By Abraham Katsman
July 26, 2011
President Obama is going to lose his bid for re-election. Not just because of the anemic recovery, stubborn unemployment, runaway spending, staggering deficits, lack of public faith in his ability as commander-in-chief, his hostility towards Israel’s government, the rise of the Tea Party, or the Republican-favoring implications of redistricting on the electoral map. Those are all factors, and the coming months will provide endless columns discussing each. (Of this I am sure, for I intend to write some of them.)
But there is a more fundamental reason he’ll lose: Barack Obama, once perceived as extraordinary, now just seems extra-ordinary. He has gotten politically boring. And America does not re-elect boring presidents.
Obama isn’t boring in the same conventional, square, policy-wonk manner of so many other politicians; he still acts cool, plays basketball, and parties with Hollywood’s A-list. But as a president he has become boring: he is tiresome, unpersuasive, divisive, repetitive, predictable, and cynical — importantly, the opposite of everything advertised himself to be.
Somewhere along the way, the once-soaring speeches of The Great Orator degenerated into longwinded clichés delivered in a grating, repetitive cadence. The electric smile morphed into a frequent scowl. Inspiring messages have given way to blaming everyone else for the lack of success of his policies and scolding his subjects for not “stepping up their game.” His every word seems politically calculated rather than anchored by principle. He’s shown little ability to electrify, motivate, persuade or unify anyone-except his political opposition. The country seems tired of him.
How un-motivating is Obama as President? He speaks to an America at war and rouses no patriotism. He addresses a military audience without so much as mentioning victory (a word to which he has a particular aversion). He takes a major policy address on troop levels in Afghanistan and ends up droning on about “green jobs.” Boring. If there is a single memorable line from his multitude of speeches, please tell me; I already stopped listening –and I doubt that I am alone.
Internationally, his tenure has been demeaning. His unique contributions to American foreign policy include “Leading from behind;” embracing a gutless philosophy of American Un-exceptionalism; serial apologizing for America; and subjecting America to well-deserved lectures on economic policy by our Communist Chinese financial overlords. And it’s not as if any of this has endeared America to the world; from the Thames to Tel Aviv to Taiwan to Turkey, alliances are frayed. Is this anything for voters to be excited about? What does Obama’s America stand for, anyway?
Political cynicism may be expedient, but seeing it repeatedly is boring. Being in favor of tax increases during a recession, before being against them, before being for them again is boring. Advocating breathtaking spending increases as economic “stimulus” and then blaming others for the resulting ballooning deficits is boring. Constant posturing is boring. Constant excuses are boring.
What is surprising is that Obama’s entire election was based on his uniquely un-boring image and ability to excite, motivate and inspire. Young. Hip. Black. Fresh. Cool. Confident. Different. Above-the-fray. And he delivered motivating speeches with a religious rhythm that enraptured his listeners.
From the fainting fans at his rallies to the panting panelists on the Nobel committee, candidate Obama’s rousing rhetoric tapped into something optimistic and hopeful, capturing the attention of the world. It may have all been childishly utopian — stopping the rise of the oceans, burnishing America’s international popularity by sheer force of his personality, ushering in a post-partisan political era, — but his magical message resonated. Obama was all promise.
But something happened since the campaign. Time passed. Reality intruded. The magic faded. The promise was broken. We got to know him.
As president, Obama is prickly and thin-skinned. He is preachy and condescending. He is self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-absolving, self-crediting, and self-aggrandizing. Watching him is more depressing than uplifting. He is exactly what he promised not to be: just like any other ordinary, boring politician.
Oh, fawning media still serve as Obama’s enablers, singing his praises no matter how poorly he performs. But voters — especially the young — are fickle, if not always discerning. One of the hazards of being elected as a “rock star” president is that whoever is momentarily “hot” is unlikely to remain so four years later. Perhaps Obama is the Menudo President, the Britney Spears of politics. And America has outgrown its infatuation.
Presidents Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush have two things in common: they were dull; and they were defeated in re-election bids. And Presidents Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush? One may argue about their policies or legacies, but they certainly weren’t boring; and they were all re-elected.
In general, the more boring candidate loses; Ford, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Bush (father), Dole, Gore, Kerry…the names alone make my eyes droop almost as fast as listening to yet another Obama Major Policy Address.
A dull, uninspiring candidate may get elected once, especially if facing an even more boring opponent — note Carter over Ford or Bush over Dukakis. But re-election? Not in this generation.
When a messianic figure is revealed to be all too ordinary, it is impossible for even the best political consultants to restore the original image. Think of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when the unmasked “wizard” bellows, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The curtain has been pulled back on Obama, and we see that he is no wizard. As a mere mortal, how can he re-create the magic spell of 2008?
It’s not as if no one will vote for him. Obama still owns key constituencies: blacks, unions and, most importantly, the media. But there’s a difference between getting votes, and getting out the vote: it is the difference between losing and winning. And it will be difficult to get out the vote this time around for someone as ordinary — as boring — as Barack Obama.
Abe Katsman is an American attorney living in Jerusalem. He serves as Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.