Morning Jay: Obama's Speech Was Meant to Reassure the Left
6:00 AM, Apr 15, 2011 • By JAY COST
I think that was the point. Here’s why.
If you look carefully at Obama’s job approval numbers, you'll notice that they are being propped up by strong support among Democrats. In last week’s Gallup poll, for instance, Obama was holding 80 percent of Democrats, and just 39 percent of independents and 11 percent of Republicans, for a total job approval of 45 percent. Given that most party battles happen between the 45 yard lines, the Gallup numbers suggest that most of the voters that both sides actively play for are no longer on Obama’s side, at least for now.
What Obama cannot suffer is a drop in support among Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. That’s how he could fall from the mid-40s into the high-30s. And that makes a huge psychological difference – like the price of oil going above $100. A president in the mid-40s is still in the game vis-à-vis the next election. A president in the 30s is flailing, in deep trouble, and appears headed for defeat. That's a perception Team Obama just cannot tolerate. A big part of their electoral strategy is to make him seem invincible. Why else would an incumbent president need a billion dollars? What is that going to buy him? You could spend a billion dollars trying to convince me that the sun rises in the west, but I can assure you it wouldn't work. Similarly, you could spend a billion trying to convince millions of former supporters that Obama's done a good job, but if they think he stinks, your money will have been wasted. A campaign based on, "Who ya gonna believe...me or your lyin' eyes?" will not be a very effective one. No, the billion is all about generating the perception of invincibility. It's all about astroturfing a seemingly inexorable Obama bandwagon, which was a core component of his 2008 primary and general election strategies. And that perception would shatter if he sinks into the 30s. That's George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter territory. That's no good.
The budget deal that Obama cut with congressional Republicans last week is unlikely to buy him much of anything with independents or Republicans in the electorate, but the negative reviews it garnered from the liberal intelligentsia were a potential problem for the president. After Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, the Bush tax cuts, bailing on the public option, and now the budget deal, it isn’t hard to envision some Democrats, maybe just 10 percent, walking away, at least in the short term. That would drop his numbers down into the 30s in some polls, puncturing this absurd notion among many that he's a virtual lock to win next November.
In other words, this speech was meant to shore up his political base in advance of 2012. A little of that old magic to remind them that he’s still "The One" for them.
And here we find the Rosetta Stone that helps us decipher the Obama enigma: While representing himself as totally unconcerned about politics, he is in reality totally absorbed by politics. A huge budget deficit staring us down? Time is of the essence? A Republican leader in Paul Ryan who seems genuinely interested in figuring out a solution? Who cares! There’s an election in 18 months. An election, for goodness sake! Is anything more important?