Well the election is a day away and I don’t have a fucking clue what’s going to happen. It seems like the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are covering different elections. Drudge blares headlines of poll after poll showing Romney with an insurmountable lead, while Huffpo reassures me about Obama’s “swing-state firewall.” The bloggers on Redstate and Dailykos both project confidence, and flame any “concern trolls” who try and curb their enthusiasm. Nate Silver says Obama has an 85% shot at winning, his proprietary statistical method serving as Xanax for the liberal intelligentsia, but his confidence has unleashed some vitriol on twitter.
I’m a Mets fan, a Jets fan, and a Knicks fan. All of that is to say that I’m use to my team losing, often in particularly heartbreaking ways. Being a liberal has been a similar experience, but the stakes are much higher.
I remember getting home from school in 2004, going to the Drudge Report and allowing myself to get caught up with John Kerry’s great performance in the exit polls. I remember I downloaded Eminem’s Mosh, an anti-Bush song, and played it on repeat as I imagined seeing Bush get put out to pasture. As the returns came in and it became clear Kerry was going to lose, I was heartbroken. That I later read a book and several articles arguing that Bush stole the election did little to restore my faith in democracy or the American people.
I remember 2000. My mom took me to vote with her, and I vaguely remember worrying that I had invalidated her vote by pulling the lever wrong. We all know the story, Florida was for Gore then Bush and then 30 some-odd days later, Republican obstructionism sealed the deal.
So you’ll forgive me if I’m a little nervous for tomorrow. Part of my anxiousness is my feeling that Americans like voting Republican. Conservatism is aspirational: the social safety net isn’t important to me because I don’t need it; America is exceptional and can do no wrong; I believe in freedom and God and family and life.
2008 was a perfect election cycle for the Democrats. They had a charismatic candidate who raised a ton of money versus a Republican party that was deeply unpopular. They had started 2 costly wars, botched the response to Hurricane Katrina, and presided over the collapse of the economy, and Obama only won about 53% of the vote. Demographic changes have raised the Democrats ceiling a little, but my guess is that McCain’s 46% is still near the Republican floor. At least Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% vote for their own economic self-interest, the Republican 46% is made up by a people who are clinging to their guns and religion to quote Obama in one of his more candid moments.
Of course, starting costly wars, and destroying the economy isn’t as big a taboo in America as passing a tepid healthcare law.
Obviously, the first debate was a turning point. Obama didn’t communicate clearly, and Romney did. The fact that Romney was clearly communicating ideas antithetical to his previous beliefs seems to not have mattered.
One episode that illustrated the futility of the American political debate was when Obama cited a study that showed that Romney's tax plan would cost 5 trillion bucks. Romney cited a study that says it wouldn't cost anything, and just like that the argument was finished. Both sides have think tanks that will say whatever they want, so it all turns into a whole lot of noise for the average voter. This is why things like decorum and body language wind up being the most important thing to many folks.
I think a lot of people were looking for an excuse not to vote for Obama, but were turned off by Romney's incompetence. The debate performance made them look like equals, and the universal acclamation of Romney’s performance made it socially acceptable to be a Romney supporter. You weren’t racist, or classist, or dumb, you were pragmatic.
The Vice-Presidential debate was far and away my favorite moment of the campaign. Biden couldn’t help but express his incredulity at Ryan and his conservative talking points. Republican spin immediately started that Biden was being ungracious, and he may well have turned off some voters. But for a down in the dumps Democrat, who was livid about Obama’s lack of fight, Biden was a breath of fresh air. The rest of the debates were boring, but Obama regained his footing and did pretty well.
However, the narrative had changed. Romney and his camp started projecting total confidence. Whether the enthusiasm was a strategy or reflected reality remains to be seen, but it definitely galvanized their supporters. Romney is no longer a hapless loser in the media narrative.
I guess it’s worth reiterating how big a disaster it would be if Romney wins. His tax plan amounts to a transfer of wealth to rich, he’ll pack the Supreme Court with justices who will march in lock step with Scalia, and he’ll get right to work dismantling what remains of the social safety net.
As I said earlier, it’s hard to get a really good sense of where the election stands at this moment, but it’s just about time to stop with the prognostication and do the damn thing. It’s really amazing to think how long this election has been going on for. This hasn’t been a horse race, it’s been a marathon. I’m alternately confident and despondent and I’m ready for this thing to be done.