While it is both reasonable and attractive to blame many of Obama’s political problems on the lies, mental dysfunction and general sliminess of the Republicans, that doesn’t explain why so few percentage points have separated him from Romney in poll after poll. After all, the strength of one’s opponent is a given; what you do about it is what matters.
We are now seeing some of the liabilities of creating a largely fictional character of almost comic book proportions known in 2008 as the candidate of “hope and change.” Obama was an establishment vetted choice to be the first black presidential candidate with a chance of winning. He had no significant achievements but in the political psychology of our era branding beats being - and Obama seemed just right. Besides, he was a young, handsome guy running against a genial but not particularly energetic Republican who had recently crossed the biblical limits of three score and ten.
Four years later, however, reality has raised its ugly head. Obama now has a record he can’t explain all that well and has said a lot of things that don’t mean a lot to a lot of people. And the silly little jog up the steps to the speakers’ podium to deliver some innocuous clichés is no longer sufficient.
Besides, now his brand is being directly challenged by another good looking purveyor of simplistic symbolism, a man also allegedly of God and family, who even has the gall to promise hope and change. And, besides, he’s white.
Obama’s troubles are basically that it is just as easy to die by the brand as it is to live by the brand. Especially if lots of people have already bought you and now know how you really work.
It’s probably too late to do much about it, but here for the record are some of Obama’s own political problems this time around:
- He lectures too much. He doesn’t know how to talk United States and his speeches have a didactic, condescending tone that tends to reduce the listener from citizen to student.
- He hasn’t achieved enough real stuff. Elites of Obama’s vintage and education think that people are moved by knowing that housing starts have improved 0.6%. They aren’t. They want to see and feel the progress.
- He doesn’t have a plan. At least one that ordinary voters can understand and appreciate.
- He doesn’t have many friends. Not only does he not seem to have buddies from high school and college, he doesn’t have many political ones, either. This is one reason why it’s been so easy for some to fill the gap with Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright.
- He hasn’t made new friends since being in office. He’s been notably weak at schmoozing up potential allies or schmoozing down potential opponents.
- Barack, we hardly knew ye. Obama was plunked into prominence by the powers that be. He didn’t work his way up with tellable tales. Even Bill Clinton had been governor of a real state before the Democratic Leadership Council foisted him upon us. This is the flaw in premature branding. There are too few good real stories to tell. Which is one reason why it’s been so easy for some to make hay with the birthplace issue.
- Post racial politics takes more than a black being elected president. One of the first things Obama should have done was to reach out to groups traditionally seen as laggards in a multi-ethnic society. And one of the best ways to bring black and white together is to make green more important – with programs and bucks for small business, public works, aid to farmers and so forth.
Both Obama’s policies and lack of personal empathy have worked against him. There’s not much that can be done about the latter at this late date. But a half dozen easily understandable policies that help those with some of the most doubts about Obama could make a big difference in this campaign.
Won't some of Obama’s biggest contributors dislike such an approach? Absolutely. But to win in this political market Obama has to start shorting some of the very investments that got him where he is. It’s time to disdain Bain – which has actually given more to Democrats - and go with the people for a change.