No Place Like Home
By the normal standards of politics, this should be a runaway year for a challenger party. Almost 70 percent of Americans are very or mostly dissatisfied with the political system’s performance, if one believes a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. By the same survey, 90 percent of people of any political persuasion are split evenly as to whether the Democrats’ policies hurt or help their economic interests. Since February, the economy has added just 97,000 jobs a month, not enough to absorb new entrants to the workforce, let alone make a dent in the unemployment rate.
Republicans could win on that message alone, but it is not evident that they will. The normal standards of politics are not operative. Strictly by the distress numbers, Florida, for instance, should not be a swing state. Around 9 percent of the state’s (and Tampa’s) people are officially out of work. Only 96,000 jobs have been recovered since the Great Collapse wiped out 715,200 of them, according to a report from Florida International University. Although the unemployment rate fell by about 2 percent between June 2011 and June 2012, the State Legislature attributes 70 percent of that change to a shrinking workforce—people moving out or dropping out.
Yet Florida is a swing state. Its Republican governor, Rick Scott, who takes credit for the improvement in the jobless rate, is unpopular. The Tampa Bay Times recently suggested that an uptick in the unemployment numbers would actually be welcome, “because it may signal that discouraged workers are coming back to the labor force.” Scott, who bought the governorship with $78 million from his personal fortune and narrowly escaped being implicated in a corruption scandal at the for-profit hospital where he was CEO, belongs to the government-is-useless crowd—a mendacious stance in a state that floats on federal dollars for sugar subsidies, the space program, the military and Social Security.
Paul Ryan could never campaign honestly here, as he did not in his televised address. Like most of the speakers, he substituted biography for politics. They made Obama a punching bag, but with relative restraint. Shtick aside, Eastwood was useful, reassuring voters that they were simply good and reasonable to want to fire Obama and give someone else a chance. The red meat, which Charles Krauthammer worried that Republicans might miss because Hurricane Isaac clipped the schedule, had been served instead at a Cineplex just outside the forum. There, 2016: Obama’s America played on a daily bill with Runaway Slave, about the Democrats’ plot to hook blacks on dependency, and Dreams From My Real Father, about Obama’s mission to realize the black militant, Communist agenda of Frank Marshall Davis. The local Tea Party did its part to get people out, particularly for 2016, Dinesh D’Souza’s narcissistic hallucination about Obama as the echt neo-anticolonialist, bent on driving America into debt so as to redistribute wealth globally, and on fostering the “United States of Islam,” I guess to honor his “founding father” and “buddy” Edward Said. The evidence: Obama took a class at Columbia from Said, who is described as rabidly anti-Western. As an intellectual pretender, D’Souza certainly knows that Said was a professor of literature, taught the Western canon, wrote on classical music for The Nation and others, grew up in the Church of England and was adamantly secular. If he taught Obama, the experience was unmemorable; otherwise, Said met him exactly once. D’Souza might as well have dramatized the scare alerts from Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance, but then he would have had a harder time weaving himself into the story.
Remarkably, some Republicans said the film made them think better of Obama; at least now they had a rationale for his actions. Back at the forum, two conventioneers must have forgotten where they were and had to be ejected for tossing peanuts at a black CNN camerawoman while saying, “This is how we feed animals.” The others overcompensated by giving thunderous ovations to every black or brown speaker who trooped across the stage. “This is the dawn before we remember who we are!” Artur Davis, former Democrat, newly minted Republican and certified opportunist, exhorted his listeners. It was nonsense, but the overwhelmingly white crowd was on its feet, stamping and whooping, all the way to the forum’s top tier. A more ecstatic reception greeted Condi Rice.
“The Republicans are fools,” a crusty Floridian on the street, Donald Barnes, growled the next day. “They should have made Condoleezza Rice their vice president to split the black vote and get the whites who feel guilty. Instead, they’re going to re-elect the hula boy.” No, he doesn’t like Condi, though she’s probably competent. He doesn’t like any of them. Florida’s lieutenant governor is a black woman, and she’s competent, though “the governor is an idiot.” I asked if he thought white people, some anyway, were scared that they were going to be overrun once the demographics shifted and they were no longer the majority. “Positively,” he said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
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