Obama’s Tactical Retreat


President Obama was was painful to watch at the debate on Wednesday night.

Time after time, he allowed Mitt Romney to make fraudulent statements or empty statements without slapping the Republican presidential candidate down.

When Romney talked about the allegedly great job he did in Massachusetts on education or on healthcare, Obama needed only to say, “That begs the question, governor, of why you’re polling about 31% in your home state.”

When Romney said he was running because Americans “are hurting,” as he did several times through the event, oozing fake compassion, Obama had only to say, “What are you talking about? You told your contributors that 47% of Americans are ‘victims’ whom you don’t care about and who ‘don’t take responsibility’ for themselves. That’s caring?”

Actually, there were myriad occasions Obama could have chosen to introduce the point about Romney’s admission, on tape, to a group of wealthy donors, about how he felt that 47% of the country were victims who didn’t take responsibility for themselves. Obama never even mentioned that number, though it has been part of his standard stump speech since Mother Jones magazine released the secretly recorded videotape.

When Romney lied, several times, claiming that he never said he would cut $5 trillion from the tax roles, Obama should have engaged in a little simple math for the audience, pointing out that Romney had said he’d cut taxes by 20% over 10 years, that the budget over those 10 years is projected to be $25 trillion, and that 20% of $25 trillion is one-fifth of $5 trillion. He could have tossed in a dig saying, “Governor, if you’re going to engage in budget cutting, you should at least be capable of fourth-grade math.”

Nor did he pounce when Romney said he “had experience” with shifting jobs overseas and that the president was “wrong” to say companies could get tax breaks for doing that. There was a chance right there to crush Romney with the governor having no way to respond. Many journalists have documented how Romney grew rich by advising companies on how to escape their taxes and by having a company that shift jobs abroad and reap the tax breaks that come with doing so. (Just one: taxes on profits paid to foreign countries are deductible one-to-one from US corporate taxes owed.)

Obama is not a stupid guy. That he never did said any of these things is certainly not because he forgot to. Clearly his campaign braintrust, such as it is, decided not to go there.

What we we witnessed at the first debate was the result of a cold calculation by Obama and his campaign that the president has lined up all the votes he is going to win from Democratic and progressive voters, and that he needs now, particularly in a few swing states, to try to capture more of the so-called undecided vote — a group supposedly composed of very ill-informed and ignorant people who make their decisions based not upon facts, but upon some bizarre combination of looks, demeanor, facial expressions and “likeability.”

There was clearly also a calculation that the president should not come across as combative, but as a nice, friendly, thoughtful guy.

I think this was a disastrous misreading of who the undecided voters really are. Certainly there are some who are undecided between Obama and Romney, which while hard to imagine, is nonetheless a category of voter who actually exists. But there are also many undecided who are wondering, not which candidate to vote for but whether to vote at all, or whether to vote for a major party candidate or a third party candidate.

By handling this debate the way he did, Obama threw away any chance of reeling in any of those two categories of undecideds.

By failing to forcefully defended Social Security, instead of volunteering up front that he and Romney “agreed” on what needed to be done to “shore up” (siic) the program, by refusing to go beyond condemning Romney’s announced plan to increase military spending and assert that he wants to cut the military (something he said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention) and why (polls show a majority of Americans wants to cut the military budget by close to one-fifth), by refusing to blame Republicans in Congress for thwarting any kind of serious action on the economy and recalling House Speaker John Boehner’s statement at the start of his term that “number one goal” was not passing legislation but was “making sure that Obama is not re-elected,” and by ignoring numerous other opportunities in Wednesday’s debate where he could have scored populist points easily, Obama showed that he really did not want to come across as progressive or even as a fighter.

And that’s the real problem with this president. He is decidedly not a progressive. He is simply a less politically savvy Bill Clinton: a conservative Democrat, particularly on economic issues, who has allowed himself to become captive of the corporate interests who have funded his campaign, and who really do not particularly care whether he wins or Romney wins.

It could be that the Obama campaign has done enough research that it feels it can win at this point by playing it cautious, and by avoiding looking confrontational. If so, it will be bad news for the country after he wins. He will not have long coattails. He will probably still face a Republican House, and perhaps even a Republican Senate, or at least one in which Republicans are even stronger than they have been in the current Senate. The only way Democrats would be able to make major gains in Congress would be for the president to be campaigning aggressively for voters to give him a Democratic Congress, and he doesn’t even talk about that as a goal out on the stump.

That of course means that if he wins, we end up with the worst of all possible worlds — a divided government in which the president, a Democrat, not only has to, but wants to compromise with an increasingly reactionary and thoroughly Darwinian Republican majority. A demoralized and leaderless Democratic majority would be unable to summon up any of the kind of stonewalling resistance as a minority party in the Senate that Republicans have managed to develop as the minority over the last four years.

It also means that even in the unlikely event that Democrats managed to wrest narrow control of the House, and to narrowly hang on to control of the Senate, there will be no mandate for progressive change, for strong defense of the remaining critical elements of the New Deal and Great Society — Social Security and Medicare — or any important issues.

But let’s be clear: This is obviously what the Obama campaign has decided to do. Not that they wanted to lose, but given the position they wanted to take, this was not a “poor showing” by Obama. It was a tactic.

Dave Lindorff is a  founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?