In my latest column for The Week, I ask if we have been pondering the wrong question about Barack Obama and his falling poll numbers. We’ve analyzed the potential for Obama to pull an LBJ and pull out of the 2012 election, or for Democrats to pressure him into quitting the race if he doesn’t reach that conclusion on his own. With the obvious implications of Obama’s two proposals this month, the better question is whether he’s already quit being President in favor of just being a candidate:
The plan itself broke no new ground. Indeed, it closely resembles the 2009 stimulus bill, with its mix of infrastructure spending, temporary tax breaks, and another round of bailouts for states. But if the rehashed jobs plan was a passive disappointment, Obama’s new deficit reduction plan is an aggressive partisan attack — the very kind that Obama blasted in his joint-session speech earlier in the month. Obama warned his political opponents that voters wouldn’t wait for an election 14 months away to deliver solutions, and that Democrats and Republicans had to work together now to solve the big problems facing the nation:
“Already, we’re seeing the same old press releases and tweets flying back and forth. Already, the media has proclaimed that it’s impossible to bridge our differences. And maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box. But know this: The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. ” …
Obama mailed in both proposals rather than engage in the hard work of governance. If Obama had any interest in actually passing his deficit-reduction plan, he would not have filled it with tax hikes that have floated around the Beltway for years — and which both Republicans and Democrats have rejected in the past. The jobs bill was even less creative than his approach to deficit reduction, cribbed from a failed and costly exercise in central economic control. Obama didn’t bother to put much effort into either because he has no intention of doing the hard work needed to accomplish actual deficit reduction or improve the job-creation climate. The president has more than a year to go before the next election, but Obama has stopped governing and has shifted entirely to campaign mode. This is what it looks like when a president quits.
I’m not the only one noticing this, of course. David Brooks calls himself a “sap” today for believing that President Pant Crease had anything to offer outside of the usual partisan, class-warfare nonsense that, er, Obama has spouted all along. Brooks writes that Obama has rejected “Obamaism,” a construct which in itself is unconsciously ironic coming from Brooks:
When the president said the unemployed couldn’t wait 14 more months for help and we had to do something right away, I believed him. When administration officials called around saying that the possibility of a double-dip recession was horrifyingly real and that it would be irresponsible not to come up with a package that could pass right away, I believed them.
I liked Obama’s payroll tax cut ideas and urged Republicans to play along. But of course I’m a sap. When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill. …
The president believes the press corps imposes a false equivalency on American politics. We assign equal blame to both parties for the dysfunctional politics when in reality the Republicans are more rigid and extreme. There’s a lot of truth to that, but at least Republicans respect Americans enough to tell us what they really think. The White House gives moderates little morsels of hope, and then rips them from our mouths. To be an Obama admirer is to toggle from being uplifted to feeling used.
The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.
That’s all Obama did in regard to governing style — talk about it. Does Brooks recall how Obama fought to include Republicans in the formation of the 2009 stimulus package, or how he praised the effort that led to the 2010 tax compromise in the lame-duck session after the midterms? Of course he doesn’t, because neither ever happened. Obama’s rebuke to Republicans in Congress in February 2009 was “I won,” and by the end of 2010 after he’d lost in the midterms, Obama resorted to calling Republicans “hostage takers” and spent more time repudiating the deal afterward than he did in negotiating it in the first place.
Even with that history, the two proposals from Obama this month are a significant shift toward full-time demagoguery rather than governance and part-time campaigning. As late as August, Obama was still publicly positioning himself as the supposed adult in the room, between the extremes of both sides and trying to occupy the center. Polling showed that no one was buying that act — except possibly for Brooks — and so Obama decided to go full populist and move to the extreme Left instead to bolster his base. That seems to have worked, at least momentarily, to shore up his standing with progressives, but it means abandoning all pretense of actual governance for the next 14 months at the very time he should have been making the argument that he is an indispensable leader.
That’s all Hope and Change ever was, and now Obama has decided that’s all he’s interested in doing anyway.