At a dinner party in London Saturday, I was asked to say a few words about the upcoming presidential election in the United States. All of the guests were what my friend Otto Penzler calls “politically mature,” i.e., they regarded Barack Obama with varying degrees of fear, loathing, and distaste. But they had also, most of them, imbibed deeply of The Narrative: the fairy tale dispensed by virtually all the legacy (formerly known as “the mainstream”) media that Obama was as sure a thing to win as was possible to discover in this mutable sublunary world.
There was some surprise (not to say incredulity), then, when I repeated my frequent refrain (like a broken record) that I thought Mitt Romney would not only win but win big. I was not surprised by the wonder with which my prediction was greeted. The Narrative, nearly seamless in the United States, is positively monolithic in the UK. And there is this difference: in the U.S., the idea that Barack Obama has the election sewn up, while assiduously disseminated by the media, is at least treated to some of the skepticism it deserves by a large and vibrant dissenting commentariat, to whose mast your humble correspondent proudly nails his colors. That is one reason that, although you’ll rarely hear a peep of dissent on the “major” networks or politically correct organs like The New York Times, there is nevertheless a strong and indeed growing current of contrary sentiment, broadcast by venues like PJ Media but underwritten by a vast electorate that is seething with discontent over the top-down, socialist, spread-the-wealth-around policies of our handsome but shockingly incompetent president.
It’s the latter that matters: what people like me (whatever their political persuasion) say is of interest only as a more or less accurate thermometer. The heat, the actual evidence of life, is produced by a pulsing body politic that goes about its business utterly unconcerned by what pundits say.
This is as it should be but it is not, I think, as vividly appreciated as it should be. Hence the surprised skepticism that greeted my announced confidence that Romney would win. “But all the polls say Obama will win,” came a chorus of objection.
Ah, the polls. I pointed out, as I have often pointed out here, that polls are often fragile, unreliable constructs: more the product of hope than the evidence of fact. I mentioned that Democrats are typically oversampled, that most polls (Rasmussen is an exception) canvass registered rather than likely voters, and that in general the whole scenario or context in which poll data is being assembled is predicated on 2008 patterns of turnout and voter enthusiasm.
Need I observe that the situation in 2012 is very different from what it was in 2008? In 2008, Barack Obama outraised his rival by at least 3 to 1. (He officially raised $771 million to John McCain’s $239 million; the actual discrepancy was even bigger.) The autumn of 2008, remember, marked the beginning of the most shattering economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression: Obama came to town promising to change all that. Meanwhile, his opponent temporarily suspended his campaign “to deal with the economic crisis,” selected an astoundingly inappropriate running mate (much though I admire her personally), and generally ran the most anemic, unfocused campaign in recent memory. Obama also had the tremendous advantage of novelty: America’s first black (well, half-black, but good enough for government work) president! How that warmed the cockles of every liberal heart. And remember, too, how unpopular George Bush and the war in Iraq were. Obama was going to change all that too. He was going to make the seas stop rising and “heal the planet” (how emetic it seems now!). The moment he was inaugurated, he said, “Muslim hostility” would ease. (I wonder what Chris Stevens’s family thinks of that?) Take a look at the footage of Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech: has anything closer to the intoxication of Nuremberg been seen in American politics?
How different it all is now. For one thing, Obama now has a record — not a good or inspiring record, but we at last have something concrete to judge him by. We now know that about the only promise he has managed to keep is to make the price of energy “skyrocket.” Yes, he’s done that all right. Even as he refused the Keystone pipeline and drilling permissions around the country, the price of gasoline has gone from an average of $1.85 a gallon to something north of $4.00. He promised, if only we gave him the $780 billion “stimulus,” he would have unemployment down to 5.6 percent by 2012. Reality check: it’s about 8.3 percent. Twenty-three million people are unemployed or underemployed. He promised to halve the annual deficit in his first term; it’s still something like $1.4 trillion. The federal debt clock, in an occurrence of grim poetic justice, ticked over to $16 trillion as the Democratic National Convention convened in Charlotte earlier this month to nominate the most left-wing and stunningly incompetent president in our history to another term. (Remember when David Axelrod, in 2005, said that it was “madness” for Bush to add $3 trillion to the federal debt in four years? Obama managed to add more than $5 trillion in only three and a half years.)
Well, I went on like this for a while. I don’t know that I convinced anyone, though I do have a bet for lunch with one of the guests. I am even now deciding where I might like to be taken. Maybe, had the party been a few days later, I would have been more convincing. I just had confirmation of something I have long suspected: that only a small percentage of those canvassed by pollsters bother to respond. How small? Only 9 percent. I, and probably you, too, are part of the proud 91 percent who give them the brush off.
One of the morning papers today asks whether Mitt Romney can overcome his “slump” in the polls in the upcoming debates. A more pertinent question is whether Barack Obama can overcome his disastrous record on both domestic and foreign affairs by repeating his seductive clichés. I think the answer is no.