Is the Obama campaign really incompetent?
posted at 7:31 pm on May 27, 2012 by Karl
That seems to be the developing conventional wisdom, particularly right of center. To be sure, Team Obama has had its share of problems recently. However, there is probably both more and less to these problems than meets the eye at first glance.
The two big examples cited by writers like Matthew Continetti are Team Obama’s handling of same sex marriage and the seemingly ineffective attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital. These two supposed stumbles share at least two notable features.
First, both reflect tensions between elite Democratic constituencies that in recent cycles have funded the party and the rank-and-file constiuencies that have voted for it. Same sex marriage is a cause celebre for Hollywood, gay rights activists and the post-grad crowd, but not nearly as popular with working-class whites and socially-conservative blacks. The Democrat apparat is well aware of how much financial support they received from Wall Street, hedge funds and private equity firms in the pre-Obama era, but young Occupiers, Big Labor dinosaurs and assorted class warriors would like to plead ignorance. The stories about these issues are less about the Obama campaign specifically than about the difficulty any Democrat president would have managing the party’s voting coalition. One of the major themes of Sean Trende’s The Lost Majority is the difficulty any major party has in maintaining a broad coalition over time (Obama’s is already narrower than Bill Clinton’s). The major theme of Jay Cost’s Spoiled Rotten is how clientelism is a particular problem for the Democrats.
Second, these conflicts have particular resonance with a key Democrat constituency, i.e., the establishment media. Both issues involved what the media perceived as hypocrisy on Obama’s part. More significantly, they both afforded the media to push Obama from the left. Joe Biden’s allegedly premature comments supporting same sex marriage gave the media the opportunity to grill the White House about the gap between Obama’s stated position and the position the media believed to be his true position. Does anyone think the media would have been that dogged if establishment journalists did not uniformly support same sex marriage? Is the media’s problem more with Obama’s Bain-based attacks, or with the part about Obama taking money from the finance sector?
These two points provide two cautionary notes. First, Team Obama’s problems on these issues are not necessarily a sign of the campaign’s incompetence, but are perhaps an inevitable product of having to manage the Democratic Party’s voting coalition. Team Obama was probably going to have to choose which of its constituents to please, and which to annoy.
Second, if so, the media storyline about these problems being an issue of incompetence may be mostly that — a media storyline. In particular, it may be a media storyline driven by journalists’ own progressive biases. Conservatives and libertarians ought to look at the track record of the media forgiving Obama’s hypocrisies (e.g., rejecting public funding of his campaign, any number of national security and foreign policy stances) before planning on the media continuing with the incompetence storyline through November. The establishment media has written about “How Obama Got His Groove Back” on any number of occasions during his first term. It is a fair bet we will see those stories again before Election Day.
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