The Last Day of Obama’s and Romney’s Low Campaigns

So here we are: the eleventh hour, the last moments, the seal-the-deal times, the end of days, when it comes to the 2012 presidential campaign.

It’s generally conceded that there may by now and at last be more pandas in the world than there are undecided voters. If you haven’t decided by now, you’re probably lying to the last robo-caller and to yourself.

It will be Republican Mitt Romney or Democrat Barack Obama, the incumbent president. Or it may be the other way around. We will know by tomorrow. And maybe we won’t.

According to the polls—snapshot in time, folks, this time, this hour, this day, nothing more, but again, nothing less—the two men after wailing on each other with their own ads and those made by SuperPACs with generic, patriotic but altogether anonymous names are more or less in a dead heat in the popular vote, with some polls showing now a slight edge to the president. I don’t believe a percentage of it. Like exit polls, polls on the day before the election are the kinds of things—frown lines on a loan officer’s face, studying the centimeters of eyebrow raising on your spouse’s face after you came home a little late after the football game—that are iffy, they’re meant to allow news people to make predictions without fear or favor. Fat chance.

The playing field, in any case, has leveled. The toss ups remain, with perhaps the exception of Ohio for reasons not determined—unstable, volatile, fearfully unsettled—and in Florida’s case, as always, like a disturbance in a foreign land.

Almost everyone agrees that Hurricane Sandy has played its part—probably because President Obama could be President Obama and get a hug from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie, a Republican is still voting for Mr. Romney, but resented criticism of his let-us-now-praise-the-president, bipartisan mode. Romney had little to do, except to hand out food and dodge questions about what he would do with FEMA.

It is hard to figure out what’s going on in the sense of vox populi, because this has been a very dispiriting campaign on which enough money was spent to probably turn on the entire East Coast power grid, alleviate the damage and help every one that suffered a material loss. That, in and of itself, is dispiriting. Even Brian Williams of NBC News had a frown for the cost of the ad campaigns of the two candidates.

There is not a single phrase that I heard during the course of the campaign that was not negative in some way—that was rhetorically inspiring—not even “Forward,” which is, after all, the same phrase the commander of the Light Brigade used, according to Lord Tennyson. Of course, the suspicion remains that Romney has a hundred slogans, including a “Brighter Future,” “America Strong Again,” and so on, all pointing to 1955.

Even now, the two sides are still snarking and sparring—the president at one point in an aside to a reporter appears to have called Romney a b-ser, not the worst thing that’s been done in this campaign. And after there were boos in a crowd after hearing Romney’s name, the president reportedly said, “Don’t boo. Vote. Voting is the best revenge.” Romney promptly and often criticized him for urging voters to vote out of revenge.

It’s worth looking back—not too much, else the strangeness of it all affect voter turnout—on the campaign. You could, for simplicity’s sake, break it down: Phase One, the Republican Nomination Campaign, which consisted of a series of primaries and a series of debates, in which Romney outlasted and outspent and made fewer mistakes than his many, many opponents, none of whom merited even the thought of measuring as presidential. In the second half of this phase, Romney earned a victory from his labors which consisted of bullying Newt Gingrich, trying to move to the right of Rick Santorum and thankfully never quite succeeding, outsmarting Rick Perry—how hard is that?—and ignoring everyone else, except for fellow Mormon John Huntsman for working in the Obama administration.

Phase Two were the Republican and Democratic conventions, the former preceded by Romney’s sage choice of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, the party’s budget whiz kid, as his running mate. The convention itself was not quite the super bowl event it could have been—Ryan wowed, everyone praised Ann Romney for her speech in support of her husband, and everyone talked about Clint Eastwood’s conversation with an empty chair. If Romney could not do that to himself, perhaps Clint did.

The Democratic convention was not a triumph for Obama, but it was a winning event, especially when former President Bill Clinton took the stage, doing more to explain and boost the achievements of the administration that had hitherto been managed by the candidate himself.

There was a bounce and then an apparent surge, which the president, at the start of Phase Three, the all-important-to-the-media debates, single-handedly threw away and turned the race into the deadlock that it is now by a still-mystifyingly poor, detached and passive performance in the first debate. The rest of the campaign has been spent with the president climbing slowly, but apparently successfully, out of the hole that had loomed as a total disaster.

Mind you, although news kept coming of the Middle East and the economy inched its way upward but not out of stagnation, it was a great television show—at least to the electronic media, which treated each debate (there were four), as the deciding factor in the election.

The economy was Obama’s burden to defend and Romney’s whip. Neither did enough to change the political climate, which was a barrage of negative ads across the country. There is now a worrisome feeling in the air, not exactly jump-for-joy, but a certain relief that it will be over.

Maybe. None of the great issues were discussed, and none of the more urgent lesser ones made it to the table in the debates, either. Everyone talked about the looming financial cliff; few offered a solution.

The campaign this year was conducted in a time of horrific, and consistently regular, mass shootings, using semiautomatic weapons, most dramatically at a midnight showing of a Batman movie in a Colorado suburb. The campaign was also conducted in a time when there were more unseasonable, dramatic and severe weather—a devastating drought, out-of-season and destructive tornadoes and wildly wind-filled and flood-inducing storms, forest fires spectacularly destructive, and most recently, Hurricane Sandy. Neither gun control nor climate change nor global warming came into the discussion in any significant way.

Romney made it a trademark to speak inelegantly, to struggle to define himself as a warm human being. That inelegance produced “$10,000 bet?” and most dramatically, the 47 percent and and the embrace/desertion of stands on issues that made flip-flop seem too elegant a phrase.

All notwithstanding, here we are. Tomorrow, we—all who choose to—get to have our say. Regrettably, there is no electoral box to check or click that can indicate: “We want our money back,” “None of the above,” “Abraham Lincoln” or “the Joker.”


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