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Etch A Sketch Season in Full Swing

Posted on the 24 April 2012 by ---

Etch A Sketch Season in Full Swing

The Wonders of the Etch A Sketch

It was an unforgettable comment, one that will likely reverberate in political advertisements for the next six months or so.  On March 21, Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom compared his employer's campaign to an Etch A Sketch.  Both Democrats and Mitt Romney's Republican rivals lambasted the former governor for ideological unreliability and political triangulation.  It was a valid point.  For several months, Romney's positions transformed into an almost unbelievably far-right platform.  "Self-deportation," deep tax cuts for the wealthy, drastic cuts to social programs and steep increases in defense spending became calling cards as Romney struggled to depict himself as "severely conservative.  Eliminating access to birth control, Pell Grants, food stamps - nothing was off the table.
Amid all the justified talk about his seismic shift and all the justified wondering about whether Romney is a conservative or a moderate, something has been overlooked.  President Barack Obama has also been shaking his Etch A Sketch lately.  In 2008, Obama campaigned and won on the promise of hope and change and the philosophy of reaching across party lines to build the framework for a post-partisan era.  After the Administration lost its supermajority and failed to actualize goals that it should have realized were unattainable within one term, the tactics had to change.  Obama shed his cautious moderate skin to pursue a full-throated progressivism and energize a grumbling base.  Beginning with a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas that channeled Theodore Roosevelt, Obama stopped trying to pass bills and starting trying to win the next election by recasting himself as a 'defender of the American way.'  From a politicized deficit reduction plan with no goal of legislative success, to a politicized budget with no goal of legislative success, to politicized responses to Supreme Court proceedings, Obama has gone aggressively after every opportunity to draw contrast between his own beliefs and those of his Republican counterparts.
But the Etch A Sketch moment for Obama is not just a shift into 'election mode' where he must motivate his most enthusiastic backers.  It's a shift from big, transformative ideas like Obamacare, his signature accomplishment, to a more conservative mindset.  This is understandable, considering that passing a big idea at this point would be well nigh impossible.  All the same, it is a regrettable tendency that probably dates back to the aftermath of last summer's failure to reach a 'grand bargain' with John Boehner during the debt ceiling crisis.  Instead of sweeping tax reform or vital environmental legislation, all that's coming from the President are small, message-oriented ideas like the Buffett Rule.  It's a strategy to win, but not a strategy to win and govern afterward.  That's what I find so depressing about Barack Obama's recent run in with Etch A Sketch syndrome.

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