Belmont Club

Get Shorty

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post asks why Romney would imagine that Obama would lose to him by a big margin in the coming presidential election. He scoffs at any suggestion that 2012 will be anything but a tight race. Citing author Craig Shirley, Sargent asserts there is no way that President Obama, “a vastly superior politician to Carter” at a time “that the economy is nowhere near as bad as it was in 1980,” can show poorly against Romney, who “is not even a poor imitation of Reagan.” Therefore he finds it slightly suspicious that the Romney/Ryan team should exhibit such confidence. Sargent thinks that at worst it will be a tight race:

I fully expect the race to tighten, and I’d say it’s still a toss-up, given the bad economy. But it’s interesting to ask why the Romney camp is spinning this scenario. I don’t know how heavily Romney and his advisers are banking on things unfolding this way, but the fact that they are telling folks this suggests they think they need a theory of the race that explains why they aren’t yet winning.

But in fact the question should be asked the other way. Why is it tight? Why is Barack Obama, with all the resources of the incumbent, after having spent literally hundreds of billions on political patronage, backed by the wholehearted support of the media, not streets ahead of that rich old white Mormon and his miserly running mate?

Hillary Clinton is apparently asking herself the same question. And she’s sitting it out, which is a polite way of saying she’s looked at the odds and declined to bet the farm on Barack Obama winning in 2012. Ed Klein, the author of the New York Times bestseller on Obama, The Amateur, says Hillary was invited to join him as running mate in the coming elections — and she declined.

“As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the White House was putting out feelers to see if Hillary Clinton was interested in replacing Joe Biden on the ticket,” Klein told Secrets. “Bill Clinton, I’m told, was urging his wife to accept the number two spot if it was formally offered. Bill sees the vice presidency as the perfect launching pad for Hillary to run for president in 2016.”

He made similar comments Thursday night to CNBC’s Larry Kudlow. The White House has dismissed speculation of a Clinton for Biden swap despite a string of recent gaffes by the vice president.

Klein, whose book is No. 2 on the NYT bestseller list, quoted unnamed sources who revealed that top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett put the vice presidency on the table during a lunch with the secretary of state. “The lunch was ostensibly about policy issues, but the subject of the vice presidency came up,” he said. “Hillary told Valerie Jarrett that she was not interested in running as Obama’s vice president.”

Klein said she cited two reasons: If elected, she didn’t want to be tied to Obama’s left-leaning politics in her own 2016 bid. Second, if Obama loses, she would be tarred as a loser.

In plain English, Hillary Clinton — who presumably has access to the best polling and political advice that money can buy — is not entirely confident that Barack Obama is going to make it.  She, more than anyone, knows how little reserve buoyancy the Titanic has left. The problem, according to some of his old community organizer friends in Chicago, is the stimulus. The boys in the neighborhood have only heard rumor of its existence, but nobody has actually seen it.  Allen, one of his old buddies from the South Side has fallen on hard times, according to an article in the Washington Post.

He still walks the same streets here as his old acquaintance Barack Obama once did. That is about all they have in common anymore. At 50, Chicago activist Mark Allen lives with his parents, barely able to pay his bills. The head of a small, community-assistance organization called Black Wall Street Chicago, Allen regards his personal survival alone as a small victory, grateful he can pay the rent on his modest office space, aware he is doing better than many on this city’s restive South Side.

“Things haven’t gone the way we’d hoped after Barack got elected,” he says. … He wheels around to see a short man in a sweat-streaked tank top and torn jeans. He warily looks him over.

“Allen?” the man yells. “You Allen, right? It’s me, man. It’s Shorty.” …

“You know how it is, man,” Shorty says. “I could use a few dollars.”

“Don’t stretch me out, Shorty,” Allen says, reluctant to hand over any money, given how thin his own wallet has been stretched. He gives him two bucks anyway.

“I need some work,” Shorty says … “I need a job,” he repeats, more urgently.

Allen says he’ll keep his ears open. As a grateful Shorty trudges off, Allen mutters, “Where’s the stimulus for a guy like Shorty?”

It is a frustrated reference to the Obama administration’s $800 billion stimulus package, which has awarded $11.9 billion to Illinois’s public and private sectors since early 2009, according to administration statistics, and created jobs for about 3,900 Illinoisans in the last quarter alone. But not for many South Siders, Allen says.

Nobody in the neighborhood has seen hide nor hair of it. It appears there was precious little left for Shorty and Allen by the time the unions, the agencies, and the politicians had got through with the stimulus funds. “It is a common complaint among local activists and community leaders,” the Washington Post article continues. “South Side critics point to road and construction crews that are overwhelmingly white and from outside their neighborhoods.” But as the administration explains, they all really got a slice of the pie, but they just weren’t paying attention.

[A]dministration defenders point out that the stimulus law was never chiefly designed as an infrastructure program. Most of the stimulus money has gone to the kinds of initiatives principally designed to stoke consumer demand, bolster the social safety net and preserve existing jobs: tax credits for lower- and middle-income families, more public education funding, additional assistance to Medicaid.

In other words, the stimulus money, like a pea in a shell game, was meant to go round and round the paper mills of Washington, Illinois, and Chicago, getting just a little smaller each time until it just vanished. But all that time it was generating green rays which, had Allen and Shorty been more perceptive, they would have noticed as shining upon them.

The solution, of course, is to put a bigger pea under the shell so that even after numerous iterations, there’ll still be more than a couple of bucks left over for Allen and Shorty. But that’s what it comes down to. Where are the dollars and cents?

Maybe Greg Sargent’s mistake is to think the coming election will be all about the campaign. It won’t be. Not this time. What Romney and Hillary understand is that the election will be about the last four years. Barack Obama isn’t running against Romney. He’s running against his record. Perhaps Allen and Shorty will still vote for him this time around, but there’s a limit to everything. There always is.

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