The next five months should be interesting — given that Barack Obama is now experiencing something entirely unique in his heretofore stellar career: widespread criticism of his performance and increasing weariness with his boilerplate and his teleprompted eloquence.
Starting with his Occidental days, and going on through Columbia, Harvard, Chicago, the U.S. Senate, and the 2008 campaign, rarely has Mr. Obama faced much criticism, much less any accountability that would involve judging his rhetoric by actual achievement.
Yet what worked for so long now does no longer. Obama simply cannot run on 40 months of 8 percent–plus unemployment, a June 2009 recovery that sputtered, $5 trillion in new debt, serial $1 trillion–plus annual deficits, and dismal GDP growth. Few believe any more that what he and the Democratic Congress passed in the first two years of his administration worked — and fewer still that the Republicans are to blame in the last 17 months for stopping him from pursuing even more disastrous policies. He cannot turn instead to the advantages of Obamacare, a dynamic foreign policy, national-security sobriety, a scandal-free administration, or stellar presidential appointments. The furor over security leaks makes it harder to keep conjuring up the ghost of Osama bin Laden.
What then to expect if the race remains tight or Obama finds himself behind?
1. There will be lots more “the dog ate my homework” excuses for the dismal economy. The troubles in the EU, the Japanese tsunami, the East Coast earthquake, ATM machines, Wall Street, inclement weather, the Republican Congress, the Tea Party, and George W. Bush have pretty much been exhausted. But there is always hurricane season, a Greek exit from the euro, or a Middle East flare-up. Expect sometime before October to hear that a new “they” upset the brilliant recovery and is to blame for the chronic economic lethargy. One of the strangest aspects of Obama’s rationalizations is their utter incoherence and illogic: He brags that America pumped more oil and gas under his watch, even as he did his best to stop just that on public lands; he brags that he put in fewer regulations than did Bush, even as he boasts that he reined in business; he brags that he had to borrow $5 trillion to grow government in order to save the country, even as he claims he reduced the size of government. Why does Obama try to take credit for things on Tuesday that he damned on Monday? Is his new campaign theme: Despite (rather than because of) Obama?
2. Mitt Romney is a tough target. If Obama once loudly admitted to abuse of coke, Romney quietly confesses to avoidance even of Coca-Cola. His personal life is blameless. His family seems the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting. And Romney has more or less succeeded at most things he has attempted. No matter, he is Mormon. Expect legions of Obama surrogates to focus on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially its supposed endemic racism, sexism, and homophobia. Religious bigotry is not especially liberal, but the race/class/gender agenda trumps all such qualms, and in any case Obama and his team have never claimed to be especially tolerant or fair-minded in using any means necessary to achieve noble ends. Whereas the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Trinity Church were off the table in 2008, Mormonism will be very much on it by late summer.
3. We will read and hear about race 24/7. Racism is not an easy sell today, given that without tens of millions of white voters, Barack Obama would not have been elected. Nor is it easy to condemn America as racist when the white vote in 2008 was split far more evenly than were the 96 percent of African-American voters who preferred Barack Obama. Nonetheless, racial relations are at an all-time low. Almost weekly a member of the Congressional Black Caucus levels yet another bizarre charge of racism, and a Hollywood actor or singer blurts out something that would be deemed racially offensive were he not African-American; the polarization over the Trayvon Martin case threatens to overshadow the polarization over the O. J. Simpson trial; flash mobbing in the inner cities is as much daily fare on the uncensored Internet as it is absent from the network news; and both Barack Obama (the Skip Gates affair, the Trayvon Martin quip, the “punish our enemies” call, etc.) and Eric Holder (“cowards,” congressional oversight is racially motivated, “my people,” etc.) have made it a point to make race essential, not incidental, to their governance. If in 2008 liberals celebrated the election of Barack Obama as proof of a new postracial harmony, in 2012 a tight race will be cited as greater proof of a new ascendant racism. The idea that to elect Obama wins the nation racial exemption, and to defeat him earns condemnation, is illogical. No matter: By late fall, expect a desperate Obama administration to be dredging up the charge overtly, nonstop, and in person.