Obama's right about messaging, wrong on timeframe

Ever since the midterm election debacle, Democrats have attempted to console themselves by claiming that they just failed at messaging.  Voters didn’t reject their agenda, leading Democrats such as Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi say; they just didn’t hear about how great things are and will be, thanks to an avalanche of advertising by Republicans and their allies.  Put aside for the moment that voters got more messaging from Democrats and their allies, whose spending actually surpassed the Right in this election, and that the electorate had two years to see the direction in which Democrats took the country.  Messaging really was the problem, Patheos’ Timothy Dalrymple writes today … only Democrats are looking at the wrong time frame:

The most important product the Obama campaign sold was not a package of legislative proposals. It was Obama himself. Obama was sold as a transformational figure, a savior from ruin. The intensity of hatred for Bush was transferred into the intensity of adoration for Obama, who would deliver us from the Bush wilderness. Obama was “lightworker,” better than Jesus. If anyone wants to remember the fervent messianic expectation that surrounded the Obama candidacy, take a strolldown memory lane.

The Obama campaign made a calculated deal. Obama’s accomplishments were meager for a presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton was a formidable opponent. The only way to win was to make Obama a movement candidate. Obama had to be viewed as a messiah; otherwise he would not be elected. So the campaign allowed Obama-veneration, even encouraged it. Although his record was fiercely partisan, he was spun as above the sordid partisan plane. Although he had no substantial executive experience, he was spun as so magnificently competent that he would bring government to solve its most intractable problems. Although he had little foreign policy credibility, he was spun as the redeemer of America’s global reputation.

He spun, and spun, and spun. The moment he won the primary would be seen, heforetold, as “the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless . . . when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal . . . when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.”

These promises are simply too much. They are dishonest. Obama could never deliver on them. The Obama camp ran their campaign in such a way that they won the election by dooming the presidency. Of course there is nothing new in politicians promising more than they can deliver. But Obama committed this political sin on such a gargantuan scale that it ought to be named after him. Let Christian politicians take note: never promise so much that your failed promises will cripple your administration.

Democrats got their message out in 2010, loud and clear, but that wasn’t the messaging that created their problem — and neither was it the messaging of the GOP in 2010, either.  Their problems started in 2006, when Democrats exploited the opening created by a free-spending Republican Congress to paint themselves as fiscal disciplinarians and moderate thinkers.  Their agenda was necessarily contained by the presence of George Bush in the White House, allowing them to continue their claims of moderates and fiscal realists.

In 2008, along comes Barack Obama, who ran as a “post-partisan” moderate, an outsider who could force both Democrats and Republicans to the table.  Experience no longer counted, Obama argued, because leadership was more important, and experience meant getting tarnished by party politics and Beltway thinking.  With the country exhausted by the Bush administration and looking for “change,” Obama sold his public-relations image.

As any successful salesperson can explain, there is nothing worse than overpromising and underdelivering — except doing a bait-and-switch.  Instead of a champion for the mighty middle, Obama turned into a traditional progressive with a hard-left agenda of government expansion.  Instead of a leader that transcended party politics, Obama essentially surrendered to Nancy Pelosi and let her run the administration’s legislative agenda.

It should come as no shock to anyone that the electorate was greatly disillusioned by the results of Hopenchange, and disillusionment is one of the most powerful and underappreciated emotional responses in humanity.  It comes just short of betrayal, and it can turn friends into enemies, spouses into strangers, and followers into jeering critics.  Dalrymple calls this “the wages of spin,” and it explains why the middle practically sprinted to the polls in the midterm to reject Democrats, even if they didn’t quite embrace Republicans, recalling the disillusionment of 2006.

This is a lesson that the GOP had better keep in mind in 2011 and 2012.