Obama's calls for a new civility four years ago are apparently inoperative. The vow to "punish our enemies" and the intimidation of Romney campaign donors are a long way from the soaring speech at Berlin's Victory Column and "Yes, we can." Obama once called for a focus on issues rather than personal invective. But now we mysteriously hear again of Romney's dog, his great-great-grandfather's wives, and a roughhousing incident some 50 years ago in prep school.
The "hope and change" slogan for a new unity gave way to a new "us versus them" divide. "Us" now means all sorts of targeted appeals to identity groups like African-Americans for Obama, Latinos for Obama, gays for Obamas, greens for Obama, or students for Obama. "Them," in contrast, means almost everyone else who cannot claim hyphenation or be counted on as a single-cause constituency. In 2008, the Obama strategy was supposedly to unite disparate groups with a common vision; in 2012, it is to rally special interests through common enemies.
Remember the Obama who promised an end to the revolving door of lobbyists and special-interest money? Then came the likes of Peter Orszag, who went from overseeing the Obama budget to being a Citigroup grandee, and financial pirate Jon Corzine, who cannot account for more than $1.5 billion of investors' money but can bundle cash for Obama's re-election. If you told fervent supporters in 2008 that by early 2012 Obama would set a record for the most meet-and-greet fundraisers in presidential history, they would have thought it blasphemy.