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Fri Aug 10, 2012, 07:29 PM

Friday Talking Points (222) -- A Really Boring Election?

From time to time, here in these pages, we take the opportunity to pre-empt our usual talking points and instead offer up a rant. These rants are usually pretty feisty, and are fun for the whole family (so to speak). This week, we don't precisely know what to call what we've done in the talking points segment, since we don't know what the opposite of a "rant" is (maybe "snooze-fest"?). It may be boring, mostly because the subject matter is how boring the election season has so far been. If that doesn't sound like fun (for any member of the family), then I wouldn't blame you if you decided to take a nap rather than read it.

With that "fair warning" out of the way, there are two highly amusing talking points coming from the Republican camp this week. If your irony-detector is as acute as mine, you'll appreciate the GOP completely and utterly destroying two of their bedrock positions just to score a few cheap political points. I don't know about you, but I find this sort of thing to be one of the more enjoyable forms of political entertainment around.

First out of the chute was Mitt Romney taking Barack Obama to task because (wait for it...) two Republican governors asked for waivers so that the big, bad federal government would give them more local power and control over a federal program. Mitt Romney himself, when he was a governor, asked for the same sort of waiver on welfare benefits. Now he is, apparently, against them because Barack Obama is in the White House. The hilariousness of a Republican trying to score political points off of an action taken by two Republican governors is simply off the charts, folks. What it translates into is nothing more than: "Republicans wanted more local control rather than federal government regulations, and the Democrat in the White House is bad because he agreed with the Republican governors." I mean, is the Romney team just getting desperate? They sure seem to be flailing around on this one.

But it's not just Romney who is turning previously agreed to Republican dogma on its head. There's a group of Republicans in Congress who are touring swing states warning that the sky is about to fall -- because government jobs will be lost. For the past thirty or forty years, Republicans have sworn up and down that "government doesn't create jobs" and that any attempts at using federal dollars to create any jobs, anywhere, was the absolute definition of "evil" (or perhaps just "stupidity". Now, however, Republicans are warning everyone who works -- directly or indirectly -- for the Pentagon that they're going to get a pink slip in a few weeks -- because of something many Republicans actually voted for. "Oh no!" they cry. "Jobs will be lost if the budget is cut!" Also: "Why oh why did we vote to cut the budget?" Well, maybe not, on that last one.

The tears shed by GOP politicos can only be described as "crocodilian" (if that's even a word... I have my doubts). I mean, seriously, guys, you're now arguing government money is necessary for jobs, budget deficit be damned? The hypocrisy raises such a stench it's hard to get within a ten-mile radius of these opportunistic flibbertigibbets. Where is some Jimmy Olsen local reporter to ask them point blank: "So, Senator, does government spending create good jobs, or not?"

OK, enough laughing at Republicans standing Republican ideology on its head, we've got lots to get through today, so let's just get on with it.


Nobody impressed us this week in the world of Democratic politics. Congress scarpered off to more pleasant climes than the swamp known as Washington, the Olympics distracted the media, and the only thing worth noting was a progressive group presenting Harry Reid with a pair of boxing gloves for bringing the fight to Mitt Romney on taxes. That was impressive enough, but we spent all last week discussing Reid, so even that failed to qualify this week.

So instead of the MIDOTW award, we're going to hand out a Most Impressive Non-Partisan Government Agency Of The Week award to the folks at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for the stunningly successful landing of the robot explorer "Curiosity" on the planet Mars.

The maneuvers for entering the Martian atmosphere and landing the rover seemed designed by the ghost of Rube Goldberg. I heard a NASA scientist being interviewed who said that 79 separate rockets had to fire during the landing, and if any one of them failed the whole thing would go kerblooey (I am paraphrasing, here). Even with that insane level of complexity -- even with the rocket/helicopter "sky crane" lowering the rover on a cable while hovering above -- NASA managed a perfect landing. That is worth some sort of award, surely.

Contrary to the popular dismissive saying, this is rocket science, folks. One thing most of the media missed is that "real-time" control is absolutely impossible from Earth, at such a distance. There is no guy with a figurative joystick who is able to control what is happening. The planet is so far away that if it was tried, no matter what problem you try to correct, it will have already happened a long time in the past. Meaning the entire landing sequence was pre-programmed and all the NASA folks could do was hope that it worked and sweat it out like everyone else watching.

I apologize for saying it, since it's so overused during gymnastics coverage, but NASA "perfectly stuck the landing." Well done, NASA scientists. Our first MINPGAOTW award goes out to you.

{You can follow Curiosity's progress from its NASA mission page, or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Curiosity page.}


We've got some new business, and some old business to take care of this week. First, the new. A (Dis-)Honorable Mention goes out to Attorney General Eric Holder this week, for his pathetic record on prosecuting financial fraud. Not just because he won't prosecute any one particular bank, mind you, but for the graph which RJ Eskow helpfully includes in his article today reaming the Justice Department for being completely asleep at the switch on financial fraud prosecutions -- during Obama's entire term. You can quibble about one bank's non-prosecution, but the record this graph shows is indefensible, taken as a whole.

But even that didn't rise to the level of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Because what actually happened last week was so far beyond merely being "disappointing" that we can't see handing the award to anyone other than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Tom Menino. Even if it did happen last week (while we were busy with Harry Reid's big fight).

The Chick-fil-A controversy was something we initially didn't pay much attention to, truth be told. I seriously doubt the corporation is going to pay much of a price for its political activity, because Chick-fil-A is based mostly in the South, and that sort of thing plays pretty well politically in the region. But the two mayors both made monumentally stupid statements during the controversy which should be denounced by every American, no matter what your political stripe.

Corporations are allowed to do whatever they wish, within the law, with their money. They can donate to any political causes they feel like. That's the American way. If their customers don't like it, then they are free to organize a boycott or other form of protest. That is also the American way.

What is disgustingly un-American is using your political power to deny legal rights to any corporation (or person) because of what they think or say politically (or who they donate money towards). Chick-fil-A never said they were going to illegally discriminate against anyone. The head of the company just doesn't agree with gay marriage, that's all.

There is a word that describes the behavior of the two mayors, who threatened to deny permits to the company to build restaurants in their cities. It is a very old word, and it's almost never used (at least in Democratic circles) these days. The word is "tyranny." If Rahm and Tom had attempted to follow through with their threats, they would have been no better than tinhorn despots. "I don't like you, I don't like your politics, and I'm mayor -- therefore we're going to shut you out of our town" is not the American way, by any stretch of the imagination. It is dictatorial. It is, in fact, tyranny.

So while we had thought that Rahm Emanuel had won his last MDDOTW of all time, both Rahm and Tom Menino are hereby awarded retroactive Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards. For shame, guys. I mean, really: for shame.

{Contact Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the City of Chicago official contact page, and Mayor Tom Menino via his official contact page to let them know what you think of their actions.}

[center]Volume 222 (8/10/12)[/center]

I know this could get me kicked out of the Partisan Pundits, Prognosticators, and Proselytizers Club, but I just can't ignore the subject any longer.

Are we in the midst of a really, really boring election? Is it going to stay boring right up to the end?

I know, I know, I'm just not supposed to say things like that. Like all credentialed members of the Punditocracy, I have been writing my share of the "Oh no! Election close! Woo hoo! Look over here, folks!" type of articles this season. It's expected in any election year, and I do my part to deliver, every Friday.

Perhaps it's because it's hot out as we loll our way into the dog days of summer, perhaps it's because we haven't yet agreed on which particular inane story of shiny, shiny nothingness the media is going to obsess over during the "Silly Season" of August, perhaps it is just that my brain has been absolutely numbed by the quadrennial awfulness of NBC's Summer Olympics "coverage" -- but for whatever the reason, I just had to take a pause this week to suggest that, perhaps, that Emperor guy over there is wearing less than everybody seems to think.

Oh, I know, there are plenty of reasons why "this is the most important election of your lifetime!" -- but then again, there are always reasons why this particular election is so much more crucial than all others before it or to come. Always. Every single election I've ever voted in has likewise been served up as the "most important" of all time, period.

But the reality seems to be that just about everyone has already made up their minds. Since the beginning of the calendar year, many important issues have come up in the world of politics. Contentious issues. Bold stances taken, bold stances denounced, with plenty of mealy-mouthed waffling as well. On both sides of the political aisle. There has been good news for Democrats at times, and at other times good news for Republicans. There has been good -- and also disappointing -- news on the economy. During this entire period, President Barack Obama's job approval rating has stayed remarkably steady -- within, in fact, the microscopic range of 1.9 percentage points. His disapproval rating was even tighter. If you remove January's numbers (when the Republican primary season was at its height), Obama's approval and disapproval numbers have stayed within a range of one percentage point since February. National polling between Romney and Obama has also stayed fairly stable, with Obama consistently averaging out a slight (but not overwhelming) edge -- as, indeed, most incumbents do. Watching the state-by-state polling is even more boring, as few states appear to be swinging much at all, and Obama shows a much bigger lead (but again, not yet overwhelming) than in national polling.

Time and time again, some burning issue-of-the-day is put under the cable television and blogospheric microscope, and fits of the vapors ensue on one side or the other. Gay marriage! Immigration! Tax returns! Jobs! Health care! We've even had a dancing horse in the mix, completing the "center ring of the circus" feel. Throughout it all, the American public has hardly budged, in one direction or the other. Somewhere around 47 or 48 percent are pretty much locked in for each candidate, and the remaining five percent will determine the election. That's "close" and "exciting" when looked at one way, but it's also pretty boring when you don't focus on the five percent, but on the 95 percent who might as well just mail in their votes early.

Maybe that's overstating it a bit, but it's hard to argue that at least nine in ten Americans who vote have pretty much made up their minds at this point. Americans who don't vote don't count, of course. Not in the insulting sense of the phrase, but in the literal sense -- if you don't vote, then you simply are not included when the votes are counted.

Mitt Romney has been teasing the media for weeks now on who he will pick for his running mate. Unfortunately for Mitt, the lesson of the last election hangs heavy over the GOP: when your candidate is boring, sometimes adding "excitement" to the ticket can spectacularly backfire on you. Mitt Romney, not unlike John McCain, is just not that charismatic a guy out on the stump. This raises a conundrum. If Mitt picks someone "exciting" he risks being overshadowed by the junior member of the ticket. If Mitt picks someone safe, it's just going to crank up the boredom. Yet this is the position Mitt finds himself in: seriously contemplating people like Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman, neither of which could remotely be considered "exciting" in any way, shape, or form. Romney/Pawlenty? I think half the nation just dropped off to sleep, there. Perhaps they'll campaign on: "Doublin' down on the boredom!"

Of course, there are people intensely excited about the presidential race. These people are called "local television station owners" -- who fully expect to surf an absolute flood of advertising money.

Kidding aside, though, even for partisans there seems to be a serious enthusiasm gap on both sides of the aisle this year. Lefties (some of them) are seriously disappointed, if not downright peeved, with some of the things President Obama has done -- or not done. Unlike the caricature painted of him by his opponents, Obama has not really made much of an effort to reach out to his base, with the notable exception of gay rights advocates. But Romney's got the same problem with his base -- many of them flat-out don't trust Romney at all. The Tea Partiers and other hard-right folks are very enthused about voting against Barack Obama, but Romney is not one of those politicians who qualifies as a Tea Party rock star.

Of course, for the rest of us, we sit back and watch the ad wars between the candidates and between the parties. We either snicker heartily or cheer loudly when our side puts out a particularly clever bit of manipulation, and we gnash our teeth or loudly complain when the other side scores a point or two off "our guy." This sort of thing will tide us over until November -- more and more vicious ads that tend to oversimplify complicated issues to a nine-second soundbite. The Punditocracy will breathlessly exclaim that "this is the worst election rhetoric ever in all of American history!" and they will be laughably wrong about it, as usual. This sort of thing has been going on since the "Revolution of 1800" when Thomas Jefferson's opponents regularly called him an atheist who would destroy everything good in America (when they weren't snidely making fun of him and Sally Hemings, that is). Look it up -- elections have always been viciously and intensely fought, at least back to the election of 1828, which quite possibly was the "dirtiest presidential campaign of all time."

The tsunami of television ads will excite partisans, it is true. Both sides will also nervously sweat out a possible election-changing event (or "October surprise". Some external event could shake the race up completely, such as the financial crisis did (or, more precisely, John McCain's peripatetic response to it) in 2008.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, sooner or later the media is going to get so bored with the race themselves that they'll trot out their go-to default campaign story -- the American public is "disgusted" with how nasty the race has become. Interviews with men and women on the street will get some snappy quotes about how yucky everyone supposedly thinks politics has become, with plenty of speculation about why "things can't be different" (than they've always, always been).

This misses a very crucial point, though. If almost everybody who is going to vote has made up his or her mind, then the entire election boils down to convincing a very tiny slice of the public. A lot of these voters are people who generally don't pay much attention to politics in the first place (not all, but a large percentage of them). There's only one way to reach these people -- by running ads they might see during their favorite television programs. Meaning most of them aren't going to excitedly vote for either candidate, but they'll wind up voting against the other guy, perhaps holding their nose as they vote.

We're all going to get a boatload of obsession over trying to ascertain what these undecided voters are thinking, over the next few months. Tactics and strategies will be attempted, and some will work. The needle may slowly swing one way or another.

Maybe it's me. Maybe it's just hardened cynicism, maybe it's the inherent lassitude of watching an incumbent president run for re-election, maybe it's just a particularly boring (so far) "Silly Season" this year. It could even be Bob Costas-induced brain numbness. But for whatever reason, I just have to say that this election is shaping up to be an exceptionally boring one, at least so far.

[center]Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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