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The Narrative in London

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?