Belmont Club

Burdened by Success

When MSNBC concluded that Team Obama “lost the week,” the pundits had not yet factored in the North Korean missile debacle, the ongoing Taliban offensive in Kabul, or the Secret Service scandal in Colombia. But they had seen enough to conclude: “It will be a close race” in 2012. David Axelrod was forced to admit the same thing after committing rhetorical suicide in front of Chris Wallace — Axelrod had achieved the remarkable feat of making his boss look bad while attempting to defend him.


What must be truly terrifying among the president’s supporters is the growing realization that he could actually lose to Mitt Romney. Yes: Mitt Romney. Not because Romney is a superlative candidate electrifying the American voter, but because the contest is clarifying as “anyone but Obama” in 2012.

The core problem is the extent of the president’s incompetence. It had always been thought that even if the president were poor at governance, he would be good at campaigning. They relied on that idea, and forgot what all track and field coaches know: the 100-meter man will not necessarily place well in the 42,195-meter marathon.

President Obama could find a second wind, yet clearly his key strength of futurism — the ability to act as a blank screen upon which people could project their aspirations — can no longer be useful in the face of his track record. Barack Obama in 2008 was a promise; Barack Obama in 2012 is a busted flush. The efforts by Axelrod to make the debate once again about the future of America have largely failed.

Such efforts will continue to fail, because many of Obama’s early blunders are now coming to term. He now has a past and and a present in addition to his ever-glittering future. And the present consists of bulletins from an economy poisoned by his largesse; a war in Southwest Asia run on a crazy strategic premise; a foreign policy whose centerpiece is “leading from behind”; and an environmental policy that has produced one bankrupt energy company after another. Nothing but bad news. His people are demoralized. They are losing it. Perhaps even the Secret Service has caught the air of dissipation in the White House.


Axelrod no longer controls the spin cycle, which will continue to be driven by all the bad smells emerging from the stuff swept under the carpet. Emergent events — not talking points — are going to drive things forward.

The main event going forward to November may not be Obama vs. Romney, but Obama vs. Obama’s blunders. His recent weight loss has been attributed to worry, but is he really worried about what Romney might say on the campaign trail? Or is he concerned about paying off his political debts now that he realizes he can’t or doesn’t know how to make good on them?

Former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy described how the White House works: it operates as a “quid pro quo” operation. You pay to play. The New York Times reported:

Those who donated the most to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party since he started running for president were far more likely to visit the White House than others. Among donors who gave $30,000 or less, about 20 percent visited the White House, according to a New York Times analysis that matched names in the visitor logs with donor records. But among those who donated $100,000 or more, the figure rises to about 75 percent. Approximately two-thirds of the president’s top fund-raisers in the 2008 campaign visited the White House at least once, some of them numerous times.

In other words, the White House works like an internet cafe, where you buy a ticket at the door and get as many minutes of connect time as it entitles you. Maybe you get an extra 1% of connect time if you’re from the once-great Kennedy family. But as the Weekly Standard reports, you need more than that to get very far on Pennsylvania Avenue:


But the most explosive allegation in the news story comes from former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Ted Kennedy, who calls what the Obama White House is doing “quid pro quo.”

Patrick J. Kennedy, the former representative from Rhode Island, who donated $35,800 to an Obama re-election fund last fall while seeking administration support for a nonprofit venture, said contributions were simply a part of “how this business works.”

“If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”

Patrick Kennedy had visited the White House to win support for One Mind for Research, aimed at developing treatments for brain disorders. He knew that his Kennedy name and connections could only get him so far. What they were looking for was cash on the nail, or preferably payment in advance:

As a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said he was keenly aware of the political realities they face. And Kennedy admits that folks in the White House are checking out the donor records:

“I know that they look at the reports,” he said, referring to records of campaign donations. “They’re my friends anyway, but it won’t hurt when I ask them for a favor if they don’t see me as a slouch.”

Odds are that $35,800 doesn’t buy a lot of air time in the White House these days, at least not in comparison to the big boys who can command billions and hundreds of billions of dollars in influence. But given the amount of money it has received from supporters since 2008 — when it opened for 24-hour business — there must be a lot of chits outstanding.


But the trouble with operating like an internet cafe is that you have to give your customers what they came for. Sooner or later, they get tired of staring at the logo on the screen. To understand his problem: imagine President Obama as a beleaguered short order cook who has 200 pending orders for burgers pinned to the board, and can’t bear to tell them he doesn’t know how to cook; that it was all a misunderstanding. He sold all the orders on the strength of a beautifully printed menu and a good line of patter at the door.

In the end he doesn’t know a horse from a horse chestnut, and neither does his waiter, David Axelrod. What does he tell the hundreds of patrons who are even now waiting for their supposed order of prime beef burger, perfectly seared, topped with coleslaw and Russian dressing, accompanied by fries made from the finest potatoes, when he has to admit he doesn’t know how to fire up the grill? There’s no way out, and his waiter can’t keep up the stall for much longer. How long until the crowd moves on over to Mitt’s Mediocre Burgers down the street? How long until the customers start coming to the back asking for a refund?

Groucho Marx said he would never join a club that would accept him as a member. The problem with leading the Democratic Party isn’t what happens when you fool the Republicans. It’s what happens when you fool the Democrats.

The kind of White House that Patrick Kennedy described has the most to fear from all the people they took support from. When you sell a lot of snake oil in a town, the key to tomorrow is finding a fast horse and some quiet part of the night to put 30 miles between you and the people you sold it to. It will be an interesting next few months.


(Hat tip: Blast from the Past)

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