January 18, 2011
Obama 2.0: The Reinvention BeginsBy Ed Lasky
The year 2012 looms large in the mind of Barack Obama. After two years of decline in the number of those who view his policies, his performance, and his personality favorably, Barack Obama has begun yet another process of reinvention on the road to reelection.
Will he succeed in bamboozling voters once again?
The policy shifts following the November shellacking the Democrats received from voters are clear.
Foremost among these shifts to the center is the tax deal reached with the Republicans. There will be others to come, as renewed attention is devoted to transforming the tax code itself to make it simpler and fairer. There will be more feints to the center.
Barack Obama will adapt even more, altering his image so he can again appeal to the great center of American voters: the jackpot that every candidate must win to enter the White House. Will Obama be able to connect with voters, as every politician must, on a personal level?
Conservatives should not count Obama out yet. He may be cold-blooded, but he is a chameleon who can change the way people perceive him.
Indeed, he has already begun to do so. The premiere of Obama 2.0 took place in Tucson, where his speech was warmly received and a new, more emotional Obama was on display (the voice cracking brings to mind the lip-chewing of a thoughtful Bill Clinton). And the road show has only just commenced.
A clue to Obama's ability and willingness to adapt can be found in the words of his book Dreams from My Father. There he mentioned only one book, Malcolm X's autobiography, and wrote that Malcolm X's "repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me." Therein lies the clue to Obama's plan to rebrand his own image. A man who can fake a Southern accent, the story of how his father came to America, and the story of his parents' being inspired by the Civil Rights march in Selma to conceive him has no problem morphing for political purposes.
We are about to watch the extreme makeover of Barack Obama in real time.
Let me suggest the contours of the plan.
Obama achieved national prominence during his 2004 speech, when he famously declared that "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asia America; there's the United States of America." He went on to decry the splicing of states into red and blue.
Very inspiring words, but as president, Obama has been perceived as playing favorites. His Department of Justice has been plagued by accusations of following race-based policies, and these biases may extend to more areas than the DOJ. Obama did not help heal divisions when he casts aspersions of racism against the Cambridge police and avowed that Hispanics should vote against their enemies (presumably white Republicans). He has lost a great deal of the white vote, a bloc he needs to win reelection. We will see more of the Obama the Uniter and less of Obama the Divider.
People should not be surprised when Eric Holder resigns to spend more time with his family. He and the Civil Rights Division he has overseen have become lighting rods in the eternal American debate over racial and ethnic preferences. Holder can't seem to help himself; his latest pledge is to ensure that "minority communities" experience environmental justice. If his serial flubs in dealing with Islamic terrorism were not enough, his stewardship in other areas of the DOJ has been a political problem for Obama.
Lady Justice wears a blindfold for a reason. It's a symbol that Holder refuses to recognize.
He should be preparing his resume.
We will likely see more bloodletting as Obama continues to throw the old crew under the bus. He is jettisoning people as fast as he can since they have rubbed so many people the wrong way -- and, more importantly, reflected poorly on Obama as a leader. These offenders have also made Obama's own actions seem sinister, since having key positions filled by fans of Karl Marx and Chairman Mao led to voter suspicions regarding Obama's own agenda. Hence, Van Jones and Anita Dunn got the heave-ho.
The always acerbic Robert Gibbs is packing his bags. The often foul-mouthed Rahm Emanuel departed to become the likely mayor of Chicago. David Axelrod, Obama's campaign strategist, who was promoted to chief domestic adviser upon Obama's ascension to the Oval Office, will also be returning to the Windy City. The White House and the man who lives there will be perceived as less insular and arrogant. A supporting cast can do wonders for the image of the lead actor.
What is intriguing is how Obama has been filling these actors' places with Democratic moderates who have less of an axe to grind and more of an income to earn. Bill Daley takes over the Chief of Staff job -- he has warm relations with the business community. Vice President Joe Biden has just announced his own new Chief of Staff, Bruce Reed -- also a moderate. The cast of characters Obama is now assembling has a Clintonian tint to it; Clinton is, of course, the only Democrat to win reelection since Franklin Roosevelt. Obama will continue to surround himself with moderates; their images will rub off on him, and the image of him as a polarizing figure will fade in time.
Conversely, those on the left who indulge in extremist hyper-partisan rhetoric will serve as useful foils to Obama as he shape-shifts into a moderate. We have seen two examples of this tactic: his rebuke of those on the left who criticized the bipartisanship on display over the tax deal and his admonition during the Tucson speech that finger-pointing should be avoided. Bill Clinton had his Sister Souljah moment -- and so will Barack Obama.
Obama will get religion -- fast.
When Barack Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright became a scandal, Obama dropped Wright and his church and surrounded himself with other members of the clergy. Since he became president, he has compiled quite a truancy record regarding church attendance. Americans like their leaders to be religious, for we are a God-loving nation. Daily devotionals sent to Obama's omnipresent Blackberry just won't do as 2012 approaches.
We can expect Obama's speeches to be more laced with religious imagery. The dry run happened in Tucson. Obama consulted clergy and Scripture before giving his warmly received speech there. Many criticized Obama when he casually kept dropping the word "Creator" when quoting the Declaration of Independence. (Incidentally, he included the word "Creator" when he gave his big speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention -- but he was in full campaign mode then. He threw that word under the bus when he became president.)
We can expect Obama's chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau (the highest-paid White House staffer, who played a key role in drafting Obama's Race Speech to deal with the Jeremiah Wright problem), and up-and-coming wunderkind Cody Keenan (who helped draft the Tucson speech) to be pulling out Bartlett's Book of Quotations to deal with all the Christians religious "stuff."
President Obama has a penchant for divisive rhetoric that Candidate Obama almost never used. The words "hostage-takers" and "enemies" will be deleted from Obama's lexicon, as will be phrases that characterize Republicans as people he has to "clean up after" who should "not do a lot of talking" while they ride in the "back of the bus." Since Obama has driven more people to declare themselves Republicans, such rhetoric constitutes a self-defeating indulgence of his rage. The partisan rhetoric probably colored people's perceptions regarding his policies. So those types of words will vanish.
President Obama has had chillier relations with the media than Candidate Obama experienced. The fawning that was satirized by "Saturday Night Live" and others has been replaced by sobriety. Perhaps Obama's stiff-arming of the media since he became president chilled the partnership. But he needs the media now, so they have been pulled out from under the bus. The magazine U.S. News & World Report noted the climate change:
Robert Gibbs's resignation will also help improve relations with the fourth branch of government (since Obama lost the House), as now, a "softer tone" with the press seems to be a priority. Barack Obama will have to shed his thin skin and be less peevish at press conferences, but he has a powerful incentive to control his temper: reelection.
Obama has had a penchant for making sport of cable news channels (i.e., Fox News) for their coverage. But the end of the football season brings us to the beginning of the campaign season. Thus, we see the paradoxical Bill O'Reilly interview with Barack Obama before the Super Bowl. Since Obama needs white males to win the White House, there can be no better time to reach out to them than right before the supreme sports ritual of the American White Male.
Obama will paper over his rhetorical history and return to the type of rhetoric that appealed to so many during those halcyon and hallucinogenic days of 2008.
(I digress, but I find it appalling that speeches seem to sway so many people. Granted, Barack Obama has a way of speaking that can inspire millions. It's a gift -- just ask him; he will tell you, as he told Senator Reid. No wonder those who work with words, whether they be John Kennedy's speechwriter Ted Sorensen or Professor Garry Wills, or any number of talking media heads, are besotted with Barack Obama. The dynamic borders on the self-reverential.
But why has Ronald Reagan been dismissed as a mere actor while Barack Obama is never dismissed as merely a master of the teleprompter? After all, when Obama is off the teleprompter and otherwise not reading others' words, he is far less impressive. We see the gaffes that are so revelatory about him during those moments of truth: think of the bitter people clinging to guns and religion, the spread-the-wealth promises, the boast that he would bring a gun to a knife fight, the "I won" braggadocio, ad nauseam.)
We can also expect Obama to spend less time on the links and more time in the pews. As president, he has rarely been seen at any churches, unlike during the campaign, when churches were a regular stop, where he sometimes spoke from the pulpit.
But that is changing.
Obama attended church on January 16, an occasion that prompted CNN to characterize it as an "unusual move for a president who is accustomed to attending Sunday services at a private chapel at Camp David." Actually, the news that Obama attends Sunday services even at a private chapel comes from White House sources -- so consider the source. Also, he barely spends any time at Camp David, according to Politico journalist Carol Lee.
But as his political support faded, he found God.
Politico took note of the timeline in an article published at the end of last year, commenting that there has been "a steady rebirth over the past few months in public expressions of his [Obama's] Christianity" and that "he has publicly mentioned his Christian faith more times than he has over the past year." Obama has recycled the phrase "I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper" from the 2008 campaign (he has used it 24 times in a three=month period toward the end of last year compared to just four times before then as president).
Obama's churching is timed to politics. When a Pew poll came out last year that reported that many Americans thought Obama was Muslim, he attended church within weeks of the poll's release, and within days, he started quoting from the book of Job. And that was before the November shellacking. We will see and hear a lot more about Obama's Christianity because, after all, there are no atheists in foxholes and almost none in politics.
Obama will choose a church for regular worship, will again surround himself with esteemed religious figures representing all major branches in America, and will begrudgingly begin the political Conversion on the Way to the White House. He will become one more desperate person clinging to religion; he knows all about those people, after all.
Back to basics for Michelle
The fancy foreign trips to Spanish luxury hotels and the like? Michelle and crew will have to sacrifice those creature comforts and keep their travels stateside, at least until 2012. Aren't we all supposed to be sacrificing for the common good these days? The belt-tightening will do some good. Michelle is on an anti-obesity kick anyway, so why not give up some of the calorie-laden fine dining to get hubby reelected? Expect more invasions of backyard bar-b-ques and fewer stays in deluxe digs.
There will be fewer fashion statements and designer sneakers; more down-home photos of the family plus Bo, the photogenic family dog. Barack Obama, who has done a fine job shielding his young daughters from the paparazzi, will be more inclined to show them off in the type of winsome family tableaux that win votes.
We will also, thankfully, hear less from Obama about Obama. The narcissistic addiction to the "first person singular" will be a thing of the past. Instead, we will hear more about "us" and about American "exceptionalism" -- a course suggested by Democrat William Galston and already begun by Obama. Obama was criticized during the campaign for not wearing a flag pin in his lapel -- then one started appearing. But once Obama became president, he blithely declared that America is not exceptional. We won't be hearing that language again -- at least not until 2012.
We can also expect Barack Obama to take more time off the links and journey to Arlington Cemetery and other spots that symbolize patriotism. He skipped the traditional presidential visit to Arlington to spend some quality time with friends back home in Chicago. That will not happen again. Even though one aide calls him the most unsentimental man he has ever met, and Juan Williams characterized Obama as not the type of guy you want to share a foxhole with, he will make a landmark tour of America to commemorate our fallen patriots. Historical sites that resonate with all Americans will feature prominently on the president's agenda. We should not be surprised if Obama's next winter break in Hawaii includes a trip to Pearl Harbor.
Buddy up to business
Obama will also make nice -- at least in a surface way -- with the business community. The Chamber of Commerce initially supported some of Obama's moves, the stimulus bill among them. But when Obama's agenda was more fully rolled out, many businessmen objected to the pain it would inflict on them and the free enterprise system. Obama did not seem to mind until the Chamber got its act in gear and started a potent campaign to defeat Democrats. Obama resorted to claims that the Chamber was using foreign money to bankroll its campaign. Obama lost that rhetorical battle, and the Democrats went on to lose seats across America.
A change of course is needed. Obama has a vested interest -- the one he cares most about, himself -- in defanging the Chamber. He accepted an invitation from the Chamber of Commerce to address them in early February. Gone will be talk of "fat cats"; in will come talk of "partners" and "visionary entrepreneurs" and "job creators." If Obama is able to offer some sugar -- say, suggestions of tax or regulatory breaks -- he may be able to erode their will and resources to defeat him in 2012. Indeed, the olive branch has already been offered in the form of tax breaks and the sending of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on a goodwill tour with executives.
We can expect the olive branch to be extended to all Americans during Obama's next big step in rebranding: the upcoming State of the Union address.
As we learned from Ronald Reagan and others, visual images and sound bites shape campaigns. Telling was Obama's latest vacation reading: a book on Ronald Reagan, who was able to tap into the emotions of the American people in a way that has eluded President Obama. Obama performed well as a candidate; his oratory levitated him to the presidency, after all, but the pretense could be held for only one season: the campaign one.
Will we forget Barack Obama's true nature when he flashes the big smile and soothes us, if not smothers us, with mellifluous words?
America's great strength and great weakness has been our ability to forgive and forget. Indeed, Obama seems to have been counting on this trait, given the numberless series of broken promises during his presidency.
Will we be taken for suckers again?
In the internet and YouTube age, we can unbury the time capsule and relive the days when President Obama was at the peak of his powers. We can remember how he chose to wield them.
The Republicans will do well to focus on the harm of Obama's policies, since voter dissatisfaction with his agenda remains high. ObamaCare continues to be an albatross around Obama's neck -- one that he can neither disown nor throw off since it was his pride and joy. Republicans must go round and round with a newly revivified Barack Obama to point out the flaws of ObamaCare. But they must avoid the heated rhetoric that will only serve to make Obama appear moderate. He has already primed the populace to look at Republicans as the partisan party of No and exhorted us to put "politics" aside. He triangulated against the image of a panicky John McCain during the stock market meltdown in 2008. He should not again be given the opportunity to improve his image relative to his opponents.
He can use such hyper-partisan rhetoric on the right, just as he can from those on the left, to gain back the Great Center. Republicans need articulate spokesmen front and center, such as Paul Ryan, to explain the crippling costs of the ObamaCare program and how it will harm our health care. But Republicans must go beyond ObamaCare and beyond proposing their own health care plans. They must critique the entire Obama agenda for the challenges it poses to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We need to declare our independence once again -- this time from the grasping hands in Washington, D.C.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.