Thursday, October 4, 2012

Run Against The Congress, For God's Sake

Let us score last night's debate the way our profession mainly does, not analyze whether what candidates say is true, but whether their "narratives" (or lies) are working.

Obama's problem last night was not that he looked down, or tired, or distracted, or even failed to push the hapless Jim Lehrer around as well as Romney. His problem was that Romney managed to come off as the insurgent, the person representing the aggrieved, moved by indignation.

Obama, that is, had a decent-enough "vision" but failed to articulate a problem for which he is the presumed solution. Romney did that, which is just what brought about the "shellacking" of 2010. "Things are bad, you are the president, so it's your fault." Somehow Romney came off as the corrector of falsehoods, friend of the unemployed, champion of bipartisanship.

This has been a problem for Obama, and not just as a campaigner, from the start: an unwillingness to channel anger, or blame another--not when there are two sides to be seen. Whether the issue was Wall Street compensation or Republican sabotage or Bibi's settlements, the president seemed to believe that someone had to be the adult. Zadie Smith worried about this four years ago and I confess I did not take her apprehension seriously enough.

And it is the more frustrating because it is so obvious whom and how to blame. Bill Clinton gave Obama the opening at the convention. "We left you with a mess, you didn't clean it up fast enough, so put us back in charge." All Obama had to add to this was, "Oh, and we did everything we could to obstruct you, in the hope that things would take even longer to improve and voters would be so gullible as to blame you."

What Obama had to do, in other words, was run against the Republicans in Congress: remind people of the filibuster until 2010, of Mitch McConnell's dream, and why we didn't get a supplementary jobs bill, or cap-and-trade, or immigration reform, or Wall Street regulations with teeth; remind them of the Republican willingness, after 2010, to see the economy freeze up over the debt ceiling rather than tax the rich, or build roads and bridges, if this meant Obama might get credit.

Of course Obama should have thrown back at Romney his lies about the $716 billion, etc. But that's a detail. Nobody trusts CBO numbers any more than Bain Capital trusts the numbers in a business plan.  What we look for in leaders are people who can explain why things are as they are, and what voters have to do to fix things. Obama should have been saying since January 2009: "Congressional Republicans are half the government, and I can't govern unless you run them out of town."

Obama should have been making himself the insurgent, you see, which he always was, and didn't seem to notice. Certainly, his campaign should have been making Eric Cantor the face of power. Then, Romney would come off just the sly, self-invented, manifestly hypocritical agent of the status quo; and of a Congress run by the 1% that disdains the 47%. It is a story the vast majority of citizens, appalled by what's been happening over the past two years, and hating the Congress, can buy, even with Obama in the White House. (Reagan ran against "tax-and-spend" Democrats as hard in 1984 as 1980.)

Then the election would be a referendum on the House majority, the Tea-Party, not a referendum on how much patience a president deserves, or whether Obamacare hindered growth, which it could not, since it hasn't even been enacted yet. Obama could be appealing for a Congress to work with, "so that we can start getting things done again," like the auto bail-out, or health insurance reform after 100 years of Republican resistance; not about who is better about working "across the aisle," what Romney called (and here was his knock-out punch at the end of the debate) "leadership."

Anyway, Obama has somehow allowed himself to be held responsible, colluding in the idea that he is the president, and thus the economy is his--you know, the dumb thing the pollsters say and handsome journalists repeat.

Obama thought, in other words, that he could get reelected simply by discrediting Romney as a plutocrat--a depiction Romney seemed all too willing to cooperate with for a while. The thing is, a rich, white man with big energy can seem naturally presidential in America. Remember FDR and JFK? All Romney would have to do to is dispel the idea that he doesn't care about ordinary people or can't be bothered to do his homework. That's what he did last night.


Potter said...

"Congressional Republicans are half the government, and I can't govern unless you run them out of town."
This is the way to go—too. I don’t hear it.

Out that night was a reminder of the Obama that has exasperated and disappointed so many enthusuastic supporters from 2008. He just won’t fight. He won’t fight for what he says he believes in. He is looking for the easy compromise. And chances are that he will continue to do that should he have another term in office- which I hope.

One analyst this morning painted Romney’s new costume as enabling the undecideds/independents that were leaning away to give Romney a second look. Okay let’s have a real good second look underneath this snake oil salesman.

Potter said...

"Four years ago I said I'm not a perfect man and I'm not a perfect president, and that's probably a promise Governor Romney thinks I've kept. But I also promised I'd fight every single day for the American people ... I've kept that promise. And, if you vote for me, then I promise I'll fight just as hard the second term."

How could a viewer such as myself not help thinking "oy vey!"

Obama's repetition of the phrase "Governor Romney and I both agree." The incumbent, in this setting, should never, ever accede to an agreement with the challenger. Especially when Politifact would rate "I agree with Mitt Romney" as "Mostly false." The simple fact of the matter is that Obama and Romney are not in agreement on tax reform or energy production, and the point of a debate is to shine a light on these differences. Obama may be a creature of conciliation, but there's no grand bargain to be wrought between he and Romney on policies -- this is an election.

and so on...very harsh on Obama, but necessary. I hope he wakes up.

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