Can President Obama Conjure His Magic Twice?

Hope and change seems like a long time ago. Holding on to the House would probably be a feat second only to the 2008 election victory.

Getty Images
Getty Images

From The Daily Show to the doughnut shops of America, it looks an awful lot like 2008 all over again — and not just because 1,000 candidates are actively engaged in heated debates across the nation in the quest to control Congress in January. It is because once again, Barack Obama of Illinois is working the campaign trail, attempting to be a transformational figure that inspires voters to give him and his party a chance to govern.

The difference between then and now, of course, is obvious. In 2008, Obama was a candidate for president running against a record of failure; now he is a sitting president with a record of failure to defend.

The economic policies of the past are no longer the primary focus of the economic debate — not with unemployment at nearly 10 percent on President Obama’s watch. President Bush’s TARP bailout is not so visible, with Obama’s car bailout and failed stimulus package actively in the news cycles. Bush’s decision to increase funding for entitlement programs such as prescription programs for senior citizens pales in comparison with the diatribes over Obamacare.

Of course, just as Bush’s plans passed with a majority of Republicans co-signing despite opposition from Democrats, Obama’s health care reform (in its current form) and the stimulus package were done with the blessings of Democrats overcoming the angst of today’s Republicans.

The problem with these comparisons is that Bush never ran as a post-partisan figure. But Obama cast himself as someone who was trying to transform the internal problems facing the nation with a unifying presence that trumped party politics and social divisiveness. While campaigning diligently to salvage congressional seats for Democrats on Capitol Hill, he and the Democratic National Committee are quickly learning that the magic of 2008 will not work the same way now. In part it is just being the face of failed Washington policies over the past election cycle (unlike running against that image in 2008), but it is also because of one small reality: You simply can’t make a good first impression more than once.

The president’s latest media blitz does not have the novelty of his 2008 tour. Everything, from his appearances on the Michael Smerconish Show to his sit-down interview with Jon Stewart, has been done before, leaving these appearances lacking the one ingredient that Democrats need most: persuasiveness to lure people back to the polls.