LIMA, Ohio - As the candidates arrive in the Buckeye State for several days of critical campaigning, President Obama is enjoying more than just a lead in most polls. He's also enjoying Republican insiders slamming Mitt Romney for various faults, real and perceived, while potentially huge problems for the president -- the investigation into what happened at the Libyan consulate attack, a devastating blow suffered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Obama's lack of a plan to deal with the coming entitlement crisis, to name just three -- go largely undiscussed in much of the press.
As far as Libya is concerned, the White House story that the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens was entirely the result of anger over an anti-Muslim video has completely fallen apart. While the administration now concedes the attack was an act of terrorism, the public still does not know exactly what happened in Benghazi that night, nor does it know what security precautions, if any, the State Department took to protect U.S. interests there.
For the moment at least, the administration is stonewalling any further inquiries. State Department officials say they won't discuss the matter because it is under FBI investigation. But on Monday morning, CBS reported that the FBI "isn't even in Benghazi yet. They haven't secured that site, which is how journalists can wander through."
It was journalists wandering through who discovered a brief journal kept by Stevens in which the ambassador made clear he faced multiple security threats, including from al Qaeda. That clearly doesn't jibe with the president's video story. And then there's the question of what Stevens told the State Department about the security threats around him. They're all matters the department won't discuss because of the slow-starting FBI investigation.
One might think the situation, which could well break into a full-scale scandal, might be consuming the political press. It's not. For example, one could watch all of NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday and never hear a word about Libya, with the exception of a brief critique of Romney's reaction to the attack.
Then there is what happened in Afghanistan. On Sept. 14, Taliban forces attacked an allied base in Helmand province, killing two U.S. Marines. Human losses are always the most disturbing, but the Taliban's main target was American warplanes. They managed to destroy eight Harrier jets. In a brief article entitled, "The U.S. Suffered Its Worst Airpower Loss Since Vietnam Last Week and No One Really Noticed," the Atlantic's John Hudson wrote that the losses amounted to 7 percent of the Marine Corps' entire Harrier fleet. The planes, which stopped production in 1999, can't be replaced. Hudson quoted one military expert who called the attack "arguably the worst day in [U.S. Marine Corps] aviation history since the Tet Offensive of 1968."
Hudson's piece came out the same day Romney released his 2011 tax returns. Guess which got more attention in the political world?
Then there is the entitlement crisis. Democrats have targeted the Republican ticket, and particularly vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, over plans to reform the nation's troubled entitlement system. That's fine. But what would President Obama do about the problem?
Journalist Mark Halperin asked top Obama aide David Axelrod that very question Monday morning. Axelrod hemmed and hawed about a "balanced" approach to the problem, but when Halperin asked simply, "So what is [Obama's] proposal?" Axelrod answered, "This is not the time." Axelrod suggested that if Halperin were to win election to the U.S. Senate, then they might talk.
Libya, Afghanistan, entitlements -- all are enough for days of discussion about the president's problems. But much of the political conversation, among Republican insiders as well as in news reporting, has focused on Romney's difficulties.
Some conservative critics say Romney has been too vague about his economic proposals. Some say he has muzzled Ryan, failing to take advantage of his running mate's impressive mastery of the federal budget. Some say he has fallen short of the standard set 30 years ago by Ronald Reagan.
There's no doubt Romney has made mistakes in the past few weeks. And there's no doubt some GOP insiders are nearing a state of panic about his chances of becoming president. But what about the other guy, the guy who actually is president? There's a lot going on there that Republicans, and journalists too, might want to talk about.