Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Most Divisive Campaign in American History


In 1980, when President Reagan asked Americans, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago", it was still possible to campaign on a theme as simple as the job performance of the other guy. But now, 32 years later, the campaign hinges on a much more fundamental split among the voting population.

Romney appeals to voters who are dissatisfied with the last four years. Obama appeals to voters who are dissatisfied with America.

This basic gap was obscured in the 2008 campaign by the window trappings of inspiration. Among all the plastic pillars and stolen quotes from poets who stole them from sermons, it was harder to see that the underlying theme of the campaign was dissatisfaction with America. But in 2012, Obama can no longer run as a reformer or an optimist.

The coalition that he committed to last year is a coalition of those who are unhappy with America, not in the last four years, but in the last two-hundred years. Its core is composed of groups that fear democracy and distrust the will of the people. There is no optimism here, but a deeply rooted pessimism about human nature and the country as a whole. It is the Democratic Party's coalition against democracy.

After 2010, the numbers were crunched, and it was clear that Obama and the Democrats could not win a mainstream campaign. Instead, they targeted narrow groups, stirred up conflicts over issues aimed at that group, whether it was union pensions, racism or birth control. There was no more pretense of a national election, only a frenzied rush to polarize as many groups as possible and join them together into an acrimonious coalition, not so much for anything, as against Republicans.

There isn't any inspiration here. Just paranoia over everything from gay marriage to abortion to racial profiling to illegal immigration. A dozen illegal benefits being handed out with the explicit threat that they will be lost if Romney wins. A dozen mini-civil wars being stirred up to divide Americans and set them at each other's throats for the benefit of the Obama campaign.

From Occupy Wall Street to Wisconsin, from Trayvon Martin to Chick-fil-A, the goal of these manufactured conflicts has been to divide and conquer the electorate by emphasizing group rights over individual economic welfare.

Obama can't win on the economy. He can't win on foreign policy. He can't win on any aspect of his administration. All he can do is stir up violence and then promise to heal the country in his second term while winking to all the representatives of the grievance groups. It's not a new game, but the Democratic Party has never played it quite this baldly in a national election. And if it succeeds, then national politics will have finally been reduced to the level of a Chicago election.