There isn’t a shadow of doubt that Barack Obama is a powerful orator of the kind who sways public opinion in one speech that can decide the fate of a campaign as unpredictable as the one currently under way to replace him at the Oval Office.
The early reaction to the US president’s valedictory speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night to endorse Hillary Clinton was positive and may even bump up the Democrat nominee’s approval ratings.
But the White House race isn’t a sprint. When the initial euphoria dies down, as it inevitably will, what may emerge between now and November is that behind Obama’s fulsome rhetoric lay stark evasion of tough questions.
Behind his invocation of ‘one America out of many’ and steadfast buoyancy about the country’s ability to move past racial division even in times of tragedy and desperation, lie audacious optimism. It was evident that Obama, the consummate orator, was tugging at American heartstrings to tide over unanswered, crucial questions that are more likely to decide the fate of the race.
As we shall shortly explore, those issues remain. This US presidential race is remarkable because it has boiled down to two candidates both of whom are equally unpopular.
Trump and Clinton have identical (un)favourability ratings according to politico magazine. The average American does not look fondly upon either one of them. The new poll, conducted between 18 and 25 July, found that 58 percent Americans dislike both nominees while only 37 percent are favourably disposed. The poll was conducted via telephone among 3,544 adults. The overall margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.
So in this race to elect the ‘lesser evil’, the problem for Democrats is that while Trump, the billionaire provocateur, has dedicated voters in the disenfranchised ‘angry-white-male’ category, Hillary has none, even among her own voters.
Analyst, statistician and psephologist Nate Silver, a pioneer of data journalism who runs the definitive website FiveThirtyEight and is known for correctly predicting the results of US presidential elections, has said in a recent column that Trump will win if elections were to be held today.
According to Silver’s analyses, Trump has a good chance of earning 285 of the electoral votes in play, compared to Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton’s 252.FiveThirtyEight researchers put Trump ahead in key swing states of Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
These are the states who have been most affected by Ronal Reagan’s laissez fairecapitalism. The middle-of-the-road working class white Americans are struggling with job loss, poor pay and see themselves powerless before a system that do not pay any heed to their concerns. And in Hillary Clinton, these people see a continuation of the policy already in place.
Which means this is a hunting ground for Trump. As Michael Moore in his essay Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win points out: “Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of… trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states (he mentions Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class…”
Clinton’s biggest problem is that she must somehow convince these voters that their personal finance prospects aren’t really bad as they seem and that in reality, the economy has moved ahead. The question is, how do you convince people otherwise when all they see is doom and gloom? How to change the perception? This could be a crucial determinant. Let’s now see how Obama sought to address this issue.
“The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous,” said Obama. “We get frustrated with political gridlock and worry about racial divisions; we are shocked and saddened by the madness of Orlando or Nice. There are pockets of America that never recovered from factory closures; men who took pride in hard work and providing for their families who now feel forgotten. Parents who wonder whether their kids will have the same opportunities that we have.
“All of that is real; we are challenged to do better; to be better. But as I’ve traveled this country, through all 50 states; as I’ve rejoiced with you and mourned with you, what I have also seen, more than anything, is what is right with America.”
Speaking 12 years to the day from the 2004 DNC speech that made his fame as a politician, Obama shied away from answering the ‘challenge’. If the voters ask, “you don’t have to tell us whether or not we are facing challenges, how do you or Clinton plan to meet those?” Obama sadly didn’t have answer.
Blaming GOP nominee Trump for delivering a ‘dark and gloomy’ speech and claiming that he provided “no serious solutions to pressing problems – just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate”, is the easier part. To persuade voters that Clinton is the person who will solve the ills is harder. Obama, though, glided in like a gladiator.
“Does anyone really believe that a guy who’s spent his 70 years on this Earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion? Your voice? If so, you should vote for him. But if you’re someone who’s truly concerned about paying your bills, and seeing the economy grow, and creating more opportunity for everybody, then the choice isn’t even close. If you want someone with a lifelong track record of fighting for higher wages, better benefits, a fairer tax code, a bigger voice for workers, and stronger regulations on Wall Street, then you should vote for Hillary Clinton.“
Really, Mr President? Why should anyone believe that Clinton will take “tough measures” against Wall Street when only 19 percent of her donations have come from individuals contributing $200 or less?
Hillary Clinton, whose campaign has burnt cash faster than even Donald Trump, has received a $41 million paycheque from Wall Street, her largest industry donor. Her biggest contributors have ties to Saban Capital, founded by Univision owner Haim Saban. He’s followed by algorithmic hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, which has given $9.5 million, and the Pritzker Group, whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain and gave nearly $8 million.
Obama, to put it mildly, has been disingenuous.
Clinton enters the general election stage of the campaign as one of the most disliked and distrusted political figures in America, and one of the least popular presidential nominees of all time. She, as Moore points out, represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected. That’s why she fights against gays getting married one moment, and the next she’s officiating a gay marriage. Nearly 70 percent of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest.
Before delivering the DNC speech, Obama had attacked Trump for lacking a “basic knowledge about the world”, including not understanding what a nuclear triad was, or the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
The problem is, voters are not really buying the theory of a country being run by an “expert”.
As a ‘Leave’ campaigner had said to pull Britain out of European Union, voters “have had enough of experts”. Obama’s job was to convince the voters — who want a disruption in the American system and see Trump as its biggest agent — that continuity is more desirable than change. For all his eloquent rhetoric, he failed to do so.
Charm doesn’t solve problems.