WRITERS NOTE: In the week since this column was released, President Obama has been going non stop, and the question becomes "Is it too little too late".
^OBAMA TRIES TO FIND HIS CAMPAIGN GROOVE@<
^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<
^By BOB FRANKEN@=
^C.2010 Hearst Newspapers@=
WASHINGTON September 29, 2010
_ ``I need you fired up,’’ President Obama shouted to the college kids.
And Vice President Joe Biden told fellow Democrats to ``stop whining.’’
Obama, who hasn't been at all ``fired up’’ in the mid-term election campaign, is now trying to return to the rock-star mode that served him so well the last time around. It is certainly a contrast to the moping that had characterized his seeming detachment from the 2010 midterm elections.
Let's face it: ``Things Could Be Worse’’ just doesn't cut it as an inspirational campaign slogan. Neither does ``Blame the Republicans,’’ no matter how justified it may be. They come across as, well, ``whining.’’
Is it really the Republicans whom Obama should blame for his inability to overcome their intransigence? Or should we consider how he fails to convey a sense of urgency? As Garry Trudeau puts it in the ``Doonesbury’’ cartoon strip, Obama has been overdosing on ``chill pills.’’
This is a president who hasn't even been able to sell a sure-fire winner like slightly higher taxes on the wealthy. The consensus is that such a tax hike would cut the deficit by $700 billion over 10 years. Polls show that Americans favor such an increase, with the Gallup survey reporting approval by a 44-to-37 margin.
Obama’s failure to inspire support for higher taxes on top earners makes it seem like solid Republican resistance often intimidates him.
So his supporters, who less than two years ago were riding the crest of euphoria, are now drowning in a feeling that their champion is forfeiting. The catch phrase is an ``enthusiasm gap’’ and on the Democrats' side the prevailing emotion is indifference.
The difference on the opposite side of the gap is striking, particularly for those in the extreme reaches. They have gone to their tea parties and drunk the magic elixir of anger.
They are the ones cheering lustily as some of their own carry their banners to the Washington power structure that seems powerless to get anything done. They march behind the likes of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., when he tells Bloomberg News that his ambition, and theirs, is to achieve “compete gridlock” in Washington.
Compare that to those who were once ecstatic about “Change you can believe in.” They’ve changed. All the passion has been squeezed out of those who are being led into the doldrums by Obama himself.
The president's forces seem exhausted by the all-out war to achieve health care and finance reform, though many of those supporters regard these new programs as only token accomplishments. The inequalities that are so obvious in our society fail to get them riled up.
One would think, for instance, that new Census Bureau figures that show the widest gap between rich and poor Americans on record (the largest among western industrial nations) would add fuel to their progressives' fires. Instead, they leave the impression that they’ve burned out.
Obama is giving some faint indications he may try and relight the fires. At a University of Wisconsin rally, the president urged college students to ``keep believing that change is possible," thundering, ``You've got to stick with me, you can't lose heart.’’
In an interview with Rolling Stone, he implored: ``Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.’’
If he thinks these have been ``the most adverse circumstances imaginable,’’ imagine a Republican takeover of Congress, which is looking more and more plausible, particularly if the Obamas and Bidens of this world fail to rev up their people whom, at the moment, indicate they'll stay home swilling their whine.
(E-mail: bob(at)hearstdc.com); on the Web: www.bobfranken.tv