Unable to leave well enough (or "bad enough?") alone, President Obama's hodgepodge of consultants, advisers, and taxpayer-funded staff, appear to be working overtime to make their boss a one term president.
For months, I have been engaged in a nonstop debate with a friend. He insists that, given the state of the economy, Obama is politically finished, whatever he does. And he thought that long before Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's credit rating from AAA to AA+. I was not so sure. "Don't underestimate the president's likability factor," I told him. "So what if no president, other than FDR, won re-election with the unemployment rate in excess of 7 percent? There are not that many cases. Besides, historical records are broken all the time. Remember that there was no precedent for Obama's emergence or election in the first place."
Little did I know that, while I was uttering those very words, Obama and his team would go to work hacking away at his strongest asset, his "likability." First came a series of bungled presidential attempts to persuade Congress to move in his direction. The problem with that, of course, was that he seemed to be traveling in no direction. What was the program he wanted voters to tell Congress to pass? Got me. [Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]
Obama's remarks were memorable for his whining about Speaker John Boehner not returning Obama's calls and his having been "stood up at the altar." There were the admonitions to legislators to "eat their peas," "pull off the Band-Aid," and adopt his daughters' homework habits. Ventures into self-pity are not what great leaders do. We pay them to lead us onto greater heights. Obama has vacillated between nonstop appearances before the crises over which he presides reach their apex and disappearing once the going gets rough."Disengaged" is the word people of all political stripes use to describe him.
Within hours of the Standard & Poor's decision, the White House went into action. Team Obama let it known that they planned a ferocious personal assault against the business record and character of Mitt Romney, the man they consider the likely presidential nominee in 2012. This was not a story reporters had to ferret out. Obama's handlers openly competed with each other in interviewers over which of them was the most brilliant.
Leaving aside the damage such a campaign would do to Obama's "brand" as someone who wanted to change, let alone uplift, the tenor of American politics, why would the president's helpers go so public with their plans? The media drew instant comparisons between what the Obamacons are planning and the search and destroy mission supporters of George W. Bush unleashed against Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry in 2004. That brought to mind images of "swift boat"-like advertisements. Those, however, were the product of independent committees and devoid of White House fingerprints. The Obama plan, should it materialize, will have the mark of the once "likable" president all over it. There will be no plausible deniability here. Nor will it take long for voters to ask why the pleasant young man who charmed them so in 2008, deliberately chose the gutter as his path to a second term. Specialists call tactics such as these "mixed messaging." [See a slide show of who's in and out for the GOP in 2012.]
By announcing its plans so early, Camp Obama gave Romney sufficient time to counter their smear campaign. (Look for Hillary's line, "Shame on you Barack Obama" to make a spirited comeback.) The president's helpers also provided Romney with an opportunity to cast himself in the role of the victim. Watch for his interparty rivals to start defending his virtue
Were this not enough, columnist Maureen Dowd reports that the White House had "blessed"New Yorker writer Nicholas Schmidle's account of the Navy Seals' operation that brought justice to Osama bin Ladin. She relates that Schmidle had to clarify that he had not actually talked to any of the participants, a truth one would not discern from reading his piece. The "23 Seals," he says, "were not the only ones who were listening to their radio communications." How did that come to be? What criteria had the administration used in deciding to which others to grant such access? All of a sudden, Schmidle's once-stunning account appears less breath taking.
Dowd also reveals that in anticipation of a "bump" a movie of bin Ladin's final hours, conveniently to be released in October 2012, the Obama crowed granted its filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal top-level access to the most classified mission in history. Some in Congress would like to know why. So might WikiLeaks.
One would have to work—and very hard—to turn the removal of bin Ladin from planet earth into a political liability. Obama's handlers seem hell-bent on doing precisely that. As was noted in this space on May 5, 2011, "As is true of so much else, all went well with this operation until the center of the action moved to Washington." In a matter of days, if not hours, the White House's presentation of what actually transpired in bin Ladin's compound that fatal day changed three times.
Next week, the president will embark on a taxpayer-funded "Yes We Can" bus tour of what was once the industrial American heartland. The purpose of the visit, if we are to believe what administration spokesmen, often unnamed, tell the press, is to raise the president's approval ratings in parts of the country where he was once more popular. His absence, again from the center of policy making, will leave Republicans debating whether they should mount a bus tour of their own or incorporate excerpts from Obama's in political advertisements later on. Then will come the president's nine day vacation among all the rich folk whose private jets he seeks to take away. The photos of him enjoying himself among the rich and famous should cost him at least three more points in his approval ratings. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]
Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers was more on point than he realized when he told the president at the White House Correspondents Association dinner last spring that the only person who could defeat Barack Obama was the Barack Obama of 2008. The contrasts between then and now could not be greater. "Only Obama can defeat Obama," the cynics will say. Let it be said that he is doing quite a job of it.