The Panic Attack That Kicked off Obama’s 2012 Campaign

Defining political opponents must be done carefully or else it can spiral out of control into an accidental referendum on President Obama's leadership.

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The Obama campaign pushed the panic button, went on the offensive, and it backfired. The political narrative has changed, dramatically forcing the hand of Democratic strategists. Just one month ago, there was a sinking feeling among Republicans that the divisiveness of the Republican primaries was going to hand President Obama the election in November. Reporters were telling conservative political operatives that the Obama campaign was smiling at our demise, sharpening its knives, and readying for the epic battle.

However, a counter-narrative has been weaving its nasty web over the past several weeks. The spike in gas prices overwhelmed the news cycle as American families realized how much money they would be paying at the pump. The Supreme Court challenged the validity of the Obama healthcare law in its oral arguments with a less than stellar performance by the solicitor general. The president's budget was embarrassingly voted down 414-0, while House Republicans passed their own version with the Democratic Senate refusing to budge.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Has the Drawn-out Primary Crippled Romney's Chances Against Obama?]

The president and his campaign realized their hold over power remains razor thin. The emergency alarm was sounded in Chicago. A clear decision has been made to go on the offense, attack the threats, and play the blame game. An outlandish advertising campaign was unleashed blaming former Gov. Mitt Romney for high gasoline prices. Then the president personally went after the Supreme Court for seriously questioning the constitutional validity of "Obamacare."  At nearly the same time, Obama took a verbal hatchet to House Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, for his budget plan and tried to link it to Romney.

The strategy to attack and define the other side can be successful if there is merit to the assault. However, the rushed response created a perception that President Obama is desperately trying to avoid responsibility.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.

Romney effectively answered Obama and painted him as a politician simply looking to deflect blame over the lack of coherent American energy policy. "The president put an ad out yesterday talking about gasoline prices and how high they are and guess who he blamed? Me," said Romney speaking in Wisconsin. "Maybe after I'm president I can take responsibility for things I might have done wrong, but this president doesn't want to take responsibility for his mistakes." 

The judiciary refused to remain silent against charges of judicial activism over Obamacare. An appellate court judge in Texas called out the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and demanded clarification by way of  a letter recognizing the authority of the federal courts to strike down laws passed by Congress. Interestingly, Obama immediately softened his assault within the same news cycle. Holder was forced to acknowledge the courts have "the final say" and tried to defend the president's remarks.

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

White House spokesman Jay Carney, called out by Fox News's Bret Baier for the failure by the president and the Democratic leadership in the Senate to pass a budget was left stammering for an answer. Paul Ryan said, "History will not be kind to a president who, when it came time to confront our generation's defining challenge, chose to duck and run. The president refuses to take responsibility for the economy and refuses to offer a credible plan to address the most predictable economic crisis in our history. "

History will note that the 2012 general election campaign was started by a panic attack from a well-oiled machine in Chicago that thought it held all the cards. The credit should go to them for recognizing the political threats around them. However the rush to define political opponents must be done carefully or else it can spiral out of control into an accidental referendum on President Obama's leadership.

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