In 2009, Obama pushed through his health care plan by a narrow partisan margin in the House, despite constitutional questions about the individual mandate. Now, as the Supreme Court seems skeptical of the legality of ObamaCare, the president seems to be running against "unelected" justices. That could work too. In 1968, Richard Nixon squeaked by Hubert Humphrey in a divisive campaign, in part by lambasting the activist Warren Court that had done everything from outlawing school prayer to supporting school busing.
Team Obama has seized on the Democrats' allegations of a "war on women," waged by both Republican and Catholic grandees against federal subsidies of birth control. For the first time since the campaign of John F. Kennedy a half-century ago, the role of the Catholic Church in politics is suddenly a landmark issue.
The president faults "Big Oil" and tension in the Middle East -- not his own failure to develop vast new gas and oil reserves on public lands -- for high gas prices. Jimmy Carter likewise blamed greedy oil companies and the Middle East in 1980, after gasoline prices spiked and lines formed at filling stations.
Suddenly, after the Trayvon Martin tragedy and what may prove to be murderous white vigilantism in Oklahoma, race again looms large. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have weighed in often on that issue. The former castigated police for acting "stupidly" in one incident, and more recently reminded the nation of the racial affinities between himself and Trayvon Martin. The latter blasted the nation's reluctance to discuss race as cowardly, and alleged racial bias among his own congressional overseers. Race is always an explosive wedge issue. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran successfully in part on the need to expand civil rights, while in 1968 Richard Nixon found traction in the backlash against racial violence.
If Obama can cobble together disaffected young people, greens, women, minorities and the poor -- who all believe a nefarious "they" have crushed their dreams -- then massive debt and deficits, high unemployment, sluggish growth and spiraling gas prices won't decide the election.
Lots of presidential candidates have run by identifying such enemies of the people, rather than debating the general state of the nation -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
But the problem with an us/them strategy is not just winning an election, but trying to put back together what was torn asunder.
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