The Nixonian strategy that has largely dominated American politics for the past 40 years involved identifying Democrats as other—black, gay, Jewish, immigrant, intellectual, vegetarian, etc. (I was going to say as “communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers” but that doesn’t make so much sense in the age of David Vitter and Larry Craig). In short, not the kind of people you run into at the Applebee’s salad bar.I largely agree with this, with the caveat that the system has already broken down. The GOP tried extensively to otherize Obama last year, and it largely didn't work. I just don't believe that the American people really want another "Decider", they mostly just want competent government. The extent to which Obama is perceived to provide that will determine his popularity and reelection chances. Republicans have spread some fear and loathing over the past year, but I hardly think they've moved public opinion back on the questions of intelligence and qualifications. If they did, I have to believe that Sarah Palin's polling would look a whole lot better.
This probably won’t work for much longer, because soon there will just be too many black, gay, Jewish, vegetarian, intellectual immigrants. But it is the basis of modern national American politics. And when the media starts comparing a Democratic president to an alien, we should be alarmed.
Amidst all this discussion of Obama's declining approval ratings and healthcare and the economy and everything, it's worth noting that Obama's support is roughly where it was when he was elected, and one suspects that polling showing Democrats not being enthusiastic about voting next year is more a function of frustration with the Democrats' large majorities in Congress, and a failure to either (a) effectively tar Republicans as obstructionists or (b) do away with arcane Senate traditions. Hopefully that polling might convince Democrats to think hard about considering these options.
On a related topic, Sullivan writes, "I expected a moderate non-ideological pragmatism but I didn't quite expect Obama to have lost his touch with the base as completely as he has. Among the young, he is no longer an icon of change but a symbol of the resilience of the Washington system." It's probable that plugged-in, netroots-style progressives believe this, but I don't really think it's true that the average young voter believes it yet. This is the sort of bloggy solipsism that rather annoys me, as it assumes that the blogosphere is a representative sample of opinion amongst the public, which isn't really true.
As for Obama himself, my theory (based on everything I've read about the man) is that his campaign persona from last year maps pretty closely onto his real personality. He's not a firebreather--as Edwards and Clinton at times pretended to be--and he's not a poseur. It might well be that Obama's merry postpartisan persona has taken him as far as it can, and that he's going to need to make adjustments to hold on to his standing. But to expect him to convert to, say, a populist firebreather (as many progressives seem to want, as they wanted last year) seems to reflect little understanding of what drives the man. Obama is Obama, for better for worse. For my part, I'm not entirely convinced he's figured out out how he sees the role of the presidency and how he wants to use his power, which is hardly unusual. Bill Clinton, for example, basically bumbled through his first two years and wound up alienating practically everyone in the country, but he eventually found his footing and his operation got sleeker. Obama hasn't made the same mistakes as Clinton (in particular, he hasn't pissed off unions nearly as much), but he's still learning, and he does have a tendency toward self-improvement and rising to the occasion. It's easy to forget what a lousy candidate he was during the early days of 2007--he was a stiff debater and often an indifferent speaker at smaller events. Eventually he figured it out. I have little doubt he'll eventually find his rhythms the same way as president, but he's not there yet, and aside from FDR nobody has ever entered the presidency on day one, fully ready to roll. Not fair to compare anyone to FDR in terms of political ability, but I still have confidence that Obama will surprise us all yet.