Obama’s ‘Lesser Evil’ Strategy

RightWatch: The president's best chance for re-election is to run against do-nothing Republicans.

President Barack Obama; Gov. Rick Perry (Getty Images)
President Barack Obama; Gov. Rick Perry (Getty Images)

The 2012 election season is now under way, and President Barack Obama’s strategy for winning a second term is emerging.

Instead of reprising the messianic movement that swept him into the White House, he will reinvent himself as “Give ‘Em Hell” Barry, an impassioned leader railing against do-nothing Republicans if they oppose the $447 billion American Jobs Act he outlined to Congress on Thursday.

In short, Obama will shift from “Yes, we can” to “No, they won’t.” Rather than presenting himself as the next best hope for a new America, he will rely on the unassailable proposition that he is by far the lesser of two evils.

He will ask his base to forget all the dithering and compromising that have marked his presidency since the “shellacking” Democrats suffered in the midterm elections, because the other side would be so much worse.

This, of course, is the same cynical approach to electioneering that has turned off voters for generations. And yet, despite persistent sky-high unemployment, stagnant growth and overall malaise for which the president can be fairly held accountable, the strategy might actually work.

That’s in part because Obama is better at campaigning than he is at governing. The forcefulness and clarity that he displays in campaign speeches disintegrate into nonpartisan mush when he wrangles in the back room with Republicans whose only goal is to bring him down. When he gets back on the stump, talking directly to the people as he did on Friday in House Republican leader Eric Cantor’s home district in Richmond, Va., Obama is on fire. His voice rises nearly to a shout as he implores Congress to “pass this bill” right away. He seems like a different man.

More important, Obama could be dead right about his opponents. Deeply in thrall to the reactionary doctrines of the Tea Party, many Republicans seem hell-bent on nominating a candidate that Attila the Hun would dismiss as a flake.

The enormous gap between the current GOP front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and reality became crystal clear during the Republican debate the night before Obama’s address to Congress. He came across as George W. Bush on meth, branding Obama as an “abject liar,” denouncing Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme,” claiming that the science about global climate change is “not settled” and basking in applause from the audience over Texas’ high rate of executions.