October 14, 2012

A Tough Path Forward for Obama

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Well loyal readers, it’s my favorite time of year. Well actually, it’s my favorite time of every four years. It’s the time of year where my interest in politics is no longer a crippling social detriment.

No longer do members of the opposite sex turn and run at the very sight of me, and mothers no longer have to scold their children for pointing, staring and laughing.

That’s right, it’s election season, and I’ve got a bad case of Election Fever.

If you’re reading this column, it likely means that you’re interested in the upcoming election — or it means that you’re my parents … Hi, Dad! Either way, what follows is my best assessment of the race as it stands.

Enough celebrating, let’s talk politics!

I don’t need to tell you that President Obama had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad debate performance two weeks ago. I don’t need to tell you because, even if you didn’t watch the debate you’ve heard about how poorly he did. For the week and a half that followed the debate the media elite (myself included) have been ridiculing his performance.

In fact, you can’t swing a dead cat around Cornell without hitting an Obama supporter, head in her hands, lamenting the coming of President Romney’s first term.

However, Democrats really should not be exceedingly concerned about the President’s lackluster debate performance. The President was riding a bump in the polls that had continued after the conventions. A bump somewhat propelled by the release of a secret recording of Governor Romney saying, “47 percent of Americans are going to vote for the President no matter what, and they are also never going to take personal responsibility for themselves,” foolishly adding, “Oh, and by the way I hate puppies.”

And yet, even after a frustratingly poor debate performance — and an outrageously damaging hidden camera video, neither candidate has amassed all that much of a lead as of now.

This tells us something about the fundamental essence of this presidential race, it’s close. Really, really close. Barring some shocking development, this election’s outcome will look a lot more like 2000, and 2004 — and not much like 2008.

There are five to six percent of voters who are willing to break for either candidate, and after the conventions, a lot of them started breaking for President Obama. However, after the first debate, those voters quickly abandoned the President. These people are not new to Obama, they most likely voted for him four years ago. But, the debate proved that they are dissatisfied with him and it does not take too much to take them out of Obama’s column.

That said, they are not particularly fond of Governor Romney. Only a handful of reputable polls have shown Romney with a lead outside of the margin of error.

The first debate did not doom Obama to defeat, but it underscored how important and difficult his next two debates are going to be. Difficult, but not impossible. The post-convention bump proved that Obama can sway swing voters.

This week’s debate, a town-hall style event, will be especially hard for the President, with plenty of questions sure to come on his weakest subject, the economy.

Entering the battle for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney’s record was of a Massachusetts moderate, with a troubling propensity for flip-flopping. Through the course of the primaries, Governor Romney began taking increasingly conservative positions. He labeled himself as somebody who was “severely conservative,” and began proposing policies like a 20 percent across-the-board marginal tax cut, and vowed to spend at least four percent of the nation’s GDP on defense.

Suddenly, it became in the Obama campaign’s best interest to attack Romney as being too conservative for middle-of-the-road voters, opposed to going after him for his flip-flopping. Romney’s “47 percent” comments only furthered to encourage Obama’s people to continue attacking the Governor as too conservative.

There was only one problem with this plan; Mitt Romney is not a severe conservative.

Romney’s proposed policies are severely conservative, and his campaign’s statements are severely conservative, but Romney himself isn’t. This may seem like a curious conclusion to draw, but it isn’t really. Romney has no ideology, he simply says what he feels like he needs to say in order to win over the audience in front of him.

Romney is like a political version of Schrödinger’s cat; we never know what position he’s going to take until we actually see him take it in front of our eyes. So until you hear the words coming out of his mouth at the moment he’s speaking, you have no idea what position he is going to take, regardless of any past pattern of behavior.

When President Obama took the stage in the first debate, he came prepared to go after “severely conservative” Romney’s proposed plans and campaign statements. The Obama campaign clearly forgot about Romney’s willingness to abandon his previous positions at the drop of a hat.

Romney got on stage and turned his back on many of the plans he’s proposed. From a tactical standpoint, it was brilliant. Governor Romney was able to challenge the President’s depictions of him as radically conservative by just out and out morphing policies he’d been otherwise touting for months.

Fortunately for President Obama, Joe Biden delivered a very good performance last week in the Vice-Presidential debate. Biden came out swinging, attacking Paul Ryan’s inconsistencies and misdirecting as “malarkey,” even in a few cases when it wasn’t.

It seems to be a winning formula. A CBS News snap poll of undecided voters after the debate found that 50 percent thought Biden had won, and 31 percent thought Ryan had won.

President Obama has a tough fight ahead of him, Governor Romney is a talented debater — and he seems to really enjoy it. The President, on the other hand, doesn’t much care for debates, and has never been particularly good at them.

But, if he prepares to show up against Mitt Romney the flip-flopper, and can attack him for his wild inconsistencies, he ought to be able to deliver a much stronger performance than he did last time.

Noah Karr-Kaitin is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at nkarrkaitin@cornellsun.com. Plain Hokum appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin