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Contentions

Missing the Campaign

Charles Hurt, writing of Obama’s lackluster and belated appearance in Massachusetts on behalf of the listing campaign of Martha Coakley, observes:

Obama told the crowd here yesterday that he needed Coakley in Washington because she is “independent.” Really? Does anybody actually think that the reason Obama wants her in the Senate is that she would even dream of casting the deciding vote to kill the Democratic health-care bill? Absolutely not. The only reason Obama came here is because he needs somebody bought and paid for. By him.

This concisely sums up the problem that threatens to engulf Obama and whatever is left of the remnants of his campaign organization. He is a candidate deprived of a campaign. He is a community organizer with no one to organize against those who hold the levers of power. He holds the levers of power but without the executive acumen to bring the country along and to craft a successful, broad-based agenda. If not out of his depth, he is out of his milieu.

The familiar campaign environment deprives Obama of three elements that were essential to his meteoric rise. First, he lacks a constant and inept opponent. Goodness knows he’s tried to re-create a string of new enemies — Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce — but their multiplicity and the absurdity of characterizing all bad news as illegitimate and venal have undermined his gambit. Second, he must leave aside the puffy generalizations and that blank slate onto which diverse and contradictory forces projected their hopes and dreams. Again, he has tried to re-create and preserve ambiguity (e.g., refusing to draft his own health-care proposals), but governing alas is still choosing, and his choices have offended more than half the country, according to a good number of polls.

And finally, Obama’s favorite tactic — blaming George W. Bush and his administration for just about everything — is now faltering. While tangling with Dick Cheney never was all that successful, the fixation with the Bush team has become an obnoxious political tic and serves only to undercut his claim to be the Truman-esque buck-stops-here president. Noemie Emery aptly describes:

The Blaming Bush mantra is starting to fade in effectiveness. It was one thing early on when it was the real Bush being weighed against the ideal Obama, who had never been tried, and so never failed at anything, and who one could dream would do everything perfectly. The real Bush against the real Obama is a whole other story, as the problems that stymied the 43rd president show no signs of yielding to the 44th’s charms. The terrorists hate us, and still want to kill us. Unemployment is high, stimuli notwithstanding. Closing Guantánamo Bay isn’t that easy. Iran and North Korea haven’t unclenched their fists.

It is not hard to figure out why Obama has recycled campaign tactics, even when they have lost their utility and are ill-suited to the presidency. They are comfortable and no doubt recall better days, when Obama was the master of the political battlefield, when the media swooned, and when he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, he must now govern, and his repertoire of skills and his favorite rhetoric are of little use — no matter how often he goes to the well of campaign tricks.



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