Unless something very unexpected happens, something that enables Obama to show real leadership at last, Romney will almost certainly beat him in 2012. The conventional explanation is that the jobs picture is not going to improve much between now and then--and the election will hinge, above all, on the economy. True 'dat.
Republicans understand this, of course, and they are going to make sure that the economy doesn't improve -- which would be unlikely even if Obama's latest round of half-measures were to take effect. So that's a double whammy.
But Obama is in deeper trouble. His significance, the very meaning of his being, has settled itself in the national psyche and a couple of remarks in Romney's recent speeches on foreign policy play skillfully upon it. Here's first one:
"I will not surrender America's role in the world," Romney said in a carefully-crafted speech at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, an early primary state. "This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president. You have that president today."
"Carefully crafted" is right. A whiff of Bush-Cheney jingoism, yes, but just a whiff for the remaining yahoos -- the lethal dose is in the negative "do not want" and the loaded "You have that President today." Obama is weak. Obama can be rolled. That's the message. It resonates with a deep anxiety abroad in the land, the feeling that America itself is getting weak--dependent on the fate of the Euro, yielding to an ascendant China, paralyzed politically. Images of a weak Obama and a weak America are fusing.
This fused image fits with Obama's conduct of domestic politics, with all the situations in which he seemed to cave before the battle was even joined. The sad fact of the matter is that people who were once his ardent supporters cannot help but share this sense of him. Their half-hearted applause for the much touted toughness of his tone in recent weeks betrays the fact: it looks like an act. Obama has secured his coveted bipartisan consensus at last -- in this ruinous assessment of his character.
Here's another ring on the same bell from Romney's website: "Instead of apologizing for America abroad and 'leading from behind,' Mitt Romney will pursue a strategy of American strength."
As for "apologizing for America" -- well, once again, a bipartisan consensus is achieved. The election of Obama did represent, among many other things, an apology for America. And a good thing too, many of us felt. It was an apology for the America that re-elected the Bush-Cheney regime after having been directly confronted with irrefutable evidence on a massive scale of their brutal indifference to life and truth. So again, with this theme, Romney will be tapping into something real and deep in the national psyche, however divergent evaluations of it may be.
As for "Leading from behind," -- well that is right up there with "I was for the war before I was against it" on the top 10 list of phrases uttered while committing political suicide. It fits so perfectly with how people have come to view Obama that most of them have probably forgotten -- if they ever knew -- that he never said it. But that's how it goes in politics, once the image congeals.