Win Or Lose In 2012, Obama’s Got No Class
Noting that, for the first time in a generation, inequality will be a major theme of a US Presidential election, Michael Cohen writes how the result in November may establish a new conventional wisdom about electoral politics in America:
With recent polls suggesting that Obama has used the inequality discussion to reclaim the mantle of protector of the middle class, the most immediate outcome of this shift is that he will wage his re-election battle on far friendlier political turf.
But the more important question is whether the sudden willingness of Democrats to tackle the issue of income inequality has the potential to live on far past the next election. For decades, Republicans have successfully portrayed the bogeyman of big government as the enemy of America’s middle class. The emerging focus on America’s glaring economic disparity – and its direct and deleterious impact on the middle class – suggests that Democrats are willing to use their own bogeyman of Wall Street greed in response.
Indeed, it’s quite likely that the election will be a struggle between these two conflicting views. If Democrats are successful in such an endeavour, it has the potential to make 2012 more than just another election, but one that could shift the very narrative of American politics.
I’m feeling too lazy to rut around in my archives for the proof, but back when Obama first started inching his way towards embracing a milquetoast version of the 99% rhetoric — when he was more or less at his popularity’s nadir; when it looked quite likely that he’d stand as the Most Reasonable One-Term President in the Room — I worried that his haphazard glomming-onto Occupy, and subsequent electoral loss, would further cement among media élite the article of faith that Class is monster that cannot be named in US politics. He’d lose for wasting so much precious time reaching out to Tea Party types in 2011 and rhetorically bear-hugging austerity (and also because of various things outside of his control); but the media would end up saying he lost because he turned to the Left.
I’ve no doubt that, if he loses, this is going to happen. Hell, he hasn’t lost yet — he’s looking increasingly decent shape, in fact — and some are already spinning that yarn. But the flip-side, which was always there but didn’t seem very likely to mean much circa August 2011, is that if Obama wins, the same dynamic comes to play but in reverse. Suddenly it’s a stroke of pure genius that caused Plouffe & co. to realize that America was no longer a center-right country, that class politics were back with a vengeance, yadda-yadda-yadda. (I should note that I don’t think in this scenario that the two versions of this spin-job are proposed with equal force — i.e., I doubt that there wouldn’t still be a bunch saying how dangerous for a candidate class politics are, even if Obama wins in a route; it’s what they get paid for.)
What’s worth mentioning, though, is that it’s almost certain that, in either scenario, the narrative is at most only partially true. If you’re left-of-center, it’s a nice story that Obama’s poll numbers are on the rise because of his rhetorical focus on iniquity. But most political scientists — and that part of you that can at least try to see things outside the prism of Meaning — are likely to tell you a different tale: the economy is, as of late, progressing from atrocious to merely bad. And with things looking tentatively on the up-and-up — and with a profound distaste for the GOP still prevalent — Americans are starting to think that maybe the President ain’t so bad after all.
Not quite as gripping as a pronouncement on the very ideological essence of the American voter, true. But facts, however prosaic, can be stubborn things.