NEW YORK--Usually I don't care about political horseraces. Yet I am fascinated by Obama's reelection bid. Never mind what's good for the country. I'm dying to hear him make his case for another four years.
I don't pretend to be able to predict the future. But I have a rich imagination--and I still can't begin to guess how the president can convince a majority of voters to choose him over the Republican nominee whether he be Mitt Romney or she be Michele Bachmann.
Obama is good with words. But what can he possibly say for himself after this first fiddling-while-Rome-burns term?
The president only has one major accomplishment to his credit: healthcare reform. However--assuming Republicans don't repeal it--it doesn't go into effect until 2014. Which, from Obama's standpoint, actually helps him. After people find out how it transforms the First World's worst healthcare system into something even crappier and more expensive, they'll be burning him in effigy.
"Socialized" (if only!) healthcare has driven away the Reagan Democrat swing voters who formed half of Obama's margin of victory in 2008. Unless the GOP nominates some total loon (hi Michele) or past-due retread (what up Newt) these ideological reeds in the wind will blow Republican.
The other major component of the Obama coalition, young and reenergized older liberals, see ObamaCare as a right-wing sellout to corporations. Nothing less than single-payer would have satisfied them. On other issues it seems that Obama has missed few opportunities to alienate the Democrats' liberal base.
"The combination of Afghanistan and Libya could bring a bitter end to the romance between Democratic liberals and Obama," Steve Chapman writes in Reasonmagazine. "Many of them were already disappointed with him for extending the Bush tax cuts, bailing out Wall Street, omitting a public option from the healthcare overhaul, offering to freeze domestic discretionary spending, and generally declining to go after Republicans hammer and tong."
Chapman predicts a strong primary challenge to Obama's left flank--someone like Russ Feingold.
Lefties are also angry about Obama's other lies and betrayals: keeping Gitmo open, signing off on assassinations and even the torture of U.S. soldiers (PFC Bradley Manning), redefining U.S. troops in Iraq as "support personnel." Just this week he reneged on his promise to get rid of Bush's kangaroo courts and put 9/11 suspects on trial.
Everyone--left, middle and right--is furious about his Herbert Hoover-like lack of concern over the economy. While the multimillionaire president blithely talks about a recovery as he heads off to golf with his wealthy friends, unemployment is rising and becoming structural. Obama will surely pay for the disconnect between reality (no jobs, shrinking paychecks, hidden inflation) and the rosy rhetoric coming out of the White House and U.S. state media.
What, exactly, will be Obama's 2012 sales pitch? I seriously want to know. Think about it: how many other presidents have been so disappointing that they had to distribute lists of their accomplishments so their supporters would have talking points?
Among the highlights of one of these enumerations going around the Internet are:
"1. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending.
"5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB.
"14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research."
I'm in favor of these things. (Although I'm not sure why, with real unemployment over 20 percent and the NSA rifling through my email, I should care about numbers 76--"appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court"--or 86--"held first Seder in the White House." Really?)
Will micro-mini-accomplishment lites be enough to pry liberal asses off the sofa on Election Day? I think not. On the Big Issues That Really Matter--war, the economy, civil liberties--Obama is a right-wing Republican. He's only a Democrat on the little stuff. Liberals won't turn out big for Obama in 2012.
That goes double for the youth vote, a big bloc for O in 2008. From student loan debt to unemployment (which hits Americans under 30 even harder than other age groups), Obama hasn't delivered. They'll sit on their hands.
"We've always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily," began Obama's official campaign announcement.
Remember those Soviet-style "Hope" and "Change" posters from '08, presenting the skinny Columbia grad as a postmodern Messiah for a nation ravaged by eight years of Bush? Just guessing, but somehow I doubt Obama's propaganda would have gone over as easily with the caption "Change That Won't Come Quickly or Easily."
"It begins with us," will apparently be one of the slogans for Obama-Biden 2012.
That's the problem Obama faces next year. In 2008 he told us it was going to begin with him.