Can’t hang your hat on polls when winds of crisis blow

In politics, you can’t hang your hat on a poll, because the winds of global events will easily send it tumbling away. In the battle for leading a nation, there are only two things you can plant at the top of a poll: a flag or your ass, and if one isn’t up there, the other soon will be.

It’s safe to say that following the revelation of the recent video with Mitt Romney speaking “off the cuff,” as he called it, at a high end fundraiser in Boca Raton, this spring, his keester is high in the breeze, hoisted with his own Mitt-tard, as it were. He just cannot get away from who he is. As Bob Marley sang, “You’re running, and you’re running, and you’re running away, but you can’t run away from yourself.”

But there are still seven weeks until the decision is final, and anything can happen.

What the Romney video, released through Mother Jones, reveals, though, is a confirmation of President Bill Clinton’s assertion, during his speech at the Democratic Convention, two weeks ago, that “We think ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.'”

With international events potentially shaking the ground under the administration’s feet, it’s time for the president to make a statement about what it is we are all in together, especially in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. This is something that should come from three different press rooms, in a coordinated communication. Secretary Leon Panetta, at the Pentagon, Secretary Hillary Clinton, at the State Department, and President Barack Obama at the White House.

For Sec. Panetta, it’s not enough to explain the waves insider attacks, also known as “blue on green”  violence, in Afghanistan, by calling the killings “a last gasp effort” by the Taliban, “to try to create chaos, because they’ve been unable to regain any of the territory that they have lost.”

For Sec. Clinton, it’s not enough to show sympathy for the victims of the ongoing violence against our diplomatic posts, and assert the administration’s obvious deniability of the “awful internet video that we had nothing to do with.”

For President Obama, it’s not enough that if the election were held today, he would probably win, because people think he is better for us than the twisted, insensitive, and out-of-touch social Darwinism of Mitt Romney.  The president must approach these events in the way in which it is already being cast by his enemies – a crisis, and one he must demonstrate he is managing. It is not only a show of leadership; it is also wise, politically. For the people of the United States, it will at least be reassuring to see him in charge, as commander-in-chief, and for the undecided voter who is leaning toward Romney, it could rescue that vote.

It’s as if the administration, hiding behind a curtain with a huge presidential seal on it, is working together keeping a dozen or so different colored plastic balls in the air, just high enough above the curtain rod for the People to see things are being done. Then, all of a sudden, a wind gust comes and blows a couple of the balls into a mud puddle, thousands of miles away from the curtain. The people and the press, noticing the missing elements, are going to want access, to see what’s happened behind the curtain. As they creep up to pull it back, they fully expect to reveal Obama using every finger, toe and elbow to keep the juggling act running smoothly, with maybe a feed or two from Vice President Biden.

Instead, what they’ll find back there, behind the screen, is the way the executive branch of government actually works – a handful of cabinet members, assistants and others keeping the remaining balls in the air. Sec. Clinton is over at a sink washing off one of the mud-covered balls, and Sec. Panetta is huffing and puffing after hurriedly grabbing a dirty orb from one of his Afghan theater generals.

The administration continues to assert that, regarding the tragedy in Libya, “there’s an active investigation underway into what happened and why, and what the motivations were,” as White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters in Tuesday’s briefing.

Carney re-iterated Obama’s remarks in the Rose Garden, last Wednesday, when, with Hillary Clinton by his side, he said, “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

In retrospect, though the president’s remarks were spot on, the Rose Garden setting may have been too casual, on its own, to meet the gravitas of the events that precipitated it. A better play, a more assertive play, may have been to allow Secretary Clinton’s remarks, earlier that day, to carry the message, until he could appear in the Oval Office, in prime time, to a national audience, and given the same message he actually gave that afternoon, adding that he was sending extra carriers to the region to monitor the situation. He could have followed that the next day with a press conference, and then waited until after the bodies were back from Libya to return to the campaign trail.

Granted, they have been doing this a lot longer than a humble blogger, and at a lot higher level, but it’s not like the president has a lot of leeway in the polls with which to play, and Romney made it clear, in the recently released video, that he would exploit a foreign crisis, if he had an Iran hostage kind of scenario, a la Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980. “If something of that nature presents itself,” he told the well heeled donors, “I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Maybe that explains his lip biting grimace, last Wednesday night, while taking questions on his statement about the administration being weak and “apologetic” on foreign policy. As Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan remarked, “He looked like Richard Nixon.” Now that was someone with a pole up his ass.


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