We conservatives are very fragile. One SEIU house polling organization (that would be PPP) and one White House press organ (that would be Politico), both of which trumpet Obama’s staggering 5 point post-convention bounce, and we’re already donning sackcloth and ashes.
Yes, it is frustrating that a president with the worst employment numbers since Jimmy Carter nevertheless still seems to be in the game. But as Drudge and others remind us, at this time in 1980, Carter was still in the game too. The parallels to 1980 are actually striking.
Both Carter and Obama presided over a dismal economy that utterly failed to recover on their watch. Both of them presided over the steepest, quickest increase in oil prices in the post-war era. Both of them made love to the Muslim world at Israel’s expense. And both of them got a lot of media protection.
Things are a bit different nowadays. Carter’s love for Muslims and ill-hidden disdain for Israel offended Democrats as well as Republicans, and his flailing about over the Iran Hostage Crisis didn’t help him a bit. As the delegate floor vote at the DNC shows, Obama’s love for Muslims and ill-hidden disdain for Israel sits badly with only about half of the Democrats in this country. Still, polls show that more than 50% of Americans believe Israel deserves American support. What they may lack in philosemitism, they probably make-up in 2012 pragmatism — a pragmatism arising from the fact that both America and Israel have been attacked by Islamists who proudly state their desire to rid the earth of these two nations. The process is more attenuated than the Iran Hostage Crisis, but also more ugly and dangerous.
Also, in 2012, the media love is more blatant than it was in 1980. In some way, that helps Obama more than Carter, because Obama gets such fervent support, whereas the media’s support for Carter was tempered by its old-fashioned belief that it had to appear objective. Nowadays, the word “objective” frequently come out of media talking heads, but no one believes it. And that means that Obama is slightly less well situated than Carter. Nowadays, aside from the true believers, people take what the media says with a grain (or sometimes a shovel) of salt. In addition, the internet means that anyone who is interested can investigate a subject more deeply, whether that means watching the entire speech that the media cut and spliced into scary nonsense, or reading thoughtful analyses that the media would rather die than publish. And of course, there’s Fox (although some have noticed that Fox is embracing the antisemitic side of conservativism, which is very disturbing. One wonders if this is an inevitable result of a major Saudi shareholder.).
Things are also the same now as they were in 1980 on the other side of the aisle: The media loathes Romney every bit as much as they loathed Reagan. In 1980, we were told Reagan was an idiot. In 2012, we are told that Romney is an evil plutocrat. In 1980, even without the internet, voters were able to cut through the noise. In 2012, Romney is pursuing a slow but steady course aimed at cutting through the noise as well.
I think that, as happened with Reagan and Carter, the debates will be a turning point in public opinion. Yes, the media interlocutors will throw softballs at Obama and try to tie Romney up in knots, but that will fail. First, Americans will recognize this cheating for what it is. It will be too blatant and they’ll resent that and root for the underdog — which, in the debate context, will be the beleaguered Romney. Second, Obama will fumble the softballs and Romney will handle the knots. Obama isn’t as smart as he thinks he is; Romney is indeed every bit as smart as he appears to be. With the two men on stage all alone, even in the artificial, biased constraints of a debate, Obama will struggle. Romney may not have Reagan’s wit and charm, but he’ll still run rings around Obama.
So, no, the polls aren’t bothering me. A little less than two months is an eternity in politics and, as things heat up, Obama cannot run forever from his own record.