Alana asks a very good question: Is an election on big ideas even possible when Barack Obama is one of the candidates? Another way of asking this would be: What would Barack Obama’s mandate be if he wins? It’s not an easy question to answer. He can certainly argue that, while he’s not proposing any serious plans or policies, he would at least protect the public from Mitt Romney, who would strive to outlaw whatever it is they like. But, like his accusation that Romney would ban abortion, the claims are made up out of whole cloth, and therefore easily debunked.
And that explains why the president looks so lost. I am not among those who think Obama’s visit to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy elevated him much above his challenger, in part because it’s been so long since he acted presidential that he just looks so out of place everywhere people are trying to do serious work. This is not to take any credit away from him for the federal services provided to victims of the storm, but his press conference and appearances with Chris Christie did not seem to be much to his benefit. Christie was lively, authoritative, empathetic, and always prepared with important information. Obama read names of mayors off a paper in front of him, expressionless and monotone, as if he were standing not in front of a disaster area but a green screen. Michael Bloomberg correctly asked the president to please stay away from New York City, where he would only be a burden, due especially to the traffic congestion caused by road closures, mass transit suspensions, and the malfunctioning crane at 57th Street.
Obama has built his firewall around Ohio this election, which is why someone more popular than the president—Bill Clinton—is currently there on his behalf. Where do you campaign if you have nothing to say? How do you draw a large crowd without large ideas?
This gets to another problem with the election. If Obama wins, it might very well be because Romney ran out of time to catch him, for the polling trends are much kinder to the challenger than the incumbent. Which means that his so-called “kill Romney” strategy, in which the president’s campaign sought to bury Romney early on with the politics of personal destruction that even included whipping up attacks on Romney’s religion, will be credited with making the difference.
It’s possible, also, that the campaign will pat itself on the back for its Big Bird, binders, and birth control attacks. Which brings me back to Alana’s post and her discussion of the Lena Dunham ad. Dunham’s sharp HBO show, which deserves the praise it has received, has been lauded by social conservatives as well as liberal Millennials tired of entrusting their pop culture depictions to those outside their own generation.
Whether you think the show is intended to be literal or just sly social commentary, the characters are aimless. Which is why it’s so appropriate to see Dunham cut an ad for the aimless president she supports. But Obama isn’t a Millennial having too much fun in Brooklyn to settle down. He’s the president of the United States and he’s asking for a second term. Even if he’s not quite sure why.