Saddled with an opposition that relentlessly avoids the appearance or actuality of substance, and which tries at every turn to push the country farther right than their thin mandate should support, even at the expense of the country’s fiscal integrity, this President has somehow continued to speak in substantive, positive, centrist terms.
After the hard-right tilt of the Bush years, and corresponding translation of all debates into culture war terms, that even-temperedness is at least a little of what I signed up for: a President for the country, not for an outspoken and increasingly violent political faction. Even where the price is, essentially, the loss of political effectiveness, it’s a little nice to occupy the high ground. So the following comes as a surprise:
Barack Obama’s aides and advisers are preparing to center the president’s reelection campaign on a ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’s character and business background, a strategy grounded in the early-stage expectation that the former Massachusetts governor is the likely GOP nominee. [. . .]
A senior Obama adviser was even more cutting, suggesting that the Republican’s personal awkwardness will turn off voters.
“There’s a weirdness factor with Romney and it remains to be seen how he wears with the public,” said the adviser, noting that the contrasts they’d drive between the president and the former Massachusetts governor would be “based on character to a great extent.”
And a serious disappointment. If the Republican succeed at bringing Obama down to their level — where personal attacks and clever catchphrases substitute for leadership — they will have finally, and actually won. Centrism and statesmanship will be dead and buried, by both sides. And we’ll have nothing to show for that great loss, while the Republicans will have engineered a country convinced that “liberty” means nothing more than tax cuts and “freedom” from the social safety net.
If nothing else, though, this strategy leak signals a tone change, an awareness that the President’s current messaging strategy isn’t working. That’s good. But instead of embracing the lowest common denominator, the Administration should consider what’s actually working, what isn’t, and most importantly, what they actually have to lose. For example, the most frustrating element of the past three years has been the GOP’s remarkable ability to pin positions on the White House more extreme than those it actually advocates. By playing the centrist game in response, we get the worst of all worlds, suffering undeserved blows from the right, deserved blows from the left, and bewildered indifference from the center.
Well, “if we’re going to be walking into walls, I want us running into them.”
It’s long-past time the President attempted even-tempered and intellectual solutions to the world’s problems, and delivered them in a strident, confident tone, backed by the courage of our convictions. This IS the “tea party downgrade,” and it threatens to be the tea party double-recession — not because of Boehner’s caucus and its reckless disregard for the consequences of fiscal zealotry. But because we’ve allowed the right to define the terms of the debate for the better part of a half-century, on the mistaken premise that modern tax policy is some liberal lie at odds with a history of “freedom.” This while simultaneously giving a pass to the real enemy — supply-side economics — a disproven aberration that’s left the rich less taxed than ever in American history, shifted the burden to the middle, and left us too poor to fix the current crisis, itself a product of runaway deregulation. The last time so many Americans were out of a job, we put them to work reinventing the country. We electrified the Tennessee River Valley, rebuilt the interstate, and poured manpower into science and industry, to the point that we could fight (and win) the greatest war in human history. Instead, today, we view investing in ourselves as some sort of sin — and let Republicans use a deficit they built to somehow excuse themselves from their responsibility to fix the damn thing. Why?
President Obama should ask that question, rather than indulging in the kind of namecalling expected of our honorable friends opposite. The Republicans have left us to play the part of the prodigal son, coasting off our fathers’ victories. We need a paradigm shift: life will be hard again, but we can win through it if we give up the myths that’ve allowed the rich to get richer on the nation’s dime, and the preoccupations that’ve convinced some that it’s more important to worry about their God than our country.
If Obama won’t even try to accomplish that shift — but instead buys into the type of politics that have abetted this decline all along — then he truly does not deserve his second term. Although I suppose the Republicans will deserve it even less.
Let it never be said that I am unequal in criticism.