Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Obama Veers Populist

Right before our very eyes last night, as if by magic, the President veered towards the populist left. It has been a long and treacherous journey, a move he had resisted in 2008 -- where he was cast as the brainy, intellectual, lofty rhetoric spouting pol with the dazzling smile. Populism, to be quite frank, was inorganic to Obama, a Democrat in the stiff Dukakis-Kerry mode (unlike the earthy, working class Bill Clinton, the unusual Democrat that carried Arkansas and West Virginia). The gloomy demographics of the 2012 race -- probably against Romney; how does one get the magic electoral college number? -- presage a negative and tactically brutal upcoming campaign. Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times called eerily it in November:
"Back in the short-lived 'recovery summer' of 2010, Mr. Obama and his aides were looking at a version of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 'Morning in America' campaign. Now, with unemployment stubbornly at 9 percent and consumer confidence at or near record lows, they are settling on a strategy that incorporates the combativeness of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1936 drive, the anti-Congress zeal of Harry S. Truman’s 1948 campaign and the disciplined focus of George W. Bush’s 2004 blitz against Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.       
"The result is not your college-age daughter’s Obama campaign of hopeful, transcendent politics. If 2008 was about lifting Mr. Obama up, 2012 will have at least some strong element of dragging down his Republican opponent (who the campaign believes will most likely be Mitt Romney). If 2008 was about 'Yes We Can' and limitless possibility, 2012 will be to some degree about why we couldn’t ('Republican intransigence'), and why we shouldn’t, at least when it comes to anything the Republican nominee proposes ('His party got us here in the first place'). As Mr. Obama recently told a group of supporters in the deflated liberal bastion of San Francisco, 'The Hope poster is kind of faded and a little dog-eared.'"
The State of the Union address last night bookended the President's much-commented upon Kansas Teddy Roosevelt speech (populist, fair tax policy strategy and all the usual Democrat Party sweet spots), fully forming finally that Roosevelt-Truman-FDR nexus -- aka, as this blogger likes to call it, full-on  re-election mode. Of that speech, RealClearPolitics said:
"Despite all the TR trimmings, the president’s message is rooted in contemporary Democratic campaign themes -- echoes of 'the people vs. the powerful' and 'putting people first.' The president will continue to argue that Republicans in Washington have opposed economic policies with his name on them just to score political points and because the GOP sides with the wealthy and special interests instead of the middle class.
"The president this week also is urging Senate Republicans to confirm his nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law."
And, curiously, on the cusp of the State of the Union Obama appointed New York Attorney General Eric Scneiderman to head this new mortgage abuse unit. This appears to be a part of the Obama-Plouffe-Axelrod strategy, tack left and use the executive branch powers (advantage!) to make an actual appointment. An actual appointment, as opposed to soaring rhetoric-- that stuff that elevated him to the Presidency in 2008. That stuff thatnow  needs to be more grounded because, to borrow from the President, "'The Hope poster is kind of faded and a little dog-eared.'" Fool me once shame on me; fool me twice ...

It was also interesting how Obama absorbed Rick Santorum's freakishly stubborn Iran hawkishness and the almost cartoonish Gingrich-Romney's out pro-Israeliing each other into the State of the Union. The Jewish vote -- which Obama won handily with over 70% in 2008 -- will figure prominently in places like Florida, a crucial state, and Obama will not concede it without a fight.

One final, curious note: Obama last night spoke about more than just fair taxes, but paths to use community colleges for job training -- a nod to the embattled working classes, white and black -- suggesting that, despite the recent reports, Obama as President of us all has not entirely abandoned that demographic (white working class, over 50s, particularly) as unattainable. They are a traditional Democratic constituency -- one that has been skeptical of Obama and probably, with unemployment at a stubborn 9% may not be so sympathetic this time around. That having been said, here was the fantastically gloomy assessment from the Times this past November:
"Teixeira, writing with John Halpin, argues in “The Path to 270: Demographics versus Economics in the 2012 Presidential Election,” that in order to be re-elected, President Obama must keep his losses among white college graduates to the 4-point margin of 2008 (47-51). Why? Otherwise he will not be able to survive a repetition of 2010, when white working-class voters supported Republican House candidates by a record-setting margin of 63-33.
"Obama’s alternative path to victory, according to Teixeira and Halpin, would be to keep his losses among all white voters at the same level John Kerry did in 2004, when he lost them by 17 points, 58-41. This would be a step backwards for Obama, who lost among all whites in 2008 by only 12 points (55-43). Obama can afford to drop to Kerry’s white margins because, between 2008 and 2012, the pro-Democratic minority share of the electorate is expected to grow by two percentage points and the white share to decline by the same amount, reflecting the changing composition of the national electorate."
Which would also explain the insitence on immigration reform, which everyone knows would be DEAD-ON-ARRIVAL in the Republican controlled House of Representatives. But -- in a move right out of Machiavelli's il Principe -- it doesn't hurt for the President to bring it up. Motivates the base, if you go in for that sort of thing.

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