Why the Hopemonger has faded

Politico notes a change in direction for Barack Obama that reeks of desperation, as well as a tendency to listen to the worst advice coming from his party.  The Hopemonger has departed, Carrie Budoff Brown reports, replaced with a drearily recognizable Democratic presidential archetype, the kind that lost the last two elections to George Bush.  Obama has traded in his one positive asset in this campaign, and for a very specific reason:

The “hopemonger” is gone.

Barack Obama sounds more like a man trying to shake a rain cloud these days, dispensing a teeth-clenching, I-get-your-pain stump speech in town after town that offers only snippets of the unbridled optimism that long permeated his campaign pitch.

Beginning in the days before his party’s convention, the inspirational has given way to the traditional: attacks on John McCain, a register of policy prescriptions and partisan language with the sting of a needle. …

“You assured voters in New Hampshire, as well as the rest of the country, that you would not tolerate the Republican attack ads and smear campaign that has come to really dominate politics,” doctoral student Glenn Grasso, 39, told Obama at a town hall meeting last week in Concord. “So for those of us who have given you our support and more importantly our money, when and how are you going to start fighting back?”

Acknowledging that some of his supporters were nervous, Obama responded that he was hitting hard but that he would not get into the mud.

He managed to blow that promise as well, issuing a remarkably stupid and poorly researched attack ad on McCain’s inability to send an e-mail, which hardly sounds like a deal-breaker for a man who flew Navy jets for decades in his nation’s defense.  As it turned out, McCain knows how to send e-mail but can’t handle the keyboard duties because of his injuries from his torture as a POW in Vietnam.  A simple Google search would have revealed this, and Team O’s failure to research it made them look like the Internet incompetents.

However, Brown misses a major point in this sudden ditching of the “Hopemonger”.  Obama ran as an outsider, whose utter lack of experience got outweighed by his ability to bring change and reform.  Unfortunately, Obama has never shown any evidence for that proposal, which has made that theme wear thin, and McCain has effectively attacked it.  Obama himself and his Democratic allies stuck a stake through its heart by attacking Sarah Palin as inexperienced, when she had more relevant experience as an executive and done more to fight corruption than Obama ever has.

Sarah Palin sucked all of the oxygen out of the presidential campaign for more than two weeks, leaving Obama unable to answer at all, let alone effectively.  Why has she dominated the news cycles?  People forget that she’s the first new face in this 20-month campaign in over a year.  Obama could have benefited from picking a fresh face as his running mate in a similar manner, such as Kathleen Sebelius or Tim Kaine.  Instead, he bypassed the much more experienced Bill Richardson to pick Joe Biden, who wasn’t even a fresh face in 1987 when he plagiarized his way out of his first run for the Presidency.

Obama has had to turn back towards his base rather than make a play for independents and centrists. The base has begun to get dispirited, if not outright mutinous, and Obama needs an enthusiastic effort to win battleground states.  Instead, he’s begun to fade in formerly safe states like Minnesota and New York, and Pennsylvania and Michigan may have already slipped through his fingers.

Make no mistake about it.  Obama may claim this as going on the offensive, but this is a purely defensive move that ignores his one major theme: being different enough to transcend partisanship.  John McCain has pushed him out of his comfort zone and forced him to play this election by McCain’s rules, and apparently he isn’t adept enough to figure that out for himself.