Monday, September 19, 2011

The power of enemies: How Obama will surge ahead in 2012

Americans hate Congress but love their congressmen. They loathe big government and support budget cuts but can't part with any of the specific programs that contribute most to the national debt.

via Business Insider
Polls show a neck-and-neck race when respondents have the option of choosing a generic Republican to go up against President Obama in the 2012 general election, but when respondents are forced to pick between the incumbent and one of the eight candidates in the Republican primary race, polls give Obama a much wider margin of victory.

The president's American Jobs Act received a "lukewarm" reception when it was announced, with 45 percent of Americans supporting it, but the specifics of the bill polled much better
• 56 percent support payroll tax cuts;
• 52 percent support state aid to prevent public-sector layoffs;
• 80 percent support infrastructure investments; and
• 81 percent support small business tax cuts.

What all of these trends and statistics have in common is that they all show the power of faceless enemies.

My prediction is that when the primary ends and the Republican Party officially announces its presidential nominee, Obama's national popularity, his re-election odds, and his unimpressive 44 percent job approval rating will all rise.

Barack Obama's biggest problem isn't the economy or the Tea Party. It's not even that he's too nice, too accommodating, too pragmatic, or too open to compromise.

It's that he doesn't have an enemy. 
The economy is the biggest concern for Americans right now. But the economy has no face. It has no name, no agenda, no talking points to be critiqued by the media, no gaffes that go viral on the web, no shady campaign donors or fanatical religious beliefs to cast doubt on its leadership abilities. It can't hurt Obama's re-election odds that a majority of Americans still blame George W. Bush for the current state of the economy, but Obama doesn't have the option of campaigning against the economy or Bush. People want answers, not finger-pointing. 

The Tea Party may be the most obvious thorn in the administration's side, particularly because its strictly anti-government radicalism has been embraced by today's mainstream Republican Party and the 2012 GOP presidential candidates. But the Tea Party isn't a person either.

One can't make an enemy out of a leaderless group of astroturfers, especially when the main appeal of the "movement" is that it gives anti-government fanatics permission to bark racial slurs, construct misspelled anti-Obama protest signs, and show up to rallies dressed in goofy outfits – Uncle Sam suits, Native American headdresses, 18th-century Paul Revere garb (sans the "bells and whistles"), and, sometimes, for whatever reason, Captain America costumes.

When grandma makes a racially inappropriate comment, you don't chastise her and call her a bigot. You shrug it off, ignore her, and change the subject. Out of respect for grandma, that is exactly how Obama has dealt with the Tea Party. But to a fault. Neither Obama nor Democrats nor progressives have mounted a counterattack.

Tea Party members targeted Obama as Public Enemy No. 1 even before Rick Santelli coined the term "Tea Party." Filibuster-happy and Tea Party-fearing Republicans in Congress have since adopted the anti-constitutionalist language of the far right as a justification for thwarting the president's agenda. Not only have they tried to repeal every major initiative he's signed, but they've threatened to shut down the government and force America into default when their exact demands aren't met.

Disgruntled progressives who confused "Change We Can Believe In" for a neoliberal mandate have accused the president of being a sellout, a "progressive in name only," a traitor, and a closeted conservative.

The weight of America's political, economic, and social problems has understandably fallen on Obama's shoulders alone. He is the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, and therefore the common, everyday face of the enemy not only for the 58 million Americans who preferred a McCain-Palin White House but also for the moderate Americans who can't escape the daily beatings Obama takes at the hands of Tea Party-favored presidential candidates, Tea Party-indebted Congress members, and Tea Party-obsessed media.

He has been called a socialist, a communist, a fascist, a "dick," a racist, a foreign-born Manchurian candidate, and an anti-Christ. Artists have depicted him as the Joker, Hitler, Stalin, an ape, and a voodoo doll.

More recently, the Republican presidential candidates have met on stage for a series of nationally televised debates with one goal in mind: ousting Obama from the White House. While much media attention has been directed at the domestic policy differences between Perry and Romney and the foreign policy battles between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, the common thread throughout each debate has been the consistency with which the individual candidates refocus their attacks away from each other and toward the incumbent. Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann's repeated call to make Obama a "One! Term! President!" pretty well sums up the sentiments of the entire GOP field.

It is eight against one, and while the one has been stuck in unpopular battles with Congress over budget cuts and deficit negotiations, the eight have been traversing the country telling community after community, TV audience after TV audience, newspaper after newspaper, and radio host after radio host just how dismal this country has become because of President Obama.

That's all going to change.

Less than a year from now, Republicans voters across the country will have cast their ballots and decided the party's next presidential nominee, and he (or, possibly but very unlikely, she) will quickly bear the burden of representing all that the Teapublican Party stands for. He (or... Bachmann) will be tasked with the seemingly impossible goal of turning a fringe movement into a majority movement.

By then, Obama will be in permanent campaign mode, a terrifying prospect for any Republican challenger given the expectations that the incumbent – who was called a "campaign genius," a "behemoth," and a "grassroots machine" in 2008 – will raise at least $1 billion in the 2012 election cycle. He will not share the stage with eight candidates but with a single challenger who will have to explain his past legislative records and offer solutions to the current economic mess.

Obama will finally have an "Other," a challenger with a face, a record, and a vision for America that will have to resonate far beyond the Tea Party demographic.

The staunch idealists of the far left who believe Obama is a "progressive in name only" may be loathe to "abandon their principles" and choose the lesser of two evils, but soon they will be awakened to just how vast the gap is between their bipartisan, pragmatic incumbent and the partisan ideologue chosen as the GOP's presidential nominee.

One made universal health care law; the other (no matter which Republican wins) has vowed to repeal it. One fought for equal pay legislation for women, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the DREAM Act, the Zadroga 9/11 first responders health-care bill, and a generation's worth of other progressive initiatives; the other wants to cut taxes on millionaires and corporations, and supports privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare. One wants to invest in the nation's future – infrastructure, education, green technology, and innovation – and make America competitive on the international level; the other believes a broke and helpless government is the best government, and that federal assistance creates dependency rather than opportunity.

Woodrow Wilson once said, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." Obama is trying. The problem to date has been the vast number of enemies he's created by trying to do exactly what he was elected to do in 2008: change Washington. By September 2012, the American people will have a face, an agenda, and a vision for America to compare and contrast with Obama's, and the progressives who thought change wasn't coming fast enough will be given a clear choice: progress that is slow, or a return to the old status quo.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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