November 15, 2010

Making the political personal

From Larry Sabato last week:

Obama may be able to count on the 200 electoral votes in the Democratic states, but if his reelection had been scheduled last week, he might well have lost every swing state--all of which he won in 2008. After all, most Republican candidates for top offices did quite well in every swing state on November 2. If you combine the 158 electoral votes in these swing states with the 180 votes in the solidly Republican states, the GOP nominee would have 338, far more than the 270 needed for election. (The chart's electoral votes are based on the new expected allocation from the 2010 Census.)

There's only one logical conclusion to be drawn: President Barack Obama is down for the count, will have an early lame duck presidency, and will be out of the White House in two years.

The title of the article was One Term Barack. However as Sabato goes on to write, much of his analysis here, applied just as well to Bill Clinton after 1994. And as we all know, Clinton was not a one-term president.

But then Sabato switches gear again:

Despite his upset victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the '08 Democratic contest and his easy win over a much more seasoned John McCain in November two years ago, Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn't find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it. And there is no chance at all the new Republican leadership in Congress could over-reach and repeat the errors of Newt Gingrich and his allies. The GOP legislative caucus contains no core of rigid ideologues that might go too far and create an opening for Obama.

And I think that middle sentence - the "inflexible liberal" one - sums up President Obama's political problems.

A few years ago, the late Michael Kelly described President Obama's predecessor and fleshed out the idea.

All of this is true, but there is more to Bush's good times. There is, of all things, intelligence. Bush is, on one level, no toy rocket scientist. "Is our children learning?" he asked during the campaign. Oh, they is, but not, we hope, grammar from you, sir. As it happens, the level on which Bush is not intellectually impressive is the only one that most journalists respect: verbal intelligence, the ability to understand and manipulate logic and language. This is precisely the sort of intelligence Bush does not possess, and so, many journalists stupidly thought of Bush as, well, stupid. I include myself in this and hereby renounce and regret my repeated past use, in connection with Bush, of the word "pinhead."

What Bush does possess is political intelligence -- the ability to understand and manipulate people and situations. Verbal intelligence and political intelligence are not necessarily connected: Think of the Mayor Daleys, father and son. It appears that this is so with Bush. The best evidence of this is that he has shown a grasp of the same essential dynamic of politics that brought success to his immediate predecessor -- the dynamic of triangulation.

But the President doesn't just suffer from a political problem, there's a personal one too. Jonathan Last writes in American Narcissus (h/t Noah Pollak):

Yet you don't have to delve deep into armchair psychology to see how Obama's vanity has shaped his presidency. In January 2009 he met with congressional leaders to discuss the stimulus package. The meeting was supposed to foster bipartisanship. Senator Jon Kyl questioned the plan's mixture of spending and tax cuts. Obama's response to him was, "I won." A year later Obama held another meeting to foster bipartisanship for his health care reform plan. There was some technical back-and-forth about Republicans not having the chance to properly respond within the constraints of the format because President Obama had done some pontificating, as is his wont. Obama explained, "There was an imbalance on the opening statements because"--here he paused, self-satisfiedly--"I'm the president. And so I made, uh, I don't count my time in terms of dividing it evenly."

There are lots of times when you get the sense that Obama views the powers of the presidency as little more than a shadow of his own person. When he journeyed to Copenhagen in October 2009 to pitch Chicago's bid for the Olympics, his speech to the IOC was about--you guessed it: "Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night," he told the committee, "people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of .  .  . " and away he went. A short while later he was back in Copenhagen for the climate change summit. When things looked darkest, he personally commandeered the meeting to broker a "deal." Which turned out to be worthless. In January 2010, Obama met with nervous Democratic congressmen to assure them that he wasn't driving the party off a cliff. Confronted with worries that 2010 could be a worse off-year election than 1994, Obama explained to the professional politicians, "Well, the big difference here and in '94 was you've got me."

President Obama hasn't separated the political from the personal. And that may well be why 2010 will be a harbinger of President Obama's defeat in a way that 1994 was not for President Clinton.

Posted by SoccerDad at November 15, 2010 6:18 AM
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Don't count your eggs. The Republicans don't like their front-runner, Mrs. Palin. Obama may win a second term, because neither party has anyone else they can elect. He can get in again if % of voters is really low.

"none of the above" may be the most popular, but Dems will take it.

Posted by: Batya at November 19, 2010 1:29 AM
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