I confess that not in my wildest dreams did I imagine President Obama’s campaign would be so awful. Oh sure, I knew it would be “awful” in the sense of going negative, being disingenuous and blaming everyone for his failings. But I was taken by surprise by how “awful,” in the sense of incompetent and ham-handed, it has been.
Romney sounds like he’s the president when he responds more in sadness than in anger to Obama’s assertion he’s going to make the campaign about Bain. Romney’s statement was restrained, with only a hint of contempt: “President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system, which Mayor Booker and other leading Democrats have spoken out against. What this election is about is the 23 million Americans who are still struggling to find work and the millions who have lost their homes and have fallen into poverty. President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed policies. My campaign is offering a positive agenda to help America get back to work.”
As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it: “If the campaign is going to successfully demonize Mitt Romney as a marauding capitalist, it can’t have fellow Democrats defending capitalism. . . . The Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain haven’t gone very well, in part because the claims are so transparently cynical. Everyone knows they’re cherry-picking facts, focusing on the rare Bain Capital failures while ignoring the successes — all in order to distract attention from the failed results of Mr. Obama’s economic policies.”
If Obama and his political hacks think the criticism is limited to conservatives or gaffe-prone pols they should take a look at David Brooks’ column. One of the president’s most ardent defenders in 2008, Brooks reveals his disgust over Obama’s obliviousness to the fact that “companies that have been acquired by private equity firms are more productive than comparable firms,” but that equity markets do “not, on net, lead to fewer jobs.” He excoriates the ad and the president’s entire line of attack::
The Obama attack ad accused Bain Capital of looting a steel company called GST in the 1990s and then throwing its workers out on the street. The ad itself barely survived a minute of scrutiny. As Kimberly Strassel noted in The Wall Street Journal, the depiction is wildly misleading. . . . This is the story of a failed rescue, not vampire capitalism. . . .
Private equity firms are not lovable, but they forced a renaissance that revived American capitalism. The large questions today are: Will the U.S. continue this process of rigorous creative destruction? More immediately, will the nation take the transformation of the private sector and extend it to the public sector? . . . .
The Obama campaign seems to be drifting willy-nilly into the opposite camp, arguing that the pressures brought to bear by the capital markets over the past few decades were not a good thing, offering no comparably sized agenda to reform the public sector.
In a country that desperately wants change, I have no idea why a party would not compete to be the party of change and transformation. For a candidate like Obama, who successfully ran an unconventional campaign that embodied and promised change, I have no idea why he would want to run a campaign this time that regurgitates the exact same ads and repeats the exact same arguments as so many Democratic campaigns from the ancient past.
Oh, I’m certain if he thought about it for a bit he’d stumble upon the two most likely answers: Either Obama is preying on the public’s ignorance in a transparent effort to distract them from his rotten record, or he’s economically illiterate, soaked in the rhetoric of the left with no real feel for the American economy. (These are not mutually-exclusive explanations.) Whatever you think of Brooks’ politics, he is representative of flocks of poltically-moderate professionals who voted for Obama in 2008 and are now forced to confront reality: Obama is at best an empty suit and ignoramus when it comes to our economy.
So what do Obama’s media spinners do? They trot out Rev. Jeremiah Wright, making days worth of news out of an ad campaign rejected by a third-party group. And they characterize the president’s failings as technical in nature. Time magazine is the perfect example, declaring: “Perhaps the most telegenic political leader of his generation has not been able to recruit a bench of top-flight, telegenic spinmeisters — called ‘surrogates’ in the business — to fight his battles on cable and network television.” Thunk.
Aside from the flattery (“most telegenic political leader of his generation”?!), it’s farcical, of course, to blame people like Mayor Cory Booker for being a poor surrogate. The message he and others are expected to carry — private equity is baaaad — is absurd. It’s a tribute to Booker that he can’t deliver such an inane message. The problem is not, as Time laughably asserts, that Obama “never prized the pure bloodsport of cable television.” (Really?!) It is that the indictment makes no sense to anyone who knows much of anything about the equity markets (e.g. Harold Ford Jr., Steve Rattner, Obama’s own donors, Brooks).
This raises a broader problem for Obama: The rest of his message isn’t any more coherent than the Bain attack. Can smart Democrats with a future really say with a straight face that the president “didn’t know how bad” the economy was in 2009 or that it is President George W. Bush’s fault (still)? I mean most top tier Democrats have some standards.
In sum, the problem is not surrogates. The problem is a candidate who can’t run on any accomplishments. This makes for a message-less, overly negative campaign built on a series of untruths — Romney is cutting taxes for the rich (actually he’s lowering the rates for all taxpayers and phasing out deductions for the rich); the government can run sectors of the economy better than free markets by micromanagement (e.g. health care, “green energy”); the stimulus “worked;” and the U.S. is more respected in the world (not by friends or foes as the behavior of China, Russia and Iran shows). A shameless pol, one who is so cynical he doesn’t care if what he says is true, or an isolated one, whose advisers spin him and who reads fawning outlets like Time, can pull off these arguments. But for the average Democrat it’s not so easy.
The White House and its allies like to characterize all problems as “communication”miscues (that, we were told, was why Obamacare never became popular). But in fact Obama’s failings are substantive. And given the policy failings, it is no wonder the communication falters. It turns out it is a lot harder than many of us imagined to run for reelection with a record you can’t defend.