The Blog

Morning Jay: Blue Smoke and Mirrors

6:00 AM, Jun 15, 2011 • By JAY COST
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

And so the great machinery of the Obama-Biden campaign has slowly begun now to turn. Consider the following:

A. The president is in Puerto Rico on a visit so obviously political that Bloomberg can't keep it out of the lede:

President Barack Obama made the first official presidential stop in Puerto Rico in a half-century today with a message aimed more at an audience on the U.S. mainland.

“When I came here to campaign, I promised that I would return as president of the United States,” Obama said at an airport ceremony in San Juan. “I promised to include Puerto Rico not just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where our country needs to go. And I am proud to say that we’ve kept that promise, too.”

B. Earlier in the week Obama was in North Carolina, pushing jobs:

President Barack Obama visited the Triangle on Monday with some of the nation's leading corporate executives in tow, pledging to find ways to accelerate job growth in an economy where high unemployment continues to be a drag on the recovery.

The president heard from a high-powered business group that recommended a series of steps designed to create a million more jobs during the next two years - from deregulation, to speeding up tourist visas, to encouraging construction for energy-efficient projects.

C. And the Obama team is already offering up "strategy memos."

Expect to see more of this stuff over the next year. Lots and lots more. And, of course, it will be accompanied by sychophantic media accounts that talk up just how powerful his campaign is, how weak the Republican opposition is, and so on.

Yet I can promise you one thing: none of this is going to make any difference. It is the kind of stuff politicians, campaign professionals, and media types believe are "game changers," but it isn't. To borrow a phrase from the Carter era, we might call it all "blue smoke and mirrors."

It was at about the same point in his administration that Jimmy Carter gave the so-called "malaise speech," which was originally meant to be a game changer for the administration. Carter had invited scores of party leaders up to Camp David to seek their advice on how to rescue his troubled presidency. Inflation had clocked in at 10.3 percent over the previous year. The price of a barrel of oil had increased by about 50 percent. While the unemployment rate was relatively low (under 6 percent), inflation was eating away at real incomes, leaving people extremely pessimistic about the future, and about the president, whose job approval was by that point in the low 30s. Meanwhile, a tax revolt was brewing on Carter's right, and, on his left, Ted Kennedy was sounding more and more like a presidential candidate.

Carter wanted to get back to what had made him such a political success three years earlier--forging a connection with people who had grown tired of party politics. This was one of the major goals of the "malaise" speech, although he never used the word "malaise" in it. Instead, Carter bemoaned, "the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation." It was classic Carter: part politician, part therapist, part preacher.

Initially, reaction to the speech was very positive. But in the long run, it didn't do a lick of good. Part of the reason why was that Carter followed the speech up by sacking a handful of cabinet secretaries, making him (again) seem erratic and not in control. However, the bigger problem was the state of the union, which no amount of rhetoric could fix. As Jack Germond and Jules Witcover wrote later on:

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers