August 9 2013
Annals of Cynicism: How President Obama Pitched Himself as a Middle Class Hero
President Obama’s policies have shrunken and battered the middle class.
Yet rhetorically he positions himself as their champion.
Peggy Noonan has a must read column this morning on the cynicism behind President Obama’s pitch to the middle class in 2012. It is based on the reporting in Washington Post reporter Dan Balz’s new campaign book Collision 2012.
The story Noonan tells is not one of searching for policies to improve the economy and there provide more jobs, the sine qua non for getting into and remaining in middle class. The Obama campaign relied heavily on focus groups. Noonan writes:
They knew the economy was the president's biggest obstacle to re-election, that they couldn't win a referendum on his economic stewardship. They wanted a way to "leapfrog" the immediate economic debate. In Iowa they convened a focus group of independents who had supported Obama in 2008 but voted Republican in 2010. They found themselves fascinated by one frustrated man in his 50s. An Obama adviser summed up the man's stated grievances: "I can't send my kid to college next year. . . . I haven't had a raise in five years. . . . I am sick and tired of giving bailouts to the folks at the top and handouts to the folks at the bottom. I'm going to fire people [politicians] until my life gets better."
That is as succinct a summation as I've seen of how the American middle class has been thinking the past few years: The guys at the top and the bottom are taken care of while I get squeezed.
The Obama people took his comments seriously. It would be nice to say they were primarily looking for policies to help him, but their job was politics: They sought ways to reach him, to make him an Obama voter.
The campaign also asked more than 100 middle-aged, middle-class people to keep journals which would be used by the campaign to frame a message. Participants were asked about purchases they were postponing because of the economy. Most cynically, they did not know that the Obama campaign was sponsoring this activity!
Using this information, from people who were participating in an Obama campaign activity without having been informed, the campaign realized that their best bet was to demonize Mitt Romney. They took his life story, a story that showed how much he knows about the economy, and made it into a bleak tale of layoffs:
An Obama adviser: "He may get the economy, he may know how to make money . . . but every time he did, folks like you lost your pensions, lost your jobs."
This Obama campaign message may sound particularly cynical in light of the bankruptcy of Detroit, a city that spent more than it took in, was led by a cult personality, and gave out benefits without the money to actually pay for them. This is exactly the kind of stewardship that leads to large-scale reduction of pensions and loss of jobs. It is the kind of stewardship President Obama gives for a whole nation.
Here is how Noonan’s column ends:
Somehow the Romney campaign never saw it coming.
Republicans, now and in 2016, should remember the colorful but not at all high-minded approach of Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. "My favorite political philosopher is Mike Tyson," he told Mr. Balz. "Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until you punch them in the face. Then they don't have a plan anymore." Obama's people punched first, and hard.