As we have seen post debate #1: The Romney "bounce" seems to linger - though admittedly it is weakening. Like many here, I have hand-wringed, and pondered aimlessly about how this could be. Before the debates we all heard that polls matter very little in swaying voters. We all heard that history is full of bad debate performances and it just didnt matter. We heard that Mittens Zingers would be his undoing.
Interestingly, even as Mittens handlers have walked back many of his debate flipflops in quite public view, the "bounce" seems to be holding on longer than it should. Afterall, the media and pundits have continued to find errors in his debate claims, his own about faces have been astonishing, and his dishonesty seems to be well recognized (at least in several followup polls on honesty). So what gives? Why are so many now ready to buy that slightly used Edsel that was driven only on sundays?
The unprecedented swing in likely voters has taken many by surprise. I maintain it should not have. As many here have already said, there would naturally be a tightening of the race. But I maintain that the race was already tight. And the example we should be looking at is Jimmy Carter.
Among one of the most honest and forthright presidents the U.S. has ever elected, Carter's administration has frequently been cited as among the most ethical, both in terms of foreign policy and in terms of domestic policy. Carter admitted mistakes. Carter wouldnt deal with criminal governments. Carter clearly identified the need for an "oil independent" economy. Sure, there were slips, but by in large, Carter did what everyone says he should do: he was an honest politician that ran the government from an ethical place in his heart. The old refrain "all politicians lie..." was hard to apply to Carter, though again admittedly it did sometimes. The old adage, "we need to change the way Washington does business" was never more true of any administration.
So why did he lose? We were all told that Reagan would not carry through on any of the promises he made except the threat to the middle class, and that is exactly what he did do. Government - both civilian and military, increased in size (remember the "government IS the problem line...?"). The national debt ballooned. Great organizations such as NASA lost their way and the educational system became chronically underfunded. Defense contractors wallets bulged under the increase in military spending, and America found out what it was like to experience the boon and bust of the national credit card. Indeed, as Reagan rode off into the sunset, so too did the American Century. WHY? For all that Americans SAY they want, why did the great humanitarian lose?
Historians here on the Kos will have loads of very accurate answers, and I know them to be nuanced and accurate. But the bigger picture is that the economy was poor. People were out of work, and those that werent were afraid that they soon would be. Inflation was on the rise, and spending money was hard to come by.
Today is little different. The economy is still a bit scary and the major catastrophe was avoided. But more importantly, we have begun to identify with the media blitz of million dollar homes, and opulent living. Magazines, the Discovery channel, HDTV, the History Channel even A&E all bedazzle us with what American CAN be for us. So today we feel that our fall from grace is even greater than in Carter's time. We have bought houses that many of us cant afford, we take out ten year leases on 100K cars, College tuition funds are practically nonexistent, and retirement savings? And larger portions of the U.S. population see this as "the middle class." They want it back, though the reality is they never had it. We werent THAT rich, but we believe we were and we just dont understand why Pres. Obama hasnt delivered it back to us. This, according to the box in our living rooms, is what OUR economy produces, though it never really did. Like children let loose with the parents credit card, we dont like the medicine coming our way. We dont like shared sacrifice and working together. We dont like saving for a rainy day. So we "remember" a country that wasnt really there. We have had the poor with us for a long time. We have had a crisis in health care brewing for a long time. The elderly and the underrepresented were ignored while we were distracted with "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." And when we see that we wont be putting those gold fixtures into our pool sized soaking tube this year, we are disillusioned at what America has become. The prosperous America that ignores its problems and disenfranchises the unlucky has left us wanting and afraid because we now have to be responsible for that "prosperity."
So we were treated with two potential visions of the world. One that (from a recent Kossack) FDR warned us of: "we care about all of these things too and we can deliver it without costing you anything..." and the person trying to lead the country out of the disaster that reckless spending, reckless foreign policy, and reckless self vision have brought. And the used car salesman beat up on the professor. This is all it took.
I maintain these were not swing votes. We were just a group of people looking for someone to lay the blame on. Romney says: its that guy over there. And just like with Carter, many people are happy to look there.
The debate showed only that there were a very large number of voters that think: if I only work hard I too can have the million dollar home, and the 100K car, eat a $40 steak each night, by $8000 TV screens $200/month cable bills, and give my children cars for their birthdays. Of course... most Americans cant. We are a nation in which upward mobility left with the Reagans taking their shiny new baubles with them. But they think they can and they are mad that this may not be a reality for them. We are focusing on the wrong things they say. We are focusing on health care and manufacturing, national investments like education, but what about my car? What about my new pool room? They believe government is the problem, because they cant have everything they want and something must be the problem. So, President Obama why hasnt your government given it to me? In a country that focuses on stuff and not quality of life, that is the governments job to get you more stuff... And, may I say, the fact that the government here is BLACK is just icing on the cake. Afterall, this guys priorities are just wrong. Doesnt he realize when he is talking about the 1% he is talking about me? For the "avant garde Ku Klux Klan" that 47% is just the folks standing between me and my stuff.
Polls are only as accurate as those willing to answer them, and with Romney's mediocre performance in the campaign up till now, why answer? Sure, they would vote, sure they would vote for Romney. But no matter what filters were used for the polls, it is difficult to capture this undercurrent of "mad" without answering the phone. (For the record, we dont answer our phone at home generally, only our cell phone and only when it is a number we recognize). But now that someone has beat up on the black president, well it is dogpile on.
But I maintain that nothing has fundamentally changed. It simply isnt reasonable that Pres. Obama's performance was that bad, or that Romney with his many follow on corrections are that convincing. But we are certainly a nation willing to be fooled. And once someone has told us how, we will follow like lemmings over the cliff. I argue that generally speaking low information voters arent that bad. I have no wish to spend every night sorting through campaign lies and statistics just to see who MIGHT be telling the truth. But in this case it is devastating. It isnt just low information, it is delusional.
So why am I writing this long and grammatically challenged entry. To say we have to get over it if we are going to win. Pres. Obama's debate performance didnt help to win over the delusional. But it also didnt change the race fundamentally. If in his next debate he is able to cut through to the cause of this angst and disenfranchise the man behind the curtain (Wizard of Oz reference) he will do well. America should be disillusioned at this point. We, along with several european and asian helpers, nearly brought the world to its economic knees with our greed. But I believe we still have it in us to shrug off the "greed is good" mantra. President Obama MUST help us see it.