Talking Tactics: President Obama has chosen to fight the Republicans on the culture war front
he outline of how the presidential elections are going to be fought is becoming much clearer, and for President Obama the answer seems to be an inversion of “It’s the economy, stupid”, the phrase coined by Clinton campaign strategist James Carville to explain why his man was a better choice than George H.W. Bush in 1992. While the Republican challenger Mitt Romney concentrates on the single area where he consistently outpolls Obama — economic competence — the President is opening up flanks in America’s culture wars that wrong-foot the Republicans at every turn. Obama’s may well be a winning strategy, unless Carville’s line for 1992 holds for all American elections.
With unemployment stubbornly staying above 8 per cent, the eurozone crisis damaging American exports, a $15.56 trillion national debt continuing to grow, much of the housing market still floundering in negative equity and home ownership at its lowest level since 1965, it’s understandable if Obama prefers to shift the focus onto those social and personal areas where he regularly beats Romney. His commencement address at the all-women Barnard College in New York on May 14 was the perfect opportunity for that.
For no one can schmaltz and razzmatazz better than President Obama did in an academic gown at a graduation ceremony for successful liberal New York women. His speech was interrupted 36 times by applause and 22 times by gales of almost hysterical laughter — even for lame gags about how he was not going to do Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. (From the official transcript: “‘No moonwalking.’ [laughter]. ‘No moonwalking today.’ [laughter].”) Yet for all the banalities of his Barnard speech, a subtle reading between the lines, and a comparison of it with Mitt Romney’s commencement address to Liberty University on May 12, tell us much about how this election will be fought.
Obama started off with his characteristic blaming of all America’s economic ills on the previous Administration, telling the graduates how in 2008 “an economic crisis struck that would claim more than 5 million jobs before the end of your freshman year”. His own responsibility for prolonging the recovery was naturally sidestepped, and the blame placed on the undeniable facts that “Politics seems nastier. Congress more gridlocked than ever,” as though he were a political commentator on ABC, CBS or NBC, or indeed anyone other than the man in charge.