Voters looking for ‘a driving dream’

June 11, 2012


A lot of high-priced consultants are gathering quietly now, plotting how to retain control of the government or to capture Washington. At great cost per hour, they are poring over data, consulting poll findings, weighing demographic and geographic considerations, drawing up scenarios for how Barack Obama should portray his handling of foreign affairs and whom Mitt Romney should select for his running mate.

Let them consult, ponder, argue, postulate. For most of the rest of us, outside the closed doors and hushed conversations, there is no reason to be daunted by the mystery of presidential politics this year. You can acquit yourself credibly at any cocktail party by mentioning these four critical factors and ordering yourself another cherry daiquiri, specifying fresh lime juice of course.

The economy

This is an all-purpose, all-time hardy perennial. The scrawled sign on the wall of Bill Clinton’s Little Rock headquarters in 1992 proclaiming that the economy, stupid, was the issue, contained no special insight. It’s almost always the economy. It was the economy in 1992, when it was in a ditch, and it was the economy in 1996, when growth was steady, inflation was low and unemployment was rare. It’s the economy now, too.

But with a difference. The issue this time is the stewardship of the economy amid an international financial crisis. Obama will argue conditions could be a lot worse; Romney will argue they should be a lot better. Many of Obama’s allies won’t mention that they think his stimulus was too small, and lots of Romney’s backers won’t mention that they find his newfound economic conservatism a little ungenuine and a little unsettling.

In truth, none of those arguments may matter much. If there’s a repeat of the kind of grim economic news that greeted the nation this month, Obama will spend the rest of the campaign on the defensive.

Right now there’s not much either candidate can do to affect the economy by November, though Obama is the ship’s captain and will be regarded as the responsible officer on board. One of the two men will be the beneficiary, the other the victim, of events unpredictable now.

Young voters

They came out in droves for Obama four years ago. He must win them in similar numbers this time, too.

But there’s a trap here, and it’s easy to be ensnared in it. The pool we describe as “young people” in 2012 isn’t the same pool that was described that way four years ago. Just as young people graduate from high school and from college, they also graduate out of the “young people” category. Many of the young people who voted for Obama aren’t, strictly speaking, young anymore. And all of them are four years older, some of them are four years wiser and most of them have been burned by the past four years.

Then there are the new “young people” who couldn’t vote last time around but are eligible now. They grew up with even more diminished horizons than those who came before them. The advantage here remains with Obama, but he has a new audience and must master a new sales pitch for them.

Catholic voters

Few incumbent politicians have bungled their relationship with a key constituency as consistently, as needlessly, as thoughtlessly and as thoroughly as Obama has with Catholic voters.

Four years ago, this group — which really isn’t a group, it being about a quarter of the electorate and thus so large as to be prone to division — sided with Obama over Sen. John McCain by a healthy margin, 54 percent to 45 percent. That roughly reversed the margin that George W. Bush held over Sen. John F. Kerry, himself a Catholic, in 2004.

Now ardent Catholics are alienated and casual Catholics are mystified as Obama, with his initiative to include contraception in health insurance plans, has set himself at odds with the church hierarchy. He and Romney at this point are basically tied among Catholic voters.

Could it be that the Obama team reached for the “women’s vote” — the gender gap is an important precept of its general-election strategy — and in so doing jeopardized the Catholic vote?

In that question is a caution for us all: Just as there are millions of Catholics who do not vote as a monolith, there are millions of women who do not vote in liberal lockstep. Watch the generalizations.

The lift of a driving dream

More than 40 years ago, White House speechwriter Ray Price wrote this line for Richard M. Nixon: “What America needs most today is what it once had, but has lost: the lift of a driving dream.” In the years that followed, “the lift of a driving dream” went from being a lovely grace note in a Nixon speech to a ridiculed phrase applied to purplish prose.

For our purposes, we return to its original meaning.

In 2008, Obama provided the lift of a driving dream without speaking drivel. He gave flight to deep-seated hopes and deeply felt frustrations. Only in 1980, when Ronald Reagan captured Americans’ yearning to feel optimistic again, and in 1960, when John F. Kennedy captured Americans’ yearning to feel idealistic again, has a presidential candidate in modern times had that effect. Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t in 1932.

Obama has failed as president to provide the lift, although at least some of the dreams of some of his allies — such as advocates of national health care and gay rights — have been realized. But Romney has failed as a candidate to provide lift as well.

Politics isn’t only position papers and tax policies, vows to propose this or to veto that. There is also a bit of silvery stardust to it. That stardust seldom lasts; Obama’s has all but vanished, just as Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s did in Canada and Tony Blair’s did in Great Britain. Even so, voters crave a bit of it, even (or especially) in times of economic distress.

It’s the economy, yes. But that may not be the only thing that will need a lift in this election. A driving dream will, too. Listen for it. It may matter.

— David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

This is the problem - people want the "stardust", even though it's not real.

I'd greatly prefer practical, down to earth solutions that are real.

An interesting idea from my father-in-law - we need a "moderate coalition" to band together across party lines and work for solutions, and to take the power away from the extremists.

That would mean that moderate D, R, and I would join together, find their common ground, and work together to implement real/practical solutions.

Sounds like a great idea to me - I wonder how it might happen?

jhawkinsf 2 years, 6 months ago

"Sounds like a great idea to me - I wonder how it might happen?" You can't ask someone else to compromise their core values if you're not willing to. And in many previous posts, Jafs, you've said you're not willing to compromise your values. So either you're asking them to compromise when you're not willing to or you believe that there exists some majority out there who believe as you do, some silent and unorganized majority, just waiting for someone to come along and organize them so they can then overrule the extremists on both sides.
"Stardust, anyone?"

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Never asked anybody to "compromise their core values".

I do believe that the vast majority of the American public is more moderate than extreme.

Polls I've seen tend to support that view.

Unfortunately, politics has become dominated by extreme voices.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 6 months ago

Polls you've seen support the moderate point of view. But election results support another point of view. Now all you have to do is get all those people who answer polling questions into the voting booths and vote their point of view.
I really hope you succeed. I've said before, I'm very conservative on some issues, liberal on others, moderate on some, and on the fence on still other topics. Democrats certainly don't represent my point of view. Neither do Republicans. Accordingly, I vote for them very, very rarely. Yet I've been criticized for that in these forums for essentially throwing away my vote. Oh, well, Jafs. If you can solve these problems, I applaud you.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

I agree that turnout is a big part of the problem, with about 1/2 of eligible voters simply not voting at all.

The problem that nobody really represents your view is shared by many, including me.

That's why a coalition would be a great idea - by cross-combining ideas from different viewpoints, it might be able to come up with solutions that are more acceptable to more people.

And, thanks :-)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

How do you define extreme?

For instance, the only cure for global warming/climate change will require measures that many would characterize as "extreme." But any moderation of those measures will basically mean death sentences to millions, if not billions, of humans, and the extinction of thousands of species.

And on a wide array of other issues, following a "moderate" course of action would solve little, if anything.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

I disagree - seems to me that moderate courses of action are more likely to be effective and sustainable in the vast majority of cases.

For example, extremists on both sides argue equally ridiculous notions on our government debt - the solutions are to be found in moderate ideas.

By the way, my math was off by quite a bit on the other thread - we're paying more like $2.5-4 "billion"/month, not "million" on interest payments alone.

Climate change is a big problem, but even there I think that moderate suggestions are the ones most likely to work - conservation combined with new energy sources.

The problem of extremism is that when we swing back and forth between competing ideologies, there's always a large minority that's unhappy, and we don't get any lasting policies that actually have a chance to work.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Actually, it was a clever trick, and worked quite well to determine who cared more about the child.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

But it was still a "moderate" position. Merely picking a midpoint between two so-called extremes can in no way guarantee a rational or effective result.

My point on the global warming/climate change issue is a perfect example. Choosing a moderate path between fully addressing the issue and doing nothing, the two "extremes" in this issue, will just mean we drive off the cliff at a slightly lower rate of speed.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

No it wasn't - it was an extreme position, to destroy a child - in what world can that be "moderate"?

Given the vast divide in this country, one or the other side will never "win" in any sort of meaningful sustainable way, as far as I can tell.

The deniers would have us just continue to do whatever we like, without regards to the environment, while extremists on the other side would eliminate much of modern life and convenience. I think that both of those are unlikely to prevail, and that the best course of action is to slow our use of resources and pollution while we try to implement alternative energy sources.

What's your suggestion for "fully addressing" climate change?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

"while extremists on the other side would eliminate much of modern life and convenience."

Talk about extremist. Why are you mischaracterizing what would happen if we really address the threat of global warming/climate change? And why are you pretending that half measures will lead to anything but disaster? (i.e., cutting the baby in half.)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

I've listed many of them, many times on this forum.

Will they require some adjustments in how we live? Yes, but they won't destroy civilization as we know it. That would be the result of doing nothing, which is precisely what an arbitrarily "moderate" position would give us, although it might be slightly delayed.

That's not to say that these measures can't be implemented gradually, but the longer we wait, the more abrupt the changes will be, and the less likely it is that they won't be catastrophic.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

From what I've read, drastic changes to our consumption will be necessary in order to achieve the proposed decreases in CO2 emissions.

In fact, it may already be too late.

You continually misrepresent moderate thinking - I'm not sure why you do that.

A moderate position on this issue wouldn't be to do nothing - it would be to immediately implement moderate conservation and use of alternative energy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

"A moderate position on this issue wouldn't be to do nothing - it would be to immediately implement moderate conservation and use of alternative energy."

Which may very well do nothing but delay the most catastrophic results. And even if they could be effective enough to avert catastrophe, the Republican/Tea Party has staked out a very firm position of no compromise. How can a compromise be found with such a position?

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, you can't have it both ways - either we need drastic changes in our lifestyle, or we don't.

If we don't, as you've suggested, then moderate actions will be effective.

If we do, then it's a very hard sell, for a lot of people.

And, how do you propose to "win", given that we have a large number of people on the "other side" of this issue?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

"Well, you can't have it both ways - either we need drastic changes in our lifestyle, or we don't."

We do need drastic changes, but that doesn't mean returning to the stone age-- it merely means replacing one set of technologies for another. And a change in lifestyle doesn't mean a reduction in the quality of life-- to the contrary, it could very well mean an increase in the quality of life for the majority of people.

"And, how do you propose to "win", given that we have a large number of people on the "other side" of this issue?"

We may not. The intransigence of conservatives with respect to this issue may very well prove to be the fatal flaw for the human species.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Alternative energy sources can't provide the same amount of reliable energy as current sources can.

It's not that easy - simply replacing sources.

In order to generate the amount of energy we use, which is low relative to many Americans, we'd have to invest in a system that costs about $20K, and that's a "grid tie" system that uses existing transmission lines.

A stand alone system would be even more expensive.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

At any rate, my point isn't that moderate, compromise positions can't be good ones. But a moderate position isn't a good merely because it's moderate.

Flap Doodle 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh, heck, let us try communism again. It only killed around 100 million people in the 20th Century. I'm sure things will go much better this time if a "moderate" course of action is followed.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Since Communism is by definition one of the extreme ideologies I refer to, your comment is meaningless.

Flap Doodle 2 years, 6 months ago

Since I wasn't addressing you, your comment is meaningless.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Since you referred to "moderate" courses of action, which I proposed, your comment was a comment on mine.

So, I have every right to respond to it, especially since you misrepresented my view.

Pastor_Bedtime 2 years, 6 months ago

Imposing a Midwestern Christian-style nanny-state is clearly the solution.

cato_the_elder 2 years, 6 months ago

What most voters want is fiscal responsibility, not what Obama and his liberal Democrat pals have already inflicted on America in only 3 1/2 years:

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Fiscal responsibility is a great idea, but anybody who thinks that the Republicans are fiscally responsible just hasn't been paying attention for quite a while.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

"Maybe somebody else hasn't been paying attention!"

Yep-- and it was those who voted Republican, who voted for the folks primarily responsible for the mess we're in.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Actually, you're factually incorrect about that margin - Walker got about 54% in the first election.

So, he won by a little less this time around.

And, since states are required to have balanced budgets, and unions had agreed to the financial demands already, his union busting activities had nothing to do with fiscal responsibility.

The only time in the last 40 years or so that the federal government didn't run deficits were with Clinton - other than that time period, both D and R have demonstrated little interest in fiscal soundness.

We'll see if current R in Congress will do any better.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

The Wisconsin Blues and a Failed of Progressive Narrative by George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling

"Progressive morality fits a nurturant family: parents are equal, the values are empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and cooperation. That is taught to children. Parents protect and empower their children, and listen to them. Authority comes through an ethic of excellence and living by what you say, rather than by enforcing rules.

Correspondingly in politics, democracy begins with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly both for oneself and others. The mechanism by which this is achieved is The Public, through which the government provides resources that make private life and private enterprise possible: roads, bridges and sewers, public education, a justice system, clean water and air, pure food, systems for information, energy and transportation, and protection both for and from the corporate world. No one makes it on his or her own. Private life and private enterprise are not possible without The Public. Freedom does not exist without The Public.

Conservative morality fits the family of the strict father, who is the ultimate authority, defines right and wrong, and rules through punishment. Self-discipline to follow rules and avoid punishment makes one moral, which makes it a matter of individual responsibility alone. You are responsible for yourself and not anyone else, and no one else is responsible for you.

In conservative politics, democracy is seen as providing the maximal liberty to seek one’s self-interest without being responsible for the interests of others. The best people are those who are disciplined enough to be successful. Lack of success implies lack of discipline and character, which means you deserve your poverty. From this perspective, The Public is immoral, taking away incentives for greater discipline and personal success, and even standing in the way of maximizing private success. The truth that The Private depends upon The Public is hidden from this perspective. The Public is to be minimized or eliminated. To conservatives, it’s a moral issue."

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Interestingly, of course, both of those involve a structure of "parent child" when describing the relationship between government and individuals.

Perhaps not the best structure, in my view.

Also, it seems to me that both views have some validity - caring for others is great, but individual responsibility is also great - we need both. And, caring often entails enabling, which isn't so great.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

LIke all metaphors, it doesn't perfectly reflect reality, but I think it comes reasonably close.

" caring for others is great, but individual responsibility is also great - we need both."

This is where conservatives have been much better (and perhaps more dishonest) at framing their message-- constantly pounding the idea that liberals/progressives don't value, and practice, individual responsibility.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

I think it's a bad way to frame the relationship.

It infantilizes and disempowers individuals - liberals do it by saying the government will take care of them, and conservatives do it by saying they should just respect authority and not think for themselves.

You seem stuck in the battle between liberal and conservative - I can pretty much guarantee that battle will never be won in any meaningful way.

The country is almost evenly divided between those two viewpoints, and higher turnouts make the percentages more equal.

Why not take the best from both sides and combine them, instead of continually fighting?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

Why do you want to insist on staking out the middle ground, even when the middle ground is wrong?

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

I don't know how to say it any more clearly - our country is almost evenly split between conservative and liberal ideology.

It would be in our own best interests to stop see-sawing back and forth between those, and find some way to work together and combine them, so as to create lasting effective policies.

You can keep fighting if you like - I think it's essentially a waste of time and energy. Also, although I tend liberal in some ways, I can clearly see the flaws in the liberal viewpoint, just as the same is true of the conservative one.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm fine with compromise, but it has to be done on a case by case basis, and sometimes, there is no effective middle ground to be found.

Also, right now, conservative elements have chosen to take uncompromising positions on pretty much everything. And to return to the global warming/climate change issue, I think this is because they recognize that capitalism and individual initiative can't provide any useful solutions-- so their solution is to deny that the problem exists.

How do you propose to compromise with that?

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Actually, capitalism and individual initiative might be very helpful with this issue.

Businesses can make solar panels, and individuals can buy them, for one thing.

Also, individuals can immediately implement conservation, without any sort of government action at all. And, as individuals become more interested in ecological alternatives, businesses can supply them.

Given the almost even split between the ideologies, why do you think you can "win" the battle in any sort of meaningful way?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

"Actually, capitalism and individual initiative might be very helpful with this issue."

Yes, they can, but only if there is a concerted public/government effort at the same time, and the Republican/Tea Party has effectively declared war on any sort of government action. Lacking strong government measures, we're destined for a quick downward spiral.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

So, how do you propose to "win" here?

Also, of course, it has to be noted that real and meaningful action to prevent the destruction of the environment rests with all of the nations on the planet, not just this one.

I hate to be pessimistic, but I'm pretty sure we've already blown it, unless we can come up with some sort of technological miracle, a la Star Trek.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 6 months ago

"I hate to be pessimistic, but I'm pretty sure we've already blown it, unless we can come up with some sort of technological miracle, a la Star Trek. "

You may be right.

Did you see where somebody recently proposed building an "Enterprise?" I think they estimated that it could be done in 10-20 years, and would only cost a few $trillion.

jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

I didn't see that, but that's sort of funny.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 6 months ago

"Blows Against The Empire" by Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship.

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