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Why Obama chose fear over hope

With the debates having changed the trajectory of the US election, it is now the conventional wisdom that Obama is missing a forward looking, aspirational message. His focus on demonstrating that his record over the past four years is not a bad one given the circumstances, and that Romney represents policies that would hurt the middle class.  President Obama is not really promising that things will improve greatly or that he has some ideas for the economy that he has not yet revealed or tried.
 
There are only two kinds of campaigns, as legendary pollster and campaign strategist Martin Goldfarb told me years ago: fear or hope.  Obama is running a campaign of fear against Romney. As the race tightens in the stretch, many Democrats and pundits are asking why Obama has chosen fear, and where is the hope message that carried him to victory in 2008.

As I regularly say on The Insiders, when politicians or political parties are doing something that seems inexplicable, you could assume they're making a dumb mistake but it could also be more likely that they know something you don't know.

As I watch the Obama campaign, I think back to my experience helping to run the 2004 national Liberal campaign. Few decisions we made engendered more criticism from Party members and media than the fact that we were not running on Paul Martin's economic accomplishments in the 1990s. Slaying the deficit and growing the economy had been his signature accomplishments and the factors that threw him into political prominence. It seemed obvious that the economic record would be the centrepiece of  the campaign. It was inexplicable that we spent our time defining and marginalizing Stephen Harper instead of trumpeting our accomplishments.

However, research had told us that in the intervening years, economic prosperity had come to be taken for granted and was not associated with any party or politician. More problematically, a series of spending controversies culminating in the Sponsorship scandal had removed any capacity to run on financial management skills. We could not run on our record as we saw it, because that was no longer the way voters saw it.

If Obama is running on fear rather than hope, it is likely because the very skillful team behind him has concluded that hope is not in their arsenal anymore.  What they are left with is, "it could've been--and could be--worse."
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