A Campaign Challenge: Defining Obama
President Obama may have escaped the burden of a Democratic primary challenger. Yet the battle to define him is rapidly escalating — not only by Republicans competing to run against him, but also within his own team inside the White House.
A Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, followed by the president’s economic address to Congress on Thursday, offers a window into the dueling efforts to provide voters a view of Mr. Obama and his record at a time when polling shows that he is increasingly vulnerable politically and that Americans feel the country is careering down the wrong track.
The White House is in the midst of rebranding the president as a pragmatic problem solver prepared to set aside ideology to address a compelling need (see last week’s concession on ozone regulations), a reasonable man in an era dominated by extreme views. But they also emphasize that he is willing to draw distinctions with conservatives, reflecting a central tension that has defined him as a candidate and as president: that in trying to lay claim to a broad swath of the electorate, as he succeeded in doing in 2008, he risks pleasing neither the center nor the left, the story of much of his time in office.
The media sure loves their narratives, don’t they? In their view the 2008 election was all about Obama. In reality it was all about Bush.
In 2007 and 2008, George W. Bush’s approval rating was in the twenties. In 2006 the electorate handed Congress to the Democrats, not because they enamored with donkeys but because they were disgusted with elephants. The only real question was not would the Democrats win but which Democrat would win.
Enter Barack Obama – the epitome of an empty suit. With the help of the Democratic establishment, the media, and half a billion dollars in donations from Wall Street and other fat cat special interests, Obama stole the nomination from the Democratic party voters.
The voters picked Hillary – they got Obama instead.
Then, even with a huge money advantage and the media cheerleading for him, Obama still nearly lost. If the GOP base had turned out to support McCain the way they supported Bush then Obama would have lost.
During both the primaries and the general election Obama was successful at one thing – he successfully avoided defining himself. “Hopenchange” is not a policy or a political ideology, it is just a slogan.
In 2008 Obama didn’t have a record to run on. Now he has a record he’s trying to run away from.
“I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” – Barack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope”
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