I said "the extremists," but perhaps the better phrase is "the extremes," meaning the politically active righties and lefties. I've been seeing partisan editorials, blog posts and political TV shows for a while now loudly proclaiming that President Obama is going to be a one-term President, and will lose big to the Republican nominee, whomever it turns out to be, because he is a 98-pound weakling over whom the muscular Republicans have kicked sand over and over. There are three articles in the New York Times this weekend saying that the President's backing down on the speech date means he will lose the election. Republican media outlets are laughing themselves silly. And, frankly, as a staunch lefty, I'd like to have seen President Obama trashing and threatening Republicans into cowering submission, because I like a good comic-strip hero as much as the next person. Sure, it would have been fun to see him throw over tables and pick up a broken bottle when John Boehner rebuffed the President's request for a speech to Congress on jobs.
But as much as I also bemoan the President's willingness to compromise on things I believe are important, I also believe, contradictorily, that there is a large swath of the American public that rarely pick up a newspaper, read a political blog, or watch MSNBC or Fox News. In fact, a lot of those people are friends of mine. I'm constantly amazed that they haven't heard of this or that political controversy. After all, I'm constantly reading about these events, shaking with anger at the latest outrage of the Republicans and the newest spinelessness of the Democrats. But a lot of my friends subsist on a media diet of People magazine and Jersey Shore, and, frankly, couldn't be less interested in politics. And Nate Silver has recently written about the fact that, statistically speaking, people's perceptions of the economy seem to have nothing to do with the actual economy, and that the President's approval rating seems to have more to do with people's perceptions of the economy than with the economy itself. He specifically noted that the unemployment rate will probably not dictate the election. And yet, anybody who thinks rationally knows that the economy will dictate the election. Perhaps that's the problem -- a lot of people don't act rationally, and the rational people can't fathom that.
If it's not the actuality of things that will drive the election, what is it? Clearly, it's the appearance, rather than the reality, that will control. How else, then, could this country have elected George Bush as its President, sending us straight into meaningless wars and economic collapse? I sure wish I knew what drives elections, because then I could make millions as a political consultant. But keep in mind that the 20% or so of swing voters won't even think about the 2012 election until Halloween 2012, in between finding that great, last-minute witch costume at Wal-Mart and buying those bags of candy corn at CVS at 5:00 on October 31. Then they'll read something in USA Today, and talk to their grandmother to figure out whether it's even worth voting. They won't remember any of this stuff happening now or in the past three years. Their thought process, if we could record it and play it back, would likely make us weep out of rational frustration. Trust me, I know, I teach the 18-22 year old non-elites who grow up into our electorate. You should hear their thought processes, and statistics suggest that the four years of college don't improve them all that much. Fortunately, I love teaching, but I think the job would drive most people right out of their skulls, so I'm in the right profession. But I have few illusions about the thinking ability of most people.
If they're up for brooking long lines at the voting booth, and they remembered to register, and they're feeling relatively okay when they walk into the voting booth, they'll vote for Obama. "What the heck, he ain't done so bad." If they're angry about something, they'll vote for the other guy. "Dammit, give someone else a chance, can't get no worser."
Look, I also wish that President Obama wasn't the great centrist. I'm also mad that he held off on the smog regulations, and is approving the Tar Sands pipeline, and that he didn't push on ENDA or support marriage equality, and his government tried to pillory Lt. Dan Choi, and lot of other not-good stuff. We need to kick and scream about things like that. Yes, he also did some good things, like the stimulus, health care reform, and finally getting behind DADT repeal, the unconstitutionality of DOMA, regulations on trans discrimination in housing and stopping deportations of bi-national gay couples, and a bunch of other real-good stuff. But, mad as I am that President Obama is the great centrist, I strongly doubt that the change of date on a speech is going to decide the election.
Outside of people who are politically active, I'd be surprised if most people even heard of it, much less formed an opinion on it. The editorials I'm reading on the "speech debacle" makes me question the sanity of the editorial writers. Of course, they accomplished their purpose, because I read their editorials, clicked the requisite number of clicks, and consumed the appropriate levels of advertising that keep them in business, and I enjoyed the reading, clicking and advertising. I love that one with the old guy dancing. So perhaps I should cut the editorial writers some slack. Their job is entertainment, gathering clicks and advertisers, just as much as People and Jersey Shore. And, perhaps, worth as much as political judgment.