Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2008 presidential election

Dems Prepare for World Without Obama

After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

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After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

Heeding the call of his immense ego rather than the advice of his party’s political consultants, last week President Obama attempted to inject himself into this year’s midterm elections. But the unpopular president’s declaration that his policies, if not his name, was on the ballot in November was remarkable mainly for the fact that it was treated as a major political gaffe rather than as an inspiring call to arms for Democratic activists. This turn of events is a comedown for a man who entered the White House like a messiah but will spend his last years there as a lame duck. But, as the New York Times reports today, the real story here is whether the Obama coalition of young people, unmarried women, minorities, and educated elites that elected him twice is a foundation for his party’s future or something that stopped being relevant after 2012.

The president’s supporters believe he can still play a role in mobilizing key Democratic constituencies. In deep-blue states like Illinois, New York, and California that might be true. But as the president’s poll numbers head south, the idea that the magic of his personality can create a governing majority is no longer viable. With Democratic candidates in battleground states avoiding the unpopular chief executive like the plague, it is increasingly clear that his party is on its own.

It should be remembered that in the wake of the 2008 and 2012 elections, we were treated to a round of Democratic triumphalism about Obama having changed American politics in a way that gave his party what amounted to a permanent majority for the foreseeable future. That in turn generated a companion wave of Republican pessimism about their inability to win in a changing demographic environment in which minority voters would ensure GOP losses in national elections.

But like all such predictions (remember how George W. Bush’s victory in 2004 was thought to herald a permanent GOP majority?), these analyses failed to take into account that issues, candidates, and circumstances make each election a unique event. The Democrats’ victories were impressive and influenced heavily by the fact that the electorate is less white than it was only a decade ago. But if you take the Obama factor out of the equation, the notion of a permanent hope-and-change coalition seems more like science fiction than political science.

As the Times notes, the president isn’t only less popular among groups that are less inclined to support him but also among those that were crucial to the Democrats’ recent victories like young people and women. While no one thought that Obama would be anything but a liability to Democrats in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, or Georgia, he’s also being politely asked to keep out of swing states like North Carolina and even light blue states like Michigan. All of which means that this midterm is shaping up as a preview of 2016 when Democrats will try to win a national election without the old Obama magic helping them.

One Democratic answer centers on their past and their likely 2016 nominee: the Clintons. Hillary Clinton will have her own coalition to build and can certainly count on enthusiasm for what may be our first major-party female candidate for president. But as much as Democrats in states like Arkansas are happy to welcome her husband in to help bolster their tickets, it may be too much to ask even of Bill Clinton to expect him to save incumbents like Mark Prior.

Without the Obama personality cult boosting Democratic turnout, they will have to fall back on their technological edge in turnout and organization. Yet in the end each election is decided more on the names on the ballots than anything else. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ shaky incumbents and weak bench is strong enough to build on what Obama accomplished. But those who are counting on the same sort of enthusiasm fueling future Democratic campaigns need to explain who, in the absence of a charismatic leader, can give a reason for voters to heed the social networking appeals and other strategies that have worked so well for them in the recent past.

A world without Obama is terra incognita for a Democratic Party that must prove it can win a victory without the aid of a boogeyman like George W. Bush or a hope-and-change messiah. Moreover, eight years of a largely failed presidency has altered the political landscape just as much as the changing demographics. Next month we will get the first indication whether Democrats are equipped to deal with that dilemma. If the polls that currently give the GOP an edge are any indication, they might not like the answer.

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From Messiah to Leper in Six Short Years

With no prospects for a successful legislative agenda in Congress and even his talk of governing by executive order not impressing either friends or foes, President Obama seems to be drifting inexorably toward lame-duck status. But there is no better indication of just how politically toxic Obama has become than the rumblings that came out of last week’s meeting between the president and Senate Democrats. As Politico reports, the White House has agreed to stay out of most of the key races that will decide whether Democrats retain control of the Senate this year. Given the fact that his poll numbers are under water and that even Obama was prepared to admit that “in some of your states I’m not the most popular politician,” this is smart politics. But it also shows just how far the mighty Obama political machine has fallen.

In discussions of the 2014 midterm elections, one of the key factors that explains why Republicans have an advantage in November is often overlooked: Barack Obama’s stunning victory in 2008. If Democrats are forced to defend 21 Senate seats this year—including some highly vulnerable ones in red states—it is because six years ago, enthusiasm for Barack Obama inspired a massive turnout for his party that enabled them to win eight seats, turning a narrow 51-49 majority into a 59-41 hold on power that (after the late Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrats) briefly turned into a 60-seat majority that helped ram ObamaCare through the Senate. Nor can there be any argument that it was the Obama-driven “hope and change” turnout of minorities and young voters that helped put Democrats over the top in states like Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon.

The lineup of tossup races is different this year, but the Obama factor is again in play. The irony is that while Democrats need to generate the kind of turnout of key constituencies they got in 2008 and 2012 when the president was at the top of the ballot, endangered Democrats want no part of the president and are specifically asking him to avoid appearances in their states lest his presence taint their hopes of holding on to their seats. While Obama’s fundraising ability is still key to Democratic hopes and might be welcomed by incumbents cruising to victory in safe seats, those fighting for their political lives understand their only chance of survival is to run as foes or at least skeptics of the president and ObamaCare.

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With no prospects for a successful legislative agenda in Congress and even his talk of governing by executive order not impressing either friends or foes, President Obama seems to be drifting inexorably toward lame-duck status. But there is no better indication of just how politically toxic Obama has become than the rumblings that came out of last week’s meeting between the president and Senate Democrats. As Politico reports, the White House has agreed to stay out of most of the key races that will decide whether Democrats retain control of the Senate this year. Given the fact that his poll numbers are under water and that even Obama was prepared to admit that “in some of your states I’m not the most popular politician,” this is smart politics. But it also shows just how far the mighty Obama political machine has fallen.

In discussions of the 2014 midterm elections, one of the key factors that explains why Republicans have an advantage in November is often overlooked: Barack Obama’s stunning victory in 2008. If Democrats are forced to defend 21 Senate seats this year—including some highly vulnerable ones in red states—it is because six years ago, enthusiasm for Barack Obama inspired a massive turnout for his party that enabled them to win eight seats, turning a narrow 51-49 majority into a 59-41 hold on power that (after the late Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrats) briefly turned into a 60-seat majority that helped ram ObamaCare through the Senate. Nor can there be any argument that it was the Obama-driven “hope and change” turnout of minorities and young voters that helped put Democrats over the top in states like Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon.

The lineup of tossup races is different this year, but the Obama factor is again in play. The irony is that while Democrats need to generate the kind of turnout of key constituencies they got in 2008 and 2012 when the president was at the top of the ballot, endangered Democrats want no part of the president and are specifically asking him to avoid appearances in their states lest his presence taint their hopes of holding on to their seats. While Obama’s fundraising ability is still key to Democratic hopes and might be welcomed by incumbents cruising to victory in safe seats, those fighting for their political lives understand their only chance of survival is to run as foes or at least skeptics of the president and ObamaCare.

A breakdown of 2014 races shows that the seats most likely to switch hands are in Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. With the exception of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is still favored to win reelection in Kentucky, Democrats currently hold all of these seats. Pundit Larry Sabato rates Alaska, Louisiana, and North Carolina as tossups, with the rest all considered likely GOP wins.

Republicans shouldn’t count their chickens before they’re hatched: at the moment the Democratic path to victory looks terribly steep. But what is particularly significant about the lineup of battleground Senate elections is that in order to prevail, Democratic incumbents are going to have spend the next several months distancing themselves from the head of their party. While all second-term presidents find it difficult to get their way in their last two years in power, the sixth-year midterms are generally their last chance for glory and influence. But in this case, President Obama is not so much being asked to avoid mistakes that might hurt his party as to shut up and stay out of those states where control of the Senate will be decided.

If Democrats lose the Senate this year it will be largely because of voter dissatisfaction with the president who helped sweep some of these incumbents into office in the first place. In six short years, Obama has gone from being a messiah to a leper that Senate Democrats are determined to shun. How are the mighty fallen, indeed. 

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What Hillary Learned in 2008: Lean Left

Few doubt that Hillary Clinton is already gearing up to run for president in 2016, but her speech yesterday at the American Bar Association conference in San Francisco made it clear that the former First Lady and secretary of state is not only preparing for that race but that she is thinking about the one she lost in 2008. While Clinton’s remarks attacking the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act was pure liberal boilerplate material, it is a sign she understands that the only possible danger to her candidacy is leaving too much room to her left, as she did five years ago.

Right now it appears as if Clinton will win the 2016 Democratic nomination by acclamation. After serving as President Obama’s loyal and largely ineffectual soldier at the State Department, there is a widespread expectation in her party that Clinton has earned the nomination. Moreover, Democrats also believe, not without reason, that Clinton could win the presidency largely on the strength of being the first woman to be elected to it. But unlike an incumbent like Barack Obama, Clinton is aware that some Democrat(s) will take a flier on opposing her and that while another upset like 2008 is utterly unlikely, there could be an opportunity to make a splash by running to her left as the true progressive in the race. As Richard Cohen pointed out today in the Washington Post, Clinton has always lacked an overriding message in her political career. The only point to it has been her ambition and sense of entitlement. That didn’t work in 2008, and if she has learned anything from that shocking defeat it will be that she must work harder at convincing her party’s base that she will please them.

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Few doubt that Hillary Clinton is already gearing up to run for president in 2016, but her speech yesterday at the American Bar Association conference in San Francisco made it clear that the former First Lady and secretary of state is not only preparing for that race but that she is thinking about the one she lost in 2008. While Clinton’s remarks attacking the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act was pure liberal boilerplate material, it is a sign she understands that the only possible danger to her candidacy is leaving too much room to her left, as she did five years ago.

Right now it appears as if Clinton will win the 2016 Democratic nomination by acclamation. After serving as President Obama’s loyal and largely ineffectual soldier at the State Department, there is a widespread expectation in her party that Clinton has earned the nomination. Moreover, Democrats also believe, not without reason, that Clinton could win the presidency largely on the strength of being the first woman to be elected to it. But unlike an incumbent like Barack Obama, Clinton is aware that some Democrat(s) will take a flier on opposing her and that while another upset like 2008 is utterly unlikely, there could be an opportunity to make a splash by running to her left as the true progressive in the race. As Richard Cohen pointed out today in the Washington Post, Clinton has always lacked an overriding message in her political career. The only point to it has been her ambition and sense of entitlement. That didn’t work in 2008, and if she has learned anything from that shocking defeat it will be that she must work harder at convincing her party’s base that she will please them.

That’s where her rhetoric about the Voting Rights Act comes in. Her arguments about it gutting the achievement of the civil-rights movement are as nonsensical as any others coming from the left. So, too, is her attempt to chime in with the racial huckster crowd by labeling voter integrity laws as racist. Most Americans, including most minorities, have no problems with voter ID procedures, including the comprehensive bill passed and signed recently in North Carolina. It’s not an issue that has much traction with the general public, but it plays well with Democratic primary voters and the African American community.

Securing her left flank is an important aspect of her presidential strategy because while it is difficult to envision a liberal insurgency stopping her from being the first female major-party presidential candidate, there is a clear opening for someone on the left to raise a ruckus by providing an alternative to Clinton in the primaries and the caucuses. That probably won’t be Vice President Joe Biden, even if he is sniffing around Iowa this week. But you can count on someone on the left being smart enough to know that being the Democratic gadfly in 2016 will be a good way to lay down the foundation for a future run for the presidency.

The problem for Hillary is that it won’t be enough for her to play the adult in the race, as she did in 2008 with her famous 3 a.m. phone call ad (a campaign theme that seems highly ironic given the fact that she was apparently MIA when the phone call came in from Benghazi last September). What Democratic primary voters want is left-wing red meat. Barack Obama gave it to them in 2008 by being the anti-war candidate and you can bet that there will be someone willing to hound Clinton from the left in 2016.

That’s why she has to work harder to pander to liberals and blacks now with misleading speeches about voting rights to ensure that the window on the left is sufficiently narrow to ensure that her opposition is a token liberal rather than someone with the ability to chip away at her. She wants to spend 2016 running for a general election win (as did Obama in 2012), not fending off ideological challengers from within her own party, as Mitt Romney had to do last year.

That’s why we can expect more of the same when she speaks next month in Philadelphia on national security issues and, in particular, the furor over the National Security Agency’s monitoring of communications. We should expect her to use that speech to tilt again to the left rather than to defend the policies of the administration she served. That will be irresponsible and illustrate the same lack of principle she has shown throughout her career. But Clinton remembers 2008, and if she fails next time it will not be because she was insufficiently liberal.

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Hillary and the Lock-Step Democrats

In the last few days Washington experienced what could only be called Hillary Week, as the decision of the former first lady to give her first public speeches since stepping down as secretary of state sent the chattering classes into ecstasy. With 2016 fever already in full bloom only a few months after President Obama’s re-election, the anticipation that Clinton will be the next Democratic standard bearer is intense. While it would be madness for any presidential contender to declare their intentions three years in advance of the race, the presence of a claque of organized cheerleaders bearing printed signs declaring that they were “Ready for Hillary” at her first appearance this week removed much doubt that the formidable Clinton campaign machine was already starting to rev itself up.

However, the assumption that Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee is getting some pushback. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has written a column detailing all the reasons why the notion that Hillary is a can’t-miss candidate may be far overstating her strength, and much of it is both smart and persuasive. As he rightly notes, eight years ago pundits were making the same assumptions about Clinton and the 2008 presidential election which, as we all know, turned out to be somebody else’s historic election.

But while I agree with Continetti that Clinton is not a shoo-in to be the next president, I don’t share his skepticism about her chances of winning her party’s nomination. The Democratic Party has become, as Seth wrote last week, a highly disciplined operation with little of the organized anarchy that once characterized it. The reason why many people are speaking of a Clinton candidacy clearing the field of potential challengers is because that is exactly the governing dynamic of Democrats in the age of Obama. If she runs, the odds of a formidable challenger emerging are minimal.

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In the last few days Washington experienced what could only be called Hillary Week, as the decision of the former first lady to give her first public speeches since stepping down as secretary of state sent the chattering classes into ecstasy. With 2016 fever already in full bloom only a few months after President Obama’s re-election, the anticipation that Clinton will be the next Democratic standard bearer is intense. While it would be madness for any presidential contender to declare their intentions three years in advance of the race, the presence of a claque of organized cheerleaders bearing printed signs declaring that they were “Ready for Hillary” at her first appearance this week removed much doubt that the formidable Clinton campaign machine was already starting to rev itself up.

However, the assumption that Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee is getting some pushback. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has written a column detailing all the reasons why the notion that Hillary is a can’t-miss candidate may be far overstating her strength, and much of it is both smart and persuasive. As he rightly notes, eight years ago pundits were making the same assumptions about Clinton and the 2008 presidential election which, as we all know, turned out to be somebody else’s historic election.

But while I agree with Continetti that Clinton is not a shoo-in to be the next president, I don’t share his skepticism about her chances of winning her party’s nomination. The Democratic Party has become, as Seth wrote last week, a highly disciplined operation with little of the organized anarchy that once characterized it. The reason why many people are speaking of a Clinton candidacy clearing the field of potential challengers is because that is exactly the governing dynamic of Democrats in the age of Obama. If she runs, the odds of a formidable challenger emerging are minimal.

In response, Continetti and other Hillary skeptics remind us of what happened the last time Clinton was the inevitable nominee. She turned out to be, as he rightly notes, a “paper tiger” who was soundly beaten by a better candidate and campaign as the Democrats became the wholly owned subsidiary of Barack Obama rather than the property of Bill and Hillary. Continetti says if it happened once, it can happen again. My response is that while anything is possible, a repeat of 2008 is highly unlikely.

The first reason is that there doesn’t appear to be anyone remotely like Obama waiting in the wings to challenge Clinton.

Once Clinton lost the nomination in 2008 it became fashionable to label her campaign a flop, but that’s more than a bit unfair to her supporters. Clinton’s campaign failed in some important respects. It took the caucuses for granted and allowed Obama to swipe some states through better organization. But it is often forgotten that Clinton actually won more primaries and more votes than Obama. Finishing second in what turned out to be a two-person race after pretenders like Chris Dodd and Joe Biden dropped out is no great honor. But Clinton really was a strong candidate. The result was probably a foregone conclusion after February, but even with the growing sense of Obama’s inevitability, Clinton continued to win important states like Pennsylvania.

The only reason why Clinton was denied the nomination was because she ran into the Obama phenomenon, a factor that many Republicans were still underestimating as recently as last fall’s election. Absent his historic candidacy and enormous personal appeal, there is no way that Clinton would have been denied. The 2012 election, where not even a marginal Democrat dared challenge Obama from the left in the primaries, has set a pattern which could well be repeated.

The woods may be full of would-be Democratic presidents but none of those contemplating a run next time are anywhere close to Obama in terms of political appeal, let alone his claim on the imagination and the enthusiasm of rank and file Democrats. Continetti cites governors like Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper as candidates who could give Hillary a run for her money. But all three are political pygmies in comparison to Clinton. In 2016, Clinton would not only have the full backing of the Democratic establishment but the sense that it is time for a woman president, a dream that was deferred in 2008 in order to elect the first African-American.

Even more to the point, the sense of deference to authority that now prevails among Democrats is such that any of these lesser candidates might be fearful of having their future prospects destroyed by a challenge to Clinton. I doubt any of them would even think of taking her on. Even Vice President Biden, who knows that he wouldn’t have a chance against Clinton, would probably draw the same conclusion.

As for Continetti’s thesis that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick could repeat Obama’s feat by seizing the minority vote from Clinton, there are two problems with that thesis. The first is that Patrick is no Obama in terms of political talent. The second is that only one man can be the first African-American president; no future black Democrat, even one as appealing as Newark Mayor Corey Booker, will ever be able to harness lightening in a bottle in the way that Obama did. Neither Patrick nor any of the other governors whose names are being bandied about would have a prayer of competing with Clinton for major Democratic fundraisers.

Essential to this process is the edge that Clinton will have with the liberal media. As influential as the mainstream media is in determining the winners of general elections, they are even more crucial in Democratic primaries where the voters really do care what liberal editorial pages and talking heads are saying about the candidates.

It is true that Clinton’s history of blunders at the State Department could catch up with her. But concern about the Benghazi fiasco is limited to Republicans. Clinton was on the wrong side of the big issue in 2008 because she voted for the Iraq War while Obama had been a consistent critic. She will have no such problem this time around as she will stick to the liberal party line on every conceivable issue—as her announcement of support for gay marriage indicated. No one is getting to her left as Obama did.

Continetti is right that Clinton’s finances and business relationships as well as those of her husband will be intensely scrutinized in 2016. But those are issues that will affect the general election, not Democrats who will be as eager to line up to back the first woman president and ignore her flaws. There will be plenty of openings for the GOP to exploit, but nothing that would do a Democrat any good against her.

Whether Clinton can then win a general election after eight years of a Democratic incumbent rather than a Republican, as was the case in 2008, remains to be seen. But the betting here is that Hillary will win the nomination in a cakewalk from a party working in lockstep if she wants it.

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The Rationale for the Racism Canard

Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

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Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

Race is the original sin of American history, and anyone who attempted to argue that it no longer plays a role in our society is being disingenuous. But while the 2008 election did not mean it disappeared, it did remove it as an explanation for the voting behavior of the majority of Americans. While it is possible that some people will not vote for the president because of prejudice against his race, it is hardly a sign of bias to notice that there are many Americans — both white and black — who believe the symbolism of his ascendancy to the presidency is an act of historic justice that is an argument in itself for voting for Obama. Indeed, the president has very little to recommend his re-election other than party loyalty on the part of Democrats and lingering good feelings about what happened in 2008.

By contrast, Sununu is not a particularly sympathetic figure, and there are those of us who still bitterly recall that when he was the governor of New Hampshire he was the only U.S. governor who refused to repudiate the United Nations’ infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution. But rehashing his past, including the ethical problems that led the first President Bush to fire him from his post as White House chief of staff, as the New York Times’ Charles Blow did this past weekend during the course of a column that attempted to first brand Sununu a racist and then to smear Romney as one by association, tells us more about the Obama campaign than it does about the GOP. That canard is a disreputable political tactic and nothing more.

The remarkable thing about both the 2008 and the 2012 elections is how unremarkable we have come to see the idea of an African-American running for and then serving as president. The decline in the president’s fortune has nothing to do with the revival of prejudice but is, instead, a result of the sober judgment of a significant portion of white Americans that the man they voted for in 2008 has not merited re-election. Republicans are asking the American people to assess the president on his record, not his race. It is, unfortunately, the Democrats who are the ones who are attempting inject race into the campaign.

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Re: Fake Outrage About Obama Smears

I agree with both Jonathan and Alana that an ad campaign this year based on Rev. Jeremiah Wright would be a tactical error for the Romney forces and that the outrage on the left is totally synthetic. President Obama was a member of that church for purely local political reasons. As we have seen since he’s been president, he rarely attends church and, anyway, he needs a mirror to see what he truly worships.

But I can’t help but take note of one of the great for-want-of-a-nail moments in American political history. What would have happened had Hillary Clinton’s opposition research team in the 2008 primary campaign found those tapes of Jeremiah Wright before the Iowa caucuses? Had the Clinton campaign simply handed them off to a friendly TV journalist, I’m confident they would have sowed enough doubt about Obama that he would not have finished first in the Iowa caucuses. (The results were Obama 38 percent, John Edwards—whatever happened to him?—30 percent, Clinton 29 percent, Bill Richardson 2 percent, Joe Biden 1 percent.) Without the wind in his sails from his Iowa victory, Obama wouldn’t have fared so well in subsequent primaries, and the Romney campaign today would be trying to figure out how to defeat President Hillary Clinton’s re-election bid.

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I agree with both Jonathan and Alana that an ad campaign this year based on Rev. Jeremiah Wright would be a tactical error for the Romney forces and that the outrage on the left is totally synthetic. President Obama was a member of that church for purely local political reasons. As we have seen since he’s been president, he rarely attends church and, anyway, he needs a mirror to see what he truly worships.

But I can’t help but take note of one of the great for-want-of-a-nail moments in American political history. What would have happened had Hillary Clinton’s opposition research team in the 2008 primary campaign found those tapes of Jeremiah Wright before the Iowa caucuses? Had the Clinton campaign simply handed them off to a friendly TV journalist, I’m confident they would have sowed enough doubt about Obama that he would not have finished first in the Iowa caucuses. (The results were Obama 38 percent, John Edwards—whatever happened to him?—30 percent, Clinton 29 percent, Bill Richardson 2 percent, Joe Biden 1 percent.) Without the wind in his sails from his Iowa victory, Obama wouldn’t have fared so well in subsequent primaries, and the Romney campaign today would be trying to figure out how to defeat President Hillary Clinton’s re-election bid.

The 2008 Clinton campaign should certainly have found the tapes. After all, they were uncovered by a reporter who simply walked into the church store and purchased the DVDs. But they surfaced only in April 2008. By that time Obama had a big lead, plenty of momentum, and the mainstream media in his pocket. Still, he fared much worse in the late primaries than he had in the early ones and only stumbled across the finish line first. I think the Wright tapes were a factor in his late fade.

We’ll never know for sure, of course, but a less ideological, more centrist, more competent President Clinton would probably have done far less damage to the country and would be a lot harder to defeat this year.

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It’s Not About Your Name, Mr. President

In his appearance on ABC’s “The View,” President Obama was asked how tight he thinks the campaign against Mitt Romney will be. To which the president responded, “When your name is Barack Obama, it’s always tight.”

Actually, that’s not true.

Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was the most sweeping since 1980. He became the first Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson 44 years earlier to garner more than 50.1 percent of the vote. In the process, he took seven states that had twice voted for George W. Bush, including two (Indiana and Virginia) that had not gone Democratic since 1964.

The implication of Obama’s statement is that there’s residual hostility to him based on his race and background. But if that were the case, how does one explain his smashing victory four years ago?

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In his appearance on ABC’s “The View,” President Obama was asked how tight he thinks the campaign against Mitt Romney will be. To which the president responded, “When your name is Barack Obama, it’s always tight.”

Actually, that’s not true.

Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was the most sweeping since 1980. He became the first Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson 44 years earlier to garner more than 50.1 percent of the vote. In the process, he took seven states that had twice voted for George W. Bush, including two (Indiana and Virginia) that had not gone Democratic since 1964.

The implication of Obama’s statement is that there’s residual hostility to him based on his race and background. But if that were the case, how does one explain his smashing victory four years ago?

The reason Obama is struggling this time around is sheer incompetence. He’s not up to the job of being president. Much of the public knows it. And his name has nothing to do with it.

The president’s comments were simply the most recent in a string of never-ending excuses. His problems are never his responsibility; they always lie with something or someone else – whether it’s with the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami, Europe, his predecessor, the GOP Congress, the Tea Party, Super PACs, the Supreme Court, Wall Street, millionaires, billionaires, the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, ATMs, conservative talk radio, or, now, his name.

Obama is in a nearly constant state of whining. That’s an unattractive quality in any individual, but especially in an American president.

He would do himself and all of us a favor if he took at least a pause from the blame game.

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Reviving the Obama Race Canard

Race is the original sin of American history. To deny its influence on our society is as futile as it is illogical. Nevertheless, the attempt to cast President Obama’s re-election campaign as the focus of a racial backlash seems to be more about obfuscating the issues that are animating the vast majority of voters than providing any insight into public opinion.

Yet that is very much the conceit of a front-page feature in today’s New York Times titled, “Four Years Later, Race is Still Issue for Some Voters.” The Times’ sent a reporter to Steubenville, Ohio and beat the bushes to find some racists and found a few, though they seemed to come in some unlikely varieties. The piece failed to explain why if the president won this crucial swing state in 2008 he should be worried about the minority of voters who hold his skin color and ethnicity against him now. As should be apparent even to the Times editor who ordered up this tired attempt to revive the race canard against the Republicans, if the president’s hold on the state seems shaky — as polls say it is — it is clearly not because the portion of the electorate that is irredeemably prejudiced still won’t vote for him but because others who did (and therefore demonstrated their lack of racial bias) now judge his performance unsatisfactory.

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Race is the original sin of American history. To deny its influence on our society is as futile as it is illogical. Nevertheless, the attempt to cast President Obama’s re-election campaign as the focus of a racial backlash seems to be more about obfuscating the issues that are animating the vast majority of voters than providing any insight into public opinion.

Yet that is very much the conceit of a front-page feature in today’s New York Times titled, “Four Years Later, Race is Still Issue for Some Voters.” The Times’ sent a reporter to Steubenville, Ohio and beat the bushes to find some racists and found a few, though they seemed to come in some unlikely varieties. The piece failed to explain why if the president won this crucial swing state in 2008 he should be worried about the minority of voters who hold his skin color and ethnicity against him now. As should be apparent even to the Times editor who ordered up this tired attempt to revive the race canard against the Republicans, if the president’s hold on the state seems shaky — as polls say it is — it is clearly not because the portion of the electorate that is irredeemably prejudiced still won’t vote for him but because others who did (and therefore demonstrated their lack of racial bias) now judge his performance unsatisfactory.

It is undeniable that there are those in our country who still judge people principally by their race. That is unfortunate, and we can hope that the diminishing numbers of those who fall into that category will continue to decrease. President Obama is right when he says he does not think his election forever ended the discussion of race in America. But it did mean that the majority of Americans were no longer so constricted by prejudice so as to render it impossible for an African-American to be elected president. Indeed, as some of those quoted by the Times rightly point out, a desire to demonstrate a lack of prejudice as well as a wish to right some historic wrongs, played a not insignificant role in the Obama triumph in 2008.

The president’s problem this year is, as the Times puts it, “now that history has been made it is less of a pull.” Ohioans, like the rest of the country, are judging him on his performance, and the results are less than gratifying for the president. That means his cheerleaders in the media need to trot out the ghost of American racial politics in order to help stigmatize his opponents.

Despite the obvious evidence that race was not a significant factor in attitudes toward the president, from the outset of the Obama administration there has been a concerted attempt to put down the opposition that the president’s policies have aroused as just a variant of the same racism that gave us Jim Crow laws.  The purpose of this slander is not to root out the recalcitrant vestiges of race in American politics so much as an effort to delegitimize the push back against the billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare. The dislike of Obama’s policies created the Tea Party revolt that swept the country in the 2010 midterm elections. It had nothing to do with race and everything to do with opposition to the president’s big government vision.

That means in order to run down die hard racists you wind up talking to people who don’t necessarily fit into the liberal stereotype of a Tea Partier who is motivated more by hatred for Obama’s race than his ideas. One example is a Steubenville bank employee dug up by the Times who says she didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 though she usually backs Democrats. Who then did she vote for? According to the article, she cast her ballot for far left fringe candidate Ralph Nader! The bottom line of this entire discussion is a refusal to take seriously the fact that even in Democratic-leaning counties of this rust belt state, most are judging Obama on the economy and little else.

President Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president brings with it some residual racial resentment but that has been more than overshadowed by the kid glove treatment he and his family have gotten in the mainstream press as well as the willingness by many in the media to brand his opponents guilty of racism until proven innocent. If he wins in 2012 it will not be because he is black nor will it be the explanation for his defeat. That’s exactly the way the vast majority of Americans feel about the question, but as long as the Times and other Obama sympathizers are determined to view his critics largely through the prism of race, it appears we are doomed to more tired efforts to shoehorn modern conservatism into the mold of segregationist sentiment to which it has no connection.

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Obama’s $8 Billion Cynical Ploy

When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, it was based in large part on his commitment to cleanse the temple. Washington was “more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before.” Americans who had lost trust in government “want to believe again.” Telling the American people what politicians think they want to hear instead of what they need to hear “just won’t do.” Obama would put an end to phony accounting and “take on the lobbyists.” The cynics, the lobbyists and the special interests had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” The result is that the people “have looked away in disillusionment and frustration.”

“The time for that kind of politics is over,” Obama told us when he announced his bid for the presidency. “It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” The reason he was running for president, Obama declared in his November 10, 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, was to “offer change we can believe in.”

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When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, it was based in large part on his commitment to cleanse the temple. Washington was “more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before.” Americans who had lost trust in government “want to believe again.” Telling the American people what politicians think they want to hear instead of what they need to hear “just won’t do.” Obama would put an end to phony accounting and “take on the lobbyists.” The cynics, the lobbyists and the special interests had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” The result is that the people “have looked away in disillusionment and frustration.”

“The time for that kind of politics is over,” Obama told us when he announced his bid for the presidency. “It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” The reason he was running for president, Obama declared in his November 10, 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, was to “offer change we can believe in.”

Imagine how chagrined those who took Obama’s words at face value must feel now that it’s been revealed that the president has set up what is, for all intent and purposes, an $8 billion slush fund at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Here’s how it works. Thanks to the president’s health care plan, in October, seniors were going to learn of cuts in the popular Medicare Advantage program. Fearful of the election ramifications, especially in states like Florida and Arizona, the president came up with a plan. Writing in the New York Post, Benjamin Sasse and Charles Hurt explain that

…the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid. The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market. That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for years.

But along came a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report released yesterday which recommends that HHS cancel the project. The GAO said the project “dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations” in its impact on the budget and criticized its poor design. “The design of the demonstration precludes a credible evaluation of its effectiveness in achieving CMS’s [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] stated research goal,” according to the report. As the Wall Street Journal puts it in this editorial, “there’s no control group to test which approaches work better. It’s a demonstration project without the ability to demonstrate.” Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, and Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, released a statement in which they said they were concerned that the government might be “using taxpayer dollars for political purposes, to mask the impact on beneficiaries of cuts in the Medicare Advantage program.”

Sasse and Hurt believe that what the Obama administration is doing “certainly presses the boundaries of legality and very well may breach them.”

“If he’s not stopped,” they write, “Obama will spend $8 billion in taxpayer funds for a scheme to mask the debilitating effects on seniors of his signature piece of legislation just long enough to get himself re-elected.”

This is probably not what people thought Obama had in mind when he promised to do away with phony accounting and tell people what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear. It increases cynicism among the citizenry. It might even cause people to look away in disillusionment and frustration.

We’ve now reached the stage where Barack Obama’s words are the greatest indictment of his stewardship. All it takes is to remind people of Obama’s rhetoric in 2008 to show that at the core of his campaign was a massive deceit. In response, a majority of the public may well say that “the time for that kind of politics is over. It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” They might even consider citing the source for those high-minded words.

 

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Israel Policy to Blame if Obama Loses Jewish Votes

Earlier today, Seth commented on the results from a poll conducted by the liberal-leaning Public Religion Research Institute that contained some mixed results for the Obama administration. As Seth noted, the survey showed that even among a liberal population, the president didn’t find broad support for his policies on Israel. But, predictably, the New York Times is spinning the poll in a very different way. The headline in the paper’s political blog The Caucus is simply: “In Poll, Jewish Voters Overwhelmingly Support Obama.” The Times reports that it finds:

Support for Mr. Obama is still higher among Jews than among the general electorate, with 62 percent of Jewish voters saying they would like to see him elected, and 30 percent saying they preferred the Republican candidate.

The Times interprets this result as meaning:

The results cast doubt on the claim that Mr. Obama has alienated a significant swath of Jewish voters because of his rocky relationship with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

But does it really? Considering the president won a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, even if he does wind up getting 62 percent that would mean a loss of a fifth of the Jewish support he got four years ago.

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Earlier today, Seth commented on the results from a poll conducted by the liberal-leaning Public Religion Research Institute that contained some mixed results for the Obama administration. As Seth noted, the survey showed that even among a liberal population, the president didn’t find broad support for his policies on Israel. But, predictably, the New York Times is spinning the poll in a very different way. The headline in the paper’s political blog The Caucus is simply: “In Poll, Jewish Voters Overwhelmingly Support Obama.” The Times reports that it finds:

Support for Mr. Obama is still higher among Jews than among the general electorate, with 62 percent of Jewish voters saying they would like to see him elected, and 30 percent saying they preferred the Republican candidate.

The Times interprets this result as meaning:

The results cast doubt on the claim that Mr. Obama has alienated a significant swath of Jewish voters because of his rocky relationship with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

But does it really? Considering the president won a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, even if he does wind up getting 62 percent that would mean a loss of a fifth of the Jewish support he got four years ago.

To place this result in perspective, it should be remembered that it has been 24 years since a Republican got as much as 30 percent of the Jewish vote. If Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee, equals or tops that figure while the Democrats’ share declines that far, Jewish Republicans would consider it a major victory. Moreover, as I pointed out in the March issue of COMMENTARY, such a swing of Jewish votes could conceivably make a difference in determining the outcome of the election should states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and especially Florida go down to the wire.

If Obama does lose a fifth of his Jewish support when compared to four years ago, what other explanation can there be for such a result other than the fact that many Jewish Democrats are rightly concerned about the administration’s policy of hostility toward Israel during its first three years? While the current Jewish charm offensive may help shore up the president’s backing in this overwhelmingly Democratic demographic, if this poll is correct and the Republicans make such large gains, the most likely reason for a shift in the Jewish vote would be Israel.  Indeed, given the fact that the poll shows Jews having grave doubts about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the idea that it would not be responsible for the shrinkage of the Democrats’ share of the Jewish vote makes no sense.

While there is no doubt there is virtually nothing Obama could do to prevent the majority of Jews from voting for him, even this liberal poll illustrates that Democrats are going into the fall with much lower expectations than they might have had four years ago.

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