George H. W. Bush

The shooting at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, which left 13 dead, including lone gunman Aaron Alexis, has sparked the usual contretemps (gun control vs.

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For Romney, talking about the economy means talking about small businesses and the national debt. One problem: Voters don't care.

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Unless something dramatic happens—fast—the general election will soon be upon us, with Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee, and President Obama fighting for a second term. But if the primary season has proven largely predictable, the next phase of the presidential campaign will likely have more than a few surprises in store. Romney and Obama will be competing on a playing field more polarized along partisan and ideological lines than at any time in recent history.

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By all accounts, the Obama campaign wants to avoid having the 2012 election turn into a referendum on the president’s first term, hoping instead to turn it into a choice between the two major parties’ candidates and visions for the country’s future. But if history is any guide, that will be an uphill battle. Some presidential elections do consist of a head-to-head comparison of the candidates: They just happen to be the ones involving non-incumbents, candidates whose competence to serve as president can only be predicted.

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Dangerous Game

I’ve just spent a snowed-in day plowing through the Congressional Budget Office’s latest ten-year budget and economic outlook. The short-term outlook is grim enough, with an estimated deficit of $1.5 trillion—a new record, and the third consecutive 13-figure result. As for the long-term outlook, it’s not as bad as you’ve read; it’s worse. Here’s why the headlines understate the gravity of our situation.

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Flagpole Sitter

WASHINGTON—American decline is the specter haunting our politics. This could be President Obama's undoing—or it could provide him with the opportunity to revive his presidency. Fear of decline is an old American story. Declinism ran rampant in the late 1970s and early '80s.

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Jerusalem—I visit Israel at least once a year, so I have an opportunity to observe changes in the country's concerns. Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran. In response to American pressure that began shortly after President Obama took office, the Netanyahu government agree last November to a temporary and partial freeze on construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which averted an immediate crisis.

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In 1990, President George H. W. Bush, faced with an enormous budget deficit, made a deal with Congressional Democrats. He would sign on to a small, hike in the top marginal tax rate, from 28% to 31%, in return for which they would agree to a large package of spending cuts. The deal squeezed through Congress, but conservatives revolted, denouncing Bush's plan as a sellout. Over the 20 years that have passed since, opposition to deals like this has been the lodestar of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Dissent is permitted on all other issues, but not on taxes.

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Salt Lake City, Utah Jon Huntsman Jr. wants to know if I'm in the mood for Mexican food for lunch. "I know a great place we can go downtown," the Utah governor says as we pile into the back seat of his black, tinted Suburban. (He goes there all the time, three of his aides separately assure me.) We drive south from Capitol Hill, passing the enormous Mormon temple in the center of town.

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