It is silly. And yet inconceivable that every election cycle, rhetoric from party henchmen and unhushing TV/radio talk show hosts, will not sound the same – This is the most important election in our lifetime. If you happened to be a newbie to politics, it is easy to think that somehow previous elections have been less consequential. And, by some divine powers that roam the cosmos, you’ve woken up just in time to catch the biggest wave of our time.
Not so fast.
The all seriousness with which this premise is often promulgated by folks like Mr. O’Reilly of Fox News and Mr. Matthews of MSNBC is particularly worrying; and to be honest, peeves me. It supposes that somehow, in previous elections, the future has been less at stake. I am hard-pressed to find a moment in American history, world history at that, where the seminal decision to stay course or change course (which is what elections represent) are unmonumental. Almost always, millions of lives are directly or indirectly impacted by the outcomes of these decisions. If the argument then becomes that an obvious larger pool of lives stand to be impacted in this election, it unforgivably cheapens the worth of those other lives in those other elections. After all, blacks were a nominal minority in the year that brought Abe Lincoln to power and yet the issue of slavery couldn’t have been more explosive and decisive to American discourse.
It is better to say every election yet is the most important, not for reason of some self-serving enterprise, but because it is indeed the latest opportunity to frame the future.
Now, to this 2012 election. Every election has its theme: 2000 was about values, virtue, and dignity (thanks to Clinton’s indiscretions); 2004 was about national security (the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq); 2008 was about the economy (The Great Recession) and this year shall be no different—the economy it is.
As Chris Cillizza who writes on the blog, “The Fix,” for The Washington Post rightly points out, “the unemployment rate has been over 8 percent for 42 straight months, a streak unparalleled in American history. No post-World War II president has ever been reelected with unemployment over 7.2 percent.” The unemployment rate currently stands at 8.3%.
So, with President Obama flunking this crucial examination, it seems former CEO Mitt Romney should have no problem handing the president a resounding defeat in the November elections. If topic du jour is the economy, the business savvy of the former Bain executive should be an unassailable asset.
Alas, it shall not be so.
With less than 100 days to go, I will go ahead and say with full confidence that Mr. Romney shall not be the occupant of The White House come February.
For starters, polls at this time of the year have the president and Mr. Romney virtually tied. And in some key battleground states, Mr. Obama has a lead over his rival, no matter how minimal. These are good signs for a president who should be plummeting in the polls like a rock thrown into the Potomac River. The inability of the Romney campaign to create a separation from the president at this stage in the game is particularly ominous. And I don’t see it getting better.
For the most part, the Obama campaign has done a deft job of characterizing and defining Mr. Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire whose sole purpose in life is to make Americans like him richer at the expense of the Middle-Class and the poor. It’s a narrative that’s sticking as evidenced by Mr. Obama’s lead in key battleground states like Florida and Ohio. Mr. Romney’s refusal to release more years of tax returns, though not damning on its own, feeds into this narrative of an incomparable elitist; which, cannot be good. Knowledge of money in Swiss banks and the Cayman have only furthered this image. His cryptic success and business acumen at dodging and beating the system suddenly begins to make him look too smart for his own good. Compare that to the ever-populist tone being struck by Mr. Obama and his campaign. It worked in 2008 and I think the message is still popular. Polls show Americans still favor wealth redistribution by an overwhelming percentage.
Mr. Romney has been outracing Mr. Obama in campaign funds, and may well outspend the president when all is said and done. But I do not believe this will matter much. In campaign spending, once a certain threshold is reached, any further spending by either campaign becomes superfluous and the theory of diminishing returns kicks in.
An imperative tactical point for the GOP nominee to gain the initiative will be the debates. I believe these debates will go a long way in shaping the decision of those independents who are yet to make up their minds. But I don’t see Mr. Romney besting Mr. Obama on this platform. While Romney is no McCain, the debating skills of Obama were on full display in the 2008 Presidential Debates. Then, not even the invited assistance of Joe the Plumber could buoy Mr. McCain. Mr. Romney, from his many speeches and events, evidently possesses not a stage presence that might prove overwhelming for Mr. Obama.
Moreover, get-out-the-votes efforts will be invaluable, as always, in this election; especially in hotly contested states like Virginia. In this, the Obama campaign is a well-oiled machine. I expect the campaign not to be caught sleeping at the wheel. Mr. Romney will be playing catch-up the whole way and I don’t see how he or his budding campaign overtakes.
This election will be close; but not any closer than it was in 2004 when Bush battled Kerry. Come January, President Obama takes the presidential oath of office. The man will be making history given his economic figures; but what about the man has been conventional? The first black President in about two hundred and twenty years of the American presidency, and also a first to win a Nobel Prize within a year in office. Whatever the reasons for his fortune, I don’t expect the streak to end this November.