[Today I’ve taken the unusual step of upstaging a post on the same day it first published. After reading what follows, people should understand why. My earlier post analyzing the hatchet job on the President that PBS aired last night is here.
After nearly four years of Obama’s presidency, the three-word question “can he fight?” is still unanswered. The answer will determine whether he remains in office.
fight for our country, as everyone knows. His actions against terrorists have been strong and effective
and have boosted his public image.
As PBS’ recent hatchet job
put it—turning all his virtues against him—he’s the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a kill list. He is, after all, the leader who got bin Laden when his two predecessors couldn’t.
So the unanswered question is not whether Obama will fight for country. There’s no doubt about that. It’s whether he will fight for himself.
The people who care about policy and ideas have long ago decided. My wife and I could have voted a year ago and it wouldn’t have made any difference. The same is true of the few ardent Mitt supporters and the many conservative ideologues who are lukewarm on Mitt. Many thinkers and believers on both sides have already voted.
What’s left is the red-meat people. They’re the ones for whom facts and ideas mean nothing. They’re the reason why Mitt and the GOP can play so fast and loose with the truth, then change their stances from week to week, even hour to hour, and still have a good chance of winning.
So the thinkers among us had better close our eyes and cover our ears for the rest of the campaign. It’s going to be all emotion, not reason, from here on in.
In theory, the president can win such a contest. His emotional intelligence is off the scale
, much higher than Mitt’s. At least he doesn’t make such emotionally stupid gaffes
. But there is one emotion that Obama has never expressed, at least in public: anger.
Unfortunately for a man whose entire persona is reason, compromise, and conciliation, these truths doesn’t bode well for his re-election.
Remaining undecided voters have well-justified doubts whether Mitt is on their side. But Mitt now has proved
himself a fighter. So they’re going to ask themselves another simple question: “if Obama won’t stick up for himself, will he stick up for us? Or had we better stay home or vote for Mitt and hope for trickle-down?”
Obama’s been tarred as partisan by people who declared making him fail their chief goal just days after his inauguration. He’s got to call them out.
He’s been called a racist by people whose party—for decades—has followed Nixon’s Southern Strategy. They’ve backed him into a corner where he can’t even hint
at race without them playing the “race card” first. He’s got to call them out.
He’s just endured a long campaign season in which Mitt has called him out every day—incorrectly and illogically—as a failure, a wimp and a bad leader. The constant drumbeat of hostility and criticism has been numbing, so much so that people are forgetting that Mitt has no concrete plans of his own.
So Obama has got to call Mitt out as a liar, a charlatan, a jerk and a shape-shifter without a soul. He can do it as politely as Mitt vilifies him, but he’s got to have some fire in his voice.
So far, the President has done none of these things. So people are starting to wonder whether he’s human.
Apparently only Star-Trek groupies like me love Spock
. And the Spock-lovers have already made up their minds. The red-meat people don’t even know who Spock is.
From the very beginning of Obama’s presidency, the GOP strategy has had three gut-level elements: (1) to make him fail, (2) to blame him for its own failures, and (3) to tar him as not “one of us.
” It has had partial success in all three. Whether its success continues will decide this election.
Making Obama fail has been the least successful strategy. He has been a clever and resourceful leader, accomplishing much good by using all his considerable intelligence, the loyalty and hope he inspires, and the power of his office. But the people who care about accomplishments, let alone can list them accurately, are not the ones he has to reach now.
Astoundingly, the GOP has had much greater success in blaming Obama for its own failures. So he has to remind them who Dubya was, how Dubya’s catastrophic stupidity cause two needless wars and devastated the global economy, and how Mitt wants to tread the very same path. Then he has to remind them, again and again, what a catastrophe he inherited and how the GOP, after the first depression-avoiding stimulus, stubbornly refused to help.
But the last strategy—“he’s not one of us
”—is probably the most important from here on. The remaining undecided voters are the ones for whom tribalism matters most.
Obama won’t ever reach overt racists and shouldn’t even try. He’s going to lose many unconscious racists simply because three years of unrelenting bashing have buried their unconscious racism so deeply that they sincerely think it’s all about policy. But there’s a whole group of people who have little racism, conscious or unconscious, who just don’t understand Obama.
When someone hits them, they hit back. They may not be the toughest or most courageous people on the block. But they can’t imagine themselves taking the constant abuse the President has taken for nearly four years and not fighting back.
So they look at him and think, “he’s not one of us.” The reason is not his coffee color. It’s not his superb education and intelligence, which go deeper and higher than they could ever imagine. It’s that fact that he has let himself be a punching bag for so long that he doesn’t quite seem human.
In the first debate, the shape-shifting Great Salesman
looked the President straight in they eye and called him out. He questioned his leadership, policies and skill, again and again. The President seldom looked at Mitt, only in fleeting glances.
If Obama can bring himself to look Mitt in the eye and call him
out, with steel in his own voice and his bearing, he will win this election. For now it’s all about the music, not the words. If Obama can’t, he will soon no longer be President.
That’s a lot to ask of a man who’s built his entire political career and persona on cooperation, conciliation and reason. It’s a lot to ask of a biracial man who won the White House in a still-racist nation by not seeming the “angry black” of GOP lies and caricature.
But he’s got to do it. If he doesn’t, he will lose the chance to cooperate, conciliate and reason further. He will lose the chance to bring Iran to heel peacefully with a strategy of sanctions, which now appear to be working. And under an egotist whose lofty faith in himself has little justification—let alone a party of extremists
—our country will go straight to hell.
So if Obama won’t do it for himself, he should do it for the people and the country he so genuinely loves. Otherwise, he won’t win.
When I learned that the President’s “sparring partner” for the debates had been John Kerry, I nearly fell out of my chair. The only worse sparring partner I could imagine would be Dick Lugar, the President’s mentor in the Senate, whose mildness and lack of fight lost us one of the best senators we had.
If the Dems are serious about winning this election, they should get someone like Al Sharpton to spar with the President. Sharpton can be both tough and mean, and his resentment toward Obama for being too “white” might fuel some genuine fireworks.
Jesse Jackson would be another good choice. He’s a fellow Chicagoan and a big man like Mitt, and he once spoke about castrating Obama. Now there’s
a man with the fire to get the adrenalin up, which Obama will need to win the debates.
It will be hard to find someone who can mimic the rare combination of emotional distaste and policy disdain for the President that fuels the GOP’s desire to get
rid of him at all costs. But one thing is abundantly clear: John Kerry is not the right man. He’s a good public servant but not that good an actor. And the last thing the President needs is an exemplar whose own lack of fight cost him the White House.