Robert Reich is a prolific author, the former Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration (Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century), cheerleader for the working class and the powerless, and an all-around Very Smart Guy.
In September, 2010, his book “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future” was published. In it, Reich explained how America’s widening inequality had contributed to the great recession and made it difficult for the economy to recover, by undermining the purchasing power of the middle class relative to the nation’s productive capacity.
In April, 2012, his book “Beyond Outrage” was published as an e-book. In “Beyond Outrage” Reich focused on why an increasing portion of the public felt the game was rigged in favor of those with wealth and power, why the “regressive right” was nonetheless able to persuade many that taxes should be lowered even further on corporations and the wealthy while many public services should be cut, and what average people could do to take back the economy and reclaim democracy. (source)
Robert Reich has a Very Smart Guy problem: He is smart enough to see some things that some of us who are less politically astute might not be aware of, and he is a bit concerned that Democrats may be counting their chickens before they are hatched. He sees at least four ways Romney can still win on Election Day, and it behooves us to ponder his advice.
A mid-September survey conducted by the non-partisan Pew Research Group showed that President Obama had an eight percentage point lead over Governor Romney, and, Reich reminds us, this survey was conducted before the infamous “47% Video” was leaked. As Reich says, “That’s the biggest margin in the September survey prior to a presidential election since Bill Clinton led Bob Dole, 50% to 38% in 1996.”
Reich notes that all his “inside-the-beltway friends” believe Romney is dead in the water and can not possibly win, but he is concerned that we might be picking out the “OBAMA WON AGAIN!” party decorations too soon.
Problem #1: What if the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases poor jobs reports?
Reich points out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be releasing two more jobs reports between now and Election Day (on October 5th and November 2nd). Whereas the last report showed that 96,000 jobs were added in August, which sounds good to those of us who don’t normally pay close attention to this data, the truth is that at least 125,000 new jobs must be added each month just to keep up with population growth. So, not as good as we’d hoped.
Reich also notes that we currently have the fewest adults employed since 1981. Also not so good. If Romney is able to successfully blame the economy’s woes on Obama — and, yes, we know that he inherited a huge mess; this is all about what the average citizen perceives to be true — then Obama claiming (even with some evidence to back him up) that it is really, truly improving may not be enough to sway undecideds and Independents between now and Election Day. In other words, Romney’s message may resonate because the average person does not yet feel like things are getting better, and no amount of numbers and stats are going to effectively change that feeling: it takes time for that change in perception to set in.
Here’s the bad news: Gas prices are rising, and whereas it is Wall Street speculation on this commodity (and not anything the President does or does not do) which affects gas prices most, the average person just gets crabby about how expensive gas is. She or he doesn’t give a good goddamn whose fault it is, and conservative propaganda mill (FOX News in particular) is typically quick to connect the imaginary dots for their viewers and claim that it is Obama’s fault that gas costs more (and to studiously ignore the gas price issue when those prices start to fall). Again, this is all about how citizens feel. And citizens hate paying more for gas.
Reich explains, “With gas prices rising, corporate profits shrinking, most of Europe in recession, Japan still a basket case, and the Chinese economy slowing, the upcoming job reports are unlikely to be stellar.” Poor upcoming job reports will greatly benefit Romney, who will conveniently ignore any and all Bush administration and current Republican policy contributions to the shitheap our economy has become (and any indications that it could have been much worse and has actually improved while Obama has been in office), will fan the embers of voter anxieties and will blame everything on Obama being an utter failure at his job.
Problem #2: What if Romney does better during the three presidential debates than we expect him to do?
Common wisdom has Obama handily defeating Romney but what if common wisdom is wrong? Yes, Obama is a superlative public speaker, very intelligent and (most importantly) he has not been caught, like Romney, telling over 600 lies over the past few months and taking things out of context (another way to lie). Romney did better than expected during the Republican primary debates, and Obama has not had to debate anyone for years. So, what if our expectations are wrong, and Romney does better than we expect him to? Undecideds and Independents may gravitate towards Romney if he pulls off this coup.
As Reich says, “Yes, Romney is an automaton — but when the dials are set properly he can give a good imitation of a human engaged in sharp debate. He did well in the Republican primary debates. Obama, by contrast, can come off slow and ponderous. Recall how he stuttered and stumbled during the 2008 Democratic primary debates. And he hasn’t been in a real-live debate for four years; Romney recently emerged from almost a year of them.”
Problem #3: Money changes everything, and the GOP is dumping a lot of money into Romney’s campaign.
There are, as Harry Reid once quipped, seventeen angry old white men who could literally construct a Scrooge McDuck-like swimming pool full of money and do the backstroke. These seventeen angry old white men could probably purchase some small countries, if they chose to. They have millions and billions of dollars to spend, and they do not like Obama one little bit. Sure, they aren’t exactly enthused about Romney — Sheldon Adelson, in particular, was throwing his money at Newt Gingrich a few months ago and has now begun throwing money at Romney instead — but they hate Obama more than they dislike Romney.
It’s not just the individual millionaires and billionaires, of course, thanks to the Citizens United ruling which makes it easier for shadowy SuperPACs to, among other things, hide the identity of individuals and corporations who have donated to them, to pretend to be non-profits and to collect and disburse staggering amounts of money to be poured into advertising, promotion, and other less obvious forms of support for their candidate.
As Reich puts it, “Not just the Romney campaign and Romney’s super PACs, but other super PACs aligned with Romney, billionaires spending their own fortunes, and non-profit “social welfare” organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s “Crossroads,” and various Koch-brothers political fronts – all will dump hundreds of millions on TV and radio spots, much of it spreading lies and distortions. Some of this money will be devoted to get-out-the-vote drives — to phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to identify favorable voters, and vans to bring them to the polling stations. It’s an easy bet they’ll far outspend Obama and his allies. I’ve heard two-to-one. The race is still close enough that a comparative handful of voters in swing states can make the difference – which means gobs of money used to motivate voters to polling stations can be critical.”
Obama may have raised more money than Romney in August, but I suspect this small victory will just spur the seventeen angry old white men — and Karl Rove — to try even harder to buy Romney his way into the White House.
Problem #4: We should never downplay the power of Republican dirty tricks.
Republicans are actively trying to disenfranchise voters, and it is no secret — or mistake — that the blocs of voters who will be inconvenienced the most typically vote Democrat: students, the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics, women, the elderly, minorities in general. Eleven states have new strict voter identification laws, all of which was promoted by Republican governors and other politicians, and all of which was deliberately designed to thwart Democratic voters.
As Reich says, “The GOP is also encouraging what can only be termed “voter vigilante” groups to “monitor polling stations to prevent fraud” – which means intimidating minorities who have every right to vote. We can’t know at this point how successful these efforts may be but it’s a dangerous wildcard. And what about those Diebold voting machines?”
Reich is worried, and he is a Very Smart Guy. If he is worried, then I, too, am worried. We can’t discount Romney or consider Election Day “in the bag” for Obama. We have seven weeks left before E-Day (are you registered to vote?), but I think we can expect further shenanigans and drama ahead, and not all of that drama will be media-driven drama intended to keep viewers anxious and glued to their television sets and computers as polls and pundits weigh in.
Reich wants us to take this politics business very seriously, and to avoid complacency and apathy. He wants us to get involved and stay involved, and to encourage our President to exceed our already-high expectations and to strive even harder for bipartisanship, or, if necessary, to march on ahead as best he can in the name of progress despite obstructionism, if he must: “The hard work lies ahead, in the next seven weeks. And even if Obama is reelected, more hard work begins after Inauguration Day – when we must push him to be tougher on the Republicans than he was in his first term, and do what the nation needs.”
Yes, We (still) Can!