Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Not because his possible entry into the 2016 Republican presidential contest could cause chaos for the GOP. But because Romney, apparently seeing the error of his "severely conservative" ways, has become a progressive crusader. Initial news reports noted that Romney was telling Republicans privately that should he mount a third presidential bid he would run to the right of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an all-but-announced contender. Yet in public remarks, Romney has been sounding like a born-again lefty. At an investment management conference in Utah this week, Romney told the crowd that a new-and-improved candidate Romney would focus on climate change, poverty, and education.
Yes, climate change, poverty, and education. In a bizarre Freaky Friday sort of way, Romney appears to have been body-snatched—perhaps by the ghost of Ted Kennedy. He declared, "I'm one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that," he said of climate change. And he called for global agreements to curb greenhouse gas emissions, slamming the US government for having failed to achieve such accords. "Let's deal with poverty," he also proclaimed. "Have we done it? No. Let's do it." And to improve education, he urged more pay for teachers.
Barack Obama is very good at getting elected president (two for two!) and pretty darn good at policy (Obamacare; the stimulus; the auto industry rescue; Wall Street reform; ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell; Cuba; immigration reform executive action; dumping DOMA; middle-class tax cuts; new EPA limits on emissions that cause climate change; banning torture; downsizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and killing Osama bin Laden). But there's one key piece of the job description where he's fallen short: shaping the ongoing political narrative of the nation.
The president is the country's storyteller in chief. And despite his inspiring powers of oratory (see Campaign 2008) and his savvy understanding of the importance of values in political salesmanship (see Campaign 2012), Obama, as his aides concede, has not effectively sold the nation on his own accomplishments, and, simultaneously, he has failed to establish an overarching public plot line that explains the gridlock in Washington as the result of GOP obstructionists blocking him on important issues where public opinion is in his favor. With his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Obama had one last chance to take a swing at forging this narrative. Though he did adopt a muscular stance in presenting a forceful and vigorous vision—going on offense in the fourth quarter of his presidency, as his advisers have put it—the president let the Republicans off easy.
Throughout his presidency, as the GOP has consistently sought to block him, Obama has responded inconsistently. He often has pleaded for reason and looked to craft a deal—frequently (and justifiably) to prevent a hit to the economy. (This was the adult-in-the-room strategy.) At times, he has praised House Speaker John Boehner, while pointing to Boehner's tea party wing as the cause of the partisan paralysis. And then he has occasionally—but not too often—flashed anger and slammed Republicans for being irresponsible and reckless (the debt ceiling scuffle, the assorted government shutdown showdowns). He has not presented a steady and stark tale in which he stars as the fighter for the middle- and lower-income Americans who are stymied repeatedly by always-say-no Republicans aligned with plutocrats, the gun lobby, corporate polluters, and other foes of progress. Consequently, he has often borne blame for the sluggish economy and the mess in Washington, with the Democratic Party paying the price for the dips in his approval rating.
In 2012, Mitt Romney's career as a businessman who earned many millions of dollars became a net loss, as political foes slammed him for running Bain Capital, a private equity firm that invested in US companies that downsized and shifted jobs overseas and that obtained financial stakes in foreign companies that depended on US outsourcing for profits. At the same time, Romney, who refused to do a full release of his tax returns, was hit with questions (he didn't answer) about mysterious personal investments in offshore accounts. Should he mount a third presidential effort, as he has told GOP funders he is considering, all of these issues are likely to return. But there's another matter that will be be added to the pile of financial controversies for Romney to face: Solamere Capital, the $700 million private equity firm cofounded by his son Taggart that Romney has helped run since March 2013. Who has Romney been investing with, and what has he been investing in? These are questions that Romney 2016 will confront and that, no doubt, the firm will not want to answer.
In March 2013, Mitt Romney became chair of Solamere's executive committee and a member of its investment committee, and Solamere's bare website currently lists him as the executive partner group chairman. The site only describes the company as "a collection of families and influential business leaders leveraging their broad networks and industry expertise to invest strategic capital." But the firm has recruited scores of investors willing to give the Romneys millions, and it has invested in an untold number of other funds and companies. Any of these parties—the investors or the investments—could pose a conflict of interest for a presidential candidate or raise a significant question. Has Solamere invested in companies that outsource? Or in overseas firms that compete with US firms? Has it drawn investments from people or corporations at home or abroad that want to curry favor with a possible president? Might the companies and private equity firms Solamere invests in have an interest in lobbying a future Romney administration? There is no way for the public to know; the firm does not disclose any information on its investors or investments. So how will Romney respond to these and other questions about his work for Solamere?
The political media world has been in a tizzy these past few days due to the news that Mitt Romney is serious about taking a third stab at a presidential run. On Friday, the Wall Street Journalreported that Romney had told a group of Republican fat-cat funders—who else?—that he was pondering a 2016 bid. On Monday, the Washington Postrevealed that Romney was trying to get the band back together, calling former aides and donors and informing them he was almost ready to jump in. With Jeb Bush, another GOP prince with a business career open to political attacks, plotting his own 2016 moves, Romney's actions raised the possibility of a dynasty-versus-dynasty clash that would cause awkward conversations in country clubs and corporate boardrooms across the land, with the two tussling to win the hearts, minds, and mega-dollars of the GOP establishment. Given that the voting base of the Republican Party will likely be motivated by tea party passions, not centrism or concerns about electability, a Romney-Bush primary battle might be akin to a contest to make the best salad at a cannibals' convention. Nevertheless, it promises to be a bitter and bare-knuckled brawl, as each camp has already begun shooting spitballs at the other.
For Romney, the key question is this: What would he do differently than last time? In 2012, he did manage to win the GOP nomination, but he achieved that within a profoundly weak Republican field. Rick Perry opposed his way into inconsequence. And Romney only had to vanquish Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, and Michele Bachmann—none of them serious contenders. In the general election, he was widely panned—even by Republicans and conservatives—as a less-than-stellar campaigner who could not fully exploit the external factors (a still-sluggish economy, low approval numbers for President Barack Obama) that afforded the Republicans a good chance of seizing the White House. And, of course, there was that 47 percent moment—for which Romney has been offering contradictory and factually-challenged explanations ever since.
Shortly after gunmen burst into the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo and murdered a dozen people, Marine Le Pen, the leader of Front National, a far-right, anti-immigrant party, called for France to revive the death penalty, which it abolished in 1981. In an interview with France 2, she declared that capital punishment should be part "of our legal arsenal," and she vowed to hold a national referendum to restore it if she is elected president in 2017.
La Pen's remarks were not surprising. While the manhunt for the Charlie Hebdo killers was underway, she used the horrific attack to justify her own political war on Islam. And it did seem that her party, which promotes a hard-line anti-Islam and anti-immigrant message, was in a good position to gain politically.
But, it seems, Le Pen and the suspected terrorists, Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, who were killed by French authorities on Friday, shared a view: they both wanted death for the gunmen. When the Kouachi brothers were cornered in a printing plant in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris, a French lawmaker who had been inside the SWAT command post told a television station that the brothers had told French negotiators they "want to die as martyrs."
This was not surprising. The goal of martyrdom has motivated numerous jihadists to conduct murderous action. Suicide bombers, the 9/11 plotters, and others seek to die in pursuit of their cause and believe that there will be a reward on the other side.
So the best punishment, when such criminals are apprehended, would be to deny them martyrdom and force them to wait decades, maybe half a century, to meet their violence-supporting maker—preferably in a small, isolated cell for all that time. Recruiters of jihadist killers might have a tougher time selling a decades-long stint in prison than a glorious exit in a blaze of gunfire or a high-profile state execution that would receive attention around the world.
One key, though dubious, argument for the death penalty is that it deters would-be killers. But terrorists like the Charlie Hebdo murderers are not deterred by death. They desire their own demise. Putting aside the moral considerations regarding state-sponsored executions, a sober (and, yes, vengeful) calculation would be to keep such evildoers alive and miserable for many years. Perhaps that would make them less compelling inspiration for potential terrorists. Le Pen's call for reviving the death penalty is not geared toward preventing bloody events; it is designed to exploit them.
Unfortunately, in the Charlie Hebdo case, the supposed killers got their death wish. It would have been more gratifying—and probably more beneficial—if they had been captured, placed on trial, convicted, and forced to rot in jail for the rest of their lives.