Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What We Have To Look Forward To

John Heilemann has a long piece in New York magazine wherein he analyzes the Obama re-election campaign. There’s a lot of interesting nuggets, including some mind-boggling number crunching on how the president could win without winning Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina (go west, young man), and some insight into the campaign they plan to run against Mitt Romney: take no prisoners.

Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’ ” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

The Obama effort at disqualifying Romney will go beyond painting him as excessively conservative, however. It will aim to cast him as an avatar of revanchism. “He’s the fifties, he is retro, he is backward, and we are forward—that’s the basic construct,” says a top Obama strategist. “If you’re a woman, you’re Hispanic, you’re young, or you’ve gotten left out, you look at Romney and say, ‘This fucking guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I’ve never been part of that.’ ”

As the saying goes, politics ain’t beanbag.

As we’ve been told by every candidate out there, this election is the most important one in our nation’s history. Well, of course they’re going to say that. Would they be out there if they couldn’t portray themselves as the Saviour of the Western World, battling the hordes of “others” seething in over our borders, if it was just another election?

But in this case, they might have a point. Re-electing the first black man as president would indicate that despite the best — or worst — efforts of some truly extreme elements, this country has taken a new course, if only be a few degrees. The fact that Barack Obama is, by any fair definition, a centrist on a lot of issues (just ask Bill Maher how liberal Mr. Obama is) but portrayed as a radical by the GOP only tells you that it’s the Republicans who have moved way off the road, not the other way around, and if it was Mark Warner up for re-election, no one would be sending a posse of Arizona sheriffs to Indiana to hunt down his birth certificate. And while it may be a stretch to say that electing a Republican would take us back to the ’50’s — I mean the 1850’s — it could mean a return to the mindset of a time when the rich got rich and the poor got a re-run of The Grapes of Wrath. So we’re going to see a campaign painted in those terms.

Nothing could more garishly illustrate a bedrock truth about the campaign that lies before us: It will bear about as much resemblance to 2008 as Romney does to Nicki Minaj. In the campaign prior, any mention of Wright caused a collective coronary in Chicago; this time, it provokes high-fives. In the campaign prior, Team Obama boldly bid to expand the map; this time, it is playing defense. In the campaign prior, the candidate himself sought support from the widest possible universe of voters; this time, instead of trying to broaden his coalition, he is laboring to deepen it. Indeed, 2012 is shaping up to be an election that looks more like 2004 than 2008: a race propelled by the mobilization of party fundamentalists rather than the courtship of the center.

If Obama wins a second term this way, the implications for governing could prove salutary—or god-awful. The president, energized by the prospect of a debate about “big things,” purports to take the optimistic view. “I think the general election will be as sharp a contrast between the two parties as we’ve seen in a generation,” Obama told Rolling Stone. “My hope is that if the American people send a message to [the GOP] … there’s going to be some self-reflection going on—that it might break the fever.” And, hey, who knows, crazier things have happened. Likelier, though, is that an incessantly negative, base-driven election will yield an uglier outcome. More polarization. More acrimony. More gridlock. (Yippee!)

What’s clear is that an Obama victory could have profound political implications for the future of the Democratic Party. When 44 arrived in office, some forecast that he might usher in a New New Deal. (Nope.) But if he gains reelection by consolidating his party’s position with the electorate’s ascendant demographic forces, Obama may succeed in creating a viable post–New Deal coalition on which Democrats can build for years to come. “Ronald Reagan turned a whole bunch of people who are now seniors into Republicans,” says Messina. “What is happening now is that young people, women, and Latinos are becoming Democrats. That’s the coalition Obama brought; demographics brought it, too. And for the next 30 years, it is going to be a real challenge for Republicans.”

And we all know how well Republicans take to losing. The second term of Barack Obama could make the first one look like a tea garden party.

I see this election in terms of my personal life as a single gay man who would like to settle down with someone, and in my professional life as an administrator in the public education system. Both aspects are targets of the Republican agenda; they would like to see both of them marginalized in America. So to say that I am understandably interested as to the outcome of this election would be an understatement.