Jay Cost has a very good piece on why “Obama just isn’t very good at politics.”
I think he hits the nail right on the head, not least because it jibes with what I already think! One hears all over this town that Obama will win reelection no matter whom the GOP nominates. This is simply absurd.
To be sure, any sitting president is going to be a formidable candidate. And Obama has more going for him than a typical incumbent. He’s black, the first black president in fact. That understandably, and rightly, means a lot to people, particularly black Democratic voters (almost a redundancy statistically speaking). Also the Democrats have a great deal invested in Obama and a great deal more at risk should Republicans take back the White House. Public-sector unions are on the ropes and know where their interests lie. Healthcare reform was an ancient liberal dream and the Left understands that the 2012 election will be a referendum not just on ObamaCare but perhaps on the entire Great Society leviathan.
All of this means that Obama can count on his base to rally for his reelection.
But that doesn’t mean he’s a shoo-in. Jay Cost lays out a great many reasons to doubt Obama’s political skills. They amount to the fact that he’s politically tone deaf and he’s been propped up by forces largely outside of his control. I think that’s all correct.
But I think it can be summarized more simply: The man can’t sell. Yes he can peddle abstractions. But he can’t sell policies. As both a state senator and U.S. senator his skill has always been in charming people about how he “thinks about an issue” not about what he will actually do.
Has there been a time in his presidency when Obama sold a major policy to people who didn’t already agree with the policy? Has he moved opinion among constituents who didn’t already hold that opinion? He didn’t on healthcare. He hasn’t on clean energy. Or high-speed rail. Or closing Gitmo. Or Libya.
This is sometimes hard to see through the “mainstream” media coverage because the president still benefits from a fawning press corps that marvels at the president’s “oratory skills,” even though those skills don’t involve political persuasion so much as elucidating the views of establishment liberalism in a professorial way.
And this is Obama’s true Achilles heel going into the general election. He’s never run on a record. He’s never really had to defend things he’s done.
Sure, if the economy is going gangbusters in 2012, it is possible that he won’t have much trouble selling his record. But the simple fact is that he remains persuasive only to those who are pre-persuaded that he’s already right. And the number of people in that cohort has a rapidly decaying half-life.