Mostly, like the Russian and Chinese workers, they had no reason to pay attention. Politics was for politicians and all politicians are alike. As long as things worked, they were willing to let it go on. When things weren’t looking up, they switched and voted for the other guy. It’s only when things got really bad that they were forced to pay attention. It’s only then that the game changed.
The Obama reelection campaign is running on the same theme as Sarkozy’s reelection campaign, the same theme as every incumbent’s reelection campaign– the alternative is worse. Except Obama is wrong. The alternative isn’t worse.
For the alternative to be worse, it would have to be Putin or Ahmadinejad; not Romney. But there’s no other available theme. Not for an incumbent who has nothing positive to show for his time in office, except giving the go-ahead to kill a wanted terrorist, while blowing the war in Afghanistan. Obama’s original platform of change won’t work anymore. Not “Change We Can Believe In”, not “Safe, Sustainable Change” and not, “Can You Spare Some Change for My Campaign.”
Obama would have gone negative anyway, but he has no choice now. It’s either go negative or go home. The only way to be reelected, aside from the usual standbys of voter fraud and nuking Florida, is to convince the public that the alternative really is worse. And that’s hard because Romney is so bland that he’s darn hard to demonize.
Give the media a Gingrich or Santorum, and it would quickly trot out a grotesque caricature, but all they can do with Romney is keep calling him a stiff rich guy, which is true, but doesn’t go very far. After plumbing the depths of anti-Mormon bigotry and perhaps running a few stories on how the Mormon Church is plotting to bring back polygamy and some feature stories on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it’s back to the stiff rich guy shtick.
Obama won on emotion the last time around. He has to win this one on emotion too, and if he can’t, then he loses. But the emotions in play aren’t his anymore. The media imagines that it controls public discourse in its echo chamber, but all it can do is shape it. After a prolonged bout of bad economics, the emotions are a lot harder to massage with the usual pro-Obama/con-Republican pieces because the people who count just don’t care. They’re worried about whether they will still have jobs, not about Trump or the spelling of “America” in a campaign app.
The media runs stories on an issue that it creates, then blames Romney for creating the issue. “Trump upstages Romney” is the media narrative, followed by three pages blaming Romney for allowing Trump to upstage him, when the upstaging is only happening because the media is hunting for hit pieces, like wolves waiting outside a 7-Eleven to feed. It’s the old “Stop hitting yourself” trick being played by men and women who are still trying to pretend that they’re something more than White House or Media Matters staffers, just because they have a card that says “Press” on it.
But that doesn’t matter either, because it’s a bad season for incumbents. You can be a liberal dosing out heavy spending and debt, or mildly conservative pushing austerity and serious cutbacks, that slash services without reforming the system, and voters will still hate you when they can’t get a job. The only defense is having an opposition that is so toxic that no one wants them in power.
While liberals think that way of Republicans, most of them admit that Romney wouldn’t be too bad. Liberals need to believe that the man they’re agitating against is the Republican Devil, who’s going to ban abortion, gays and modern art, while burning a cross outside the NAACP and preaching the apocalypse. Like the sheep-like audiences sitting in Oceanian theaters, waiting for Emmanuel Goldstein’s face to flash on the screen, so they can begin their Two-Minute Hate; they just need someone to hate.
McCain nearly denied them that in ’08, until the arrival of Sarah Palin gave them a unifying figure whom they could believe was plotting with megachurches to blow up America in order to bring on the end of days. If Romney doesn’t give them a Palin, then we can look forward to months of editorial cartoons featuring a capering Romney with slicked-down hair tossing money into the air. Along with every conceivable distraction that the government and the media can summon up.