Recovery summer, opposition to Arizona’s immigration law, negative campaigning, and intervention in the Ground Zero mosque dispute—call them Obama’s Four Disasters. As policy, they’re questionable. As political exercises, they’re losers. As clues about Obama, they’re evidence he’s lost his political knack.
What was Obama thinking? These weren’t initiatives taken suddenly. They were carefully thought out and plotted, no doubt in expectation the president would gain politically and so would Democratic candidates. Whatever calculations the White House made, they were faulty.
Recovery summer. This was proclaimed in June, with fanfare, in a briefing by Vice President Biden and the issuance of a report titled “Summer of Recovery: Project Activity Increases in Summer 2010.” The report said “millions of Americans [are] on the job today thanks to the Recovery Act”—better known as the “stimulus package”—but its work is not done. “Summer 2010 is actually poised to be the most active Recovery Act season yet.”
Not quite. Obama, Biden, and company should have known better. It’s true there were indicators the economy would grow and hiring by private firms would increase. But anyone who traveled outside Washington would quickly discover that slow growth and minimal hiring were at least as likely to occur. And they have. The economy has hit the brakes, the stock market is stagnant, the jobs picture has -worsened, unemployment claims are up, and the notion of a summer of recovery has become an embarrassment.
If there were even a glimmer of doubt about a summertime boom, you wouldn’t want to put a chronic exaggerator like Biden out front. He tends to gush uncontrollably. The stimulus will cause “even more ripple effects” than ever this summer, he declared. And more jobs
means a lot more lunch breaks at the local diner because there weren’t any lunch breaks, there weren’t the jobs that existed; and a lot more trips to the barbershop, to the movies, to the department store, helping those businesses they go to maintain their employment base and increase the employment base.
Sounds nice. Too bad it hasn’t happened.
Opposition to the Arizona immigration law. This is what’s known as a 70-30 issue. Obama has taken the 30 percent position, which puts him athwart the vast majority of Americans. The White House said the decision to file suit against the Arizona law was made by Attorney General Eric Holder. But Holder works for Obama, who could have told him to back off.
There are several reasons this would have made sense. The law was not likely to have prompted a wave of profiling of Hispanics. It was (and is) popular in Arizona, and the more folks around the country heard about it, the more they liked it (and still do).
It also would’ve bolstered Obama’s drive for immigration reform. The president favors the comprehensive approach, which includes amnesty for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. Given the politics of the issue, the only way to get what Obama wants is by first stepping up enforcement of immigration laws. Instead he opted for nullifying a popular enforcement statute.
Negative campaigning. Obama’s great gift as a politician is the ability to rise above the normal pushing, shoving, and name-calling of politics and appear statesmanlike. He’s derided these days by Republicans for his rhetoric in 2008 about hope and change, ending polarization, and changing the way Washington does business. But it’s what elected him.
Now he’s abandoned it. In his current stump speech, he does two things. He talks about “a lot of things I’m very proud of that we’ve done over the last two years,” including health care reform. And he attacks Republicans for “constant, nonstop opposition on everything.” Guess which one the media devours. His criticism of Republicans is not limited to political appearances. He’s begun attacking them in his Saturday radio address from the White House. This is both unappealing and unpresidential.
Obama has fallen in love with an analogy about Republicans driving a car—a metaphor for the economy—into a ditch and asking for the keys back now that Obama has pulled it out. It’s not particularly clever, but he dwells on it. “It has since become the Mr. Potato Head of campaign stump speech metaphors,” wrote Carol E. Lee of Politico. “The president keeps expanding on it.” That’s not a compliment.
The Ground Zero mosque. This is another 70-30 issue, and Obama is again in the minority. We know his decision to defend the plan of Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. He put out a prepared text of his speech on this subject before it was delivered to a group of Muslims at a Ramadan event at the White House. He backtracked the next day.
Until then, he’d wisely stayed out of the controversy, his press secretary dismissing it as a “local issue.” There was nothing to be gained and a lot to lose by jumping in. Yet he couldn’t resist holding forth, just as he couldn’t when his pal Skip Gates was arrested. Obama is not one to hold his tongue, no matter what the subject. He once again took the position of the elites against that of most Americans.
The contrast between the political adroitness of Obama as a presidential candidate and Obama as president is striking. His campaign was nearly error-free. As president, he’s made a string of unforced errors. He’s lost his touch, and chances are it won’t come back.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.