I cast my first presidential ballot in 1972. Being a mere lad of 18, I was pretty clueless and thus voted for George McGovern. Having long since become a knuckle-dragger in good standing, I guess I shouldn't admit that. But, as I say, I was just a kid. And McGovern, despite his penchant for being wrong on every issue, was at least an honorable man -- a thing that cannot be said about the people who now run the Democrat party. Moreover, that vote did no real harm. Our type of representative government has a strong immune system that protects it from the most virulent outbreaks of naïveté. And even when it does contract a new strain of stupidity, the system responds well to treatment administered via the secret ballot.
Which brings us to next week's election. In 2008, millions of voters developed a malady that Andrew Klavan has diagnosed as "electile dysfunction." They voted for Barack Obama because their capacity for critical thinking had been rendered flaccid by content-free mottos like "hope and change" and meaningless slogans like "We are the ones we've been waiting for." During the ensuing four years, however, many have recovered. In addition to the millions of independents who now realize that they made a grievous error in casting their ballots for Obama, more than a few progressives are also in remission. A typical example is Matt Stoller, who just published a piece for Salon titled, "The Progressive Case Against Obama."
Stoller, whose progressive credentials include a stint as a senior policy advisor to Rep. Alan "Republicans want you to die quickly" Grayson, believes that "The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal -- and unjust -- society." Most conservatives would agree with that general conclusion, of course, but for different reasons than Stoller cites. While conservatives object to the very notion that self-appointed elites have a right to orchestrate our daily lives from Washington, Stoller has no real problem with that kind of statism. His primary complaint is that Obama's brand of "trickle down government," as Mitt Romney has taken to calling it, hasn't served the cause of social justice.
By way of proof, Stoller offers what most progressives would consider the ultimate indictment: income inequality has been worse during Obama's term than under the hated George W. Bush: "Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar." And Stoller goes on to say that this is no accident. "[M]ost of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress.… This is the shape of the system Obama has designed. It is intentional…" From the progressive point of view, this is indeed an unkind cut.
And this kind of disillusionment is by no means limited to the occasional opinion writer. During the past week, a variety of newspaper editorial boards have demonstrated that they share Stoller's disappointment by endorsing Romney this year. In fact, as the Washington Monthly reports, "seven of the top 100 newspapers have flipped from Obama in 2008 to Romney this year." And three of them, the Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel and the Des Moines Register, are located in swing states. It's difficult to know how much such switches influence voters, but the quick and snarky reaction from the Obama administration to the loss of the Iowa newspaper's endorsement suggests that they think it matters.
White House propaganda merchant Stephanie Cutter snarled, "It was a little surprising to read that editorial, because it didn't seem to be based at all in reality -- not just in the president's record, but in Mitt Romney's record.… It says that he'd reach across the aisle, which he'd do the exact opposite. It's the exact opposite of what he did in Massachusetts." This is a curious statement, considering that Romney was a Republican governor in a state so dominated by Democrats that he would not have been able to get a cup of coffee without reaching across the aisle. Indeed, it was his frequent willingness to compromise with Democrats that caused many conservatives to regard him with suspicion during the GOP primaries.
It isn't hard, however, to see why Cutter reacted with such vehemence to the Register's endorsement of Romney. It was also an indictment of Obama: "The nation has struggled to recover from recession for the past 40 months. Still, the economy is growing at an unacceptably anemic rate.… The president's best efforts to resuscitate the stumbling economy have fallen short. Nothing indicates it would change with a second term in the White House." This has been said many times by conservatives, of course, but it is much more devastating coming from a high profile publication that once endorsed Obama. Combined with columns like Stoller's, it suggests that progressive disillusionment with Obama is pervasive.
This disillusionment is, for many progressives, probably accompanied by a certain amount of embarrassment. When they recall how they mindlessly chanted "Yes we can!" like so many preschoolers, they probably feel as if they were in the grip of some fever. And they were. Now, for those who have recovered sufficiently to think for themselves, there is a way to complete the cure. Anyone who voted for Obama in 2008 can change their vote, just as the editors of the Des Moines Register changed their endorsement. But it's easier for the voter. Thanks to the secret ballot, no one has to know. All one has to do is hit the "Romney" button and, if accosted by an exit pollster in front of your neighbors, lie like Obama did in 2008.
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