Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Newt Draws Large Crowds in Tulsa, Oklahoma City

Town Hall with Newt Gingrich from Oral Roberts University on Vimeo.

Newt brought his campaign of bold solutions to Oklahoma yesterday with stops in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. In Tulsa, he spoke to over 3,500 people at the Mabee Center on the campus of Oral Roberts University. Watch the full speech here. In the speech, he talked about the Founding Fathers, his jobs and prosperity plan, his plan to drill here and drill now, and more.
Gingrich touched on themes popular with his audience: religion, energy, hard work and the "competition between two worlds. On the one side is the left-wing world on the other side is the classically conservative, American world."
The foundation of the classically conservative, American world, said Gingrich, is the Declaration of Independence.
Liberals, he said, do not really believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
Gingrich charged the Obama administration with a "war against religion" - apparently a reference to new rules requiring employees of church-owned hospitals and schools be given access to birth control services - and promised to "repeal every act of anti-religious bigotry by the Obama administration."
Gingrich outlined plans to lower the federal income tax rate to a flat 15 percent with few deductions or exemptions, replace the Environmental Protection Agency with an "Environmental Solutions Department," privatize Social Security and more aggressively pursue domestic oil and gas reserves.
The result of his proposals, Gingrich said, would be to create more jobs, lower national debt and increase personal financial security.
"I want to be known as the paycheck president," he said.
In a bit of whimsy, Gingrich managed to combine his disdain for environmental concerns and energy efficiency with gun rights.
"Let me start with a simple proposition that Oklahomans will understand," said Gingrich. "You cannot put a gun rack in a Volt."
In Oklahoma City, over 500 people packed in to the Jim Thorpe Association and Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. Newt once again slammed President Obama for his anti-American energy policies and pledged to undo his radical policies on day one.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pledged Monday to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling as well as drilling on federal lands and in Alaska and promised on the first day to take action to undo much of what the president has done the past three years.
His comments were met by cheers and applause in this oil- and natural gas-rich state, where President Barack Obama, a Democrat, failed to win any of Oklahoma's 77 counties four years ago.
Gingrich said he would remove obstacles to encourage more domestic drilling so the United States would reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
“I want the United States to be so energy independent that no future president” ever bows before another country's ruler, he said.
Gingrich said he would approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry oil from Alberta, Canada, through Oklahoma to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Obama administration last month rejected the project, which Gingrich said would bring gasoline prices down to $2 to $2.50 a gallon (they are projected to reach $4 before summer), as well as produce more U.S. jobs and make America more energy independent. Lowering gasoline prices to those levels would mean a savings of about $100 a month for the average American family.

Ron Paul Ad: Rick Santorum a Conservative?

The ad questions Rick Santorum’s conservative credentials.

Rev. Graham: Obama seen as 'son of Islam'

GOP candidate Rick Santorum's recent comments on President Obama's "theology" continue to generate conversation, and the Rev. Franklin Graham joins Morning Joe to discuss whether the president is a Christian, Christianity in the Middle East, government overreach with religious institutions, and why he thinks Santorum is a Christian.

 I am listening to this conversation and am appalled that Rev. Graham could basically call the President a lair! And he believes that the President is more impacted by Arab Spring and the Muslims that are being affected, than the Christians that are being killed, raped, He also states that the President could stop all this by waving his arms and demanding it to stop.  And he does not see why Obama could not do that immediately. .     

Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham and a prominent evangelical leader in his own right, waded into contentious waters Tuesday when asked for his views on the religious beliefs of President Obama and the GOP hopefuls.
Graham, the CEO and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, told a Morning Joe panel he couldn't say for certain that Obama is a Christian.
“You have to ask him. I cannot answer that question for anybody. All I know is I’m a sinner, and that God has forgiven me of my sins," Graham said. "You have to ask every person. He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.”
But Graham also said he couldn't "categorically" say Obama wasn't a Muslim, in part, because Islam has gotten a "free pass" under Obama. Graham also said the Muslim world sees Obama as a "son of Islam," because the president's father and grandfather were Muslim.
According to Edina Lekovic, director of policy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, being born in a Muslim family doesn't make one a Muslim. A person has to make an active choice to become a Muslim, Lekovic said. 
Obama has said again and again that he is a Christian, both as a presidential candidate and as president.
“I’m a Christian by choice,” Obama told a group of New Mexico voters last September, answering a question from a member of the audience. He said he has embraced his faith even though growing up, “my family didn’t, frankly. They weren’t folks who went to church every week.”
In Chicago, Obama was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ for years, but he quit in May 2008 after videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s racially-divisive sermons surfaced on the Web.
“Our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views,” Obama and his wife Michelle wrote at the time
The debate over the president's faith was brought up again on the campaign trail this Saturday, when Rick Santorum told a Tea Party crowd in Columbus, Ohio, that Obama's agenda is "not about you. It's not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology."
When pressed by reporters after Saturday's comments, the former Pennsylvania senator said he did not imply the president is not a Christian, but said the president was trumping religious freedoms. 
Graham told the Morning Joe panel that he and Santorum share the same moral beliefs, and that he's confident Santorum is a fellow Christian.
"His values are so clear on moral issues, no question about it," he told the Morning Joe panel. 
Graham spoke with a little less confidence about Gingrich's faith, and cast doubt on whether Romney's Mormonism is compatible with Christianity.
"I think Newt is a Christian, at least he told me he is," Graham said. He added that Romney's Mormon faith is not recognized as part of the Christian faith by most Christians, but he wouldn't give his own view.
Romney has stood by his faith, saying Mormonism's values are "as American as motherhood and apple pie."
"I believe in my Mormon faith," Romney said in a 2007 speech, "and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I'll be true to them and to my beliefs."

Syria In Video: A Civil War, and the Death of Citizens

Obama to address AIPAC before talks with Netanyahu on Iran

By Olivier Knox | The Ticket – 2 hrs 48 mins ago
Barack Obama will address the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on March 4, a day before he and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold talks expected to focus on Iran, the White House announced Tuesday.
With the Middle East peace process stalled, the president and his guest are likely to focus on the best way to confront Iran over its suspect nuclear program, as well as the response to Syria's bloody crackdown on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The president's speech to the most powerful US pro-Israel lobby group could also have an election-year flavor: Republicans have tried to portray Obama as insufficiently supportive of Israel's security, a charge rejected by several high profile Israeli officials including Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The announcement came after Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, paid a two-day visit to Israel.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Donilon got an earful from Netanyahu, Barak, and other officials about a recent interview in which US Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey warned against an Israeli attack on Iran.
Dempsey told CNN that such a strike would be "destabilizing" and "not prudent" and strongly suggested that Israel saw things differently.
"They consider Iran to be an existential threat in a way that we have not concluded that Iran is an existential threat. So I wouldn't suggest, sitting here today, that we've persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion," Dempsey told CNN.
Dempsey comments drew a veiled but unmistakable rebuke from Republican Senator John McCain on Tuesday at a press conference in Israel.
"There should be no daylight between America and Israel in our assessment of the threat," McCain said, according to the Jerusalem Post. "Unfortunately there clearly is some."
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is reportedly due in Israel Thursday for talks with top intelligence and military officials. His press office declined to discuss his schedule.

Not just a Catholic controversy:

Protestant colleges threaten to drop student health care over contraceptive mandate

By Chris Moody | The Ticket – 1 hr 5 mins ago
Liberty University students pray during a commencement ceremony. (Jill Nance/AP)

On a chilly winter day earlier this month, 120 college presidents--mostly of Protestant schools--from around the country met in Washington for an annual meeting sponsored by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, a group that represents 136 American schools and more than 400,000 students. One topic kept coming up in the discussions: How to combat President Barack Obama's proposed mandate for religious employers to provide health insurance that offers free contraception, a decision that would affect all of their institutions--and could violate some of their deepest-held beliefs.
During the conference, 25 of the presidents held a separate policy meeting to discuss the proposed directive, which was first established in the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and was upheld this year by the Department of Health and Human Services. The mandate, later softened by the Obama administration, would have required non-church religious institutions like schools and hospitals to offer health insurance plans that include free access to contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. Many of these presidents made trips to the offices of their representatives to urge them to fight against the decision.
Much of the news coverage of the battle over the contraception mandate focused on the outcry from the Catholic Church, but employers affiliated with Protestant denominations--especially religious colleges who offer insurance plans to students--waged an equally outspoken crusade against the decision. A coalition of more than 60 faith-based groups co-signed a letter to President Obama in December urging him to broaden exemptions to the mandate, and the council's president, Paul Corts, twice sent letters to the administration urging them to reconsider.
After the Obama administration first announced the mandate, colleges associated with Protestant churches and schools founded as expressly Christian institutions fought for exemptions, warning that the mandate could force them to deny health insurance to students who rely on the school's health care plans.
These critics say that many of the students who attend the schools are unmarried, so covering even preventive products would violate their religious teachings. Similarly, because some within the faith consider drugs like Plan B and Ella--which reduce the chance of pregnancy when taken after intercourse--to be abortion-inducing, the mandate caused problems even for coverage of married students and employees.
"You'd be teaching your students one thing and then providing services that you're teaching are wrong," Shapri LoMaglio, the director of government relations and executive programs at the council, told Yahoo News.
To quell concerns like these, Obama announced on Feb. 10 an "accommodation" for religious employers that would allow those employed by religious institutions to obtain free contraception as part of their employer health insurance, but said that the insurance companies would be required to pay for it, not the religious institutions.
In a statement after Obama's announcement, Paul Corts, the council's president, expressed skepticism that the accommodation plan would resolve the issue.
"Without seeing the final rule it is impossible to tell from the President's general statement if our specific religious liberty issues have been addressed," Corts said. "Therefore, we remain unaware of whether the religious exemption will encompass our schools and their student plans and eliminate all of the violations of conscience issues. We are anxious to get the details and will continue to work with the Administration to try to ensure that the religious liberty of our institutions is protected."
While the Obama administration was still considering how to apply the health care law's mandate to religious groups, several presidents from Protestant colleges sent letters to their representatives and posted them on, a government site that gathers public comments on rules before they are implemented. Of the schools in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, at least 12 submitted comments urging the administration to expand the mandate or eliminate it all together. If churches were exempt, they argued, why aren't institutions that base their bylaws on the same faith-based principles?
"The Department of Health and Human Services hardly seems like the appropriate place for such a determination to be made," wrote Mark Benedetto, the president of the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota, a school founded by Baptists in 1872. "I am concerned that the regulations as written will violate the conscience of our institution as it relates to the health care plan that we offer to our students--the exemption is for employer plans, as written it does not appear to also include the student plans. Not only would this force our institution to violate our religious convictions by offering emergency contraceptives to our students, it would put us in the awkward position of offering a health care plan to our employees that is consistent with their religious convictions while offering another to our students that violates their religious convictions."
Some schools have already made the decision to revoke insurance to students not covered by their parents. A spokesman from Colorado Christian University, an interdenominational school in Denver that has filed a lawsuit opposing the rule, said students will be forced to seek insurance options elsewhere if the administration does not change course.
"This plan will not be offered in the future if it must be compliant with the administration's mandate thereby forcing American citizens to either compromise their beliefs or go without," said Ron Benton, the school's assistant vice president for administrative services.

God & Country Rally at First Redeemer Church in Cumming Georgia


Rick Santorum – February 19 2012

Rick Santorum holds a God & Country Rally at First Redeemer Church in Cumming Georgia. After his speech he took questions from the audience.
Rick Santorum on Sunday condemned what he called President Barack Obama’s world view that “elevates the Earth above man,” discouraging increased use of natural resources.
The GOP presidential candidate also slammed Obama’s health care overhaul for requiring insurers to pay for prenatal tests that, Santorum said, will encourage more abortions.
A day after telling an Ohio audience that Obama’s agenda is based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” Santorum said he wasn’t criticizing the president’s Christianity.
“I’ve repeatedly said I don’t question the president’s faith. I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president’s Christian,” Santorum told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“I am talking about his world view, and the way he approaches problems in this country. I think they’re different than how most people do in America,” he said in the broadcast interview.

Face the Nation Sunday Feb 19, 2012

February 19, 2012 1:30 PM

Santorum: Parents should run schools

Leigh Ann Caldwell
(CBS News)  Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum told CBS News' "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer that the federal and state government should not be involved in educating children, but rather parents should take on that role.
Santorum was repeating statements he made in Ohio Saturday where he told a conservative audience that public schools are "anachronistic." He said public schools go "back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools.
"The federal government should not be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools," he said Saturday.
This statement goes further than other Republican presidential candidates who have said they want the federal government to pass on the role of funding and running schools to the states.
When pressed by Schieffer, Santorum said, "Local communities and parents should be the ones who are in control of public education."
Santorum (whose children are home-schooled) said schooling should be customized: "Everybody gets what they need. I have seven children. I can tell you each one of them [learns] differently."
When Schieffer said not everyone has the resources to home-school their children, Santorum said he isn't necessarily talking about home-schooling, but using public, private and Christian schools - and that states could help out with funding.
"It's one thing for states to help fund public education. It's another thing to dictate and micromanage and create a one-size-fits-all education system in states, and certainly in the federal government what President Obama is trying to do," Santorum said.
When asked what he would do as president, Santorum said he would "get the state government out" and put parents "in charge, working with the local school district to try to design an educational environment for each child that optimizes their potential."
"We are failing our society with having these high rates of drop outs and the people graduating without the skills, or frankly, without the value structure that's necessary to be able to go out and work hard and to be able to produce in our society and to build strong communities," Santorum said.

February 19, 2012 1:15 PM

Santorum stands by prenatal screening opposition

Leigh Ann Caldwell
(CBS News)  Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum stood by comments he made Saturday opposing prenatal testing, saying it leads to selective abortions, and he said the president is "continuing" policies that encourage such abortions.

CBS News "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer asked the former Pennsylvania Senator to respond to comments Santorum made in Ohio Saturday where he said President Obama required free prenatal testing in the health care law "because it ends up in more abortions" which "cull[s] the ranks of the disabled in our society."
Santorum told Schieffer that the policy is the "continuation" of the president's support of aborting disabled fetuses. 
"The president has a very bad record on the issue of abortion and children who are disabled who are in the womb," Santorum said. "I think this simply is a continuation of that idea."
Santorum said he is talking specifically about amniocentesis, an invasive test where amniotic fluid is taken from the womb. He said the procedure "actually creates a risk of having a miscarriage when you have it, and is done for the purposes of identifying maladies of a child in the womb. In many cases and in fact most cases, physicians recommend, particularly if there's a problem, recommend abortion. . . .
"Yes, prenatal testing, amniocentesis does in fact result more often than not in abortion. That is a fact," Santorum said.
" I know what I'm talking about here," Santorum said. (Santorum's daughter was born with the genetic disorder trisomy. Another of his children died two hours after birth.)
Women most likely to have the invasive test are 35 or older or have a predisposition of genetic disease.
While miscarriage is a stated risk of the invasive procedure, a 2006 study of California women by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology indicates that miscarriage rates do not increase after the test is performed, compared to expectant mothers who do not have amniocentesis.
However, other studies indicate up to 90 percent of fetuses with genetic abnormalities (like Down Syndrome) are aborted.
Despite the fact that sonograms and blood tests are also capable of detecting abnormalities in pregnancies, Santorum said he feels sonograms and "all sorts of prenatal testing" are acceptable, and if he were an employer, he would provide it in his health insurance, but he feels differently about amniocentesis.
"People have the right to do it, but to have the government force people to provide it free, to me, has... is a bit loaded," Santorum told Schieffer.

February 19, 2012 11:52 AM

Santorum: Obama's worldview upside-down

Leigh Ann Caldwell

(CBS News)  Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he takes the president at his word that he's a Christian, but said Barack Obama's "world view" is different than that of most Americans.
Santorum commented in Ohio Saturday that the president believes in "some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology."
Asked to clarify his statements on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Santorum said that he was referring not to the president's faith but to environmentalism.
"Well, I was talking about the radical environmentalists," he told Schieffer. "That's what I was talking about: Energy, this idea that man is here to serve the Earth, as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth. And I think that is a phony ideal. I don't believe that that's what we're here to do - that man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth, but we're not here to serve the Earth.
"The Earth is not the objective," Santorum said. "Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down."
But Schieffer pressed Santorum, saying that by using the term theology it sounded like he was questioning the president's religion.
"I wasn't suggesting the president's not a Christian. I accept the fact that the president is a Christian," Santorum said, looking agitated. "I just said that when you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate - this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government.
"It's not questioning the president's beliefs in Christianity. I'm talking about the belief that man should be in charge of the Earth and have dominion over it and should be good stewards of it.
"I've repeatedly said that I believe the president is a Christian. He says he is a Christian. But I am talking about his worldview or the way he approaches problems in this country and I think they're different than how most people do in America."

Santorum Overplays the Power of Religion

COMMENTARY | Part of Rick Santorum's recent rise to possible front-runner of the GOP can be attributed to his faith. Santorum has managed to change the political discourse of late, bringing religion into the arena in an attempt to differentiate himself from the field. But if Santorum thinks religion will vault him into the White House, he is sorely mistaken.
On Saturday, Santorum levied an attack on President Barack Obama's faith, claiming the White House's agenda is "not a theology based on the Bible," but "a different theology," according to Reuters. When asked to explain his statement, Santorum remarked, "If the president says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."

The comments fall in line with the longstanding Republican tactic of administering a proverbial "wink" when alluding to the president as a Christian. The strategy is condemned by the left as underhanded. Obama mainstay and political adviser Robert Gibbs accused Santorum of going "well over the line" when he questioned Obama's faith, according to the Huffington Post.

Yet, the Democratic rebukes will do little to curb the Republican suggestions. Santorum and the right in general see the power in relaying suggestive comments to the Christian right, but allowing individuals to decipher the meaning of the statements. Obviously opposed to a second term for Obama, these same people will imagine the worst about the president's beliefs.
Strategically, the White House's decision to take on the Catholic Church regarding the coverage of contraception could have turned into a disaster. Some have claimed the administration set the policy as a trap to expose an out-of-step Republican establishment. But that claim might be giving the Obama political team too much credit and the president's decision to reform the policy showed an administration aware of church's power.
The church represents more than just religion to Americans; it is a personal institution that is insulated from government directives. Santorum pounced on the contraception debate as another opportunity to paint President Obama as a big government liberal intent on intruding into your life. But Santorum is overestimating the scope religion will play in 2012.

The devout Catholic who took offense to President Obama's mandate seems to be in the minority; as a matter of fact, the devout Catholic, period, is a minority. A January Washington Post-ABC News poll found only 1 in 3 Catholics attend Mass every Sunday. A Guttmacher Institute study showed 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraception. More troubling for Santorum, after the contraception battle, President Obama's approval rating among Catholics dropped only three percentage points, from 49 percent to 46 percent, according to Gallup.
If President Santorum hopes to be the nominee, he will have to find an issue other than religion. Focusing on faith will only energize a constituency that would already vote for any Republican over Obama. Americans in a general election will be more worried about which man can create jobs down here, not the man upstairs.

Rick Santorum’s mysterious, paradoxical manifesto, ‘It Takes a Family’:

 Character Sketch

Every presidential race has its mysteries. Who really won the recent low-turnout Maine caucuses--and why are the Republicans having so much trouble counting caucus votes? Did Mitt Romney's dog-on-the-roof Irish setter Seamus actually try to defect to Canada? But the biggest campaign riddle wrapped in an enigma remains, Why does any politician fantasizing about the White House ever put his name on the cover of a book?
Rick Santorum, who should be basking in his sudden star turn as the poll-vaulting anti-Romney, is the latest author to pay a political price for his literary ambitions. Making the rounds of last Sunday morning's talk shows, the former Pennsylvania senator came under fire for his unflattering comments about "radical feminists" in his half-forgotten 2005 book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. On "Meet the Press," host David Gregory challenged Santorum to defend his book's claim, "The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness." Rather than try to justify his implicit critique of women of childbearing years finding fulfillment in the workplace, Santorum vaguely affirmed a woman's right to choose her career and gallantly insisted that "the section was written in large part in cooperation" with his (non-working) wife, Karen.
From this TV exchange, it would be easy to assume that Santorum's book is a political screed filled with short paragraphs, wide margins, angry put-downs of liberals and lots of exclamation points. And, in truth, Santorum's language does get overheated at times: "We now have a generation that has grown up with the belief, inspired by the Sixties' free-love assault on sexual mores, that true love is a feeling, and that it should not be resisted or constrained--rather, its ultimate validation is through sexual relations, without regard to the outdated social convention of marriage." (Unless he was a particularly precocious conservative, Santorum is channeling the opinions of others in his scorn for the Sixties. He was 11 years old at the time of Woodstock).
But what is fascinating about It Takes a Family is that it is far more a densely argued social conservative manifesto than a standard-issue political volume designed to win votes or provide the policy framework for a presidential campaign. Newt Gingrich--the author of 23 books, including memoirs, policy pronouncements and political potboilers--purports to be the conservative intellectual in the Republican presidential race. But Santorum, in his zeal to be taken seriously as a thinker, mobilizes a wide array of social-science research (including some citations from liberals) to buttress his argument that hedonistic individualism is jeopardizing traditional families and their irreplaceable role in raising children. This, of course, is an explosive topic--and it is unlikely that Santorum can win many converts among liberal and moderate skeptics. But it is hard not to be impressed by the energy that Santorum devotes to his argument.
Written on the eve of Santorum's uphill 2006 reelection bid for a third Senate term (he lost by 700,000 votes), It Takes a Family offers an unusual window into the mind of its author. This is not a volume to study in order to decipher Santorum's governing agenda, although it is safe to predict that he would be the most ardent social-conservative president in history. What gives the book value in the middle of a presidential campaign is that it provides lasting clues about the thought processes that Santorum would use to make decisions in the Oval Office. The former senator is both a devout Catholic and a lawyer--and it is easy to see the influence of both intellectual frameworks in It Takes a Family.
"In developing my understanding of social policy," Santorum writes, "I have learned a lot from the tradition of Catholic social thought." Here Santorum is referring to the Catholic concept of "subsidiarity," which he defines as "the principle that all social challenges should be addressed at the level of the smallest social unit possible, preferably the family." This belief structure is compatible with the embrace by constitutional conservatives of the Tenth Amendment and the states rights doctrines that go with it. But it also allows Santorum to discuss innovative family-based and church-based approaches to fighting poverty.
Romney recently compounded his too-wealthy-for-compassion problem when he said, "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there." In sharp contrast, Santorum wrote, "For our part, conservatives, with respect to the poor, haven't tried hard enough ... The real solution, the conservative solution to the problems of low-income America, is to structure all our programs around the family." These words were written in 2005, granted, when it seemed like America had the financial resources to tackle any problem it chose, from reconstructing Iraq to adding an expensive prescription drug benefit to Medicare. Now that the political discourse is dominated by the $15 trillion national debt, it is hard to imagine that anti-poverty legislation would rank high on any president's agenda.
The other intellectual pillar buttressing Santorum's worldview is his legal education. Sometime, presumably early in his studies at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law, Santorum was introduced to the concept of the slippery slope--and it changed his mental life. In It Takes a Family, Santorum repeatedly warns about the legal consequences flowing from popular Supreme Court decisions. He laments the reasoning behind the 1965 Griswold decision (overturning--yikes!--a Connecticut law that banned the sale of condoms) because it introduced the constitutional zone of privacy that later allowed the Supreme Court to legalize abortion. Santorum even expresses his concern with the precedent set by Loving v. Virginia, the landmark 1967 civil-rights decision that decreed that states could not ban interracial marriages. What troubles Santorum is not the result (ending Jim Crow legislation) but that "16 years later, the IRS ruled that religious groups opposed to interracial marriage could be stripped of their tax-exempt status."
Arguments like this are at the core of Santorum's idiosyncratic mindset. What other 21st century senator, facing an arduous reelection battle in a diverse northern state, would risk criticizing the Supreme Court for eliminating the legal barriers to interracial marriage? What other politician with national ambitions would be so zealous about defending the rights of religious groups to flirt with bigotry? There is something both admirable in Santorum's quest for intellectual consistency and worrisome about the imprudence of some of his judgments.
This gets close to the Santorum paradox. On one level, he is a thoughtful conservative, wearing his erudition on his sleeve, bragging in his book about working with Senate Democrats (even Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton) to sponsor legislation that tried to achieve liberal goals through conservative institutions like the church and traditional families. But then, a few pages later, Santorum goes all fire and brimstone as he writes: "Conservatives trust families and the ordinary Americans that are formed by them. Liberals don't. They border on disdain for the common man."
That is an indefensible passage, both inflammatory and untrue. No one in American politics opposes a father and a mother guiding their children through the vicissitudes of life. In similar fashion, it is ludicrous to believe that a political party can thrive for decades while disdaining the common man and average voters. By writing lines like this, Santorum was pandering to the worst excesses of the right wing's liberals-hate-America mythology. It would have been one thing if It Takes a Family were a campaign tract designed to score cheap political points. But Santorum wants to establish his credentials as a Serious Thinker rather than to emulate the prose style of, say, Ann Coulter.
If Santorum defeats Romney on Feb. 28 in the Michigan primary, the former senator in a sweater vest will become the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination. Often ignored and belittled as he persisted in his quixotic quest to appeal to social conservatives before narrowly winning the Iowa caucuses, the under-funded Santorum will have seized the lead without most national Republican voters having taken his full measure.
A careful reading of It Takes a Family compounds the puzzle. Is Santorum an underrated conservative intellectual willing to wrestle with ideas and follow them to surprising conclusions? Or is he a political arsonist who hurls anti-family invective at liberal Democrats and issues jeremiads against gay marriage? Who is Rick Santorum? That's the biggest mystery in presidential politics.
Walter Shapiro, who is covering his ninth presidential campaign, writes the "Character Sketch" column for Yahoo News, examining what we know about the character and personalities of the 2012 candidates. He is also a special correspondent for the New Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @waltershapiroPD.

Choose your own conservative: CPAC puts candidates’ differences on display:

 Character Sketch

WASHINGTON — We have reached the dazed and confused phase of the 2012 campaign: Frontrunner Mitt Romney is dazed and anyone who tries to handicap the GOP race from here on is confused. Against the backdrop of a Republican nomination fight certain to last until the March 6 Super Tuesday primaries — and quite likely well beyond — the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) could not have come at a better time. Friday was the moment for all three remaining plausible GOP nominees (Romney, Rick Santorum and the wobbly Newt Gingrich) to renew their sales pitches at a Washington convention hotel filled with right-wing firebrands ranging in age from college Republicans to septuagenarian spear carriers from the 1964 Barry Goldwater uprising.
Normally, at this stage of the campaign, formal speeches in vast hotel ballrooms have been supplanted by 30-second TV spots and debate performances. But with the GOP race upended by Santorum's three-state sweep last Tuesday, the candidates understood that CPAC provided their last major opportunity to deliver an extended argument before the avalanche of late winter primaries. Much of their language was designed to stir this conservative audience. Santorum, for example, declared, "We should recognize, as conservatives and Tea Party folks, that we are not just wings of the Republican Party. We are the Republican Party." (Like all good political rhetoric, the Santorum line was inadvertently borrowed: During the run-up to the 2004 primaries, Howard Dean inspired liberals by claiming to represent "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.")
Beyond the political hucksterism that shaped the TV clips and morning-after newspaper headlines, the three candidates provided glimpses of strikingly different approaches to the presidency. These fleeting pictures of a Republican in the Oval Office in 2013 consisted of more than just boilerplate pledges to rescind Barack Obama's health-care reforms and quixotic promises like Romney's "I will finally balance the American budget." Even if they agree on the broad strokes of issues positions, Santorum, Romney and Gingrich offer the Republicans a choice of conservative leadership styles. And the CPAC speeches underscored the stakes for GOP voters as the topsy-turvy nomination fight moves from a handful of early states to a national canvas.

Rick Santorum: The jobs conservative
As a full-throated social conservative, the former Pennsylvania senator was as much in his element at CPAC as George Soros is at Davos. Unlike Romney (who supported abortion rights until — shazam! — he didn't) or Gingrich (who aspires to be the only twice-divorced president in history), Santorum does not have to worry about airbrushing his image with conservatives. "We know each other," Santorum said at the beginning of a key passage in his address to CPAC. "We've worked together in the vineyards. We have taken on the tough battles that confront this country."
These words were a prelude to a job-creation topic rarely publicly discussed in a presidential campaign: Who will be hired for the White House staff, the Cabinet and the sub-Cabinet if Santorum is elected? Most newly elected presidents strive to be inclusive—like Obama choosing Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and keeping Republican holdover Robert Gates at the Pentagon. Ronald Reagan not only tapped primary rival George Bush as his running mate, but he also named Bush's campaign manager James Baker as his first White House chief of staff. Even George W. Bush, far more ideological than his father, selected centrist Colin Powell to be secretary of state.
Santorum at CPAC signaled a litmus-test approach to staffing his would-be administration. Belittling unnamed appointees from prior GOP administrations who scoffed at ideological fidelity, Santorum promised, "As president of the United States, we will surround ourselves in this administration with people who share our values, who are committed to the principles that made this country great — leaders of the great conservative movement."
Leaving aside Santorum's use of the royal "we" in the prior sentence, and the long odds against his ever making it to the Oval Office except as a visitor, it was telling that he chose to make this pledge before CPAC. This was not a speech line that launched a thousand tweets or will be excerpted in a TV commercial. But it is clear that Santorum — probably during his long and lonely months touring rural Iowa as the ultimate GOP underdog — has thought about this staffing issue. He pointedly quoted conservative direct-mail king Richard Viguerie's shrewd line about the presidency, "Policies are personnel." And in an implicit jab at Romney, Santorum stressed the importance of "knowing the people who … bring the wellspring of ideas to conservatism." Listening to Santorum's words, I wondered how many right-wing idea mavens in the audience at CPAC began fantasizing about their West Wing offices.

Mitt Romney: The shape-shifting conservative
Some days it's hard not to be impressed with Romney's dogged, pooch-on-the-roof, determination to get it right with the right. In his speech text, put up on his website before he spoke at CPAC, Romney described himself as "a conservative governor." But when he actually delivered the remarks, Romney switched it to "I was a severely conservative Republican governor." It is a weird linguistic formulation like a Democratic politician describing himself as "loosely liberal."
This awkwardness reflects Romney's awareness that — certainly compared to Santorum and Gingrich — he is a Mitt-fit as a standard-issue movement conservative. Speaking directly to the hundreds of college students in the audience at CPAC, Romney speculated, "My guess is that some of you got here by reading [Edmund] Burke and [Friedrich] Hayek." In contrast, Romney said, "When I was your age, you could've told me that they were infielders for the Detroit Tigers." Rarely in one speech riff will a Republican presidential candidate confess both his lack of understanding of the intellectual roots of conservatism and the gaps in his record as a baseball fan.
The argument that Romney made to CPAC is that his ideological journey to the right "came from my family, from my faith and from my life's work." Ignoring his pioneering health-care legislation, Romney recast his record in Massachusetts as "defending conservative principles in the most liberal state in the nation." The one-term former governor bragged, "If there was a program or an agency or a department that needed cutting or elimination, we did it."
In reality, Romney was not nearly so severely conservative a governor.  As Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman point out in their new biography, The Real Romney, "His cuts to the state bureaucracy, however, turned out to be fairly modest. After four years, he reduced the payroll of agencies under his direct control by 603 jobs, according to his administration's tally." At this rate of downsizing government, Romney would have to serve more than fifteen hundred years as president to trim the federal work force by 10 percent.
Don't misunderstand: Romney would probably be a very conservative president. It would not be because of his prior record in Massachusetts nor even his guiding ideology, but instead because of all the promises Romney will have made to get the GOP nomination. At CPAC, Romney pledged that as president, "I will not be cutting the military budget." Gingrich, in contrast, often describes himself as a "cheap hawk" to underscore that he is concerned about military effectiveness rather than budgetary line items. But Romney was using a formulation that he never would have employed in business to prove his conservative bona fides; imagine the man from Bain Capital vowing never to reduce the marketing budget for Staples whether the company needed it or not. All this leads to the assumption that a President Romney would always be worried about a 2016 primary challenge from his right flank, much as Pat Buchanan bedeviled George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Newt Gingrich: The sand-trap conservative

Facing the indignity of being reduced once again to a Banquo-esque ghostly figure in the GOP race, with Santorum soaring as the anti-Romney candidate, Gingrich deployed his wife Callista in an uncharacteristic speaking role at CPAC. "Newt is an enthusiastic and committed golfer," she said, proudly introducing her husband. "He gets in and out of more sand traps than anyone I've ever seen."
Callista Gingrich may have meant this joking reference to her husband's lack of athletic prowess as a way of humanizing the former House speaker. But it also works as a metaphor to describe the trajectory of Gingrich's erratic quest for the nomination — and quite likely the contours of his would-be presidency. Like his Democratic counterpoint Bill Clinton, Gingrich is at his best politically when he has to dig himself out of the sand trap and at his worst when he is standing triumphant on the green as his ball drops into the cup.
Say what you will about a GOP field dominated by Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, with Ron Paul still offering libertarian brickbats from the sidelines. In stylistic terms, it does offer GOP voters — as Barry Goldwater once famously put it — a choice not an echo.
Walter Shapiro, a special correspondent for the New Republic, is covering his ninth presidential campaign. Follow him on Twitter at @waltershapiroPD. This is part of a series of Yahoo News columns examining what we know about the character and personalities of the 2012 candidates.

Mud studies: What do negative TV ads tell us about the men who would be president?

Character Sketch

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
When Johnny Mercer wrote those lyrics in the depths of the Depression, it is safe to assume that he knew nothing about politics. These days, accentuate the positive won't get you elected sixth-grade hall monitor. Small wonder that in the bloodbath Florida primary, accentuate the negative was about the only thing that united Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. This campaign's most revealing political statistic was 92 percent--that was the share of political ads in Florida that went for the jugular. Romney, the runaway Florida victor, did not run a single positive TV commercial in English.
This is not the place for a heartfelt, if ineffectual, lament about the morals of modern campaigning. The sad truth is that a fusillade of attack ads could morph Meryl Streep into a tongue-tied failed actress. Going negative the firstest with the mostest works. As Romney proved in Florida, the low road is the time-tested route to becoming the candidate crowing about "a great victory" on primary night.
But do negative ads tell us anything worth knowing about the fitness of candidates (both the attacker and the attackee) to be president?
Richard Nixon aside, it is hard to detect a direct connection between campaign tactics and style of governing. George H.W. Bush in 1988 ran one of the most sharp-elbowed White House races in modern times (remember Willie Horton?), but he was a bipartisan conciliator as president. So I am inclined to give Romney and Gingrich a pass for the character of their Florida campaigns--unless there is evidence that either candidate instructed his media consultant: "Tell lots of lies. The more vicious, the better. The voters won't notice.")
What about the ads themselves? From time to time, "Character Sketch" will examine campaign commercials based on their relevance to the White House. This will not be a Fact Checker subjecting campaign claims to a Truth-O-Meter, because news organizations are already doing a laudable job on setting the record straight.
The standard will be simple and, yes, subjective: What does this nugget tell us about governing the nation in 2013? A TV commercial that wins a top score for relevance (example: the 2008 Hillary Clinton red phone ad) will be awarded four Oval Offices. A bogus claim or a complete irrelevancy (bragging about loving America as if the other candidates are visitors from the Planet Krypton) will get the lowest score: the sidewalk outside the White House grounds.
Let's apply this Oval Office standard to the onslaught of negativism that Republican voters were subjected to in Florida by scrutinizing the four political ads that logged the most broadcast time:

Mitt Romney's "History Lesson": In the closing days of the Florida campaign, the Romney campaign transported Tom Brokaw back to the NBC anchor desk. Over well-justified protests from Brokaw and NBC News, the Romney campaign ran an excerpt from a January 1997 news broadcast highlighting Gingrich's reprimand for ethics violations, and the $300,000 fine his colleagues levied against the House speaker.
Relevance: Throughout his career in Congress, Gingrich continually got chalk dust on his trousers from brushing against (and, yes, crossing) the line governing House ethics. About all that can be said in Gingrich's defense is that successful presidents like Lyndon Johnson (example: Lady Bird Johnson's questionable acquisition of lucrative Texas broadcast licenses) were not always paragons of selfless financial sacrifice in public office. But now that Gingrich is wealthy enough to qualify for a six-digit credit line at Tiffany (Romney, in contrast, could easily pay cash), it seems unlikely that as president he would still be blurring the line between governing and Newt Inc. For all his ethical tribulations, Gingrich has never used the power of the federal government to harass his political foes (see: Nixon, Richard) or accepted cash in white envelopes (see: Agnew, Spiro).
Rating: Two-and-a-half Oval Offices.

Newt Gingrich's "Trust": As long as the Republican primaries last, Romney will continue to come under fire from conservatives for his centrist record as governor of Massachusetts. This Gingrich spot lambasted Romney for increasing state "fees and taxes by $700 million" during his four years in office. While the statistics are accurate, the TV commercial (surprise) ignored the context as described by Romney biographers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman: "The budget was in meltdown." Romney's political reinvention as a staunch conservative prompts the tagline in the ad, "If Romney would mislead us on all this, can we trust him on anything else?"
Relevance: For all of Romney's non-stop boasting about knowing "what it's like to start a business," his four years as governor are the best evidence we possess for imagining him as president. But despite Romney's mixed record in Massachusetts, it is nearly impossible to imagine any 21st century Republican president raising taxes like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did. A President Romney--taking office with lingering right-wing skepticism--would continually worry about a conservative 2016 primary challenge on the model of Pat Buchanan in 1992. Whatever Romney's core beliefs (and it may require a team of political spelunkers to find them), he would be hamstrung as president by the promises he made to get the Republican nomination.
Rating: Two Ovals.

Restore Our Future's "Reagan": This commercial, sponsored by the free-spending pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, mocked Gingrich for his panting eagerness to link himself with the last universally popular Republican president. As the voiceover put it, "From debates, you would think that Newt Gingrich was Ronald Reagan's vice president." The TV spot noted that for all Gingrich's claims of kinship, he was mentioned only once in Reagan's diaries. It is a fair criticism, especially since Gingrich gets equally scant billing in Lou Cannon's definitive biography, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.
Relevance: Even though Gingrich was a congressional backbencher throughout Reagan's presidency and his boasts about helping orchestrate the 1980 victory are (to choose a word at random) grandiose, he does have substantive grounds for claiming to be a political heir. As Cannon points out, "More than half of the proposals in the Contract [with America] were taken verbatim from Reagan's 1985 State of the Union address." When it comes to steadfast Reaganism, Gingrich certainly tops Romney, who changed his party registration to Republican five years after Reagan left the White House. But for all the efforts of Republican contenders to get right with the Gipper (and Rick Santorum is no slouch in this department), the contemporary relevance of Reagan and his Cold War convictions fade with each passing campaign.
Rating: One Oval.

Winning Our Future's "Best Friends": If Gingrich's personal failings bequeath a target-rich environment to opposition researchers, the same can be said about Romney's ideological meanderings in Massachusetts politics. It has been surprising that Romney has more often been slammed for his record at Bain Capital than for putting his signature on the Massachusetts health care law. Perhaps too little too late, this commercial by the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future (political consultants probably work overtime dreaming up impenetrable and interchangeable names for SuperPACs) depicted Romney as an Obama clone on health care. The spot even accused Romney of inventing "government-run health care," conveniently forgetting that a fellow named Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare nearly a half-century ago. The most politically devastating clip in the commercial showed Romney during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign saying, "I'm not a partisan Republican. I'm someone who's moderate. My views are progressive."
Relevance: If Romney is the Republican nominee, by November we will have seen enough weathervane attack ads to stock a New England antique store. Beginning around 2005 when Romney first began thinking about the presidency, his ideological reinvention resembles more a company retooling its ad strategy than a candidate shedding a few awkward political positions. But the current Romney boasts pretty much the same political persona as he did in 2008, aside from less visible pandering to social conservatives. It is certainly conceivable that the moderate governor of Massachusetts, rather than the conservative frontrunner for the Republican nomination, was the convenient political fiction.
Rating: Three Ovals.

Rick Santorum's "Deal": Santorum was AWOL from the Florida airwaves in large measure because he did not want to squander his limited financial resources on a winner-take-all primary that he had no chance to win. But the former Pennsylvania senator is no stranger to saloon-brawl politics, as this anti-Gingrich commercial designed for the upcoming Nevada and Colorado caucuses proves. Using a setup suitable for three-card Monte, the Santorum spot asks ominously which three politicians are on the other side of the hidden cards. The ad then offers heavy-handed clues: all three supported cap-and-trade legislation, health care mandates and Wall Street bailouts. When the face cards are turned over, they show Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and (whap!) Newt Gingrich. The tagline is, "Rick Santorum: He doesn't just talk a good conservative game, he lives it."
Relevance: The truth is that each of the remaining Republican candidates (except Ron Paul) have regularly deviated from ideologically pure conservative positions when it suited their self-interest. That is how politics works, unless you set out, like Paul, to be a gadfly protest candidate. Santorum, for example, opposed conservative right-to-work legislation while in the Senate and backed his moderate colleague Arlen Specter (who later became a Democrat) in a 2004 primary against Pat Toomey. What is telling about the ad is that the target is Gingrich (battling with Santorum for the title of Conservative Challenger) rather than Romney.
Rating: Two Ovals.
Since Johnny Mercer won't work, we need a song to symbolize the tenor of the down-and-dirty Republican primary race. The winner comes courtesy of the 1950s British comic duo of Flanders and Swann. Their ode to the courting rituals of the hippopotamus is perfect, especially the chorus, "Mud, mud, glorious mud. There's nothing quite like it for cooling the blood." Or arousing an apathetic Republican voter.
Walter Shapiro, who is covering his ninth presidential campaign, writes the "Character Sketch" column for Yahoo News, examining what we know about the character and personalities of the 2012 candidates. He is also a special correspondent for the New Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @waltershapiroPD.

Second term, same as the first? Obama needs to explain what he has learned in office:

Character Sketch

President Obama delivers his third State of the Union Address (Evan Vucci/AP)

In a brave but corny attempt at State of the Union humor, Barack Obama bragged Tuesday about rescinding a cockamamie federal regulation that required dairy farmers to spend as much as $10,000 to protect against milk spills. "With a rule like that," the president declared, "I guess it was worth crying over spilt milk."
Actually, Obama's third address to a perpetually divided Congress marked the end of the spilt-milk phase of his presidency. Whatever might have happened during the first three years of the Obama administration (a more aggressive battle against unemployment, a less credulous faith in the president's efforts to built bipartisan bridges), it is too late now for regrets. Barack Obama goes into his reelection campaign with the public record that he has rather than the one that he might have wanted or wished to have.
Little that Obama said during his 66-minute State of the Union address offered new clues about what kind of a president he would be if granted a second term. The print edition of the Wall Street Journal headlined the speech, "Obama Makes Populist Pitch." But Obama, a believer in meritocratic government, did not morph into William Jennings Bryan. In a presidential election year, it is dangerous to overinterpret focus-grouped tonal shifts in Obama's rhetoric as if the political language offered a window into his soul.
The second-term question that fascinates me about Obama--and one that I intend to make an ongoing theme of this column over the next 10 months--is, What has he learned after three years in the Oval Office?
Self-criticism is not normally part of the president's workout routine. But in her revealing new book The Obamas, Jodi Kantor reports that after last summer's debt-ceiling debacle, Obama and Valerie Jarrett, his closest confidant in the White House, "had long, searching conversations about the failure." The president, according to Kantor, would ask other advisers, "What do you think we did wrong?"
For Obama and company, the takeaway lesson was the folly of attempting to negotiate grand compromises with congressional Republicans in the current venomous political environment. Kantor, a New York Times reporter, stresses that Obama's political image was built around his gauzy promises to bridge the chasm between red America and blue America. But now, she writes, "He was faced with the consequences of his overconfidence, his naiveté."
Ryan Lizza, a writer for the New Yorker who obtained hundreds of pages of internal White House memos (mostly on economic policy), offers a similar assessment of Obama this week. Summarizing Obama's political missteps dating back to 2009, Lizza, the magazine's Washington correspondent, writes, "He clung too long to his vision of post-partisanship, even in the face of a radicalized opposition whose stated political goal was his defeat."
Kantor and Lizza are both saying that Obama's entire theory of the presidency was wrong. The bring-us-together motif was a powerful 2008 campaign theme, but it was also Obama's personal governing philosophy, the secret sauce that made him different from other Democrats. Now it has been relegated to the president's greatest-hits album. In the State of the Union, when Obama made a brief, ritualistic appeal to rise above partisanship ("We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction"), he conveyed the sense that he had no expectation that a single resident of Washington would alter his or her behavior.
Reliving the internal economic debates in the White House by reading Kantor and Lizza, I was reminded of what a former Obama adviser told me, "Even now, I am not certain of exactly what he believes on the economy." With no firm moorings as a Keynesian or a deficit hawk, Obama charted a zigzag course on the economy. Lizza identifies a key moment with the economy still misfiring in 2010 when Obama was forced to choose between making the case for a further stimulus or yielding to the clamor for budget cuts. Rather than use his supposedly legendary powers of political persuasion, Obama chose the course of least resistance. He began larding his speeches with lines that Herbert Hoover might have used in 1932: "Americans are making hard choices in their budgets. We've got to tighten our belts in Washington, as well."
In The Obamas, Kantor deftly conveys the First Couple's frustration at their isolation in the White House. The difference is that while Michelle Obama is naturally gregarious, her husband is probably America's first introverted president since Calvin Coolidge. Almost every night after a family dinner, the president retreats to his upstairs office, formally known as the Treaty Room, to review memos. Kantor writes: "Obama almost never made decisions downstairs, around other people ... As a result, many of the important moments of Barack Obama's presidency had no witnesses at all: they took place upstairs, the president silent and alone in his office."
There is no correct decision-making style for a president--neither garrulous meetings nor PowerPoint presentations necessarily achieve better results. But the lonely man in the Treaty Room is a compelling metaphor for the insularity of this presidency. Obama's first chief of staff (Rahm Emanuel) is now mayor of Chicago; his second chief of staff (Bill Daley) was the son of one Chicago mayor and the brother of another. Now, Emanuel, Daley and most of the senior staff (aside from Valerie Jarrett) are gone. In a year when reelection politics trumps governing, it is easy to assume that the current White House configuration under the newly appointed third chief of staff, Jack Lew, is merely a holding pattern until November.
No one is equipped on Inauguration Day for the burdens of the presidency, not even former vice presidents like George H.W. Bush. For all the glib confidence of Mitt Romney with his 59-part economic plan and Newt Gingrich with his since-the-dawn-of-civilization historical vision, either of them would face rocky months and unpleasant surprises in the Oval Office.
Barack Obama is now three years into the world's most grueling ordeal of on-the-job training. As tempting as it may be for Obama to airbrush away his mistakes and to piously blame the hurly-burly of partisan discord in Washington, the nation needs to hear in the months ahead how he thinks a second term would be better or, at least, different.
Obama will probably never be a leader who transforms the nation's political culture. But he does retain the capacity to be a sadder but wiser president.
Walter Shapiro, a special correspondent for the New Republic, is covering his ninth presidential campaign. Follow him on Twitter at @waltershapiroPD. This is part of a series of Yahoo News columns examining what we know about the character and personalities of the 2012 candidates.