I’d always wondered if, in 2008, Barack Obama and his political team were not as smart politically as they were lucky. He got one fundamental thing right as he launched his campaign now more than four years ago; people wanted “change.” And he had an organization.
In short, he had the right theme at the right time with the right organization. But, his campaign seemed to flounder when faced with a tough offensive, the Hillary campaign when she found her second wind in the late primaries and the bounce the McCain campaign got with the Palin pick (until the media helped destroyed that accomplished Alaska reformer).
Even conservatives wanted “change.” Conservative pundits, bloggers and activists, while (generally) genuinely liking George W. Bush and grateful for his leadership in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 as well as for his determination to win the war in Iraq, regretted that that good man didn’t do enough to hold the line on federal spending, that he failed to use his political capital to eliminate unnecessary federal programs — and to deregulate our economy.
Obama seized that mantra of change (that even conservatives hoped for) and won, even drawing in even the votes of some disgruntled conservatives and libertarians.
Now, Peggy Noonan observes that the Democrat is not good at politics*, “and he isn’t good at politics because he doesn’t really get people.” People don’t really love him, she claims. He’s better at tearing down than building up:
The fact is, he’s good at dismantling. He’s good at critiquing. He’s good at not being the last guy, the one you didn’t like. But he’s not good at building, creating, calling into being. He was good at summoning hope, but he’s not good at directing it and turning it into something concrete that answers a broad public desire.
And so his failures in the debt ceiling fight. He wasn’t serious, he was only shrewd—and shrewdness wasn’t enough. He demagogued the issue—no Social Security checks—until he was called out, and then went on the hustings spouting inanities. He left conservatives scratching their heads: They could have made a better, more moving case for the liberal ideal as translated into the modern moment, than he did. He never offered a plan. In a crisis he was merely sly. And no one likes sly, no one respects it.
This helps explain why the president remains insistent on blaming George W. Bush even two-and-one-half years after that good man left the White House. The incumbent is better at critiquing than he is at turning the ambitious rhetoric of his 2008 campaign into actual policies.
*I recall reading another pundit offering a similar assessment, but my google searches have been to no avail in trying to track it down.