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January 02, 2012 2:25 PM ‘Repair the world’

By Steve Benen

Campaigning in Iowa today, Mitt Romney took a relatively new tack in going after President Obama, characterizing the president as having promised to be a savior to the entire planet.

“I’ve been watching some clips of President Obama, then candidate Obama, when he was going across Iowa four years ago,” Romney said. “And the promises were just non-stop of all the great thing he was going to do: heal the nation, bring us together, repair the nation and repair the world.”

I watched the 2008 race pretty closely, and I’m fairly certain Obama never promised he’d single-handedly “repair the world.” What’s more likely is that Romney, an enthusiast of “post-truth politics,” simply made this up. He does that a lot.

But as lies go, this one is fairly important because of what it tells us about the larger Republican strategy. Peter Wallsten has a good piece today on the literal GOP playbook.

With Republican voters in Iowa set to finally begin picking a nominee to challenge President Obama, GOP officials in Washington are quietly and methodically finishing what operatives are calling “the book” — 500 pages of Obama quotes and video links that will form the backbone of the party’s attack strategy against the president leading up to Election Day 2012.

The document, portions of which were reviewed by The Washington Post, lays out how GOP officials plan to use Obama’s words and voice as they build an argument for his defeat: that he made specific promises and entered office with lofty expectations and has failed to deliver on both.

Not surprisingly, I happen to think the GOP officials are wrong, and that the president has kept his promises and had extraordinary successes under nearly impossible circumstances. Some of the promises Obama made four years ago were no doubt scuttled by the global economic crash — which came nine months after the 2008 Iowa caucuses and five months before Obama took the oath of office — but sane voters should realize that campaign pledges made a year in advance had to adapt to radically changing circumstances.

The more interesting point here seems to be the part about “lofty expectations,” which Romney alluded to with his “bring us together” comments this morning.

It’s not unreasonable to look back and recognize that Obama, as a candidate, really did have grand ambitions about changing politics and improving the way policymakers approached problem-solving. He also came into office at a time of remarkable crises — I’d argue no president since Lincoln took office and faced the kind of challenges Obama did — and sincerely hoped well-intentioned officials on both sides of the aisle would be willing to do the right thing, regardless of party.

Three years later, did the president help usher in a “post-partisan” era? Of course not. And if Republicans are successful, voters who expected otherwise may take out their disappointments on the incumbent president.

But here’s hoping sensible voters pause to consider why political conditions deteriorated as they did. Greg Sargent had an important piece on this earlier today.

…Obama had barely been sworn into office before the national Republican leadership mounted a concerted and determined effort to prevent any of Obama’s solutions to our severe national problems from passing, even as they openly declared they were doing so only to destroy him politically. Republicans have admitted on the record that deliberately denying Obama any bipartisan support for, well, anything at all was absolutely crucial to prevent voters from concluding that Obama had successfully forged ideological common ground over the way out of the myriad disasters Obama inherited from them. […]

[A]s Steve Kornacki recently noted, blaming Obama for failing to transcend politics as usual despite determined GOP opposition may be the best way to give indys and moderates a reason to vote against Obama even though they generally agree and sympathize with him. And so, after doing everything in their power to prevent Obama from successfully transcending partisanship and achieving transformative change — even if it meant repeatedly opposing solutions to profound national problems they once embraced — Republicans will now attack him for failing to transcend partisanship and achieve transformative change.

Greg posted that at 9:13 this morning. Before lunch, Romney had already proved him right.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • mellowjohn on January 02, 2012 2:39 PM:

    "...but sane voters should realize..."
    there's the flaw in the argument right there. if they were sane voters, they wouldn't be republicans.

  • DCSusie on January 02, 2012 2:40 PM:

    "...but sane voters should realize..."

    Unfortuantely, Obama has to figure out a way to win over American voters.

  • DAY on January 02, 2012 2:48 PM:

    Let's not forget the many, many quotes from The Kindergarden Years.

  • merl on January 02, 2012 2:49 PM:

    Next up, Romney complaining about Obama using Romney's record as Mass Governor against him.

  • Ron Byers on January 02, 2012 2:54 PM:

    Republicans are banking on the mainstream media to help infect more than 50% of the voters with ODS just like Fox News (and Murdock publications in general) have with their fans.

    By the way, notice just how small minded Romney's message really is. American, at least Republican America, is no longer capable of doing big things, like "repairing the world." Do we want to live in a neo-isolationist America.

  • Rich on January 02, 2012 3:02 PM:

    Oh please, Obama has been a disappointment on transparency, the economy, the war in Iraq, the list goes on. I was never caught up in the cult of Obama and voted for Clinton knowing the kind of centrist he would be. Clinton, though, was deft using small victories to reshape bigger narratives (his playing of welfare reform removed an issue that rank & file liberals were happy to remove from political discourse) and to advance some important policy goals through small bore initiatives like changes to the earned income credit. He also was relentless in continuing to be a president despite Monicagate. Bush seemed slack by comparison in energy and Obama takes the stage only in bursts, often without follow-up.

    Dems and the Obama campaign need to be very aware of Obama's failures and how they can be used by the GOP. Obama will get my vote, but won't get a dime from me until he clearly shows he will relentlessly standup to the GOPers and take a more assertive course on economic issues.

  • dday on January 02, 2012 3:08 PM:

    We shouldn't take campaign speeches literally, but I assume that Romney will defend this charge by pulling out Obama's St. Paul speech from June 3, 2008:

    The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

    No doubt the part about how "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal" will get snipped out.

  • jdog on January 02, 2012 3:08 PM:

    I have watched the Republicans with some amusement. We have seen the Romney attack machine at times, with the expectation that he will use it against Obama should Romney win the nomination.

    Yet I pause for a moment, and wonder what will they attack him with that they have not attacked him with before? What can be charged against Obama that has yet to be tried? A very large proportion of attacks against him have been utterly bogus: claims that he is not an American, that he is a Muslim, that he is a socialist, that he wants American to lose, that he has apologized for American,and etc.

    What is left that has not been tried? And how effective could such attacks possibly be?

  • chi res on January 02, 2012 3:09 PM:

    Rich: Obama has been a disappointment

    Reads like a headline.

  • J on January 02, 2012 3:14 PM:

    I think the "repair the world" thing is a slightly misquoted reference to a line from a speech that Obama made at the end of the 2008 primary season:

    The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment � this was the time � when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

    The line about "... the planet began to heal ..." has been very widely quoted on right-wing blogs and discussion forums. It's portrayed as an example of hubris, of Obama claiming that he could solve all the world's problems. My guess is that this is what Romney is referring to. Romney's use of it is just another dog-whistle phrase that seems odd to normal people but will get wingnuts to respond.

  • Dex on January 02, 2012 3:21 PM:

    There is more the a 50 percent chance that Romney will not be around after this current political period.

    Could it be, that Mitt does not pay U S taxes, might that be the reason that he will not release his tax return!

  • jjm on January 02, 2012 3:29 PM:

    I don't quite see how Obama is a disappointment, given the GOP stance that they would not left one finger to help him institute his policies, that they openly hoped he would fail, and that they were even hoping the US would fail so that he would not be re-elected. If there is a single Obama voter who wants to reward the GOP for attempting to be a wrecking crew then they should be fiercely shamed by the rest of us.

    Unless the public wants to hand all government back over to the GOP so that they smoothly enact their dreams of a presidential monarchy, peonage for the 99%, and religious intolerance for all non-Christians...

    His accomplishments are multiple (see Ezra Klein's list marveling at how much he got done in the first two years, and how much the GOP has hated everything he's done). The only thing he has lacked is a truly competent press office that could cut through the open hostility of the beltway media, which more than once has run completely false stories about him, his policies, and their potential outcomes--and make clear just what those accomplishments are.

    But that may be too much of a job for any press office. The Beltway media is GOP to the core (and not too keen on blacks wielding political power), and that may never change.

    The main flaw in the GOP strategy that I see is their counting on so much outright hostility to people of color among the whites in this country that those whites won't be able to see what is really in their own interests. I find it peculiar that this strategy, which used to be masked in all their veiled policy enterprises, is now naked, open and visible, from Ron Paul's newsletters, to Santorum's wanting to deprive black families of government assistance, to Mitt Romney's decided stance against the DREAM ACT. Bachmann is so obtuse and stuck in her white, Christian evangelism, that she never even considers 'others' in her politics. Gingrich has been a bit too savvy to step into this, but...

    In the end, I don't see the politics of race envy driving this GOP to victory. I could, of course, be wrong, but their pretended vision of 'national unity' absent diversity couldn't be more starkly different from the road our national culture has taken.

  • gus on January 02, 2012 3:33 PM:

    But, that “repair the world” line is a line about the environment. It reads as if it is about global warming rather than about ending war, making everything better in foreign relations, etc.


    One thing to keep in mind is that there are voters who consider themselves conservative who consider very little at all.

    They made up their mind early on, as Steve noted, to not allow “Change” to happen. And, they opposed immediate solutions to then-current problems.

    To put it another way: there were people who wanted Obama to fail. They didn’t care if our country suffered because of that want. They--including people who are just voters, not players in this game-- are just self-absorbed jackasses who want their beliefs validated. The “I Told You So” crowd on the Republican side.

    It is obviously crap. Always is crap. And, Romney and the GOP may believe they are smart for going after Obama’s words (or as the Clinton camp once dismissively called them, “just words”) they really are going to have to deal with the fact that their Man has words and a record, too. The campaign pros and pundits must realize that there are Republicans who don’t like Romney at all, for specious reasons. They just irrationally hate Obama, too.

    Romney is headed for a lot of odd campaign moments. He’s just not as polished as some say he is. And, he’s not extremely credible (the job maker/Bain aspect).

  • Anonymous on January 02, 2012 3:33 PM:

    @Rich

    I don't have the strength to read your entire anti-Obama drivel (most of which are lies), but none of the idiot republican candidates could do any better. Barack Obama doesn't have a perfect record on the economy, but at least he has created jobs, unlike Mitt Romney, the career job-killer. Mitt Romney lies, and runs away from his own crappy record. Mitt Romney has disposed of hard-drives on computers to cover up his record, and he won't release his tax returns. FAIL for transparency! Mitt Romney is a fraud, and has nothing to offer.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 02, 2012 3:38 PM:

    @dday: A little cut and paste and here's the easiest way Grease-Stain Mitt can quote Obama from that speech:

    "...I face this challenge with...knowledge of my own limitations..."

    The man has practically admitted to knowing that he'd be a weak and dysfunctional, affirmative-action handicap as a president...hey, his words...

  • Socko1980 on January 02, 2012 3:38 PM:

    @Rich

    All of the GOP candidates have been a disappointment. Sucks to be you.

  • Swift Loris on January 02, 2012 3:40 PM:

    One does wonder whether, had Obama been more strongly partisan during the primary and general campaigns, the GOP might not have been quite so confident of its ability to prevent him from accomplishing his goals.

  • mk3872 on January 02, 2012 3:43 PM:

    The GOP has been transparent about this strategy since the day Obama was inaugurated.

    They have worked to deny him his agenda completely and will now say that he "flip-flopped" on issues like Gitmo, DREAM act and keeping unemployment under 8%.

    In fact, they've already started that.

  • jcricket on January 02, 2012 3:44 PM:

    I'm sure the R's are compiling quite a book. I also am sure that the book ends with the election of 2008.

    Since then, there are myriad examples of why bipartisanship was not allowed to work in Washington.

    I'm sure there is a D book in the making as well, and there is more recent support (see present Congress approval rating)for the real reasons why the failure of bipartisanship exists.

    Americans have short political attention spans. What we are living today is going to mean more than the idealism of a presidential candidate four years ago.

    But then, I'm willing to bet that the gist of the 2008 review will be more along using the charge of 'arrogant'. Too bad they can't resurrect the arugula argument.

  • Socko1980 on January 02, 2012 3:46 PM:

    Every president has limitations, idiot. Keep it up. That dog whistle won't work in the general election. "Bush 43" was complete moron, but he still got into Yale. He got in because being RICH and WHITE is the best affirmative action money can buy!

  • Socko1980 on January 02, 2012 3:53 PM:

    @Sgt. Gym Bunny

    Every president has limitations, idiot. Keep it up. That dog whistle won't work in the general election. "Bush 43" was complete moron, but he still got into Yale. He got in because being RICH and WHITE is the best affirmative action money can buy!

  • zeitgeist on January 02, 2012 4:02 PM:

    Sure Obama has been a disappointment judged against the high expectations he set or against some progressive ideal, but he has been less a disappointment than pretty well any other president in my lifetime, which is a more realistic standard.

    Obama's biggest strategic failure was that he didn't aggressively call the Republicans out on not meeting him to "change Washington" very early in his term when (a) he was still in what ultimately became a very short honeymoon period and (b) when it was already clear they planned to say Hell No We Won't to everything he wanted to achieve. He needed to frame the debate as Republicans refusing to do what the voters wanted and insist he would stand up for the voters against business as usual in Washington and make sure that from day one there was never any doubt who was preventing change.

    That said, Team Romney is not skillful enough to pull off the "he was a disappointment" attack without giving Obama a new chance to make precisely the argument above. And to point out that the Republicans appear to think America has become weak and incapable, while he (Obama) knows that America remains the strongest economy, the strongest economy and the democratic leader and example the rest of the world looks to. Obama will win this by less than 08 but still fairly comfortably.

  • Werewolf on January 02, 2012 4:04 PM:

    @Socko1980-
    I believe that Sgt. Gym Bunny was being sarcastic, in showing how Mittens' campaign could take Candidate Obama's words and twist them, as they've already done. She's on our side, dude.

  • Gov't Mule on January 02, 2012 4:06 PM:

    Conversely, Democrats could check the campaign promises that Slick Willard made to Massachusetts voters back in 2002. I did notice a new Mittens commercial running in NH that claims BHO is pessimistic, but all it does is criticize the President. Is this the new RomneyLogic, criticize Obama as negative, but somehow it doesn't count when you do it yourself.

  • iyoumeweus on January 02, 2012 4:12 PM:

    He promised health care for all. He delivered. He promised troops out of Iraq. Their out. He promised a smarter foreign policy. We are witnesses to a smarter approach. I was mistaken about his ability to work with the other party and the other parties RACISM, and how they would put party before the good of the nation. No job program, no green energy program and environmental programs under continuous attack. Federal judges and administrating officials blocked. These are not the President's fault, but Senate Republicans using their minority powers and weak Democratic leadership allowing them to block everything. No, he did not bring us together; because, a large segment do not want to be brought together, but wish to RULE without compromise over us for their own gain and our demise. I just wish he would stand up for those who do support him and not always try to please them and reject us.

  • chi res on January 02, 2012 4:14 PM:

    Is this the new RomneyLogic

    Nice oxymoron, mule.

  • Boomer on January 02, 2012 5:09 PM:

    It wasn't really that hard to find. Maybe you were paying attention during the last campaign after all.

    >>That’s why I’m asking you to stand with me, that’s why I’m asking you to caucus for me, that’s why I am asking you to stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept. In this election – in this moment – let us reach for what we know is possible. A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again. Thank you very much everybody.

    http://stateoftheunion.wordpress.com/2007/11/11/jefferson-jackson-day-dinner/

    You might note the speech was in Iowa giving it even more timelines.

    It's also a speech that Obama says lobbyists won't be a part of his administration. Does he ever tell the truth?

  • Sharon on January 02, 2012 5:10 PM:

    Obama told Republicans in his first meeting with them that "Elections have consequences and I won." Obama set up the opposition from his first days in office. Couple this with his strategy for governing (It's all Bush's fault) and anyone with even average intelligence would understand that Americans elected an arrogant, puckered jerk as POTUS and he deserves the opposition he's gotten. This national nightmare of a presidency can't end soon enough.

  • Holly W on January 02, 2012 5:43 PM:

    What exactly are the quotes of Obama promising he would move the country to a post-partisan era? I'm skeptical it was a promise as opposed to a hope or maybe a call for everyone to do so together. If one spouse is determined to wreck a marriage no matter what, they can do so. The GOP was such a spouse.

    Obama may ultimately have to dispense with subtlety and bluntly point out unpleasant things e.g. the Republican congress has tried to block economic improvement, Romney and the Karl Rove SuperPacs supporting him lie shamelessly.

  • chi res on January 02, 2012 5:54 PM:

    Sharon: Americans elected an arrogant, puckered jerk

    I think the term you're searching for here is "uppity nigger".

  • Michael Takiff on January 02, 2012 5:57 PM:

    What Romney doesn't know is that "repair the world" comes from a Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam. (It's where the magazine Tikkun gets its name. And it's certainly where Obama got the phrase.) It does not imply megalomania or a messiah complex, as Romney implies. Rather it presents an ideal to guide the way we live our lives: to alleviate some of the hardship, suffering, and injustice that continue to afflict human beings. Obama is expressing a noble sentiment. If Romney (or his staff) had done some homework, they'd understand what Obama was saying.

  • Trollop on January 02, 2012 6:01 PM:

    This national nightmare of a presidency can't end soon enough.

    Maybe you mean the presidency should end like Ol Newthead thinks the judiciary should end?

    I can say without a doubt that the President said "close Guantanamo", ergo reinstate habeas corpus; fairly quintessential to a democracy! As sited by Sharon though, I still think the financial situation is "Bush's fault", along with Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, my pet goat while the towers were being attacked, tax cuts that were never going to be paid for, etc.. I can also tell Sharon and all who still believe that "everything was better" under the GOP, that nobody holds this president in less favor than I do, for not closing Guantanamo! Of course, I'm not fucking mentally retarded enough to actually consider voting for a Republican dildo like Mitt Romney, nor any of the other half-wit, fake dick, sociopaths your party of idiots has managed to prep for the job.. Sorry Sharon, you might first try to blame Obama for not using his Presidency to restore lawfulness afforded abroad to many since the 13th century..

  • chi res on January 02, 2012 6:17 PM:

    Obama told Republicans in his first meeting with them that "Elections have consequences and I won."

    Actually, IIRC, Eric Cantor said that Obama said the line about elections/consequences.

    But I'm sure you've seen it attributed in enough right-wing hate emails that you're absolutely sure it's true.

    Why don't you give us an objective link to substantiate your quote?

  • SYSPROG on January 02, 2012 6:31 PM:

    I love people like you Sharon that just sit down and type after reading/watching the lastest right wing screed. POTUS is NOT the national nightmare. It's the GOP that has decided that if the President says/endorses ANYTHING (even if the right wanted it previously) that they will fight him...even if it's good for the country. And yes, I'm sure that you think having a right wing, wiffle waffler, lying, job destroying person in the WH is better than Obama. Why don't you grow up and READ. You and you're ilk will destroy the country and blame it on all those pesky liberals. MORON indeed.

    But what I actually got on here to say was...when did LYING become a 'christian' commandment?

  • exlibra on January 02, 2012 7:00 PM:

    Obama told Republicans in his first meeting with them that "Elections have consequences and I won." -- Sharon, @5:10PM

    Um. That was the other guy with big ears -- Dubya. In'04, if I remember correctly (though I wouldn't have put it past him to have claimed a mandate after the '00 fiasco). Try again, sweetie.

  • Doug on January 02, 2012 7:06 PM:

    "...when did LYING become a 'christian' commandment?" SYSPROG @ 6:31 PM

    It's right there somewhere between: "Thou SHALL steal" and (especially) "Thou SHALL commit adultery". You know, "thou SHALL bear false witness"?
    I WAS going to say that I understood that the adultery one was a favorite with at least one of the Republican candidates, but then I realized they ALL applied...

  • jjm on January 02, 2012 8:40 PM:

    All Democrats have to respond is, "And whose fault is that???"

  • Col Bat Guano on January 02, 2012 10:21 PM:

    At some point doesn't Romney (if he's the nominee) have to offer a positive agenda beyond "Obama is bad"? Voters want to believe you have some sort of plan to move the country forward. I don't think W. Bush II: Electric Boogaloo is really going to open to big numbers.

  • anonomys on January 02, 2012 10:32 PM:

    The statement that Romney is referring to was in a speech Obama made recently to a Jewish organization emphasizing his sharing of Jewish values. Previous poster was absolutey correct.

    "What Romney doesn't know is that "repair the world" comes from a Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam. (It's where the magazine Tikkun gets its name. And it's certainly where Obama got the phrase.) It does not imply megalomania or a messiah complex, as Romney implies. Rather it presents an ideal to guide the way we live our lives: to alleviate some of the hardship, suffering, and injustice that continue to afflict human beings. Obama is expressing a noble sentiment. If Romney (or his staff) had done some homework, they'd understand what Obama was saying."

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