Michael Gerson gets to the heart of Obama's problem. Obama's metioric rise was based on the idea that he was different; that he could bring true "change." This has become problematic as the only thing truly different about Obama is his image and personality. As I have been arguing, his politics are numbingly conventional leftist agitprop and big government liberalism.
Gerson outlines how this has led to Obama struggling in a cycle that should be a slam dunk:
Barack Obama is cool, firm and permanently unruffled. It is precisely this quality of steadiness that has made him seem a credible prospective president with the thinnest of résumés.
But Obama's campaign is rootless, reactive and panicky. At every stage since securing the nomination, it has seemed fearful of missteps and unsure of its own organizing principle. So it has invariably adopted the Democratic conventional wisdom of the moment.
The details below.
He argues that when it came time to pick a VP Obama went with "a partisan, undisciplined, congressional liberal" rather than a Democratic governor or Hillary. Conventional and safe rather than exciting change.
When it came time for the convention in Denver Obama again chose conventional Democratic wisdom rather than a style and theme that matched his political identity:
In his Denver speech, it seemed that every American home was on the auction block, every car stalled for lack of gasoline, every credit card bill past due, every worker treated like a Russian serf. And John McCain? He was out of touch, with flawed "judgment." His life devoted to serving oil companies and big corporations. And, by the way, he didn't have the courage to follow Osama bin Laden "to the cave where he lives." In obedience to the best Democratic advice, Obama managed to be conventional, bitter and graceless.
Finally, Obama spends his ad money on harsh attacks against John McCain. Gerson then notes:
Who is hurt most by this race to the bottom? McCain, by the evidence of his own convention, wants to be a viewed as a fighter -- which a fight does little to undermine. Obama was introduced to America as a different and better kind of politician -- an image now in tatters.
Even worse for Obama, all these shifts to catch the prevailing winds confirm the most serious concerns about his political character. As a senator, he has almost never opposed the ideological consensus of his party. (The ethics reform he often cites as his profile in courage eventually passed the Senate 96 to 2.) And now as a presidential candidate, Obama has run his campaign with all the constancy of a skittish sailboat on an erratic ocean.
Gerson bemoans the disappearance of the formerly eloquent and seemingly different politician, but ignores the obvious answer: that candidate never really existed. Obama has always been a rather conventional politician but this has been covered up by the his rather exotic background, unique personality, and obvious rhetorical skills on the big stage.
This presented a number of problems in the general election. First, Obama has never had to face a real partisan challenge and thus has no experience running as anything other than a clear liberal with Hope and Change as garnish. And two, given the thinness of his resume, and his lack experience in actually bringing change, no one really believes you can run a campaign on rhetoric and style alone. Third the angry leftist base of the party doesn't care about Hope and Change, they want liberalism in charge and they want it now! They have been out of power for far to long and they believe that their righteous anger will carry the day. They see undecideds and independents as mushy no-nothings no critical swing voters.
In other words, Obama and his advisors don't have the courage to risk the most favorable climate for Democrats in decades on Hope and Change so they gave into the conventional partisan hacks and have ran a very conventional campaign on issues and on tactics.
And who knows, it still might work. But at least we can dispense with the cannard that Obama is anything other than a conventional liberal politician.