In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was supposed to run against John McCain. But, early on, he decided that he’d much rather run against George W. Bush.
Obama was elected. But the campaign against Bush continues to this day. Whenever Obama gets in a tight scrape or suffers a setback or loses part of the electorate, he blames Bush.
After the voters of Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate, ABC News’ George Stephanopolous asked Obama to interpret the election results.
“People are angry,” Obama responded, “and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.”
Don’t expect that to stop. It’s become second nature now. In 2012, Obama will be running for reelection on his track record — and you can bet that, on campaign stops, he’ll still be blaming Bush. It’ll be surreal.
Yet what’s really troubling is new poll data that suggests that many Americans aren’t just accepting Obama’s ridiculous claim that Bush is to blame for everything that goes wrong in this administration. They’re actually parroting it.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, a majority of Americans — while faulting Obama for his handling of the economy and not doing enough to create jobs — still put most of the blame for the nation’s economic problems on … wait for it … former President George W. Bush. Other culprits include Wall Street and Congress. And, despite the erosion in public support for Obama, a majority still says that he understands their needs and problems better than congressional Republicans. A majority also credit Obama — more than Republicans — with making an effort at bipartisanship, and they back the White House’s policies on a variety of issues, including allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military and repealing the Bush tax cuts.
But it’s the “Bush blame” that is really surprising — and disappointing. You would think that, now that they control the White House and both houses of Congress, Democrats would be ready to step up and accept responsibility to lead the country. You would think that voters would demand it. Instead, Democrats have retreated into a defensive position, insisting that none of this is their fault. And voters are going along.
At first blush, it might seem as if this is good news — no, great news — for the Obama White House. Imagine being allowed to foul up one policy initiative after another and not have to take any blame for it. It’s a politician’s dream.
However, there is another side to that coin. Every elected official wants to be popular. That’s a given. But the truth is that there are worst things than being unpopular. Like being thought of as inconsequential. Even if a majority of the electorate doesn’t like you, it’s probably the case that a minority does. Those folks will turn out for you, rally around you, and defend you to critics.
Yet an inconsequential figure might not engender that kind of loyalty. Even those who support his policies aren’t inclined to give him credit for accomplishing anything. For the most part, they’ll react with ambivalence. And who can fault them? After all, the electorate has been conditioned to believe that everything is out of this person’s hands. The good as well as the bad is all the doing of some larger force over which the elected official has absolutely no control whatsoever.
In this case, as long as President Obama keeps repeating — for what he perceives to be short-term political benefit — the mantra that the weak economy, the budget deficit, America’s damaged reputation abroad, the state of the environment, etc., are all the fault of the former president, Americans can be forgiven for not being passionate about the current one.
This could spell trouble for Obama’s reelection hopes in 2012. Ambivalence is not a helpful emotion when it comes to getting people out to the polls. You can bet that Obama’s opponents will be passionate about terminating his employment. If the president’s supporters aren’t just as revved up about extending it, his first term could well be his last.
If that happens, Obama will have only himself to blame.