On Friday Obama's presidential campaign marked its fifth anniversary (that's wood, if you'd care to send a gift, though I am sure he will accept cash) by posting a video. Despite its cringeworthy title, "The Story of Us" is a surprisingly effective reminder of what a good candidate Barack Obama was -- which is also part of its problem.
Anything that reduces five years to four minutes and 32 seconds, the length of "The Story of Us," is going to leave some stuff out. As a campaign video, it can’t be expected to highlight Obama's record on Guantanamo or his management of Congress. Even so, from watching "The Story of Us" it's easy to get the impression that Barack Obama was better as a candidate than he's been as president -- which sounds a lot like one of the standard right-wing critiques of the 44th president.
The video starts on Feb. 10, 2007, when then-Senator Obama steps to a podium in front of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield to announce his candidacy. He wins Iowa. He survives an attack of lip-synching singers and actors. Shepard Fairey makes a poster of him. He talks on his cellphone while smiling handsomely. He names Joe Biden his running mate. He accepts his party's nomination for president of the United States. He brushes off insults from the Evil Villain Sarah Palin (actually, that clip is from a speech about Hillary Clinton, but -- never mind). He dances with Ellen DeGeneres while smiling handsomely. He fist-bumps Michelle. Michelle fist-bumps hosts of "The View." He votes for himself, after which he smiles handsomely.
Finally, at precisely two minutes and 13 seconds into the video, we reach Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama is sworn in, although he doesn’t really start working for another 10 seconds. Only two minutes left to get through the next three years! A banjo adds a sense of urgency. The passage of the health care law takes all of about seven seconds. Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagan scroll by. He kills a fly during a TV interview. He signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He sings Al Green (that was just a few weeks ago). He repeals "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (that was a few months ago). He announces the killing of Osama Bin Laden (that was almost a year ago). He rescues the auto industry, helps create jobs, and fights for the middle class (all of those projects are, as they say, ongoing). And he ends the war in Iraq.
So what does this whirlwind tour of the Obama presidency tell us? First, it is a useful reminder that Obama is a formidable campaigner, one who has yet to turn his full attention to his re-election. Second, when he finally does, his campaign is as likely to focus on the magic of 2008 as on the reality of 2012. If all else fails, maybe nostalgia can motivate the base.
(Michael Newman is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)
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