When Hope and Change became Spite and Revenge
posted at 12:31 pm on November 6, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
Four years ago, this nation elected a candidate with no executive, military, or diplomatic experience — and only a half-term in the US Senate — as President of the United States. Barack Obama ran as the candidate of “Hope and Change,” promising a new path to take us past bitter partisanship and a fresh approach to our issues. Four years later, Obama has been reduced to asking for “revenge” votes, which I argue in my column today at The Week is no mere gaffe. In fact, it’s an almost perfect encapsulation of Obama’s brand of populism, and practically his entire platform since September of last year:
Stung by the outcome of the deal and the largely accurate perception that he’d fumbled the negotiations, Obama responded by demanding tax hikes on the wealthy as part of any new deal. Nevermind that his threshold of $250,000 annual income would include small-business owners. Nevermind that the revenue of such a tax — around $80 billion per year — would hardly put a dent in Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits. Obama’s rhetoric soon focused on the 1 percent, and income inequality became Obama’s principal focus while most Americans worried about jobs.
Romney’s nomination gave Obama the perfect opportunity to vent his populist spleen. Here was almost the personification of income inequality and privilege — the epitome of all Obama had demonized during the previous several months. Accordingly, the Obama campaign quickly went negative against Romney, running more than $100 million in ads that focused mostly on Romney’s wealth, his business decisions at Bain Capital, and his reluctance to disclose the 20 years of tax returns that Team Obama wanted. Deputy communications director Stephanie Cutter even alleged that Romney might be hiding a felony, a charge that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeated numerous times — with zero proof. Romney’s remarks about the 47 percent gave this strategy one last big boost in the final weeks of the campaign.
Even on a personal level, the hostility seemed palpable. During the first debate, Obama looked and sounded put off by having to even address Romney’s criticisms on stage, and offered the same attack lines as his summer campaign. In the next two debates, Obama glared and glowered at Romney, and spoke to him with scorn dripping from every word. Only after the last debate did Obama finally get around to releasing anything resembling an argument for a second term as president, offering voters a 20-page pamphlet that consisted almost entirely of recycled pledges from the 2008 campaign. Perhaps Obama was caught by surprise that the majority of voters didn’t view Romney with the same level of disdain, and that Obama needed to make an argument for their vote.
For Obama, this entire campaign has felt like revenge against Romney, and against the kind of people Obama thinks Romney represents. Obama could have spent the last several months talking about his own record and his plans to change direction from our current economic stagnation that has kept the level of employment in the population at or near 30-year lows. Instead, Obama approached this election as a personal mission of revenge, and left the door open for Romney to present the only vision of change for the future in this campaign. Romney defined his campaign as an expression of love rather than revenge. So what Obama said on Friday was no gaffe. It’s just the obvious takeaway from a relentlessly empty and negative campaign.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, either. Marc Thiessen pointed it out at the Washington Post yesterday:
But Obama never offered the American people any change. Instead, he set out to destroy Romney. He launched a relentlessly negative campaign, focused entirely tearing Romney down and making him an unacceptable alterative. Obama spent $100 million on negative ads. He attacked Romney as a heartless corporate raider, vulture capitalist and possible felon, a man who cheated on his taxes, killed a woman with cancer, wanted to destroy the auto industry, and sent American jobs to China. The president’s message was: You may not like me, but you are going to hate him.
At first this scorched-earth strategy appeared to be working, as Romney’s negatives rose and he trailed in the polls. Then, 67 million people tuned into the first presidential debate last month and saw Mitt Romney in person for the first time — strong, respectful, reasonable and presidential. In 90 minutes, the impact of $100 million of ads began to evaporate. The Obama strategy collapsed, and the Romney surge began.
Obama tried to regain the momentum by attacking Romney in the subsequent debates — but it only made the president seem small. Millions of heads nodded when Romney turned to Obama in the final debate and said, “Mr. President, attacking me is not a strategy.”
Obama belatedly saw his mistake. In the closing weeks, his campaign put out ahastily prepared booklet that purported to lay out a second-term agenda, but it was little more than repackaged talking points from his first term. Then, last week, his campaign promised to end on a positive note and “tilt toward the affirmative, toward the future,” in the words of Obama adviser David Axelrod. It never happened. Instead, Obama just continued to attack Romney. At an Ohio rally this weekend, Obama hit Romney for “ruling out compromise,” “massaging the facts,” “pledging to rubber-stamp the tea party agenda in Congress” — and he told his followers that “voting is the best revenge.”
Glenn Reynolds writes today that Obama’s lack of depth and track record of failure left him with no other argument — and that’s reason enough for him to go:
In domestic politics, Obama hasn’t exactly covered himself with glory. He chose, mistakenly, to focus on health care instead of economic recovery, and we wound up with a bill packed with giveaways for special interests and still highly unpopular with the American people, rammed through using legislative technicalities. Even DemocratDouglas Wilder of Virginia, the first black elected governor since Reconstruction, is criticizing Obama.
Steve Contoro writes in The Washington Examiner, “Wilder, an emphatic Obama supporter in 2008, said his fellow Democrat should have focused more on creating jobs during his first term and faulted the president for failing to keep his campaign promise to bridge the partisan gap in Washington.”
“I think he’s governed left of center and didn’t focus on jobs and economic recovery,” Wilder told The Washington Examiner.
That’s right. And his arrogance (“I won”) and inflexibility have ensured that not much would get done. Obama hasn’t even passed a budget and didn’t even get any Democratic votes in the Senate) though we’ve somehow managed to run trillion dollar deficits every year anyway.Put it all together, and you’ve got the portrait of a failed presidency. It is time for him to go.
This shouldn’t be surprising. When elected, Obama was inexperienced: Most of his career in government was in the Illinois State Senate, with only a couple of years experience in the U.S. Senate, most of which he spent running for president. He had no private-sector experience, no executive experience (beyond the Harvard Law Review) and little knowledge of the United States beyond the major metropolitan areas of New York, Boston and Chicago. It would have been a miracle if he had turned out to be competent.