The Obama Campaign Does Not Need an Intervention
posted at 1:06 pm on June 18, 2012 by Karl
Al Hunt doesn’t get it wrong so much as he just doesn’t get it at all:
During a focus group in Denver last week, Jeffrey Penny laid out his “criteria” for giving President Barack Obama his vote this year as he did in 2008.
“I just want to see specifics and quit the trash talk,” the 31-year-old web designer and construction worker says in the session conducted by the pollster Peter Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “Just get down to business and figure this thing out.”
Private conversations with a half-dozen of the smartest Democratic political thinkers — all of whom have played at the highest levels of national campaigns, are genuine Obama backers, and almost never are consulted by the campaign — reveal a consensus of advice for the president: Stop trying to tell voters they’re doing better, offer an optimistic sense of how, if re-elected, you would lead America to more prosperous times, and challenge Republicans with specifics.
There is no intervention that can fix this problem because the candidate is Barack Obama and his reelection campaign is ultimately run by Barack Obama.
Bill Clinton was a different political animal. He cut his teeth on the McGovern campaign, but after losing the governorship of Arkansas in aprt due to excess progressivism, he came back as a New Democrat. That is largely how he campaigned and won the presdency in 1992. The client groups of the Democratic party pushed him leftward during his first two years (e.g, gays in the military, tax hikes, gun control and midnight basketball, Hillarycare), resulting in the first GOP Congress in 40 years. Bill Clinton then triangulated his way to reelection by a margin larger than would be predicted by the economy alone. However, as Jay Cost details in his new book, Spoiled Rotten, the Dick Morris prediction that the party would follow him never panned out. As Jay notes at the Weekly Standard, “what we have then is a history of the Democratic party being skeptical of Clinton, then pushing him so far to the left that he lost public opinion, then rebuking his vice president, and then his wife in the 2008 election.”
Obama beat Hillary Clinton in large part by running to her left, as the representative of the Democrat client groups (esp. its antiwar faction). Obama was entirely comfortable doing so. After all, despite the best efforts of the establishment media to downplay it, Obama’s political career in Illinois showed him to be a man entirely comfortable with far-left and downright radical figures. He racked up one of the most liberal voting records in the U.S. Senate.
Running for office in Illinois and against the mavericky John McCain amid a financial crisis catapulted Obama to the Oval Office without ever having had to take conservatism or libertarianism seriously. The Democrat majorities swept into Congress following the Wall Street panic allowed him to delegate the task of legislating to the most senior, most client-driven members of his party. He passed an unpopular economic “stimulus,” an unpopular extention of the bank bailouts, and the unpopular Obamacare.
As with Bill Clinton, the economy failed to recover quickly and robustly, and the Democrats were again shellacked in midterm elections, losing control of the House. However, unlike Bill Clinton, there was and is nothing in Barack Obama’s political DNA that counsels triangulation (which is how Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley end up on the outs while Valerie Jarrett remains close to the president).
Barack Obama’s campaign is a series of panders to Democrat client groups because that is who he is and what he does. His recent camapign speech in Cleveland was not the advertised “reset” not only due to message discipline, but also because he is proud to offer nothing new. Contra the delusions of the establishment, Obama is a progressive ideologue. He believes he already has the answers. New solutions are not required. Indeed, beyond picayune gimmicks like the “Buffett rule,” any solutions Obama has to offer are likely as unpopular as his other big ideas. There is no intervention which can fix that problem now.