Belmont Club

The Silent Debate

The public policy set might think the forthcoming presidential contest revolves around Benghazi or some other weighty foreign policy issue, because that’s the space they intellectually inhabit. But for many voters life revolves around the gas station, the supermarket and the credit card bill. The kitchen table is what they inhabit and in that space the issues are real simple.

Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post says that many GM workers in Defiance, Michigan are voting for Obama — even though some hate everything he culturally stands for, like abortion — simply because he gave them a job. Even so Helderman thinks Obama may lose Defiance.  Still, in the words of one worker ‘he had my back and now I have his’. Things are simpler for coal miners in Virginia where the President’s “war on coal” has made him about as popular as skunk at a lawn party.

“The only promise Obama kept was to kill coal,” said Jerry Shortt, a coal miner from Richlands who was laid off temporarily right after Labor Day — and learned Friday that for him, along with 189 other employees at the mine where he worked, the layoff would be permanent.

“You see all these people? I bet you a quarter of them’s laid off,” he said. “I know a lot of people that did [vote for Obama] that are not going to next time. Hope turned into damnation.”

Among the miners there was little to mitigate the disappointment.

Forget Benghazi. Forget the Pacific Pivot. Forget all that fancy stuff. Maybe the election to most voters is about whether you can put gas in the tank and a payment into the credit card. Someone was bound to be dissatisfied. The administration promised so many things on its way to office it was inevitable they had to choose whom to shaft — the peons of the Big Tent or the Ringmasters.

And they shafted the peons.

It would have helped if they hadn’t promised the Moon and the Stars. The Greek word for incessant talking and nonstop promising Victor Davis Hanson reliably informs us is “polypragmôn” — “someone who jumps from here to there, always talking, persuading, speechifying, but never really accomplishing anything.” Professor Hanson writes:

I had a lot of Obamas in class. They sat in the front of the room, posed long eloquent questions, mellifluously interrupted the lectures with clever refinements and qualifications, often self-referenced all that they had read and done — and then pow!: you grade their first test and there is simply nothing there: a D or F. It was quite stunning: how could a student be so confident in his rhetoric and so dismal in his performance?

Surely I thought this test must be some terrible mistake (did his mother just die? Had she came down with mononucleosis? Is this a fluke, a once-in-a-lifetime bad day?). And then he takes the midterm and then the final and then turns in the paper — each effort proves more pathetic than the last. Yet in class the next day, there he is again, raising his hand, pouring out clever phraseology and eloquent exempla, as if he has not just flunked his test and is getting an F.

In that view Obama’s words simply wrote a check his actions could not cash. But it’s not quite that bad. Barack Obama has paid some debts; it wasn’t a complete bust; simply that he could only keep a limited number of the innumerable promises that he made.

Naturally he chose to satisfy the moneybags of the Democratic Big Tent  — he needed a campaign fund after all. The gay marriage, third worlders, one worlders and green energy people got what they wanted. The coal miners got the shaft. As the American Spectator noted in its piece on coal miners, it’s cannons to the left of them, cannons to the right of them.

“They come at us on the air side. They come after us on the water side. They’ve stopped the permits, so that’s like starving us. And EPA has started… allowing various anti-coal groups to run things into the ground.”

Sure. Those were promises made to some other section of the Big Tent.

Jay Cost notes that enthusiasm for the President is down from its historic 2008 highs even in the Black Community. It’s a vote he needs. “In 2004, John Kerry won 88 percent of the black vote, which made up 11 percent of the total electorate. In 2008, Obama won 95 percent of the black vote, which made up about 13 percent of the electorate. That means Obama’s increase in support relative to Kerry won him about 3.5 million extra votes, or nearly 40 percent of his total margin over John McCain.”

But he may not get it again — at least not on the same scale as 2008. The probable reason for the decline in enthusiasm is economic. African Americans have been ravaged by unemployment.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project recently released a report projecting that 68 percent of African-Americans reared in the middle of the wealth ladder will not do as well as the previous generation.

In August, the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2012 report found that nearly all the economic gains that the black middle class made during the last 30 years have been wiped out by the economic downturn.

“This is a very dire situation,” said Valerie Rawlston Wilson, an economist with the National Urban League Policy Institute. “Even for blacks who have college degrees, we’ve seen a doubling of their unemployment (rate) between 2007 and 2010.”

They’re hurting. And if the adage is “you have my back I have yours”, its converse is “you shaft me, I shaft you”. It’s probably that simple. The root of President Obama’s current slide in the polls — some have him trailing by an increasing margin in the electoral college — isn’t from Mitt Romney’s scintillating debating skills. It’s not messaging, nor the quality of his ads. It’s not any of that “polypragmôn” stuff.

Even if it’s true that the President has prepared a “secret deal” with the Iranians which he will triumphantly unveil at the debate it may have limited appeal. Iran is far away. The grocery store is round the block.

President Obama’s problem is simple. He has not produced. He is running against his record and his record is winning.

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