Karl Rove analyzes the problems facing the Democratic Party with the virtual tie between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in today’s Wall Street Journal. At first, he focuses on voting patterns and the potential game-ending scenarios in Indiana and North Carolina for Hillary, and points out the electoral weaknesses Obama shows and what that could mean in November with him as the candidate. Rove then uses that as a platform to analyze the candidates themselves — and diagnoses the core Obama failing:
Mr. Obama is befuddled and angry about the national reaction to what are clearly accepted, even commonplace truths in San Francisco and Hyde Park. How could anyone take offense at the observation that people in small-town and rural American are “bitter” and therefore “cling” to their guns and their faith, as well as their xenophobia? Why would anyone raise questions about a public figure who, for only 20 years, attended a church and developed a close personal relationship with its preacher who says AIDS was created by our government as a genocidal tool to be used against people of color, who declared America’s chickens came home to roost on 9/11, and wants God to damn America? Mr. Obama has a weakness among blue-collar working class voters for a reason.
His inspiring rhetoric is a potent tool for energizing college students and previously uninvolved African-American voters. But his appeals are based on two aspirational pledges he is increasingly less credible in making.
Mr. Obama’s call for postpartisanship looks unconvincing, when he is unable to point to a single important instance in his Senate career when he demonstrated bipartisanship. And his repeated calls to remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s “fierce urgency of now” in tackling big issues falls flat as voters discover that he has not provided leadership on any major legislative battle.
Mr. Obama has not been a leader on big causes in Congress. He has been manifestly unwilling to expend his political capital on urgent issues. He has been only an observer, watching the action from a distance, thinking wry and sardonic and cynical thoughts to himself about his colleagues, mildly amused at their too-ing and fro-ing. He has held his energy and talent in reserve for the more important task of advancing his own political career, which means running for president.
But something happened along the way. Voters saw in the Philadelphia debate the responses of a vitamin-deficient Stevenson act-a-like. And in the closing days of the Pennsylvania primary, they saw him alternate between whining about his treatment by Mrs. Clinton and the press, and attacking Sen. John McCain by exaggerating and twisting his words. No one likes a whiner, and his old-style attacks undermine his appeals for postpartisanship.
In short, Obama has run as something he clearly is not, at least not so far. He wants people to believe that he can change the game, but in the three short years he has served in national office, he has done nothing to suggest that. John McCain actually has a track record of working across party divisions and trying to reach solutions on controversial issues; Barack Obama prefers to reserve his “political capital”. All Obama has done is talk about change, and that talk has begun to wear thin, especially as people take a closer look at him and his political associations.
In a way, Obama is the Jon Stewart candidate. He sits on the edge of politics, making “wry and sardonic” comments about what other people do without doing anything himself. No wonder younger voters love him; he gets to be ironic while taking no responsibility for anything. And when people press him for action, he’d prefer to eat his waffle in peace until he can find a way to act as a commentator rather than as a real agent for change.
And what excuse has he given for that? Obama doesn’t want to become part of the Beltway culture. That sounds good, but did he run for the Senate so he could not participate in the legislative process? He could have stayed in Illinois to do that.
Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats who have carried him so close to the finish line, that “fierce urgency of now” is nothing more than a soundbite for a legislator who doesn’t legislate, an agent of change who hasn’t changed anything, and the beacon of hope who hasn’t felt an urgency to take any action in the “now” for the past three years. He’s been eating his waffle and hanging out with people who don’t like America or Americans much. That qualifies him to work the next Daily Show spin-off, not run the nation.