Monday, September 3, 2012

The Enthusiasm Gap

The one thing that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama both have in common is that neither one is particularly well loved by their respective bases.  I would submit that in the case of Romney it’s more about mistrust and, among the extreme fringe, genuine loathing; whereas with Obama, it boils down to disappointment.  Progressives like him, but they feel let down by his inability or, as some have suggested, his unwillingness to push the political envelope to get them what they want and what they had assumed he wanted as well.  The healthcare law still sticks in their craw.  The mandate was a sellout, that’s how they view it. 

We can argue degrees and causations till we’re blue in the face, but the simple truth is that the principle obstacle for both men going into this general election comes down to one word: enthusiasm.  While both candidates will spend the next two months going after the all-important and decisive independent vote, they each will have to get their respective bases motivated and out to the polls on November 6th.  Even a 5 percent drop off in turnout could prove fatal.    

To a certain extent, Romney took care of business at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week.  For most of the three days he and the Party threw enough red meat at the far Right to keep a pack of wolves fed for a year.  At this point if they aren’t sold on Romney, they never will be.  My prediction is the same as it’s always been: the Republican base will be motivated to get to the polls this November, not out any great reverence for their nominee but because of their contempt for the current occupant of the White House.  So long as the Death Star remains orbiting Alderaan there will be no peace in the Republic.  It’s amazing what hate can do for you in politics.

And that’s why Barack Obama’s challenge this week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte is far more arduous than his challenger’s.  While progressives fear a Republican win this fall, they don’t hate the opposition, at least not with the same level of intensity.  There is a stark difference between the Left’s fear of the Republican platform and the searing, seething hatred the Right feels toward even the mere presence of Obama.  The former is about policy and tends to be more rational; the latter is far more pathological, which is to say irrational.  Ask any psychologist which is more potent – not to mention volatile – and the answer will be fairly unanimous and obvious.  It’s tough to equal, much less beat, a force that is motivated by such extreme emotions.

And yet, that is exactly what Obama must do this week in Charlotte.  He has to kill two birds with one stone.  He must create within the base a sense of urgency about this election in a way that eliminates any lingering doubts they have about him as president.  He must impress upon the base just what the consequences are should the GOP take the White House and Senate. 

As far as dealing with the disappointments they continue to harbor, Obama must gently, but firmly remind them that the glass is more than half-filled. The truth is the Left got most of what it wanted; maybe not how they wanted it, but something is better than nothing, which is what they would’ve gotten had McCain won.  Oh and by the way, if Romney wins even that will be taken away along with everything else they hold near and dear. 

Obama must harness the fear the Left has of the Right and turn it into a raging torrent of determination hell bent on winning.  And while it will be impossible to match the level of intensity and excitement he had going into the ’08 election, he must, nevertheless, channel as much of that energy as possible for this election or he will lose.  Period.

And as if that wasn’t hard enough, he has to do all this while making his case to independent voters that he is the best hope for the country going forward.  He already has a leg up on this task, thanks to the dog and pony show the Republicans staged last week.  Even without Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing performance, it was little more than a right-winger’s guide to the universe.

It’s a fine line between pandering to your base and courting moderates and independents and just because the GOP can’t straddle it doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk.  Obama is going to need every bit of that orator skill he has to pull it off and even then it will still be difficult.  The August jobs’ report will be released this week and early indications are that it won't be as good as July's, which is hardly reassuring news for the Administration.

So that we’re clear, the number one issue for independent voters this fall will be the economy.  Banking on the freak show that has become the Republican Party to scare away voters is a risky proposition and could potentially backfire.  Independents may not be particularly fond of the Tea Party and its antics but they are less fond of economic uncertainty.  Frustrated voters are almost always difficult to predict.  Obama has to convince this group that voting Republican in November will make things worse, not better.  He has to risk doing what the GOP didn’t dare do: invoke the ghost of Bush.

Obama must connect the dots between Bush and the current economic conditions and he must do so in a manner which doesn’t make him look as though he’s passing the buck; a tall order.  Poll after poll show that the electorate doesn’t hold Obama responsible for the recession, yet they still show dissatisfaction with the direction the country is headed.

That is a paradoxical nightmare for a sitting president.  Not since FDR has an incumbent faced such a daunting challenge.  Obama, in order to get reelected, must do something he’s never been very comfortable or good at. He has to show the country that he cares about their plight.  Like Bill Clinton he has to feel their pain.  But he also has to remind them that while things aren't as they should be, the economy is slowly improving.  Now is not the time to return to the failed policies of the past. You don't let the party that wrecked the ship in the first place get their hands back on the wheel again.  

And that's where he has to viciously and mercilessly go after Mitt Romney and the Republicans and expose them as the charlatans they are.  When FDR ran for reelection in 1936, he gave one of the greatest speeches of his political life: the famous “I welcome their hatred” speech.  Obama must summon that same spirit and spunk that Roosevelt showed in that speech.  He must fight for his cause and against the lies of his opponents. 

“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred.

“I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”
Americans have always loved a good fighter.  It’s in our blood.  Now is the time for Barack Obama to put up his dukes and go for the knock out.  He isn’t just fighting for his political life; he’s fighting for the fate of the whole country.


1 comment:

steve said...

Obama really has his work cut out for him. Sure, he has charisma. But he lacks FDR's strengths, such as personal charm and warmth and, despite the wealth, a noblesse oblige that really cared about the little guy. Unfortunately, after 4 years, no one believes anymore that Obama really cares about them. FDR was a millionaire who was also the champion of the common man. Obama champions Wall St. How do you sell that? In the end all he has left is "I'm not Romney."