FISH WRAP: CAMPAIGN WRAP, PART TWO

by E.C. Fish on November 5, 2012

“And you hang on, hang on, hang on
To the words of a liar
You can feel it getting down
To the wire . . .”
–Neil Young

GRINDING IT OUT:  With a little over forty-eight hours as I write this until the last polling places close, the end of one of the most interminable and annoying campaign seasons in memory is finally in sight, and indications seem to point in the direction of a narrow but significant win for Barack Obama and the Democrats; in the words of the Post‘s Greg Sargent, “As always, the polls could be wrong, and Romney could still win. But the polls would have to be overwhelmingly, systematically, catastrophically wrong in multiple states for that to happen.”

Predictably, the media (who presumably are trying to keep tensions and ratings high) and the Republicans (who need all the help they can get) continue to call the election itself a nail-biter, with Mitt Romney staging grossly premature “victory rallies,” and Republicans trying desperately to fire up the old inevitability offense and applying the same denialism to public opinion polling that they’ve used on global warming, economic statistics, and reproductive biology. This is, empirically speaking, crap — but as a wise woman once told me, “If this were rational shit, we wouldn’t have to talk about it.” While the numbers are keeping me from having actual physical anxiety symptoms, I am genuinely hoping that confidence on the Democratic side doesn’t turn into complacency, and complacency into a reduced sense of urgency in the Democratic base. The next forty-eight hours could tell a very clammy tale indeed, and the making of fists is called for.

OH LUCKY MAN: If (as seems likely at this point) Tuesday’s vote ends with four more years for Barack Obama, a large part of that victory will be due to the fact that Obama, like his 2012 campaign super-surrogate Bill Clinton, has been very lucky in his enemies. So divorced from reality are national Republicans that at no time during the course of this long campaign have they actually run against Barack Obama, choosing instead to run against an imaginary radical, foreign-born, Muslim socialist strongman who is bent on turning the smoldering ruins of our country over to a Sharia-based, UN-administered caliphate. Or some such shit — the lies, fantasies, innuendo, and unsupported charges from Republicans during this campaign have flown so fast and furious (hey, look, there’s one now) that keeping track of them amounts to a remarkably difficult fool’s errand, and if the above is the full-bore tin-foil-hat version, those attacks on Obama that have featured less mouth froth haven’t featured any more truth. Obama, we have been told, has done nothing for the economy (the marked improvements in what four years ago was a collection of economic smithereens presumably being marked up to fate, the delayed effects of Bush administration initiatives, or “cooking the books”), has no plan for economic improvement, and has been both relentlessly partisan at home and weak and ineffectual abroad.

While they’ve been whacking the heck out of that guy, whomever he may be, they have as yet to lay a finger on the real Obama. In reality, Obama’s first term has been remarkably productive, but has seen several years’ worth of initiatives — economic and otherwise — rendered dead on arrival in Congress by a relentless and publicly acknowledged program of reflexive and value-blind obstructionism, from a party so bent on assuring his failure at any cost that they run screaming from legislation they themselves created and sponsored the second he endorses it. So complete has been Republican contempt for the electorate — especially as embodied in the campaign of their own presidential candidate (whose final pitch to voters promises more of the same if Obama’s reelected) — that it would, in a just world, be completely disqualifying. In a country where it’s possible to devote several hours a day to political media and still be a low-information voter, not so much.

Unfortunately, Obama himself has been somewhat responsible for this. Far from being relentlessly partisan, he has from the first made a fetish of bipartisanship: retaining or recruiting Republicans to serve in his administration, adapting Republican ideas and tailoring his own to better accommodate Republican priorities (often at the expense of Democratic ones), and larding his inner circle early on with former Clintonites — both to heal the supposed rift in his own party and to exploit some of the Clinton administration’s triangulation mojo. This continued far past the point where his attempts to reach across the aisle could be expected to result in the drawing back of a bloody stump. As much as Obama has accomplished in his first term, all of it — starting with the tax-cut-heavy initial stimulus — has been diluted by his weird deference to an opposition bent on his political destruction.

Truth be told, the real Obama has been something of a disappointment to those who thought his election signified anything like a genuinely progressive turn. His administration’s record on human rights, civil rights, and economic justice has been subsumed in a series of actions designed to retain the expanded and constitutionally questionable executive powers arrogated by his predecessor. Drone attacks, indefinite detention, and presidential “hit lists” have no place in a civil society. Progressive priorities have been the first bargaining chips put on the negotiating table again and again, often wrapped neatly and offered up for sacrifice before negotiations even began.

But while I can certainly imagine a better president than Barack Obama, that president bears no resemblance whatsoever to Mitt Romney. Given our current political culture, Barack Obama is the best we can do. Given the priorities of Romney and his party, we had best fight like hell to see that Obama wins. The consequences of his losing would be devastating, not only to the progressive cause but to the national future.

SO WHAT’S FOR AFTERS?: The election, we are told, may not end with Election Day, and in the event of close races at the state level, lawyers are poised to gum up the works for as long as possible. One thing this election won’t end is right-wing storytelling, and we should brace ourselves for election denialism and a raft of conspiracy theories to bellow out of the conservative movement for a long time after the votes are counted. Given changing demographics and the unpopularity of their agenda, Republicans will continue to delegitimize and obstruct the president, possibly for his whole second term.

Something else that may not change are the deferential tendencies of Obama himself. Rumors abound of an attempted “grand bargain” after the election. This would be remarkably foolish. If reelected, all the president has to do from now until the end of the year to completely upend the balance of power in national politics is . . . nothing. With the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, and the automatic spending cuts Republicans demanded in the debt ceiling fight (but never really took seriously) kicking in at the same time, political leverage will shift decisively away from them: there will simply be no more hostages to take.

Oh — and this will remain a remarkably weird and twisted country politically, and a lot of what you hear about it will continue to be crap.

Stay tuned . . .

* * * *

E. C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Al Fraser November 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm

It’s 4 PM Nov. 6 in California. I voted for Barack Obama at Cesar E Chavez Park here in Long Beach!

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