Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Obama’s Surreal Campaign

He is running as if the last three years didn’t happen.

As the election year heats up, we seem not to have noticed the surreal nature of the campaign. One would expect Barack Obama to run on his record from 2009 to 2012, and especially during 2009–10, when he had a solidly Democratic Congress and passed his signature Obamacare. But he is not. Instead, we are hearing only that the probable opposition nominee, Mitt Romney, will be embarrassed by the similarities between Obamacare and his own Romneycare in Massachusetts. Examine that logic: Supposedly landmark legislation is now defended not on its own merits or popularity, but by a sort of “He did it too”?

During the 2004 campaign, the Kerry camp derided 5.5 percent unemployment as proof of a “jobless recovery.” Today 8.3 percent is deemed a sign of a real rebound. In 2008, when George W. Bush had borrowed $4 trillion over eight years, the deficits were termed by candidate Obama as “unpatriotic”; trumping that total in just four years is now called much-needed “stimulus.”

The price of gasoline has more than doubled since January 2009, and the rise is not over yet. This summer might still see the price triple in less than four years. In the old days of Economics 101, supply and demand had, by general consensus, some effect on price. I think the president believes that still, since he is pondering another release from the strategic petroleum reserve. Why, then, is he asking us to believe that putting off limits vast areas of known oil and gas reserves in Alaska, offshore, in the West, and in the Gulf of Mexico will not have much effect on gasoline prices? Vast new production of natural gas on private lands has helped radically lower natural-gas prices. But drilling for new oil is again caricatured as it was in 2008 (when candidate Obama advised us instead to inflate our tires and tune up our cars; this time he is touting algae), as if newly pumped oil from a freshly discovered field were not as efficacious as previously pumped oil from a reserve. In an age when unemployment is high, the budget deficit obscene, and our trade deficit at near-record levels, more U.S.-produced oil — aside from lowering gasoline prices — would create jobs, enrich the Treasury, and curtail what we must borrow abroad.

I have no idea what “civility” is supposed to mean today. The more the president references the need for softer tones, the more we hear of things like “punish our enemies.” If a president is to take time out from a bad economy and a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran to offer commentary on a radio-show host’s use of a slur against a female student, how can his campaign affiliates take a million dollars from a humorless comedian who so trumps Rush Limbaugh that his style of misogynist attack requires asterisks even to be quoted? During the 2008 campaign the candidate who was called a healer boasted of bringing a gun to a knife fight, advised “getting in their faces,” deprecated working-class voters as clingers, had a crowd cheering with a middle-finger rub on his face when mentioning Hillary Clinton, suggested his grandmother was a “typical white person,” and asserted that he could not disown the racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and so it makes sense that Obama is now praised even as he polarizes.

How can an energy czar — as the head of a cabinet-level department that was initially birthed to lower gas prices — advocate lower gas prices and economy hybrid cars when he had previously called for gas prices to match European levels and confesses that he neither owns nor drives a car, although his wife has a BMW? Or how can a Treasury secretary advocate higher taxes on the upper income brackets as a necessary premium for being blessed as an American, when he earlier had acted as if compliance with the IRS (which he was soon to oversee) were optional rather than mandatory? And how can the top law-enforcement officer in the country allege racism when questioned by Congress, while he refers to African-Americans as “my people” and alleges that Americans are collective “cowards” for not welcoming a conversation on race on his terms?

In response to all those questions, we are seeing a campaign apparently framed on four general themes: an omnipotent, omnipresent George W. Bush in insidious fashion still hampers the Obama administration; a Republican House (why it is now Republican is never quite explained) for 15 months has stopped all the good things that Obama and a Democratic House would have done; opponents have not appreciated the president’s unique postracial symbolism and are often quite racist; and anything Obama did was better than not doing it, and his not doing other things was better than what he might have done.

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