observations and opinion
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:
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?”