Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday July 22nd, 2012

By Barrie Dunsmore

I was skeptical when I first heard it. And it soon became evident that when Condoleezza Rice was mentioned by supposedly informed sources as a likely vice presidential choice for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, this was a clear case of misdirection. This is what magicians do. They create a diversion to get the audience to look away so they won’t see how the trick is done. But in politics, instead of sleight of hand, misdirection usually involves actual deception.

The former Secretary of State is an African American and a woman- a member of two groups Romney could certainly use some help with. So at first glance she may have seemed like a plausible choice. But Ms. Rice is pro-choice and therefore unacceptable to the Tea Party. And she is also not remembered fondly by foreign policy hardliners who accuse her of trying to soften up President George W. Bush during his second term. In fact, Rice was never a serious candidate for the number two spot on the ticket. Dropping her name was misdirection- to divert the attention of the presidential campaign away from Romney’s career as a venture capitalist and his refusal to divulge his complete tax returns.

But as the Obama campaign has kept hammering at these issues the Romney camp’s desire to turn the page became ever more urgent. An announcement of the actual vice presidential running mate for Romney may be moved up - perhaps by the time you read this column we’ll all know. But unless it is Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin, I am not sure even a vice presidential nominee will be enough to change the conversation. (Incidentally, I was intrigued to hear that when John McCain was asked recently why he had chosen Palin over Romney for his Veep nominee in 2008, McCain reportedly said, “because she was the better candidate.”)

This past week numerous prominent conservative Republicans - from columnist George Will to Texas Governor Rick Perry- have criticized Romney for failing to fully disclose his tax returns. Romney’s adamant refusal to release more than a year or two of returns has merely fueled speculation that he really has something to hide. Unsubstantiated reports are swirling that in recent years he paid no income tax at all. And another, more damaging rumor is that he somehow put tens of millions of dollars into an individual retirement account (IRA) which according to some tax specialists would be illegal.

Yet rather than disclosure, the Romney campaign has turned again to misdirection- only this time with a darker side. This past week, former New Hampshire governor and key Romney advisor John Sununu said on a conference call that he wished Obama “would learn how to be an American.” As reported in the Huffington Post, “In the span of one morning, top Mitt Romney surrogate John Sununu referred to President Obama as dumb and stupid, called the Chicago political culture from which he came "corrupt," brought up Obama's admitted use of marijuana as a kid in Hawaii…..and then questioned the president's Americaness.” (This was a script that had been publicly suggested the day before by Rush Limbaugh.)

The same day, candidate Romney himself described President Obama’s economic policies as “foreign.” And as expected, these racially tinged bows to the “ birthers” had them coming out of the woodwork once again. One of the first to re-appear was Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arapaio whose ”investigators”  previously declared that there was probable cause to believe the president’s birth certificate was a computer generated forgery.  Sheriff Joe now says his “volunteer posse” is certain that it is fraudulent.

The sheriff’s posse notwithstanding, Hawaii officials responded by again confirming Obama's citizenship.

"President Obama was born in Honolulu and his birth certificate is valid," said Joshua A. Wisch, a special assistant to Hawaii's attorney general. "Regarding the latest allegations from a sheriff in Arizona, they are untrue, misinformed, and misconstrue Hawaii law." Such statements of course mean nothing to those who seek to de-legitimize Obama’s presidency by claiming he was not born in this country. But it is reflection of the desperation of the Romney campaign that it feels the need to encourage the inherent racism of the birthers.

Actually, toward the end of the coming week, Mr. Romney will get a break when he travels to London and Israel. As “the man who saved the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics” from scandal, he obviously hopes to bask in some reflected glory during the opening of this year’s Summer Games.

Mr. Romney will be in Israel July 29th, the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, which among other things marks the pre-Christian era destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. According to William Krystol of the Weekly Standard, this date was suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who “encouraged Romney to be in Jerusalem on this solemn day in Jewish history and call to mind current threats to the Jewish people.”

Mr. Romney, who has known Mr. Netanyahu for many years, doesn’t really need historical references for his unquestioning support for the prime minister’s policies. Romney has no apparent reservations about an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and the violent reactions such an attack would provoke throughout the region. He has accused President Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus.” And he has criticized the president for even negotiating with the Iranians.

Obviously Romney and Netanyahu will be discussing Iran and who knows what they might agree to privately. But at least for the next six months Barack Obama is the American president and it is by no means certain that an Israeli attack before the November presidential elections would benefit Romney. As I have written repeatedly in this space, there is no reason to believe that an attack on Iran by Israel, which would inevitably draw in the US and probably set off a Middle East War, would benefit anybody. (Although it would certainly be a major misdirection.)

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