There’s much talk to the effect that tonight Barack Obama needs to get “the vision thing” back. This is exactly wrong. After four result-free years, all this president has is the vision thing. What he needs is “the policy thing,” “the accountability thing,” or, you know, “the record thing.” Which is why he’s in a lot deeper trouble than the popular analysis suggests.
What he needs can’t be conjured in campaign headquarters, and it can’t be faked in front of a Mitt Romney who’s tuned up like a dazzling and encyclopedically informed one-man policy-review team.
In the last debate, Obama’s “vision thing” stuck out so bizarrely against the facts that it was revealed as “the mirage thing.” The mirage took shape with his first answer and only grew more fantastical as the debate proceeded. How, Obama was asked off the bat, did he intend to put America back to work? His answer: by supporting math and science in community colleges. Yet, the Washington Post’s’ supposed wonk wunderkind, Ezra Klein, thinks Obama is too strong on policy details and only weak on the big picture. Today, Klein writes that “Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done.”
This is, of course, a perfectly reversed description of Barack Obama—in 2008, 2012, and always.
For the millionth time, the president’s problem isn’t metaphysical. He’s not lacking vision or “narrative.” The Obama mirage is full of both. It’s a vaporous panorama landscape of a social-democratic United States, a republic of brothers’ keepers and citizen Julias kept afloat by a federal redistribution apparatus and newly funded by the repurposed proceeds of the rehabilitated rich. That’s “what he wants to achieve.” How will he “get it done”? That’s the policy desert in which the mirage pops up. On the extraordinarily rare occasion that this president of the United States is challenged to explain his transformative genius, he wings it with some elliptical nonsense about community college teachers.
If you’re an adolescent the Obama mirage sounds nice. If you’re an adult it’s the blueprint for a dystopian nightmare, and if you’re the American president it’s an unfeasible non-starter. For Mitt Romney, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show Americans that not all visions are equal. Some are hallucinations.