2012: If he wishes to continue in office, President Obama needs to get passionate about change.

Americans are mad as hell and they aren't going to take it -- more of the same -- any more.

If 2008 had been a normal political year, John Edwards would have been the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party. He was young, attractive, articulate, far more liberal than his opponents, and had been the party's 2004 candidate for vice-president; it would have been unsurprising if he had captured the top spot in 2008. Disastrous, too, of course, but we didn't know about Rielle Hunter then. In the event, Edward's log-cabin story was overwhelmed by two other narratives, those of the first woman and the first black to make plausible candidates for President of the United States.

As he prepares to run for reelection, President Obama apparently hopes to resuscitate the rhetoric of hope and change he used to sweet-talk his way to the Oval Office. But it is going to be a lot harder than the White House imagines to recast this business-as-usual politician once again as an agent of change. The big donors, the corporate shills and Blue Dogs in Congress, and the "pragmatists" running the campaign may think the president can ride the same hot-air balloon to victory, but the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party will need something a lot more audacious than mere hope to get it fired up again.

As support for the Occupy protests makes clear, Americans still long for change. They want a government that treats them fairly and acts on their behalf; they want well-paying, meaningful employment; they want  criminals imprisoned rather than enriched; they want safe streets, functioning schools, bridges that don't fall down; they want those who benefit from the system to pay their fair share for its upkeep.

In 2008, I argued that Barack Obama had no "politics," meaning that he was not animated by a vision of a better America; that he was not driven, as were many who voted for him, to make our nation more equitable, more just, more democratic; that, despite all the talk, he had no passion for change. Having politics, in this sense, is not about pursuing a particular set of policies; it is certainly not about elections. Rather, it is a kind of faith in the transformative power of collective action, a belief that acting together we can make the world a better place. If he cannot find that passion in the next few months, it's very unlikely he will gain reelection.

Eight years ago at the Democratic Convention, accepting the nod for vice-president, John Edwards had that passion. As a child of the working class, Edwards understood that there were two Americas, one that was benefiting unduly from the system; one that was benefiting little or not at all. He believed, and he made you believe, that it doesn't have to be that way. "We have much work to do," he told the convention.
Because the truth is, we still live in two different Americas: one for people who have lived the American Dream and don't have to worry, and another for most Americans who work hard and still struggle to make ends meet.

It doesn't have to be that way.

It doesn't have to be that way, he said. And it's wrong, he said. Inequality is wrong. Poverty is wrong. Lack of opportunity is wrong. Injustice is wrong. John Edwards had the passion -- the anger, the commitment -- we require now in our president. Barack Obama needs to get angry. Not annoyed. Not testy. Not petulant. Outraged. Pissed off. Passionately, righteously angry.

Barack Obama needs to get mad as hell. Or he's not going to be president any more.

There is very little time left for the president to "get it." If Obama had lost in 2008, it would not have been because he is too much like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, but because he is too much like Al Gore and John Kerry. Inaccurate or unfair as this may be, he comes across as cold, aloof, arrogant, privileged; he does not appear to understand the fears and hopes of ordinary people. He was quick to rescue the miscreants who nearly broke the system; he has still not responded adequately to the need to create jobs and to help folks whose lives were damaged or destroyed by the financial crisis. More people are living in poverty today than were there at the start of his term of office; this is not a fit record for a Democrat to run on. The perception is that Obama fought passionately for Goldman Sacks; now he needs to tap in to some of the passion that made ordinary people believe that John Edwards was mad enough to fight for them.

Barack Obama has been very lucky in his opponents. Taking nothing from his fine-tuned operation in 2008, the candidate had only to get past Hillary Clinton's disastrously managed effort before he was up against the hapless duo of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Also filling his sails were an imploding economy, an unprecedented advantage in fund-raising (tellingly, mostly from Wall Street and Big Pharma), unpopular wars, and what was viewed at the time as a failed Republican incumbency. And he had a large portion of the voting public ready to indulge a candidate who based his appeal on the promise that this time would be different. Yet, in the perfect political storm, he couldn't crack 53% of the vote.

This time, opinion is widespread that he is the failed incumbent. He now owns the war in Afghanistan, and if things go wrong in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or Libya, he'll own them, too. He also owns the economy. If the jobless rate is still eight or nine percent at this time next year, well, he's the president. Though he has not been unproductive as chief executive, he has spent far too much of his political capital legitimizing his opponents instead destroying them. Until Occupy changed the topic, he and the Republicans were bickering about budget caps and spending cuts, not jobs programs and infrastructure spending, austerity not prosperity.

A lot of energy that went into the Obama campaign in 2008 will be focused this year on issues campaigns, Occupy, and retaking the House of Representatives. And while it can be said that Obama is still lucky in his opponents, unfortunately the least clownish of the Republican aspirants appears destined to be the GOP candidate (the Mormon cult may be an issue in the primaries, but the conservatives will anoint the Church of Latter Day Saints a mainstream Christian faith within 24 hours of Romney's elevation).

While it's possible that Mitt's empty suit will leave room for the president to squeak past, it's more than likely that Romney's blandness and serenity will make him hard to beat. The former governor is presenting a facade strikingly similar to the blank slate Obama displayed three years ago. If you, the average voter, are offered two candidates with more or less the same personality who appear to favor more or less the same policies, do you pick the one who has presided over four years of decline and is surrounded by controversy -- he's a socialist; he's from Kenya; he wants to take your guns; he wants to raise your taxes; he favors death panels and death taxes; he has no birth certificate? Of course not. Where there's smoke there could be fire; you go with the new guy.

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