The presidential election will not turn on the economy. It will not turn on foreign policy. And it will not turn on “cool” versus “stiff.”
Those voters have already decided. It is the “persuadables”—those precious few swing voters in swing states who have yet to make up their minds. According to Politico, they are “downscale Midwesterners, suburban women and other better-educated, higher-income white Americans.”
I disagree. I think it is a more complicated and a more gut-level electorate this year.
The country is, and has been, divided 46 percent versus 46 percent for nearly a decade. Despite ebbs and flows—sometimes dramatic—the trend remains constant. Those sides are in cement.
Thus, the non-stop focus on the “undecideds.”
Most polling firms realize that respondents often fib. They lie so as not to appear racist, sexist, defiant or on the losing side. Hence, the unreliability and volatility of the numbers. Internal partisan polls show that women are the most likely to switch sides. Hence, the “war of, by and for women.”
Think Hilary Rosen attacking Ann Romney because she “never worked a day in her life.”
Ann Romney’s counterattack—that raising a family was hard work—has united the Republican Party, something even her husband couldn’t do.
America is in the midst of a new Civil War—as yet, without the canons.
And, just as in any war, both sides are now attempting to define the fight as good vs. evil. Preferably in a bumper sticker or three-word slogan.
America is in a fight to define itself, its future and its past, but must do so in a nanosecond.
The simplification of America’s current Civil War will not be determined by scribes or partisan broadsheets, as it was in the 1860s, but by tweets, the Internet, crowd-sourced money bombs, photos and scandals.
It is these last two—photos and scandals—that now threaten President Obama’s re-election. And they have the power to sway the persuadables, define the present and re-write history.
Indeed, the presidential election of 2012 may well turn on the often-unexpressed, quiet revulsion for what I call the “debasing of America”—indelibly captured in the lavish GSA/Las Vegas party, the Secret Service sex scandal in Cartagena, Columbia, and the L.A. Times’ publication of the photos of U.S. soldiers gleefully posing with body parts of Afghan bombers.
Sadly, we have done it to ourselves.
As Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post, “We are, after all, the land of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Snooki. Debauchery is an American specialty.”
Milbank may have found the heretofore undiscovered mother lode of hidden rage among all Americans. It shows up periodically in the “right track/wrong track” polling question. Which currently reads highly negative, 61 percent wrong track, 31 percent right track, according to the CBS News/New York Times.
“Hookergate,” as the Secret Service prostitute scandal is now being dubbed, serves as another log on the fire of disgust that may shock the pollsters, and upend the carefully crafted strategies of both political parties.
Disgust is sometimes a more powerful motivator than fear. And while disgust has turned away millions of Americans from voting, it now may send them racing to the polls, pitchforks in hand.
While no one is tying the president to the nasty headlines, an election is always a referendum on not just an incumbent, but on the “right track-wrong track” scores. Is the country headed in the right direction?
And it may be that overwhelming “no” score that best measures the greatest danger for the incumbent president.
Enter Ann Romney.
Defender of women, by a woman, for women. Respect all women’s choices, argues the wife, mother, grandmother, cancer survivor and battler of multiple sclerosis.
Think shorthand. Bumper stickers and photos.
“Hookergate v. Ann Romney.” A photo finish indeed.
Colleen O'Connor, a former college history professor, contributes political columns to Patch.