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Beyond an Opponent

POSTED: January 26, 2012, 12:00 am

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If it were not for the wretched state of the nation’s economy, President Obama would be sailing into a second term. The field of Republican challengers is thin and intent on tearing each other to shreds. Keeping Republicans in the race is a retread of the Clinton ’92 strategy, albeit with a twist - it’s the economy stupid and the Black man in the Oval Office. The GOP is shamefully playing on the fears of working class whites and the lingering resentment of some toward the election of an African-American President. While Bill Clinton aimed these voters wrath at George H. Bush on the basis of economic fears, the Republican Party is relying on good old fashioned racial paranoia to stir anger toward the President.

While listening to his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night it dawned on me that this President has reconciled the stupidity. He appeared to me a man resolved to combat the ugliness of the 2012 campaign and intent on setting a course in which he genuinely believes. Unlike 2008, Barak Obama does not have to justify his presence or politics. He is the President and his critics look small by comparison. Mitt Romney by contrast seems to be the rich kid who is always seeking approval and attempting to convince the world that he is more than his money. The former speaker Newt Gingrich is the epitome of the overconfident and underwhelming pseudo-intellectual who is really trying hard to convince himself that he belongs in the club. His outlandish statements are simply a way to draw attention and distract from his multiple shortcomings. Then there is Speaker John Boehner who appeared almost comatose on the lectern behind the President last night. Between his droll voice and active tear ducts, Boehner is a small presence in a big chair. President Obama is running against a down economy, not a field of whiny impostors and retreads and he knows it. The truth is that the President’s critics are like the kindergartners banging on the lunch room table at snack time. They are all one cookie (e.g. Fox News Channel gig, think tank job, investment riches) away from contentment.

“Most Americans are not stupid or hateful; they simply want some assurance that what they believe to be true about this country – opportunity – is indeed still possible.”

Knowing that the President is facing the scavengers of the Republican Party, his supporters need not engage in fruitless debate with his detractors and hand wringing over the racist appeals the GOP field is making. Rather, time would be better spent expanding the President’s base among those true believers and voters who can rise above the hatred of the Republican right. Most Americans are not stupid or hateful; they simply want some assurance that what they believe to be true about this country – opportunity – is indeed still possible. A simple examination of voter registration data in key states reveals large numbers of natural Obama supporters who are not registered, and voters who are registered but are casual voters. It would be time well spent building the army of the willing for the November battle than losing sleep over the faction of Americans who will never support this President.

I am proposing a somewhat radical departure from conventional campaign wisdom. Go deep and not wide. Ignore the mindless blather coming from the Republican camp and speak directly to willing Americans. All the GOP candidates have to offer is anger and divisiveness. The President doesn’t have to rise above it, he doesn’t have to react to it; he simply has to go about the business of promoting a vision of an America in which fairness is the defining standard. I saw some of that on display Tuesday night when the President threw down the gauntlet on the issue of income inequality; knowing full well he will draw no support from Republicans but caring little about their hyper-negativity. Great leaders move beyond pettiness and triumph over adversity.

Tuesday night was a good start. The President needs to stay the course. He, and his fellow Democrats in Congress, need to force Republicans to go on record against a payroll tax cut, tax cuts for working Americans, and make the GOP publicly embrace the maniacal greed of unbridled and unregulated capitalism. The contrast is clear and this President simply needs to remind voters he is on their side and Republicans are selling them out to the lowest bidder – the banks, mortgage lenders and Wall Street money changers whose insatiable appetite has wrecked this country.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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