Memo to GOP: Turn Mr. Obama into Mr. Yesterday

For all of my conservative friends who think that Barack Obama will never be re-elected if the economy is still in the doldrums next year, I have three words for you:  Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

FDR was re-elected in 1936 and the economy was in a very bad way — far, far worse than it is today or likely to be in November 2012.

That’s the good news for President Obama.  The bad news is that FDR is the only president in the last 75 years to be re-elected when the economy was in bad shape and unemployment was over 8 percent.  And if the economy doesn’t get a lot better soon, if unemployment doesn’t fall significantly by November 2012, Barack Obama may very well be a one-and-out president who made it on charm the first time around but now has a crummy record hanging around his neck.

But for Republicans, this may be nothing more than wishful thinking masquerading as political analysis.  After all, sitting presidents usually win re-election.  Since 1936, 11 incumbent presidents have run for a second term and only three were defeated – Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

And, like FDR, Barack Obama has something else going for him – an intangible that may compensate for bad economic news:  likeability — an essential characteristic for anyone hoping to do well in politics.

Except for his enemies – and that’s not too strong a word if you’ve ever listened to his most passionate detractors — Americans generally like Barack Obama, even when they disagree with him on matters of policy.

They like his smile, they like the way he talks, they like the way he dresses and carries himself, and yes, they like the fact that he is the first black man elected president of the United States of America.  In some ways, it is a source of national pride.

Consider these four things that set President Obama apart from his likely Republican challengers:  he’s young, he’s cool, he’s black and he’s liberal.  Those traits, as much as anything else, I believe, got him elected the first time around.  The Obama magic could not have centered on his politics.  He was a first term senator with no discernible record.  A respected magazine – National Journal – said he was the most liberal member of the Senate.  In a center-right country, that’s not a plus.

Still he won.  And in early polls – despite the fact that Americans are not enamored by his politics – President Obama beats potential Republican nominees just about every time.  So what’s going on?

Republicans come off like stiffs, that’s what’s going on.  Whatever they are, they are not cool.  And when they (rightly) focus on deficit reduction and spending cuts – as conservative scholar Shelby Steele recently noted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed — “they can be made to look like a gaggle of scolding accountants.”

And who wants to vote for a scolding accountant?

In other words, Barack Obama is tomorrow; all those white, male Republicans come off as yesterday.  We’ve seen people who look like them before.  The juxtaposition beat McCain in 2008.  Obama and his team are betting it will happen again in 2012.

“The point is that anyone who runs against Mr. Obama will be seen through the filter of this racial impressionism, in which white skin is redundant and dark skin is fresh and exceptional,” says Steele. “This is the new cultural charisma that the president has introduced into American politics.”

Charisma goes a long way in politics, especially when it’s up against scolding accountants.  So what to do if you’re a Republican with dreams of becoming president?  Turn President Obama into the candidate of yesterday.  Tell the American people that Mr. Obama represents everything tired and old in American politics.  Tell them that capturing bin Laden was great and being the first black American president is historic, but it’s not enough, not anymore – not after he shoved ObamaCare down the throats of the American people, not after he spent nearly a trillion dollars on a stimulus package with questionable results, not after his worldwide tour apologizing for America’s supposed sins, and not after his failure to deliver on his promise to usher in a new tone and new politics in Washington.

Tell them the Republicans are the candidate with new ideas while Mr. Obama hasn’t had a new idea, maybe ever.  And tell them, as Shelby Steele smartly points out, that “Barack Obama believes in government; we believe in you.”

President Obama’s base – the so-called mainstream media – will do everything it can to get him re-elected.  Last time around they weren’t content being eye-witnesses and chroniclers of history.  Last time around they were intent on helping shape history.  After all, this wasn’t just one more Mondale or Dukakis or Gore or Kerry running for president.  So they have a lot invested in this president.  The good news for Republicans is that the American people understand all this.  Having the lamestreams on your side helps.  But if the Republicans play their cards right, it won’t help enough.

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  • RecknHavic

    I like Christie, but he won’t run. The rest of the field is either too boring (like the accountants mentioned in this piece) or they’re unelectable. But, there is one potential candidate that’s been overlooked. A candidate w/ the ideas, motivation and dare I say it, moxy, to win this thing. I’m speaking of course about me, RecknHavic.

    Look, Americans like simplicity, and I’m a pretty simple guy. Therefore I’m putting forward an easy to understand (and get behind) three point platform. Trust me, this stuff is gold.

    1. Clinton era taxes 2. Clinton era spending…and BAM! immediate balanced budget. Deal w/ that Paul Ryan! But now for the coup de gra…..number 3…..unlimited free cheese for ALL Americans. Think about it, it’s brilliant…..ever hear anyone say, “hell no, I don’t want no free cheese!” ?

    I’ll be forming a PAC soon, until then stay tuned for updates as to where to send me, RecknHavic, your donations. I figure about 14 grand’s enough to win this thing.

    • JDO

      Do we get to choose which cheese we get free? I ask ’cause we get plenty of “cheese” from politicians already, but we don’t get to choose it, and that’s just not the American way. I mean, far be it from me to knock ANY kind of cheese if you’re giving it away free, I’m not that type, I’m just sayin’ it’d be hip and cool if we got to choose it. Hip and cool rules the day.

      • RecknHavic

        American cheese only, served w/ an American beer.

        Atleast until I get elected…Then I’ll tour Europe disparaging the yellow,processed American cheese while eating brie and sipping cognac.

        • JDO

          Of course. And don’t forget to insult and apologize for our weak, tasteless American beer (not counting all of the microbreweries around the States that have much better beer than what is “famous” here. Good rule of thumb is: the amount of advertising there is for a beer is directly proportionate to how much it sucks).

    • Paul Courtney

      Where’s your birth cert?

  • Tim Ned

    You know what Bernie, as a conservative, I like Obama! I have spent the last four decades travelling abroad for business and have defended the actions of our presidents from Carter to the current administration. I choose to take the Churchill advise and criticize when I come home, but NEVER abroad. I don’t believe that any responsible American could feel different. But when it comes to the MSM it must be deeper than that. Somewhere on the evening news they lost their integrity. Perhaps when they quit looking at the ratings and start looking at the news they will change. But I’m not holding my breath!

  • Wil Burns

    Bernie, You wonder “So what’s going on?” Well, maybe people are listening to what your candidates are saying and doing! Killing Medicare, Social Security and getting rid of unions, aren’t as popular as you conservatives think.

  • Ellie Velinska

    He is young, he is cool, he is Latino and he is conservative: Rubio?
    The current republican line-up looks horrible. It was fun for a moment with Donald Trump.
    I am fine with Rick Perry also if he would jump in, but republicans really have to find somebody that can command the stage.

    • Tim Ned

      Ellie, you bring up a great point. There are a lot of great young and clearly thinking republicans out there like Rubio and Ryan.

      Thanks for reminding us.

  • Battleaxe

    Prez Obama is a perfect example of Mr.Yesterday, disguised as a Cool Dude. As you mentioned, Obama uses tactics from Roosevelt’s big government of the 1930’s and Obama aligns himself with dictators and socialists who are clones of Facist Adolf Hitler and Communist Josef Stalin of the 1930’s and 40’s..

    There’s nothing new about Obama outside of being half black.

    • Paul Courtney

      To the contrary, there is something new. He got elected, with a large dem majority that lacked a significant group of conservative dems. The left was disappointed that more was not done in two years, but they did enough to cause last Nov. backlash. Most conservative commentators seem to think Obama can’t win if the economy remains stalled, but Bernie makes an excellent point. Some conservatives bristle at the very idea that Obama can come across as a likeable, decent guy. Being in denial on this is not a winning strategy.

  • Nancye

    I’m so sick and tired of libs saying that if you don’t like Obama it’s because he’s black. His color has nothing to do with why I dislike him so intensely. His politics have everything to do with it. He’s a Marxist and I don’t like Marxists.

    BTW, I’d vote for either Herman Cain or Allen West for president in a heartbeat. Oh – and I’m white. Oh – and I’m a woman. Oh – and I live in the South. Gimme a break libs!!!

    • Jennah

      Extremely helpful artlice, please write more.

  • Clarence De Barrows

    “Americans generally like Barrack Obama, …” ? Bernie, I think you had better qualify that statement as I don’t know a single responsible American who likes this guy.

    • Bob Hadley

      You don’t know a single”responsible American” who like President Obama???? Did you ask every responsible American you know whether they like Obama? I don’t even know the politics of many of the people I know (responsible Americans included).

      But, if your definition of a “responsible American” includes an American who does not like President Obama, then you’re using circular reasoning. And I thought only liberals are logically challenged!

      Incidentally, how many responsible Americans that you know spew hatred at President Obama? (And don’t get your shorts in a twist, I’m not suggesting that everyone, or even most, who oppose Obama also hate him. I’ll leave that strategy of deflection to the uber partisans and the extremist talk show hosts.)

    • Bernie


      That reminds me of the famous Pauline Kael line after Nixon carried 49 states and trounced McGovern. How is that possible, she said, “I don’t know anybody who voted for Nixon.” She also dwelled inside the bubble. Check the polls. Not high marks for policy matters. But, yes, they do like him — personally.


      • JDO

        What is there “personally” to like about President Obama? I mean, are we not defined, personally, by what we believe in? Doesn’t that define how we are, how we act and what we show to others? If we don’t agree with what (we see) the guy believes in, then why would we like him? His winning smile?

        I’ll tell you ONE thing I like about President Obama. He’s married and is the father to his children. In that, he sets a good example for not only everyone, but especially the black community, where the “fatherless” birth rate is catastrophically high. That’s the one thing. However, one thing is not enough to make me totally like him as a person, just as one thing (unless it were terrible, of course) wouldn’t be enough to make me dislike someone.

        It would be interesting to hear what people who disagree with his policies (or, at the least) many of them) like personally about President Obama. I’ve named one. Surely, if there are polls out that show it, there are others.

      • Marina Coca

        Bernie ~ I do not live inside a bubble, but work for a living. I also know many more people who not only do not like our prez, do not trust him and see him as a “Chicago-style” politician. What was even worse was listening to the “slobbering” of the press and others in general when he was running for office. I thought it pathetic.

        I especially agreed with your comments last week on Bill Maher “At least come to the table with clean hands.’ You are right, he just isn’t important enough. He will always have Bush to blame when he is job searching some day.

  • Wil Burns

    Bernie, What ‘new ideas’? The Republicans want to kill Medicare, Social Security and get rid of unions. Really, the only reason for the Republican Party is to cut the taxes of the very wealthy. Everything else, is window dressing!

    • Tim Ned

      Well Wil, the RP strategies seem to be working in Wisconsin.

      I believe the job turn around in Wisconsin is the liberals worst nightmare. lower taxes and balanced budgets work.

    • EddieD_Boston

      If we don’t fix Medicare it’ll bankrupt us. Can’t you liberals add? Adults deal with problems and the democrat leadership is showing zero leadership on this very serious issue. Democrats are killing Medicare by not being serious.

      • Tim Ned

        Eddie, you hit the point very clear. But I believe they can’t look seriously at the math. The formulas for fixing our economy and resolving our debt is well out of their socialist base. The democrats chose a left wing agenda and appear to be ready to die with it. We just need to grant them their wish in 2012.

        • EddieD_Boston

          Suicide by stupidity.

      • Bruce A.

        Check the balance sheet, we are already bankrupt. Just waiting for the singing.

  • Ron Kean

    He was originally elected by misrepresenting everything. It wasn’t that he promised and didn’t deliver. That happens to most politicians. He said things that he didn’t believe in. One America. Most of our questions about who he is or was have been treated as irrelevant, racist and crazy.

    Now that you mention it, Obama reminds me of the Chevy Chase character in Caddyshack.

    Right wing women are by far the best looking women in politics. But they act the way right wing men want to act and in many ways it’s not attractive or sexy so there goes their edge. There’s a black man in the white house. A woman should be next. 90% of blacks voted for Obama. If women were like that there wouldn’t ever be a male president.

    • Bob Hadley

      I guess one out of three ain’t bad. Your questions about who President Obama is or who he was are NOT necessarily (and probably are not) based on racial stereotypes or racial bigotry and they are at least arguably relevant. But they are crazy. These questions ignore the facts, which are easy to verify. I guess for some, the anti-Obama drum beat overwhelms factual inquiry. I’m yet to hear any solid factual basis for such questions.

      BTW, you can have tons of reference footnotes for almost any crazy idea – ask the so-called truthers (except don’t use the term “crazy” :) ). Footnotes can clarify one’s seriousness of purpose, or lack thereof, but they don’t make crazy ideas any less crazy.

      • Ron Kean

        You must have worked long and hard for your degree in psychiatry. (There must be an Anthony Weiner joke in there somewhere.) As for bad footnotes, I wonder if you protest too much or if it takes one to know one.

        At the very beginning when the future president said Ayres was just a guy in the neighborhood and then he said he really didn’t hear his pastor say anything anti-American for all those years, red flags went up in my mind. I knew Ayres had promoted Obama’s first run for office. Then after reading Stanley Kurtz’s reporting on the Annenberg project, I was very skeptical about many more things Obama had said about his past. I’m still skeptical of a lot. It was like calling ‘wolf’.

        Both you and Wil Burns bring a similar perspective to this blog. As before, with you and I sharing our thoughts and looking at your reply to De Barrows above, I question whether you’re as conservative as you say or, to use a similar metaphor, if you’re like the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

        At least Wil doesn’t straddle the line.

        • Bob Hadley

          Actually, I took correspondent’s courses. Then I got my third degree online. 😛

          President Obama has also associated with a lot of conservatives throughout his political life in Chicago and in DC. For example, Obama has a close personal friendship with Tom Coburn (sp?), the conservative Republican from Oklahoma. So maybe Obama is really a sheep in wolf’s clothing. And since when did sheep and wolves wear clothes? :)

          I didn’t say I was a conservative. I said that many of my liberal friends think I’m conservative. As for Will Burns, did he support enhanced interrogation and torture against terrorists under certain or any conditions? Did he speak highly of and defend Clarence Thomas against liberal bigots? Did he renounce the overuse of the term “rascist’? Let me give you a hint: people tend to look alike when viewed from a great distance.

          Straddle the line? I straddle very little. I’m not an ideologue. I’m more of a problem solver. You seem totally absorbed by team politics.

          • Ron Kean

            Some think you’re conservative. You think I’m ‘totally’ absorbed. It’s close to the same thing. People tend to look alike when viewed from a great distance.

            I support Israel and think a solid majority of Palestinians as well as arabs in general don’t want Israel to exist. I think there should be a monitored fence on our southern border. I think we should all accept large cuts in entitlements. We should drill for oil all over the USA and beyond. We should drastically cut funding for regulatory agencies. I believe in free speech for Muslims, Jews, Nazis, Commies, Gays, Christians and conservatives except when somebody calls for murder. I can probably tolerate abortion in the first 3 months but I don’t want my taxes to pay for it. Pot should be decriminalized. No new taxes except on pot.

            One sentence each. Please try hard. Long posts are tedious. Your turn. Anybody’s turn.

          • Lizzie

            Totally not related to the subject, but…

            did you really mean correspondent’s courses?
            Online courses are usually known as correspondence courses….but you do have THREE online degrees, so I guess no one needs to tell you that.

  • J.L. Tharp

    Obama ran against John McCain, does anyone convey the setiments of Old, Boring, and Ethically challenged more than John McCain? Besides McCain’s honorable military service did either party in 08 offer the American people anything of substance to vote for? I hope what the political parties have recently offered up for National leadership is not a true reflection on the substance and character of the American People in general.

  • John In MA

    Step one in being cool becomes a way to combat the point you make about the sycophantic media – the GOP needs to stress and highlight its use of the “new” media. Already the mainstream has to requote from Facebook pages, retweet, etc., to find the message from some conservatives. Some use the new media better than others, but the GOP needs to make it a cornerstone.

    But, overall the GOP will need to find a way to reverse the messaging that is already evident from the Dems, regardless of the type of media or the “coolness” they try to portray. It is the backbone of liberalism anymore to define the country and the world in class/ethnic/race/gender/etc. terms in order to exploit it. Already the Dems are slamming the GOP for being anti-fill in the blank. Anti-woman is the flavor of the day. Should the GOP allow that to continue, just the volume of it alone will make some of it stick with the electorate. You cannot get away with a modern, cool image if you are seen as being stodgy white people. It will be the primary focus for the next year from the Dems, I believe.

  • Ron Russell

    Many voted for Barack, the first black, simply for that reason! That’s history for the candidate without a record and now president Obama will be forced to defend his record or just toss dirt at the opposition candidate who ever that might be. Black voters will vote for whatever man the Democrats field and especially a black one. Just the way it is in America at this point in history. The old “40 acres and a mule” will still get the votes of those with their hands out. Nothing has changed in 150 years!

  • Paul Courtney

    Bernie, thanks for the wake-up call. Rs gotta realize that Obama can win even if economy goes nowhere, at least partly because MSM will ignore all bad economic news or even tell us it’s all good, right through Nov,’12. Yes, many americans see through that, but many still believe what’s on tv.

  • EddieD_Boston

    Two words…Chris Christie…likeable…doesn’t look like the other old white guy republicans…street cred…everyman…tells it like it is…doesn’t appear aloof…

    Of course some pin-headed liberal will comment about his lack of experience and will have no clue how foolish they’ll sound given the community organizer-in-chief we elected last time.

    Plus, Christie hasn’t voted present. Ever.

    • Bruce A

      Chris Christie is the only politician I know of with a backbone.

    • Bernie Goldberg


      i completely agree


  • Dan Farfan

    “The Obama magic could not have centered on his politics. He was a first term senator with no discernible record.”
    Well, perhaps “sans record” is the appropriate term, but it it wasn’t an accident. It was calculated, cynical (and not incorrect) politics (thank you Tom Daschle). It was central to Obama magic that criticism of his voting record was “unavailable” it helped to make every other criticism seem more desperate and petty (his church, his neighbor, his job, even his disdain for people who cling to their guns and bibles) and less substantive than what was missing.

    “Tell them the Republicans are the candidate with new ideas..”
    Until someone comes along with the charisma (and lack of record to conflict with their message) the Hope and Change card of 2008 probably won’t be played successfully again for quite a long time. Having new ideas that resonate with voters will be necessary, not just telling them. But further, America is long past the point where an election decisive number of people care about political parties. Bring solutions, don’t wave party labels and expect votes because “the Republicans are the candidate with new ideas…”


  • jjnolan

    ur lips to God’s ears Mr. Goldberg. The empty suit must vacate the WH. Herman Cain just might have the advantage over all the other GOP’ers to make this POTUS a one termer. hope and prayer must trump (no pun intended) the hope and changer in the chair.

  • flyoverland

    January 20, 2013 will not be a day that lives in infamy. We can’t be that stupid twice….can we?