressive paper -- for not fully reporting obama's achievements in full context.

    Yes, Romney naturally has every right to criticize Obama's policies. But the American people will and should demand to know his alternatives. His policies are, in effect, term three of George W. Bush. And most Americans reject that. This is why he does not want the election to be a choice. Ray A. Cohn

  5. Here is an interesting article out of Germany assessing Romney's "foreign policy" trip.

    Never hurts to get another perspective.

  6. American voters need to understand more about global economies and politics to see through the US political farces in campaigns.

    It is we, the voters, who are disrespected by the manipulations of parties and politicians due to our lack of knowledge of the world.

    We still are living a fantasy.

  7. Future - "The defense sequester was pure politics by Obama and Congress. And now we will pay a price for their lack of leadership"

    Correction .. congress is solely responsible. President Obama can't make congress do anything.

  8. mred - "I hope the VFW people who like Romney get out their checkbooks to pay for all of Romney's Wars."

    Right on, my gut feeling tells me Romney is listening to the same fear mongering warhawks that led us into Iraq. This country is war weary and we can't continue down this path without turning our allies against us.

    Romney has already ticked off the Brits with another of his out of touch dumb comments.

  9. I agree with much of Mr. Cohn's commentary. John Ralston seems to be more and more slanted towards the Romney campaign. Since he used to work for the Review Journal, this is not surprising. As we've witnessed during his "foreign policy" trip, Romney is long on bellicose bloviating, and short on facts or policy ideas that he would put forth as president. Ralston's espoused belief that most veterans support GOP policy is not backed up in the article. I am a veteran and will not be voting for Romney or any GOP candidate in the upcoming election. Romney is the slinky toy of politics; he flip-flops more than a slinky toy going down a staircase.

  10. Some have voiced concern that Jon is partial to Republicans. I can't see that in this column.

    He says "Surely the Romney campaign cringed when VFW national commander Richard DeNoyer" endorsed President Obama. He also pointed out that Romney spewed blustery, empty rhetoric, offering no solutions. Jon ended by pointing out that Congressmen are responsible for the debt deal that they themselves executed.

    Yes, Jon said "it seemed" that veterans clapped "more heartily" for Romney than for Obama and "were noticeably roused" by Romney's words. Those observations sound like Jon's even-handed coverage to me. I can imagine some wildly clapping shills planted in the audience. Seriously, I think that the "mad" clapping was just empty-headed, reflex reactions to the frenzied hooey, spouting forth. To paraphrase Jon, I hope those clappers will think before they vote.

  11. Keep in mind that the Veterans Community at-large is NOT monolithic. The American Legion is very conservative compared to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (which is far more diverse) - and there's a wide range between one-term vets with only a G.E.D. education and well educated professional career NCO's and Commissioned Officers who are highly invested in protecting America and their interests in Healthcare and Retirement Benefits!

    I'm convinced the well educated vets will be voting for re-electing President Obama and doing all they can to persuade other veterans to do the same - and I'm convinced the vast majority of those on Active Duty and in the Reserves and Guard want to come home and be with their families!

    Romney only appeals to the uneducated, naive, gullible, knee-jerk radical right types within the larger Veterans Community aka "Low Information Voters" sadly!

    Also, keep in mind that the Disabled American Veterans will be holding their National Convention in Las Vegas at Bally's this weekend - and the D.A.V. is far more respected than the American Legion or VFW! V.P. Joe Biden is speaking and the D.A.V. won't even hear from a Republican - that says a great deal about where Disabled Veterans stand on this election cycle!

  12. "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."
    President George Washington

    Over the last decade we as a nation have failed miserably in caring for out veterans.

  13. I too have begin to question the fairness of Jon Ralston. In the past I have often read his articles and was a regular viewer of his Tv show because he seem to be open and unbiase, but lately he is leaning more and more to the right. He bears watching.