We may look back on today as the apogee of President Obama's reelelction campaign; it's hard to see how he gets much higher, given all the ice on his wings. In another sign of Obama's renewed political strength, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even had nice things to say about him at the United Nations. Netanyahu is no fool; as much as he might want Mitt Romney and his neo-cons planning another war against Iran, he knows it's looking bad right now. Time to hedge the bet. Another indicator of where the race is now is the emerging apology among some Republicans that Romney would be a great president, even though he is a lousy candidate. This theory holds that Romney is a great manager but doesn't do the politics well.
John Dickerson has a good article on what it takes to be an effective president, which, of course, has very little to do with what makes for an effective candidate. Dickerson's thesis, which I quote below, offers some comfort and caution to both candidates:
If we want to measure a candidate’s potential in office, perhaps the more important thing to measure is their ability to read the public. It’s only with an understanding of what the public wants that they can shape public views. Candidates speak as if they can intuit the deepest wishes of the public, but where does this understanding come from? They attend rallies made up only of their supporters and they never admit to reading public-opinion polls. Democrats say they don’t watch Fox news and Republicans don’t wake up to the New York Times.
If voters aren’t with a president on a specific issue, all is not lost. Their general disposition toward their leader — whether they think he has their interests at heart — still offers something. If they do trust that he has their back, people might be more predisposed to hear him when, as president, he tries to argue that he has plans or ideas that may first strike them as unappealing. This is an area where Mitt Romney has lots of work to do. When pollsters ask voters which candidate they think cares more about average people, Obama beats Romney regularly by 20 percentage points or more.
As Dickerson points out, Obama has a lot to learn, too, about being a good president. He, like many presidents, mistook a victory for a mandate and was overconfident in his ability to persuade. But Obama's problem seems perhaps more subject to the amelioration of experience. Perhaps, his time in office has taught him to read the shoals of public opinion with more accuracy. Romney's problem seems more structural; he has a hard time hearing a wide swath of public opinion because he does include them in political calculus.