No Success for Politics of Hate: In the final weeks of campaigning polarizing ideology and latent racism don’t seem to matter.
Obama and Romney are tied in the polls. But the most striking aspect of the final weeks of campaigning is how little polarizing ideology and latent racism seem to matter.
For months, Democratic commentators have argued that US conservatives attempt to capitalize on racist undercurrents. Conservatives, they say, have accused Obama of expanding welfare and unemployment benefits only because it disproportionately benefits the black minority. But the final weeks of this election cycle have brought a sudden change: the discussion is focused on issues, on substance. Do we want America to commit itself to the current welfare state, as Obama’s Democrats demand? Or should we massively reduce the budget and lessen the tax burden on wealthy Americans, as Republicans propose? Cultural wars are simmering in the background - religious Republicans will be driven to the polling stations by their rejection of same-sex marriage - but the political discourse is dominated by economic policy.
In the beginning, Romney and his team pursued a simple campaign strategy: convince enough voters that Obama is to blame for the country’s poor economic performance. That strategy hasn’t worked, for several reasons: economic recovery remains slow, but it is happening. Romney failed to generate enthusiasm among fellow Republicans, and certainly among grassroots voters. Polls that track the popularity of the two candidates show that Romney ranks very poorly, even when compared to previous Republican candidates. This also explains the choice of his running mate: Paul Ryan is popular with the party base - but he, too, is not exactly a darling among the crucial demographic of swing voters.
Ryan’s selection thus presents a double-edged sword: it secured the support and enthusiasm of conservative Republicans, but it also has the potential to widen the gulf between Romney and American swing voters - voters who will have a large influence over the outcome of this election.
Ryan is seen as an ideologue and as a supporter of the free market. He also wants to eliminate progressive tax codes that disadvantage the rich and curb environmental protection legislation. Neither of those positions are shared by a majority of Americans.
Romney’s strategic response: attack the opponent. Republicans tried to brand Obama as a dangerous socialist, and to detract attention from their economic policy proposals. Again and again, Obama was characterized as “the footstamp president.” Many believe that African-Americans benefit especially from these government subsidy programs, and Republicans exploited such prejudices for their campaign. But the allusions didn’t drive any new voters into the Romney/Ryan camp. Increasingly, the Republican Party was seen as a bunch of “angry old white guys” with which the educated middle classes could not connect.