Obama’s big problem, I think, is that he is no longer the president he said he would be. Above all, he’s stopped trying to be that president.
The astonishing enthusiasm for Obama in 2008 rested heavily on his promise to change Washington and unify the country. You can argue about whose fault it is that Washington is even more paralyzed by tribal fighting than before–in my view, it’s mostly (though not entirely) the GOP’s fault. For whatever reason, Obama failed to bring the change he promised. That would be forgivable, so long as he was determined to keep trying. But he isn’t determined to keep trying. His campaign message so far boils down to this: You just can’t work with these people. I tried, they’re not interested, so it’s war. If they want bitter partisan politics, they can have it.
Crook contends that Obama has actually had to compromise quite a bit, but Obama’s political team spins it as something he’s grudgingly accepted, rather than as a celebration (however insincere) of the virtues of compromise. More:
The middle of the country doesn’t want grinding paralysis, and it also doesn’t want a pre-Clinton Democratic program. The middle of America is center-right, not center-left. How many times do Democrats need to be told this? Swing voters want Obama to keep trying to do what he said he would do–not reluctantly, but with limitless patience and because he believes it’s the principled approach leading to the right policies. Then if compromise fails, there’d be no doubt whatever who was to blame.
So that’s why today I’d put my money on Romney to win, even though he doesn’t deserve to. He’s unfrightening and he looks like a pragmatist. Little as that is, it might be enough. His etch-a-sketch personality is a strength, not a weakness: The country doesn’t want a right-wing true believer. Whether he could make the compromises happen, of course, is doubtful. I’m not saying that he could. Only that, as the election comes round, he’ll be able to say that he’d try with more conviction than Obama, apparently, can any longer muster.
I’m not sure I buy this. My instinct is to say that Crook’s overthinking this, but he knows more about this stuff than I do. I do believe that Obama gave Romney two big gifts this year with the HHS mandate on contraception, and his endorsement of gay marriage. Social and religious conservatives were never high on Romney. They may not have been seriously in play for Obama, but their lack of Romney enthusiasm likely would have suppressed turnout. Now, there’s going to be a huge and convicted social conservative turnout in November over the religious freedom issue. However weak Romney is thought to be on this stuff, there is now no question where Obama stands, and what that will mean for religious people of traditional conviction. I expect the churches and religious organizations to do a lot of educating between now and Election Day.