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Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Obama Election Strategy 2012

by Collin Smith | Swarthmore College

F Posted in: News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: January 6, 2012
Collin Smith Collin Smith

Anyone remember the 2008 presidential election? The banners of Hope and Change? The excitement of having a fresh new face in the political sphere? How the Obama camp, in a brilliant campaign move, was able to spin Obama’s youth and relative inexperience as an advantage, catapulting him into the White House by casting him as a political outsider fighting against the status quo?

Those were the days. Unfortunately, with Obama having been president for three years now, his re-election team can’t reuse that inspired theme for election 2012. With the upcoming race promising to be a tough one for the unpopular president (Republican primary chaos notwithstanding), the Obama camp is going to have to come up with a pretty good campaign slogan to win his re-election.

And they’ve decided to go with…a political outsider fighting against the status quo.


In an interesting political move that is at times both brilliant and horrifying, Obama has adopted a stance that puts him explicitly at odds with Congress, or more specifically, the extreme right-wing elements of Congress that have long been explicitly at odds with him. Construction of this new platform began with Obama’s hard-edged stance on the payroll tax extension debate at the end of December, a ridiculously nitpicky squabble whose resolution is largely seen as a Democratic victory. This week Obama pushed his position even further, using his presidential authority to go over the Senate’s head and appoint Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the holiday Congressional recess.

The latter was especially gutsy, overturning a long-standing tradition of only using presidential authority to make appointments during recesses that last 10 days or more and putting Obama in murky legal territory. However, in both cases Obama has valid claims to being the good guy: the payroll extensions had already passed the Senate when the Republican-controlled House tried to kill it, and Cordray’s appointment was supported by a majority of the Senate; only a Republican filibuster prevented it from being decided by an up-or-down vote.

Therein lies the crux of Obama’s new (old?) re-election strategy: that Congress is screwing up governmental administration, and that he will be the one to protect the American people from the vicious gridlock of hyperpartisan politics that have so paralyzed the Capitol. In doing so, he’s banking on the fact that the American people dislike the current Congress even more than his own presidency; the most recent polls put citizen approval of Congress at a dismal 12% (Obama’s is now somewhere around 46%). This contrast is an important political weapon for Obama, especially since it’s unlikely that unemployment will drop enough by election time for that to be a factor in his advantage.

To take advantage of this, Obama is trying to shake off the perception of being something of a push-over in domestic politics and positioning himself as a public figure who can actually get things done. In announcing his decision to appoint Cordray, Obama actually said, “I will not take ‘no’ for an answer,” sounding much less like the president who nearly got skewered on the debt ceiling debate and much more like the president who approved a risky and ultimately successful military strike to kill Osama Bin Laden. It’s likely to anger those people who already see Obama as overstepping his Constitutional boundaries, but hey, those people were never going to vote for him, anyway.

In all fairness, it’s not exactly the same re-election strategy. In his 2008 campaign, Obama was able to generate excitement and optimism in the American people by promising to change the partisan politics of Congress through acceptance and compromise. Then he got to Washington and found that this was impossible against a right-wing coalition seemingly willing to accept America’s economic ruin over compromise. Now the line is “enough’s enough, I’m going to do things my way.” The general idea is the same, but the feeling is one of embattled resistance rather than hopeful resurgence.

It all sounds pretty pessimistic, since Obama is essentially saying that his goal to reform Capital Hill politics was a failure. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. The American people have been equally as frustrated as Obama over the partisan bickering that has sabotaged almost any attempt Congress has made at getting things done (remember the Super Committee?). If compromise really is out of its reach (and it increasingly seems like it is), then many citizens would be satisfied with any method to break up the gridlock. This means that for Obama, any motion is a motion forward.

Collin Smith Collin Smith Collin Smith is a student at Swarthmore College and a Sports & Culture Editor for NextGen Journal.

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