The last few weeks have been a bit of a rude awakening for Obama supporters as he has begun tacking to the center for the general election. First by baldly flip-flopping on public financing and then with his craven support for the new FISA legislation (which Bush triumphantly signed into law). His advisers must be telling him that these were smart moves and he stood to only gain by having lots of money on hand and looking tough on terror.
But, if recent polls (both Gallup and Rasmussen have McCain within 3 percentage points) are any indication, these moves may have backfired. Here’s why:
1) Obama is under greater press scrutiny than McCain. This is understandable. He is new, he is black, and he’s a Democrat. But this kind of scrutiny amplifies Obama’s every move, most importantly his mistakes. Both with public financing and FISA, he now seems more untrustworthy. Sure, everybody knows that politicians are lying sleazeballs, but Obama’s whole campaign was based on his being a different kind of politician. Especially for a black man, untrustworthy is not good.
2) FISA. I’m not sure how this became such a liberal issue. So many of the biggest anti-government, privacy advocates are right-wingers (or, at least, used to be). Part of Obama’s independent appeal was that his approach to FISA was in line with the 4th Amendment. This issue carries across a broad spectrum of the populous. Every libertarian, and any Republicans who haven’t imbibed the Bush Kool-Aid, still believe that privacy is a constitutional right and that the government shouldn’t spy on Americans. This “compromise” was the biggest, and most harmful, disappointment yet.
3) The Daughters. Why? And on Access Hollywood? What were you thinking? Nothing good came of this, especially after you expressed regret. There is a simple rule that everyone respects; the politician’s children are off-limits. Obama has got cute, smart kids, but no one would have questioned keeping them out of the public eye. Putting them on TV was not smart. Changing your mind after the fact was even worse. If you can’t get this decision right, how will you handle big and more complex decisions?
4) The New Yorker cover. I suppose they had to denounce it. But it is political satire, and pretty good at that. Show a sense of humor. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one, but please keep in mind, taking offense is tired. America is exhausted by people being offended. Stand up for the right to say what you want, and get the joke. Americans will understand.
There have been other missteps too, so it is reasonable to ask if Obama is fumbling the ball. Are his campaign people, who ran so well during the primaries, up to the task of the general election? Has the new staff caused friction? Part of what these people must realize is that this is a well informed electorate. There are so many media outlets and such intense scrutiny that even people who aren’t paying attention pick up bits and pieces and it forms their opinion. So far, the daughters on Access Hollywood (even it’s fans know it’s trash) and FISA (government spying on Americans) have been the most damaging.
The good news is, it’s still early. So Obama, tighten up, stay consistent, and project leadership and calmness. You’re inside the 20. Don’t fumble the ball now.