When I discuss President Obama with those who don’t plan voting for him, there are two phrases that always precede whatever charge is about to be levied against him: “He said he would…” or “I hoped he would…”
The phrases are used in reference to Obama’s hope of changing the tone in Washington. They are used in the mythical charge that the unemployment rate would be under 5 percent if his stimulus bill passed.
And they are used when referring to what the left hoped the president would be: the anti-George W. Bush.
Regardless, each of the phrases emphasizes the president’s biggest failure: he’s failed to deliver a successful narrative for his presidency.
President Obama has been the most progressive president since Franklin Roosevelt. He’s the first president, despite nearly a century of trying, to pass a form of universal health care. He’s made clean, alternative energy a viable source of fuel. He’s made it law that women should be paid the same as their male counterparts for equal work. He rescued the American auto industry.
And conservatives should be thrilled with the president. His health care law is built on conservative ideas. The mandate is an idea from the Heritage Foundation. The entire law is based off Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts law, which is based off of President Nixon’s universal health care proposal. He’s also shown himself to be an effective Commander-in-Chief, using drones to assassinate known terrorists and taking decisive action in taking out Osama bin Laden. A dove Obama is not.
Plus, the economy is growing at 2 percent, which is slow, but miraculous considering Europe is still in recession and Congress has refused to pass any stimulative measures the last two years.
But for some reason, no one is happy. Progressives don’t think Obama has been liberal enough. Conservatives just hate the guy.
This is because President Obama hasn’t told an effective story. He didn’t make the country realize that the recovery would be a long, hard slog, to steal a Republican phrase. He didn’t make people realize that health care reform is directly tied into the economic recovery. He didn’t effectively call out the Republican-led Congress and the minority in the Senate who had effectively stopped governing in hopes of stalling the economy and making Obama a one-term president, which they very well might succeed in doing.
Three and a half years after he took office, President Obama finally found a perfect slogan to tell his story: “Forward.”
During the Democratic Convention, speaker after speaker pushed the “Forward” message and Obama’s chances of re-election soared. No one wants to go back to the Bush days.
Then the first debate happened. Obama allowed Romney to change the narrative. The president didn’t fight back.
We have new plans to get the country moving forward, Romney said in Denver. (He doesn’t. He is just rehashing Bush-era policies of tax cuts and increased military spending.) It’s the Romney narrative of “the president said he’d do this, but he failed” that has taken hold in independent, mostly white working-class voters.
To be clear, Obama hasn’t failed in his job as president. If he only serves one term, he will go down as the president who saved the country from a second Great Depression and who passed universal health care. You aren’t considered a failure for having done those things.
He’s just failed in telling the country what he’s done.