Friday, October 21, 2011


Richard Stevenson of The New York Times thinks Team Obama is trying to replicate the 2004 Bush reelection strategy:

The parallels are sufficient enough that Mr. Obama and his team have studied, and to a striking degree are replicating, the Bush re-election playbook.

Already they are building a narrative in which Mr. Obama made politically brave decisions to do what was right for the economy, even if those decisions were unpopular. It's a theme that echoes Mr. Bush’s argument in 2004 that he did what it took to keep the country safe, and that even if you disagreed with him, you knew where he stood.

As for defining the opponent, Mr. Obama's supporters are already hard at work hammering home the idea that Mr. Romney is an inveterate flip-flopper, a man without core or convictions who says and does whatever is necessary to advance his political interests. It's an approach that bears a passing similarity to the Bush re-election campaign's efforts to paint Mr. Kerry as an inveterate flip-flopper, a man with core or convictions who. ... You get the idea.

Needless to say, it ought to be much easier to paint Romney as an inveterate flip-flopper than it was to do the same for Kerry, one or two gaffes on the latter's part notwithstanding, and I see that the Dems are already putting this graphic in anti-Romney videos:

It's the rest of the strategy that has problems.

Bush could portray himself as the implacable enemy of our implacable enemy, and despite the fact that he never got bin Laden and he botched two wars, one of which (the one he put most of his effort into) was against an enemy that had nothing to do with our national crisis and didn't pose the threat he claimed it did. But Bush sure seemed like a tough guy, at least to the GOP base, and to just enough swing voters to win in '04 -- he seemed to have a laserlike focus on "freedom" and defeating "evil" and other pure, absolute goals.

Obama, by contrast, can't quite seem to decide who the enemy is in the current national crisis. (Bush changed the enemy, but so subtly most people had no idea he'd done it.) And Obama doesn't focus enough on claiming he's fighting the good fight against pure evil. He doesn't declare anyone to be pure evil, at least not consistently.

More important, the Bush strategy worked because it built on a subtext that preceded 9/11 (and preceded Bush, in fact). The implicit enemy of Bush was American liberalism -- the horrible lefties and Democrats who mocked Bush's Texas tough-guy talk and cowboy act and who favored "nuance" while questioning the war against Saddam. Obama didn't come into office with a large voting bloc ready to rally around an enemy of such an enemy, and he hasn't built a narrative around such an enemy, nor does he seem to want to, at least much of the time.

So he may win by running against someone he can paint as '64 Goldwater or '72 McGovern, but he's not going to win by being '04-vintage Bush.