The second element of Obama's recovery strategy is to distance himself from a divided, dysfunctional, unpopular Congress. This, of course, is not fully consistent with element one -- getting legislative achievements out of an institution you are savaging. These attacks are not new or, so far, successful. The debt limit debacle was punctuated by the president's irritable complaints about Congress -- particularly about its refusal to raise taxes. Congress responded with complaints about the president's late and erratic interventions -- then pretty much ignored him in crafting a final deal. Americans justifiably held the entire political class responsible. A president cannot distance himself from a process he is supposed to lead and failed to lead effectively.
Third, the Obama camp has previewed a campaign of personal attacks against their Republican opponent, whomever it happens to be. Obama advisers and Democratic strategists have been quoted by Politico calling Mitt Romney "weird," possessing an "innate phoniness," which will allow Democrats to "kill" his campaign. David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, has distanced himself from these comments. But such hardball is consistent with the way Obama has treated Speaker John Boehner (going to his home state of Ohio in 2010 to attack him directly) and Rep. Paul Ryan (inviting Ryan to a budget speech in which Obama trashed him as an enemy of children with Down syndrome). As president, Obama has been comfortable practicing the Chicago way of politics. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry now offers a target so tempting that even Democrats outside Chicago will find it hard to resist.
Obama's cause is far from hopeless. His support has declined but not collapsed. A weak Republican opponent would help. And this emerging strategy -- proposing symbolic measures on jobs, bashing an unpopular Congress and discrediting rivals -- may be Obama's only option. A campaign taking credit for positive economic accomplishments would be nearly silent.
For voters, however, this prospect is daunting. Obama's least attractive public attributes are his peevishness and blame shifting. Do we really have to endure a presidential campaign based on those traits?
And this strategy must be a comedown for at least some of the idealists who elected Obama in the first place. Following expectations few presidents have raised as high, Obama has transformed into the most typical of politicians. There is little distinctive, elevated or inspirational about his message or his tactics. And this adds an unwanted accomplishment: the further political disillusionment of a nation.
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