Sometimes the biggest stories garner the least attention. And so it has come to pass that while most political junkies have been tracking Herman Cain’s amateur hour, the president of the United States has been busy below the radar.
Obama launched a pre-emptive attempt to paint his likeliest 2012 rival, Mitt Romney, as a serial flip-flopper with a spine of jelly. It’s the same kind of character attack that George W. Bush unleashed on John Kerry in 2004.
The tactic worked then. It may not work next time.
Obama aide David Plouffe laid it out on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: Romney “has no core.… He was supportive of doing things like a cap-and-trade agreement; now he doesn’t think that climate change is real. He was to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay-rights issues; now he wants to amend the Constitution to prevent gay marriage. He was an extremely pro-choice governor; now he believes that life begins at conception and would ban Roe v. Wade. Issue after issue after issue, he’s moved all over the place.”
The Obama administration figures that Romney will be the nominee, and clearly believes he is grist for Kerryification.
Perhaps so. Romney’s waverings and reversals are too numerous to list here, but here’s my latest favorite: Back in June he said, “I believe, based on what I read, that the world is getting warmer. And, No. 2, I believe that humans contribute to that.” But he recently said, “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”
Obama’s “no core” message is aimed not just at the crucial swing voters, but at grassroots conservative voters – many of whom already harbor doubts about Romney and therefore might be unenthusiastic about showing up on Election Day.
Team Obama clearly wants to contrast Romney the weather vane with Obama the pillar of principle. In Plouffe’s words, “what you need in that office is conviction; you need to have a true compass.”
Here’s where I have my doubts about the Obama strategy.
Romney is indeed susceptible to every political breeze, but Obama has long embraced irresolution. Among the many flip-flops: He vowed in 2008 to close Guantanamo, yet today it’s still open. He declared in 2010 that secret campaign donations were “a threat to democracy,” yet today his re-election bid is buoyed by Democratic groups that take secret donations. He once opposed prosecuting terrorists in military tribunals, but now he’s for them. And I’m not even counting all the times he has caved to the congressional Republicans – most recently in June, when he dumped his tax-the-rich stance to ink the debt-ceiling deal on Republican terms.
Obama’s latest incarnation is as Wall Street foe and populist defender of the little guy. But he has spent much of his tenure flip-flopping between populism and obeisance to the powerful.
He denounced bankers as “fat cats” in 2009, but dropped the attack when his Wall Street friends complained. His economic team has long been festooned with Wall Street types. It’s no wonder that the Occupy Wall Street crowd refuses to embrace Obama as a working-class hero.
But I get what the White House is trying to do. Just as President Bush was hampered by his foolish war in Iraq, Obama is stuck with his sour economy. The best alternative is to put a face on the opposition and begin the demolition work.