Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Obama's Hissing Balloon: Don't Blame Palin

Is it too soon to talk about how Barack Obama lost the election?

I not so sure – not with him down 15 points against John McCain. That’s right, 15 – five points in the Gallup Daily Poll (two days in a row) and the 10-point gift for any Democrat who would have run against a party in charge of the most unpopular administration in modern history.

Some campaign watchers say Sarah Palin did it. But air began seeping out of the Obama balloon months before Palin delivered her deft pinpricks.

It began, actually, last spring, when Obama, who promised he would bring change to Washington, showed he couldn’t bring change to his parish church in Chicago.

Trinity United Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s rants were the perfect opportunity for Obama to actually “do” something rather than talk about it. The Trinity community was, understandably, deeply conflicted about how to balance the social and racial views of their esteemed pastor and equally regarded congregant Obama. But Obama did nothing – except literally walk away from the church where he had worshipped for 20 years.

That cop-out, I think, was the beginning of the end of the Obama phenomenon. If he couldn’t help heal a crisis in his own church community – one that he was a party to creating – how could he change Washington?

More air seeped out of the balloon when the head of Obama’s vice presidential search team, Jim Johnson, had to resign because of his role in the Fannie Mae/mortgage financing mess. (As CEO of Fannie Mae in the late 1990s, Johnson helped set in motion the risky borrow-buy-and-flip culture that lead to the institution’s meltdown. About the same time, he got some favorable mortgage interest rates for his own home purchases from Countrywide Financial Corp.’s CEO Angelo Mozilo, who, as a major customer of Fannie Mae, assembled his "friends of Angelo.") How could Obama turn to such a quintessential Washington deal maker and palm greaser to help him choose his No. 2 broom wielder?

Then came the Democratic National Convention, where Obama could have redeemed himself and re-energized his presidential run by making just one single, significant pledge of change that didn’t come out of his page-worn campaign playbook. He could have, for example, promised to fight for ending payroll taxes for all those who make less than the median income. It would be costly, but the benefits – for the workers and their rusted-out communities – would be greater, as detailed in the 2007 Foreign Affairs article co-written by Matthew J. Slaughter, the Dartmouth/Tuck School of Business professor who earlier served on President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. Payroll taxes – they total 15.3% and come right off the top of wages -- are a crushing burden for lower-income workers, and are a barrier to their making life-transforming decisions, like getting more education they need to move up economically. A frontal assault on payroll taxes would have won Obama support where he most needed it in many battleground states and given him sustained media attention. Talk about a game changer. Instead, he offered up the same old, tired programs from his long campaign for the nomination.

Along comes Sarah Palin. Yes, she knocked Obama off stride. But he was already heading down the wrong path to election victory.

No comments: