Jeff Lord makes the case that the Obama presidency is really the second term of Jimmy Carter. If nothing else, by putting the DNC acceptance speeches of Carter in 1980 and Obama in 2008 side by side, Jeff demonstrates that liberals haven’t had any new ideas in at least thirty years. I know I am being generous and am sure one could convincingly argue that it’s been nearly fifty years since liberalism had the semblance of an original thought.
He also cites Hamilton Jordan’s 1979 memo to Carter in which part states, “We will be re-elected or not re-elected based largely on your performance as President.”
Well, like Carter, Obama can’t run on his record. However, Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter.
First, Jordan might argue about the myth of the incumbent President but Obama didn’t have a Ted Kennedy to worry about. The last incumbent President to lose an election without a primary challenger was when Herbert Hoover was unseated by FDR in 1932. As for Obama, the Democratic Party might not be as in love with him as they were in 2008 but their base is solidly behind him. Obama has at least 40% of the electorate in his back pocket.
Second, Obama enjoys all kinds of advantages Carter could only dream of – a billion dollar war chest, a field organization that can turn out the vote and a sympathetic, if not sycophantic media behind his re-election effort.
Third, Obama is no peanut farmer. Let’s keep in mind that Obama has spent his entire adult life having had things handed to him (i.e. Columbia, Harvard Law Review, Sidley Austin, a teaching position at the University of Chicago, author of an autobiography, Illinois State Senate, U.S. Senate, author of a second autobiography and now the White House.) Obama views the presidency like an entitlement and will fiercely protect it from someone who has the audacity to take it away from him. President Obama plays for keeps.
Fourth, contrary to popular belief, Bill Clinton was not the first black President. If Chris Matthews is already asking about how the electorate could contemplate “dumping the first African-American President” then imagine what things will be like in six months from now? Throw in the Trayvon Martin shooting and it will be utterly relentless. There might be just enough white liberal guilt out there to put Obama over the top.
Fifth, as Jeff notes when Jordan penned that memo he did not know who Carter would be facing the following year. Well, the Obama team had a pretty good idea from the outset who they would be facing and as one unnamed Democratic strategist with close ties to President Obama said last August, “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.”
Sixth, which brings me to Romney. Jeff writes, “Ronald Reagan challenged the entire foundation of liberalism, effectively asking voters to repudiate not just Carter but liberalism itself.” While the Obama campaign will move heaven and earth to paint Romney as a right-wing extremist it remains to be seen as to whether Romney will “challenge the entire foundation of liberalism” much less ask voters to repudiate Obama.
Don’t get me wrong. Romney could win the election. While 1980 could provide some useful information during the course of the 2012 campaign let us remember that we are not living in 1980 anymore. This isn’t a 13-channel universe where a home computer is still a novelty, Asteroids is a cutting edge video game and people need to take community college courses to learn how to use a microwave. In a universe where mountains can be moved by a single Tweet, the 2012 campaign is going to present its own unique set of challenges.
Above all else, I think by comparing Obama to Carter there is a danger in underestimating Obama. Now I don’t think Obama is intelligent enough to be in the same room with Romney much less qualified for an entry level job in one of Romney’s companies. But there are plenty of people who don’t hold Obama in such low regard. They might not be in love with Obama but they might not be so sure about Romney either and they too have a vote. If Romney is to win them over then he can’t rely on Carter’s cardigan. He must earn it.