The 2012 presidential marathon is on, and one mainstream pollster (Rasmussen) says a Republican apparition is opening up a lead on President Obama. (Any Republican 46 percent, Barack Obama 42 percent.) A growing number of Democrats figure that whoever can keep his head in the rattle and bang of unexpected events just doesn’t understand the situation.
Republicans tempted to indulge in excessive giddiness should remember this is akin to fantasy football. A poll is a snapshot, and snapshots can deceive. Tomorrow is another day, to quote the estimable Mrs. Scarlett O’Hara Butler, and the chickens of ‘12 are not nearly ready to count. But snapshots of Mr. Obama’s landscape, taken on the eve of the Fourth of July weekend, aren’t something he wants to post in the family scrapbook, either.
If the president is not yet in full panic mode, he’s right to be running scared. Class warfare is the Democratic default mode, and Mr. Obama is looking for the panic button earlier than incumbents usually do. He warns darkly of many bad things — “significant and unpredictable consequences” — unless Republicans agree to raise the debt limit and stand by to raise taxes.
Mr. Obama has dropped his trademark professorial approach to the bully pulpit, his long and convoluted sentences that loop, twist and turn in search of something to say. He’s serving up plainer speech. His aides explain that he has been studying Ronald Reagan for tips on how to better communicate, forgetting that the good-natured Great Communicator actually had something cheerful to communicate. This week, chiding Congress for taking too much time off, he employed his two daughters as stage props, saying their approach to getting their homework done on time could be a model for lazy congressmen working on the budget. He sounded less like the Gipper and more like Jimmy Carter turning to little Amy for advice on how to deal with the threat of “nukular” war. (We thought the president had a gentleman’s agreement with the press to keep presidential children - cute, feisty and able to set an example for their elders as they may be - out of the harsh politics of Washington.)
The president resorted to the politics of City Hall in his Wednesday news conference, railing six times against tax breaks for owners of corporate jets, and warning of gloom and doom for “a bunch of kids out there who are not getting college scholarships” if tax loopholes are not closed on corporate riders and oil companies “making money hand over fist.” The president also appears to have been studying the mayor who warned that “brutal” budget economy would force him to close the orphanage.
The president’s acolytes are howling calamity even louder than he is. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York hops first on one foot and then the other in the manner of a little boy resisting the urge to dash to the bathroom. He boasts that the Democrats have the upper hand in the budget negotiations, but hops across the line into hysteria country to accuse Republicans of deliberately sabotaging the economy just to win the 2012 elections. “It is becoming clear that insisting on a slash-and-burn approach may be part of this plan … which they think only helps them in 2012,” he told the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
Bill Clinton, who is no longer president except in his own mind, suggests that the solution to the budget dilemma is to agree to both cut spending and raise taxes, but not actually do either one. “What I’d like to see them do is agree on the outlines of a 10-year plan and agree not to start either [raising taxes] or the spending cuts until we’ve got this recovery under way,” Bubba told ABC News in Chicago, where he is holding forth at something called the “Clinton Global Initiative.” Finally, a plan — promising something and then not delivering — any politician could master.
And here comes the apparition, slowly becoming flesh. The Republican field is sorting itself out, as presidential fields always do. Only a month ago, anyone would have imagined there might not be an audience this season because everyone was a player on stage. Now Mitt Romney, steady as she goes but a little shopworn; Michelle Bachmann, improving with experience; and Rick Perry, maybe a Texas messiah and maybe not, are all the buzz. Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, like vaudevillians who couldn’t quite play Peoria, seem to have been jerked back to obscurity by the man with the hook. Of course, there’s always tomorrow.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.