• Economy forgotten as controversy roils White House race


    by Stephen Collinson

    WASHINGTON, May 13, 2012 (AFP) – The politics of marriage, school bullies, a pile of cash in George Clooney’s garden and a forgotten recession — that’s the flavor of a frenetic week in the drama that is the US presidential election.

    Last week, President Barack Obama fired up his first official rallies of his reelection bid, telling Americans “it’s still about hope” as he tried to recreate the electoral alchemy that sent him to the White House.

    But after a volatile week of controversies and revelations, Obama’s rallies are a distant memory, and the election’s ultimately decisive theme — the stuttering economy — has been drowned out.

    Vice President Joe Biden inadvertently triggered a political circus by saying on NBC that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage.

    His comment immediately made untenable his boss’s careful position that he was “evolving” on an issue dear to his liberal base but fraught with political risk.

    Three days later, Obama was forced to concede that he too backed gay marriage, upending a White House plan to deploy the bombshell to maximum political impact later in the campaign.

    The media firestorm swamped a $25 million campaign ad blitz in key states meant to laud Obama’s achievements.

    A chagrined Biden then had to go to the Oval Office to apologize after his move unleashed a torrent of palace intrigue centering on the relationship between the voluble vice president and his cerebral boss.

    The media’s attention span was quickly hijacked by another juicy story though, as the Washington Post published a story suggesting that Romney, as a boy at an elite private school, had bullied a classmate who was likely gay.

    This time Romney was the one saying sorry — though he stressed he did not remember the incident.

    Romney’s mea culpa competed for coverage with Obama’s encounter with Hollywood, in the most profitable single-day fundraising event in political history, as he partied with Tinseltown stars to pile up $15 million in campaign funds.

    A-listers like Barbra Streisand and Robert Downey Jr showed up with 150 others at Clooney’s Studio City home after plunking down $40,000 each, to hear Obama outline his plans to win a second term.

    Republicans, gritting their teeth as the man they mock as “celebrity in chief” filled his campaign coffers, sought an opening, and found it.

    In Seattle on the way to Los Angeles, Obama had told supporters that the economy in 2008 was like “a house of cards” before it tipped into recession.

    “Sometimes people forget the magnitude of it … Sometimes I forget,” he said.

    Twisting Obama’s remarks, Romney’s team claimed that the president was guilty of a case of severe economic amnesia.

    “It’s not surprising that a president who forgot to create jobs, forgot to cut the debt, and forgot to change Washington has now admitted that he’s forgotten about the recession,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

    In fact, Obama rarely stops talking about the “worst recession in our lifetimes” as he wants voters to remember the dark economic crisis bequeathed to him by a Republican, George W. Bush.

    While each of the incidents of the last week seem trivial, they reveal deeper truths about Obama’s struggle with Romney.

    Americans are voting for a head of state and commander-in-chief so character issues and trust are important.

    Any questions about Romney’s personality and past, whether true or not, risk adding to a picture the Obama camp is trying to paint that he is privileged, uncaring and aloof from the lives lived by most Americans.

    On the gay marriage issue, Obama was caught between what appears to be his own instincts and beliefs in equality and the electoral reality that coming out for same-sex wedlock could hurt him in closely contested battleground states.

    But by taking the plunge, Obama may also have done himself some good — firing up his liberal political supporters, crucial young voters, and reviving at least a whiff of the “change” narrative that powered his 2008 race.

    Romney meanwhile declared Saturday that “marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman” and wants to enshrine that position with a constitutional amendment — a stance Democrats will use to brand him extreme.

    The “forgotten” recession controversy meanwhile reflects a bid by Romney’s camp to thwart Obama’s efforts to argue that though things are still tough, he pulled the economy back from the brink.

    Romney wants voters not to focus on how far the economy has come, but to lay the blame for lingering pain squarely on the president.

    The exchange also shows that after a week of sideshows, Romney’s camp is desperate to get the focus back on the economy — which may represent his only chance at winning the White House.

    “Hopefully people are focusing on the major issues of the day which relate to our economy,” Romney told Fox News on Thursday.

    Any day that focus is not on the economy is a good one for Obama.

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