August 25, 2008
Where Did Obama's Mo Go?
Barack Obama's big shiny campaign bus rolled into Denver with more money in the bank than air in the tires. So, where'd his Mo go?
Time works against Obama.
Back on June 8, 2007, Charles Krauthammer's article entitled "Two Years of Humble Pie" called the long presidential campaigning a "crazy improvisation [that] embodies wisdom." He listed two critical advantages of a long campaign and then, in the conclusion, added a third.
"The first two -- testing the candidates' managerial and consensus-building skills -- are undeniably useful. But like most Americans, I find it is the third -- the gratuitous humiliation of our would-be kings -- that makes it all worthwhile."
Many Republicans, Democrats and independents welcomed Obama's bold audacity in confronting, and then besting, the Clintons. Once Hillary was clearly not going to be nominated, his audacity turned into a presumption of ultimate victory as he displayed an entitlement that peaked in his Berlin speech. The Europeans loved it. Americans, though, were largely unmoved by his celebrity status on the continent.
As the battle with McCain tightens, his demeanor is morphing into adolescent bravado in the form of trash-talking. For example, he reportedly stated that John McCain "doesn't know what he's up against" in this election and challenged him to stop questioning his character and patriotism.
Message to Obama: McCain questions your judgment, not your patriotism, sir. And your character is, as is his, a legitimate subject of query.
At a time when humility was in order, Obama displayed arrogance. Plus, he doesn't take criticism well. Americans are seeing this. The real Obama might not have emerged in a shorter campaign season. Time is not his friend.
Obama's three-legged campaign strategy is in deep atrophy.
Obama originally built his Mo largely on
(1) having been against the Iraq War while in the Illinois legislature (which didn't vote on the issue);
(2) claiming to be an agent of Change and the embodiment of Hope; and
(3) accusing the Republicans of only offering a Bush Third Term (BTT). All three legs are weakening.
The relevance of his early opposition to the Iraq War is fading as the situation there continues to improve.
Obama has not articulated what he means by his vague promise of Change and Hope. He's done little to embellish on his Blueprint campaign document, which has faded from obscurity to invisibility. In short, the sizzle of his primary victory speeches has been unaccompanied by steak of explanatory content.
Writing for CNN, David Gergen, who clearly favors Obama, suggested he execute a "game changer."
"Still this [McCain's gain in the polls] should be a huge wake-up call to Obama and the Democrats. From my perspective, Obama needs to introduce a game changer -- and fast -- before public opinion starts to gel around the notion that he is a phenom who deserves great respect but is not seasoned enough and would be too much of a risk in the Oval office."
Obama's selection of Biden as his running mate is no game changer.
With regard to the Bush Third Term strategy -- only those who have been in a political coma for the last eight years see McCain as a clone of Bush. While the BTT strategy might have worked against some other Republican candidate, it's passé against McCain.
Obama should be detailing a vision of America's future under his administration. Instead, he leans more toward criticism of America, and therefore its people.
His recent emphasis has been on trivial matters like McCain jokingly defining "rich" as earning five million dollars, and how many houses McCain owns. Technically Cindy McCain and their children own them, and McCain has stayed out of his wife's wealth. The Old Big Media will frame the successive waves of attacks in Obama's favor, but it won't shift sand on the public beach.
Meanwhile, McCain's fight strategy is landing blows on Obama. He's effectively counter-punching Obama's jabs (e.g., McCain campaign's response in the homes episode). He's dialed-up the zeal with which he compares-and-contrasts himself with Obama. And, he's effectively touting his credentials as an experienced bipartisan change agent in the Senate. The longer conservative Republicans compare McCain to Obama, the better McCain looks.
Obama lacks consistency on several key issues.
Over the last several years, Obama has espoused conflicting positions on issues that include, but are not limited to:
- legislation banning handguns;
- military funding for the Iraq War;
- troop withdrawal from Iraq;
- unconditional diplomatic contact with Iran's leader;
- the troop surge in Iraq (before and after the fact);
- presidential public campaign financing;
- immunity for telecommunications companies;
- same-sex marriage;
- the dangers posed by Iran.
Americans prefer decisive leaders, but will accept one who changes his or her mind and explains why. Obama shifts his positions, and then offers convoluted explanations based on tortured logic as to how his varying statements are not mutually exclusive.
It will be particularly interesting, especially to conservative Republicans, to hear him explain his mercurial stances on abortion infanticide.
Americans tire of celebrities who falter.
Obama is a celebrity candidate. Richard Schickel, author of Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity in America, wrote this in a chapter entitled "The Politics of Illusion":
"It is never admitted than an election campaign, or what poses as an ideological debate, is, in fact, a contest between personalities, but that is what it has become. The issues merely provide the occasions for testing the personal appeal of the contenders...Everything hinges on the tremble of the hand or voice, the glimmer of sweat on brown or upper lip, one's general air of ease of unease under performance pressure." (p. 146)
Obama will emerge from Denver with a bump in the polls. So will McCain from his in St. Paul. Regardless of who gets the bigger bump, the performance pressure on both men will intensify.
Although there are profound ideological differences separating these two candidates, many Americans will vote their impressions, and for the man they like best. And Obama's whining and braggadocio language will not play well in November.