The myth for today is that of Obama Invictus -- the undefeated champion, the master campaigner, the man who could have taught lessons to Honey Fitz, Dick Daley, and Lyndon B. Johnson himself. Obama is the epitome of the politician for our time and perhaps for all time. His election was inevitable, so we're told, as soon as he decided to descend from Olympus and claim the White House. The idea that mere mortals would seek to contest it would be funny if it weren't so pathetic. Somebody like Mitt Romney represents no more than a few hours' sport.
There's no point in trying to destroy all the Obama myths -- there are too many of them, and new ones are popping up all the time. It would nice if we could -- this man is made of myths and next to nothing else. If you destroyed each and every Obama myth, there wouldn't be so much as a ghostly image left. (That includes the Obama Antichristus myth that has so many conservatives reduced to such a state of whimpering terror that they won't even vote against him.) But there are a few that really deserve to be stomped flat and put out on the corner for pickup, on the grounds that they're an insult to so much as contemplate, and the myth of Obama as great campaigner is one of them.
Obama's 2008 effort was the perfect campaign, meticulously planned and completely mapped out down to the last small detail. Obama, Axelrod, Emmanuel, and the rest of the unindicted didn't miss a single trick -- except for, oh, Jeremiah Wright, the botched birth certificate release, the Brandenberg Gate speech, the classical pillars...minor stuff, easily overlooked and scarcely of any interest.
Looked at from that point of view -- a rarely utilized angle of vision known as "reality" -- O is revealed as not quite the perfect campaigner after all. But in fact, it goes well beyond that. You could go so far as to say that Obama has never actually run a real campaign at all.
All of his early campaigns were carried out Chicago-style. Recall that in 1995 he won the Democratic primary after all four of his opponents (not just one, as most people think) were disqualified by the city election commission. That number included Obama's own patron, veteran Chicago pol Alice Palmer. It left Obama to run essentially unopposed, which is the way they like it in the Windy City.
His 2004 U.S. Senate run was made against the hapless Alan Keyes, who was parachuted in from elsewhere with the encouragement of an Illinois GOP that couldn't find anyone else to run. Basically, Obama was selected by the Chicago machine as Mr. up-and-coming, and that was all it took. Skill, ability, and achievement of any sort were all as irrelevant to the rise of Obama as to that of any other machine pol.
As for 2008, that stands as an elaborate myth fabricated to make Obama look heroic and capable and to confuse any potential opposition -- in other words, exactly like everything else ever written, said, or pantomimed about him. It has been surprisingly successful at distorting what actually occurred, even among a large number of sworn conservatives, perhaps because many of the blue-blazer conservative elite bought into it for their own reasons.
The myth goes roughly like this: a tired and bumbling John McCain was running an inept campaign when he made the cardinal error of selecting a halfwit backwoods harpy who dragged him down into oblivion while Obama, the natural man of American politics, played his magnificent endgame.
This is one of those fabulations that's convincing because of, not despite the fact that there's not a grain of truth to it. McCain was running a pretty solid if pedestrian campaign throughout the summer. The problem with senators running for president might be called "Dole Syndrome," a disorder that gives rise to delusions that the victim's long-term support in his home state inevitably scales up to the national level, enabling the candidate to do nothing more than coast his way to victory. It affects senators of both parties, though it seems to impact Republicans more. You need to go back to the epoch of JFK and Hubert Humphrey to find a senator capable of running a real, serious presidential campaign. (What about Obama? He was a senator, too, you say? Well, of a sort -- and as such, he ran a sort-of campaign.)
But this disorder scarcely afflicted McCain, and he held his own right up until the convention, when the choice of Sarah Palin as running mate threw his campaign into overdrive. The retrospective attempt to undermine Palin's actual impact is simply a Ministry of Truth effort carried out in hopes of stopping anyone from contemplating such a move in the future. (I need not prove this, Tony Lee having covered it already at Big Journalism.) It has no support in the record whatsoever. The McCain-Palin campaign's numbers mounted steadily after the convention (the exact numbers will be left as an exercise for the student) and soon matched and at times even surpassed Obama's. All things being equal, it seemed that they'd continue building up straight through to November, giving McCain a decent if not overwhelming victory.
This formula was enough to convince one foolish AT writer to toss his hat in the ring and call it for McCain. (Thanks to a helpful ad server of the day, the story appeared with an ad featuring a large photo of Hugh Downs, convincing the easily led that Downs had predicted Obama's defeat. This gave me my first taste of Snopes.com immortality.)
But then arose that nightmare factor for all politicians, according to old pro Harold Macmillan: "events." The financial system collapsed on September 15, throwing everything (with one exception) into abject chaos. McCain put his campaign on hold and returned to Washington to discover that nobody in either chamber of Congress had any idea what to do. (George W. Bush, fortunately, did have an idea or two. Whatever can be said against TARP -- and there's plenty -- it did halt the financial implosion before it could prostrate the entire economy. No small feat, and one unmatched by such figures as Herbert Hoover, FDR, Lyndon Johnson, or Richard Nixon.)
McCain soon reactivated his campaign. But the events of September all too closely reflected one half of an ancient political saw: "with Republicans, you get a depression." From that point on, no Republican could have won in 2008, even if he'd been a combination of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.
And Obama? Obama did nothing. The Obama campaign was the one thing utterly unaffected by the collapse. Obama made no move whatsoever during the crisis. He simply sat it out, continuing his campaign in the secure knowledge that the crisis would hurt McCain far worse than it would him. From that point on, he coasted to victory. There was no "end game." There was scarcely any campaign, or need for one. Obama let the depression win the presidency for him. (Though I've occasionally wondered if there was more to it. At the risk of creating another paranoid conspiracy virus, let me point out that through late August and early September 2008 Charles Schumer was telling every media source available that the "banks were broke" and were about to go down the tubes, which of course duly occurred only days later. Was the financial crisis given a little nudge to assure that it would occur at the most useful moment? It strikes me as a little strange that Schumer's behavior at the time has vanished down the memory hole.)
So in a real sense, thanks to dumb luck, corruption, and the myriad loopholes created by identity politics, Obama succeeded in reaching state office, the U.S. Senate, and at last the White House without ever having to fight a real, serious, A-to-Z political campaign.
Contrast this with Mitt Romney, who has impressive experience both winning and losing elections. He managed to win as a Republican in the blue citadel of Massachusetts -- no mean trick. Though he lost the 2008 primaries, he learned well form the experience -- his primary campaign of the past few months has been one of the most impressive of recent years by any politician on either side of the aisle. With the tide consistently running against him, Romney targeted his opposition and took them down one after the other (when they didn't do him the favor), in as controlled and deliberate a process as we've seen from anyone in recent campaigns. And now this successful, capable, and unmatched machine is going to be turned on Barack Obama.
The shoe is on the other foot this year -- it's Obama's depression and his lousy recovery, and it's unlikely he can overcome that, no matter how many terrorists he kills or gays he marries in the Oval Office. His attempt to gin up world-changing events involving the pill, the Trayvon shooting, and his strategic condominium with mighty Afghanistan have not set the voters aflame. More of the same is unlikely to help. The nightmare is that he'll attempt something on the order of the Osama bin Laden hit in August and end up getting a lot of good men killed. What seems obvious at this point is that he cannot run a customary campaign. For all sorts of reasons, no minor one being the fact that he doesn't know how.
Mythmakers, have, not for the first time, done Obama a disfavor, building up expectations to a point where nobody -- much less this second-string community organizer -- could ever fulfill them. So there being nothing else, this campaign will be carried out in customary Chi-town style, with dirt, threats, and manipulation.
So what would I predict this time around? I dunno. Go ask Hugh Downs. But I will tell you this: Obama can't depend on the machine, chance, or novelty this time around -- and there is no sign that he is so much as aware of this fact.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.