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Campaign 2010: Is Obama Out of Time?

4 years ago
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Five weeks. Thirty-five days. Eight hundred and 40 hours. Fifty thousand 400 hundred minutes. Or 3,024,000 seconds. That's how much time is left between now (that is, this Tuesday morning) and the 2010 midterm elections. Is that sufficient time for President Obama to do anything -- and I do mean anything -- to change the political landscape before Nov. 2?

Weeks ago, as the final stretch began, Democrats in Washington were beginning to grouse that Obama was not revving up the base -- let alone winning back alienated (or disappointed or angry) independent voters. It didn't even look as if he was trying that hard. The White House had no August strategy. And Obama used the back-to-school period to address foreign policy matters -- a speech about Iraq, meetings with heads of state about the Middle East -- that, as important as they may be, don't have much immediate political impact. Have no fear, White House backers said, there's still time for Obama to fire up voters. Now, almost a month later, it seems as if time is slip-sliding away rather quickly, while Obama's efforts remain somewhat conventional. He is mounting campaign-style road trips, touting his economic policies and slapping the Republicans. He's slamming them for being obstructionists who care more about tax cuts for the well-to-do than those for middle-class Americans and blasting them for serving as handmaidens of corporate lobbyists. This past weekend, Obama ripped the House GOPers' Pledge to America as a rehash of failed policies: "That's not a prescription for a better future. It's an echo of a disastrous decade we can't afford to relive."

But at this point, can such intermittent rhetorical counter-punching register with voters? Especially when the president needs to cut through the clutter of the hyper-media world. My advice to him and anyone else who wants to send a message to info-bombarded and stressed-out Americans: use a baseball bat. And use it repeatedly. Nuance is too quaint.

There may be little Obama can say or do, when unemployment is nearly 10 percent, to help his fellow Democrats facing an irate electorate. In The New York Times on Sunday, John Harwood maintained that pundits and strategists who call on Obama to turn on the empathy and forge a more emotional connection with voters are ignoring the historical record. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both had oodles of connect-with-the-commoners charm, and each lost a load of House seats in his first mid-term election.

But the question at this later-than-you-think moment is whether Obama can prevent the usual first-off-year drubbing from becoming a back-to-the-wilderness Democratic disaster. (It's certainly within the realm of possibility that his party could lose both the House and Senate.) An Obama mind-meld with the electorate -- at least good chunks of it -- wouldn't hurt. If Reagan had not been so good at inhabiting the role of president, perhaps his stay-the-course message of 1982 would have played worse and led to greater losses.

A few days ago, political handicapper Charlie Cook posted a column that implicitly suggested a path Obama could take -- or could have taken. Cook had observed several hours of focus groups sponsored by Walmart, during which mothers who had shopped at the store within the last month were asked about their lives and their political views:
The first thing that jumped out of the focus group sessions was how out of sync the political debate in Washington and on the cable food-fight shows is from the daily lives of these women. In various ways, we heard each one of them talk about the struggles they face in putting food on the table, clothes on their kids' backs and a roof over their heads. One woman talked about making lunch for her son because they couldn't afford a school lunch. I lost count of the number who, with their kids, had moved into the homes of their parents, in some cases because they had lost their homes. . . .

Every day is a struggle for these families and they feel that elected officials in both parties have abandoned them. Each group was asked, "If elected officials in Washington understood your lives, what would they do differently?" The most remarkable response was from a Denver schoolteacher who said, "I can't imagine that they could ever understand my life."

Someone else wished that elected officials could visit them in a fashion similar to the TV show "Undercover Boss" and see what life is like for working families who weren't in the best financial shape before the economic downturn and are now trying to keep their mouths above water.
Cook concluded that these women -- these voters -- "think both parties are on another planet, and they view their elected officials as unknowing, uncaring and totally disengaged from the lives of those who elect them." (By the way, women voters are critical to the Democrats' attempt to hold back a GOP surge.) But, Cook noted, there "wasn't much negative talk" about Obama. These anxious, freaked-out moms were not angry at him; they were disappointed, or even sympathetic regarding the challenges he faces in making things better.

Obama had an opening with these people. They, no doubt, were looking for a leader who could address their concerns and worries, even if he couldn't fix their problems. In political terms, they were reachable. But no politician has been reaching them. Obama aides can point to this speech or that statement to show that the president has indeed been speaking to such voters. But there's no evidence he's connecting. His words haven't worked. And his actions have not created a strong enough impression. A recent Politico/George Washington University poll shows that 51 percent of likely voters believe that Republicans will do better creating jobs than Obama; only 40 percent chose the president. (When the R's and the D's are matched up on this question, it's a statistical tie -- which ought to be little comfort for Democrats, given that their voters are not nearly as enthusiastic about voting in November as the Republicans' voters.)

So Obama apparently has been doing something wrong. Still, it appears the White House is plodding ahead toward Election Day, staying the course, so to speak -- with Obama holding the usual rallies around the country and sticking to the game plan, whatever it is.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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How long are the democrats going to keep peddling this fairy tale that Obama can't get his major agenda items accomplished because of being "obstructed" by the Republicans. Remember Al Franken? He was sworn in as the Democratic senator from Minnesota on July 7, 2009. With Joel Lieberman caucusing with the Democrats, they had a fillabuster proof Senate majority until February 4, 2010 when Scott Brown was sworn in as a Republican to fill the seat previously held by Ted Kennedy. That is a period of seven months. During that same period of time the Democrats had a large majority in the House of Representatives. And of course, Obama occupied the White House. Think about it. For seven months the Democrats could have passed any law, spent any amount of money or done anything else they wanted without the need for ANY Republican votes at all. If the "stimulus" wasn't large enough, why didn't the Democrats increase it during those seven months? If Obama could not get his agenda through Congress, the only reason would have to be his failure as the leader of the his party to gain the support of his Democratic Congress to pass his legislative agenda. This would also mean that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid could not or would not get the Democrat votes to support their party’s President. The thing that “obstructed” the Democrats, were the Democrats. Keep this in mind the next time you hear Obama say that he couldn’t get a larger stimulus or pass comprehensive immigration reform or pass Cap & Trade or get Single Payer Health Care. He didn’t get what he wanted because he failed as the leader of his party, plain and simple. Instead of taking responsibility for his failure, he does what he always does; blames someone else, the Republicans. Then again, there is probably more to being a leader than a Harvard law degree and the ability to read prepared speeches from a teleprompter. The man is a failed leader and definitely in over his head. Perhaps at least he has now learned these lessons. Then again, arrogance always trumps logic. You would think by now the Democrats would understand that the public is not as stupid as they think they are.

September 30 2010 at 12:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

yes, Corn he is out of time... I wouldn't do anymore decorating at the Whitehouse.

September 29 2010 at 11:37 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply


September 29 2010 at 10:13 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

You'd think by reading the many political articles written these days that the Dems and repugs both want the country to recover. In fact, it's clear that repugs don't want this at all. Their obstructionist policies have done nothing to improve anything except their own bottom lines. It's counterproductive to hire people when the immediate result of cutting workforces is higher profits. In addition, those who are owners or management, then have a much better opportunity to buy the world up, piece by piece. Small businesses fail, are bought or run out of business, and home prices plummet, resulting in loss of the only valuable piece they own, which is then bought by the same people who cut their payrolls to make bigger profits. Perfect system.

September 29 2010 at 8:11 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

He is not out of time ! He out of step with the American people !

September 28 2010 at 7:39 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

David, Honestly, most people are just crossing off the days on the calendar to the mid terms. Never have I seen some many people disgusted ,disappointed ,disillusioned and down heartened. All because of ego and a misplaced agenda. 53% of the people who voted were fooled ...but 47% were NOT and they are fired up. I am hopeful, time has NOT run out.......not run out on the American people. Obama's time had run out long's just that the voters couldn't express themselves yet ....34 days and counting.........

September 28 2010 at 7:21 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

"These anxious, freaked-out moms were not angry at him; they were disappointed, or even sympathetic regarding the challenges he faces in making things better." I am a woman. I am a woman who used to be a registered democrat. I am now a conservative. The above statement infuriates me. Generally speaking, women voters make horrible decisions in the voting booth. "Sympathetic" to a president that can't at least point our country in the right direction???? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but emotion is not EVERYTHING in the world. Logic has to play a part somewhere. WAKE UP women of America! Your children's future is at stake. If you enter the voting booth with only emotion and no logic you shouldn't vote. And that's my opinion!

September 28 2010 at 10:15 AM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mrrmckmrs's comment

How do you just change from being a democrate to conservative? It's impossible. For one, a democrat is the name of a political party. They can be either, conservative, liberal, moderate, etc., etc. A conservative is a person with a certain philosphy and it goes beyond politics. The chosen, party of a conservative normally is Republican and they can be made up of liberals, moderates, etc. I, being a conservative could never, ever become to believe any other way. It is who I am. I am a registered Republican, but that doesn't mean that I am automatically a conservative. Do you see? When someone says things like this, I makes me think that people really don't know the difference between their political party of choice and what basic belief's they live by.

September 28 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse -12 rate up rate down Reply

Please settle down ginione. I am a registered republican. I know EXACTLY what I am talking about. I ABSOLUTELY know the difference between my political party of choice and what basic beliefs I live by. I consider myself more of a conservative than a republican. I am a registered republican by default. I never considered myself a liberal when I was a democrat. I don't see why you got upset. For all you know I could be a libertarian. That's not the important part. Do you agree or disagree with what I said about woman generally voting on emotion?

September 28 2010 at 10:51 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply

Out of time, out of tired statist ideas of the past, and pretty near zero for improvement in the private economy or school results. Unions and their attempts to monopolize police, fire, and teacher personnel have done well at the expense of Chinese lenders. Where is the "sustainability" we heard so much about two years ago?

September 28 2010 at 8:39 AM Report abuse +26 rate up rate down Reply

The potus is out of touch with every one The liberals cant even agree within their own party They have the majority but the blame game continues They are soon to be unemployed , just like the rest of us The progressives can pack their bags

September 28 2010 at 8:37 AM Report abuse +27 rate up rate down Reply

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