Commentary Magazine


The Endless Campaign

It really never ends:

Mr. Obama’s sleeves were rolled up, there was an old campaign sign in the audience, and he’s talking about his “opponents.” No, this is not a flashback of the presidential campaign, but it does feel awfully similar.

While campaigning for his health care bill, President Obama has summoned up some imagery and words that has often been left on the campaign trail.  Today on the health care stump in Missouri it was Obama versus opponents. Twice today during the president’s health care speech in St. Charles, Missouri the president referred specifically to his “opponents.”

Obama and his grouchy adviser David Axelrod complain bitterly of the nonstop campaign, the partisanship of Washington, and the nonstop news cycle. But they most obviously are perpetuators of all three, and rely on campaign tactics (attack, attack, attack) in lieu of other skills — reasoned persuasion, real compromise, and legislative craftsmanship. They do it endlessly, campaign that is, because this is what they know and this is what they were good at. That it’s ill-suited to the task at hand and ultimately has diminished the president’s standing seem not to matter. Again and again Obama returns to the stump. What else is he to do? He’s proved unable to convince Blue Dogs of the merits of his bill.

The incessant campaigning hasn’t moved the public nor swayed lawmakers. In part, they’ve all grown weary of the same spin, but it’s also a matter of the wrong answer to the substantive and political questions being posed. On the substantive side, Obama has failed spectacularly to respond to the legitimate fiscal concerns raised by Rep. Paul Ryan about the budget gimmickry, and there’s also the abortion-subsidy issue that concerns pro-life Democrats. On the political side, the rally fetish isn’t helping nervous Democrats who see the poll numbers and their political lives flashing before their eyes. It’s interesting that Democrats are now reluctant to even appear with Obama. Apparently he’s less than politically reassuring.

Aside from the sheer snippiness, Obama’s retort to John McCain in the health-care summit was remarkable because, in fact, the campaign is not over. It never ends with this crowd. They’re just unaware that its utility is limited.

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