SALT LAKE CITY, October 28, 2012—Among the many myths that surround Barack Obama, two have proven to be particularly foolish. The first is that he is a good politician—someone who can sway voters and build winning coalitions. The second is that he is essentially a non-ideological pragmatist interested in solving problems.
On both counts, the mythical Obama has been peddled by a delusional leftist media, and may well be his undoing.
If there was any evidence that he was either, he would be looking at an easy re-election campaign. In fact, sitting presidents have held enormous advantages over their challengers, and usually have gone on to increase their base of support absent extraordinary circumstances.
The president could have improved upon his electoral fortunes and put himself in the pantheon of two-term presidents fairly easily.
Since back to FDR’s unseating of Herbert Hoover in 1932, challengers have only won three times against the incumbent (Carter in 1976, Reagan in 1980, and Clinton in 1992). Each case represents a very atypical election: the incumbent never having won the presidency via election, a very depressed economy and a foreign crisis, and a strong third-party nominee in the general election, respectively.
While none of those extraordinary circumstances accompanies the 2012 election, President Obama might very well lose because his support has slipped…far. He is a sinking ship taking on water, and hopes that his support doesn’t dip below 48% before election day.
He has squandered his presidency, thinking the goodwill he enjoyed from the American electorate was guaranteed in perpetuity. He failed to nurture the acclamation of the voters.
But it would have been very easy to do so.
If he had done only one of the following three things, he would probably be talking about his second term appointments instead of wondering what he might do post-presidency.
1. First, if he had moderated on Obamacare, he would have left the Republicans no solid political ground on which to stand.
The president had at least three opportunities to soften his tone on the very (and still) controversial health care law. First was during the summer of 2009 when town hall meetings across the country erupted into concern over such a massive change in public policy. Second was when Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts. The third was after that election, when the president hosted congressional Republicans for a health care summit.
If at any point he had held a press conference and said, in effect, “It is clear that Americans are uneasy about such fundamental change so quickly. In the spirit of bi-partisanship and prudence, we will move forward with a plan that congressional Republicans can feel good about.”
He wouldn’t have sacrificed much in the way of ideology. (He is famous for claiming, after all, that the Affordable Care Act was a Republican idea). Most federal bills get modified a great deal before they take effect anyway. He would have neutered the GOP on the issues and staved off the 2010 midterm landslide. Finally, he’d be able to campaign now as a compromise and listener.
Instead, he is rightly viewed as intransigent on an issue on which most voters oppose him, and is remembered as the president who signed into law a jam-down forced through only with handfuls of legislative gimmicks and bribes.
2. Second, he could have given more on the debt ceiling negotiations to the GOP in the summer of 2011. Federal spending goes up no matter what. Even if Republicans got way more than the president was comfortable with in terms of promises to cut, the president could have taken credit for compromising, then gone on later to do what he pleased.
If a deal gets struck in Washington, the executive in chief gets the kudos. Maybe John Boehner gets some too, but what should the president care? Instead, Obama manufactured a fight where he had little to gain, and lots to lose. Congress may have come out for the worse, but there are Democrats in Congress, too, and the president missed another important chance to appear bipartisan.
3. Finally, even in the final days of his first term, he could have sealed up victory with complete transparency on the Libyan consulate affair.
The preponderance of evidence now shows that the administration officials knew it was a likely terror attack almost immediately. Whether the president wanted Americans to think it was the result of a spontaneous demonstration to avoid looking ill-prepared, or whether the truth was merely an inconvenience to his campaign is unclear. But Obama could have diffused the entire thing very quickly with an Oval Office address to the country.
“Al Qaeda chose the anniversary of 9-11 to test our resolve in the Global War on Terror. They took advantage of our goodwill and non-aggressive posture in the newly-freed country of Libya to stage an attack on sovereign U.S. soil. While we can’t always predict terror attacks, we can always respond with clarity.”
He could have formed a bipartisan task force to investigate what happened and ordered special forces to Libya immediately to follow up on leads. It would have put the Romney campaign in an impossible position.
Instead of projecting strength and clarity, Obama dodged and misled. It cost him dearly.
At every opportunity, Barack Obama has proven a poor politician and an even worse governor.
Which is the definition of ideological. The president had multiple chances to fulfill his promises of 2008 without giving up core liberal values, but he opted for intransigence.
In American politics, unfortunately for Obama, the intransigence of the People usually trumps.
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. In addition to writing the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities, he is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative.
He writes about Salt Lake City and the World in the Food and Travel section.
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