NEW YORK — How worried are Democrats? V-E-R-Y.
Let’s take it from the top.
President Barack Obama spent Labor Day reminding Americans that he’s the cool one, the “Yes we can” one, the rolled-up sleeves one. He never named Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner explicitly, but he clearly was aiming for the man who, if things go as they seem to be going, will be the next speaker of the House.
Speaking to Laborfest in Milwaukee, Obama referred to “the Republican who thinks he’s going to take over as speaker ... I’m just saying, that’s his opinion.”
His shirt sleeves rolled up as workingman politicos always do, Obama all but said: “Pay no attention to the man with the fake tan.”
And, he said: “Somebody out here was yelling, ‘Yes we can.’ Remember that was our slogan?” (Yes, we remember.) “Their slogan is ‘No we can’t!’ Nope! No! No! No!”
Except, oh dear, yes they can. And no is a pretty sound position when the nation is careening off a cliff.
Obama’s Midwestern jobs push carries a hint of the little boy doing cartwheels to get attention. He has a playlist of favorite songs and he keeps hitting replay in hopes of resurrecting the old magic. It’s not working.
Next up: Cleveland, for an economic speech to counter the one Boehner gave last month in which he called on the president to fire his economic team. Even many Democrats share the view that Tim Geithner and Larry Summers should be enjoying a beach somewhere, but Obama apparently prefers to double down. By singling out Boehner, even going to the minority leader’s own state, suggests either churlish theater or desperation. The national mood would imply the latter.
As a theatergoer, however, one could hardly ask for better. The Obama emblem of hope and change versus Boehner, the symbol of “no.”
So goes the script. But both men are very much alike in some ways. Both are smokers (Obama still sneaks a few) and both like to play golf. Both are cool cats. Why not sit back and enjoy the show?
No one is enjoying Obama’s attempt to demonize Boehner more than Boehner. Even this is a replay. The White House seems to relish playing target practice with an enemy du jour and, in the process, elevating its prey. When the administration singled out Rush Limbaugh as the leader of the Republican Party, no one was more delighted than Limbaugh.
Boehner must be whistling a happy tune. Even though his critics say he’s prematurely measuring for new drapes in the speaker’s quarters, Boehner is hardly a household name beyond Washington and political parlors where the chattering class feasts on the latest polls. He’s not a lightning rod like Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay.
Effective immediately, Boehner is the un-Obama, and that is not a bad thing for Republicans. If the president were confident in his programs, some of which Republicans also support (research and development tax credits, for example), he wouldn’t need to challenge Boehner on his own turf. Successful leaders ignore the hecklers and noisemakers.
But Obama doesn’t even have the support of his own cast these days. Democratic incumbents are running against their own health care law, de-emphasizing or failing to mention their vote. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has sought waivers for certain Obamacare rules, even though he voted for them. California’s Jerry Brown sounds like anti-big-government Ronald Reagan in one of his recent ads for governor.
Meanwhile, Obama’s approval rating is the lowest ever, with 52 percent of Americans disapproving, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. More people say that Obama’s economic plan is making the economy worse (33 percent) than better (30 percent), with 36 percent saying it is having “no real effect.” The “Recovery Summer” didn’t happen.
The moral of this tale is that Obama is out of touch with the American people — and he still just doesn’t get it. They are sad and mad, and the disappointer-in-chief is banging pots at a bogeyman that doesn’t exist.
Someone must have thought it just a boffo idea to go to Cleveland and smack John Boehner around. You know, get mad, kick some a--, blast the party of no, remind people that, hey, we’re the yes-we-can band. But it’s too late to rally another round. When the nation is punch-drunk with promises, and even the young — jobless and disenchanted — have been tilting right, change really is in the air.
Got hope? Nope.
E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.