By now, you’ve heard about it dozens of times. Mitt Romney is taking heat for remarks he made at a private fundraiser in Boca about the 47 percent of Americans who won’t vote for him because they enjoy taking handouts from the government. In response to the dustup, the Romney camp has focused on remarks made by Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign about people who “cling to their guns and religion”. Obama’s discussion with “Joe the Plumber” about “spreading the wealth around” has been cited as another example of Obama’s favoritism of one population segment over another. Nevertheless, as Brit Hume explained to Greta on Fox News, the Republicans’ focus on those remarks did not work during the 2008 campaign and there is no reason to believe that it will gain any more traction during the current election cycle.
Actually, there is a better example of Obama’s expression of contempt for a bloc of voters during a fundraiser, which is somewhat analogous the situation involving Romney in Boca. During the mid-term election campaign in September of 2010, Obama managed to alienate a good number of his own supporters during an event at the home of the appropriately-named Rich Richman. The event demonstrated how politicians – from either party – will speak more candidly and cynically about the “little people” when talking to their fat cat contributors. Nevertheless, the Republicans will not likely exploit Obama’s remarks at the Rich-man event. Of course, Obama supporters would be reminded that their candidate is not a significantly different alternative to Romney. However, by the same token, Romney supporters would be reminded that their candidate does not offer a significantly distinct alternative to Obama. As a result, the Republicans will never use it.
Let’s jump into the time machine and look back at how I discussed the Richman event on September 20, 2010:
President Obama recently spoke at a $30,000-per-plate fundraising event for the Democratic National Committee at the home of Richard and Ellen Richman. (Think about that name for a second: Rich Richman.) Mr. Richman lives up to his surname and resides in the impressive Conyers Farm development in Greenwich, Connecticut. Christopher Keating of the Capitolwatch blog at courant.com provided us with the President’s remarks, addressed to the well-heeled attendees:
. . . Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get – to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed – oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed – then, well, I don’t know about this particularly derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and – (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.)
The tactlessness of those remarks was not lost on Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. Mr. Greenwald transcended the perspective of an offended liberal to question what could possibly have been going on in the mind of the speaker:
What’s most striking about Obama’s comments is that there is no acceptance whatsoever of responsibility (I’ve failed in some critical areas; we could have/should have done better). There’s not even any base-motivating vow to fight to fix these particular failures (we’ll keep fighting for a public option/to curb executive power abuses/to reduce lobbyist and corporate control of our political process). Instead, he wants you to know that if you criticize him — or even question what he’s done (“well, I don’t know about this particular derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that”) – it’s your fault: for being some sort of naive, fringe-leftist idiot who thought he would eliminate the Pentagon and bring about world peace in 18 months, and/or because you simply don’t sufficiently appreciate everything he’s done for you because you’re congenitally dissatisfied.
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Sitting at a $30,000 per plate fundraising dinner and mocking liberal critics as irrational ingrates while wealthy Party donors laugh probably does wonders for bruised presidential egos, but it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective way to motivate those who are so unmotivated. Then again, Barack Obama isn’t actually up for election in November, so perhaps the former goal is more important to him than the latter. It certainly seems that way from these comments.
Of course, liberals weren’t the only Obama supporters who felt betrayed by the President’s abandonment of his campaign promises. In fact, Obama owed his 2008 victory to those independent voters who drank the “Hope and Change” Kool-Aid.
Glenn Greenwald devoted some space from his Salon piece to illustrate how President Obama seems to be continuing the agenda of President Bush. I was reminded of the quote from former Attorney General John Ashcroft in an article written by Jane Mayer for The New Yorker. When discussing how he expected the Obama Presidency would differ from the Presidency of his former boss, George W. Bush, Ashcroft said:
“How will he be different? The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’ ”
One important difference that Ashcroft failed to anticipate was that Bush knew better than to disparage his own base.
By the onset of the 2012 Presidential Campaign, many of Obama’s 2008 supporters had become ambivalent about their former hero. As I pointed out on August 13, once Romney had named Paul “Marathon Man” Ryan as his running mate (rather than Ohio Senator Rob Portman), he provided Democrats with a bogeyman to portray a Romney Presidency as a threat to middle-class Americans:
As the Democratic Party struggled to resurrect a fraction of the voter enthusiasm seen during the 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney came along and gave the Democrats exactly what they needed: a bogeyman from the far-right wing of the Republican Party. The 2012 campaign suddenly changed from a battle against an outsourcing, horse ballet elitist to a battle against a blue-eyed devil who wants to take away Medicare. The Republican team of White and Whiter had suddenly solved the problem of Democratic voter apathy.
Nevertheless, some degree of disillusionment experienced by Obama’s supporters continues. Consider the final paragraph from a September 20 essay by Robert Reich:
And even if Obama is reelected, more hard work begins after Inauguration Day – when we must push him to be tougher on the Republicans than he was in his first term, and do what the nation needs.
In other words, it will be up to the voters to make sure they aren’t betrayed by Obama as they were during his first term.
The Republican insistence on attempting to portray Obama as a “Socialist” rather than a disingenuous poseur has served no other purpose than to invite an eloquent smackdown from the namesake of the GOP’s Patron Saint.
Romney’s failure to win the Presidential Election will be more the result of ignored opportunities than the result of gaffes.