Obama Resorts To Hope-A-Dope Campaign Strategy

Matthew Sheffield
By Matthew Sheffield | February 4, 2012 | 7:13 PM EST

Rather than run from his record, Pres. Obama – as demonstrated by his State Of The Union speech and subsequent recitations of its themes on the campaign trail – has found a way to flip the bad economy on its head, and make the election about “empathy.”

In his look back at President Obama's most recent State of the Union address, Wall Street Journal Deputy Editorial Page Director Daniel Daniel Henninger writes:

"Mr. Obama may not know much about the private economy, but he knows a lot about the uses of human anxiety. Proposing to replace his own bad economy with a virtual substitute "built to last" allows Mr. Obama to place himself outside the White House and on the street making common cause with the genuine economic anxieties of the American people. It also lets this president put in motion what he thinks he knows best—empathy. In "The Audacity of Hope" he put empathy "at the heart of my moral code." Practice makes perfect. It is beyond audacious. How can a president simultaneously hammer real job creation with the Keystone XL pipeline decision, then go into the country and claim kinship with the anxieties of the jobless? No problem. Just do it. It could work. If we know nothing else about Barack Obama it is that he can play "hope" like a Stradivarius. The version of "An Economy Built to Last" that he performed at Intel is his concerto for re-election. … The GOP is appealing, as its candidates so often do, to the American brain. Barack Obama is happy to be left by himself, going for their hearts. If he wins, the Republican will wail at the unfairness, irrationality and illogic of what beat them.”

And Obama has practice at playing the empathy card. In August 2006 – six months before the rookie senator declared his presidential candidacy, he said this:

“You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this - when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers - it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.”

Obama is not much of a leader. His team says he “leads from behind,” but really what he does is outsource leadership to the liberals in Congress. But there is no doubt as to his audacity. He, quite literally, wrote the book on it, the Audacity of Hope, and then proceeded to audaciously run for president in 2008 on nothing more than vague promises of Hope and Change.

Four years later, millions of Americans have lost hope in the Obama economy and dropped out of the workforce; the president knows he can not credibly claim to have turned the economy around despite having flushed a few trillion dollars down the drain. Obama can't run on the economy that actually exists, instead, he's going to run on an economy that could exist--if only those evil conservatives would just let him have his way. Once again, he's going for a hope-a-dope strategy.

There's little doubt Obama's campaign will follow the course Henninger describes. Obama has no other option – and he has the media in his corner, running the fog machine to cover over the economic reality, hype any morsel of good news and downplay or ignore the bad.

That's a large part of why many people are concerned about Mitt Romney's GOP presidential bid: The man has many talents but one of them does not appear being able to succinctly explain why freedom works and why the people are better at deciding their own lives than unionized bureaucrats. He knows the answers but we haven't seen his work.

In fact, we've seen missteps like Romney's problematic statement that he wasn't concerned about the very poor. As Romney explained, he was trying to say his focus was on the vast American middle class, which has certainly taken a beating from the Obama economic agenda.

But in politics, if you're explaining, you're losing. And empathy is not something you have to explain.

Barack Obama has his playbook. He's memorized it by heart, and he has half a dozen years of practice running the empathy play. Whoever wins the Republican nomination needs to realize that effectively countering it is going to require more than just a printout of the nation's balance sheet.

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