observations and opinion
When I predicted, two weeks back, that the first Presidential debate would be a “Super Bore” it had not occurred to me that this would be true for one of the participants, or that his heavily-lidded performance would have such a seismic effect on the political landscape. But President Obama snoozed through 90 minutes of Romney’s cheerful lying, triggering three simultaneous events which have re-drawn the map:
1. Democratic supporters were shocked, disappointed and discouraged.
2. Non-aligned voters (the tiny but crucial crew which lives between Obama’s 47% and Romney’s 47%) saw one potential President who was interested and awake, and one actual President who appeared to be neither. Guess who impressed them the most?
3. Republican activists, who literally hours before were moaning about the coming destruction of the GOP, got a jolt of hope and adrenaline. Now they are happy warriors.
Such is politics, that a few minutes of reality TV gamesmanship can depress enough people, surprise a few and energize others into transforming the race. Two weeks ago people were writing about whether the Democrats could pull enough House seats to put Pelosi back in the Speaker’s chair; today they’re writing about whether one Democrat can win one seat, namely the one in the Oval Office.
It is hard not to be disappointed in the people responding to opinion polls, for having so little cranial function that they might simply forget the 2009 economic crisis and all the present administration did to avert apocalypse. And I am disappointed in them. But they didn’t get to their current state of somnambulence on their own. They were expertly coached into it by the huge GOP Alternative Reality Machine, while Democrats snoozed. It is the task of politicians to communicate, to educate, to draw the neural maps in voters’ minds that take them from their current pre-occupations, to a memory of the past and a perspective on events. The Republicans know that perfectly, but the Democrats seemingly, do not.
The Obama October collapse is more than a blip – it is a symptom of the fragility of the modern American liberal cause. Liberalism was once embodied in the robust figures of JFK and RFK, the spunky Truman. the towering LBJ or the liberal god himself, FDR. These were men who knew that a conscience was a human necessity, but that the creations of conscience must be fought for and paid for, over and over again.
When I say “fought for”, I mean explained, repeated, defended, pounded in like a man hammering metal into the shape of a drum. This is when politicians defend what they believe, sneer at their opponents’ lies and and say of their enemies, as FDR did 76 years ago this month, “I welcome their hatred!”
When I say liberalism must be “paid for” I mean that the people fighting for a liberal solution must be prepared to give something up for it – not just taxpayers’ money, but other objectives (sacrificing some interests for the thing being done). I also mean “paid for” in the sense that a liberal will be committed to the effort, even at personal, political cost.
The Founders of the United States pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to what was then (and is now) a fundamentally liberal cause: the right of self-government, the recognition of a people as sovereign, the protection of private life and property from the usurping menace of a tyrannical king. The Founders were just politicians themselves, subject in their day to the same criticisms (or worse) as they would be today. But they were able to adopt an agenda and set in motion a revolution which altered not only their only lives, but re-shaped the world. Because they were willing to fight and pay for it.
So let us scout the horizon for anyone out there, who both understands that liberalism is a moral cause and who is willing to march up hill to defend it. There are many soldiers in the ranks – millions of present-day Americans volunteering their irreplaceable hours and dollars, reputations and labour, to social and political causes, in the service of their fellow countrymen. But where is the officer corps, other than Hillary Clinton (on overseas duty), Bill Clinton (retired) and Joe Biden (God bless him)? And where the hell is the Commander in Chief?
The spectacle of a President, detached and disinterested, unwilling to pledge even 90 minutes of his time to the cause, came as a sickening shock to the millions who have committed their work to his re-election. It is awful to think that this obviously serious President, who has done quite a lot for his country already, could through his boredom and casualness be defeated and in the process, might squander the American recovery. That one bad night on TV could lead to this, is a symptom of the failure of American liberals for decades, and the failure of the present Administration since 2009, to fashion a liberalism worth fighting for, and to fight for it.
Whose hatred would Barack Obama welcome? Is he so desperate to find common ground, that he will imagine it when it is not there? Is his commitment to being agreeable so profound, that he will agree with anything just to avoid the unseemly appearance of being argumentative? Is this man, who accomplished everything by polishing the edges off things, simply too blunt an instrument to puncture the cartoon bubble lies popping out of Romney’s mouth? It is difficult to know how Obama can slide down Mount Olympus and in to the muddy arena of real politics in the next two debates. One prays he reveals the talents we have imagined in him.
By the end of the last debate, it was possible to wonder if the United States would be better off with a mercenary, dishonest, shape-shifting mountebank as President, rather than the current bored incumbent. I don’t believe that is true, but however very unwelcome the question may be, liberals owe it to the country to face it.