I have (less and less frequently since 2009) been accused by some fellow Democrats of my acquaintance of giving up on President Obama. People who think like me retort: oh, no, he’s given up on us. But I do see a few signs that in small ways, at least, the White House is beginning to realize that they simply HAVE to stop coddling the Rightists, and start blaming them. Politics is not a graduate seminar. What gets said has to be blunt, pointed, and clearly aligned to a particular interest. And for the President, if he wants to be re-elected, which I assume he does, those interests had better start being the interests of Middle Class and working people. And he’d better start making clear what he wants to do, if the people will just give him the means to do it.
I think the president’s greatest weaknesses are these:
1. He has no natural or learned gift for negotiation. He accommodates others’ interests in advance, and just thinks “of course they’ll agree, because I’ve already taken their interests into account!” But that’s not how it works. The Rightists see this as weakness, and take advantage of it to get MORE of what they want. So far, for the Rightists, this has worked every time. (Shall I name some? How about massive tax cuts in the original stimulus, (even though real economists all agree they’re less than half as effective as direct stimulus), taking single payer and then public option off the table without a fight, giving up on Employee Free Choice Act without a fight, caving on the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich without a fight, and the long, sad, disgraceful unfolding of the Debt Hostage Crisis. Note most of these occurred when the Democrats still had a majority in both Houses).
2. Once he became president, he turned off his campaign mode. He fails to understand, or if he understands he fails to act on, the principle that public opinion can be changed by direct appeal, and that a sufficient mass of public opinion still matters in this country. What FDR did with the Fireside chats, and what JFK and Reagan were very good at, i.e., directly appealing to the people for support, this president has done sparsely, without real flare or charisma, and without much effect. He simply has to do better, and make this his main job from now until the election.
Can he turn this around? Of course he can. He’s shown himself at times in the past to be a very gifted politician and capable of changing his approach. But whether he will do what needs to be done to consolidate the American people behind him for major Democratic victories in ’12, or not, remains to be seen.