The time when the Obama brand still seemed like it might have something to offer the American people is long past. There will still be voters who go to the polls and pull the wrong lever, but they won't do it because they seriously believe that another term will make America a better place. Rather they will do it for reasons of identity. Political identity, racial identity and because 'anything is better than voting GOP' is also an identity.
The feeling isn't unique, it's common enough to second term leaders of both parties. Republicans were tired of Bush and Democrats of Clinton, by their second terms. Bush and Clinton fatigue is one reason why Democrats turned on Hillary in 2008 and why a Jeb Bush run meets with so little enthusiasm. But neither of those men had been built up so dramatically, which made the fall less severe.
Bush and Clinton never needed much glamor, they were Ivy League boys with Yale degrees slumming as rural populists, thickening their accents and pitching their appeals to the back row. And paradoxically even at their worst, they could always hide behind this false ordinariness. "We're only human, just like you," they could say.
Glamor is all that Obama ever had. With the greasepaint off, there's nothing there but a surly kid with greying hair. An obnoxious posturing preening brat parading down the runways of the world with his media entourage in tow.
Some actors can change from one costume to another, but he is the costume. Worse yet, he isn't even the costume. He's the lights, the stirring music, the hours of anchor commentary, the deliberate pauses, the photographic halos, the teleprompter and the building expectation. Take those things away and there isn't even an empty suit. There's nothing at all.
The Democrats have come to feel that hollowness deep inside. That set of unfulfilled expectations that lies like a hole at the heart of their campaign. An emptiness that can only be filled with hate.
As Obama's popularity has slipped, he has become more openly hateful. The vindictiveness that was hidden away has been put up for display in the store window. What Clinton might scribble on a memo or tell an aide-- he delivers in a speech. And the worse his numbers have fallen, the uglier his words have become.
Obama was never graceful, but the spitefulness is no longer camouflaged. The petty insults have become common as his persona has grown charmless. The scowl hides less deeply behind the practiced smile. Often it no longer hides at all. The small bag of tricks which he used to get this far has been exhausted. There's nothing left now but the angry manipulative child underneath.
Having failed as the Messiah of Hope and Change, he is swiftly becoming the Messiah of Hate. With a country in a state of severe economic decline and his own popularity further down the toilet than a burning Koran, there is no other choice left to him. And it's an approach that suits his temperament.
Unlike 2008, he can't expect to coast to victory on Hope and Change. This time it's his opponents who are running on that. The halo is gone, but the hate campaign is his best option. No one around him thinks he can sell himself as a better alternative to a generic Republican candidate. But if he can make the Republican candidate look like a completely unpalatable choice to most voters, then he can still win.
2012 is set to be half his 2008 campaign .The dark half. All the smears and demonization without any of the hope. There are an uncounted number of Democratic voters who pulled the lever for him, even though they had second thoughts. Voters who might have naturally gone for McCain, if the media had not done such an excellent job of making the McCain\Palin ticket look like the worst thing since the plague. The goal in 2012 is to retain those voters by doing the same thing all over again.
Like most egotists, he's more comfortable with popularity contests than policy debates. With 'Who would you rather have a drink' contests. "Me, I'm your buddy. But those guys are just nuts," is his only real campaign platform. And in 2012, that's getting shortened to, "But those guys are just nuts."
The echo of "In your guts you know he's nuts" is still there as the only defense that liberal statists have against principled conservatives. It's the slogan that makes reasonable people distrust their hearts and accept the dogma of the ruling party for fear that they too might be considered nuts. And casting Tea Party Republicans as the new Goldwaters, liable to do just about anything for their crazy beliefs, is a convenient shortcut to victory.
The problem is that while LBJ's domestic policies were radical, his public persona wasn't. Obama can't count on the same thing. His platform was that of radical change. And once in office, that's what he delivered. But unlike the New Deal, few see anything positive what he did. Running on stimulus or ObamaCare is hopeless. Those aren't things that anyone on the left, the middle or the right likes.
In 2008, he ran on the idea of what his administration would be like. But he can't do that a second time. The idea was already realized and the reality of it is popular with no one. That just leaves the lesser of two evils. "Sure, I'm bad but those Republicans are worse." Followed by; "And when you'll look closer, you'll see I'm not so bad." It's not a level of desperation that either Clinton or Bush had to resort to, but there were things about their administrations that weren't so bad. There's nothing like that which Obama can point to. Just a litany of special interest spending followed by the loud thunk of the debt ceiling.
The biggest obstacle to the negative type of campaign that his party would like to run is Obama himself. A negative campaign that focuses on his opponent requires that he get out of the way. Or at least spend less time being a jerk in public. Instead Obama has gone on a national "Be a Jerk" tour, complete with speeches.
In 2008, he was able to maintain the illusion of civility, while letting the media do his dirty work for him. The media is disappointed in him now, but still obscenely eager to be his hit squad. But instead Obama is being his own hit squad. The constant derogatory references to Republicans in speeches that are otherwise as empty of content and purpose as a three inch lake, don't accomplish their goal. Instead they make him look like a 5 foot tall basketball player trash talking everyone else, but unable to sink a basket with the ball taped to his hand.
Obama's manic depressive style of governance, doing nothing for months before suddenly jumping into a frenzy of activity, can work on the campaign trial. But not after most people have gotten tired of you and would like to see less of you. And sitting incumbents are generally supposed to display a higher level of class. They can conduct smear campaigns, so long as they plausibly outsource it to others. Not when they're doing it in front of the microphone.
But even his attacks have a tepid whiny quality to them. Not only isn't Obama FDR or JFK, let alone Reagan-- he's not even LBJ. His putdowns condescend to his listeners, turning what should have been insults aimed at Republicans, into an insult to his audience's intelligence. Too many speeches boil down to, "The Republicans would like to set America on fire and then dance on the ashes, but I think there's a better way." Alarmism that would work better if he hadn't already done exactly what he was accusing his hypothetical opponents of.
The debt ceiling debate was a sample of his irresponsibility. The absolute refusal to accept any real compromise, not only to preserve his spending power, but also because sabotaging government was a more effective election strategy. It's the negative campaign as imagined by an arsonist who doesn't care what happens to the country so long as he wins. And while the media poodles will still bark in his defense, it's a strategy that makes him seem like even more of a failure.
His transformation into a Messiah of Hate is timely in the worst possible way. A politician's mask shouldn't start coming off during a campaign. Let alone before it. But the unctuous smile is sliding off and what's underneath it is the entitled anger of a man who is always used to getting his way. And who has yet to understand that for the first time in his life, he's about to lose.