In just the latest indication of the direction his campaign will take, President Obama used a fawning interview in Rolling Stone to make it clear that he thinks his re-election will depend on mobilizing his liberal base. Because he must try to find a way to motivate erstwhile supporters who lack the enthusiasm for him that they showed during his 2008 victory, the president is counting on a twin strategy of demonizing Republicans and tilting to the left on domestic issues.
The starkest illustration of this came in his answers to questions about climate change in which he promised to make this article of faith for the left a central issue in the coming campaign. This may play well for the readers of Rolling Stone. But given the growing skepticism among ordinary Americans about the ideological cant on the issue that has spewed forth from the mainstream media and the White House, it may not help Obama with independents and the working class voters he needs as badly in November as the educated elites who bludgeoned him into halting the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. This conflict illustrates the contradiction at the core of the president’s campaign.
The president’s campaign staff is correct in their estimation that he cannot be re-elected without energizing the liberal base and generating better than average turnout rates among the young voters and minorities who put him in the White House. These voters are understandably disillusioned with a presidency that has had few achievements and disappointed with the fact that Obama kept in place many of the Bush administration security policies. Convincing them that the “hope and change” they expected in the last four years will come to life in the next term is no easy task. Because he cannot run on his record, the president’s only hope of bringing out his supporters is by making the election a referendum on the Republicans, who must be portrayed as ideological extremists while Obama gives indications that although Guantanamo is still operating, he’s still the same liberal they voted for in 2008.
That’s where the climate change issue comes in. By promising to make it a central part of his campaign and saying “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” the president is seeking to show his base that he can be trusted — as he proved when he blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — to bow to their ideological prejudices even when doing so may negatively impact the economy and fuel prices.
But doing so places him in jeopardy on the main issue for the rest of the electorate: the economy. At a time of rising gas prices and with even his liberal cheerleaders in the press acknowledging that the recovery the administration touted as being an indication that his policies worked has more or less collapsed, tilting to the left on climate change may alienate more voters than it will secure. President Obama believes he can exploit Mitt Romney’s contradictions on the issue. But deriding his opponent as a member of the Flat Earth Society doesn’t address his main problem: how to explain a stagnant economy that has grown worse on his watch and which most people believe will be damaged further by policies dictated by environmental extremists.
Though he needs to wave the green flag for the left, doing so reminds centrist voters that their jobs and rising fuel prices are being held hostage by a president indebted to the left. Obama may need those liberals to turn out, but the price of securing their renewed enthusiasm could cost him the election.