Remember when President Obama inspired Americans with such tired bromides as, "There are no red states or blue states, just the United States"? Remember when Obama declared that Americans had to pull together, because what united us was stronger than what divided us?
Yeah, not so much.
President Obama's re-election campaign has been an exercise in fragmentation. Where the 2008 campaign was built thematically around the notion that a polarized electorate was bad for the country and that election of a third-way, multi-racial president could symbolically overcome our divisions once and for all, the 2012 campaign is built on precisely the opposite notion: Americans united in opposition to Obama's agenda must be divided again.
And so Obama has carved up the electorate into winnable chunks. And he's appeasing those chunks of the electorate, one by one.
Start with the black community. President Obama's record in the black community has been abysmal. Aside from appointing a record number of blacks to his administration, he's done nothing for the black population in America. They're worse off than ever in terms of employment and income. But Obama has a plan to exploit them. First, he raises the phony specter of white racism on a regular basis. Trayvon Martin? Hey, he got shot, and he looked just like Obama's son! Interrupt the president during a press conference? That's because white people hate Obama! Next, Obama makes the racial solidarity pitch to the black community with disgusting pandering -- an Obama radio ad plays an R&B track underneath the sound as soul singers whisper, "We've got his back!"
It's sickeningly exploitative. But that's the new Obama way.
But Obama can't win the presidency simply by appealing to the black community. He needs money. That's why he decided to embrace gay marriage. Obama had been having trouble enthusing gay members of his support base about his candidacy, and his fundraising numbers had reflected that unease. So he swiveled on a dime. His newfound love for gay marriage didn't change a thing for gay Americans, except their checking account numbers -- and those numbers went down, since many gay Americans fell for the ruse and began signing checks to the first gay president.
Another day, another pandering stratagem.
But gays and blacks are too small a percentage of the population to swing an election for Obama. So he decided to reach out to Hispanics by announcing last week that he would unilaterally ignore the law with regard to deportations of certain young illegal immigrants. Sure, the result would be a massive influx of illegal immigrants flooding across the border in search of the next amnesty package. Sure, the new program would create more competitors for low-wage jobs, hurting nonillegal immigrants. And sure, Congress was already in the process of trying to work out a long-term solution for illegal immigration, rather than a politically motivated Band-Aid. But this was about votes, not about helping America.
But it still wasn't enough.
And so Obama continues to push the war on women. It's the one constant in this campaign. Obama knows that if he loses women, he will lose the election in a landslide. And so he's portrayed Republicans as Neanderthals searching Rite Aids in a desperate hunt for condoms to burn. He's tried to argue that pro-life Americans wander the streets carrying rusty hangars. He's suggested that American men continue to gyp women on their weekly wages. He's even tried to claim that conservative opposition to Obamacare is driven by sexism.
And, to a certain extent, all this divisiveness has worked. Obama remains a competitive candidate.
But over the long haul, Obama is ignoring what brought him here: the capacity to inspire. His one advantage over Mitt Romney is that soaring language, that feel-good emotionality. And he's ignoring it in favor of petty personalization.
Obama now realizes that he can't win by uniting Americans. He can only win by dividing us. The question now turns to the American people: Are they willing to be divided once more along race, religion, sexuality and gender lines?