President Obama has a unique capacity to draw the media’s attention away from the serious and significant and toward the trivial and tedious—which is exactly what he will need to do to win a second term.
Seamus the dog. The “war on women.” Mitt’s Mormonism. The Pew Research Center released results last week of a survey asking more than 3,000 American adults which issues they cared about most in the 2012 campaign.
Of the 18 issues listed, do you know what didn’t appear? Any of the “issues” I just mentioned. The economy, jobs, and the budget deficit ranked highest. Each was identified by at least three-quarters of those polled as “very important.”
The title of Pew’s write-up of the poll was revealing: “With voters focused on economy, Obama lead narrows.” The more that voters focus on the economy and other important issues, the worse Obama and his allies will fare on Election Day. This explains why they are trying to distract the electorate with manufactured controversies.
The latest involves Mitt Romney and his dog Seamus. You know the story by now. Romney once put his sick dog, Seamus, in a dog carrier on the roof of his station wagon during a family road trip.
Romney has been asked about the incident numerous times on the campaign trail. Op-eds with titles like “Why Seamus Matters” have appeared in leading publications. There’s even a website devoted to “crate-gate” and a Facebook page with more than 50,000 likes. The Washington Post reported that New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins has mentioned Seamus at least 50 times.
Even the president has gotten involved, as senior aide David Axelrod tweeted a photo of Obama with his dog, Bo, in the backseat of the presidential limo with the caption “How loving owners transport their dogs.” But alas for Obama, the issue may now be as dead as the dog his autobiography says he dined on as a child in Indonesia.
“Crate gate” is only the latest in a string of non-controversies that have dominated the news cycle over the last few months, all of them manufactured or given new life by the Obama campaign and its allies.
Before Seamus the dog there was Sandra the co-ed, whose testimony before a fake congressional hearing allowed the president and his allies to claim the existence of a Republican “war on women. There was a tragic shooting in Florida, exploited by the president to let black Americans know that he’s still fighting for them. (This week saw the first lady commenting on the case too.)
As the Supreme Court listened to arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare, the administration and its allies sought to distract the public and even the court itself by recasting the debate as an argument over fairness and empathy.
“There’s not only an economic element to this and a legal element to this,” Obama has said numerous times, “but there’s a human element.” Actually, Mr. President, there is only one element that matters now—the legal element.
At least Obama’s “Buffett Rule,” his proposal to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, is rooted in public policy. But alas, it’s mostly a distraction. If it passed, it would generate revenue amounting to less than half of one percent of what the federal government borrows each year.
We know there’s more to come. Already the media are exploring Romney’s Mormon faith with a vigor it couldn’t summon when news of Obama’s controversial church first arose. Mormon Republican Senator Orrin Hatch recently predicted that the Obama campaign will “throw the Mormon Church at [Romney] like you can’t believe.”
The campaign insists it won’t make Romney’s faith an issue. But it may not have to, if all its media allies do. Numerous liberal pundits have mocked Romney’s Mormonism. Earlier this month, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell bashed the faith as the creation of “a guy …who got caught having sex with the maid…”
The politics of distraction is all Obama has left after more than three years of broken promises, failed initiatives and deeply unpopular “accomplishments.”
Last week Reuters published an analysis finding that, “Obamas ‘Green Jobs’ Have Been Slow to Sprout.” This after Obama dedicated $90 billion to spending on green energy.
Also last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the most liberal appellate court in the country, upheld Arizona’s 2004 voter ID law. The ruling is a victory for common sense and a big warning to the Obama Justice Department to back off attempts to block similar laws in Texas and South Carolina.
Obama’s 2008 campaign was oriented inwards, towards himself. He ran for president touting his own biography and his unique capacity to enact change. Now Obama wants to make the election about anyone—Sandra Fluke, Trayvon Martin, Warren Buffett’s secretary, the uninsured, Seamus the dog, Mitt Romney—but himself.
This time, for Obama to tout himself would be to remind voters of his broken promises and their dashed hopes. It would remind voters that he has failed.