Running on Empty: The Cliché Candidacy of Barack Obama

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The last few weeks have been disastrous ones for the Obama re-election effort. The evidence for this is in several areas, including public opinion surveys. The Rasmussen daily tracking survey, one of the very few to use a likely voter screen at this point in the cycle, now has Mitt Romney leading Obama [1] by five points. A new Fox survey of registered voters has Obama with his lowest approval number to date at 42%, trailing Romney [2] head-to-head by 2%.

On the issue front, the Obama team has suffered many severe blows. It turns out that several members of the Supreme Court, maybe even a majority, think the issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate in ObamaCare is a serious one. The liberal commentariat from Jeffrey Toobin to Linda Greenhouse, caught in their tight cocoon that ignores alternative views, had assured themselves before the Court took up the matter that the constitutionality of the mandate was a trivial concern. After a few days of oral arguments, during which the Obama administration’s lawyers were badly outclassed by the attorneys for the states challenging the law, public support for the law dropped to its lowest level and support for the Supreme Court rose.

Some of this, ironically, may be a response to the perception that the president was both bullying the Court and appallingly ignorant [3] of the history of judicial review of acts of Congress by the Supreme Court. For a president who graduated from Harvard Law School, served as editor of the Harvard Law Review, and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, his statement suggested he either missed a lot during his three years at Harvard or, worse, assumed the White House press corps was so ignorant (or so in the bag for him) that he could say anything on the subject and it would pass muster, as was the case for the most part in the 2008 campaign. If the Court throws out the mandate, or perhaps the entire law, in late June, the signature achievement of the administration will be gone, or at least badly disabled. A case can be made that the president’s attack on the Court may make it easier for the Court to rule against the law.

Last week’s disaster was an obnoxious attack on Ann Romney by 35-time White House visitor Hilary Rosen, who said of the “presumptive” Republican nominee’s wife: “She never worked a day in her life.” The dismissive and disrespectful comment drew quick responses from David Axelrod, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the president and first lady. They all said that the wives of candidates are off-limits and that raising children is hard work that should be respected. With one stupid comment by a DNC advisor who, for the record, might have been taxed under the “Buffet rule” for her seven-figure earnings as head of the Recording Industry Association of America (after which she chose to stay home with her partner for a time to raise her adopted kids), the hypocrisy was glaring [4]. For the Obama campaign, the reaction the comment received was a signal of great danger to their effort to create and widen the “gender gap” with their oft-repeated charge about the Republicans’ “war against women.”

After the suspension of Rick Santorum’s campaign last week, Mitt Romney’s five-year fight for the GOP nomination for the presidency seemed to have successfully concluded. Romney has had a difficult time during the primary season connecting with the blue-collar base of the Republican Party and with social conservatives. After Rosen’s cheap shot, the social networking sites were ablaze with angry men and women rallying behind Ann Romney. A Washington Post online poll showed 97% supporting Romney and 3% backing Rosen. As a result of Rosen’s “gift,” the Romney campaign may have achieved more in narrowing the gender gap and solidifying Romney’s support level with conservative voters than it was able to achieve with many months of trying to sound acceptable to them in debates and campaign speeches.

The reaction to the Rosen attack, which was also part of the persistent and broader class warfare theme of the Obama campaign (the real message was that Ann Romney is an idle rich woman), may not only help insulate Ann Romney from future attacks but should also enable her to be more of a spokesperson for her husband, helping to humanize him in the process. If the Obama campaign was concerned that Ann Romney was going to be a big help to Mitt Romney’s fall campaign before this incident, that problem is now greatly magnified for them.

There is increasing evidence that the only theme on which Obama plans to run his campaign this time is that the rich are not taxed enough and that if they were, everything would be just grand and all the vital “investments” (translation — increased federal spending) needed over the next ten years would be paid for. The corollary is that Mitt Romney is very rich and needs to pay a lot more in taxes.

There may never have been a presidential campaign so chock-full of poll-tested clichés as Obama’s. A Gallup poll shows that the “Buffet rule,” which would raise about 1/300th of the annual Obama deficit [5], is so far a crowd-pleaser. But is it enough to get voters to cast a ballot in November for the president, or will the unemployment rate, gas prices, the deficit, and ObamaCare matter a lot more?

The president’s aides have already walked back Obama’s absurd statement [6] that the Buffet rule would be enough to “stabilize our debt and deficits over the next ten years.” There may be a reason we have never seen the president’s transcripts or SAT scores. Did he score poorly in math? Many Democrats and liberal pundits have admitted that the upcoming vote in the Senate on the Buffet rule this week is a “gimmick” to win one day’s new cycle and get some vulnerable Republicans on the record opposing it.

We can also expect to see and hear more of all the following poll-tested gestures or comments over the next seven months:

  1. Obama running up the stairs to speak to a crowd with his sleeves rolled up. (It’s good to know he is rolling up his sleeves to solve America’s problems.)
  2. “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class.” (If we adopt the Buffet rule, it’s a good bet it will be a “make” moment).
  3. “Everyone needs to pay their fair share.” (Everyone except for the half of all Americans who do not pay any income tax and will not be asked to by the president.)
  4. “The rich need to pay their fare share.” (Presumably 10% of taxpayers paying 70% of all income taxes, greater than their share of income, is not a fair share and needs to be substantially higher.)
  5. “Corporations need to play by the rules.” (Of course, we presumably need more of them.)
  6. “All Americans should get a fair shot.” (At what exactly is unclear — opportunity to succeed, or an opportunity to share in the fruits of the labor of others? What is Obama’s plan for those who get a “fair” chance to compete, and fail? )
  7. “We need to build an economy that can last.” (All countries have economies that “last,” even Greece. The test is whether the economy is growing, and if so, whether that rate of growth is sufficient. Is Obama concerned about growth — the size of the pie — or only about how a pie of whatever size is distributed?)

The Obama approval numbers, other than for a post-Bin Laden bump, have stayed in a narrow range for over two years. There is nothing the president is saying now that he has not said many times over. Many Americans appear to have tuned him out. The Obama campaign brain trust may have concluded that the only path to victory is by pandering to a collection of ethnic groups and interests. Hence, the class warfare theme to activate the left-wing base, the offhand comments about the Trayvon Martin case to show blacks he is with them, the lawsuits against Arizona to please Hispanic voters, and the delay in the Keystone pipeline to keep the environmental lobby and contributors happy.

The broad post-racial, no-blue-state, no-red-state jargon is history. Now it will be constant attack (against those who have been the “winners” in America and are not paying their fare share) and consolidating the various Democratic base groups. If Mitt Romney, and others like him, would just pay more in taxes, would America then have an economy built to last? Would the middle class then have their “make” moment?

Can this babble sell in America in 2012 ?

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