Politics & Media
Aug 23, 2012, 10:19AM

Election Still a Referendum on Obama

Democratic consultants, and media partisans, indulge in wishful thinking.

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It’s happened: longtime reporter/pundit Michael Tomasky, now shilling for the Democratic National Committee at The Daily Beast, has shed his last layer of journalistic skin. Writing on Aug. 23, Tomasky takes a trip to an upside-down world that not even paid political consultant James Carville has traveled, and makes the claim that, triggered by numbskull Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin, the contours of the presidential election have completely changed. Yes, Tomasky, admits, the economy will still be a factor, but that issue will take the back seat to… abortion.

He writes: “[T]his much is true: to a greater extent, of course, if Akin stays in, but to some extent even if he leaves, he helps turn this election from an economic referendum on Barack Obama to a cultural referendum on the Troglocons… There’s a reason our debates on reproductive issues are so heated. These issues are personal, a lot more so than Medicare or marginal tax rates.”

It’s all in the GOP platform, Tomasky says, as if convention planks have ever had much of a shelf life after the delegates and media go home. Tomasky acknowledges that a pro-life stance has always been included in such quadrennial documents, but this time it’s different. Why? Because Republicans like Akin and Paul Ryan are “troglocons” (skip Akin—ultimately, he’s small beer—that description of Romney’s running mate is arguably more civil than Maureen Dowd’s likening him to a Taliban thug) will lead the way to an overturn of Roe v. Wade and ultimately jail women caught (or thinking about) having abortions. In addition, Tomasky cites Mitt Romney’s “support” of a Constitutional amendment that’ll ban abortion, in-vitro fertilization and some types of birth control. As if Romney, should he win the presidency, could snap his fingers and get that “personhood” amendment passed instead of a long, and protracted campaign to find three-quarters of America’s states to ratify it.

Personally, I find the pro-life view incomprehensible, holding the opinion that a woman’s body is her own, and don’t at all care for the vocal xenophobic Republicans who want either abolish or restrict immigration, and, unless you really believe that all Romney supporters are Akin clones, I’m not alone.

As in all presidential elections, it’s rare that a voter for either the Democratic or Republican ticket agrees with 100 percent of the candidate’s stands. And in the case of those who do, to use Tomasky’s rhetorical bludgeon, they’d be the true “troglocons.”

Even in late August it’s very difficult to get a bead on where this election is going: with more daily polls released than ever before, often contradictory, how can even a mildly politically aware American sort it all out? And ultimately, of course, the jib-jab of the ever-increasing number of political commentators is just noise.

Yes, social issues will play a part in how voters decide which lever to pull. But the overwhelming concern of Americans remains the same: the economy. Will an unemployed, under-employed or frightened worker, maybe deeply in hock, go to the polls and vote against a minnow like Todd Akin? No. I’ve no idea what the August, September and October jobs reports will reveal, but it’s hardly going out on a limb to predict that on Nov. 6 the official unemployment rate will remain above eight percent. That, and that alone, is what makes speculation about this election so fruitless.

  • Although I agree that the unemployment rate will be significant I must disagree with the headline. I think Team Obama has succesfully turned this election into a referendum on Romney. More specifically, can you trust Romney. If the answer is yes, then count one vote for Romney. If answer is no, count one for Obama. Romney may say the right things but his duplicity has made even the staunchest allies hedge on what Romney actually means. He has crossed the full spectrum and partially back on abortion. His mediscare tactics are a war of attrition (can he repeat his lies (even Repubs calling them lies)often enough to gain traction or will it backfire)) His campaigns regular prideful claims of not disseminating details because it would hurt Romney is a similar battle. In other words, does Romney represent solutions or an even greater unknown that voters usually vote against.

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  • I'm with Texan. The sheer absurdity of Romney's two-facedness and severe awkward personality have put a face to a party many perceive as batshit crazy and stuck in the Middle Ages. Akin is not an exception, he's most definitely the rule. It's a party that celebrates ignorance - balanced conservatives with rational social views like you are the outliers for sure! There's many arguments and objections to be made on Obama I'm voting for him just to keep the Troglocons as far away from the White House as possible!

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  • Russ, here is a clue in answer to your next-to-last paragraph: The polls-of-polls--averaging and weighting all the polls that come out--show that the raw national vote is very close and that Obama has leads ranging from marginal to substantial in the dozen or so swing states that will decide the election. That could change, but those are the numbers right now. The economy of course will be major, but the abortion issue is part of the far greater meta picture of the candidate and the GOP, which has systematically taken shots at women, gays, African Americans, Latinos, and a bunch of groups that I probably forget. There is a tremendous back story to the Akin mess, the choosing of Paul Ryan as VP and a number of other issues. So we don't know where the election is going--but we have a lot of information about where it is.

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  • I agree, Carl, we know that right now, in late August, Obama has a slim lead. I follow the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls, as well as Nate Silver's excellent NYT column. Problem is, there's so much information, so many outliers from day to day, it nearly renders polling meaningless. I think Ryan was an excellent choice by the underwhelming Romney, but I'm agreement with you that too much of the GOP is consumed by absurd social issues, which I want no part of. Nevertheless, despite the despicable Akin and what he symbolizes, when unemployment is over 8%, any presidential election is up for grabs.

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  • Russ, look at the state level polling. It clearly is in Obama's favor. Polls of polls are meant to neutralize the power of outliers. There really is no such thing as a referendum election in the way that currently is used. People decide not one, but two things: Do I approve of Obama? AND--and this is important--Do I think Romney is an acceptable replacement? So it is not a true referendum. Also, on the unemployment question, there is quite a bit of uncertainty on whether Obama will be blamed for the bad times. IT could be that enough people will blame Bush/the obstructionist GOP House to keep an 8 percent unemployment rate from dooming Obama. People may see him of trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation and being thwarted by Congress. That, by the way, is my view. I disagree about Ryan. If the election indeed is about the current economy, why do they want to be talking about Medicare? And, by the end of the day, Ryan probably will cost them Florida due to the seniors.

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  • Sure, the Bush argument will be used to justify Obama's performance, but only by people who'd vote for the President anyway. The swing/undecided voters (however many there are) have largely forgotten about Bush and will judge the election on which candidate they think will be better for the economy, and their own personal situations. Obama doesn't radiate optimism. He really is Jimmy Carter redux, but with the fortune of having a cold fish like Romney running against him.

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  • But tying Bush to the current GOP is potent and will be bypassed only by those who wouldn't vote for Obama anyway. My point is that the Obama campaign is in the process of effectively making Romney an acceptable choice. Some of this was demogogury (the ad about the women who died--which technically wasn't done by the campaign), but much of it is based on hard fact: Romney is a tax dodger (at best), signed in accurate SEC documents, etc. etc. To say Obama is Jimmy Carter redux is silly, Russ. Obama passed health care (an achievement, whether you like it or not), passed finance reform, saved the auto industry, killed bin Laden and did all this with a Congress whose one goal was the stop him from being successful. To equate him to Carter--even if you are going to vote for the other guy--can't be logically defended.

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