Everyone here is pretending to work. Sorry taxpayers, we are only human. Benghazi, Sandy, and Election 2012. Washington, DC has been hit by a psychological Super Storm on an order not experienced, arguably, since 9-11. People are tired, nerves are frayed, and everyone is just hoping that by 1am on Wednesday morning we know who the hell the next president is going to be without having to resort to a Courtroom Revolution.
The safe money, of course, has always been on Barack Obama.
I have avoided writing one of these diaries for a while for two reasons: 1) I simply haven’t had time and 2) there came a point when my personal knowledge of events on the ground exceeded what I could keep track of in the media and I could no longer trust myself not to write a diary on here that, well, made some actual news. But with only 24 hours left until show time, now is a good time to do a little reflecting. Besides, I keep waking up at 3am so I might as well do some writing to pass the time.
STATE OF THE RACE: A WORKING MEMBER OF THE ADMIN’S PERSPECTIVE
Forget whatever gasbags like Chris Cillizza are saying about the outcome of this election. He knows Obama has always been an easy win and if everything remains nice and legal, in a year’s time everyone will have forgotten the meme that this was a “close race” – just like 2008.
I know we talk on this site an awful lot about “the horserace,” “the narrative,” and “media memes” – but that stuff is not just a liberal fantasy. It’s real. The problem for the national media right now is that Barack Obama is basically a boring president. He doesn’t do big gaffes, his White House is one of the cleanest in decades, and his policies are technocratic and don’t generate headlines. Imagine a 2012 election cycle in which an Historically Boring President is running against an Historically Boring Challenger – and the POTUS is the 2-to-1 odds-on favorite. Clearly Honey Boo Boo is going to be the ratings winner every time.
Ari Melber halfway gave the game away after the Dem Convention when he stated, look I can’t say Obama is an easy win because I’ve still got to get thirty columns out of this campaign. As much as I like Ari’s work – he’s right. And guys like Cillizza know it. So they’re pushing the “dead heat” meme as much as possible to keep all of us reading their columns and tuning into their air. We’re at the point WHERE IT DOES NOT MATTER to the media what they’re even saying, so long as they are generating web traffic, selling papers, and, more importantly, supporting online ad sales by making their heads bobble. And we all tune in because the fear factor has programmed us to. But you take a look at Mitt Romney’s face right now and tell me that’s a man cruising into home plate.
Of course every reporter in DC knows Obama is going to win. They’ve always known it. But their wet dream is another 2000, in which one county fumbles the ball and this thing drags on until Christmas. A Republican friend of mine (yes, I have them) has been telling me all year that if the election is close they can score a “tactical” victory in Ohio. And the media, as well, is invested in something like that happening. Nobody wants to come home and cover a Lame Duck Congress for two months – they want to break out the sweaters and trench coats and stand on the street in the freezing snow expelling gas in front of 30 million terrified viewers until January 20th.
And that, folks – not the ultimate outcome – is what is on DC’s mind right now. “Just please, god, let it be over Tuesday” is the quote I keep hearing over and over.
Two weeks ago I could not have written this diary because no one really knew what OFA had up its sleeve. No one really knew how many lawyers Obama had on retainer. His legal team is like the Magnificent Seven: gunslingers prepared to mobilize instantly without ever having given away a hint they were even prepping for the job. No one really knew OFA was putting boots on the ground to feed people standing in line waiting to vote. In a tight race, the promise of free pizza will get a few college kids on line. And besides, if you’re soft on Romney and some sweet young thing winks at you and offers you a cup of coffee while you’re freezing your ass off in Cleveland, you might not be so rock-ribbed when you step into that booth. Forget the old saw about all politics being local – in the age of blogs and 24 hour news cycles, all politics is PERSONAL. And the candidate who cuts through the blather and makes that personal connection is going to get the votes.
This election was never about you or me – it was never about MOST of us. Most of us are known quantities – the place we live determines the value of our vote. When I lived in Texas my vote didn’t matter. Now that I live in Maryland my vote doesn’t matter. Election 2012 is a war between the quants – the eggheads who can crunch the numbers and target who in an election cycle is truly an “unknown unknown.” And that has boiled down to just a few hundred thousand people living in and around Cleveland, Ohio. Those are the Americans whose votes really matter – they are the people, at this fixed point in history, who will determine the next president. Unlike Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, someone from OFA – in many cases the President himself – has made a personal connection with those exact people. And somewhere in Aurora and Parma right now rental vans are being gassed and bagels and coffee are being stockpiled to ensure that those few hundred thousand people find themselves shivering in line tomorrow morning.
I will not be watching this race from a fancy Capitol Hill cocktail party (yes, I have been invited) or a DNC watch party (yes, I am expected), but in the comfort and warmth of a rundown old saloon across the street from the Washington Post. Three of the four TV’s will be tuned to the election: CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. The fourth TV will be on the game. Drunk reporters are big talkers – they like people to believe they’re plugged in. The wife and I will sit in our usual booth among the usual crowd and be at the heart of our own information-gathering nerve center. That’s what I do for a living, by the way – gather and manage information. And after 20 years I know where to go to find it. We’ll be three blocks from the White House, but in terms of knowing the state of the race, we might as well be in the Oval Office. And after 10pm the bartender will forget to charge us for drinks. I am hoping that when Obama wins this thing an informal party will break out across the street from the White House and I’d like to stumble over there. (Stay tuned for pics.)
We are not allowed to openly discuss politics while on the job, for the most part. You can thank the Hatch Act of 1939 for that bit of Bizarre-o World junkthink. But people do it anyway. To prevent themselves making folks from the other side of the aisle feel uncomfortable, they hunker with their like-minded friends. A lot of us keep a “signal flag” in our offices that demonstrate our political affiliation in a nondescript way. I have a small American flag-draped glass donkey on my desk that’s a souvenir from my Howard Dean campaign days.
All the political appointees are gone right now – out in the field doing their thing. The wannabe Romney appointees have developed a bunker mentality and should only be approached if you are willing to lose a finger. The rest of us, doped on caffeine, zombie walk through the building whispering together in the halls like High School Heathers. Anyone with fresh intelligence from the campaign or from the White House is pounced on like a lame deer that just wandered into a wolf pack. Reporters juiced on trucker speed and corralled in their baby crib press pen keep sneaking down to the cafeteria in the hopes of overhearing ANYTHING they can salt into a story or blog post.
And, of course, there are people asking themselves, come February 1st, if they’re going to be able to pay their mortgage or if they’ll be able to build a new wing on the house. To be honest, that’s what keeps waking me up at 3am. I know I’m supposed to be a soulless government autocrat – with no life or ambition outside the job. But, aside from the politics of the thing, even my Republican colleagues agree that Obama has been a pretty good president.
Right now is a great time to be a part of the government. There is a sense, in the Executive Branch, that we are getting things done. We can look at the auto bailout, the stimulus, Obamacare, and, yes, our response to Hurricane Sandy with a sense of pride. For the first time in a long time the government is actually WORKING. And none of us – NOT A SINGLE ONE OF US – has the expectation that will continue under Mitt Romney. The thought of having to come to work every day and then simply being disallowed – by politics – from doing our jobs is the thing that’s really keeping us up nights.
Nobody wants their agency run by another “Heckuva Job Brownie.”
Quite simply, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go teach college and lecture my students about what we did to promote the Arab Spring – you know, I want to keep promoting the Arab Spring. All politics is personal, and, for me, this is the most personal election of my entire life. I need four more years of this, I want four more years – and god help me, it might be a sin, but I COVET four more years. Not only does Obama deserve it – his people deserve it as well.
We have only just started.