Rubin Reports

Are Many Americans Changing Their Political Views? Yes. Enough? We'll See in November

(Also read my article: Who’s Winning in the Middle East?  Everyone Outside the West Knows It’s The Islamists.)

A long-time reader and correspondent asked me some questions about my recent article on liberalism and the Democratic party. I think you might be interested in my responses.

I’m not an expert on polls or political behavior — what I’m writing here is a combination of conversations, experiences, reading, and some study of polls. Many callers to talk radio shows describe their personal evolution in detail.

I believe that a considerable portion of traditional liberal Democrats, and especially Jews, have done a lot of serious rethinking in the last three years. Though the defections might be smaller than one might want or expect — polls show that Jewish Democrats have stopped supporting Obama in higher proportions than other Democrats — I believe they are quite significant. Whether or not they will sway the presidential election is another matter, but then of course independents have changed their views to an even higher extent.

My conclusion is that Obama has lost about 25 percent of his Jewish base and around 20 percent of his overall Democratic support. We can see his general decline in the polls. Obviously they are affected by various issues but first and foremost, of course, are the economy and foreign policy.

Some of these people will vote Republican; some will stay home in November; some will pull the lever for Obama having been convinced that while he’s bad the alternative is a barbarian horde seeking only to loot, burn, and destroy.

One factor we often don’t spend enough time talking about is what one might call “professional discontent.” People who are, say, doctors or other health care workers or teachers or professors who have had direct experience with the decline of professional ethics: out-of-control Political Correctness and Multiculturalism, Obamacare issues, and so on. They don’t like what they see. I could tell a lot of stories about specific individuals.

Another factor is seeing how slanted the mass media is — it gets more extreme every month — and thus understanding that key institutions are failing to do their duty. A key issue here is whether people perceive, for instance, the New York Times as having grown considerably more radical and one-sided, or whether they think it is the same newspaper it was 20 years ago.

Let me suggest three forms of discontent:

— Those who are very disturbed about what’s happening, but do not change their voting behavior or their broad outlook. They know, even if they won’t admit it, that Obama isn’t doing a good job and the radical ideas so powerful today are quite different from the liberalism they have supported in the past. The gap may be filled in by wishful thinking, or by being persuaded that Republicans and critics of Obama are evil monsters. Obama thus becomes the lesser of two evils. In short, they know they’re wrong but won’t admit it.

— Those who are very disturbed by the situation but are confused. They still feel loyalty to their definition of liberalism and the Democratic Party, but are increasingly open to hearing other ideas. Like the “Reagan Democrats,” if they can convince themselves that the Republican candidate is better they will vote for him. In short, they have changed side in their own minds but are having trouble doing so in practice.

— Those who have sharply changed their views to become independents or conservatives. They are very anti-Obama and will vote against him.

Every day I hear from such people or talk with them. One person wrote me within the last hour to the effect that he has never changed his liberal Democratic views, but suddenly finds himself to the right of many Republicans.

For Jews, Israel is an important issue and a lot of people have been shaken up. Yet “conservatophobia” is also a powerful force.

But do not neglect the importance of the “professional” angle in making hundreds of thousands of people rethink their political stances. One example that comes to mind: a teacher who has very different views as a result of experiences like being told by a principal not to discipline an African-American student who was disrupting the class, lest the school be accused of racism; being pressed continually to dumb down academic standards, etc. Another comes from the health care business: this person says Obamacare will definitely put private insurance companies out of business. A third is small businessmen who are being driven crazy by increasingly restrictive regulation and terrible economic policies.

Of course, many have not changed their views at all, but we should not underestimate the shifts that have happened. A lot of people have been listening to us and also reacting against what they see around them.

And look at it this way: it is almost impossible to find anyone who has moved in the opposite direction, who has become more leftist in the last three years or has suddenly concluded that Obama is a great president.

What I’m saying here isn’t a secret. The radical forces and the Obama administration understand this situation. How are they dealing with it?

The answer is simple: portray Republicans and critics as right-wing reactionaries, racists, and greedy, evil, hateful, freakish people in order to frighten the discontented back into line. There is no lie that they will not tell about Republicans, conservatives, or anyone who criticizes the hegemonic ideology. The mass media is lined up like an artillery unit, the big guns wheel-to-wheel, ready to fire endless barrages. Either their shells will kill the enemy or the resulting smoke will obscure the truth.

Aside from the effect of responding to these lies and distractions with logical arguments and clear alternatives, the actual conditions prevailing in the United States will be critical in affecting the outcome. The radical strategy might also be defeated by its own exaggeration — this has already happened often — showing people how institutions have beome so distorted and extremist.

Does this tell us who the Republicans should nominate? The answer is someone who has two different characteristics. In terms of personality, the nominee must be able to dispel the bogeyman scare tactics by showing that he is a stable and competent individual who can be trusted as president. On the policy level, he must be able to articulate clear alternatives that make sense. In other words, he must be simultaneously reassuring but not mealy-mouthed or someone trying to prove he is not too different from Obama.

After I wrote that paragraph I realized precisely who I was describing: Ronald Reagan. How that compares to the currently available nominees you can decide for yourselves.