Remember when progressives were told not to worry, that President Obama was playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers. Unfortunately checker-players ended up winning most of the matches. And then there was Obama as "zen master." No Drama Obama. And he was peacefully stoic as the Republican right captured nearly every agenda and framed nearly every debate. We are left with one last chestnut: That the president is at his best when his back is against the wall.
Based on the results of the respected Pew poll, we're about to find out if this is the case. Calling the poll findings "devastating, just devastating," Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast wrote:
I've never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week - throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement? And after Romney's convincing Etch-A-Sketch, convincing because Obama was incapable of exposing it, Romney is now the centrist candidate, even as he is running to head up the most radical party in the modern era.
Some commentators were quick to disavow Sullivan. And yes, there is time yet to go. Still, Michael Tomasky wonders if a disillusioned Obama even wants to win the election, echoing the post-debate takedown from Kevin Baker of Harper's. Nor is comfort to be found in this New York Times story, ostensibly about preparations for the vice presidential debate, but containing some disturbing details about the president's listless preparations for his first debate.
President Obama took office facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, two imperial military quagmires, an implacable and extremely well-funded opposition, and dysfunctional government. Not for nothing was the headline in the Onion, "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job." About that: A large and growing segment of white Americans held his race against him. But he also wanted the job, beating a Hillary Clinton who would have approached it with more experience, political chops and willingness to fight. He could have stated that he would be a one-term president. He didn't.
It is equally disconcerting that Obama is so lacking in inspiring ideas for his second term (or even mentioning the American Jobs Act). This, after all, is the man who just walked away from high-speed rail after Florida — a horrible test market —turned down the funds. The man who killed our manned space program. Who repeats fossil-fuel propaganda about "a hundred year supply of natural gas" and "energy independence." Who won't tell us the truth about climate change, let the banks get away with it, continued endless war, failed to rein in the dangerous national security state or champion a constitutional amendment against Citizens United. No wonder Matt Stoller of the Naked Capitalism blog opined:
The reason Obama did poorly is simple. He is bad at governing America. He hasn’t solved the foreclosure crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the energy crisis, the financial crisis, the debt crisis, the health care crisis, or really, anything. He can’t point to very much that Americans broadly like, except killing Bin Laden and the auto bailout. His second term agenda is to cut Social Security, Medicare, frack, cut corporate taxes, bust more teachers unions and pass more neoliberal trade agreements. He is proud of this record. So are his people. But he knows he can’t run on it because it’s unpopular, so instead, he presented himself as a nice likable guy.
But here's the deal: Not only would we be rolling the dice on another inexperienced leader (one, largely failed, term as governor of a mid-sized state, leaving because he knew he would be defeated). But we would get this particular man. Romney strikes me as a sociopath without any of Richard Nixon's virtues. And his vice president and party represent a radicalism that would be national suicide. There won't be an election in 2016 for Hillary to come pick up the pieces.
There will be if Obama can eke out a victory. If he loses, he'll do fine in Romney's America. He's an Ivy League-educated millionaire. Big Bird will also do just fine in a society driven only by short-term profits and financial looting, cloaked by celebrity entertainments. Most of us won't do well. If those of us who understand the stakes and aren't lobotomized by watching 35 hours of television a week could teleport elsewhere, it would serve the duhs and ignos right to be rats in the Ayn Rand lab. But we can't. So the president will have to steel himself to his duty. This election is about more than him. America's back is against the wall, even if half of Americans don't realize it.