What to make of Obama’s head-scratchingly counterproductive statement that while he is not the on ballot next month, his policies are—every single one of them? Every red state Democrat is running for the hills, because they all know they are in trouble more because of Obama’s policies than Obama himself. If Obama’s approval ratings were based solely on his policies alone rather than the residual respect many Americans wish to maintain for all presidents, and especially our first black president, he might be down in the 20s somewhere.
Here’s one hypothesis: Maybe Obama really isn’t a very good politician after all. Sure, he was a great candidate in 2008, and lucky enough to run against a Republican with even more marginal political skills in 2012 (thus becoming the first president ever re-elected with fewer votes than his first election), but as Noemie Emery pointed out in 2011, look closely and you’ll see someone who isn’t very good at politics and doesn’t even like politics very much.
The gap between sizzle and steak never seemed so large or alarming, and inquiring minds want to know what went wrong.
Did the prince (assuming he was one) turn into a frog? Did he use all his luck up in winning his office? Did he, once in power, see his governing skills fade away? The answers to these things are no, yes, and no. The record suggests that he was never a prince (merely a fantasy); that his luck went away once his free ride had ended; and that he had few political, that is, governing, skills to begin with, a fact that is now more than clear. . .
Good politicians create coalitions and then tend them carefully, draw people in from the opposite party, and make their own party (like Reagan and Roosevelt) both bigger and different than it was before. Obama inherited a coalition by chance and dismantled it during his first years in office, having never understood what it was made of, how it developed, how fragile it was, and what it would take to maintain. . . An adept politician would have looked at the polls and realized he had a frail coalition that had to be nudged along carefully, knowing schism would destroy his majority.
This is how Bill Clinton fought back after the 1994 election: tacking to the center, retrieving ground for his party in the 1998 election, and severely limiting Republican gains in the 2000 election. But for 9/11 one wonders how poorly the GOP might have fared in the 2002 and 2004 elections.
I think Noemie’s article holds up very well, and will be vindicated further if, as I expect, Republicans control both houses of Congress the next two years. But there’s another explanation: maybe Obama really doesn’t like his own party, or care very much about it.
But maybe we needn’t go any further than the obvious explanation, which is not exclusive of these two: his epic narcissism. Remember that Obama has been told relentlessly how great he is, how he is “clean and articulate” (Joe Biden), who can speak “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one” (Harry Reid), how he is “the magic negro” (Los Angeles Times). (Hey, I’m just borrowing the liberal “get-out-jail-free” race card.) Most importantly, Obama never really lost a big stakes election (his one run for Congress being an unserious venture). The best thing that ever happened to Bill Clinton was losing his first race for re-election in 1980; Reagan was a better candidate (and president) for having lost in 1976, and for having lost some high profile political battles in California (Proposition 1).
Instead, what we get from Obama are gifts like this:
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
Reagan’s approval ratings were somewhere in 60s before the 1986 mid-terms, along with an economy that was roaring along. The GOP still lost the Senate badly, losing just about every close Senate race that year. My prediction is we will see much the same this year.