I'm cautiously optimistic that early Wednesday morning, Barack Obama will become a lame-duck president. I know that it's difficult to unseat an incumbent president, but Obama's performance this past four years have been so disastrous, that it's a minor miracle that he hasn't already donned a hairshirt and retired to Hawaii.
You've heard the numbers repeated endlessly in recent weeks. No president has been re-elected with an unemployment rate above 7.2 percent. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the October unemployment rate was 7.9 percent—and the trend line is at best flat. When Reagan was re-elected in 1984 with 7.2 percent unemployment, the economy was booming and that number was aggressively headed downward. The other numbers aren't much better. The labor force participation rate is lower than it has been any time since WWII. GDP growth continues to founder around 2 percent, far less than what it was at this point in the Reagan recovery (it was 8+ percent) and Obama's economic advisers assured us that it would be in the mid-4 percent range if we just passed the $1 trillion stimulus package.
So, why isn't Tuesday a blowout already? I think for a few reasons.
First, people really don't like to acknowledge they screwed up. I picture the look on Flounder's face in Animal House after his brother's car has been destroyed by his fraternity brothers: "You screwed up; you trusted us." You screwed up. You trusted Obama. You trusted a guy with little accomplishment and even less paper trail. He told you he'd be bipartisan and he'd work with both sides to solve America's problems, despite the fact that he'd never been that type of politician in Springfield, Ill., or Washington, D.C. When he got into office with a majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, his attitude was: "I won."
Second, he's the country's first black president. There are a lot of people, many of them in the baby boomer generation, feel that if Obama's a failure, then the old racial wounds that are a result of America's original sin will never be healed and we'll never have another black president. Of course, Obama's election in the first place was supposed to have a similar effect of washing away that sin, but the goalpost has again been moved. One could argue that declining to re-elect an obvious failure like Obama would prove just as well as electing him the first place is proof that his skin color has nothing to do with it. (I love that bumper sticker that read: "I'm not racist, I don't like Biden either.") Part of my cautious optimism is due to the fact that Obama is black (see "The Bradley Effect"). I think that Obama is over-performing in the polls by as much as 3 points because voters don't want to tell pollsters that they're not going to vote for Obama for fear of a faceless, nameless pollster thinking they're racist. The treatment of actress Stacey Dash on Twitter after she announced her support for Romney would tend to lend legitimacy to this view.
Finally, I think the news media has held Obama to a vastly different, and far lower standard, than they have any president before him. I don't think this race would be close if the media looked at the yawning gap between what Obama promised when he took office and what he's accomplished four years later. They'd highlight his hypocrisy on Guantanamo and Obama's claim that Bush-era drone attacks were indiscriminately killing people and earning us ire throughout the Middle East—and then he vastly expanded the program. The media would be going ape if they'd been lied to about the cause of the Benghazi attack (the bogus film lie) by a GOP administration and stonewalled on an "investigation" that wouldn't be done until after election day. You can bet it'd be above the fold, A1 news in The New York Times and The Washington Post every day, whether or not there were new developments or not.
The media wouldn't be spinning the economy the way they have either. I've got the book "Journalistic Fraud" on my bookshelf that came out several years ago. The focus is the Times, and a lot of the analysis compares how the paper characterized economic developments under Republican and Democratic presidents. It should come as little surprise that worse numbers under Democrats were described more positively than even better numbers under Republicans. I saw a similar case this week describing the latest GDP number at 2 percent in positive, hopeful terms while a similar report in 2004 of Bush's 2.7 percent growth was negative and pessimistic.
And don't even get me started on the so-called fact-checkers. Politifraud released a list of "biggest lies" of the 2012 campaign. Several featured Mitt Romney, a handful featured Democrats, and not a single one featured Barack Obama. That shouldn't come as a surprise given the contortions they go through like the one I detailed here to give Obama every possible benefit of the doubt and then some.
I think Romney's going to win this thing, probably by a larger margin (300+ electoral votes) than most believe. I wasn't this confident in 2004. And I knew McCain would lose in 2008. But I have a hard time believing that Americans are ready to accept the past four years as the "new normal." This has been the weakest post WWII recovery from one of the worst recessions (I'd argue that the stagflation of the late 1970's was a worse economic crises than the 2008 housing bubble). Historically, the worse the recession, the better the recovery. But Obama's policies have dampened that recovery. His profligate spending, crony capitalism and ever-increasing regulatory burdens have put the U.S. economy in a near vegetative state; the body's still alive, but it doesn't respond.
So, remember to vote on Tuesday. Unless you're a Democrat, then vote on Wednesday.
(And if you're stupid enough to believe that last sentence, or a big enough tool to start screaming "voter suppression," then you shouldn't vote at all.