THE STUMP NOVEMBER 2, 2011
Remember this? A wise man wrote it not so long ago at all:
So Obama faced a choice. Double down on conciliator mode or become a fighter. Think of the latter as the Bibi Netanyahu strategy: since I have no negotiating partner I’m going to come out swinging in a way that pleases my base.
If Obama were a Republican, he could win with this sort of strategy: Repeat your party’s most orthodox positions and then rip your opponent to shreds. Republicans can win a contest between an orthodox Republican and an orthodox Democrat because they have the trust in government issue on their side.
Democrats do not have that luxury. The party of government cannot win an orthodox vs. orthodox campaign when 15 percent of Americans trust government. It certainly can’t do it presiding over 9 percent unemployment. It’s suicide.
Yet this is the course the Obama campaign has chosen. He’s campaigning these days as the populist fighter, the scourge of the privileged class.
Obama, who sounded so fresh in 2008, now sometimes sounds a bit like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi. Obama, who inspired the country, now threatens to run a campaign that is viciously negative. Obama, who is still widely admired because he is reasonable and calm, is in danger of squandering his best asset by pretending to be someone he is not. Obama, a natural unifier and conciliator, seems on the verge of running as a divisive populist while accusing Mitt Romney, his possible opponent, of being inauthentic.
It’s misguided. It raises the ideological temperature and arouses the Big Government/Small Government debate. It repels independents, who don’t like the finance majors who went to Wall Street but trust the history majors who went to Washington even less.
Nine days later, we get this, from the folks at Quinnipiac. Apparently independents are not so easily repelled after all:
President Barack Obama's job approval rating is up, from a negative 41 - 55 percent October 5, to a split today with 47 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving in a Quinnipiac University poll released today. The president has leads of 5 to 16 percentage points over likely Republican challengers. Voters also are divided 47 - 49 percent on whether Obama deserves reelection, compared to last month, when voters said 54 - 42 percent he did not deserve reelection.
"President Barack Obama seems to be improving in voters' eyes almost across-the-board," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "He scores big gains among the groups with whom he has had the most problems - whites and men. Women also shift from a five-point negative to a four-point positive."
This should not necessarily be that big a surprise. In fact, several writers on this site predicted this very movement in recent weeks: independent voters, they said, will probably prefer an Obama who is appearing resolute, even if the program he is pushing borders on "divisive populism." As Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann put it just a few days ago, in a rebuttal to the above wise man:
...True Independents and swing voters aren’t best captured through clever centrist political positioning. They have almost no ideological frameworks with which to judge the candidates and parties; they are quintessentially referendum voters, with low levels of information and focusing almost exclusively on performance...Maneuvering tirelessly to stake out some elusive political center, in other words, won’t help Obama win over swing voters. It’ll just set him up for another year of looking weak and ineffectual.
It's not often that rebukes to misguided punditry come as quickly as this one has.