I’m a hopeless contrarian and I know it. When people are shrugging, I go nuclear, and vice versa. So, since apparently elite progressives are panicking because of some poll showing Obama losing black voters and because James “Cajun-style” Carville wrote a memo, I feel the need to point out a few basic facts:
- Barack Obama is currently leading Mitt Romney in the aggregate national poll by about two points. Without the right-leaning Rasmussen polls, it’s about three. No real change there over the past few weeks.
He also does better than average in many of the key swing states.
- Mitt Romney has invariably worn poorly on every electorate he’s ever faced. Just a fact. And he’s never faced an electorate this big before, or had the focus on him for so long! Sure, fundamentals matter most in a presidential campaign, but the man has no real personality and no evident ability to connect with normal people. This matters because a vague sense of weirdness really can be a disqualifying factor for a lot of voters with respect to presidential candidates. At least it’s happened before (see: Gore, Al).
- Romney has lost two of the three elections he previously competed in, and almost got his apparently easy bid hijacked by Santorum this year. Again, not exactly a great candidate.
- While Obama will likely be outspent, he also has the advantage of being president, which means that he has a lot more control over events and a greater megaphone just by virtue of the job. This is why so few presidents lose re-election unless they really, really screw something up (Ford, with the Nixon pardon and draft dodger amnesty, or LBJ with Vietnam) or just piss too many people off (Carter). Carter continually infuriated his own base of liberals and the conservatives who would soon switch to Reagan. While Obama has done his share of triangulating, the overall mood of the base seems to be some form support, if resigned support among many. Not exactly great news, but better than the alternatives.
- Given that Obama has mostly retained the advantage in spite of everything that’s happened, I suspect Romney will need some sort of wild card to beat him, which could happen (esp. in the form of an Israel-Iran conflict or Eurocrash), but it’s awfully hard to predict that stuff. And if you’re depending on that, you’re losing.
..goes to Daniel Larison:
Many observers look at this apparent contradiction and readily assume that Romney wouldn’t actually conduct foreign policy as disastrously and recklessly as his campaign statements suggest he would. One way to make this unpersuasive argument is by appealing to campaign rhetoric: Romney can’t possibly believe the ridiculous things he says, and he’s just saying them during the campaign to mobilize his supporters, so no one needs to worry about what he’s saying. The candidate makes this a little easier to believe because of his willingness to say almost anything to win political support. At the same time, Romney is thoroughly untrustworthy for the same reason. Another way to resolve the contradiction is to say that Romney’s absurd hawkishness is shaped by his risk-averse personality. In other words, he grossly overestimates foreign threats, overreacts to them, and emphasizes the need for overwhelming military power and global hegemony because he is risk-averse, which does not mean that he is averse to conflict. Suppose that Romney’s risk-aversion doesn’t encourage prudence and restraint in the conduct of foreign policy, but instead promotes exaggerated fears of the capabilities of other governments that have to be countered and “preempted.” If that’s right, Romney might not seem reckless, but his foreign policy still would be.
Dead on, I think. And needless to say, putting another person who thinks that we can only survive by being preemptively aggressive toward other countries is not a good idea.
Glenn Greenwald is wise here:
When it comes to assessing a politician, what matters, at least to me, are actions, not motives. If they do the wrong thing, they should be criticized regardless of motive; conversely, if they do the right thing, they should be credited. I’ve had zero tolerance over the last three years for people who pop up to justify all the horrible things Obama has done by claiming that he is forced to do them out of political necessity or in cowardly deference to public opinion; that’s because horrible acts don’t become less horrible because they’re prompted by some rational, self-interested political motive rather than conviction. That’s equally true of positive acts: they don’t become less commendable because they were the by-product of political pressure or self-preservation; when a politician takes the right course of action, as Obama did today, credit is merited, regardless of motive.
The trap that politicians set for us (and I admit I’m not immune to it) is that they want us to identify personally with the image they project. But that image is rarely (I wouldn’t say never because it’s theoretically possibly) a full portrait of the person. You often hear about people having “relationships” with an artist through their work, but the goal of an artist is to reveal him- or herself to the world, which is not really the goal of a politician. We’ll never know the latter group much better than they want us to know them. So, as Greenwald says, the only fair way to evaluate them is by what they actually do as public figures, not by our perception of their motives, which is essentially based on assumptions we make about them based on an image deliberately crafted for our consumption. Thus, Obama deserves enormous credit for his stance on marriage.
And I, for one, think the timing is actually pretty close to ideal. Obama just kicked off his re-election campaign formally last week, and this will help in re-energizing and renewing his support among the base at just about the perfect time. Coming as it does after the North Carolina Amendment passing, it doesn’t seem as opportunistic as it would have had the initiative failed, and it’s early enough not to seem sincere rather than desperate. The media response, for once, has been pretty helpful to the president, casting the announcement as something bold, controversial and possibly damaging, rather than a foregone conclusion that nearly every engaged observer had already guessed at. It seems apparent that the whole thing was pretty spontaneous, but this is one of those times when that can make an event much more powerful. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Obama get a bit of a polling bump from this, as it’s essentially a way of unambiguously taking the lefties’ side without having to make policy concessions of any sort. Younger voters too. It also shows how fragile Romney’s path to power is–so far, the president has been better able to define what issues the campaign has been about than the challenger has, and expecting the election to be the economy all the time (as Romney hopes) is not all that realistic.
I typically react viscerally against titles like, “The Republican Party is more pragmatic than you might think,” but there’s actually not that much to object to in the actual piece:
Over the past few years, it has hardened into something approaching conventional wisdom that the conservative/Tea Party wing is in the process of taking over the GOP. But while the right has certainly asserted itself – particularly in the 2010 midterm elections, with mixed results – the reality is that the Republican Party is now in the process of nominating an establishment figure with a moderate reputation for president. Again.
And just like in 2008, when Sen. John McCain was the nominee, there has not been a significant conservative revolt to the pending nomination of Mitt Romney. Indeed, this week brought an endorsement for Romney from self-anointed Tea Party champion Michele Bachmann, as well as a semi-endorsement from Newt Gingrich, who spent the primary season thundering that Romney does not represent his party. Conservative journalists and commentators, meanwhile, held an off-the-record confab with Romney, and while he reportedly didn’t win them over completely, they certainly don’t seem to be in the process of mutiny.
Pragmatism is one of those words that can be used in different ways, and means different things to different people. To me, it means emphasizing practicality, argument, evidence and reason over abstraction, ideology, overfixation on process and pie-in-the-skyism. It’s not a term I would associate with Republicans in general, but when it comes to matters of gaining and holding power the GOP has often proven to be very pragmatic. Sure, occasionally they shoot themselves in the foot in pursuit of purity, but it’s not as often as is commonly believed. Policy is another matter entirely–Republicans during the debt ceiling drama were so obsessed with process and with not compromising at all that they let the chance of a very sweet deal (from their perspective) slip through their hands, one which could have obliterated Barack Obama’s presidency had it been enacted by causing a deep split between the Administration and progressive supporters. It would have been a masterful stroke, but Republicans were too rigid to do it. This here is the opposite of pragmatism.
Why has Romney been accepted by the right wing, despite his past? It’s not because of his popularity. It’s not because of his “steadfastness”. Many people have derisively compared him to John Kerry, but I sort of wonder if that isn’t working for him. Romney does indeed recall Kerry, who most Republicans simply saw as weak, lacking conviction, unable to lead. But among Republicans, that’s a feature, not a bug. The true leader of the GOP at this point in time is Paul Ryan, as we’ve discussed. Romney has signaled repeatedly that he supports Ryan’s plan, and some of the right’s biggest powerbrokers have argued that this essentially makes Romney beside the point, a means to an end (case in point). This is, to be sure, some pretty stiff pragmatism.
But there is reason to believe that Norquist and others do not get the dynamics at play here. Sure, Paul Ryan is the Republicans’ informal leader now and has been for the past year and change, but that’s really because the party’s formal leadership isn’t all that strong. John Boehner is a largely powerless and unpopular figure, Mitch McConnell isn’t all that likable and is a cynical pol who tends to be strangely honest about his cynicism. Neither one possesses the recognition, charisma or authority to become the de facto Republican leader, and in our system of government there is no formal Leader of the Opposition. Ryan has been able to lead despite not possessing any formal post of leadership, but what happens when the GOP gets a formal leader? Norquist and like-minded conservatives underestimate the authority and prestige of the office and its ability to set the parameters of the discussion. It’s worth noting that President Obama was able to alter the discussion after the debt ceiling drama last year back toward jobs and economic growth, despite the fact that his popularity was at extremely diminished levels at that point.
The simple fact is that presidents set the agenda in American politics, not committee chairmen from the lower house of Congress. Ryan’s agenda is honey to men like Norquist, who relish the idea of gutting pretty much every function of government, with the possible exceptions of the military and the border patrol. But are Republicans following Ryan’s banner because they truly identify with his cause, or because nobody else is providing leadership? Norquist’s reasoning has a certain sort of counterintuitive flair to it, just like the best (and worst) Washington arguments, and it’s certainly possible that Romney would make a push to enact the Ryan Budget. But the notion that Romney is too weak and shifty to stand up to intramural pressure, and that this will trump his being too weak and shifty to stand up to pressure from the national electorate, should be regarded as a risky gamble. Certainly, it’s not an especially pragmatic one. But Romney’s presidential bid has been backed by conservatives with these sorts of arguments from the start on the one hand, and has mostly been backed by more moderate voters who don’t believe Mitt is half the radical he says he is on the other hand. If he wins, at least one of these groups is going to look awfully foolish.
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