John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


It’s Complicated Part 2

Posted on May 14, 2012

          Sometimes I repeat myself, which is exactly what I am doing with this opening paragraph.  But I make a different point than I made last November.

            Every once in a while, you run across a relationship status on Facebook that accurately sums up this current Presidential race:  It’s complicated.


Simplifying the complicated is the essence of modern day political campaigning.


At its heart, the act of voting for most is a pretty simple binary choice.  Actually, form most voters, it is even more simple.  They vote the party line, no matter what.


Indeed, Presidential voting is much like a long baseball season.  Every team in the major leagues is going to win 60 games and lose 60 games.  What happens in those other 42 games is what separates the winners from the losers.


Both the Democratic candidate and the Republican candidate are going to end up with 45% of the vote.  What happens with the other ten percent is the key to deciding the election.


And for that 10% of the voting public that actually decides most Presidential elections, the factors that decide how they are going to vote are not at all necessarily easy to understand.


Pundits like to say it is all about the economy, that most votes vote their pocket book.  And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that is a strong factor.


But this economy is not so easy to define.  Some parts of America are going to through a deep recession/depression.  But some other areas are growing like gang-busters.   The irony is that the parts of the country that have the strongest economic growth are the most likely to vote against President Obama.  Other states that are economic basket cases, such as California and Illinois, are reliably blue states.


Beyond the economy, voters cast their ballots on a variety of the factors.  Does the candidate share my values (be they liberal or conservative)?  Do they share my religious outlook?  This is the second election where race is a significant factor.  Class identity plays a role.


But all of these questions have complications of their own.  Neither Obama nor Romney come from mainstream religious backgrounds.  Mormonism is still quite controversial in more than few parts of the country.   Obama cuts his religious teeth in a black church with a fiery preacher who expressed a black separatist philosophy.


Obama class-war rhetoric has failed to make much of a positive impression on the white working class that it is supposed to impress.   Romney’s pro-growth economic philosophy doesn’t exactly stir the souls of the upper crust that theoretically is supposed to benefit from it.


Other intangibles factor in.   Likability is always cited as a reason people vote for a candidate.  Is this person somebody I would like to have a beer with?   Obama wins this contest, according to the polls, plus Romney doesn’t drink.  But did really matter in 1968, when Hubert Humphrey was running against Richard Nixon?


Perhaps the most important intangible comes with the whole idea of leadership.   Does the candidate inspire us with both his words and his actions?  Can he make the tough decisions?  And perhaps most importantly, can he break through all of the complexities that face the office of the President, and communicate simply the stakes for the American people.


President Obama is making much of his decision to give the go-ahead in mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.  But that was a binary choice.  Either go or no go.  On the more complicated issues, like reviving our economy, tackling our crippling deficits, advancing real health care reform or coming up with plan to deal with out of control entitlements, the President’s leadership has been less clear.


He has taken the complicated and made it ever more complicated.


Mr. Obama is a smart guy and he obviously spends a lot of time thinking big thoughts.  But his inability to make the complicated simple may lead to his downfall this November.