Obama Takes a Dive?

Judging by some of the comments that followed my last blog post, Obamapoligists are kind of touchy when someone messes with their worldview. I doubt if this one will receive any better a reception among Obama supporters, although it does suggest a credible reason for their man’s miserable performance during the first debate.

I think the generalization can be made that many of our elected officials and most of our Presidents have not been…well…very bright. There are, of course, some notable exceptions: Kennedy comes to mind, the prescient Jimmy Carter, and Clinton, although the latter sold-out to the banking interests, and became the catalyst, if not the cause of the 2008 meltdown. For the most part, we tend to vote for the candidate most like ourselves, at least the one who most reflects our values and worldviews. The results get interesting in a country where large numbers of the electorate are conditioned, almost from birth, to be wary of anyone who appears to be more intelligent, or better educated than themselves.

When Obama came along, I was struck by his calm self-assurance, and quiet self-confidence. I was somewhat reminded of Kennedy, but Obama never had Kennedy’s warmth and personal charm, he appeared somewhat aloof, as though he was above the struggles the rest of us are engaged in. There was a marked contrast between Obama and not only his opponent, but his predecessor as well.  Obama was intelligent, articulate, and a hell of an orator.

Like Matt Taibbi, I didn’t watch the recent debate, I read the transcript instead. I agree with Matt’s take in this excellent piece, that one of the candidates lied his butt off, and the other candidate decided not to show up. Why was this? Why did Obama decide not to participate in the debate? There are all manner of speculations floating around, everything from “a no good, very bad day” to a case of the flu. My favorite is this piece from Dave Lindorff on CounterPunch.org. He presents a good case that the Obama no-show was more of a political tactic than anything else, one that could have far-reaching consequences.

After listing some of the opportunities to call Romney on some of his obvious deceptions that Obama missed, Lindorff draws this conclusion:

“What we witnessed at the first debate was the result of a cold calculation by Obama and his campaign that the president has lined up all the votes he is going to win from Democratic and progressive voters, and that he needs now, particularly in a few swing states, to try to capture more of the so-called undecided vote — a group supposedly composed of very ill-informed and ignorant people who make their decisions based not upon facts, but upon some bizarre combination of looks, demeanor, facial expressions and “likeability.”

Lindorff sees this as a serious tactical error on the part of Obama and his advisory team, who performed almost flawlessly in the 2008 election cycle. Lindorff correctly deduces that there are two other categories of undecided voters who would be turned-off by the approach Obama adapted:

 “I think this was a disastrous misreading of who the undecided voters really are. Certainly there are some who are undecided between Obama and Romney, which while hard to imagine, is nonetheless a category of voter who actually exists. But there are also many undecided who are wondering, not which candidate to vote for but whether to vote at all, or whether to vote for a major party candidate or a third party candidate.”

Then he gets to the consequences of this approach by the President, and explains how the down-ballot might be impacted:

“He will not have long coattails. He will probably still face a Republican House, and perhaps even a Republican Senate, or at least one in which Republicans are even stronger than they have been in the current Senate. The only way Democrats would be able to make major gains in Congress would be for the president to be campaigning aggressively for voters to give him a Democratic Congress, and he doesn’t even talk about that as a goal out on the stump.”

A perfectly valid conclusion, based upon the strategy Obama and his team seems to have adapted. Obama tries to appeal to the lowest common denominator among the electorate, in order to swing a few uncommitted voters, and as a result, risks sacrificing Democratic hopes to retake the house and perhaps keep the Senate. Mr. Lindorff finishes this way:

“It also means that even in the unlikely event that Democrats managed to wrest narrow control of the House, and to narrowly hang on to control of the Senate, there will be no mandate for progressive change, for strong defense of the remaining critical elements of the New Deal and Great Society — Social Security and Medicare — or any important issues.

But let’s be clear: This is obviously what the Obama campaign has decided to do. Not that they wanted to lose, but given the position they wanted to take, this was not a “poor showing” by Obama. It was a tactic.”

I agree completely that this ploy by Obama was a tactic. Obama has one of the best political teams ever assembled and the man is not stupid. There just isn’t any way that the performance the other night wasn’t planned in advance. He had too many opportunities, and missed every single one of them, without exception. I agree it was a tactic, but I’m not so sure that it was designed to capture a segment of uncommitted voters. I think there is another possibility we might consider.

According to every poll prior to the debate, Obama was in cruise control, and set-up to win the election in a walk. The Romney camp was disorganized, seemingly dispirited, and the candidate was suffering from foot-in-mouth disease. The Obama who debated McCain four years ago would have run the table with Romney, but he didn’t. The question becomes why not?

To answer that question, we have to look at who benefited the most from the gridlock we’ve had in the Congress for the last four years. Obviously, it’s the moneyed interests who control the political infrastructure from top to bottom. What happens to them if, for some reason, the Democrats were to take over the house and gain a decent majority in the Senate? Obama might be forced to pretend to be a progressive again, like he was early in his administration, before it became clear that the blue dogs in the Senate were going to put the brakes on anything he tried to do. If the Republicans retain control of the house, and the Senate remains effectively equal, it becomes far easier to maintain the status quo, which presently is most advantageous to the moneyed interests.

I agree with Lindorff that Obama took a dive, however I disagree that the objective was to attract a group of undecided voters. I think the real objective was to keep the House and Senate close by shortening the Presidents coattails, meaning that Obama can keep using the “obstruction” excuse that he has been using for the last four years. Mr. Lindorff again:

“And that’s the real problem with this president. He is decidedly not a progressive. He is simply a less politically savvy Bill Clinton: a conservative Democrat, particularly on economic issues, who has allowed himself to become captive of the corporate interests who have funded his campaign, and who really do not particularly care whether he wins or Romney wins.”

What makes Obama so very dangerous is that whatever he does, he has most of the left in his hip pocket, allowing him to get away with almost anything he wants to do. He is a captive of corporate interests, so what if he didn’t lose the debate, but was just following orders?

One thought on “Obama Takes a Dive?

  1. Gordon

    I read where Romney had a team of debate experts working with him for several days before the debate. Maybe Obama’s substandard performance was lack of preparation due to laziness or doing other things like raising money. I preferred Hillary over Obama anyway and I think she would have enjoyed battling Republicans. It seems to me he enjoys reaching across the aisle and not wanting to mix it up with them even though they’ve been out to get him from day one. IMO anyway

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