The media narrative Tuesday was dominated by talk of panic in the Democratic Party and disarray at an embattled White House as one thing after another seems to go wrong for President Obama in his campaign’s long, hard slog to November’s election.
Monday, in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank painted the following picture:
“It has been a Junius Horribilis for President Obama.
Job growth has stalled, the Democrats have been humiliated in Wisconsin, the attorney general is facing a contempt-of-Congress citation, talks with Pakistan have broken down, Bill Clinton is contradicting Obama, Mitt Romney is outraising him, Democrats and Republicans alike are complaining about a ‘cascade’ of national-security leaks from his administration, and he is now on record as saying that the ‘private sector is doing fine.'”
Meanwhile, a research document for Democracy Corps written in collaboration with Democratic strategist James Carville warns that Democrats “will face an impossible headwind in November if we do not move to a new narrative, one that contextualizes the recovery but, more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class.”
Not only that, but polling data in swing states where President Obama won in 2008 are painting an ominous picture for his reelection bid. Just as filmmaker Spike Lee concedes in a recent GQ interview that President Obama’s reelection is not a sure thing, numbers from North Carolina, which President Obama won in 2008, show him losing a stunning amount of African American voters and even slipping below Governor Mitt Romney overall in North Carolina for the first time since October.
New polling also finds President Obama losing significant support among union members and polling one point behind Gov. Romney in Iowa in Rasmussen’s first look at the key battleground state where President Obama defeated John McCain in 2008’s presidential election. As if that weren’t enough bad news, President Obama’s support among Jewish voters in deep blue New York State has apparently dropped by 22 points in just one month according to another poll released just yesterday.
Even as the Republicans inch closer to nominating Gov. Romney, the most uninspiring Republican presidential candidate since– well, 2008–the reason President Obama’s reelection prospects look so dour, isn’t due to a horrible June, but due to a horrible first term as president. Here “horrible” specifically means that President Obama has simply not been independent enough, and that’s why voters are deserting him.
The recommendations in the Democratic strategy document referenced above have been distilled by Alexander Burns at Politico, who notes that many Democrats have always believed that their party “does best when it embraces more progressive rhetoric about fairness and the economy,” and Zeke Miller at BuzzFeed, who writes of Carville and other contributors to the research document: “They advise a program of new taxes on people earning more than $200,000, and new spending aimed at securing the future of the American middle class.”
Here, it may just be the case that the usually more astute James Carville has it all wrong. His advice to the Obama campaign to adopt more “progressive” rhetoric and to make the election about increasing federal appropriations and raising taxes on high-income earners is misguided and wrong. Americans don’t want more. They want less. President Obama was elected on a platform of reform because the 2008 election was a referendum on eight years of President George W. Bush. American voters wanted a radical change from the direction President Bush had taken the country. After winning the 2008 election, however, President Obama turned out not to be the independent, crusading reformer that voters expected him to be.
Instead of drawing down forces in the Middle East, President Obama sent tens of thousands more soldiers overseas in two troop surges (17,000 in February 2009 right after assuming office and 30,000 more in December 2009 not even a full year into his presidency). Instead of going after the corrupt banking elite that have harmed the economy, President Obama (and his Attorney General) has played nice with the industry that helped finance his 2008 election campaign and continues to give administration and Federal Reserve appointments to Wall Street insiders who represent big finance, not middle class America.
Instead of vetoing any renewal of the Bush-era USA Patriot Act, which allows the president to spy on Americans without oversight by the courts as required in the Bill of Rights, President Obama went so far as to use an “autopen” to sign its renewal from across the Atlantic Ocean. President Obama has also taken President Bush’s disregard for rule of law and civil liberties to another level entirely: President Bush spied on Americans without oversight by the courts, but Obama is secretly executing them without trial or charges, and reserves the right to continue this unprecedented, illegal, and chilling policy.
If President Obama had been on the right side of history– the side he campaigned on as a presidential candidate before assuming power– and withdrawn from President Bush’s nation-building exercises in the Middle East, gone to war with Wall Street for the American people, and dismantled Bush’s Orwellian, civil liberties-busting, rules-be-damned national security state, then the president wouldn’t be having a horrible June. If these things were accomplished, even if the economy remained this bad, President Obama would get a pass from voters. He wouldn’t have to make the case that he inherited a bad economy and government from President Bush. Voters would already understand that he had done everything he could.
Instead of ignoring all these policy boondoggles and massive drains on the US economy to fool around with the same, tired partisan debate over taxes on the top income bracket and Democratic Party rhetoric about economic fairness, President Obama’s best chance at getting reelected will be charting a course of radically independent and genuinely substantial reform that addresses the serious policy issues of our day. The tricky part will be convincing voters that they can trust him to follow through after four years of very little meaningful change cited in his first campaign platform.