President Obama spoke for 66 minutes at Knox College the other day, trying one more time to change the subject and “pivot to the economy.” As he has many times before, both in campaign speeches and other talks, the president promised to expand the middle class, create jobs, and reduce inequality. The reviews were not generally favorable. Even for Obama sycophants, of whom there are many in the press, the president’s message seemed repetitive and uninteresting, as if he were reading, which, of course, he was.
That same day, Obama spoke at another university in Missouri, where college Republicans with tickets to the event were excluded as a “security risk.” With public opinion on the president’s job performance sinking, the White House has no interest in visuals that might reflect anything less than enthusiastic (and unanimous) approval from young people.
Obama’s recent talks have referred to what he calls “phony scandals,” which are allegedly distracting Congress from its real work — to pass the president’s agenda. Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary and loyal hack, had introduced this language before Obama repeated it. A few months ago, the president argued that the IRS’s targeting of tea party groups and the Justice Department’s tracking of reporters were serious issues that needed to be investigated. Now that the IRS scandal is getting perilously close to the White House (was the IRS targeting a directive from Obama, rather than the agency making policy after following the gist of Obama’s political speeches?), a pivot away from “phony scandals” may have seemed necessary, even with the mainstream press having largely dropped the scandal stories in favor of the race baiting that has taken over since the George Zimmerman verdict. One writer angered by the “phony scandal” language put it this way:
“Phony”? What’s phony about the fact that the IRS targeted citizens based on their ideology? That the discussion of this targeting went all the way up to the president’s hand-picked IRS chief counsel William Wilkins? That Wilkins met with Obama in April 2012 just two days before “new guidance” on how to handle Tea Party applications was sent from Washington to IRS operatives? …
“Phony”? What’s phony about the family members of a Fox News reporter being spied on by the Department of Justice? About Attorney General Eric Holder lying about his knowledge of “potential prosecution” of the media by his department?
And then there’s Benghazi. Almost a year later, we still don’t know where the president was when the terrorist attack started, whether the military was ordered to leave Glen Doherty to die, or why the White House continued to push the phony story of a video weeks after it knew it was a terror attack and not a movie protest.
The president’s declining approval numbers are not the only worrisome numbers for the White House. Support for Obamacare, the president’s signature legislative “achievement” of his first term, is sinking to its lowest level yet, just months before implementation of the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion are scheduled to occur. The delay in the implementation of the employer mandate seemed like an unspoken acknowledgement by the administration that the requirement may have slowed job growth for several years and accelerated the shift from full-time work to part-time employment (under 30 hours per week).
Every month, it seems, the president convenes a meeting of liberal bloggers to give them their new marching orders on how to sell that “all is well” with Obamacare and we just need to give it a little more time before everyone recognizes its greatness. Writers like Jon Cohn and Ezra Klein have been shilling so long and so hard for Obamacare that they are at least as invested in its success as the president is. Whenever there appears to be an ounce of “good” news on the premiums in the exchanges in certain states, it is heralded as an achievement on a par with the Red Sea parting.
Even more dangerous to the president is that the polling on the direction of the country has sunk to George W. Bush’s second-term levels, with more than 2 of 3 polled believing the country is headed in the wrong direction. The unemployment rate has held at 7.5% or above for the longest period in American history. About six trillion dollars in new federal borrowing has been put on the books to pay for this dismal recovery. The Federal Reserve has held interest rates near zero by buying a trillion a year of Treasury paper, which has fueled the stock market but done little for those without money to invest.
It is not surprising, then, that the president and his attorney general have sought to make such a direct appeal on racial issues. The pivot to the economy is designed to suggest the president is busy on the people’s agenda, despite what little he has to show for it. But the racial messaging is different. It is designed to stir up the groups who provided the greatest electoral support for Obama in his two presidential runs. It helps to solidify his polling numbers by providing a floor, and at best will get minority turnout to respectable levels in the 2014 midterms, in order to avoid another 2010-like drubbing for the Democratic Party. Obama and Holder need to fuel the racial and minority grievance industry. Of course, they believe in this, so unlike other initiatives, this appeal is not faked.
Roughly 8,000 African Americans are murdered each year, about 95% of them by other African Americans, but the only death that matters is that of Trayvon Martin. The president does not identify any other victim as someone who could have been his son (or Obama himself 35 years back). Somehow, a shooting that occurs after a fight that may have been started by Martin is a bigger deal than the ruthless carnage of blacks killing blacks every night in Chicago. This is not surprising, since the Zimmerman affair fits a grievance narrative, as did the Duke lacrosse fake-rape case, the fake Tawana Brawley story, or the Crown Heights pogrom that followed a traffic accident. Only when white people are alleged to have done wrong to African Americans does the media (and Al Sharpton and his crowd) pay attention.
The president won 93% support from African Americans in 2012, and 95% in 2008. Turnout was higher for African Americans in 2012 than in 2008, while it declined for other groups. Stirring the pot on Trayvon Martin and the allegation that Southern states were taking away blacks’ voting rights worked wonders to get African American voters to show up and back the president. Combined with the class warfare argument focused on Bain Capital and the phony Republican “war on women,” Obama managed to get his groups to the polls and discouraged turnout among those who might have gone for Romney.
At this point, the administration, which ranks with the Clinton administration in its obsession with electoral standing, sees African Americans again enraged over Trayvon Martin and voting rights, and Hispanics angry with the House GOP for not passing immigration reform. If reform passes along the lines of the Senate bill, the Democrats gain long-term electoral advantages. If a weaker compromise is reached, the president may elect to tell his operatives in Congress to kill it, since this would offer short-term electoral advantages in 2014.
In three polls — The Economist/You Gov, McClatchy/Marist, and Reuters/Ipsos — the president has sunk to 41% job approval. Given the stoking of resentment of African Americans and Hispanics, there may not be much further for these numbers to fall. The Joan of Arc treatment afforded Wendy Davis in Texas suggests there will be a campaign repeat of the charge of a “GOP war on women” to stoke up enthusiasm among single women — another very strong Democratic voting group. The president will continue to message these groups to keep the anger level near boiling for another year, while attacking the GOP House for obstructionism and failing to help fix the economy (“Don’t blame me, blame them”). Of course, the GOP is prone to self-destruction with both its candidate selection and policy formulation, and they may save the president and his party next year, despite the unfavorable climate.
Obama has been a failure at his job (the foreign policy track record may be even worse than the domestic trifecta of high unemployment, huge debts, and the miserably designed Obamacare), but no one should underestimate the president’s skill at politics.