Obama actually said that the midterms should be about him

    Oh man. Willingly and inexplicably, President Obama really stepped in it the other day.

    Democrats are desperately trying to hold the Senate in the ’14 midterms — the chamber could go either way, with Democrats fighting mostly on red turf – and the last thing they want to hear is Obama saying that the races should be a referendum on him. They’d vastly prefer that he raise campaign money behind closed doors and clam up in public. But no. In a speech last Thursday, while extolling the latest economic stats, Obama uncorked this one:

    “I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle is pretty happy about that. But make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.”

    Presidents have surely said stupider things than that – here’s George W. Bush in ’07: “Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country” — but timing is everything in politics, and few remarks in modern memory have been more stupidly ill-timed than Obama’s scripted brio.

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    Granted, it’s clear from the context that he was talking about the long economic recovery, and the Democrats’ ongoing economic agenda (such as raising the minimum wage and reducing income inequality). But he should know by now that in the heat of an election war, the first casualty is context. And sure enough, Republicans have speedily seized on his soundbite, stripped out the context, and splashed it on screen, in Senate races where Obama is already an albatross.

    No wonder David Axelrod virtually winced yesterday when the subject came up on Meet the Press. Axelrod was a top Obama strategist for years. He said on the air: “I wouldn’t have put that line in there…It was a mistake.”

    He did try to defend the president (“If you read the speech, the context of the line was…”), but as a veteran ad man, he knows how the game works. Obama had said something, captured on video, that the GOP could easily spin the other way – roping in the Democratic candidates who have tried to distance themselves from Obama, bringing up policies that Obama wasn’t even talking about.

    For instance, a new ad for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky: “(Democratic challenger) Alison Grimes says this election is not about her support for Barack Obama anbd his failed policies. But Obama himself says a vote for Alison is a vote for his policies.” The on-screen text: “The war on coal, Obamacare, massive spending and debt.”

    For instance, a new ad for imperiled Kansas incumbent Pat Roberts highlights Obama’s remarks and says that “a vote for (independent) Greg Orman is a vote for the Obama agenda.” And an ad in New Hampshire for underdog GOP candidate Scott Brown highlights Obama’s remarks and derides incumbent Jeanne Shaheen as Obama’s “number one foot soldier.”

    Heck, if I was a GOP ad man, I’d air Obama’s remarks until election day – just as Democrats would’ve parsed Bush in the ’06 midterms, had he said the same.

    It’s understandable that Obama wanted to tout the economy: “Today, our businesses are hiring 200,000 Americans a month. The unemployment rate has come down from a high of 10 percent in 2009, to 6.1 percent today. Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have created 10 million new jobs…Right now, there are more job openings than at any time since 2001.” And so on. But he didn’t need to raise the stakes with a politically stupid soundbite  – and surely someone in his political shop must know that voters still aren’t jazzed about the economy.

    They aren’t broadly feeling the recovery, in part because wages remain stagnant (a problem that has persisted for decades). In a new national poll, 63 percent rate the economy as “poor,” which is 10 points better than a year ago, but hardly good enough to prompt a pro-Obama midterm wave. Only 19 percent say the economy has “gotten better” during the past month – a lower share than two autumns ago. And even though Republican obstructionists have long done their darndest to foil Obama’s ambitious job-creation bills, voters in the new poll give the GOP a five-point edge as the party better trusted on the economy.

    So how exactly did Obama help Democrats by insisting that the midterms should be about him? They’d be happier today if only he had excised those remarks. And if the press had subsequently asked Obama how he intended to help his midterm candidates, he could simply have dusted off his September remark bout ISIS: “We don’t have a strategy yet.” Even that would’ve been better.


    Breaking news (or, as CNN streams all day long, BREAKING NEWS):

    Justice Antonin Scalia sure got it right 11 years ago when he warned in a sassy dissent that the Supreme Court was opening the floodgates for what he called “the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to honosexual conduct.”

    The American mainstream would call this “equal rights,” but whatever. Scalia was prescient in his inimitable way. This morning, the Supreme Court essentially legalized gay marriage in Virginia, Wisconsin, Utah, Indiana, and Oklahoma – by refusing to review appeals-court rulings in favor of equal rights. Clearly, a majority of the justices are comfortable with allowing the “homosexual agenda” to spread hither and yon, snapping up red states along the way.

    It will be fascinating to see, in 2016, whether the Republican platform defies the religious right and joins the new century.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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