A Staggeringly Empty Suit

November 8, 2010

Many commentators are speculating whether President Obama will move to the center or “triangulate” in order to salvage part of his agenda and increase his chances for re-election. I don’t believe he has either the inclination to move or the political skills to successfully pretend to (or otherwise outmaneuver Republicans), which leads me to conclude his re-election will depend less on his shenanigans and more on how the GOP acquits itself.

Dick Morris recently argued that Obama will not be able to move to the center or triangulate “because — even if he wanted to — he can’t. The issues today are very different from those that separated the parties in 1994 and do not lend themselves to common ground.” I agree with Dick but also think there’s more to it.

Every indication is that Obama is utterly intransigent and will continue to butt his head against the leftward wall. But even if he were to employ head fakes to the contrary, he couldn’t pull them off. He doesn’t have the political skills in his whole body that Bill Clinton has in his pinkie.

The way Obama stormed onto the political scene, excited crowds, caused women to faint, and annihilated the Clinton machine led to the perception that he is a peerless campaigner, but I reject it.

There is no question that his shtick, backed up by a highly oiled and ruthless cabal of veteran community organizers, worked the first time around. But given what’s transpired since, could it ever work for him again? I think not.

His carefully choreographed messianic mystique, coupled with his lack of an executive record, nicely accommodated his platitudinous promises of hope and change. But now we have his record — confirming his unambiguously liberal background, associations and legislative record (all of which his useful enablers refused to acknowledge) — and it violently contradicts his platitudes. We have watched him in action, and he’s no conciliator; he’s a petty partisan bully. He brought not Utopia, but misery; he displayed not “bipartisanship,” but hyper-partisanship; he did not end racial discord, but exacerbated it.

Unfortunately for Obama but fortunately for America, Obama has only one play in his policy playbook (extreme liberalism) and one method of running it (Alinskyite strong-arming). He has proved himself congenitally incapable of the slightest flexibility or adaptability. To use a rough football analogy, it’s as if his offensive line continually opened enormous holes, allowing him to run up the middle for major yardage and repeated touchdowns, but the defense has now closed the holes. Obama has no other running plays — and certainly no passing plays. (Here the analogy hits closer to home for those who have witnessed his throwing arm in baseball.)

At this point, Obama has a longer presidential track record of failure than he does as a pseudo messiah. It’s obvious that his speeches have been yielding diminishing returns for more than a year, but we received indisputable proof of it Nov. 2. Obama has no juice left. But he still doesn’t get it.

Just as he claimed he hadn’t spoken enough to the American people in his first 54 speeches on Obamacare and again after his January shellacking with the Massachusetts U.S. Senate election, he is saying it again, after last week’s shellacking. The overwhelming evidence of his policy failures is completely lost on him. He alternately insists the people are either a) too irrational to process his wisdom or b) too impatient to wait for better results.

He just repeated his claim that the midterm elections were “a referendum on the economy” rather than on him, his policies or the Democratic Party. The New York Times’ Peter Baker said, “He did not accept the suggestion that he pursued the wrong agenda over the last two years, and he focused blame on his failure to build public support for what he was doing or to change the way Washington works.” Just as delusionally, he blames the unpopularity of Obamacare on his not getting “the kid of cooperation from Republicans that (he) had hoped for.”

Lesson for Obama’s handlers: This is one of the hazards of building a messianic image around someone who’s not even particularly skillful, much less not extraordinarily so. After the facade wears off, you’re left with a staggeringly empty suit. Obama does not have the political skills Bill Clinton had to schmooze and feign moving right. He doesn’t have the humility to reconsider his agenda.

Even if he were willing to moderate his positions, he doesn’t have the competence, the leadership or the executive experience to dig himself out of the hole he’s thrown himself into.

As long as Republicans stand strong for conservative principles — and that’s a very big if — Obama’s toast in 2012.