Obama: Already a Lame Duck?

August 4th, 2011 at 2:08 pm | 37 Comments |

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Politico has a piece discussing the “big drags” on the Obama re-elect effort. Nothing too surprising: there is the lack of economic growth and the bad political map. The usual suspects. What caught my eye was this:

A top Democratic strategist who is close to the White House said that Obama’s first-term record “is going to be, on balance, probably a liability” for his reelection, partly “because of the failure to sell and explain the things that they were doing.”

“I believe history will judge what they did to be correct,” the strategist said. “But the failure to communicate why they were doing it has meant that there is such confusion…It’s ground he’s going to have to make up, rather than things he’s going to be able to run on.”

As a former George W. Bush administration appointee, and someone who believes that President Bush will be vindicated by history (for strategy, if not always for tactics); let me say that I’m familiar with that argument. I made iterations of it myself in 2007 and 2008. When the argument about your term is “history will vindicate us, and we communicated poorly” then you have officially lost the present.

Have we ever had a lame duck president run for re-election?

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37 Comments so far ↓

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “As a former George W. Bush administration appointee, and someone who believes that President Bush will be vindicated by history (for strategy, if not always for tactics)”

    This is unintentionally hilarious. So they will rate GWB on his intentions? Of course Bush will not be vindicated by history, he will be crushed by it, by nearly every measure he was a failure, his only successes were winning elections and repairing, somewhat, his disastrous policies in Iraq at the end, and it took a drubbing in the midterms to get that into his thick skull.

    Don’t start celebrating a Republican win next year quite yet, the Republican field is pretty disastrous (it is sad but the best of the lot that has a chance is mittens, who wants to be President because…I have no idea)

    • Graychin

      But did he even win those elections? History might have a thing or two to add to that point as well.

      • Chris Balsz

        Sure, and the various recounts by various methods by universities and newspapers in 2001, that all said Bush beat Gore in Florida, will probably be as decisive then as it was in 2001.

      • paul_gs

        Yes Graychin, Bush won both elections, and 9-11 was not an inside job, as 65% of Democrats are still fond to believe.

  • wileedog

    “(it is sad but the best of the lot that has a chance is mittens, who wants to be President because…I have no idea)”

    That’s ok, I get the impression neither does he.

  • paul_gs

    I don’t believe Obama to be a lame duck. I do find the tepid support by Democrats of their own president to be somewhat surprising though. Instead of getting behind their president, they keep complaining how he hasn’t done enough.

    The economy is a big drag for Obama but his competition still looks less palatable then Obama for the 2o12 elections.

    • Smargalicious

      Oh really?? So, we want to keep the teleprompter reading community organizer instead of, say, a proven businessman and executive leader like Romney??


  • sublime33

    “Oh really?? So, we want to keep the teleprompter reading . . .”

    If we disqualify every public figure who uses a teleprompter, there won’t be anyone to run in either party. Including Bachman and Palin. What is the next idiodic critique – his shoes aren’t interchangable?

  • Solo4114

    It’s true. The White House and the Democratic party, have all been stunningly ineffective at any kind of messaging. They’ve fallen into the classic Democratic tiger-pit: they assume that the rightness of their positions and policies is self-evident. It isn’t, and it never has been. And that goes double when you have a GOP willing to flat-out lie — albeit in very simple, clear terms — about Democratic policies (not to mention GOP policies).

    The Dems — across the board — quite simple do not ever seem to bother to sell themselves and their plans. I originally expected Obama to be extremely effective at doing just this. His capacity on the campaign trail to communicate with the public was undeniably strong. But once in office, that guy has only appeared at State of the Union addresses and other similar events.

    If you consider advocating for your positions, working to galvanize public support, and making clear to the public what needs to get done and why to be “leadership,” then yeah, I’d say Obama has been a failure as a leader. Even if his choices were the right ones…no one knows it but him and the people he didn’t need to convince in the first place.

    Does this make him a lame duck? No, I wouldn’t say so. Much will depend on how things play out in the 2012 elections. I do think that the GOP has proven it is simply unwilling to work with him, and that means that government is now effectively stopped for the foreseeable future. Obama has, apparently, been willing to cede that ground to the GOP, possibly because of his own concerns about running for reelection. I don’t know who was advising him on that point, but I think it’s been the central mistake of his presidency to date. Especially when you have a defiantly hostile opposition willing to filibuster or otherwise halt ANY initiative you put forth, you cannot simply sit back and hope the public “gets it.”

    • Saladdin

      The White House and the Democratic party, have all been stunningly ineffective at any kind of messaging. They’ve fallen into the classic Democratic tiger-pit: they assume that the rightness of their positions and policies is self-evident. It isn’t, and it never has been.

      Solo, you’re right on about this. When Obama spoke at the 04 DNC, my first thought was wow, a guy who can articulate liberalism in a fashion that would appeal to all. The most frustrating thing is that this didn’t happen.

      • Smargalicious

        “The most frustrating thing is that this didn’t happen.”

        Then why not admit it?? The media and White liberals (unfortunately joined by many independent voters) helped elect Obama because they thought it would be cool and progressive and hip to elect an un-vetted Black man to the Presidency.

        So there it is, out in the open. Will you admit your mistake?

        • sublime33

          I didn’t vote for Obama because I wanted to be hip. I wanted to prevent right wing neanderthals like Smarg to be as far away from the levers of power as possible. Putting Sarah Palin in the White House is like putting Charlie Sheen at the pole position at the Indy 500.

        • jakester

          I am no Obama supporter but compared to the crop of mindless talk radio brainwashed teasappers that make up the bulk of the conservatives movement, even Al Sharpton is preferable.

    • Graychin

      Republicans are better than Democrats at messaging by at least one order of magnitude. But the R’s have a built-in advantage – their messaging need not have any basis in reality.

  • valkayec

    Just out of curiosity, wasn’t Reagan considered a lame duck near the end of his first term because unemployment was so high?

    I do have to agree the Dems are not very good on messaging; they could all, including Obama, a top PR person of Lutz’s ability. Explaining in a lengthy professorial manner doesn’t cut it when the average attention span of the audience is merely seconds. That’s why the short, simple to understand slogan explanations work so well. As I said the Dems & Obama need a really top notch PR person.

    • sublime33

      Not only are the Dems bad at messaging, but the handful of pundits that actually have access to the so-called “liberal media” often take up their positions in the circular firing squad and fire away at liberal leaders to show off their intellectual chops. Look at the FireDogLake squad and for awhile, Ed Schultz. They were so obsessed with legislation not going their ideal way that they started bashing Obama. That NEVER happened with any conservative pundits while Bush was president. Conservatives have been, at least until the Tea Partiers came along, much better at taking the long view and accepting incremental victories.

      As for the 2012 election, it is going to be a hybrid of 1940 and 2004. The economy was horrible leading up to 1940 and there was some discontent with both Bush and Roosevelt from those who voted for them the previous election. But both elections boiled down to “do you really want these other guys in charge now?”

    • Primrose

      Everyone keeps saying this about messaging but I’m not sure it is precisely true. Then it would be easy to fix, and would not persist. What we don’t have is any way to stop right wing lies. It’s a bit of a catch 22, if we denounce then we make the lie persist which reinforces its truth to people even if they don’t know they are doing it, like Swift Boat or Death Panels. Since the press has given up its role of judging facts, we don’t have any way to squash it. Part of our problem is that so many Democrats come from groups which are not granted legitimacy: women, minorities,the working class. and more ethnic people in general. So people don’t grant what they say the same authority.

      And since our programs help people who don’t have authority, even worse. Our pet trolls make it clear that the idea of helping any one but the rich, white, male businessman is anathema to some.

      To them only one voice counts, theirs. So whatever the message it won’t get through, unless it reinforces their narcissistic image of themselves.

      Though I have some dark and depressing feelings about the next decade after the stunt the Tea Party pulled, I am not sure that they are not but getting dangerously arrogant.

      I see on this site folks talking down not just the poor but the middle class as well, and you really can only bring along the middle if they identify with you. People don’t identify with folks who think they are worthless.

      It is just as likely that Americans will turn away from the Tea Party in disgust and get behind the underdog (Mr. Obama).

      • Chris Balsz

        ” Part of our problem is that so many Democrats come from groups which are not granted legitimacy: women, minorities,the working class. and more ethnic people in general. So people don’t grant what they say the same authority.”

        And that’s why people reject the incumbent black president and prefer Sarah Palin?

        • Primrose

          Since Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are both part of out groups, and yet both were in government at the time they ran, and anyway Ms. Palin lost (and would be likely to lose again) I’m not sure your point.

          Nor do I think that any race between those two would fit into my point particularly either. She’s an idiot, He’s not. Most rational people, even republicans, just can’t go there.

          I talk about the larger trend. And Republicans do not grant Mr. Obama the same authority they do white male presidents. As I said before, they reject his telling kids to study hard. They make up out of whole cloth reasons to disqualify him despite his winning a free and fair election. They call his wife a whore and object to her telling kids to eat vegetables and run around.

          Because their words are given greater weight, their lies are believed. Our truths are dismissed as political. It is hard to message well while fighting that bias.

    • JimBob

      Reagan won 49 states.

      • sublime33

        Hell, John McCain would have won 49 states if he ran against Walter Mondale.

      • Primrose

        Yes. He identified with the middle class not dismissed them as worthless. But please, do, go ahead and with our Ayn Rand rhetoric. That is exactly the tack to take to win friends and influence people.

  • LHB

    As a former strong supporter of Obama, I agree with most of the assertions upthread. I still maintain that the thing that’s still killing him is Health Care Reform. It was far less than most Democrats wanted, far more intrusive than many Republican’s were comfortable with, and passed in an atmosphere of secrecy and cronyism that were disgusting for anyone who took his campaign promises of openness and transparency in government at least somewhat seriously.

    I could also mention the various components of the financial bail out, but as an economist, I would have been reluctant to take the responsibility of advocating a complete failure of so many major financial institutions. There should have been a far greater cost to the major players, however, for government saving their necks.

    Obama will have a difficult time with disappointed voters, not because they will vote Republican, but because they may not vote at all.

    On the other hand, Republican overreach in states like Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin may provide him with a boost, riding the coattails – as it were – of downticket Dems who are strongly supported by both the Democratic base and Independent voters who are repulsed by some of the extreme policies that are currently being enacted in States that recently flipped to Republican control.

    BTW, I’m new to this site and find it unique as far as my experience goes. I admit to a lot of ignorance on the liberal side, but I find the quality even more entrenched on the right. This site is like a breath of fresh air. I wish there was a similar one for people on the left who wanted to discuss, and attempt to remedy, the flaws in their policy positions and theories of culture, society and political economy.

  • Oldskool

    As a former George W. Bush administration appointee…

    Oh lordy. If I were in your shoes, that would be worth a Watergate style break-in to erase from my record.

    Regards Obama, no matter how he may have failed at messaging so far, he is still the most sober person in any roomful of people. And voters know it.

  • Graychin

    Isn’t it a bit early to be referring to Obama as a lame duck?

    Never mind – keep it up. Overconfidence becomes you.

  • Chris Balsz

    Putting it all on “messaging” presumes there’s been a winning action all along that just couldn’t be explained properly. But the economy, unlike all the other issues, speaks for itself.

    • Saladdin

      Chris, I suppose you’re correct, but when you’re in a permanent campaign like the GOP is (remember McConnell’s primary goal, right?), you’re not going to be getting a lot of help from the opposition who realize that the worse the economy does, then the better the chances of electing a GOP president…

  • Bunker555

    The saddest part of Obama’s Presidency is that he forgot about all those donors that sent in $5, $10, or $20 to see him bring an end to Wall Street greed and the adventurist wars that were brought on by mean and wicked people. There is still time for him to remedy the situation and have the Justice Department investigate cases where laws were broken during the housing disaster and banking meltdown.

  • PatrickQuint

    Obama’s record looks bad because it’s a Republican record. Democrats don’t like it because it’s Republican, and Republicans don’t like it because if they say he’s doing a good job then they lose the next election.

    Iraq ended on autopilot, just as if Bush were still in office.

    Afghanistan is going much the way Bush would be expected to prosecute it.

    The ACA shares more than a passing resemblance to the mothballed Nixoncare, as well as Romneycare of course. Post-2008 Republicans like everything about it except the “D” beside the name of the guy who pushed it.

    Gitmo is still open.

    A new war of adventure (liberation) in a Muslim country was started… and has also stalled (too much dithering while the rebels got killed I suspect).

    The Bush tax cuts were extended.

    The stimulus was passed. It was largely made up of transfer payments to the states, infrastructure projects, and tax cuts… as Republican as stimulus as I’ve ever seen.

    The White House has been dragging its feet as hard as possible on the repeal of DADT.

    When the Tea Party demanded spending cuts in the deal to raise the debt ceiling, Obama countered by demanding that there be *more* spending cuts from the list of wasteful spending hidden in the tax code. Giving in on the condition that you have to give in even more sounds like an awful strategy… so long as you’re actually trying to win. If I were conspiratorially inclined I’d say he didn’t *want* to fight on these budget issues.

    That leaves the auto bailout and finance reform to tell him apart from a 2008 Republican… except that 2008 Republicans voted for the TARP bailout and finance reform should by all rights be a plank of the Tea Party platform.

    Considering the record… what do the Democrats have to be excited about? It looks like they elected a more verbally adept Bush.

  • Solo4114

    To my way of thinking, being good at messaging means two basic things:

    1.) Having a solid message. Something punchy that puts things in clear terms, ideally moral terms, and ideally a simple either/or proposition. It should be attention-getting, too. “Death Panels” is a perfect example, actually. Say what you will about the honesty of the message, but “Death Panels” tells you everything you need to know about it and boy does it ever grab your attention.. It encompasses morality, emotion, clear choice, and even the phrase itself is a scant three syllables. The Dems can do this sometimes, but far too often, they say “Well, it’s complicated” and then proceed to tell you in exhausting detail just how complicated it is. As if they’re trying to get an A from the professor, rather than trying to persuade people who are only going to give them, at most, 30 seconds to grab their attention.

    Want to fight the “Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest earners?” Try calling them the “Gordon Gekko tax cuts.” Again, it tells you everything you need to know just by the name, and it grabs the attention. Quibble all you want about whether it’s accurate, but it immediately sets the tone of the discussion. If I say “Gordon Gekko tax cuts,” now anyone who’s arguing with me has to explain why rich people AREN’T greedy bastards, why they DO deserve tax cuts, etc. It instantly puts them on the defensive, regardless of its intellectual honesty. I’m not saying, by the way, that the Dems should do this on this particular issue, mind you. I’m simply pointing out that effective messaging needs to be clear, catchy, and comprehensive. The great success of the GOP’s messaging (when it succeeds) is that it does ALL of that with as few words as possible.

    The Dems don’t do this hardly ever. They come out with these bloodless, lifeless slogans (“Bush tax cuts for wealthiest earners,” for example) against which one need barely mount a defense. “It’s not for the wealthiest earners! It’s for JOB CREATORS and SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS.” The two capitalized phrases are ripe with assumed morality, value to society, etc. At the very least, they will make people pause and say “Hmm…maybe those guys do need tax cuts…” But “Gordon Gekko tax cuts” are a hell of a lot closer to the type of messaging the Republicans use. Your guess is as good as mine as to why the Dems rarely engage in this behavior, but they rarely do.

    2.) The other essential component of messaging is a message delivery system. As folks discussed above, this is one area where the Dems frequently fall down. The Dems are (or at least have been, traditionally) far less unified than the GOP. They often do not march in lockstep. Moreover, their private support — blogs, media pundits, etc. — are just as likely to be dismissed or to engage in the proverbial circular firing squad instead of pushing a single, unified message. The right-wing media is FAR more effective and far better coordinated, whereas the left-wing media is usually diffuse, unfocused, and haphazard in its messaging. That said, it’s difficult to coalesce around the kind of dry messaging that the Dems seem to prefer.

  • tadmaster

    “Have we ever had a lame duck president run for re-election?”

    Yes. His name was George W. Bush. Do you not recall that the mantra in 2004 on the opposition side was “anybody but Bush”? And do you recall that, much like the slate of 2012 opposition candidates, none of them was really worth a damn? (Al Sharpton? Come on!)

    As an independent, I hoped for more from President Obama, but it is the relentlessly clueless opposition that will win him the next election.