Think Anew, Act Anew

observations and opinion

This is 1972. Which is why people may vote for Romney.

In the eternal struggle to understand the present, we turn to the past.   Seldom have we seen such rear-view mirror gazing as in the attempt to comprehend what is happening with the current Presidential contest.

Depending on (a) what the polls say and (b) who’s doing the talking, you will read the 2012 election compared to:

  • 1976 – incumbent Gerald Ford, liked well enough but seen as ineffectual, runs into the rather weird challenger Jimmy Carter.  Carter ekes out a win (this is the only scenario in which Republicans will ever compare their guy to Jimmy Carter).  Generally, this is a poor comparison to 2012, as the challenger Carter started out miles ahead and dribbled away his lead, barely clinging to a win.
  • 1980 – this is the one the Republicans love, of course.  Now-incumbent Democrat Carter, swamped with economic malaise, a discontented public, terrible relations with Congress and foreign crises, is ahead in the polls through October when suddenly…a debate happens, the viewing public decide that Reagan doesn’t have horns and that, thank God, they don’t have to vote for Jimmy Carter again.   This seems a more fitting analogy to 2012 at the moment, than ever before.
  • 1984 – the Democrats were fantasizing about his one between their Convention and the first debate in Denver.  Incumbent, happy and beloved, rides an improving economy and charm all the way to a landslide.  Uh, no, probably not this time.
  • 1992 – the current Republican model, where an incumbent (the first Bush, you may remember him) sees his support dissolve as his opponent becomes credible.  The problem with this analogy is that in 2012 there is no Ross Perot eating up 10 or 20% of the vote (mostly from the incumbent) and of course, Mitt Romney is no Bill Clinton.
  • 1996 – see 1984.  Sorry, Mr. Axelrod, it ain’t gonna happen.
  • 2000 – the down to the wire, hanging chad, law-suit smeared photo finish.  Plausible, I guess, but God help us.
  • 2004 – the Democrats’ current theory, which is that a somewhat unpopular incumbent manages to get out so much of his base vote, that the rich patrician challenger (John Kerry back in ’04, Mittens today) almost wins, but not quite.   This is the one scenario where Democrats will happily compare their guy to George W. Bush.  And it is probably more plausible than the GOP’s 1980 or 1992 fantasies.

Yet for all this great Presidential election history to call upon, and all the ways in which 2012 might or might not fit a prior template, pundits and prognosticators seem to have missed the clearest, most obvious and most exact precedent for what is happening the USA this year: the election of 1972.

And no, I don’t mean the November 7, 1972 vote where Richard Nixon took 49 states and 60 per cent of the vote.  I mean the vote 8 days earlier, just north of the border, in Canada.  Where I live.

 

In 1968, a marginally-experienced but extremely charismatic man shot like a comet into the political firmament, stole his party’s leadership from a dull collection of regular pols and then, riding a wave of popular frenzy, vaulted past a conservative opponent into office.  He was viewed as an intellectual; he was slim, droll and polished; he seemed mildly disdainful of the whole game and glittered in his unique otherness, unlike any political leader ever to walk the nation’s stage.   His name was Pierre Trudeau.

Four long years later, the star was tarnished.  He did not play well with others.  His charismatic otherness was now a kind of Olympian aloofness.  His campaign adopted the empty slogan “The Land is Strong” as a way of ignoring economic reality and voter restiveness.  But the magic was gone, the economy was soft, people were worried and they were most unimpressed.  By election day on October 30th, the government was very much in trouble.  It lost the campaign, but hung on to power by 2 seats, thanks to useful vote splitting that landed enough third party New Democrats in the House to steal the prize from Bob Stanfield’s Conservatives.   Trudeau came in first, by a whisker, and so retained government. Canada then had a two year minority Parliament, during which the NDP set the course and Trudeau stood at the wheel, pretending to steer.

Flash forward forty years and we see another charismatic superstar, slim, droll and superior, suddenly plunging in esteem and coming to the sickening realization that the jig is up.  The empty slogan “Forward” pasted on to every surface in the world does not disguise the absence of a new agenda and the unwillingness to address the monstrous debt.  Obamamania is ancient history and the only question now is, can he hang onto enough votes – or scare enough independents – into a second chance.

But what kind of second chance will it be?  If there is to be similar result as Canada in 1972, it will be one where the President cobbles together enough electoral votes to stay in office, but may lose the popular vote to a surging Romney campaign that just couldn’t snatch Ohio or Colorado.   In such case there will certainly be a GOP majority in the House, and maybe in the Senate (or close enough).   We will have a President who has managed to stay in office, yet lack any kind of mandate to govern – not even a plurality of the popular vote.

In which case the ship of state will probably drift towards the rocks, while President Obama stands at the wheel, pretending to steer.  It is this grim scenario, increasingly plausible, which will cause many people to stop and think on election day, and ask themselves, “can it really be worse, with Romney?”

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This entry was posted on October 27, 2012 by in The U.S.A., US Election 2012 and tagged , , .
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