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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Three Weeks Out, Three Debates Over, Some Basics:

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

An incumbent has a natural advantage (the economy might have been a game-changing liability had the blame not remained so squarely on Bush and the confidence numbers not started to rise and had Romney not slotted so clearly into the 1% narrative framed last year by Occupy) and the challenger basically has four reliable shots to flip the script: nabbing the nomination, the veep pick, the convention, and the debates.

Although Romney -- who had been running for something like nine years by then -- nabbed his party's nomination and saw his numbers nudge up a bit for the first time, he still trailed more than anybody would want. The Ryan pick -- which was pushed ahead of the usual schedule precisely because Romney's numbers weren't getting better -- did not confer the expected advantage, and then Romney's convention was way more dud than stud compared to the Dem convention the following week and then the whole 47% debacle day after day after day.

The reason Romney's win in debate one mattered so much, then, was because if he had failed it was feared the floor would have fallen out from under the Romney campaign, and then money would likely shift downticket in a big panicky way to compensate for the death spiral fueled in part by the shift itself. For Dems, a knockout would have provided a near-miraculous chance at regaining the House (as a flabbergastingly dismal crop of GOP candidates already killed just as nearly miraculously the chance Republicans had for taking the Senate this year).

Substantively, last night's Obama victory might have "changed the minds" of folks who were worried that Romney was an evil figure not because they understand politics and economics enough to understand that he really is an evil figure but only because the Obama campaign effectively if somewhat cartoonishly cast him as such a figure over the summer, but who managed to seem comparatively less threatening and more presidential in the actual scene of the debate itself, or those who were iffy about Obama because of a little stealthy racism or dumb-dumb fears of Big Bad Gu'ment or whatever and the atmospherics of debate one provided them an alibi for that nonsense. Last night's debate re-introduced the worrisomely possibly evil Romney cartoon while smudging the weak Obama atmospheric alibi for crypto-racism and know-nothingism voters and hence nudged the dynamics closer to where they were just after the Conventions again. That is to say, "changing minds" is a generous phrase, to say the least, to describe such rhetorical operations -- but that is what debates are about this late in the campaign and everybody knows it, and Obama should sure as hell have acted more like somebody who knows it too in debate one, as he just as surely did so act last night.

Again, the fundamentals have always been with Obama -- incumbency, multicultural demographics, smart OFA organizational decisions versus clown college GOP foolishness over the nomination season and subsequent disenfranchisement summer, ongoing Romney sub-basement likeability numbers -- but with last night's debate victory (and Biden's shot in the arm for the Base in his debate last week) the campaign momentum has returned to Obama, "independents" are motivated both to vote and in the way they vote by momentum and the feeling they have a piece of it by conforming to their sense of it (because they are, face it, idiots).

The foreign policy debate next week is unlikely to turn things back to Romney given his inexperience, his disastrous gaffes in this area up to now, and the fact that Obama plays Commander-in-Chief lethally (something he did last night, but has done so often it makes no sense that Republicans seemed so unprepared for it), but in any case voting is already underway, swing states are solidifying enough to give him an Electoral College firewall, it's now or never to shift money to make a difference downticket, and that's where the action is.

The "race is tightening" narrative is a mirage largely produced by the fact that the South is solidifying for Romney in a way that has no impact on the Electoral College and little impact on Congressional expectations (four of the 25 seats targeted by Pelosi for pick up are in New York, ditto Cali, Blue State seats conservative enough to fall for the Teabagger scam), but which portends the ongoing catastrophic suicidal self-marginalization of the GOP from plausibly-national governing party to neo-Confederate rump.

Since I'm flinging out opinions willy-nilly in this post I'm sure there's plenty for smart folks to quibble with here and there, but to be honest I don't really think any of this is particularly insightful, but just a quick delineation of reasonably sound but conventional background assumptions out of which more interesting discussions might emerge.


ian paul said...

I'm always in the mood to pick a fight, Dale ;-).

As usual, what isn't being discussed (what is considered outside of the discourse) is usually more important to critically reflect upon than what was actually said. What we didn't hear about during the debates:

-Climate Change
-National Defense Authorization Act
-Drone Assassinations
-NSA warrantless wiretapping
-Largest Incarcerated Population in the History of the U.S.
-Unprecedented Global Protests

Is Obama a better choice in light of these issues? Yes, of course. But nonetheless I feel it's incredibly important to deeply think about why global hegemony has shifted so far to the right over the past couple of decades. This shift is not necessarily the result of the processes of electoral politics, and perhaps (in line with critiques of idealist conceptions of democracy) electoral politics aren't capable of remedying this shift. Thoughts?

Dale Carrico said...

I agree that it is ridiculous that these topics have not come up in the debates.

I also agree that the current electoral process is obviously unequal to these and other questions. Education, agitation, and organization as political exercises exceed the electoral even if they ultimately find their fruition in reforms and regulations and public investments implemented through partisan governance.

Since you concede that Obama is a better choice or no worse than the alternative actually on offer I don't see why you would think saying anything you do here would feel to me like you are picking a fight. I think I agree with you in everything you are saying here.

I don't think that elections are a place where deep necessary critique really is happening. I don't think that elections are particularly suitable for such discussions. I don't think this post should be construed as such a discussion (though I do think I have engaged in many discussions otherwise that should be so construed). I don't think political discussions should be confined to discussions of the electoral, even tho' I think electoral discussions as they play out in our media are ridiculously more circumscribed than they need be and more than even ill-educated complacent Americans would prefer them to be, bad as they are.

But I also think that voting produces differences that make a difference in peoples' lives, that sometimes it produces differences more dramatic than those that are otherwise available to collective agency in a particular historical moment in respect to vital particular causes or problems and that none of the things I agreed with you about up to now properly yields the conclusion that it is wrong or mistaken or a distraction to vote.

I think one should vote for (or organize for, or sometimes even try to BE) the best viable candidate actually on offer -- AND educate, agitate, and organize politically beyond voting so that in the longer term one finds oneself, if one is patient and disciplined and lucky, voting for things that are better still.

I have the sense that you advocate a both/and vote/and attitude as well.

What's not to like?

Dale Carrico said...

I promoted this to a post of its own if you want to say more. Nice to hear from you by the way, hope all is well in your world, d

ian paul said...

Perhaps there's not such a distance between our positions, but I suppose the potential barb I meant to hint at (and after rereading realized was't clear) was a critique I often hear from some of my neo-marxist/left-communist friends (part of the political current arguing for "communization" as opposed to "democratization", have you encountered this yet?).

The critique is a Gramscian one as far as I can understand, namely that the intense focus on electoral politics, as horribly visible on every television station and social media platform, that endlessly dissects every media-worthy-moment of the election, only functions to curtail political imagination and reinforce capitalist hegemonic positions. This could perhaps be observed in the "race is tightening" effect you mentioned, as well as in the exaggeration of differences between the candidates.

Note, this isn't an argument against voting necessarily, but rather is a systemic critique which would urge at-most voting and then politically choosing to downplay the significance of the elections in the interest of agitation/revolt. I definitely sympathize with this analysis on some level (placing a much larger emphasis on the agitation end of your equation) and feel like it has some teeth. It's also a very real problem I face quie often in day-to-day political encounters and confrontations, wanting to support Obama and also deeply critique the incredibly serious systemic limits we find ourselves fixed in.

Well, now I feel like I'm meandering (beer + catholic upbringing => aimless proselytizing), but hopefully the thoughts are legible.


ian paul said...

Oops - wrong place. Nice to be in conversation with you too Dale! I still think of our conversations often.

Dale Carrico said...

What you say is fair enough. I focus on the electoral on Amor Mundi, especially right now, [1] because I teach radical and revolutionary theory in academic contexts already and so have less of a need to vent from that perspective on this blog where I am mostly venting, [2] because I happen to have regular commenters whose version of radicalism recommends an anti-electoral politics that I happen to think is wrong even when I agree with them in many of their diagnoses of problems and in many of their ultimate aspirations and so I find myself arguing electoral stuff more than I might otherwise do, and [3] because I actually happen to think the GOP in its Movement Republican epoch is the single most dangerous organized force in the world today (because the GOP has an authority in the duopoly disproportionate to their objective madness and because the US happens to be the disproportionate beneficiary of unearned riches of geography and history) and so fighting them into harmless marginality and into serious self-reflection and reform at the level of partisan politics makes me care about the electoral level of politics at this historical juncture rather more than my more radical left values and activist history would probably otherwise prompt. In other words, at least for me, this focus is more specific to this historical juncture than it might seem if one just leaps to generalize from the belly of the beast we're in to hegemony theory or the spectacle or what have you.