If I had to use one word to describe Obama’s plea for reelection last night it would be “vaporous.” There was nothing to grab on to, no concrete proposals or plans, just the possibility of four more years of the same drudgery the nation has seen thus far. It’s hard to argue with a speech as empty and hollow as that one because there’s nothing to argue with. It was half State of the Union—here are some programs!—and half stump speech—“YOU SHOULD VOTE FOR ME,” he screamed and the masses responded in kind, feeding his narcissism and exposing their own mindless idiocy—but there was no case to be made for his reelection. There was nothing to grab on to, to point to, to say “This is why we need four more years of Barack Obama!”
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. He’s got three things to run on: 1.) 43 months of 8% unemployment; 2.) propping up a failed car company with the full backing of the federal government; and 3.) killing Osama bin Laden. The first is an obvious loser; the second is risky; and the third, well, dude’s already dead. If we reelect Obama, he can’t kill Osama again.
As JVL notes, this election is all about the core Democratic coalition ensuring that they continue receiving their goodies and their handouts. It’s spoils politics, pure and simple:
To an enormous degree, this convention is a vindication of the clientelism thesis Jay Cost posits in his excellent book, Spoiled Rotten. Short version: Beginning with FDR, the Democratic party began to assemble its coalition not through ideology but through spoils. So it brought disparate groups together and gradually became a collection of client groups more than a coherent ideological enterprise.
The DNC explicitly broke people into 14 communities. And the convention’s over-arching catch phrase was, “We’re all in this together.” But it struck me that the subtext of that–maybe even the text–was that the “we” here isn’t “Americans.” It’s the “14 communities.” It’s the client groups. The message this convention was sending, I’d argue, was that We need to band together to keep our spoils. That’s why the first few hours of each night, before the prime-time broadcasts began, were devoted to subjects such as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, unions, immigration, etc.
Obama’s speech was vaporous because it had to be. He can’t explicitly say to the American people: “Look, middle class swing voter, I understand your life still sucks after four years of ME ME ME [cheers, beatific smile]. But I plan on continuing to funnel billions of dollars to the multimillionaire investors in green energy who fund my campaign. And I plan on giving the labor unions who ironically provide free labor for my reelection campaign billions of dollars. And I plan on ensuring that the healthcare handouts continue! Vote for me to watch your money frittered away! See what boondoggles I can waste it on next! Try to guess what client group I’ll prop up with your tax dollars going forward! Don’t worry! I’m only going to raise taxes on those evil wealthy people! And don’t you deserve their money anyway?”
That is not a winning message.
Ah well. I can’t say I’m surprised, or even disappointed, really. To paraphrase Denny Green, he was who we thought he was: An empty suit with a sonorous voice who believes that big government is the only thing we all belong to and that you didn’t build that.
Four more years!
(Photo by flickr user Nrbelex)