Who would have thought that this month would turn out this way for Democrats? August is usually the time in Washington where Congress goes home and campaigns. People either catch up on work or go on vacations before the post-Labor Day election roller-coaster begins. It is also the time when many of us wonder what the media will cover and drag out to fill up vacant news space. This is one of the periods that the White House and majorities in Congress try to anticipate and plan a message around with the hopes that the media will gravitate towards it.
But if the White House was an NFL football team playing preseason games, it has fumbled so many balls that most coaches would send them packing. First, Michelle Obama vacations in Barcelona, causing political damage with mainstream voters who are down in this sagging economy. Then the plans to build the mosque in downtown New York next to the grave site of the World Trade Center gives President Obama the opportunity to throw gasoline on the fire with ill-conceived comments.
Now the White House has played into House Republican Leader John Boehner's hands, giving GOP candidates an incredible opportunity to talk about the problem-plagued economy. Boehner's speech at the Cleveland Economic Club Tuesday was so effective that it forced the White House to deploy the vice president to respond. By pushing back so hard, the counterattack backfired, creating a “Boehner vs. Biden” debate. It also occurs while President Obama is vacationing out of sight in Martha’s Vineyard. Democrats had wanted to create the narrative that the election is a choice between Democrats and Republicans, not a referendum on Obama and his party's leadership. However, the White House pushed the panic button and overreacted to Boehner. It would have been a wiser course not to feed more oxygen to the story. Simply allowing the press office to offer quotes would have helped tamp down headlines.
The weather this summer hasn’t been normal and neither is the political landscape, something the Obama administration should have recognized going into the last six months of the cycle. Instead of the Democrats' hoped for "choice" narrative, the summer has been dominated by a high priced vacation, the still raw nerve of September 11, and the Republican focus on the failed economy. Taken together, these negative stories have woven a counter-narrative that the White House is out of touch with mainstream America. Now it’s the fourth quarter of the game with only a few plays left for the Democratic Party. It would be wise for them to throw out the old playbook and start fresh, but even that seems unlikely to change voters' feelings.