'The Obama Problem'

In 2008, Barack Obama was “the political equivalent of a Potemkin village,” Monty Pelerin writes at the American Thinker. Back then, it was his ultimate strength; today it’s looking more and more like his undoing. Pelerin describes Obama’s political stock as currently in free-fall, and to understand why, Pelerin looks back at the 2008 presidential campaign:


The factors above are relevant but one level removed from the root cause.  The real problem is that there never was any substance to Obama.  He was There was nothing behind the façade.  There was no “there” there.  All of the problems arise from this obvious flaw.

President Obama is little more than a run-of-the-mill Hollywood extra hired to play president of the United States.  A brilliant marketing campaign coupled with the perfect storm put him in office.  The marketing campaign was so good that it merits a case study for the Harvard Business School.

The “man with no past” and a Hollywood veneer turned out to be a perfect candidate.  “Sizzle” rather than substance was sold.  Little was known about Obama and his past, allowing David Axelrod to market the political equivalent of a Rorschach blot.

Voters saw in Obama whatever they desired in a candidate.  To some, Obama was a breath of fresh air, a man of principles.  To others he was an outsider, not a crass politician.  Others saw him as a chance to prove that they were not racists.  Still others saw him as the reincarnation of Roosevelt or whomever else they admired.

Obama was a blank slate to be imagined or drawn upon by the voters.  He was their chameleon, and each voter could use his or her imagination to create the ideal candidate.  Not surprisingly, voters bought this product that existed only in their minds.  They elected Chauncey Gardiner.  Unfortunately, this fraud did not come with Peter Sellers’ range or abilities.

A brilliant marketing strategy can make a first sale, but performance and satisfaction are required for the second.  Axelrod’s skill in marketing had no counterparty in production.  No one seemed to be concerned about delivering a product that actually worked.

Obama entered office unorganized and unstructured.  Nothing in his background suggested that he knew anything about management, organization, or leadership.  Nor did anyone see the need for bringing in talent with these skills.  As a result, the Hollywood mannequin was almost immediately exposed as nothing but flair, hype, and hot air.  The public had bought a product that did not perform.

Marketing can do many things, but it cannot sell a product that people have tried and rejected.  That is Obama’s reelection problem.  At the risk of being unsophisticated and abusing the concept of Occam’s Razor, Obama’s reelection problem can be expressed in one simple sentence: “Now, too many people know him.”


And increasingly in the past two years, Obama’s once-blank slate is now quite well defined — and that’s a double-edged sword for the president, as Orrin Judd writes:

Bill Clinton won a second term, survived impeachment and will be judged by history to have had at least a near great presidency because his personal weaknesses jibed with his strengths. Sure, he was all appetite, but that appetite included policy and work as well as women.  Likewise, W’s stubbornness prevented him from bailing on Iraq when the rest of the Beltway wanted to and left him and a billion Muslims the big winners in the Islamic World.

But Barrack Obama’s narrative was silence.  His election depended on him remaining a blank upon which people could project whatever image they wanted.  To the extent he has remained a void he comes off as creepy, to the extent he filled in the blank he’s diverged from the ideal image folks produced.  Thus both action and inaction are losses for him.

Which may be why, at the Belmont Club, Richard Fernandez describes the president as a cross between Richard Nixon talking to the paintings, and a punch-drunk aging boxer:

People facing adversity can be in one of two broad states. Those in the first case retain confidence in their basic ability to surmount problems because they’ve made a dent against them in the past. They’re in the game, even though the issue remains in the balance.

But those in the second case are in a completely different situation. They realize they should never have been in the ring in the first place.  They’ve lost confidence in being able to solve the problem because everything they’ve tried — in which they had supreme confidence — has backfired. And like a boxer who realizes that all of his moves are revealed by comparison to be clumsy and ineffective against an opponent who is hitting him at will, what succeeds wild optimism is simply forlorn hope: hope that he can last out the bout, the round, or just the next flurry.

Maybe that’s all the president has left. The hope he can edge over the finish line in 2012. He’s done the bus tour; done the joint session of Congress speech. Now he’s down to sending his Occupy demonstrators into Wall Street. If that doesn’t work, what does he do next week when the polls fall further, when the clamor to investigate Solyndra and “Fast and Furious” grow louder? What does he do when unemployment soars?

The wizard retires to his tower early each night and the lights stay on. But what can he conjure next? What power can he invoke? If he walks alone with only Jarrett and Axelrod to whisper in his ear, what could go wrong?


Nothing at all, according to brave face that Barry is wearing out in public these days. “I was mentioning to some of the basketball players who were here that this is like the second quarter, maybe the third, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I want everybody to know I’m a fourth-quarter player.”


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