WASHINGTON -– And so here we go: a gloomy campaign for a gloomy era, a political war framed by the combatants as an Armageddon-style struggle between the Ungodly and the Irrational.
Nearly three years ago, in a brief burst of sunshine on a chilly day, Barack Obama was inaugurated on the strength of his promise not only to represent, but bring about, “change we can believe in.”
But as he and the Republican field launch the active, above-ground phase of the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama’s strategists are planning to focus less on his record –- which is spotty at best -– than on what they regard as the frightening prospect of a Republican Party not only of wrong but medieval thinking.
The strategy will be more accusatory, alarm-filled and defensive than the one used during the uplifting, even joyous campaign of 2008, symbolized as it was by depicting the first letter of the candidate's name as a rising sun.
Asked how President Obama could win reelection in the face of persistently high unemployment, a stagnant economy and restiveness in his own Democratic base, a top Obama strategist gave a three-part answer:
- “The Electoral College map is tough for them.” He went on to explain that the president would have solid, if diminished support in the states he had won in 2008. They will lose some -- Indiana being a prime example –- but feel they can hold onto enough of the rest.
- “The policies the Republicans are pursuing in Congress are politically ruinous.” He cited Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Medicare bill, the GOP leadership’s “Cut Cap and Balance” bill, and efforts to roll back or even rescind the Wall Street reform law.
- “Republican presidential candidates are racing to embrace the Tea Party, which is going to drive away independent voters.” The Tea Party’s “extreme” views, he said, are outside the mainstream, and will cost the GOP ticket, whoever is on it.
More generally, White House and Democratic strategists will try to portray the GOP as a ruined party in thrall to pre-rational thinking: a tribe of the willfully ignorant that rejects modern science, modern teaching methods, modern research and social science, all in the name of fealty to a static (and in that sense anti-American) society in which God’s word is the one and only answer.
If they were smart, united and disciplined, the GOP and its candidates would focus like a laser on two issues: jobs and the economy.
But of course they are not. In a series of forums and debates they have been and will be obsessed with issues that are abstract, personal and even religious: abortion, prayer, evolution, the intent of the framers on the issue of federalism, the 10th Amendment,
Shot through their books and speeches is an insistence that Obama and the Democrats are not only “socialist” but “secular,” and that only a faith in God –- and reliance on his guidance –- can save America and the world in a time of global crisis, fear and ennui.
The GOP candidates will get a chance to display how disciplined and focused they are on Wednesday in Los Angeles on NBC, in the first debate that will include Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.
The campaign begins in earnest against a backdrop of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Its timing only makes the backdrop more grim.
But it is where we are.