Jen, John, I’m not so sure the reasons for the recent reversals of fortune are so discreet as a couple of speeches. Much larger factors are likely in play right now. The big one, I think, is that Obama has a liberalism problem. His economic plan, for example, proposes tax increases during an economic slowdown, forcing him into a no-win rhetorical dilemma. He can’t campaign proudly on wanting to raise taxes, because raising taxes is unpopular. And he can’t claim that he doesn’t want to raise taxes, because doing so would be blatantly dishonest. So, he is left hemming and stammering, looking last of all like a leader, and certainly not like a bold reformer (part two of Obama’s appearance on O’Reilly tonight will illustrate this quite graphically).
On a litany of other issues, Obama has been forced to either flip his position or skulk toward McCain. All of those flip-flops had their origins in the same problem, namely that Obama is very, very liberal and cannot run forthrightly on his beliefs. So he answers a question about abortion by saying the issue is “above my pay grade,” when what he really meant was, I’m afraid of the political fallout if I say what I actually think. Obama faces a simple and intractable problem: his political views are too far outside the mainstream for him to win, and it is too late to try to credibly re-orient himself. If he had a record of political moderation to run on, he would be able to deflect this problem by pointing to past achievements. But he has no such record.
In 2004 there was a funny bumper sticker that I thought indicated a certain political maturity on the part of the Democrats, however opportunistic. It went something like, “Dated Dean, Married Kerry.” This time the Democrats married Dean.