I was mocked today because I had not voted yet. Evidently, early voting is now seen as a badge of informed, motivated citizenship, and us late, or as I liked to call us, "classic" voters, are now being cast as ..... what? Set in our ways, such that we prefer to exercise our franchise on Capital-E Election Day? Or maybe a little fuzzy in our thinking, because we can't make up our minds?
There are some of us out there who do not seethe at President Obama or curse at the thought of a President Romney. We are tossing and turning, depending on the day and sometimes the time of day.
Our political system and the current dialogue does not have much patience for us.
I occasionally patronize a web site called realclearpolitics.com, which gathers political commentary from around the nation and puts it in one convenient spot. But the only way that you are going to get on realclearpolitics.com is if you have a very distinctive point of view.
None of this "Well, on the one hand ...... and then on the other hand" stuff for RCP. It must be clear from the headline of your column or blog that you believe that:
1. President Obama is going down to defeat, that's a mortal lock, and he's the worst president since Millard Fillmore. Or Carter.
2. Mitt Romney is a lyin' liar who tells lotsa lies and he's going down to defeat, bet the house and the car on it.
3. Liberals are just the worst people ever. Ever.
4. Conservatives don't just want to throw Granny under the bus. They want to back the bus up and run over her a couple more times. And then give her a voucher.
There are people who don't get all worked up like this. I'm one of those people. I'm a registered Republican - you can look it up - but that's more a tribute to my grandfather and father and uncle, who were all Republican politicians in Massachusetts. I signed up that way in 1972 and have kept it that way. But I have never, in my admittedly hazy memory, voted straight party. And Republicans sometimes irritate the heck out of me, just as Democrats do. Neither party is, in truth, a particularly good fit for me.
I see things to like in President Obama. If that gets your blood up, well, so be it. He seems to be smart and he seems to think things through. I believe he genuinely cares about ordinary folks, and feels like the game is usually rigged against them, and so government is supposed to provide a counter-weight against the bad guys. He hasn't had stuff handed to him. He could have gone to a big Chicago or New York law firm and made a gazillion dollars, but he chose to work in Chicago neighborhoods helping folks with no friends in high places. So I think he understands what a lot of people are going through.
And another thing. He strikes me as being rather normal, which is unusual for a president. in my lifetime, I have seen some crazy weird characters in the Oval Office. Richard Nixon, who was a pretty effective president, had a monster mean streak and astonishing disregard for the Constitution. Lyndon Johnson hid an entire war from the American people until we were in too deep, desperately fearful that he would be accused of "losing" South Viet Nam. I have seen what happens when such men get enormous power, and I never worry about President Obama that way.
But watching him for four years, I realize what I should have known all along, which is that he didn't come into office with any feel for running a big operation. He has probably learned a thing or two, I'll give him that.
But he isn't a good negotiator. I don't think he enjoys the back and forth, or the sheer work. He strikes me as the type of person I have encountered, someone who makes what they think is a great argument, and then expects everyone to sign on to it. That's not how things happen in organizations. Getting buy-in is hard work and has to be done on a retail basis. Lyndon Johnson was great at this, on the domestic front. He just had a lot of other issues that wrecked his presidency. President Obama is more like Jimmy Carter in this regard, a smart guy who thinks that smarts is enough.
The other concern I have is that I don't think he is very enthusiastic at all about American being energy independent. For my entire adult life, we have been hostage to energy-exporting countries that range from those who can barely tolerate us on their friendliest days to those who really hate us. We have it within our power to free ourselves from this extremely unattractive bunch of vendors, which would also, incidentally, sharply reduce our need to station aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf until the local oil wells run dry.
The president has talked about developing our energy resources, but I don't think his heart is in it, to tell the truth. A significant part of his base is made up of people who really, really don't like carbon, and so I get the feeling that the president often tiptoes around the energy subject and we won't hear much about it in a second term.
Gov. Romney, like President Obama, also has many thing to recommend him. (Other side of the hall is now getting its blood up.) One of them is not consistency. I don't particularly like the whole "Who are you going to believe: Me or your lyin' eyes?" aspect about his campaign. There is no question in my mind that he governed as a Massachusetts Republican. Surprisingly enough. Since he was governing in Massachusetts. So I start from the position that he doesn't have very strong convictions on the issues he has jumped around on. I am under no illusions that his "thinking has evolved."
As I said, I grew up in a Republican household in Massachusetts. Very few Republicans in the Bay State would get elected dog warden if they ran like North Carolina Republicans. (My late, sainted uncle was elected mayor of Newton, Mass., one of the most leftie-saturated places on the planet, in 1973 at the height of Watergate, one of the worst years ever for Republican candidates. I don't recall the word Republican ever appearing on any of his campaign materials.) So it was a foregone conclusion that Romney would, on the national stage, effectively blame what happened in Massachusetts on identity theft or something.
I don't like it. But is it enough to reject him? I don't know. Ronald Reagan wasn't exactly a model of ideological consistency when he made the leap from California to presidential politics, and he got a major pass from everyone on that, if memory serves. Of course, many Republicans worshipped Reagan from the git-go and virtually the whole party is merely 'meh' on Gov. Romney. If Gov. Romney doesn't win on Tuesday, on Wednesday he takes his place in the unloved, unvenerated Tom Dewey wing of the GOP pantheon, between the bust of Nelson Rockefeller and the portrait of another guy named Romney.
One of the problems that Mitt Romney has is that he reminds a lot of people of the guy who laid them off two or three jobs ago, and who didn't do it in person. Let someone from HR do it. He does not strike me as the kind of guy who lost a lot of sleep about the unpleasant things he had to do at Bain Capital. In the world in which he came up in - the sharp-creased business school world -- you are taught that the primary goal of management is to maximize shareholder value.
That is not the goal of government. In our mission/vision statement - The Declaration of Independence - the men who launched this great, enduring enterprise called America said that government existed to secure our creator-endowed rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing about shareholder value.
What is admirable about Gov. Romney is that he is a phenomenal doer. He gets stuff done.
Anyone who has worked in a company knows that the organizational world divides into two kinds of people. The people who talk a good game, and the people who actually deliver. I believe that if I were Gov. Romney's boss and I assigned him a big project, that he would get it done without me having to keep him focused and on track. Deadlines would be met. Things would get done the way they were supposed to be done, and he would sweat the details. And without necessarily talking my ear off about all those details he had sweated.
I don't have that confidence about President Obama. Maybe he would get it done, maybe he wouldn't. Maybe I'd hear about how the other departments or managers weren't cooperating with him. Or about subordinates he had delegated to, who hadn't gotten things done. But it wasn't his fault, mainly.
It's not necessarily just because Gov. Romney has all these management skills that President Obama doesn't. It's some of that. But it is more a sense that Gov. Romney really digs in and gets engaged, and sees obstacles and overcomes them, and knows that's just how it is. And that President Obama really likes to hold meetings and give speeches, but doesn't like the more granular and really pain-in-the-neck stuff that is often the difference between success and failure. I get the sense that Gov. Romney keeps lists and President Obama has other people keep the lists.
So I have no doubt that Gov. Romney will come in with a fairly specific agenda and then work like the dickens to execute that agenda. I just am not sure I can say with confidence that the agenda he's pitching of late is the one that will come out of his jacket pocket on Jan. 20. He has a track record of changing things up. President Obama, for all his lack of engagement, is pretty consistent on what he wants, which is to help the little guy - even if some of the little guys may not want his help - and let the business school guys fend for themselves.
So we have two candidates who have real strengths and some real imperfections. The good news is that neither of them seems plagued by demons, and like I said, that hasn't been a given for Oval Office residents in my lifespan. And surely neither of them deserve all the trash that is talked about them, but that's politics, real clear, these days. And now we have four days left to decide, we band of late voters.
--Dan Barkin, senior editor