By JAMES TARANTO at the Wall Street Journal:
AuBHO ……The president’s intriguing analogy to 1964.
“Going meta with this column’s Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking gag, “President Obama said Tuesday that he was not prepared to question the patriotism or love of country of any of his political rivals,” Politico reports. But the president went on to say “that the 2012 contest was a contrast in visions of government”:
“I’m a firm believer that whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, that you’re a patriot, you care about this country, you love this country,” Obama said at an intimate fundraiser in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “And so I’m not somebody who, when we’re in a political contest, suggests somehow that one side or the other has a monopoly on love of country.”
“But there are contrasting visions here. And this election will probably have the biggest contrast that we’ve seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election–maybe before that,” Obama said.
Perhaps Obama, stung by the mockery he has received for his ignorant ramblings on constitutional law, has been studying history, because this is actually an intriguing comparison.
There are some relevant parallels between 1964′s election, which pitted President Lyndon B. Johnson against Sen. Barry Goldwater, and this year’s. Like Mitt Romney, LBJ was a man of his era’s political center. His legislative initiatives, including the Civil Rights Act and the creation of Medicare, commanded broad bipartisan support. Goldwater, by contrast, championed an ideology that seemed decades out of date, just as Obama is doing now.
Of course in the long run LBJ turned out to be too centrist for his own party. In 1968 he was forced to retire after an unexpectedly strong showing by a left-wing primary challenger, Sen. Eugene McCarthy. A similar fate could befall Romney and indeed nearly did in this year’s primaries.
On the other side, less than two decades after the 1964 election, with the election of Ronald Reagan, Goldwater ended up seeming ahead of his time rather than behind it. Still, it’s a little odd that Obama is taking Goldwater as his model this year. Has the president forgotten that the Arizona senator got less than 40% of the vote and lost 44 states?
To be sure, Obama can realistically hope to do better than that. We’ll be astonished if he carries fewer than a dozen states. But maybe with this comparison he’s setting himself up for a heroic defeat, à la Goldwater, and hoping that the country will eventually swing back in his ideological direction to provide him with a measure of vindication in his autumn years. Nov. 7 may find the president consoling himself with the assurance that extremism in the defense of spreading the wealth around is no vice.
Lending support to our expectation that Barack Obama will do better in this year’s election than Barry Goldwater did in 1964 are a series of polls, some of which show him actually leading Mitt Romney. If that holds up, it’s conceivable Obama could even win (hey, stranger things have happened).
Some observers go so far as to say that Obama is the favorite. Well, let’s not go crazy. The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost looks at one recent poll, from ABC News and the Washington Post, and offers a reality check.
The ABC-WaPo poll found Obama leading Romney by a 7% margin among registered voters, 51% to 44%. As Cost notes, the sample was suspect:
The poll has an inexplicably large Democratic advantage–the party breakdown in the poll is 34 percent Democratic, 23 percent Republican, and 34 percent independent. As a point of historical comparison, the party spread in four of the last five elections since 2002 has basically been an even split between the two sides. In 2008, a “perfect storm” of bad news for the GOP, the [Democratic] party ID advantage was “only” +7. So, a Democratic advantage of +11 is an unjustifiable number, at least in terms of what the electorate is thinking.
Cost argues, however, that even such a skewed survey can be useful “in a kind of ‘Nixon goes to China’ sense. Put another way, if Democrats look weak in polls that are so ridiculously pro-Democratic, you know they are in trouble.”
He notes that even in the ABC-WaPo poll, only 44% approve of the president’s handling of the economy and 28% of “the situation with gas prices.” The disapproval numbers are 54% and 62%, respectively. Since Republicans are grossly underrepresented, “the implication is that the president must be doing terribly with independent voters.” During polarized times, they are the ones who decide elections.
ABCNews.com notes another bit of very bad news for Obama in the poll: Support for ObamaCare, the president’s “signature domestic legislation,” has “hit a new low,” notwithstanding the Democratic tilt of the survey sample:
Fifty-three percent of Americans now oppose the law overall, while just 39 percent support it–the latter the lowest in more than a dozen ABC/Post polls since August 2009. “Strong” critics, at 40 percent, outnumber strong supporters by nearly a 2-1 margin in this poll. . . .
Two-thirds continue to say the high court should throw out either the entire law (38 percent) or at least the part that requires most individuals to obtain coverage (29 percent) or face a penalty; just a quarter want the court to uphold the law as is. Those numbers, like views on the law overall, are essentially unchanged from a month ago.
If the Supreme Court does strike down ObamaCare, in whole or in part, one can imagine a president in Obama’s position taking advantage of the opportunity to minimize the political damage by expressing due deference to a coequal branch of government and thereby to some extent dodging the blame for enacting such a monstrosity in the first place. It’s hard to imagine Obama doing that, though, especially after his blundering attacks on the court last week. He seems emotionally invested in this “accomplishment” and likely to let his bitterness get the better of him.
National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar argues that Obama might have planted “the seeds of defeat” with “his fiery, populist campaign kickoff speech at the Associated Press luncheon last week.” That was the speech that included the second part of his ignorant rant against the Supreme Court, but Kraushaar is interested in the president’s broader themes:
Ideologically, the speech was a throwback to the Democratic rhetoric of decades past. Despite sops to Ronald Reagan, Obama laid out his ideological argument at the outset, stating his “belief that, through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.” That’s a far cry from “the era of big government is over” mantra that President Clinton advanced in his reelection campaign. . . .
The president is seriously miscalculating if he believes that the key to winning the hearts and minds of independents is “us-against-them” rhetoric that hails back to a bygone Democratic era. . . . When Clinton campaigned for a second term in 1996, he likewise castigated congressional Republicans for proposing entitlement cuts and shutting down the government, but he also championed a just-passed bipartisan welfare-reform law and a balanced budget that reduced the size of government. With Obama’s speech, there was no centrist recalibrating to reassure worried independents that he’s not too ideological; no sugar to sweeten the tough talk.
“Merely mounting a reactionary defense of the way things have been done in the past isn’t enough anymore,” Kraushaar adds. It wasn’t enough in 1964, either. One of the reasons Reagan won in 1980 despite standing for an ideology that had been rejected, definitively it seemed, 16 years earlier, was that he presented it in a forward-looking and optimistic way. Oddly, four years ago Obama seemed, on balance, optimistic and forward-looking. But he was trying to play down his ideology.”