Last summer I did some thinking about Mr. Obama and the 2012 election. Specifically, would voting for him again be a good idea? I offered up several scenarios where I pondered ugly realities – long and short term – and concluded:
In the end, I don’t live in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida so my vote isn’t likely to count. In that case I’ll be safe enough casting a protest vote for whoever lands on the Green ticket. If it turns out that Colorado winds up as a battleground state in a tight election, then I have some hard-core soul-searching to do.
Ultimately, though, I can’t shake the feeling that something dramatic, something earth-shaking, something seismic aimed at the very heart of the system is going to be required to break the cycle of corruption and incompetence and butt-ignorance that shapes the course of American political and economic life.
The whys are all laid out in the article and my thinking hasn’t changed much.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention lately, there has been an unmistakeable shift in the tone of the Obama camp. The president shows signs of finally realizing what everybody else has known all along – you can’t compromise with the TeaOP. You can’t negotiate with political terrorists, especially when they’re not only willing to shoot the hostages, they want to shoot the hostages. How many people do I know who sat around for the first three years of the Hopey McChangy administration wondering how a guy that naïve managed to get himself elected. Unless, of course, he wasn’t naïve at all – he was one of them? Regardless, neither “clueless” nor “corrupt” inspires much energy as people consider how to spend their spare time during the coming campaign season.
That shift in tone, and a potential accompanying change in strategy, is addressed in David Corn’s new book, Showdown: The Inside Story of Obama’s Fight to Save His Presidency. Corn, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, describes the new awareness in the White House:
“This isn’t about class warfare,” he said. “This is about the nation’s welfare.” Afterward, Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign chief, sent out an email to supporters proclaiming that this approach “will inform every discussion we have with undecided voters over the next year.”
Two weeks later, the House Republicans helped make Obama’s point for him: They refused to go along with a bipartisan Senate compromise to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut for two months. But Obama now felt emboldened to confront GOP obstructionism, and the Republican leadership blinked; Boehner ended up embarrassingly losing this game of chicken. Soon afterward, the president would issue a recess appointment for Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—in defiance of Senate GOP filibusters. And in a feisty State of the Union speech in January, he laid out the choice: “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot.” At stake, he added, was nothing less than “American values.”
Obama’s new tack did seem to yield political dividends. By late 2011, he scored better than Republicans when poll respondents were asked whom they trusted to handle the economy and even the deficit. Plouffe could barely believe it—he told people it was as if the Republicans were ahead on the issue of children’s health care. A core GOP strength had been neutralized.
This article is worth a read an I suspect the book will be, too. The thing is, I’m still not convinced.
See, the 2008 cycle proved that Obama is a deft campaigner. He’s very good at knowing what to say and even better at saying it. He conjures hopes and dreams as magically as Kennedy ever did and he has a gift for convincing you that it can happen. Hope. Progress. Change You Can Believe In.
Sell-out. Because as I think I make clear in my post last July, the talk and the walk intersected pretty much nowhere. And that leaves me in a tough spot come campaign time, because you have now proven to me that I can’t trust a word you say. When you silk tongue a room with pretty words, I no longer come away feeling positive about the future. I come away marveling at your pretty, altogether empty words. It’s like in a relationship. When she says she’ll never cheat on you, and then she sleeps with your best friend, it’s hard to believe her when she says she’ll never do it again.
Is it possible that Obama has learned his lesson? Is it possible that what Corn describes is real? Is it possible that Obama 2.0 would use his second term to eradicate the Tea Party and every hateful, ignorant, anti-human idea it ever had? Is it possible that four years from now I’m writing about Obama in the same terms America reserves for its greatest leaders and suggesting, with a straight face, that he belongs on Mt. Rushmore?
Sure. Anything is possible. But right now all I have to consider is a record of inspiring rhetoric and an administration that has all too often been indistinguishable from the debacle that preceded it.
I hope Corn is right. But when I step into the voting booth on November 6, my decision will be 100% unaffected by anything the president says between now and then. I can’t trust his words and neither can you. Which means that Team Obama has slightly less than eight months to demonstrate, with its actions and its policies and its objective record of governance, that it deserves a second chance.
It’s like I always tell my students when we’re discussing effective writing: show, don’t tell.