This election has been an emotional roller coaster, but over the past week it’s really jumped the shark—I mean, what kind of melodrama ends with a hurricane devastating New York City just days before a few undecided Ohioans choose the leader of the free world? Is this the oldest democracy on the planet or an open-air production of The Tempest?
It certainly has us caught up in its titanic, almost mythic coils. All things being fair and equal (which they’re not), it looks like an Obama victory. Of the twenty-one battleground state polls published on Saturday, Obama is winning sixteen, two go to Romney, and three are tied, according to Nate Silver, who bumped the president’s chances of winning up to 85.1 percent, the highest figures since the Denver debate.
First there was the sour, self-involved and hurricane-lashed Republican National Convention in Tampa (“The Key Largo Convention”). Then there was the joyous wonkery of the Democrats in Charlotte, which was soon followed by the media breakthrough of Romney’s “47 percent” comment on video, which together seemed to set the election on a trajectory as sure as the Martian Rover’s.
Then came Obama’s abysmal debate performance in Denver, which seemed to give the lie to his whole campaign depicting Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat who didn’t give a hoot about anyone else. Suddenly, our young, slender hero looked like he didn’t give a hoot and couldn’t be bothered with making an argument for his own policies.
But Joe Biden rode in to laugh off Paul Ryan’s entire career in politics, reasserting Democratic dominance on the issues, and Mitt walked into his own gotcha question in the second debate. When Romney all but conceded the foreign policy debate, the election seemed to revert to its pre-August stasis, with Obama holding a narrow lead in the battleground states that would give us at least the same deadlocked government we’ve suffered for two long years.
And then Sandy hit, and Mitt’s loyal thane Chris Christie seemed to jump ship for a minute, and we had the sharp, effective, compassionate president we all need once again—and “now I will believe that there are unicorns,” as Shakespeare put it in The Tempest.
But no, we may see yet more extreme plot reversals. Hurricane Sandy, by possibly preventing hundreds of thousands of people from voting at all, may in fact accomplish what voter suppression has aimed at all along: losing the popular vote for Obama and rendering his Electoral College victory suspect. One political scientist figures that Sandy alone will cost Obama as many as 340,000 votes, mostly from storm-ravaged blue states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But could Sandy even cost Obama the electoral vote by depressing turnout in the Democratic strongholds of swing states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Sandy-caused confusion and power outages could provide cover for the suppression already sown by voter ID laws, True the Vote, and computer “glitches”? (For anyone who thinks the courts have neutered voter suppression, you must read Ari Berman’s piece today and “Rampant Suppression Threatens Already Tight Race,” the latest report by Voting Rights Watch at The Nation.com.)
And the whole thing is made only more mythic, more like the Scottish play, by its female subplot full of menstrual blood and eyes of newt, punctuated by Republican spear-carriers saying women’s plumbing can shut down rape-borne conceptions that “God intended.”
Who writes stuff like this?
None of it budges my conviction that Mitt Romney is a CGI character, or that the entire plotline of American democracy hangs in the balance. When I close my eyes and imagine a President Mitt Romney, all I can think is there be dragons. No Drama Obama? Not anymore. One more last-minute reversal, and Chris Matthews won’t be the only one having a stroke.
Read Ari Berman's latest on how a last-minute suppression effort could swing Ohio's electoral votes.