According to CNN news analyst Gloria Borger, in assessing the central issues in the upcoming presidential campaign — It’s the economy, stupid.
In a talk to over 250 community members at the Aidekman campus in Whippany for Women’s Awareness Day on May 2, Borger offered her take on the 2012 presidential race. “There is a clear campaign choice,” she said. “These are two candidates with different visions for America on all kinds of levels.”
The annual gathering, whose aim is to provide an educational day about issues affecting women, is sponsored by Women’s Philanthropy of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Borger pointed to President Barack Obama’s and GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s differing takes on foreign affairs, but, more importantly, on the appropriate role and utility of government in citizens’ lives. “That is going to be the key issue when we talk about the economy,” she said. “And that’s what this election will be about: the economy.” She added, “In the end, people vote for all different reasons. But it usually ends up in their pocketbooks. That is, people will vote for the person they think will get the economy on track.”
Along with her focus on the economy, Borger considered what the major candidates are doing now and what they need to do to convince voters to vote for them.
Obama, she suggested, is positioning himself as a president who is tough on foreign policy, after a four-year term that has been far more aggressive militarily than many supporters might have expected. Now, she said, “Democrats are not willing to cede national security back to the Republicans.”
And while he is well liked, with 56 percent viewing him favorably, Obama has only a 49 percent approval rating. “People like him more than they approve of his policies,” said Borger. “That’s an opening for Mitt Romney.” After all, she pointed out, the president campaigned on undoing the polarized political system, and that didn’t happen. “There’s plenty of blame to go around,” she said, but “‘Maybe we can’ is not exactly a great campaign slogan.”
She suggested that Obama could position his run as being against Congress, which now has a 9 percent approval rating. “They’re down to the support of paid staffers and relatives,” Borger quipped. Taking that tack, she said, “Truman did it and won.”
Borger said that although Romney had lost points with independents for his move rightward during the primary campaign, he has some room to “reposition” himself.
In the end, she said, because elections tend to be referendums on the sitting president, “the question is, has Barack Obama given enough of a reason for another four years? It can’t be because the other guy would be worse. People look for an affirmative reason.”
Although her talk focused on facts, numbers, and polls and remained neutral, Borger managed to offer a few digs at Romney that provided some comic relief. Referring to the “bruising” primary season that forced the former Massachusetts governor to “move to the right,” she said, “I swear he even moved his part more to the right.”
She also suggested Romney is “the kind of guy your family tries to fix you up with but you never want to go out with.” As for those who would paint him as an extremist, she suggested the Democrats might have an uphill battle. “He’s more L.L. Bean catalogue than extremist.”
And she poked fun at Washington in general, saying it is “the only place where you can see a person walking down Lovers’ Lane holding his own hand.”
She opened her talk by criticizing organizations that call upon her to analyze news about women in particular rather than politics in general. “I always have to chide people about this.” She prefers to be considered a news analyst and speaker for all the political news and not be limited to what people consider women’s issues.
Despite that objection, Borger went on to offer her thoughts on the role of women in this campaign season. “Suddenly, people are discussing how women are important — and that we vote. Really. The candidates are going around talking about the gender gap, about women working in the home versus working somewhere else and who understands women more,” she said.
But these perspectives are nothing new, she said. “Haven’t we always been important to our families and to politics? We’re involved, we vote, we care about our communities. We have different sets of interests not related to gender: family, health care, international politics, domestic politics. Let me just get that off my chest!”
Speaking directly to the women in the room, who represented a wide swath of the local Jewish community in terms of age (there were mothers nursing babies, seniors, and women of every age in between) and in terms of affiliation, from secular to Orthodox, she said, “It’s so amazing to be in a room of women who are so engaged.”
Women’s Awareness Day is partially underwritten by a grant from the Maxine Fischer Memorial Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ. It was chaired by Amy Block and Jennifer Budlow.