The most telling moment of the campaign this week was not Mitt Romney or Joe Biden’s speech to the NAACP convention, but President Obama’s Tuesday appearance in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nor was it the content of Obama’s message that made his utterances noteworthy. It was the small venue: yet another community college. Now, Kirkwood Community College is no doubt a fine place, but Sports Authority Field at Mile High it is not. And one is unlikely to come across a better indicator of presidential shrinkage.
The White House took desperate pains to note that the president talked to an “overflow crowd.” What it did not mention was that an overflow crowd in a community college gym could not fill the seats in, say, the OSU stadium. There was a time when Obama regaled audiences of 30,000, 75,000, 80,000 people. Now he speaks to true believers at high schools. By the end of the campaign he may well find himself, like Spinal Tap, playing to a threadbare crowd at Themeland Amusement Park in Stockton, California (a city which, fittingly enough, is bankrupt). The sign outside: “PUPPET SHOW AND PRESIDENT OBAMA.”
This is no joke. Our incumbent’s appeal, grandeur, resources, and power have all steadily withered, like slowly deflating balloons. It was four years ago next Thursday, after all, when Obama landed in Afghanistan on the opening leg of his world tour. His perceived inability to do wrong, the effortlessness with which he glided over the political scene, was captured well before an audience of troops in Kuwait, when he hitnothing but net from behind the three-point line. Meetings in Iraq with General Petraeus and Nuri al-Maliki showed Obama to be informed, diplomatic, and assured. He visited Israel (and has not returned). Then he landed in Germany, where he told up to 100,000 Berliners that, as a “fellow citizen of the world,” “This is our moment; this is our time.”
Earlier that summer, Obama became the first candidate of either party to reject federal matching funds. In a sign of things to come, he blamed this hypocritical reversal on—whom else—the Republicans. He said that betraying a promise made was necessary to avoid being outspent. But there was no question of him being at a loss for money in 2008. His financial advantage had been assured ever since record mogul David Geffen abandoned Hillary for Obama in 2007.