In 2008, Barack “No Drama” Obama was the coolest presidential candidate America had ever seen — young, hip, Ivy League, mellifluous, and black, with a melodic and exotic name. Rock stars vied to perform at his massive rallies, where Obama often began his hope-and-change sermons by reminding the teary-eyed audience what to do in case of mass fainting.
Money, like manna from heaven, seemed to drop spontaneously into his campaign coffers. Ecstatic Hollywood stars were rendered near speechless at the thought of Obama’s promised Big Rock Candy Mountain to come — peace, harmony, prosperity, and “five million new jobs” in renewable energy alone.
Even the cynical Europeans went crazy over his anti–George W. Bush candidacy, one that was gussied up with faux Greek columns and Latin presidential mottoes. Huge rainbow-colored Obama signs sprouted like weeds on America’s upscale suburban lawns, and hip-hoppers rapped out Obama themes. All of America, it seemed, wanted to believe in this largely unknown newcomer.
The giddy media declared Obama a “sort of god,” and “the smartest man with the highest IQ” ever to assume the presidency. Somehow, even legs got into the hero worship, as pundits praised the sight of Obama’s “perfectly creased pant,” and one commentator felt “this thrill going up my leg” when Obama spoke.
And why not, when the soft-spoken, adaptable African-American candidate preached civility and visions of a postracial America — changing his speech from a white suburban patois to southern-black-evangelical cadences as needed to woo widely diverse audiences.
Obama, the most partisan member of the U.S. Senate, promised a new post-political nonpartisanship. Almost by fiat, he declared an end to big debts, corruption, lobbyists, wars, unpopular American foreign policies, and unlawful anti-terrorism protocols — almost everything that had predated the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.
Four years of governance later, the huge crowds have mostly melted away. Those still left do not faint. The columns are in storage. The Latinate “Vero Possumus” is not even voiced in English.
In place of his previous “no red states or blue states” healing rhetoric, Obama has sown all sorts of needless divisions in hopes of cobbling together a thin us-versus-them coalition, as independents flee. The 99 percent claim oppression by the 1 percent. Young single female professionals are supposedly at war with Republican Neanderthals.
Beleaguered gays apparently must fight the bigotry of the homophobic right wing. Greens should go on the offensive against conservative polluters who are okay with dirty air and water. Latinos must “punish our enemies” at the polls, and Attorney General Eric Holder’s “my people” are to be set against “a nation of cowards.” With all the advantages of incumbency and an obsequious media, why is Barack Obama reduced to stooping to save his campaign?
A dismal economy, of course, explains voter discontent. So do the contradictory and illogical explanations about the recent killing of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. Mitt Romney is also proving a far better campaigner than were prior so-so Obama opponents like Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Obama’s first debate was a disaster.
A more worldly Obama no longer talks of cooling the planet or lowering the rising seas. Barely even with challenger Mitt Romney in the polls, he now alternates between the crude and the trivial in a campaign that in its shrillness on the stump evokes the last desperate days of failed incumbents like Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush.
Obama blasts Romney as a “bullsh***er,” and releases an ad in which a starlet compares voting for the president to her first sexual experience. When Obama is not crude, he is adolescent — as he references Big Bird, plays word games like “Romnesia,” and ridicules Romney for his “binders” debate remark.
The greatest problem facing Obama, however, is not just his mediocre record of governance, but the growing public perception that he is as uncool in 2012 as he was cool in 2008. Voters no longer feel they’re square for voting against Obama. Instead, it’s becoming the “in” thing to shrug that enough is enough.
A common theme of classic American tales such as The Rainmaker, Elmer Gantry, The Music Man, and The Wizard of Oz is popular anger unleashed at Pied Piper–like messiahs who once hypnotized the masses with promises of grandeur.
The bamboozled people rarely fault their own gullibility for their swooning over hope-and-change banalities, but rather, once sober, turn with fury on the itinerant messiahs who made them look so foolish. In other words, it is not just the economy, foreign policy, poor debating skills, or a so-so campaign that now plagues Obama, but the growing public perception that voters were had in 2008 and that it now is okay — even cool — to no longer believe in him.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of the recently released The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 Tribune Media Services