In the tradition of the proverbial carpenter and his nails, if you're Barack Obama, every political problem looks like 2008. Today, the DNC signaled its willingness to use 2008's rhetoric to win in 2010 with a half-hearted rallying video recorded by Obama asking his base to show up at the polls in November.
It's the same message Obama used to pitch Creigh Deeds for governor in Virginia, Jon Corzine for governor in New Jersey, and Martha Coakley for Senate in Massachusetts. It's also the same pitch he made for health care—the one instance in which it actually worked, at least on the Hill, but health care's numbers are still about on par with Corzine's, Deeds', or Coakley's.
Spot political problem, apply speeches, lather with inspirational rhetoric, repeat. What Obama seems to miss, however, is that his inspirational rhetoric worked because he himself was inspirational. Conferring his inspiration upon any old hack Democratic cause or candidate that comes through the DNC has not proven fruitful.
In this video, he is Barack Obama. He is the man whose problems are still inherited. He is the man who fights the health insurance companies... whose product he's requiring that every American buy, battles the big banks... who bankrolled his campaign, and stifles special interests... with whom he meets behind closed doors to hash out deals on legislation. And, he posits, all of this should inspire those who voted for the first time in 2008 to vote again on behalf of all the uninspiring Corzines, Deedses, and Coakleys who will in some unspecified way guarantee the uplifting change at sometime in the unspecifed future that Obama himself has not delivered. Fired up and ready to go!
It's hard to say whether this is more pathetic and phoned in or cynical and disingenuous. They're neck-and-neck. Obama uses what Ben Smith at Politico calls "unusual demographic frankness," when he exhorts, "young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women" to come to the polls. Drudge calls it the "race card," though like Ed Morrissey, I'm not sure I'd go that far.
What he's doing is acknowledging, more ham-handedly than other politicians could get away with, that these are the demographic groups of solidly Democratic voters he needs for Democrats to win in 2010. He's been this ham-handed before when he told an 80-year-old town hall attendee during the health-care debate that politicians always listen to senior citizens because they vote in high numbers.
But here's the thing about Obama. He can either be the inspirational, post-partisan, post-racial transcendent figure everyone talks about him being, or he can be the nakedly political candidate who addresses traditional Democratic voting blocs by their race and gender when asking for their votes. He can't be both. (For fun, imagine Bush exhorting white evangelicals, pro-life Latinos, and the Cuban community to get fired up about Republican candidates and not getting slammed for it.)
What appealed to cross-over and new voters in 2008 was a positive, inclusive message about everyone getting involved to make a difference. Sure, when Obama said it in 2008, he meant he wanted everyone to get involved to vote for him. It was ultimately a self-serving pitch, but it was more positive, inclusive, and less political than this one. The idea of Obama himself as an inspiration was far more credible than Obama as proxy inspiration for any old Democratic candidate who happens to be on the ballot.
Obama once reassured Democrats that "the big difference" between the disastrous 1994 mid-term elections and 2010 is "you've got me." This newly narrowed version of his inspirational message suggests even he doesn't believe that anymore.