It is not often that a campaign is so candid about its determination to slice-and-dice the electorate, appeal to narrow sectarian interests and provide no overarching vision to draw the country together. But the Obama campaign is extraordinary — in its cynicism and arrogance.
This month The Post reported that the Obama campaign is all about “specific appeals aimed at women, African Americans, students, military families and countless others. The result is a campaign that might be the most micro-targeted in history, attempting to use the power of the Web and social media to reach ever-thinner slices of the electorate.”
Not exactly uplifting is it? And it sure is a far cry from the vision of unity Obama first offered in 2004. (“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America. The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States.”)
Contrary to his call to the country in Iowa in 2008, it apparently is not the time to tear “down barriers that have divided us for too long” and not the moment which we will look back on to see how he “rallied people of all parties and ages to a common cause.”
The Obama team seems to be convinced that what it lacks in a record, uplifting message and second-term agenda, it will make up in bolstering the base. “The segmenting underscores the importance that turnout is likely to play in the tightening race between Obama and Romney.”
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told Senate Democrats as much in a calm-the-troops meeting. It is is all about maximizing turnout, newfangled marketing techniques and New Media.
If it seems soulless and content-less, it is. It is also built on the notion, decried by the media when Karl Rove practiced it, that you can win by simply pumping up your base with a series of hot-button issues. In 2009 Ronald Brownstein wrote: “By focusing so narrowly on the priorities of his Republican base, Bush infuriated Democrats and steadily alienated independents and moderates. In both 2006 and 2008, independents broke sharply for the Democrats. The focus on ‘feeding the base’ frustrated other efforts to expand the GOP’s reach.”
We’ve come full circle and now it is Obama who is focusing so narrowly on the priorities of his Democratic base that he has infuriated Republicans and steadily alienated independents and moderates.
In October Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)predicted Obama would run just this kind of campaign. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation he said:
To my great disappointment, it appears that the politics of division are making a big comeback. Many Americans share my disappointment — especially those who were filled with great hope a few years ago, when then-Senator Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois.
Do you remember what he said? He said that what’s stopped us from meeting our nation’s greatest challenges is, quote, “the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.”
I couldn’t agree more.
And yet, nearly three years into his presidency, look at where we are now:
Petty and trivial? Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, ‘dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.’ Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care? Chronic avoidance of tough decisions? The President still has not put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt, and it’s been over 900 days since his party passed a budget in the Senate. A preference for scoring cheap political points instead of consensus-building? This is the same President who is currently campaigning against a do-nothing Congress, when in fact, the House of Representatives has passed over a dozen bills to help get the economy moving and deal with the debt, only to see the President’s party kill those bills in the do-nothing Senate.
Unfortunately, Ryan was dead right. So now it is left to Mitt Romney to craft an optimistic, forward-looking message that decries pitting women against men and rich against poor. (Ryan hinted at just such a theme: “Sowing social unrest and class resentment makes America weaker, not stronger. Pitting one group against another only distracts us from the true sources of inequity in this country – corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless.”)
If Romney looking for good speech material he might quote Ryan: “Americans, guided by our ideals, have sacrificed everything to combat tyranny and brutal dictators; we’ve expanded opportunity, opened markets, and inspired others to resist oppression; we’ve exported innovation and imagination; and we’ve welcomed immigrants seeking a fresh start. Here in America – unlike most places on earth – all citizens have the right to rise.”
Or, he might go back to Obama’s Springfield kick-off in 2007 and his 2004 DNC and 2008 Iowa speeches. It turns out Obama’s most egregious broken promise has not been his failure to go “line by line” through the budget or to cut the deficit in half or to make the U.S. more respected in the world; it is his reversion to a politics of negativity, cynicism and divisiveness. He has become what he abhorred: A small and petty politician.