The odds that President Obama will be reelected are strong
and growing stronger
. The economy is staggering back to its feet, no one can credibly claim that the Republicans are better on national security, and the field of Republican candidates continues to be an embarrassment of embarrassments. And the Republicans know it
and fear it
. And their proposed alternatives are themselves just more embarrassments
Some Democrats worry that something still could go wrong for President Obama, and certainly no election is certain this many months in advance. But four years ago Barack Obama took on and defeated both the Clinton machine in the Democratic primaries and long-time media darling John McCain in the general election, and he beat both soundly while appearing barely to have broken a sweat. The Obama-McCain debates were characterized by the young Senator's calm demeanor and reasoned explanations and the supposedly wily political veteran's increasing inability not to snarl. This year's campaign is President Obama's to lose, and Barack Obama does not lose elections. The Republicans can't touch him. This doesn't mean that anyone should be complacent, and it doesn't mean that Democratic activists should hold anything back—particularly given that both Houses of Congress are up for grabs—but it does mean we Democrats don't need to feel cautious or defensive in how we approach this election year.
This is a time to be bold. This is a year to think big, not only in terms of this campaign, but in terms of redefining the political landscape once and for all. Whether you believe President Obama in his first term has been an ideal or near-ideal Democratic president, or whether you believe he has been far from the liberal or progressive leader we need, redefining the political landscape will help not only in a second Obama presidential term but even more importantly in the years and decades beyond the Obama presidency. The Occupy movement has provided the key. The president himself seems to understand that the Occupy movement has provided the key. It's time now to blow the door off its hinges.
Some think Mitt Romney would be the most difficult opponent for President Obama in the general election, although recent polling trends call that into question. But even if Romney would be the tougher opponent, it now seems less a matter of winning easily or instead facing a tough race, and more a matter of the degree of the ease of the win. To reiterate, this doesn't mean that the election is a done deal, but it does mean that the political climate is looking very good, and that means it's a good time to be on the political offense. Mitt Romney is no candidate for Democrats to fear. He is a candidate for Republicans to fear. But most importantly, he is a candidate whose defeat would serve as a far more significant setback to the conservative movement than would the defeat of any of his Republican opponents.
And while some fear that the start of another war or a terrorist attack could undermine President Obama's popular support, the reality is that such events instead tend to coalesce support behind the incumbent. Any incumbent. Even an incumbent named George W. Bush, who by the summer of 2001 already was unpopular, but was vaulted to record approval ratings after a terrorist attack that his administration disastrously failed to prevent. And those who fear that a relapse in the economy might hurt the president also need to consider that if such comes to pass the voters still will have a choice between Obama and Mitt Romney. And people don't like Mitt Romney. This president is indeed blessed by the complete lack of quality of his opposition.
While some worry about Mitt Romney's religion, this too is misplaced, because Romney's religion seems to be more of a rationalization for his political agenda than the actual motivation for it. As candidate for the Republican presidential nomination he opposes reproductive choice and he opposes rights for the LGBT community, but as candidate for governor of liberal Massachusetts he supported reproductive choice and supported some rights for the LGBT community. Unlike Santorum, Romney is not a true social conservative. He is a social conservative of convenience. That doesn't make his repressive social agenda any more tolerable but it does place responsibility where it belongs, not on the religion whose values he seems to value most when they serve his political ambitions, but on him. The problem isn't the church, it is the man. And the man changes his positions on most issues with such whiplash rapidity that none can be said to be truly representative of his own political values. Because he appears to have no political values of his own. Except in the realm of economics and income distribution. And that's where we get to the core of Mitt Romney, and why he so well represents the core of the Republican Party, and why defeating Mitt Romney is about so much more than defeating Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney is a traditional Republican kleptocrat. He talks the Republican hypocritical talk about shrinking government spending but he has used government spending to his own personal benefit, from subsidies to the Salt Lake City Olympics, for which he was hailed as savior, to subsidies to his vulture investment firm Bain, from which he made his fortune. His economic agenda is mainstream traditional Republican rob-from-the-have-nots-to-give-to-the rich. Tax cuts that will mostly benefit the extremely wealthy such as himself, with benefit cuts that will punish just about everyone else. That is the true purpose of the Romney campaign, and those are the only values to which he consistently adheres.
Defeating Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich might be easier for President Obama than would be defeating Mitt Romney, but the rewards for defeating Romney would be greater for the Democrats and more devastating to the conservative project. Defeat Santorum and the pundits will excuse it as but an easy win against a Medievalist bigot freak. Defeat Gingrich and the pundits will excuse it as but an easy win against a lousy human being. But Romney is the ostensible moderate. He's the sane one. The rational one. The businessman. The scion of Republican aristocracy and the choice of the Republican mainstream. The pundits might point to his having struggled with the Republican theocrats, but if the swing voters, the self-described moderates, and the Independents side with President Obama, the only possible narrative will be that in the Occupy era, and after all the criminal excesses of the Bush years, voters are rejecting mainstream Republican economics. The word won't be used, but it will be a clear rejection of the Neoliberal paradigm that has been slowly suffocating the poor and the middle class since the Reagan era. There won't be any excuses.
The defeat of John McCain can be partially attributed to the backlash against Bush, and his own disastrous choice of running-mate, but the defeat of Mitt Romney will be seen as the defeat of oligarchy. The end of the dominance of the One Percent. The Republicans will writhe and thrash, and the true social conservatives will fight even harder for control of the political party of the diminishing demographics, but when the smoke clears and the rubble is removed what will remain will be something paradigmatically transformative. President Obama will have won, but it will be so much more than that. Democracy will have won. The Ninety-nine Percent will have won. There won't be any immediate policy miracles, but the path forward will have been laid. By the voters. By the people. Leading with a clear message about both policy and politics. And down that path Democratic leaders inevitably will follow.