No More Mister Nice Guy
Obama squanders the likability factor.
May 28, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 35 • By FRED BARNES
By the time he took office in 2009, President Obama had fashioned a reputation as an idealist committed to reforming the way business is done in Washington. But as president, he’s allowed this reputation to fritter away. And what’s left of it is now being destroyed by his harsh and misguided campaign for reelection.
Obama has become his own worst political enemy. Even when his job approval first began to fade, his poll numbers for being well-liked personally remained high. Now those are fading too. He’s on the road to defeat.
In 2008, Obama ran a “bring us together” campaign. He presented himself as a political uniter eager to bridge differences between the parties. This year, he’s unleashed an “us versus them” campaign, catering to Democratic interest groups and seeking to marginalize Republican challenger Mitt Romney as an unacceptable alternative as president.
Neither of these tactics is new to politics. FDR ran a divisive campaign for reelection in 1936, uniting Democratic factions and tarring his opponents as “economic royalists.” In 1964, Democrats isolated Republican Barry Goldwater as a conservative outside the mainstream of American politics. Likewise in 1972, Republicans succeeded in branding Democrat George McGovern as unacceptably left-wing.
Obama has pursued these tactics crudely. He’s done little to disguise his preferential treatment of narrow (but sympathetic) slices of the electorate. He’s been concentrating on special interests, not the national interest, and it shows.
To appease environmentalists, he blocked the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada. For younger voters, he’s proposed to keep the interest rate on student loans from doubling.Feminists got the contraception mandate. To appeal to Hispanic voters, he promoted the DREAM Act to give their children a path to permanent residency. African Americans? Obama intruded himself into the case of Trayvon Martin, whose shooting death touched off a protest led by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. If he had a son, Obama said, he’d look like Martin. For gays, he declared his support for same-sex marriage. For organized labor, he stacked the National Labor Relations Board with union partisans.
His blatant political favoritism has backfired. The pipeline, it turns out, has broad public support. The requirement that health insurers provide free contraceptives, with no conscience exemption, infuriated Catholics and evangelical Protestants. His endorsement of gay marriage was seen by two-thirds of Americans as politically motivated.
To ostracize Romney, the Obama campaign wants to make him personally unacceptable as a possible president. This is different from the way Goldwater and McGovern were marginalized—and more risky. They were attacked for their ideology and policies. With Romney, it’s the morality of his decisions as head of Bain Capital that’s being questioned. Obama would have you believe Romney is a bad person.
There’s a reason for this. It would be difficult to stigmatize Romney as politically extreme. In a May survey by the GOP polling group Resurgent Republic, 58 percent of Americans regarded him as moderate or somewhat conservative. “They view Mitt Romney the same way they view themselves,” pollster Whit Ayres says. “It’s Obama they view as outside the mainstream.”
Romney, by the way, has responded more deftly to criticism of his business career by the Obama campaign than he did to similar attacks by opponents during the Republican primaries. Andrea Saul, his spokeswoman, said this after an Obama TV ad blamed Romney for closing a steel plant:
Romney didn’t need a compelling response to an Obama television spot that alleged Romney would not have seized the opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden, unlike the president. This is absurd. How could the Obama team know this? In truth, any president probably would have jumped at the chance to execute bin Laden. I suspect most people think so.
Obama’s style of running for reelection has taken its toll. “The Greek columns are now in ruins,” says Steve Law, who heads American Crossroads, the Republican super-PAC. He was referring to the makeshift columns erected on the Denver stage where Obama delivered his acceptance speech in 2008. Obama’s “ham-handed” campaign has wiped out his “last shred of brand equity.” He’s descended to the lowest common denominator. He’s a Washington pol.
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