If Barack Obama wins reelection, as current polling trends predict he will — perhaps resoundingly — we can expect to hear in the weeks that follow endless analytical wisdom from the usual chorus of pundits. Doubtless, they’ll herald the president’s amazing political savvy and tactical brilliance; “No Drama Obama,” his moniker from the 2008 campaign, has done it again! He was always ahead of the curve, they’ll declare — a master of “three-dimensional chess”! Destined to leave the hapless Romney blindsided! Biden was key! Etc.
But as usual with the pundit class, their proclamations from on high will have been total confabulations. Until rather recently, there was every reason to believe that Obama could be defeated. Republicans once regularly basked in the inevitable deposition of his “regime.” If unemployment numbers don’t improve and discontent with healthcare reform remains high, they confidently asserted, the incumbent was toast! Put it in the bank! Recall circa Summer 2011, when elements of the conservative base salivated at the prospective side-by-side chart-based comparison of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s strong economic record with the misery wrought under Obama? Or how about Mitt Romney’s early supporters in elite GOP circles, who appeared certain that their favored candidate’s “Business Experience” would resonate well with undecided general election voters?
Ultimately, for various reasons, Perry flailed and Romney (in all likelihood) imploded — discrediting both. Yet neither of those failings bear on whether Obama was in fact vulnerable, as had been previously assumed. Because his vulnerabilities were indeed profound. However, the opposition party is so mired in its own ideological self-destruction — a fixation on conspiracy theories, ultra-nationalism, religious zealotry, and so forth — that its presidential nominee has proven utterly unable to capitalize.
For one thing, the extent to which Obama squandered the massive political capital he’d garnered following the near-watershed 2008 election confounds even today. Democrats won decisively, on a wave of discontent with the existing political order. Obama/Biden swept everywhere from Indiana to North Carolina; soon after, the cover of Newsweek blared “We Are All Socialists Now,” and the Republican Party was deemed dead in the water. America seemed on a collective emotional high. Racial barriers broken, Bush and Cheney finally sent packing. Time to start anew.
And then. Rather than pursue any kind of systemic reform to prevent future crises, Obama further entrenched the underlying weaknesses of the banking system. Aside from a few token denunciations of CEOs for purchasing expensive bathroom fixtures on the taxpayer dime, he did almost nothing to channel populist anger over Wall Street malfeasance into actionable reform. Now, a month out from what was supposed to have been a “referendum” on his job performance, the country feels no better equipped to avert another Lehman-style calamity.
One of Obama’s first acts as president-elect was to stock his Economic Advisory board with such renowned experts as Larry Summers, who had a singular role in crafting policy during the Clinton Administration — policy generally thought to have set the stage for meltdown a decade later. Remember all that fuss back in September 2008? When the world financial system was about to collapse — or so claimed the “experts” — and our only option, allegedly, was unprecedented intervention by the federal government? When very smart people insisted on infusing billions upon untold billions right back into the pockets of their fellow “experts” — many of whom specialized in securitizing fraudulent mortgages during the boom years? (Both Obama and Romney supported TARP, lest we forget.)
Then there’s foreign policy. Good grief! Fatigued after almost a decade of endless war, countless Americans were searching for a viable electoral rebuke to the Bush-era strategy of invade first, ask questions later. And so Obama was propelled to victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. As an early opponent of the Iraq war — though it’s true that he merely labeled it “dumb” — peacenik factions of the liberal base gravitated to him, rejecting the ever-hawkish Clinton. Joined by African Americans, younger voters, and some others, this confluence was enough for Obama to eek out a slim delegate victory.
But almost nothing about his first term in office suggests that Obama took seriously his core supporters’ yearning for less killing, destruction, or invasions of other sovereign nations. Instead, he dramatically expanded many of the most offending Bush-era programs, thereby sanctifying them with bipartisan consensus. He failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised, unleashed a torrent of lethal (and not exactly “surgical,” as the Administration claims) drone strikes on innocent Pakistanis and Yemenis, authorized an attack on Libya in open defiance of Congress, and the list goes on.
At the Republican National Convention, when delegates cheered Clint Eastwood’s bizarre quip that the U.S. ought to withdraw from Afghanistan “tomorrow morning,” it was largely on account of their primal anti-Obama passions. But at the same time, there’s certainly mounting discomfort with perpetual war swirling even among the GOP’s more stridently authoritarian constituencies — to say nothing of the ostracized Ron Paul movement.
Alas. Quite tellingly, Mitt Romney chose not to capitalize on any of these actual vulnerabilities. Civil liberties violations appear not to bother him in the least; indeed, Romney’s platform entails largely exacerbating the worst excesses of the Obama Administration. Platitudinous comments on the economy suggest no departure whatever from the Bush/Obama posture of bailouts and immunity for Goldman Sachs, austerity for the rest. His foreign policy advisory team is bursting to the seams with the most notorious Bush-era neoconservative warhawks, individuals no longer popular even among much of the GOP rank-and-file.
When the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was besieged, Romney parroted false memes about how Obama “sympathized” with the attackers, which precluded him from offering sober-minded, fact-driven, and completely warranted criticism of the faulty security precautions taken in both Egypt and Libya. It was a illuminating moment. Then as now, no one had much of a clue what Romney’s views on foreign policy even were or what he was trying to say — with the result being an embarassing blunder that could’ve been easily avoided. But it’s not just foreign policy. Constrained by an off-the-rails right-wing base, he cannot seem to articulate a coherent vision on virtually anything.
Maybe this is why Romney so blithely wrote off 47 percent of Americans during his remarks to super-rich donors in Boca Raton. He never had any desire to reach beyond the narrow confines of GOP group-think. And somehow this expert-approved strategy was going to win him the election?