Democrats are beginning to echo that idea in private. While McCain calls for an “economic surge,” Obama still struggles when trying to establish a strong emotional connection with voters facing tough economic times. That’s a worry, they say, as voters’ attention has shifted away from the war in Iraq to gas prices and job losses. And Obama at times has seemed to play into McCain’s new script. Reporters have not forgotten that someone inside his campaign authorized–or wasn’t smart enough to stop–Obama’s appearance at a podium with an altered version of the presidential seal inscribed with Obama’s campaign motto. And for all Obama’s talk about his small-donor base, his campaign recently announced a $10,000-a-head fund raiser in September to be hosted by George Clooney in the Swiss Alps. “He needs a much more empathetic economic message,” says a veteran Democratic operative. “This is one place where his coolness really isn’t working for him. He gives off an aura of distance that really does get in his way.”
But this is entirely a dilemma of his own making. It really isn’t possible to declare yourself to be the harbinger of a new era in politics, spur a messianic-like following and try to crush the opposition by virtue of crowd size without losing a sense of intimacy with the average voter. Bill Clinton, for his many faults, had the ability to talk to a large crowd while convincing each person that he was talking directly to him. Obama is not a warm fuzzy guy, he rarely smiles and his rhetoric is so grandiose it is hardly surprising that the average voter may ask: But what about me?
The style problem has been compounded by a policy problem. Obama’s energy policy — a combination of long term technology promises and condescending conservation tips — has entirely missed the average voter. And on the economy, aside from touting (and then backing away from) protectionism and offering (and then potentially scaling back on) tax increases he really hasn’t said much. What exactly is he offering Americans in the way of economic growth (which average voters understand is the key to financial security and job production)? Why are tax increases a good idea in a dragging economy? He hasn’t said.
Perhaps the Convention will enable Obama to recalibrate both his tone and his message. But for now, he seems oblivious to the first rule of politics: it’s not about you, it’s about the voters.