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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
May 21, 2012/ 29 Iyar, 5772
Inside out: Almost nothing about this year's presidential election conforms to conventional analysis
BOSTON--- Barack Obama's opponent four years ago was a Republican who repressed his moderate and liberal instincts, who insisted he was a conservative, who seemed to be suffering from a political identity crisis, who had a sterling resume but a halting campaign style.
His opponent this time can be described ... exactly the same way.
So we're familiar with what the Republicans will be peddling this time, though the name at the top of the GOP ticket won't be John McCain but Mitt Romney. The Democrats, of course, will be trying to sell Barack Obama again.
The story of the 2012 campaign may not be that the characteristics of the Republican candidate have changed. The story may be that the same Democratic candidate is entirely different.
Last time Barack Obama was an insurgent. This time he is an incumbent. Last time he was an outsider, with hardly any experience. This time he is an insider, with a record to defend. Last time he ran as a critic of administration economic policy. This time he is running as the spokesman of administration economic policy. Last time he pushed to suggest he was like Abraham Lincoln. This time he is working against the notion he is Jimmy Carter.
While Republicans, especially conservatives, bemoan the fact that they will be running a nominee much like the last one, Democrats, especially liberals, bemoan the fact that they don't have the shiny, inspiring new political figure of 2008 to offer.
Presidents running for re-election in times of crisis -- Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George W. Bush in 2004 come to mind -- often pave the way to a second term by appealing to public reluctance to make a change in a period of peril. As Mr. Obama's Illinois predecessor said at the Republican convention in 1864, in the middle of the Civil War: It's best not to "swap horses while crossing the river."
But you won't hear warnings about changing horses from the Democrats this year. Mr. Obama was the kind of candidate who inspired voter loyalty, but he is not the kind of president who does.
Which is why professionals on both sides of the 2012 election are so uneasy. The Republicans aren't comfortable with their nominee and the Democrats worry that the voters aren't comfortable with theirs.
There hasn't been a re-election battle like this since 1932, when -- and this is largely forgotten now -- the Republicans knew Herbert Hoover was vulnerable and the Democrats worried that FDR was neither ready for, nor up to, the job.
In fact, Hoover warned voters that Roosevelt, with only four years as governor of a northeastern state under his belt (like Mr. Romney) was unreliable and unsound. Even though Roosevelt had been the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1920, Mr. Romney is less vulnerable on that count than Roosevelt was.
Incumbents like Hoover often portray their challengers as being too inexperienced for the White House, but that is an argument peculiarly unsuited this year to the Democrats, whose candidate ascended to the White House after only four years in the Senate.
One modern president, Ronald Reagan, managed to remain an outsider even when he was inside the White House. All the rest, including Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, both of whose personal impulses veered against insider Washington, found themselves running for president as insiders. In Mr. Carter's case, it didn't work. In Mr. Bush's, it did.
For Mr. Obama, the situation is more complex. As a black president, he is by definition an outsider. In his memoir, he spoke eloquently of knowing "how to live as an outsider."
But this year, Mr. Obama has relentlessly portrayed himself as a presidential insider, with insider knowledge and insider perspective if not with an insider personality. David Maraniss, in his forthcoming biography of the president, speaks of the contrast between the young Barack Obama and an early girlfriend, a child of wealth whose family owned a country estate in Connecticut. "The ironic thing," the woman said, "is he moved through the corridors of power in a far more comfortable way than I ever would have."
Mr. Romney, the son of a governor, corporate executive and Cabinet member, is a natural insider, even a born insider -- but in this election he will be the outsider.
That's not the only unusual thing about his profile as he looks toward November.
Mr. Romney is a nominee all but certain to lose his own state, a feat accomplished only twice by candidates who eventually won the election (Woodrow Wilson in 1916, James Polk in 1844). So popular is Mr. Obama here in Massachusetts that Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's television commercials prominently feature the president, something you will not see everywhere, or maybe even anywhere else.
There are scores of scenarios for the fall election, but one that seems stubbornly persistent focuses on a state that Franklin Roosevelt won by a stunning three-to-one margin in 1932 and that held the balance of power in the contentious election of 2000: Florida.
Past performance, as Wall Street financiers often say, is no indicator of future returns, but if the Democrats carry the states that have become reliably Democratic in recent elections, they would need only Florida to win the 270 electoral votes required to keep the White House.
Now, consider three very important indicators: Florida's job growth in the past year, at 1.24 percent, is precisely at the national average. Florida's unemployment rate, at 9 percent, is higher than the national average of 8.1 percent. And the latest Quinnipiac University Poll shows the two presidential contenders at a virtual dead heat in the state, with Mr. Romney holding a statistically insignificant lead of 44 percent to 43 percent over Mr. Obama.
That reinforces the notion that this will be a terrifically tight election, the sort that could hinge on a gaffe or an unpredictable remark. Political professionals, who by nature like to control events rather than be vulnerable to them, hate this sort of situation. It renders doctrines dormant, and it turns politics inside out.
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David Shribman, a Pulitzer Prize winner in journalism, is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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05/07/12 50 years later, MacArthur's farewell to arms continues to inspire
04/30/12 The likability factor: We're going to find out how important it is in these troubled times
04/23/12 Romney's four battles: With the nomination essentially in hand, he must turn to new challenges
04/16/12 For GOPers, expect the frustration to build, not abate
04/09/12 The political battles you cannot see
04/02/12 Romney's roadmap: Doing better in Democratic states may complicate his fall campaign
03/26/12 Romney struggles with same GOP forces his father faced long ago
03/19/12 The writer and the president
03/12/12 Romney could learn from his rivals after Super Tuesday
03/05/12 The GOP race continues, and Republicans continue to grouse about their choices
02/27/12 The turnout threat: when voters vamoose
02/20/12 The Winter's Tale: Republicans are engaged in a 'problem play,' full of psychological, and real, drama
02/13/12 Which Ike to like?
02/08/12 A tale of two elections: Voters today are making their most profound choice since 1912
01/30/12 Whither the GOP establishment?
01/23/12 The Democratic coalition is breaking up
01/09/12 The verdict that wasn't
01/02/12 These are the keys to who will persist
12/19/11 Another Gingrich rebellion
12/12/11 A defining fight for the GOP
12/05/11 A distinct lack of enthusiasm
11/28/11 For GOPers, the winds are beginning to pick up, the horizon is darkening
11/21/11 Today's polarized politics . . . blame FDR and the political scientists
11/11/11The sporting life
11/07/11 Ron Paul, true believer
10/31/11 Why Cain isn't able
10/10/11 GOP starting over
10/03/11 The Forgotten War of 1812
09/26/11 The way we live now
09/19/11 The crisis this time
09/11/11 But what will it mean?
09/05/11 A horse race column: Who might win the GOP nomination and how it might unfold
08/29/11 The vacuum calls
08/22/11 Passion and politics: How Barack Obama and Mitt Romney got crowded into the same dangerous corner
08/15/11 Eleanor's little village
08/08/11 The agony of August
08/01/11 The politics of the impossible: What a country this might be if the political class served the broad interests of the majority
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07/18/11 Exemplar of an era
07/11/11 On summer
07/04/11 The soul of the party
06/27/11 What the Secretary said
06/20/11 Romney has big advantages over his rivals, but they will be coming after him
06/06/11 One question each
05/30/11 The 14-week challenge
05/23/11 Delay tactics
05/16/11 Republicans are waiting
05/09/11 Bin Laden is dead. What does it mean?
05/02/11 From nobodies to nominees
04/25/11 The founders left slavery for future generations to settle, and we still haven't fully come to terms with it
04/18/11 From audacious to cautious
04/11/11 Dreaming of space
12/12/10 The GOP takes control
12/06/10 DECEMBER 7
11/29/10 GOP presidential hopefuls already are lining up local supporters in what is now a red state
11/22/10 Burning down the House
11/15/10 Institutions of higher learning are finally beginning to teach important lifeskills
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11/01/10 Echoes of a speech 40 years ago this week still resonate today
10/25/10 50 years ago America chose between two men who were dramatically different --- and eerily similar
© 2011, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Universal Uclick, as agent for UFS.
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