The man is amazing—and his relationship with America is amazing as well. He’s never managed a profit center. However, does any other politician today have his experience, and competence, in managing himself?
Last night, Obama had to restore his fragile core business—his off-again-on-again rapport with voters. He again had to say: “I’m here.”
Mitt Romney never once needed to say that. His life story, his guileless insistence that he knows what he needs to know about people and business, his wife, and his five Stepford sons all shout out: “I don’t stray. I’ve played my whole life by the house rules.” Everyone can see it: he clowns around tactically and likes practical jokes; spiritually, however, he’s utterly bound to the Republican Party, Bain’s business mission, and the faith of his father’s side of his family.
Obama arrived on the national scene as an exotic outsider and spent his presidency not being wayward in any way. Then, in the 90 minutes of the first debate, he put it all at risk. The likeable and admirable Obama appeared to not have worked very hard in preparing for the game and, yes, he looked like he’d rather talk to himself than Mitt Romney and Jim Lehrer.
Devastating. Despite already being the most productive Democrat president since Lyndon Johnson, Obama might not be likeable enough to be a success.
In what will probably be one of a series of purple convolutions leading up to an endorsement of Romney, David Brooks offered this hilarious take on the imperatives of competent governance:
“Seventh, the craftsman has to be socially promiscuous. Deal-making is about friendship. The craftsman has to work on relationships all day every day. It’s not enough to talk to your adversaries in negotiations. You have to talk to them when nothing is happening. You have to talk to them when they are up, when they are down. You have to celebrate their anniversaries and birthdays.”
After the second debate, the alienation of David Brooks and a handful of billionaires who want more face time in the White House won’t count for much.
By being a better debater than American politics’ most obsessive striver for popular approval, Obama has probably restored his own appeal. Certainly, that appeal, rather than the appeal of his liberal surrogates, will decide the election for the Democrats.
Frank Rich's grim piece “The Tea Party Will Win in the End” should be read and re-read by Democrats who thought for a moment this month that Obama was their problem. He offered the following data on the power of their traditional liberal philosophy, without Obama:
“And while polls found Obama ahead of or even with Romney in every policy category, conservative ideology in the abstract fared far better. In the late-September Quinnipiac University–New York Times–CBS News survey of the swing states Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, for instance, the view that government is “doing too many things” easily beat the alternative that government “should do more.” The Pew American Values Survey from June is even starker in charting an intrinsic national alienation from a government that has been gridlocked since the turn of the century: By margins that approach or exceed two to one, a majority of Americans believe that government regulation of business “does more harm than good”; that the federal government should only run things “that cannot be run at the local level”; and that the “federal government controls too much of our daily lives.”
Obama may get re-elected, in large part, for his past efforts and his moderate strategy to restore the American economy. However, that will not be a mandate to restore the past glory of his party—and its preference for federal action over all other sources of amelioration and renewal in the American union.