For ninety interminably long minutes on 1/24/12, the president of the United States played his hand. All that anyone needs to know about the obligatory laundry list cum base rouser that usually fills a final first-term State of the Union address is that it’s going to be the Summer of Populism for the most pragmatic chief executive of my lifetime. This is how Barack Hussein Obama burst upon his first campaign for the job he eventually won in the autumn of 2008, and the way he has governed since. The White House will play the percentages, weigh the margins, and use the Karl Rove schematic for winning a national electoral election: Ignore useless national polls and vacillating approval ratings and figure the best way to get to the magic 270.
While his proposed Republican challengers walk all over each other trying desperately to shift Right, mainly because two of the frontrunners have to distance a centrist to liberal past and get the party’s nomination, Joe Cool studies the trends of a thorny electorate that has shown the kind of mercurial nature mostly exhibited by the bipolar. In the last decade alone the national vote has gone from geo-political to anti-war to wildly progressive to conservatively entrenched to whatever the hell is happening now.
This is why Obama’s State of the Union appeared to be written by less ideologue than actuary.
The Numbers People are what matter in elections. They have the vital information on who is available to woo, who is already on board, and who is most likely to be courted. National politics is not sport. An election, as it is at every level, is a sum-game; the first one to the measuring stick takes the oath. Emotions, ideas, credentials; these are the tools of the loser. Winning a presidential election is about key numbers – not the most, but the most within the most. Think of a Salvador Dali painting sifted violently through a Warholian blender. This is the Electoral College in action, a warped contest of democratic synergy dominated only by those who embrace nuance.
And here’s what Joe Cool’s Numbers People read…
Currently, the percentage of Americans jazzed about cutting deficits and protecting the Middle Class tax burden by raising the tax rate on the wealthy is 73.
Seven out of ten Americans in this polarizing political climate is a margin akin to a Hugo Chavez election result. This will get the attention of even the most naïve Numbers People. As unpopular as any proposed tinkering with National Health Care was two years ago, which gave rise to the TEA Party movement, sticking it to the rich is even more beloved. This also includes the trendy Occupy Wall St. movement, whatever that is now.
Not only has the idea of putting the squeeze to the wealthy grown in popularity since the hilariously unnecessary piss fight over raising the debt ceiling a few months back, but it has happened on the insistence of Republicans. Normally, or more to the point forever, Republicans have mocked deficit hawks as chicken-little anti-capitalists. This has changed, and thus become bad news for those who know that the only way to cut deficits and pay off the national debt is through either draconian cuts to popular programs or raising government revenues.
Election year calls for austerity is shitty game planning. Ask Jimmy Carter. So it’s raising revenue, and the way this works is whoever has the most is usually tracked down. Kind of like your rich uncle when your band was after seed money for that P.A. you needed to gig.
The White House will be jacking up this winning formula to dizzying degrees if half of what we heard in the State of the Union can be believed, because 73 percent of anything sings the high note to 46 percent approval ratings and 63 percent wrong-track polling.
Although much of the anti-Obama stuff, a fair portion of it fabricated by dumb-speak about a forged birth certificate, Muslim roots and socialist leanings, is white noise to Independent voters; the other key set of digits for the Numbers People.
In the last three presidential elections not skewed by Ross Perot, the Democratic and Republican bases equaled out at 42 percent each. This means that roughly 16 percent of the national vote is Independent, which rolled to George W. Bush in two elections and overwhelming in Obama’s column in 2008. Recent polls have the Independent vote, including newcomers, which were predominantly Democrat in ’08 but a fair portion have flocked to Ron Paul so far, ballooning to nearly 30 percent. However, much of this polling, according to the best Numbers People, cannot be trusted since there appears to currently be a rabid anti-government sentiment on both sides of the political aisle clearly borne out in the 11 percent approval for 112th congress.
Still, neither party can rely on the base to elect their candidate. Independents remain the only source of gained votes, the individuals for whom every attack ad, stump speech and debate performance will be aimed.
Finally, Numbers People, for all of this talk about “people”, are not as interested in the human error of spastic belief systems and knee-jerk political climate changes. The actual “winning” lies in the Electoral College and its 270 votes needed to be president.
Right now the White House has gone on record in surmising that with Obama’s fat-cat coffers and concentrated canvassing of Democratic strongholds, the president is most likely to garner the John Kerry votes of 2004. This is what gamblers call an even bet, the short odds, the hedge numbers. This, according to Numbers People reasoning, leaves them 19 electoral votes to corral. No matter the national anger, the lukewarm base reception or the perception that we’re careening toward the new Greece, 19 gets Barack Obama a second term.
This, mind you citizens living in the non-numbers world, is an exacting summation without an actual opponent, which appears to most assuredly be either a rich robot or a raving lunatic; or if you are a student of recent history; Michael Dukakis or John McCain.
So, while the rest of the nation and the world heard a State of the Union replete with political rhetoric and class warfare tactics wrapped in a red, white & blue gunny, friends of the Numbers People heard the cold clatter of calculation.
Carry the two and hail to the chief!
James Campion is the Managing Editor of Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus” and “Midnight For Cinderella”