Thanks, Obama, for This Wacky Campaign Season


Thanks, Obama.

Really. Thanks … for Trump, for Bernie, for an election outside any political norm.

Seriously. This is not some Obama-hating screed.

When the Tea Party first raised its cacophonic head, I asked the genius behind Obama’s online election operation whether the Tea Party was just the natural evolution of the idea the Obama campaign had really pioneered: leveraging the internet to give voice to the formerly politically voiceless.

Although intended as a compliment, Macon Phillips jumped down my throat: “No.”

Yet here we are.

What Obama did was get around the mainstream media. His operation did not so much make videos as encourage everyone else to make them about him, endowing him with whatever they wanted in their anti-Bush candidate. He let other people make race the non-issue.

Meet Mr. Trump, who audaciously says he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and he wouldn’t lose any votes. And he is sadly probably right, because his vehemently loyal followers do not care about the myriad of problems with their candidate, viz.:

• He’s filthy rich but he has been really bad for the businesses he’s run (most people only get to have one bankruptcy, he has driven companies into four);

• He says he is not racist but makes the most racist comments;

• He has little concern about facts;

• His behavior has been so outlandish that even America’s special friend, Britain, held a parliamentary session debating banning him from the U.K. (Cooler heads prevailed.)

ATM makes no bones in our belief that Trump has debased American politics. But he is riding the wave that Obama first climbed on, forgoing the traditional media to find a powerful direct line to his base. But unlike Obama’s promise of Hope, Trump went the other way — tapping into the sense of being passed over that is enraging white American males, the ones left behind by the new economy.

And he offered them someone on whom they could hang all their anger. He sidestepped the media — actually spat on its shoes — sensing that, like Obama, his audience would provide their own echo chamber.

And the television pundits (because electoral reporting has been replaced by live coverage of stump speeches and debates even as great political reporters pull their hair out) have no idea how to deal with him. Lost in their disbelief that this is for real, they end up promoting him with their ceaseless verbiage.

When I asked a network political chief why his network covered Trump while ignoring other candidates, he replied that it was because Trump was the poll leader. When I pointed out that he might be the poll leader because they kept promoting him and ignoring other candidates, there was a polite agreement to disagree.

But it is not just Trump. Whatever your feelings (or unabashed loathing) for Hillary, think about the fact that Bernie Sanders is also riding Obama’s legacy.

In place of Obama’s Hope, Bernie is offering not youth but the promise of youth. To quote Churchill: “If you’re not a liberal at 20 you have no heart and if you are not a conservative at 40 you have no brains.” I asked a class of young African American female students what they thought of Hillary, and they all looked down. “Bored” was the reply of one. The response to Bernie was “energetic.” If Hillary isn’t inspiring these young women, many of whom represent the very promise for the next generation that the young Hillary embodied, something seems very amiss.

The truism about Hillary being a lousy campaigner aside, she appears to have swift-boated herself (referring to the way John Kerry was negatively and unfairly portrayed by supporters of Bush II’s reelection campaign). Social media has worked against her at a time when the traditional media seems stuck on the Clinton follies. The liberal Baby Boomers proclaim she is getting a raw deal, and she might be. But she has evidently failed to learn the Obama rules of getting elected.

And as Hillary struggles, Obama’s shadow looms again. His defeating the presumptive winner eight years ago has set the stage for the inevitable headlines: “Hillary ’08 Again!” Prophecies can be self-fulfilling.

Whether Trump rides his angry supporters to the nomination and whether Hillary can survive her travails, we are already witnessing an aspect of Obama’s legacy: the undoing of American electoral journalism.

Thanks, Obama.

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