For the second time in two months, President Obama took to a microphone this week and sang in public, this time cheerfully belting out a few words to "Sweet Home Chicago."
Why is the president smiling and singing so much lately? Maybe because he knows the economy is getting better, his poll numbers are rising, and his chances for re-election are improving.
The economic news of late has been very good for an incumbent president. The stock market is up, unemployment is down, jobs are coming back, and the auto industry that he bailed out is doing better than ever.
Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 13,000, doubling where it was in President Obama's first year in office. That number flatly contradicts the standard Republican lie that Obama's policies are killing business.
Meanwhile, General Motors just posted its highest profit ever. That makes it tough for Mitt Romney, who famously predicted in 2008, "If GM, Ford and Chrysler get [a] bailout ... you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye." Romney's solution was to "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Thank goodness no one listened to him.
Even Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who has endorsed Romney, admitted that the auto bailout "really worked," despite Romney's dire prediction. And former Republican President George W. Bush said this month that unemployment would have reached 21 percent if not for the auto bailout.
It's not just economic policy; President Obama has succeeded in foreign policy as well. He ended the war in Iraq, supported the transition to democracy in Egypt, helped push out Gadhafi in Libya, captured Somali pirates, and finally hunted down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Vice President Joe Biden recently suggested, half-seriously, that President Obama's 2012 campaign slogan should be "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."
All this news puts the Republicans in a tough spot. They can't make a convincing argument on the economy or foreign policy, so they're left to resurrect divisive social issues like abortion, birth control and religious faith.
Enter Rev. Franklin Graham, who a few weeks ago refused to acknowledge that President Obama is a Christian, even while he had no trouble vouching for the faith of Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Just as they did four years ago, the right wing is once again questioning the president's faith.
A woman at a Rick Santorum rally recently called Obama an "avowed Muslim" with "no legal right" to be president. Santorum never corrected her. But what else should we expect from a guy who believes women who are raped should have to carry their rapist's child to birth and who doesn't believe birth control or contraception really work? One of Santorum's prominent financial supporters even suggested recently that women should just keep their legs closed instead of relying on contraception.
Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney boasted to a conservative group recently that he was a "severely conservative" governor of Massachusetts. Then, at the Republicans' twentieth presidential debate last week, Romney endorsed Arizona's harsh new immigration law as a model for the rest of the nation.
Gone are the days when Republican candidates would claim to be "compassionate conservatives" or express a desire to create a "kinder and gentler" nation. Now they just pander to the fear and anger of the far-right-wing base.
Sadly, the old Republican Party is dead. It's been taken over by right-wing extremists. Florida's former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush even acknowledged this change when he noticed his party's candidates are playing to the worst emotions of the base. "I used to be a conservative, he said recently, "and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion."
The rightward shift of the GOP may benefit Obama's re-election in November, but it does not help our government to solve problems when one party refuses to compromise on its dangerously extremist positions.
True, Biden may have found a campaign slogan for President Obama's re-election, but Rep. Barney Frank offers a slogan that tells the other side of the story. Frank jokes that the Democrats' 2012 campaign slogan should be this: "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."
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