Unable to Govern, Obama Tries Campaigning

Will he moderate his policies or push through an aggressive progressive agenda?


The scientific principle known as Occam’s Razor postulates that, all other hypotheses being equal, the solution set that requires the fewest assumptions is generally the correct one. 

To put it lightly, things have not been good for President Barack Obama in recent months. His favorability ratings dipped below 50 percent for the first time in his presidency, a large majority of Americans now oppose his recently enacted massive healthcare and stimulus laws, and his party faces what are likely to be crushing defeats in the upcoming midterm elections.

[Read more about the 2010 elections.]

So, what does Obama do in the face of this swelling policy criticism? He employs Occam’s Razor and takes to the campaign trail to sell the American people on his ideas and plead with them to “give him more time” to let his administration’s polices work.

It’s no secret that Obama is a dynamic and energetic campaigner. His 2008 campaign electrified a new set of voters, hopeful that he would bring a different tone to political discourse, chart a more centrist course, and genuinely work for the betterment of the nation.

Two years later, having made little or no good on those promises, it appears Obama is on the run, taking to town halls and campaign stops, imploring those same new voters (mainly individuals under the age of 25) who supported him in the 2008 election to engage in midterm elections. Obama was quoted as saying “Democracy isn’t a one and done proposition.” By all accounts, the response from the group was tepid at best.

Voter unrest with Obama’s policies was best exemplified during a town hall style meeting hosted by John Harwood and CNBC, in which an Obama supporter stood up and in a respectful and measured tone dropped the hammer on the president:

Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people.

Yet despite these setbacks, Obama soldiered ahead, with campaign stops, labeled “backyard listening tours” in selected states. This was the tougher, more partisan Obama. Gone were the 2008 pledges to “change the way in which Washington does business.” Obama openly attacked House Minority Leader John Boehner, the new GOP “Pledge to America,” and the dangers of a Republican takeover of one if not both houses of Congress. (It’s also likely no coincidence that Obama made stops to campaign for candidates in Virginia, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Iowa--all seen as potential battleground states for the 2012 presidential election.)

[See where Boehner gets his campaign money.]

Clearly, the Obama team is learning that campaigning and governing are two very different skill sets. While Obama may be uniquely talented on the stump, his performance as chief executive, by all accounts, has not fared so well. 

Of course, it would be remiss not to mention that the party of a newly elected president traditionally loses seats in the following midterm elections. But not nearly as many seats as objective political handicappers are predicting. For this cycle, one can’t help but wonder if much of this is the fault of the Obama administration, which forced centrist congressional Democrats to “walk the plank” and take almost impossible political votes on the stimulus package, climate change, and the now infamously partisan healthcare legislation. Most if not all of these congressional Democrats will lose their jobs as a result of bowing to Obama’s demands.

There is little doubt that Obama will remain a formidable candidate in the 2012 election. Campaigning and debating, after all, appear to be what he does best. (An expected recovery in the U.S. economy just before the height of the campaign season also won’t hurt either.) The real question is if he moderates his policies following a midterm shellacking and emulates Bill Clinton, or insists on pushing through an aggressive progressive agenda that has clearly dissatisfied the American electorate and becomes history’s next Jimmy Carter.