Three years ago this month, when then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama accepted his party’s nomination before 80,000 adoring fans at Denver’s Invesco Field, he observed: “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.”
Obama meant it as a criticism of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for allegedly launching a cynical campaign instead of one built around hope. But now, it serves as a prediction of Obama’s own 2012 re-election strategy.
On Tuesday, Politico reported on the Obama campaign’s emerging plan to take down Republican presidential front-runner Gov. Mitt Romney with sharp personal attacks, including portraying the former Massachusetts governor as “weird.”
The article quoted a Democratic strategist linked to the White House saying, “unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.”
While the piece focused on Romney, the strategy could just as easily be applied to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., or whoever else wins the GOP nomination.
As a presidential candidate, Obama begrudgingly acknowledged that “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.”
Obama’s point was that he didn’t merely want to win elections, but he wanted to become a transformational liberal leader. By successfully leading America out of the depths of the Carter era, Reagan popularized the ideas of limited government and lower taxes.
Likewise, Obama wanted to lead the nation’s recovery from the Bush era, and in the process win converts to the liberal economic and social welfare vision.
Yet instead of restoring Americans’ faith that the nation’s best days are ahead of us, as Reagan did, Obama has only deepened the sense of decline. And because things aren’t going well, he hasn’t won over converts to his liberal ideology.
Obama vowed to cut the deficit in half in his first term while maintaining important “investments” in the economy. But he’ll fall far short of that goal, with his own budget office projecting next year’s deficit at $1.1 trillion.
Instead of dealing with the economy or tackling the debt problem when his party had full control of Congress, Obama spent much of his first two years ramming through a national health care law that was and remains unpopular with a majority of the public. Just 38 percent of Americans now support it, according to an average of surveys compiled by Pollster.com.
Employing slash-and-burn political tactics against his Republican opponent may ultimately re-elect Obama. But such a campaign would abandon the “new kind of politics” he once pledged to usher in.
Philip Klein is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner.