The Obama Problem is simple to explain but impossible
to solve. The problem is Obama himself, and most people not named Barack or
Michelle understand that.
President Obama’s political career is in free-fall.
He will not be reelected. Many Democrats and media personalities now understand
what appeared impossible even mere months ago.
Mr. Obama burst onto the political scene as a
relatively unknown wunderkind. He could read a mean teleprompter and did so
with fanfare at the 2004 Democrat Convention. He had good speechwriters, an
intelligent and disciplined campaign strategy, a carefully crafted biography,
and a highly compliant media. He was charismatic and eloquent. Joe Biden
awkwardly described him as “the first mainstream African-American who is
articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
The Perfect Storm
The 2008 election was the political equivalent of a
perfect storm.” Two factors were key to Obama’s election:
- Americans were disgusted with Washington, and
especially with George Bush. The media anointed Obama as their man. They
publicized his strengths and hid his weaknesses. They painted him as an
outsider, someone who could bridge the gap between political parties and make
Washington function. The media engineered Obama into the nomination and threw
Hillary Clinton overboard in the primary process.
- The Republicans chose a sure loser to run — shopworn
Washington-establishment figure Senator John McCain. McCain offered nothing
that had not already been rejected by the public. He was little more than an
elderly George W. Bush who carried the additional baggage of a Washington
insider. It is likely that any Democrat would have easily beaten
When the perfect storm cleared, Obama was president.
No president in recent history began his term with
higher expectations and goodwill than Barack Obama, but the promise and
exhilaration that accompanied his election was short-lived. In less than three
years, Obama plummeted from the heights (his “Messiah” entry) to the depths (a
“worse than Jimmy Carter” figure).
The turnaround was astonishing in its speed and
magnitude. To put matters in perspective, it took George Bush almost eight
years to hit bottom. And Bush always had little support from the media, a force
that continues to protect Obama.
How Things Went So Wrong So
To understand Obama’s loss in popularity, it is
necessary to recognize that Barack Obama was a fluke. He was an unlikely
candidate, pushed to his party’s nomination as a result of the media. His
election was another quirk, more aberration than achievement. The perfect storm
virtually ensured that the Democrat candidate would win in 2008. It is not a
strain to conclude that the mainstream media, rather than the electorate, put
Obama into the highest office in the land.
In hindsight, a great mistake was made. Even the
fawning media and the Democrat establishment now recognize that, although are
unwilling to publicly admit it. Their behavior is analogous to refusing to
discuss a friend’s terminal illness in the hope that it will somehow go
The media and the Democratic Party are at risk if the
tragedy they foisted on the nation continues. Their future is intertwined with
the Obama Problem. Both sponsored him, and both may ultimately be held
accountable. The battle so easily won in 2008 may cost them subsequent battles,
if not the war itself.
Both know the risk. They just have no easy way of
solving the problem.
Opinions regarding the factors responsible for Mr.
Obama’s political demise abound. A full menu is available — the economy,
broken promises, cronyism, socialism, bailouts, corruption, disillusionment,
inexperience, incompetence, Chicago-style politics, etc. Pundits have a
target-rich environment from which to approach the failure of the Obama
The factors above are relevant but one level removed
from the root cause. The real problem is that there never was any substance to
Obama. He was the political equivalent of a Potemkin village. There was
nothing behind the façade. There was no “there” there. All of the problems
arise from this obvious flaw.
President Obama is little more than a run-of-the-mill
Hollywood extra hired to play president of the United States. A brilliant
marketing campaign coupled with the perfect storm put him in office. The
marketing campaign was so good that it merits a case study for the Harvard
The “man with no past” and a Hollywood veneer turned
out to be a perfect candidate. “Sizzle” rather than substance was sold. Little
was known about Obama and his past, allowing David Axelrod to market the
political equivalent of a Rorschach blot.
Voters saw in Obama whatever they desired in a
candidate. To some, Obama was a breath of fresh air, a man of principles. To
others he was an outsider, not a crass politician. Others saw him as a chance
to prove that they were not racists. Still others saw him as the reincarnation
of Roosevelt or whomever else they admired.
Obama was a blank slate to be imagined or drawn upon
by the voters. He was their chameleon, and each voter could use his or her
imagination to create the ideal candidate. Not surprisingly, voters bought this
product that existed only in their minds. They elected Chauncey Gardiner.
Unfortunately, this fraud did not come with Peter Sellers’ range or abilities.
A brilliant marketing strategy can make a first sale,
but performance and satisfaction are required for the second. Axelrod’s skill
in marketing had no counterparty in production. No one seemed to be concerned
about delivering a product that actually worked.
Obama entered office unorganized and unstructured.
Nothing in his background suggested that he knew anything about management,
organization, or leadership. Nor did anyone see the need for bringing in talent
with these skills. As a result, the Hollywood mannequin was almost immediately
exposed as nothing but flair, hype, and hot air. The public had bought a
product that did not perform.
Marketing can do many things, but it cannot sell a
product that people have tried and rejected. That is Obama’s reelection
problem. At the risk of being unsophisticated and abusing the concept of
Occam’s Razor, Obama’s reelection problem can be expressed in one simple
sentence: “Now, too many people know him.”
Obama’s only strength was Axelrod’s ability to play on
the imagination of voters. That strength no longer exists. People now know the
product and have rejected it. They did not get even Chauncey Gardiner.
Embarrassed and angry, the public is stuck with Chance the
The irony is that Mr. Obama has not changed. He is
the same man who was elected. His problem is not communicating, Republicans,
George Bush, tsunamis, or anything else. His problem is the man in the mirror.
There is no more there than an image.
Obama was all hype and no substance. That realization
has dawned on voters, resulting in horrendous polling. Richard Nixon was never
liked, but he was at least thought competent. Obama was liked but never
competent. Now Obama is living proof of the old adage that familiarity breeds
contempt. He is neither liked nor competent.
Even the hapless Jimmy Carter did not attain that