Imagine a guy who knows little about current events and politics. If he were to scan "the news"—web, print, TV—he'd be utterly convinced that President Barack Obama is a socialist, Christian-hating, America-bashing despot, recklessly hurtling the country toward insolvency. Every alleged "straight-news" article on politics out there now has the same trope: Politically, Obama is roadkill. Story over. The news articles floating about aren't just found in the Weekly Standard, the National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and all of Fox News. These Obama-as-traitor pieces have begun to infiltrate left-leaning publications as well; they're written with absolute certitude, à la: Obama is barely holding on by a thread. His reelection isn't in doubt, it's simply not going to happen, period. Even liberals and Democrats are abandoning ship. His approval ratings are lower than those of al-Qaeda. According to just about every political journalist out there, it's game over. ABC's Jake Tapper, a so-called centrist journalist, simply gushes at the Republican presidential candidates, tweeting after the last GOP debate, "Propes [sic] to all the candidates tonight #Reagandabte." (Propes? Really. Tapper's attempt to be hip? Let's not got give him any props for that.) What everyone in the media seems to be saying is: No point in the campaign even happening, the Republican nominee is the guaranteed next president, on to 2016.
But of course, the reality has little resemblance to what's being circulated in the media. This much is true: Obama's presidency is flailing (not failing), much in the way most of George W. Bush's was throughout his eight years and much like Clinton's was before he stood firm and gave a beat-down to then Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And why is his presidency flailing? Because his advisors and team have failed miserably at honing the Obama message and explaining in detail what the president has done. The administration has allowed countless fallacies to seep into the mainstream media. (Which leads to another article for another time: What the hell is the matter with chief of staff Richard Daley? I thought Rahm was the problem, but clearly he wasn't.)
I promise I won't refight the health-care law, but look how the media has since portrayed the law: They call it big-government, socialized medicine. The reality? The full benefits of the law won't be felt for some time to come, but it at least moved the ball forward; the fact is, it helped people get health insurance. If anything, it didn't go far enough and was basically a giveaway to drug companies and insurance companies.
Another example: The media has let the right incorrectly define Obama as a big-government-loving liberal who's a champion of "wealth redistribution" (a trope adored by Fox News ideologues Bill O'Reilly and Brit Hume). That term "wealth redistribution" has all the delicious connotation loved by the less-than-informed Tea Partiers. Imagine the scary government knocking on your McMansion, raiding your wall safe — absconding with your stacks of cash, bonds, and gold bullion, only to see your booty given away to nonwhite people. "From my cold dead hands," indeed.
And let's not forget the stimulus, the conservative's and media's favorite piñata. "Didn't work," they all say; "huge waste of money." Did work. And wasn't a waste of money. According to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the stimulus saved/created 3.6 million jobs. But of course the one-note Tea Partiers only see what they want to see; they don't want nuance, they live in a black-and-white world. They hear "government spending" and then tune out entirely, uncomfortable with the truth. The reality is that the stimulus prevented a depression, the likes of which this country would have never seen before. Without the stimulus, we'd probably be at 20-plus percent unemployment. (That's the reality we'd be living in if President McCain made good on his promise not to support it.)
Of course, me saying these things will only spur the fervent commenters from doubling down on their greatest hits: Obama is a socialist, Obama is a Muslim, Obama hates America. Come on commenters, you can do better than that. Wait, no you can't.
So back to the title of this post: How does Obama win reelection? For starters, he hopes and prays that Rick Perry wins the GOP nomination. While no Republican in field right now could beat Obama, Mitt Romney has at least gone to great pains to reinvent himself as a not-insane conservative — though if you look at his past speeches in 2009 and 2010 about President Obama, Romney looks and sounds just as kooky as Michele Bachman and Rick Perry. Thus, say good-bye the days of Romney throwing red meat to conservatives. He's shelved that tactic, at least for now. He'll never out-conservative Bachman or Perry and he knows that. Just the fact the Romney was a governor of liberal, heathen Massachusetts is reason enough for the GOP stalwarts to question his right-wing cred.
So let's assume Perry wins the nomination, and that's a pretty solid prediction, albeit a lot can happen between now and the primaries. His unabashed hatred for Social Security, for example, has only heightened his bona fides among the Tea Partier and hardcore GOP primary voters. His disdain of government and Washington will play well in flyover country. In essence, Perry is the poster child for today's Republican Party: He's an America-first religious zealot who's intractable, inflexible; he doesn't like homosexuals, he loves guns, he questions the validity of evolution, and he brands Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as a traitor. All of these kinds of stances might have disqualified Perry from winning the GOP nomination just three years ago (and certainly in the era of Ronald Reagan, who, as scary as this sounds would probably be a conservative Democrat in 2011).
With Perry as the nominee, Obama and his team simply need to honestly brand Perry as a dangerous extremist. Something like, "Can a man who calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank a traitor, and who advocates Texas seceding from the Union be trusted to hold the office of President of the United States?" It's that simple. People aren't unhappy with Obama and his policies as much as they're unhappy with the pace of recovery. And all indications are that a President Perry would take the country back to rampant deregulation, potentially spawning another banking implosion. These are solid issues Obama can run on, and all this hugely negative Obama press swirling out there now will be but a memory. Once it's a two-person race, the dynamics change and the outcome all hinges on ... well ... who's the most hinged. And looking at the race through that prism, it's Obama by a mile.