I got to watch some of Obama's town hall thing today (you could probably find it on YouTube or something) and it reminded me why he is such a canny opponent. Watching and listening to him is a strange and frustrating experience. I get frustrated by his persistent intellectual dishonesty, but can't help but be impressed at his skill.
Obama was utterly deceptive about how the introduction of private accounts into Social Security would work. He seemed to indicate that private accounts would involve older workers shifting all the money that would otherwise have gone to their Social Security benefits to the market. He had some vague easy answers ("tweaks") about how Social Security could be saved and threw in a reference to a commission to give himself some third party validation.
He was even better...er worse on Medicare. He repeated the amazing stupendous lie about how Obamacare extended the life of Medicare when Obamacare actually took hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement. He was smart to use expert third party validation (from the Medicare actuaries who are required to credit the cuts as extending the life of Medicare because of arcane budget rules) so as to show how post partisan and nonideological he is. If you didn't know about the CBO's commentary on this practice (and most people don't), Obama sounded like the most reasonable guy in the world and not a refugee from Enron's accounting department.
It doesn't really work to describe what Obama does. You have to see and hear it. There is something about his calmness, verbal fluidity, seeming empiricism, and easy confidence that adds up to what people think of as "moderate" in the flattering sense of the word. He can talk for four minutes and it would take ten to explain what was wrong with what that nice smart man was saying. It allows him to seem much less partisan and ideological than he really is. It didn't matter so much today. It is August and the economy is lousy. The marginal voter isn't caring what he is saying or how he is saying it. But we saw a preview of some of the most important domestic policy arguments that will dominate the next several years. So the challenge is to explain both what was wrong with what Obama was saying and why your preferred policies will work better. You have ten minutes and the message has to be pitched to the median American. And you are following Obama.
He should not be underestimated.