Recently both First Lady Michelle Obama and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis went to the key swing state of Florida to blast the president’s adversaries. For the first lady, Obama’s opponents were concerned only with “the few at the top” and care little for racial, gender, or class justice. For Solis, the sexually derogatory term “tea-bagger” summed up the wave of 2010 that for a while stopped Obama’s attempts to borrow more money in order to stimulate the moribund economy. Apparently Harry Truman’s unforeseen win in 1948 against a “do-nothing Congress” is the new model.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the Obama administration’s lone Republican, embraced a similar strategy this week. He charged that the 2010 midterm elections — the largest correction in the House since 1938 — brought in a group of nihilist Republican congressmen who “made a decision right after the election — don’t give Obama any victories. The heck with putting people to work, because we can score points.”
Aside from the fact that the midterm referendum clearly illustrated that the proverbial people wanted a change in Obama’s policies and voiced that desire by, in the president’s words, “shellacking” his party, LaHood’s allegations about Republican partisanship, even if they were true, still make little sense. From January 2009 to January 2011, Obama controlled the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Congress passed everything he asked for in order to revive the economy and, he said, to create jobs: Obamacare, more stimulus, new regulations, serial $1 trillion–plus deficits, almost $5 trillion in new aggregate debt, and record extensions of unemployment insurance and expansions of food stamps. Nothing seemed to help.
So in November 2010 the voters apparently thought that the class-warfare talk, the hyper-Keynesian borrowing, and the Obama agenda had made things worse rather than better, with near-zero economic growth and 9 percent–plus unemployment. If the Republican House is to be blamed for nine months of resistance, what could one say of 24 months of activism? For LaHood, Solis, and the first lady, it is apparently inconceivable that some House members genuinely think the vast borrowing and new regulations of the last 33 months, the constant class-warfare talk, and the new entitlements like Obamacare have had a chilling effect on business, which, for a variety of reasons, is sitting this recovery out.
The entry of cabinet secretaries and the first lady so early into the 2012 campaign apparently is predicated on the following assumptions: Compromise — as in Bill Clinton’s decision in 1995 to craft a bipartisan effort to control spending, balance the budget, and enact popular initiatives like welfare reform — is out. Obama seems to believe either that such triangulation is ideological heresy or that the independents are lost to him anyway and victory is now possible only through hard-core appeals to his energized base and negative campaigning.
In this sense, the 2010 setback was a godsend for Obama. More of the same was not working; but now its failure can be blamed on the opposition, which, late in the game and reflecting popular discontent, is not so approving of the same level of borrowing. We are now in “If only they had . . .” Lalaland, where the failure of $5 trillion in borrowed money to jump-start the economy is attributed to the inability to borrow more trillions before the next election: More of what failed surely would not have failed.
By the same token, Obama apparently hopes that recent iconic executive actions by himself or his appointees — non-enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act, the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” neglect of immigration law for non-felon illegal aliens, the EPA’s effort to shut down coal-fired plants, the NLRB’s attempt to stymie the new Boeing plant — will so energize gays, minorities, the unions, and greens that he can cobble together 51 percent without the “hope and change,” “this is our moment” soft stuff that won over independents in 2008. There will be no defense of what has been done, only blame for what has not been done. So 2012 is us/them class warfare, the old “Bush did it” mantra, and the slur that right-wing “tea-baggers” hijacked the Republican party and want to give America over to “the few at the top” as they throw the needy out on the street (“You’re on your own”) and end Social Security.
Abroad, there will suddenly be symbolic protestations on Israel’s behalf to win back errant Jewish voters in key states. The complete withdrawal from Iraq “ended Bush’s war.” Another Predator hit on someone like Dr. Zawahiri could cement Obama’s national-security credentials. If the Syrian tyranny falls, this might be attributed to “lead from behind” diplomacy or to a Libyan-like sorta intervention.
Will it all work? It might. But for now Barack and Michelle seem unlikely avatars of the modest-living, plainspoken Harry and Bess.