August 29th, 2011

Obama 2012: The Content-Free Campaign

by Philip Baruth

It’s an understatement to say that VDB is “disappointed” with Barack Obama. “Disappointed” would be a word you’d use to describe a President who, through no real fault of his own, sort of narrowly missed bringing your political hopes to life. A President who accidentally dropped your dreams on the 5 yardline. In this case, though, there’s no denying the reality: Barack Obama, because he foresaw no challenger on the Left and because he (like Clinton) came to see a modus vivendi with the GOP as the defining accomplishment post-healthcare, has governed from the Center-Right since then by choice, by inclination. He is here, today, by design.

Yes, Obama seems highly reactive, and it would be easy to mistake this approach for one that has been thrust upon him. But make no doubt about it, there is a logic and a strategy and often an eagerness to it.

It is in part the work of an inherently conciliatory spirt, and in part hardball politics. By moving so far right so early, Obama has pushed the GOP to the outer fringes, and Perry for instance will have a very tough time making his way back to something like perceived moderation.

But that makes any significant concessions to the Left very unlikely over the next 14 months. To move Left is to allow his opponents to criticize, but then follow, moderating their own position even as they score points.

Obama extended the Bush tax cuts because he wanted to do so, not because he was held hostage. He put entitlements on the table, and kept them there, because he wants to cut them — or more precisely, he wants to be seen cutting them. He wants to run on it as a major achievement.

Why? It’s a Sister Souljah moment, but on a scale far grander than Clinton would ever have attempted. That’s what Obama’s running on. That’s all he’s running on.

If you believe otherwise, VDB would ask you this: why then set up the Super Committee to run through the Fall, and let the budget debate with the GOP dominate the Winter and Spring? Why let debate over budgets and deficits be the sum of the debate?

Because Obama really plans to offer nothing else. Nada.

No political agenda. No real content. Nothing but cutting where his enemies say he won’t cut, which is to say, all of the areas he once swore on the campaign trail to spare.

The 2012 message is short but sweet: I am Barack Obama, I’m a good man and I govern as a mildly Conservative President, rather than the extreme version otherwise available. Take it or leave it. That the bumper sticker has no slogan is no accident: his people don’t want to attach him to anything. Even “Winning the Future” had a tiny nugget of progressive policy imbedded within it — we were going to invest, even as we cut.

But we didn’t win the future. We lost it, within the space of about 5 months. And here we sit, prepared for an election we’ll be asked to regard as one of the most important in our lifetimes. So let VDB suggest the slogan, because it’s remarkably apt, from a pure marketing perspective: