While some pundits see the November 6 presidential election as shaping up similarly to the President Jimmy Carter – Ronald Reagan matchup in 1980, I think it more closely resembles the election of 1992 between President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama is becoming Bush.
I worked on that woeful Bush campaign, which a member of his team later described as like trying to create ads for a non-existent product, and I recognize on the face and in the words of Obama the way many of us felt in our gut when we knew our campaign was going down.
Having thrown so much dirt at Mitt Romney that Obama may well be suffering from mudslinger’s elbow, and realizing that none of it is working, the president is now flailing as Bush did at this stage in the ’92 campaign. It can be seen in Obama’s ridiculous focus on Big Bird, binders and, most recently, “Romnesia.” In ’92, in his utter frustration that most voters had simply stopped listening, Bush unleashed an uncharacteristically childish rant in which he referred to Clinton and Al Gore as “these two bozos.” That unpresidential volley was our cue to start working on the concession speech.
You know a campaign is in trouble when a candidate is essentially disengaged at key moments. Obama’s entire dismal performance in the first debate with Romney was the equivalent of Bush looking impatiently at his watch in the town hall faceoff with Clinton and Ross Perot. Both Bush and Obama were essentially thinking the same thing, “Why do I have to be here?” And both elections may have been lost at that point.
I also found Obama’s pedestrian performance at last Thursday night’s Al Smith Dinner in New York to be very telling. He was hilarious at the same event four years ago, but four years ago he knew he was winning. This time he looked and sounded like a man who was just going through the motions, who knew deep in his heart that the jig is up. While Romney was scoring big, Obama looked up at him at times with a look on his face that seemed to be saying, “This guy is kicking my butt.”
Another similarity between Obama and Bush is that both made the mistake, often fatal in politics as in sports, of underestimating their opponent. Bush never expected to be defeated by the likes of an unctuous, draft-dodging, womanizing governor from Arkansas who spoke out of both sides of his mouth, and Romney was the opponent Obama wanted, anticipating an easy win. When your campaign is based on a certain mindset that turns out to be wrong, trying at a late stage to adjust to reality is about as successful as trying to make a U-turn in a tunnel.
Expect more flailing, more outrageous rants and raves from Obama, between now and Election Day. Not just because nothing else has worked and it’s all he has left, but because he has reached a point in the campaign, like Bush in ’92, where utter frustration
takes over. It reminds me of a hockey fight breaking out when one team is so far out of the game all discipline collapses and base instincts come to the fore.
With the results of the ’92 election skewed by the presence of Perot, Clinton took 43% of the vote to Bush’s 37%. That is a margin of victory similar to that currently reflected in the Gallup poll, another indication that it could be 1992 all over again.
But one thing has to be pointed out, and that is the glaring difference between Bush and Obama where it really counts. Although a poor politician, George H.W. Bush was a decent man of honor and integrity, a man who served his country in many capacities prior to entering politics. And when he did enter politics he had the best interests of the country at heart. Not so Barack Obama.
Bush lost because his campaign lacked focus and he failed to make a compelling case for his reelection. If Obama loses it will be because enough Americans finally woke up to who he really is and rejected his vision of a country mired in the dull, gray sameness and mediocrity of socialism. It will be because enough of us want America to be America again.
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