Less than three months to go, and who’s gonna win? Right now, I’d bet on Obama.
He’s the incumbent, and a majority of Americans think that he’s an OK guy. That doesn’t mean that they’ll vote for him, though — it just means that Romney must first persuade a voting majority that the president doesn’t deserve a second term.
Obama’s job is easier. He needs only to persuade voters that Romney is a flawed, unreliable candidate.
That’s why we see so many negative ads from Romney and Romney-supporting organizations funded by the Republican Billionaire Boys Club. And that’s why Obama is going just as fiercely negative against Romney.
“I told you four years ago that I’m not a perfect man, and I won’t be a perfect president,” Obama told an adoring crowd at Colorado College last week, “but I’ve got your back, and I always will.”
It’s a strong message, especially when coupled with attacks on Romney’s record and character.
Forget all that stuff about Romney the successful businessman, the decisive governor, the savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, the devout and devoted husband and father — who’s the real Mitt Romney?
He’s a vicious predator, a man who delighted in destroying companies, firing workers, and getting obscenely rich thereby a tax-dodging schemer whose only loyalty is to his fellow centi-millionaires, an emptyheaded stiff who would say and do anything to get elected, a war-mongering naïf who wants to start another senseless conflict in the Middle East, an empty suit who doesn’t care about us ordinary folks … have I forgotten anything?
And the real Obama? We’ve heard it all. He’s a “neighborhood activist” who’s never had a job, cosseted by affirmative action programs that enabled him to go to Harvard and become a snooty liberal elitist, a man who spent his formative years in a Muslim country and was likely born in Kenya, an internationalist who so despises America that he wants Iran to get nukes, a delusional big spender who has driven the country into near-bankruptcy and wants to cram Obamacare down your throat … If it’s bad, it’s Obama’s fault!
We have to endure this dreary drivel thanks to the late Lee Atwater, a vicious political infighter who perfected the art of negative campaigning. Running George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis, Atwater vowed to “strip the bark off the little bastard.”
That he did, with the infamous “Willie Horton” and “Dukakis in the tank” ads. Seventeen points down in the polls in early 1988, Bush won, carrying 40 states.
Atwater’s success did not go unnoticed, especially in Republican circles. GOP strategists so absorbed the art of “going nuclear” that successful Republican candidates across the country rarely bother with any other form of campaigning. What about Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment, “Thou shall not speak ill of any other Republican?” Sentimental nonsense.
And what about Paul Ryan? Putting a guy on the ticket who wants to end Social Security, phase out Medicare, and replace Medicaid with unrestricted grants to the states seems a little strange, unless your only goal is to please the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal.
Ryan claimed a few years ago that “Social Security is no longer the third rail of American politics [i.e., touch it and you die!]”
Maybe, but why take the risk?
Romney is betting on what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics.” That style is angry, apocalyptic, and guided by what Dostoyevsky called “strange, incomplete ideas.” Bad things are happening — and it’s all the fault of (fill in the blanks, depending on the era) blacks, Jews, international bankers, Catholics, Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission, big-spending Democrats and unions.
Romney thinks that Ryan can help him play the Fear and Fix cards. We’re headed for economic collapse! But the Ryan Plan can fix everything. Never mind that the Ryan Plan is a nonsensical aggregation of far-right talking points. Never mind that Ryan is a committed ideologue who helped torpedo the Simpson-Bowles recovery plan. Never mind that he requires his congressional staffers to read the works of Ayn Rand, an eccentric 1950s author whose rigidly intellectualized universe resembles in spirit those proposed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Chairman Mao.
Unlike Romney, Ryan seems sincere, personable and credible. It’ll be hard for the Dems to demonize him — you might as well try to turn Missy Franklin into Tonya Harding.
So they’ll have to strip the bark off Romney, but that may not be easy.
You can’t strip the bark off petrified wood.