July 17, 2010

President Obama: It's all about me.

As the President, Obama is right - the 2010 midterm elections are all about him.  But by personalizing the midterms, is Obama sabotaging Democrat chances?

The Hill has this quote yesterday from the President;
"This is going to be a choice between the policies that got us into this mess and my policies that are getting us out of this mess. And I think if you look at the vast majority of Americans, even those who are dissatisfied with the pace of progress, they'll say that the policies that got us into this mess, we can't go back to..."
My policies? Did President Obama invent progressivism or does he just embody it? In any case with his approval at personal all-time lows, and quite anemic, why would the President make it about himself?  There are a few possibilities.

1) He's setting the stage for 2012

Charles Krauthammer has an interesting analysis about Obama and 2012.
The net effect of 18 months of Obamaism will be to undo much of Reaganism. Both presidencies were highly ideological, grandly ambitious, and often underappreciated by their own side...
The next burst of ideological energy — massive regulation of the energy economy, federalizing higher education, and “comprehensive” immigration reform (i.e., amnesty) — will require a second mandate, meaning reelection in 2012...
That’s why there’s so much tension between Obama and the congressional Democrats. For Obama, 2010 matters little. If the Democrats lose control of one or both houses, Obama will likely have an easier time in 2012, just as Bill Clinton used Newt Gingrich and the Republicans as his foil for his 1996 reelection campaign.
And that's the crux of the theory - Obama is better served by a Republican Congress than by a Democrat one until 2012, when he will have a foil to blame. The hope, or plan, would be to re-establish a Democrat majority or super-majority after 2012 for that next agenda push.

In that sense Obama telling Democrats not to worry, it's not 1994 all over again, they've got him, is misinformation. He wants them to lose because it serves his broader goals better than them winning. Implicit in the argument is the assumption that the White House knows they cannot hold their current majorities at all. Otherwise they'd push for those next legislative victories between 2010 and 2012. It means two things he knows 2010 is about minimizing Democrat losses and 2012 he believes he's still going to win.

Krauthammer is right. A lot can happen between now and 2012 and conservatives underestimate the President at our peril.  Does this mean the President wants Democrats to lose? Not necessarily, but it does mean he won't be disappointed by it.  The fact that Robert Gibbs is out there saying they might lose the House is being seen as perhaps subtly encouraging that outcome.

2) He's rallying the base with more "I'm not Bush"

The fact that the President is still blaming Bush, beyond being childish, is a method in itself.  It's the type of positioning they hope will mobilize the likes of Code Pink and get the base out and stem the Democratic losses this fall.  Since it worked for the President in 2008, and he doesn't have that sustained approval bump from health care, what else can he campaign on this cycle?  The economy? Uh, no. The environment? Oops. Ending the wars? Ummmmm... What's left for the left? Blame Bush;
The White House has no plans to give up on its blame-Bush strategy. A White House adviser says that George W. Bush and his policies created "the hole we're in," and President Obama will keep reminding the country of the economic "mess" he inherited. Obama takes frequent jabs at his predecessor for leaving him an economy that was teetering on the brink of collapse, and White House aides say he won't stop anytime soon. At a meeting Wednesday with Senate Democrats, for example, Obama rejected Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln's call for him to move to the center. Obama said, "If the price of certainty is essentially for us to adopt the exact same proposals that were in place for eight years leading up to the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression ... the result is going to be the same.
This also makes sense from another perspective - it doesn't hamper the setting the stage for 2012 theory/plan.  Obama doesn't want to lose 80 seats in Congress even if he really does possibly want to lose Congress. He'd much rather lose 38 seats.  So by rallying liberal the base, which is less energized than the conservative base right now, he can minimize the loss and if it ends up being bigger than he'd hoped he still has his foil.  Blaming Bush, beyond being the only available strategy is a no lose strategy for the President (aside from the coming landslide).  That's because there is no danger of the strategy backfiring.  Conservatives aren't going to vote for the President, and independents are already turned off.  If blaming Bush converts some independents or stops them from voting, that's a bonus.  The real effort is to turn out the liberal base.

3) It's all about me

Other than those two ideas, the only other possibility I can see is megalomania or just a raw hunger for power.  The former is delusional and the latter doesn't contradict theory #1 above.  If the President really believes his own greatness will prevent a Republican landslide he isn't reading the polls or he truly believes he has the charisma to overcome them.  The thing is charisma got him here, it's not enough to keep him here.  Once you are in charge, the buck truly does stop with you, and with nothing other than new mega-debts and an unfixed economy to show, no amount of charisma will overcome it.  All he can do for himself is to use that charisma to stem his own losses in 2012.  For all of Krauthammer's justifiable worry over Obama in 2012 it's hard to see how he can pull that election out of the fire, even if he does have the Republican Congress as a foil.

Does the President believe it's all about him?  Maybe to some extent yes, but my suspicion is that the truth has pieces of all three of those ideas in it.


  1. I'm not too worried about him in 2012. Any non-Keynesian economist will tell you our economic trouble are not going away anytime soon. Just as in 1992, it's still about the economy, and his policies are killing the economy.

  2. I agree, it's the economy - I'm actually working on a draft post about that very subject. But as toxic as his policies are it isn't obvious enough to enough of Americans. This President should be down another 15 points in the poll and he isn't. So his re-election is still a clear and present danger in my opinion.


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