Inteligencia y Seguridad Frente Externo En Profundidad Economia y Finanzas Transparencia
  En Parrilla Medio Ambiente Sociedad High Tech Contacto
Frente Externo  
06/11/2012 | US Elections 2012 - Why 2012 turned small

John F. Harris

The 2012 election is over at last, and its supporting cast — a complex of operatives and reporters, locked in an embrace of mutual need and mutual contempt, an audience of millions, at once transfixed and repelled — is gasping at the finish line, collapsed in a heap.


Eighteen months after the affair got under way with the first Republican primary debate, the country is looking back Tuesday on a campaign of superlatives. Objectively: the most expensive ever, by far. Subjectively: the most garish and debased election of the modern era.

Many commentators were addicted to its plot twists, all the while trashing the show. From the left, columnist Maureen Dowd said it was a race that “looked more to the gutter than the stars.” From the right, Fred Barnes headlined his last election column, “Good Riddance.”

Gary Hart, the Colorado Democrat who ran twice for president in the 1980s, in a POLITICO interview condemned a campaign marked by “a dumbing down of the message to elementary rhetoric that does not contain big ideas or challenging ideas.”

At the core of these complaints is a paradox: The 2012 campaign seemed grotesquely bloated and all-pervasive, at the same time it seemed the opposite — miniaturized and ephemeral.

These two opposites in fact are closely connected. Yes, there are specific people to blame, and no better place to start than the top: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were co-conspirators in driving what they both claimed was the most important election of our lifetimes into cul-de-sacs of trivia and evasion. But it is clear that both men found themselves caught in a vortex of large forces that converged to make the election small.

The arguments were small. Dozens of days were dominated by uproars over careless but inconsequential remarks by one candidate or another, with much of the debate playing out on cable TV and Twitter, both of which shaped the contest in an unprecedented fashion.

The playing field was small. The Electoral College’s usual bias in favor of 10 or so swing states — and, by the end, half that many — was intensified this time by the candidates’ relentless focus on mobilizing narrow demographic slivers within those states.

Most of all, the leading actors were small — either content with their diminished stature or powerless to change it. Obama, who four years ago encouraged people to view him as an epic figure, riding a wave of history, this time encouraged people to view him in life-size terms, as a mortal figure who had done the best he could amid setbacks and disappointments and was at least better than the alternative. Romney ran mainly as the vessel for anti-Obamaism, and watched helplessly as his biggest career achievements — in business and as Massachusetts governor — turned into partial liabilities.

None of these 2012 phenomena occurred in isolation. All were created by three long-term trends that contributed to making this election historically small:

The side show has become the main show

One consistent refrain of Barack Obama, especially in the early days of his administration, was disdain for what he plainly regarded as the frivolous and distracting nature of modern political media and the 24-7 news cycle.

In June 2009, Obama boasted to Brian Williams that he did not watch cable television: “I generally don’t. Mainly because I don’t find most of the cable chatter very persuasive. I’ve used this analogy before, it feels like WWF wrestling. Everybody’s got their role to play.”

The reality of the 2012 campaign, however, is that both Obama and Romney — and nearly everyone else, for that matter — plunged in with apparent enthusiasm to the nonstop obsessions of cable and online media, with their focus on accusations, gaffes and sensational ideological and personal conflicts. While these factors were not new to 2012, they achieved a centrality to this race that they had never had before.

A summary of this election cycle’s media frenzies sounds like it could be put to music like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”: Michele Bachmann and the straw poll, Rick Perry’s “Oops,” “Nine, Nine, Nine,” Donald Trump, Herman Cain and harassment, “I like firing people,” “You didn’t build that,” “Put y’all back in chains,” “47 percent,” “Big Bird,” “binders full of women,” all the way to Election Day.

Sometimes Obama was the target of “cable chatter,” as when his clumsy wording (“You didn’t build that”) of an unremarkable assertion — that most successful business people benefited somewhere along the way from public education and vibrant communities — was pounced on by conservative commentators and Romney highlighted it for weeks. But his own team was equally relentless in exploiting marginal controversies to advantage, such as Romney’s awkward wording (“binders full of women”) about his genuinely strong record appointing women to senior positions in Massachusetts.

Across the ideological spectrum, politicians and operatives emphasize the way this media environment provides incentives for trivial arguments, and very often steep penalties for bold ideas or policy proposals.

“I think it’s very hard to get the political press to take big, historic ideas seriously because they default to gossip and whatever the consultants are pushing them,” former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told POLITICO.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Maine Republican who is retiring, acknowledged her distress with the campaign. “It has been discouraging to so many people and rightfully so,” she said. “We should be dealing with big issues. But the presidential debate didn’t rise to that level.”

Of the media, she said: “Sensationalism has killed civility. If you’re not being sensational, you can’t get any attention. It’s really hard to break through.”

This election cycle saw the ugly results of a system in which political news is delivered in a sort of choose-your-own-adventure universe. The right has its outlets and the left its own, and they basically exist to cheer on the home team and mock the opposition. The inevitable outgrowth of this is a lack of shared facts, something that has been on vivid display in the dispute over the nature of polling this fall. The dueling political echo chambers posing as truth-tellers is perhaps the biggest reason why there is more heat than light in modern campaigns.

Jonathan Prince, a veteran Democratic political operative, said the blame for a vapid and desultory campaign must be shared comprehensively.

“It’s not just the candidates. It’s all of us. There’s no upside to doing anything big,” said Prince, adding that the Twitter era “empowers a mob mentality where loud, vocal extreme forces light bonfires and cause campaigns to move away from doing anything risky.”

It is an anti-leader moment

American voters tends to go through swings between hopefulness and hostility in their views of political and economic elites.

Four years ago, both Obama and Republican John McCain tried to reach voters with a certain type of appeal: the idea that leadership has an almost mystical quality, created by a rare combination of extraordinary character and biography.

This time, neither Obama nor Romney is making an appeal on such romantic notions of leadership and for good reason — there is no evidence the public would buy it.

In Obama’s case, the obstacle is his own mixed record. The power of his rhetoric and biography did nothing to tame Washington’s bitter partisan wars, as he had suggested in 2008. Nor did the administration achieve its own projections to bring unemployment down to 5.4 percent by now. This also explains Romney’s choice to present himself as a pragmatic problem-solver rather than as an inspirational figure. Still, though, the rhetorical distance between his 2008 campaign and his reelection bid was jarring. The high tones of hope and change were replaced by a constituency-touching, slice-and-dice attempt to get a bare majority by effectively scaring enough people about the consequences of electing Romney.

What Obama lacked in imagination, Romney made up for in cynicism. The Republican pretended the Bush years didn’t exist and sought to indict the incumbent with a content-free campaign on the unemployment rate while openly bragging about not giving the voters details that could prove politically inconvenient to him.

Of course, the apparent skepticism among the electorate that policymakers of either party have obvious remedies is converging with long-term trends in which trust of elites in all spheres of American life — including media, business and even clergy and sports — has been on a downward slope for decades.

The 2012 campaign seemed likely for many voters to ratify this skepticism. Donald Trump was able to draw the spotlight at will with carefully packaged buffoonery. Even a figure who in the past has commanded widespread respect, former GE CEO Jack Welch, seemed like just another act in the 2012 circus tent with his unsupported speculation that the Obama administration may be cooking employment data for political advantage.

When reclusive billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has given conservative super PACS roiling this year’s contest tens of millions of dollars, sat down for a POLITICO interview this summer, he hardly came across as some omnipotent man of mystery, mixing power and high finance. Instead, he sounded like any other disgruntled conservative sitting on his couch watching Fox News’s commentators and vowing to do “whatever it takes” to beat Obama.

A Pew Research Center survey earlier this year found that just 33 percent of the electorate has a favorable view of the federal government — a 15-year low.

Until that changes, American politics most likely will be colored by a phenomenon the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described a generation ago: “A major source of the anxiety and frustration that darken the climate of democratic politics is surely the gnawing fear that our masters are intellectually baffled and analytically impotent before the long-term crises of our age — that they know neither causes nor cures and are desperately improvising on the edge of catastrophe.”

Candidates are marginalized

A presidential nominee, obviously, is responsible for his own campaign. A pervasive theme, however, of POLITICO interviews is that the smallness of this campaign is the way that candidates allow themselves to be run off the road — to lose control of the argument — by a combination of political operatives and outside money.

Hart blamed the trivialization of presidential politics on “This rise of an army of consultants, advisers and so-called strategists advisers and the vast money they are paid to manage campaigns.”

Still, he expressed dismay that Obama did not push against these forces by waging a more substantive, future-oriented campaign. “I cannot account for why President Obama did not lay out a vision or an agenda for the next four years,” he said. “Nothing on what needs to be done, new thoughts on how to do it or at least some uplifting, challenging thoughtful ideas. I guess somebody was telling him not to do it.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, was similarly down on the thin substance of the 2012 campaign, and pinned particular blame on the outside groups spending millions to motivate ideological base voters — a trend allowed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case.

“Campaigns are always full of bluster, bombast and the other B-word, and this is not different. But this has been worse because of Citizens United,” Conrad said. “It’s an absolute perversion of our democracy.”

A Republican former colleague of Conrad’s, John Danforth of Missouri, said the fact that Obama has done little to detail a second-term agenda, much less describe it in inspirational terms, would complicate his task if he wins reelection.

“His campaign has been very partisan, negative and divisive. It’s going to be very hard to pull things together if he wins,” Danforth said.

Presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin expressed a measure of sympathy for nominees of both parties battling these large forces making presidential politics small.

“The platform of a president or a presidential candidate to talk about big issues has been diminished,” she said. “You used to be able to give a big speech, have it printed and get people talking about it. Now people hear pundits talking about it, reacting to it before the speech is even finished. There’s so much more of a scattered attention today. Lincoln had speeches that were read in full, FDR’s radio chats were listened to by 80 to 90 percent of the adult population.”

Part of the problem, she said, is the sheer number of hours that candidates spend raising the money to compete in the modern political environment.

“You’ve got to think to be a transformative leader. FDR would ponder lend-lease on his yacht for hours and hours. If he had to spend 90 percent of his time asking rich people to give him money, he would have gone nuts.” (Estados Unidos)


Otras Notas Relacionadas... ( Records 1 to 10 of 403 )
fecha titulo
30/11/2012 EEUU | Republicanos -El Partido del Hombre Blanco
19/11/2012 Elecciones EEUU _ Los hispanos en el horizonte electoral
14/11/2012 EEUU - En el otro lado
14/11/2012 The party of victory
13/11/2012 EE.UU. 2012 - Los anglosajones ya no dominan la política en EE.UU.
13/11/2012 EE.UU. 2012 - La (nueva) misión en Washington
13/11/2012 USA 2012 - Obama 2.0
13/11/2012 U.S. Foreign Policy: Room to Regroup
12/11/2012 Elecciones EEUU 2012 - Aprendiendo de una elección
11/11/2012 Obama y Latinoamérica

Otras Notas del Autor

ver + notas
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House