Barack Obama The Survivor
In the aftermath of the House Oversight committee vote to hold United States Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, I've been pretty dejected these last couple of days. Fortunately for me, I came across a 2001 copy of Vanity Fair whose feature article explored the survival instincts of former president Bill Clinton. The writer, David Halberstam, was a little over the top with some of his more grandiose descriptions of Clinton’s preternatural ability to sense the mood of the American electorate, but it was hard to argue with his basic premise that Clinton’s main political skill was survival.
What was most interesting to me, however, was that for long stretches of this article, you could simply replace the name “Clinton” with “Obama”, and the insights would be as accurate now as they were then:
“Clinton was elected with a minority of the white male vote. His constituencies were-unlike the traditional blue collar constituency that had lasted from Roosevelt to Johnson-comparatively frail and volatile, an odd amalgam of women, blacks, Latinos, gays, and some blue collar workers. Clinton understood all too well his good fortune in the fundamentalist right’s hold over the Republican nominating process: the way it tended to alienate middle-class women-the great new swing factor in American politics-and also to produce badly damaged Republican presidential candidates.”
“The Great Survivor” Vanity Fair January 2001
Barack Obama’s survival skills are every bit as formidable as Clinton’s. I believe the rough and tumble childhood that both Obama and Clinton share give them the kind of instincts most of their Republican opponents simply do not possess. Where Clinton was a true peacock who needed to defeat his political enemies on center stage, Obama’s strength as a candidate lies in his ability to confound, surprise, and astound his opponents. Obama’s style is similar to that of a heavyweight boxer who gets a few unseen punches to the solar plexus in every time he and his opponent end up in the clinch. Very few boxing matches get decided by a knockout punch, the same way very few presidential elections get decided by one cataclysmic event, but the press and the public are still predisposed to attempt to identify the one “gamechanging” event that will decide this race.
The Obama re-election campaign, despite the lackluster level of press it is receiving these days, is holding its own. In the face of the equivalent of a comprehensive Republican assault on the Obama administration by land, sea and air, this is still President Obama’s race to lose. Mirror On America, one of the blogs I read, did a SWOT analysis of the Obama Administration for the 2012 presidential campaign that identifies Obama’s current weaknesses – a scandal, real or manufactured, the House of Representatives, and the Obama campaign’s own failure to sell their candidate to the public.
The Obama campaign has failed to give the public a simple but coherent message that boils the last three and a half years down to a couple of catchy lines people can repeat at cocktail parties, at ball games, in the barber shop or on the radio to combat the tendency of people left to their own devices to repeat the opposition’s talking points because nothing else exists. When the “people left to their own devices “ are African American radio hosts on urban radio stations sounding the death knell for the president because of the “billions and billions of dollars” being raised by Republicans to defeat him, your re-election campaign is not successfully disseminating a message with any degree of resonance.
Regardless of how things may appear day-to-day, I am not going to underestimate President Obama. As the saying goes, “still waters run deep.”
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.