- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OOH-LA-LA

It is a revealing and possibly damning bit of presidential carelessness: That would be President Obama’s “open mic” mishap with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The pair groused about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu behind closed doors, but near a stray open microphone placed in an anteroom to help language translators.

“I can’t stand him anymore. He’s a liar,” Mr. Sarkozy said of his Israeli counterpart, in what was supposed to be a private backstage moment during the recent Group of 20 summit in Cannes, France.

“You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day,” Mr. Obama replied. The exchange was made public by the French press and later confirmed by U.S. wire services.

Sen. John McCain and Rep. Michele Bachmannare among Republicans vexed over the trite but telling exchange. White House spokesman Jay Carney allowed that he had no comment “on the specific conversation.” Not so Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“We are deeply disappointed and saddened by this decidedly un-presidential exchange between Presidents Sarkozy and Obama,” says Mr. Foxman. “What is sad is that we now have to worry to what extent these private views inform foreign-policy decisions of the U.S. and France — two singularly important players in the peace process.

THE CAIN MUTINY

How’d he do? Presidential hopeful Herman Cain held his own during his straightforward press conference Tuesday to reply to charges he sexually harassed job seeker Sharon Bialek — judging by a few press descriptors immediately afterwards: “defiant (USA Today); “stood his ground” (National Public Radio); “fired back” (CBS News); “defiant” (Associate Press); and “vigorously denied” (Fox News).

THE FRUGAL SOCIALIST

Poll numbers lag; hubbub is elsewhere. But Rep. Michele Bachmann is determined to distinguish herself on the campaign trail. The presidential hopeful has introduced a snappy new phrase that has caught the fancy of the fickle press.

“We cannot preserve liberty for ourselves and our posterity if the choice next November is between a frugal socialist and an out-of-control socialist,” Mrs. Bachmann recently told a Family Research Council audience.

Bingo. “Frugal socialist” attracted journalists — and analysts.

“While Bachmann has received significant mileage with the ‘frugal socialist’ concept, the question remains: Did she really coin this phrase? Not quite,” says Eric Ostermeier, a University of Minnesota political professor and the fonder of Smart Politics, an analytical blog. The phrase has been used in news coverage, he says, since 1988.

“Smart Politics is not suggesting Rep. Bachmann or her campaign were aware of previous usages of the phrase. She may want to reconsider any thoughts she may have of ordering in bulk ‘End Frugal Socialism’ T-shirts for her campaign website,” Mr. Ostermeier observes. ” Because Herman Cain is likely to come up with a phrase that is just as memorable over the next 24 hours.”

SCARED MITTLESS

He has honed a polished veneer and intellectual hauteur, and likely is carefully monitoring Herman Cain’s status. Now presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman Jr. is getting, uh-h-h, sassy. The candidate has launched a new campaign called “Scared Mittless” to draw attention to rival Mitt Romney’s reserved ways.

“Mitt Romney’s not running a cautious campaign. He’s running from tough questions. Running from his record of flip-flops and avoiding controversial stands doesn’t amount to presidential leadership,” says Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller.

“Romney’s strategy begs the question: If you’re too afraid to answer David Gregory’s questions on Sunday morning, how can Republican voters trust you to take on Barack Obama in 2012?” Mr. Miller wonders.

CHRISTIEFIED

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has quietly slipped into high gear. The ever-popular, ever glib New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie heads to New Hampshire on Wednesday in support of Mr. Romney, the man he has endorsed for president. Mr. Christie will visit Romney campaign headquarters in Manchester, then head to a house party in Nashua before journeying to Boston to watch the ninth Republican debate in Michigan on Thursday, in the company of rabid Romney fans.

ICONIC HALEY

Obama’s policies aren’t fixing our problems. They’re making them worse. And a second Obama term means making this malaise permanent … . We’re the greatest country on earth, and we can get America right again. To do that we have to win in 2012. So come on now, let’s get this done.”

And so says Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, in a new voter-outreach video from the nonprofit group American Crossroads, seen here: www.1600fund.com

“As one of the most iconic figures of the modern Republican Party, Gov. Barbour paints a vivid case of why America needs to change course in the 2012 elections. He is uniquely qualified to stem the encroaching tide of pessimism flowing across the country due to the failed policies of President Obama,” observes Mike Duncan, chairman of the District-based group.

POLL DU JOUR

• 66 percent of Americans say it’s important for a presidential candidate to have “strong religious beliefs.”

• 14 percent say it’s “not too important”; 19 percent say it’s “not at all important.”

• 65 percent say it would make “no difference” in their vote if a candidate has different religious beliefs than their own.

• 27 percent said they would be “less likely’ to vote for that candidate; 6 percent would be “more likely” to vote for the candidate.

• 69 percent are “comfortable” with an evangelical Christian serving as president.

• 52 percent are comfortable with a Mormon serving as president; 33 percent would be comfortable with a Muslim as president; 31 percent would be comfortable with an atheist as president.

Source: A Public Religion Research Institute survey of 1,505 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 22-Oct. 2 and released Tuesday.

Commentary and noise to jharper@washingtontimes.com.