by Ryan Streeter on November 5, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.
With all the people paid to analyze polls out there still feverishly splitting hairs as they try to descry tomorrow’s presidential outcome, it’s safe to say no one knows with any confidence how things will turn out. Even as he predicts a 315-223 Romney blowout (in what I applaud as one of the more courageous prognostications), Michael Barone assumes the heavy cloak of humility, saying he could have this wrong. And, in his 271-267 prediction for Obama, Ross Douthat is clear enough with his caveats that you can taste a big grain of salt in your mouth as you read it.
For the past week or so, as new predictions roll out every minute or so, it becomes clearer that this race is so close that unforeseen turnout dynamics can flip OH, for instance, in ways not tracked in the polls. And so on. It’s so close, that we’re really driving in the fog here.
One thing seems very clear to me, though: If Obama wins, he will have done so on the back of a campaign that made him look a lot, lot smaller.
For starters, he ran on one idea: taxing the rich. As if to cement his utter intellectual exhaustion, he put out a glossy policy agenda after the debates were over which was filled with pictures of him and no new ideas. It was an embarrassing admission that he and his campaign had invested no time in taking real ideas seriously in 2012. For a man who once described himself as the smartest guy in the room, this campaign has made him look terribly inept as an ideas guy.
Second, his descent into the silliness created by Big Bird, binders full of women, and ads likening voting to having sex made him smaller yet. He was puny and un-presidential through all of that. Not much more to say there.
Next, his hubris was revealed in this campaign in full, unlike the first go-around – even with its Grecian columns and messianic thematics. Exhibit A is first debate performance, which will long be remembered as the moment that Obama’s hubris was on display before America in its unvarnished state. As he stood up there unprepared and stunned, it became clear that he hadn’t faced any tough questioning for a long time. It was as if he had spent the previous two weeks telling his advisers, “Hey, don’t worry, I got this.” His next two debate performances were better – by necessity. But they won’t erase the image of a President who simply wasn’t taking seriously the conditions of a campaign. It reinforced an aloofness that once looked like an aberration but now has begun to look like a pattern – an aloofness rooted in an exaggerated sense of self-confidence.
Finally, the more we learn about Benghazi, the more we realize something was horribly amiss there, and that Obama was – knowingly or not – part of a dissemblance and possibly a cover-up of the events of September 11, 2012. Aside from FOX, the media have mostly let Obama off the hook. But if he wins, expect a months-long conflagration as committee hearings commence and more voices demand answers in ways the media won’t be able to ignore. None of Obama’s hurricane Sandy leadership will at that point be able to erase whatever in the world was going on in his administration – and possibly the upper reaches of the White House itself – as terrorists attacked our embassy and killed our ambassador. For those paying attention, the whole episode has already made him look incompetent. More people will agree the more they learn.
If re-elected, he will begin his second term with much less of a mandate than he had after the 2008 election – a mandate to solve big problems by transcending partisan politics, which he squandered publicly and without shame in the first two years. He will begin a second term much diminished.
A man with no plan, he will begin another four years with almost no answer to the question, “What now?” And if he tries to answer it, many fewer Americans will trust whatever he says this time around.