Hoping Obama won’t really run this way

Maybe y’all have time to read this piece by John Heilemann in New York Magazine. I don’t, not today. If you do, please get back and tell me that things don’t really look as dark as they do at the beginning:

The contours of that contest are now plain to see—indeed, they have been for some time. Back in November, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, two fellows at the Center for American Progress, identified the prevailing dynamics: The presidential race would boil down to “demographics versus economics.” That the latter favor Mitt Romney is incontestable. From high unemployment and stagnant incomes to tepid GDP growth and a still-pervasive sense of anxiety bordering on pessimism in the body politic, every salient variable undermines the prospects of the incumbent. The subject line of an e-mail from the Romney press shop that hit my in-box last week summed up the challenger’s framing of the election concisely and precisely: “What’s This Campaign Going to Be About? The Obama Economy.”

The president begs to differ. In 2008, the junior senator from Illinois won in a landslide by fashioning a potent “coalition of the ascendant,” as Teixeira and Halpin call it, in which the components were minorities (especially Latinos), socially liberal college-educated whites (especially women), and young voters. This time around, Obama will seek to do the same thing again, only more so. The growth of those segments of the electorate and the president’s strength with them have his team brimming with confidence that ­demographics will trump economics in November—and in the process create a template for Democratic dominance at the presidential level for years to come…

Y’all know how I feel about Identity Politics. I want leaders who want to lead all of us, not this or that arbitrarily selected subset. Obama, to me, is the guy who inspired a victorious crowd in Columbia to chant, on the night of the 2008 South Carolina primary, “Race doesn’t matter!” Amen, said I. The atmosphere that night — when voters rejected the continued partisan strife that the Clinton campaign seemed to offer — was one in which we put our divisions behind us, and work toward building a better country together, as one people.

And if there’s anything more distressing in my book than Identity Politics, it’s Kulturkampf. Those couple of paragraphs are enough to push me toward political despair on that count. The next two grafs are worse:

But if the Obama 2012 strategy in this regard is all about the amplification of 2008, in terms of message it will represent a striking deviation. Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’ ” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

The Obama effort at disqualifying Romney will go beyond painting him as excessively conservative, however. It will aim to cast him as an avatar of revanchism. “He’s the fifties, he is retro, he is backward, and we are forward—that’s the basic construct,” says a top Obama strategist. “If you’re a woman, you’re Hispanic, you’re young, or you’ve gotten left out, you look at Romney and say, ‘This [f*@#ing] guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I’ve never been part of that.’ ”

Yeah, that’s all we need. A campaign that sees itself as an army of indignant minorities, feminists, gays and young people up against a coalition of self-interested white males, Ayn Randers, birthers and nativists, with both sides convinced that it is at war with the other. And each subset being motivated not by what’s good for the country, but by what it sees as advantageous to itself as a group.

So much for the United States.

All that’s left to me at this point is to hope the campaign plays out differently from the way this writer envisions it.

12 thoughts on “Hoping Obama won’t really run this way

  1. Tim

    I don’t care, but if this is a family blog, you may want to replace a certain word with some symbols above the numbers on your keyboard.

  2. Brad

    OK, although the word helps emphasize the visceral nature of this divisive impulse.

    Also, maybe I’m desensitized today. At Rotary — at Rotary! — today, someone used the word “farting” during Health and Happiness…

  3. Brad

    What grabbed me, after Rick Noble sent me the link, was the subhed on the piece: “For Obama & Co., this time around it’s all about fear.”

    Then I immediately glanced at the masthead, and since it wasn’t the National Review, I felt I couldn’t dismiss it, and read on…

    But as I say, I didn’t have time to read all of it. I hope it gets better. Although I did skip to the end, and it didn’t look that way…

  4. Bart

    You forgot to mention that Obama is going to bring the church into the fray in a major way. He is planning to “out religious” Republicans and conservatives.

    So, where is this separation of church and state Democrats, liberals, and progressives are always screaming about? When it comes to Obama, all rules are out the window except for the other side. Then, if religion is invoked by the other side, the yelling and screaming will reach an ear piercing level heard only in cheap horror movies.

  5. bud

    That’s an interesting take but it doesn’t match the campaign speeches Obama has given so far. He’s talked about his successes in office including the fact that economic disaster was averted. I’m sure there will be PAC ads going after Mitt, he certainly makes an easy target, but I’m sure the Obama ads themselves will be more positive.

  6. Karen McLeod

    Hmmm. “Identity politics,” really? Oh, of course, various minorities, college educated women, and young folk are al-l-l alike. And of course, the white males, are all different. Hmm. The type of divisiveness this article describes wouldn’t be a subtle way to make the republicans look like they are focusing on “issues,” while the democrats are simply “appealing to their base constituency” would it?

  7. Doug Ross

    Today’s news:


    Obama campaign targeting women.

    I don’t understand why you won’t just acknowledge that Obama is no different than any other candidate — he uses consultants to do data analysis to determine which topics, which words, which campaign stops will add or protect the maximum number of voters required to get re-elected. It’s no different from a marketing campaign for a soft drink these days.

    Two weeks ago, gay marriage. This week, equal pay for women (which is a phony cause anyway when you factor in all the variables that go into pay).

    Just wait — we’ll get the pro-choice themed week sometime in the late summer to rally the troops.

    It’s all about slicing and dicing the electorate into a pile that gets you 50.1%

  8. Brad

    Doug, to quote Mariel Hemingway in “Manhattan,” “You have to have a little faith in people.”

    I have a feeling that had she said that to Doug, she would have gotten a lecture instead of the longing, knowing, affectionate, despairing look she got from Woody Allen…

    (Yes, I know, a movie based on an extremely creepy relationship that we later learned was uncomfortably close to real life. But it was so beautifully shot…)

  9. Doug Ross

    If we’re referencing movie quotes, I guess your philosophy would be summed up by “Pay no attention to man behind the curtain”.

    Just disregard all the evidence and focus on the message. Obama just couldn’t be like every other politician. That would blow the whole shtick out of the water.

    I’m more of an Annie Hall fan – “I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a methadone addict.”

  10. tavis micklash

    For an incumbent POTUS election isn’t this just a referendum of President Obama’s first 4 years?

    It just feels like this entire election is more about scare tactics to “get out the vote” than anything else.

    Both sides seem to just be sticking to talking points anyways and letting their surrogates and Super PACs do the dirty work. If the message goes sour they can just disavow the messenger and keep their hands clean.

    This just seems like more divisive rhetoric. AKA more of the same. Both sides are reading from the same playbook it seems.

    The question is how do you vote against something that both sides are doing? How do you send the message that we are tired of the stalemate as it pertains to POTUS?


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