A storm is not a good time to be at the wheel of a ship and a worldwide economic disaster is not a good time to be at the wheel of the ship of state. Hard times are supposed to bring great men to the fore, but instead we have some of the sorriest men in history trying to find the wheel, sleeping off a bender in their cabins or debating whether a wheel even exists.
Obama is bad, but he’s not exactly up against rival statesmen. After parading around with a one-man cult of personality, launching international projects with no purpose, and displaying all the symptoms of a Napoleon complex, without a world famous conqueror in sight, Sarkozy’s only reelection platform was that the alternative to him would be worse. He was right. But you can hardly blame quite a few Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who stayed home, rather than hold their noses and vote for him.
In the UK, Cameron cut the military and launched a war. Labour’s career idiot, Ed Milband, now has a higher approval rating than the Prime Minister. Cameron has the same reelection platform as Sarkozy and he’s also right, but that won’t help him when the public gets the chance to cast their vote. And the vote will be the international refrain, translated many ways in many languages, but that always means, “Throw out the bums.”
Russia has become a virtual armed camp for the sole purpose of keeping Putin in power. The man who successfully set up his own Stalinesque cult of personality, now has to use extraordinary measures to protect himself from his own people, who don’t care so much that he stole the election, but who are sick and tired of the spectacle of Vladimir and his ten-thousand good friends from the Committee for State Security, better known by three ominous letters, gorging themselves on the best things in life while everyone else suffers.
China’s rulers should be paying careful attention to Moscow. If the express train of Western exports ever falters, what they will face will make Tiananmen Square look like a fond memory. The Princes of the PRC won’t be up against a bunch of idealistic students, but the farmers whose land they stole, the workers whose children they killed and that rising middle-class which tasted prosperity only to have it snatched away. If that day comes, they won’t be stopped by tanks, and the army may just take their side.
The American media has become virtually indistinguishable from the Russian and Chinese media, in its hysterical support for the regime and vindictive smears of opponents. The only difference between Newsweek, Pravda and Xinhua is their level of sophistication. Pravda and Xinhua have never been anything more than vulgar organs of the regime, but the American media is descending into savagery while leaving behind a legacy of civilization. Like a citizen turned cannibal, it still has some of the cultural trappings of its past, but it’s discarding them as quickly as Newsweek can photoshop new covers. Like the Russian media, the favorite topic of its American counterparts is the inscrutable divinity of its leader, who has not so much failed, as succeeded on a higher level that mere mortals, concerned with paying their bills and having a job, are not privy to. If he has failed, it’s only because of the obstructionism of the running dog Republican capitalists who would rather see the country burn than concede his unearthly genius.
The problem with propagandists is that they get so taken in by their own illusion of power, that they stop noticing when no one is paying attention to them. Barely a quarter of the country digested and accepted the swill that the media had poured out over it in 07 and 08. What the public noticed was that there seemed to be a consensus that the One was the one. They didn’t notice it by reading every screed that the American heirs to Goebbels were scribbling up at Time and the New York Times. Like a television that is on in the room, while you’re vacuuming or doing laundry, they noticed it mainly as background noise in their lives.
Mostly, like the Russian and Chinese workers, they had no reason to pay attention. Politics was for politicians and all politicians are alike. As long as things worked, they were willing to let it go on. When things weren’t looking up, they switched and voted for the other guy. It’s only when things got really bad that they were forced to pay attention. It’s only then that the game changed.
The Obama reelection campaign is running on the same theme as Sarkozy’s reelection campaign, the same theme as every incumbent’s reelection campaign– the alternative is worse. Except Obama is wrong. The alternative isn’t worse.
For the alternative to be worse, it would have to be Putin or Ahmadinejad; not Romney. But there’s no other available theme. Not for an incumbent who has nothing positive to show for his time in office, except giving the go-ahead to kill a wanted terrorist, while blowing the war in Afghanistan. Obama’s original platform of change won’t work anymore. Not “Change We Can Believe In”, not “Safe, Sustainable Change” and not, “Can You Spare Some Change for My Campaign.”
Obama would have gone negative anyway, but he has no choice now. It’s either go negative or go home. The only way to be reelected, aside from the usual standbys of voter fraud and nuking Florida, is to convince the public that the alternative really is worse. And that’s hard because Romney is so bland that he’s darn hard to demonize.
Give the media a Gingrich or Santorum, and it would quickly trot out a grotesque caricature, but all they can do with Romney is keep calling him a stiff rich guy, which is true, but doesn’t go very far. After plumbing the depths of anti-Mormon bigotry and perhaps running a few stories on how the Mormon Church is plotting to bring back polygamy and some feature stories on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it’s back to the stiff rich guy shtick.
Obama won on emotion the last time around. He has to win this one on emotion too, and if he can’t, then he loses. But the emotions in play aren’t his anymore. The media imagines that it controls public discourse in its echo chamber, but all it can do is shape it. After a prolonged bout of bad economics, the emotions are a lot harder to massage with the usual pro-Obama con-Republican pieces because the people who count just don’t care. They’re worried about whether they will still have jobs, not about Trump or the spelling of “America” in a campaign app.
The media runs stories on an issue that it creates, then blames Romney for creating the issue. “Trump upstages Romney” is the media narrative, followed by three pages blaming Romney for allowing Trump to upstage him, when the upstaging is only happening because the media is hunting for hit pieces, like wolves waiting outside a 7-Eleven to feed. It’s the old “Stop hitting yourself” trick being played by men and women who are still trying to pretend that they’re something more than White House or Media Matters staffers, just because they have a card that says “Press” on it.
But that doesn’t matter either, because it’s a bad season for incumbents. You can be a liberal dosing out heavy spending and debt, or mildly conservative pushing austerity and serious cutbacks, that slash services without reforming the system, and voters will still hate you when they can’t get a job. The only defense is having an opposition that is so toxic that no one wants them in power.
While liberals think that way of Republicans, most of them admit that Romney wouldn’t be too bad. Liberals need to believe that the man they’re agitating against is the Republican Devil, who’s going to ban abortion, gays and modern art, while burning a cross outside the NAACP and preaching the apocalypse. Like the sheep-like audiences sitting in Oceanian theaters, waiting for Emmanuel Goldstein’s face to flash on the screen, so they can begin their Two-Minute Hate; they just need someone to hate.
McCain nearly denied them that in ’08, until the arrival of Sarah Palin gave them a unifying figure whom they could believe was plotting with megachurches to blow up America in order to bring on the end of days. If Romney doesn’t give them a Palin, then we can look forward to months of editorial cartoons featuring a capering Romney with slicked-down hair tossing money into the air. Along with every conceivable distraction that the government and the media can summon up.
But the real question is will any of these distractions, distract people from their wallets? In times like these elections aren’t won by rhetoric, they’re won by worry. Obama has made Americans worry, and now they’re returning the favor. The economy has not been kind to incumbents and there is no reason to believe that it will be any kinder to Obama, than it was to the European and Arab leaders it has already displaced. While Obama is still humming about an “Arab Spring”, the winds of an “American Spring” may be blowing his way.