The question for the 2012 Presidential election - the one that will likely resolve the election in the minds of voters in the final two weeks - now seems clear:
Are you content with this country having another four years like the last four?
If so, you will likely vote to re-elect President Obama....if not, you will likely vote for the challenger, Mitt Romney.
This is a somewhat different question than the one asked by Ronald Reagan during his debate with President Carter in 1980.
What's different today is that the 2012 question focuses on all these things, plus what is clearly an overall sense of disappointment; disappointment not just with how the Obama Administration has conducted itself, but also with the lost sense of opportunity.
The "facts of Presidential life" today are as follows:
It amounts to failure and malpractice by this Administration for which the remedy is an election.
Four years of division and ineptitude is enough!
A related (albeit anecdotal) question re-enforces this. Ask yourself, how many people do you know who voted for Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election, but who are now thinking of voting for President Obama in 2012? There has been a surprisingly low number of potential voters reported in this category.
The Gallup organization polled on this issue and earlier this month reported that "eighty-six percent of voters who say they voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are backing Obama again this year, a smaller proportion than the 92% of 2008 John McCain voters who are supporting 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Nine percent of 2008 Obama voters have switched to supporting Romney this year, while 5% of McCain voters have switched to Obama." See http://www.gallup.com/poll/156446/2008-obama-voters-mccain-voters-switching-sides.aspx
This is, in my experience, unprecedented. There are typically reasons arising from an incumbent's performance that appeals to some of the people who voted for the other candidate the last time.
It is no surprise that Americans, after three and a half years, are short on hope...they want economic growth and recovery!
The message to President Obama for 2012 seems likely to be "keep the change!"
So why has this happened?
This situation in which President Obama finds himself at this point in his re-election bid is surprising, but as this column noted starting two years ago:
President Obama and his White House are primarily responsible for where they find themselves. They have chosen in most cases to "go for it" using their stand-alone majorities to enact controversial legislation and making nominations to key positions without attempting to broaden their coalition to include moderate and liberal R's, in the same way President Reagan went after "blue collar" D's. Instead, they have primarily relied on characterizations of the "angry right" (e.g., Tea Party activists) to bring moderates into their camp and to energize their base. A strategy that incorporated both carrot and stick would have been more effective. The approach has in effect squandered the substantial goodwill initially provided by most Americans, including many independents and Republicans who may not have voted for the President, but whose basic instinct was to wish the new President well and a successful presidency. It will be hard to reclaim this level of goodwill in the aftermath of 2010, but it is not an impossible task. It will depend on how they proceed to work with the next Congress and the degree to which it is seen as sincerely attempting to work collaboratively across party lines.
This 2010 assessment was updated in July 2011:
Had President Obama gone forward along these lines following his inauguration in 2009, the President's re-election would not be in doubt and, beyond that, the President would conceivably have begun to build a 20-year legacy similar to Ronald Reagan's.
The independent voters that went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 aren't there for him anymore (the 2010 election results show this). New White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and others seem prepared to now try to re-position the President more toward the center, but this effort is being balanced by the recent wave of Administration resignations, where the consensus view is that "old hands" and "pragmatists" are being replaced in many cases by left-wing "progressives" from inside the Administration: people who have gained Executive Branch experience in the last two years.
In this respect, the Obama Administration has been described by Republicans as a place "where the left hand doesn't know what the far left hand is doing!" See http://egopnews.com/The_View_From_Here_For_2012.html
Instead of reaching toward the center, President Obama consistently chosen to embrace the Pelosi wing of his party. It is the failed Obama Pelosi policies that have given the Republicans and Mitt Romney their opportunity in 2012.
Another relevant question........ What would make any fair-minded person think that President Obama will do a better job if re-elected?
Nothing indicates that the President would be inclined to learn anything from any election that he wins, even if (as now seems likely) his Congressional support erodes even further.
There is, in fact, a real concern that he will do a worse job through further use of executive orders that are beyond his legal authority, failure to enforce the laws that have been enacted and the continued appointment of czars who are put in charge of various areas but who have not been confirmed through the normal Congressional processes.
It is a prescription not just for continued gridlock....but for making matters worse!
So it's Forward....as Obama's campaign says, but to where?
At this point, it looks more likely that we will be headed toward the "tidy bowl" than a "shining city on a hill."
As we head into the conventions, keep the above questions in mind.