The usual strategy for presidential candidates is to appeal to the political center in hopes of broadening their support. President Obama isn't doing that. He is tilting sharply to the left on issue after issue: immigration, religious liberty, welfare, gay marriage, the environment, race, the role of government. Why?
The simplest answer is that his bid for re-election is in trouble, and he's going where he has the best chance of finding friendly faces. In fundraising, you rely on folks who've donated before. Obama is going after voters who've voted for him before.
But why focus his campaign on them? Didn't Obama long ago lock up the various liberal elements and interest groups who make up the Democratic Party's base? Yes, but their mere support is not enough. He needs them to swarm to the polls and vote in the same massive numbers they did in 2008.
"He has gone to the left on everything as aggressively as he can," says Scott Reed, a Republican consultant who ran Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996.
The Obama administration's imposition of a rule requiring health insurance policies to provide free birth control pills and free sterilization thrilled liberals, especially feminists. His blocking of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas made the environmental lobby happy.
By an executive order of dubious constitutionality, Obama changed immigration law to allow roughly one million illegal immigrants to remain in the country free from arrest and deportation -- an unabashed effort to increase the Hispanic vote. His attorney general, Eric Holder, has noisily criticized voter ID laws as thinly veiled attempts to prevent African-Americans from voting.
Two weeks ago, the administration announced another policy shift to please liberals. By bureaucratic directive, it decreed states could abandon the requirement that welfare recipients seek work. Intentionally or not, this gutted the welfare reform law of 1996, the most significant achievement of Bill Clinton's presidency.
Besides Hispanics and African-Americans, Obama has wooed gays by announcing his support for same-sex marriage. This also had the intent of unleashing a flood of campaign contributions from wealthy gays, just as the Keystone decision was expected to spark donations from environmentalists.
Republicans and conservatives complained about all of these unsubtle moves, the Catholic bishops are furious over the unprecedented requirement that Catholic employers provide health insurance that violates their Church's teaching and the about-face on enforcing immigration law drew strong attacks.
The mainstream media, however, were sympathetic to the president's actions, either downplaying them or openly siding with Obama, and the protests died down. The notion that Obama was purposely veering away from the center was rarely noted.
But the impact of Obama's latest pitch to the left, delivered on July 13 at a firehouse in Roanoke, Va., is likely to linger. Except for the conservative press, the media largely ignored his speech. Yet it was memorable for his denigration of success in business and glorification of government.
Obama's hostility to business, the profit motive, and wealth in general is no secret. During the 2008 campaign, for instance, he talked up income redistribution, telling Joe the Plumber that "when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
In his Roanoke riff, he outdid his previous hymns to government. The thrust of his argument was that government, even more than personal initiative and hard work, is responsible for the success of individuals. "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that," he said. "Somebody else made that happen." He cited projects like the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge as evidence that "you're not on your own."
The Obama campaign quickly sensed a backlash. When Mitt Romney read the "you didn't build that" quote at a rally, it responded with a TV ad declaring, "that's not what [Obama] said." Not true. Romney, gazing down at a text, had read the comment accurately, word for word.
Perhaps it was better, at least for campaign purposes, to deny the quote rather than try to explain it. Who would believe Obama didn't mean exactly what he said? His history, his earlier comments, his policies all stand as evidence of his loathing of business, profits and affluence.
Obama's campaign advisers appear confident of winning. Their contempt for Romney is palpable. But their cockiness is unearned, particularly when appealing to liberals is the best strategy they've got.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard, from which this is adapted.