The Obama Problem
The Obama Problem is simple to explain but impossible to solve. The problem is Obama himself, and most people not named Barack or Michelle understand that.
President Obama's political career is in free-fall. He will not be reelected. Many Democrats and media personalities now understand what appeared impossible even mere months ago.
Mr. Obama burst onto the political scene as a relatively unknown wunderkind. He could read a mean teleprompter and did so with fanfare at the 2004 Democrat Convention. He had good speechwriters, an intelligent and disciplined campaign strategy, a carefully crafted biography, and a highly compliant media. He was charismatic and eloquent. Joe Biden awkwardly described him as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."
The Perfect Storm
The 2008 election was the political equivalent of a perfect storm." Two factors were key to Obama's election:
- Americans were disgusted with Washington, and especially with George Bush. The media anointed Obama as their man. They publicized his strengths and hid his weaknesses. They painted him as an outsider, someone who could bridge the gap between political parties and make Washington function. The media engineered Obama into the nomination and threw Hillary Clinton overboard in the primary process.
- The Republicans chose a sure loser to run -- shopworn Washington-establishment figure Senator John McCain. McCain offered nothing that had not already been rejected by the public. He was little more than an elderly George W. Bush who carried the additional baggage of a Washington insider. It is likely that any Democrat would have easily beaten McCain.
When the perfect storm cleared, Obama was president.
No president in recent history began his term with higher expectations and goodwill than Barack Obama, but the promise and exhilaration that accompanied his election was short-lived. In less than three years, Obama plummeted from the heights (his "Messiah" entry) to the depths (a "worse than Jimmy Carter" figure).
The turnaround was astonishing in its speed and magnitude. To put matters in perspective, it took George Bush almost eight years to hit bottom. And Bush always had little support from the media, a force that continues to protect Obama.
How Things Went So Wrong So Quickly
To understand Obama's loss in popularity, it is necessary to recognize that Barack Obama was a fluke. He was an unlikely candidate, pushed to his party's nomination as a result of the media. His election was another quirk, more aberration than achievement. The perfect storm virtually ensured that the Democrat candidate would win in 2008. It is not a strain to conclude that the mainstream media, rather than the electorate, put Obama into the highest office in the land.
In hindsight, a great mistake was made. Even the fawning media and the Democrat establishment now recognize that, although are unwilling to publicly admit it. Their behavior is analogous to refusing to discuss a friend's terminal illness in the hope that it will somehow go away.
The media and the Democratic Party are at risk if the tragedy they foisted on the nation continues. Their future is intertwined with the Obama Problem. Both sponsored him, and both may ultimately be held accountable. The battle so easily won in 2008 may cost them subsequent battles, if not the war itself.
Both know the risk. They just have no easy way of solving the problem.
Opinions regarding the factors responsible for Mr. Obama's political demise abound. A full menu is available -- the economy, broken promises, cronyism, socialism, bailouts, corruption, disillusionment, inexperience, incompetence, Chicago-style politics, etc. Pundits have a target-rich environment from which to approach the failure of the Obama presidency.
The factors above are relevant but one level removed from the root cause. The real problem is that there never was any substance to Obama. He was the political equivalent of a Potemkin village. There was nothing behind the façade. There was no "there" there. All of the problems arise from this obvious flaw.
President Obama is little more than a run-of-the-mill Hollywood extra hired to play president of the United States. A brilliant marketing campaign coupled with the perfect storm put him in office. The marketing campaign was so good that it merits a case study for the Harvard Business School.
The "man with no past" and a Hollywood veneer turned out to be a perfect candidate. "Sizzle" rather than substance was sold. Little was known about Obama and his past, allowing David Axelrod to market the political equivalent of a Rorschach blot.
Voters saw in Obama whatever they desired in a candidate. To some, Obama was a breath of fresh air, a man of principles. To others he was an outsider, not a crass politician. Others saw him as a chance to prove that they were not racists. Still others saw him as the reincarnation of Roosevelt or whomever else they admired.
Obama was a blank slate to be imagined or drawn upon by the voters. He was their chameleon, and each voter could use his or her imagination to create the ideal candidate. Not surprisingly, voters bought this product that existed only in their minds. They elected Chauncey Gardiner. Unfortunately, this fraud did not come with Peter Sellers' range or abilities.
A brilliant marketing strategy can make a first sale, but performance and satisfaction are required for the second. Axelrod's skill in marketing had no counterparty in production. No one seemed to be concerned about delivering a product that actually worked.
Obama entered office unorganized and unstructured. Nothing in his background suggested that he knew anything about management, organization, or leadership. Nor did anyone see the need for bringing in talent with these skills. As a result, the Hollywood mannequin was almost immediately exposed as nothing but flair, hype, and hot air. The public had bought a product that did not perform.
Marketing can do many things, but it cannot sell a product that people have tried and rejected. That is Obama's reelection problem. At the risk of being unsophisticated and abusing the concept of Occam's Razor, Obama's reelection problem can be expressed in one simple sentence: "Now, too many people know him."
Obama's only strength was Axelrod's ability to play on the imagination of voters. That strength no longer exists. People now know the product and have rejected it. They did not get even Chauncey Gardiner. Embarrassed and angry, the public is stuck with Chance the Gardener.
The irony is that Mr. Obama has not changed. He is the same man who was elected. His problem is not communicating, Republicans, George Bush, tsunamis, or anything else. His problem is the man in the mirror. There is no more there than an image.
Obama was all hype and no substance. That realization has dawned on voters, resulting in horrendous polling. Richard Nixon was never liked, but he was at least thought competent. Obama was liked but never competent. Now Obama is living proof of the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt. He is neither liked nor competent.
Even the hapless Jimmy Carter did not attain that status.