- - Tuesday, October 9, 2012



Something bizarre, surreal, perhaps unprecedented, has happened in the 2012 presidential election. With 28 days to go until Election Day, Mitt Romney, who served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, has become the de facto president of the United States, and Barack Obama, who has served as president of the United States since 2009, has become the challenger — a “candidate.”

While surprising, even shocking, the incumbent president says it almost daily.

“That’s what we are going to put in place in the next four years,” Mr. Obama said in a campaign speech in Virginia just last week. “That’s what we’re going to do,” he said to wild applause as he got to the end of a list of “campaign pledges.”

“That’s the president I’ll be,” he said the week before, winding up his same list of promises.

Or this week: “And so the question now is, how hard are we willing to fight for the vision that we profess? How hard am I willing to fight for it? But it’s not just me in this thing: How hard are you guys willing to fight for it?”

Or last week in Cleveland, when the incumbent president came out with this gem: “You’ve got a big choice to make. Not just a choice between two candidates or two parties — we’ve got a choice between two fundamentally different visions for America.”

“Candidates”? “Visions”? Whoa. Wait. One of you has been president for the past four years, and one of you wants to be president for the next four years. Sure, you may still both be “candidates” with “visions,” but isn’t one of you the “president” who has a four-year “record”?

Mr. Obama has spent the campaign running away from that record. While his surrogates hit the Sunday talk shows last weekend to say that Mr. Romney was just a big fat liar liar pants on fire in the Denver debate, the incumbent president knows that his performance was pathetic because he simply couldn’t defend his record for the past four years. No one could. His “vision” of “hope and change” from the 2008 campaign has crashed and burned: He is literally an emperor with no clothes.

But what did you expect? America hired a first-term senator — a former community organizer with grandiose plans to “change Washington” — and he came up short. You’re not stupid, America: He made you feel good, you went with it. But now it’s Sunday morning: All those wine bottles are … man, why are there so many wine bottles? Did we really … ? Bleh. OK, time to get back on course. I really am going to start exercising more, hitting that gym, gotta get serious, gotta get disciplined … and what was I thinking in 2008?

The transposition has been remarkable. The president skipped meetings with world leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his multiday stay in New York for the United Nations, and instead appeared on a ladies talk show and hobnobbed with singers Beyonce and Jay Z. Mr. Romney, on the other hand, jumped at the chance to speak with America’s top ally in the Middle East.

Just this week, Mr. Obama flew 10 hours round trip to meet with — Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, George Clooney, Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder. There, among the elites, suddenly energized, the president joked about his debate debacle and made excuses. Meanwhile, Mr. Romney, not breaking for party-time, delivered a powerful speech on foreign policy, laying out his goals — he is, after all, the challenger. He battered the president for his failed Middle East policies, the murder of a U.S. ambassador in Libya, the genocide in Syria. He devastated the incumbent with just five little words: “Hope is not a strategy.”

Since the debate Oct. 3, six days ago, Mr. Obama has mentioned Big Bird and Elmo 13 times; mentions of Libya, the economy — zero. And there’s a reason for that, along with his disastrous debate performance: After being president for four years, he has virtually no accomplishments. A majority of Americans still want Obamacare overturned, the Middle East is on fire, America is not more beloved around the world (as he pledged), the economy is dying, and 23 million people are unemployed or underemployed. His policies have failed.

The president’s only option is to run as an outsider, to pretend that it wasn’t him behind that desk where the buck always stops. He even said so, point-blank, last month: “You can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.”

So, the president becomes the outsider, and Mr. Romney has stepped in to fill the void. Just days after 70 million Americans got their first unfiltered look at the challenger, he has overtaken the president when it comes to handling national security and the economy, according to a Washington Times/Zogby poll released Monday. Mr. Romney now leads in all 11 battleground states. He has pulled ahead in the essential state of Ohio and, heck, even Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania now appear in play.

But it shouldn’t be as shocking to Americans as it is to the media. Mr. Obama has been an empty suit — or empty chair, if you prefer — since he took office. President, er, challenger Romney now looks poised to take a spin behind the Biggest Desk in the World.

• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected]



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