With his poll numbers falling at least as fast as our economic outlook, a desperate Barack Obama exercised the nuclear option in his re-election bid. Last week, Dan Pfeiffer, the president’s communications director, told The New York Times that the period of political compromise is “behind us”. This week, nine months into the current congress and fourteen before the election, Obama went on a scorched earth campaign swing using the same spiel. In choosing to wage war on everything to his right, including, expressly, the middle ground, he has rained hellfire down on political negotiation. Has he roasted himself in the process?
Obama has never been much for bipartisanship anyway. From his first days in office, when he rebuffed Republican overtures with his “I won” retort, he has shown neither aptitude nor inclination, for it. With the new Republican House, Obama’s notion of negotiation is a lot more like dictation. He only tried to work out a deal with Republicans on one occasion and that failed when he kept moving the goal posts. Most often, his approach has been as it was with his jobs plan. Unveiling proposals to everyone at the same time while unilaterally anointing them beforehand as bipartisan. That is, and will always be, an amateurish non-starter.
By the middle of September, Obama’s re-election chances were dimming, even without a consensus Republican opponent. His base, consisting of leftist groups, was increasingly disenchanted. Independents, whom he has pursued ardently for the past year, remained aloof. Even California voters, for the first time since Obama’s inauguration, disapproved of his performance. Special elections in New York and Nevada went to GOP candidates because voters spurned Obama’s policies.
Things got so bad for the president that Clinton strategist, James Carville, urged him to fire his staff and learn how to actually compromise. Instead, Obama’s response is to become more combative, more divisive and more extreme. Dismissing voter rejection, the president believes that isolating himself on the political left and excoriating all who disagree is a winning strategy. If he’s correct, it will be the first time in American history that an incompetent wins re-election by a take-no-prisoners appeal to extremism.
Fortunately, Obama’s strategy isn’t working. Oh, he’s made those in his base less jittery with assurances that his next term will be more to their liking. But, the left can’t get him elected. He needs the independent vote, which he carried in 2008. To attract them, Obama has engaged in emotional, and distorted, rhetoric aimed at making the Republicans look so bad that he looks good by comparison.
Among his weapon of words is legislation that has no chance of passing. Obama plans to introduce several bills of that kind just to paint Republicans as wrong for the country. Basically, our president will throw childish temper tantrums in an effort to make himself look better than the adults in the room. Hope and Change has become The Best of the Worst. Not even Democrats are standing in line behind that.
While rhetoric and Bush got Obama elected in 2008, he’ll need more than verbiage and the Tea Party to do it again. He’ll need Republicans to nominate the wrong candidate, a polarizing right-winger, like Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann, who makes thinking people cringe. A majority of American voters generally reject extremist candidates on both ends of the political spectrum. While fanatics do occasionally win elections, it’s because they are smart enough not to campaign as one. And neither Perry nor Bachmann is that smart.
Obama’s campaign swing this week was full of bombastic self-praise for his successful first term and exhortations for four more years of the same. If an economy and job market made perilously worse are accomplishments, if dead end government programs and spiraling debt are resume headliners, what’s failure? We’ll never know because we’ll be moving to Australia.
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