Every president plays a symbolic, almost mythological role that’s hard to talk about, much less quantify—it’s like trying to grab a ball of mercury. I’m not referring to using the bully pulpit to shape the national agenda but to the way that the president, as America’s most inescapably powerful figure, colors the emotional climate of the country. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did this affirmatively, expressing ideals that shaped the whole culture. Setting a buoyant tone, they didn’t just change movies, music, and television; they changed attitudes. Other presidents did the same, only unpleasantly. Richard Nixon created a mood of angry paranoia, Jimmy Carter one of dreary defeatism, and George W.
Imagine that you called a carpenter to come repair your deck, and after looking at the rotted timbers and split rails, he said, "Well, I can fix this deck. But the one thing I'm not going to do is come over here and engage in a bunch of carpentry. That would be wrong."
You'd probably suspect that the carpenter was insane. Yet politicians and their campaign advisers–people for whom politics is a profession no less than carpentry is the carpenter's profession–are constantly complaining that their opponents are engaged in "politics," or are committing the horrible sin of "politicizing" something that shouldn't be political.
So it was when Barack Obama's re-election campaign took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to remind voters who was president when it happened...
As Washington debates the (not particularly vital) question of whether it’s fair that President Obama claims credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s worth asking a single question—if the shoe were on the other foot, and President John McCain had issued the order to kill bin Laden, would Republicans hold to their current position, and insist that it wasn’t fair game for an election? Would Democrats continue tout its place on the president’s resume?
Yesterday, I wrote a post looking at an ad aired by GOP uber-super-PAC American Crossroads that went after Barack Obama for being a "celebrity" and doing things like going on Jimmy Fallon's television show. I argued that it looked like once again we are in for a renewal of the old battles that started in the 1960s between the squares and the cool kids (or, depending on the historical moment, the jocks and the hippies). In the course of my post, I talked about Barack Obama's image of "cool," which he certainly works to cultivate. I'm hardly the first person to note this about Obama, and I didn't actually say anything about whether coolness makes one a good president. Nevertheless, Matt Welch at Reason seemed positively outraged, enough to illustrate his post responding to mine with a giant picture of me (great!) and accuse me of arguing something I didn't actually argue (not so great). Here's what he had to say...
A 2009 Tea Party rally in Madison protesting then-Governor Jim Doyle. (Flickr/cometstarmoon)
Based on emails from the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, the Tea Party-affiliated political action committee seems more like the Campaign to Support Scott Walker. Daily—sometimes multiple times a day—the organization sounds out emails blasting the move to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
The emails don't mince words. An April 15 email (subject line: Fox News + Wall Street Journal ALERT) tells subscribers that "If Obama's operatives and the union bosses win, they will export their tactic of million-dollar funded RECALLs against Republican governors across the country, and they will likely win Wisconsin's 10 Electoral Votes for Obama in November."
A lot could change between now and Election Day, but barring major changes over the next six months, it looks like it will be a close election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Real Clear Politics' average puts Obama ahead by a little less than three points, and most polls over the past month have given the president a slight lead. However, as the Prospect's Paul Waldman pointed out yesterday, even a close election plays into Obama's favor. An AP count of electoral votes put 242 in Obama's column as either solid or leaning Democrat, with 105 "up for grabs"—all states that Obama carried in 2008.
Four years ago, Barack Obama won the electoral college over John McCain by a comfortable margin of 365-173. He picked up not only every swing state except Missouri, but also a few states that hadn't gone Democratic in some time, like North Carolina and Indiana. There are a number of reasons for Democrats to feel optimistic this year, but one that hasn't yet gotten much attention is this: the electoral map looks awfully unfriendly to Mitt Romney. Barack Obama could lose not only Indiana and North Carolina, but also some big prizes like Ohio and Florida, and still win re-election.
With Rick Santorum finally out of the picture, the Romney campaign is reportedly starting its VP hunt, but there's no announcement on the immediate horizon. Recent hire Ed Gillespie will lead the search, according to Buzzfeed, and it will likely be a long process to make sure the party doesn't repeat its 2008 mistake in selecting someone ill-prepared for the national spotlight.
If there was a question President Obama tried to answer with his speech this afternoon to the Associated Press, it was this—“what happened to the Republican Party?” And to that end, he marshaled evidence from a century of political history to show that today’s Grand Old Party is dangerously unmoored from the American consensus, with a budget proposal that amounts to “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”
As the Republican party has moved farther and farther to the right in recent years, I've often felt that practical discussions of the effects of policy have gotten less and less important. The true believers who now dominate the GOP—and the politicians who feel the need to pretend they're true believers—are much more comfortable talking about the role of government than they are talking about how you solve actual problems, so they make practical arguments almost half-heartedly. Listen to a Republican talk about how they'd solve the problem of over 50 million Americans without health insurance, for instance, and you'll hear something like, "Well, we need free market solutions that don't infringe on freedom, because Obamacare represents the most profound expansion of government since Joe Stalin, and big government kills freedom…" Ask them why the free market will work better than government when in this case the opposite has proven true again and again, and they'll quickly move back to the level of philosophy, because as on so many issues, it's much more about values than about the actual effects of policies. I'm sure Republicans aren't actively pleased about the fact that so many of our people have no coverage, but they don't care deeply enough about that practical problem to accept a solution that in any way violates their philosophical principles (or helps their political opponents, of course).
Liberals talk in philosophical terms far less often, in part because our philosophy tends to be less inclined toward rhetorically easy black-and-white constructions. That's why I was pleased to see this, from the Obama campaign:
Writing in Politico, Glenn Thrush finds Republicans terrified of the possibility that their likely nominee—Mitt Romney—has completely alienated Latinos with his harsh, anti-immigration rhetoric, and left Obama with the space to rack up a huge margin of support among the Latino community. Here’s Thrush:
Hispanics, a powerful bloc whose vote could decide the outcome in pivotal states such as Nevada, Florida, Colorado and Arizona, seem to have responded by abandoning Romney, with only 14 percent of Hispanic voters favoring him over Obama in a recent Fox Latino poll — one-third of the Hispanic support George W. Bush enjoyed in 2004.
The GOP candidates gathered in Iowa for an August debate (Flickr/IowaPolitics.com)
After the flurry of debates during the invisible primary, the cable airwaves have recently been bereft of candidates bickering with each other face to face. A final debate had been scheduled to take place this coming Monday, March 19, in Portland, Oregon—a state that doesn't hold it's primary until the middle of May. The local party and media were moving ahead with preparations, announcing moderators last week, but it looks like that debate won't come to fruition.
“A divide that existed between the political fortunes of black and white Americans has just been erased, and I guess it’s been erased for all time.” That was the assessment of Julian Bond, the legendary civil-rights leader and former NAACP chair, after Barack Obama won the presidency. It was echoed by prominent African American figures of all generations, who were hopeful that Obama’s victory would usher in a new age of successful black politicians. “In the twenty-first century,” wrote journalist Gwen Ifill in The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, “the breakthrough generation of black politicians is aiming to capture much bigger territory. Obama’s relentless and disciplined giant-slaying campaign is by no means the only story.”
Ruth Marcus is bored by the 2012 presidential election and wants us to turn our attention to 2016 which, she argues, will be a lot more interesting:
Enough about the 2012 election already. Let’s talk 2016, which promises to be far more interesting — and consequential.
The precise contours of that election, of course, will be shaped by what happens this November. Yet either way, the 2016 campaign will be, much more than 2012, a battle for the ideological soul of one or both parties.
At TheWashington Post, Chris Cillizza suggests that, like the Republican Party, President Obama might have a turnout problem in the fall:
A review of the states that have also held Democratic contests this year shows turnout is down sharply from the last time a Democratic president was running largely unopposed for renomination — 1996.
Democratic turnout is down significantly in five of eight states that held similar contests in 1996 and 2012 (and where data are available), and six of eight overall, compared to Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign.