If there is a defining moment to the Obama Administration, it occurred in the president’s “private meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans on [his first] Friday [in office, when] Obama ended a philosophical debate over tax policy with the simple declaration that his opinion prevailed because ‘I won.’”
He may well have set the tone for this fall’s campaign when almost exactly a year later when Obama said “the big difference here [the current election year] and in ’94 was you’ve got me.” His “his personal popularity,” as Glenn Thrush put it, “would bail everybody out.”
Simply put, Obama thought he could sell his policies based on the power of his personality. And his assumption wasn’t entirely groundless. Based on one well-delivered speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he saw himself rise from an obscure Chicago pol to the toast of the Democratic Party.
He could move millions to his cause merely by offering hope and promising change, inspiring them through his scripted eloquence and his winning smile.
Personality alone could not sell his policies. Support for his health care overhaul declined the more he pressed for its passage. Barack Obama just doesn’t realize the power of ideas. Commenting on Douglas E. Schoen’s, recent survey “of likely independent voters”, Heather Higgins contrasted the incumbent with two of his recent predecessors, “Presidents Reagan and Clinton resonated with the American center because they were masters at connecting their policies with the underlying values that determine intensity and outcomes.”
Like Obama, both men have earned praise for their power to win over a crowd, but each understood (Clinton particularly after the 1994 elections) that personality alone would not secure a popular mandate.