A decade ago, Glenn Reynolds described a “preference cascade” as one of the reasons why “totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly:”
Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don’t realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it – but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.
This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers – or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they’re also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.
On Friday, May 25th, after the conclusion of a bruising week for the Obama regime, John Hayward of Human Events used Glenn’s “preference cascade” terminology to describe what was happening to the president: “That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama:”
His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – that disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him, or at least a greedy tool of the Evil Rich, or a “Tea Party extremist.”
A negative mirror image of this narrative was installed around Mitt Romney, who is supposedly a fat-cat extremist (and, thanks to the insidious War On Mormons, a religious nut) who nobody likes… even though large numbers of people in many different states voted for him in the primaries. Of course he has his critics, and I’m not seeking to dismiss the intensity or sincerity of that criticism… but the idea was to make Romney supporters feel isolated going into the general election, particularly the people who don’t really get involved in primary elections.
Both of those convergent narratives began crumbling this week: Obama is deeply vulnerable, and his campaign has no real answer to criticism of his record – they’ve even tried floating an outright fraud, the now-infamous Rex Nutting charts that presented Obama as some kind of fiscal hawk. (Stop laughing – major media figures took this garbage seriously for a couple of days, and Team Obama did push it.) Major Democrats, beginning with Newark mayor Cory Booker, expressed criticism of the Obama campaign… and the Left reacted with shrieking hysteria and vows of personal destruction for the “traitors.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney effectively presented both substantive criticism of Obama, and a positive agenda. Attacks on his business record that were supposed to destroy him through class-warfare tactics failed to draw blood. The idea that he can win became widely accepted. That doesn’t mean he won the 2012 argument… but unlike Barack Obama, he is offering one.
It happened fast, as preference cascades always do.
Update: I should add that the most powerful cascades occur when an artificially imposed sense of isolation crumbles. That’s very definitely what is happening here. Widespread popular discontent with the Obama presidency has been suppressed by making the unhappy campers feel marginalized. The failure of that strategy is akin to watching a dam burst under high pressure.
After yet another terrible, no good, very bad week for Obama, the pressure is strong enough to even impact former Obama cheerleaders in the legacy media. “The Media Starts to Lay Down Markers on a Romney Victory,” Mark Hemingway writes today in the Weekly Standard:
It’s best not to extrapolate too much from a few examples, but it’s fair to say that Washington insiders are reading the tea leaves and increasingly preparing for a Romney victory — especially following Friday’s bad economic news. The danger for Obama is that in political campaigns perception can quickly become reality. If influential liberals such as Dowd suddenly have no problem saying Obama appears to be in over his head, pretty soon everyone will be pointing out the obvious. Thus far, Obama’s meteoric rise has been largely dependent on a press that went straight from beat sweeteners to beatification. If the press turns on the president, the Obama campaign may not know what to do.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Kenneth Rapoza, a self-described “hard hat Democrat from Massachusetts” writes in Forbes this weekend, “Obama Gets Left Behind:”
Come on now. Is Obama really a “psychopathic megalomaniac”?
Everyday I get emails from former members of Move On, a pro-Democratic Party group that was famously active during the build-up to the Iraq War in 2003. They’re complaining about one man: President Obama.
In these emails, one thing is apparent. When it comes to the left wing liberals, Obama is being left behind.
As Michael Ledeen, my fellow PJ columnist likes to say, “Faster, please.”