Return to the Cayman Islands

Eliot Weinberger

Last January, I predicted here that Mitt Romney would lose, based partially on the Curse of the E-Trochee: American presidential candidates whose last name is two syllables ending with a long e sound have always failed; they just can’t be taken seriously. It may seem ridiculous but, as Novalis said, 'Language is Delphi.'

Closer to realpolitik, Mitt failed the Safety and Sincerity tests. Voters like to feel safe, to be assured that things will generally be all right, that there will be no bad surprises. I’ve always believed that Obama won in 2008 thanks to Sarah Palin. McCain – though he’s still with us – looked old and tired, and the possibility that the dim Northern Light might suddenly illuminate the Oval Office was scarier than a black man with a funny name. He at least seemed level-headed and intelligent.

This time, it was the Tea Party takeover of the Republicans and Mitt’s pandering to it. Having no strong political beliefs – other than laissez-faire and lower taxes for himself and for his kind – Romney selected Paul Ryan as his vice president to rally the base. It was a huge mistake. Ryan was not only the architect of a budget that would essentially eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – our scraps of social welfare – but a hardcore right-to-lifer who supported a constitutional amendment granting 'personhood' to a fertilised egg, thereby criminalising abortion, many forms of contraception, and even in vitro fertilisation (which, ironically, had led to Tagg Romney’s three children). This potential Ryanisation of the country spooked seniors, women, and men who live with women. After he was revealed to be a locker-room braggart (lying about his marathon times – a cardinal sin in the US – and his mountain-climbing prowess); after he was laughed off the stage by Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate for his ignorance of foreign policy or much of anything else; and after he declared he was going to be a vice-president like Dick Cheney (an insult to Mitt), Ryan was 'disappeared' from the campaign. He only surfaced briefly to pose for some embarrassing photos, lifting weights for Time magazine and washing already washed dishes in a soup kitchen. He never even managed to drum up votes – as vice-presidential candidates are supposed to do – in his home state of Wisconsin.

As for sincerity, it became impossible, even for his supporters and spokesmen, to say what Mitt’s position was on almost any given issue, and sometimes even difficult for Mitt himself ('I'm not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was'). Obama, in the first debate, was completely caught off guard when 'severely conservative' Romney suddenly turned into Moderate Mitt. By the third debate, the man who was ready to ride the bombers with Bibi and had said he wanted John 'Blow Up the UN' Bolton to be his secretary of state was putting smiley-face stickers on Obama’s foreign policy and declaring so repeatedly his love of peace that one suspected he was secretly wearing beads along with his special underwear. It was hilarious to hear old-fashioned conservative pundits, such as David Brooks at the New York Times, declare that the Real Romney had at last been revealed – in other words, everything he had said earlier didn’t matter at all – while the neocon hawks found convoluted expressions of support. Anything to defeat Obama.

The shape-shifting, however, shifted into blatant mendacity, far beyond the usual exaggerations of campaign rhetoric. According to Think Progress, Mitt lied 82 times in the three debates; the speeches to the party faithful had many more. By the end of the campaign, there was the astonishing spectacle of the CEO of a major corporation calling the Republican presidential candidate a liar – for his repeated declarations and television ads stating that Chrysler was moving its Jeep factories to China. (Chrysler even retaliated by giving all of its workers a day off to vote.) Some say that a beneficial result of the 2012 campaign will be the lesson that blatant lying doesn’t help, but that remains to be seen.

The larger question is what the Republicans will do next. They have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. (Obama, however narrow his victory in the popular vote, is the first Democrat since Roosevelt to win two elections with more than 50 per cent.) Obama won the votes of women in general, people under the age of 44, African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans (the latter two groups by three to one). The working-class 'Reagan Democrats' in the Rust Belt abandoned Romney, thanks to his opposition to the auto bailout, and Obama did extremely well in another formerly Republican bastion, the military, whose troops and veterans Romney startlingly did not find 'important' enough to mention in his convention acceptance speech. The Republicans, in short, have become the party of the aging descendants of cowboys and slave owners. Along with a few Corn Belt states, their remaining domain is essentially much of the Wild West and most of the Confederacy.

Time and demographics are against them. Social conservatism is shrinking as quickly as social media is growing. On Tuesday, two states approved gay marriage, two states legalised marijuana, various anti-abortion laws were defeated, and the first openly gay senator was elected. The 'legitimate rape' and 'rape babies are a gift of God' senatorial candidates were defeated, and women generally demonstrated their repulsion at the prospect of a bunch of old dude blowhards making their medical decisions for them. The problem seems insoluble for Republicans: having built their mansion on a foundation of social issues, how will they be able to abandon this solid, but diminishing, base? How do they keep the misogynists and attract the 60 per cent of the voters who are women, keep the homophobes and attract the majority of the nation that now supports gay rights?

Latino voters are another matter. One can no longer get elected nationally without the Latino vote – Bush Jr in 2004 had twice as many Latino votes as Romney – and if the Republicans continue their police state anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, it is quite probable that their biggest electoral prize, Texas (as well as Arizona), will turn into a blue state. I suspect this will be one issue where the Republican House will suddenly demonstrate its 'compassionate conservatism' and its 'bipartisanship' by accepting Obama’s immigration proposals (such as amnesty for those who arrived undocumented as children). Moreover, there was a very interesting development on Tuesday: Puerto Rico, for the first time, voted in favour of statehood. Obama, concerned with his legacy (and with the personal attachment of his early years spent in Hawaii), would surely support creating a 51st state. For Republicans, it would be an uncomplicated (and business-friendly) way to show their concern for Latinos. Puerto Rico, forever in semi-colonial limbo, is about to become news.

At the end of this seemingly endless campaign, the one certain thing is that the punditocracy was wrong about nearly everything. It was never a 'tight' race: Obama was ahead in the electoral votes from the beginning. Obama supporters, particularly minorities, who had supposedly lost their enthusiasm and weren’t going to vote, in fact did, in the same or greater numbers. The left did not abandon Obama – the prospect of a Mitt presidency and a Mitt Supreme Court was too horrible. All of the things, whether said by the left or the right, that were going to sink Obama – the unemployment rate, the housing crisis, the performance at the first debate, the killings in Libya, the hundreds of millions of dollars from the Super-PACS, the voter suppression laws, the rigged voting machines – didn’t. The conservative talking heads on television kept repeating that they knew in their guts that the polls were wrong and that it would be a Romney landslide. But the polls were right all along: the leading number-cruncher, Nate Silver, correctly called all 50 of the states.

The good news is not only that Obama was re-elected, but that Mitt is gone and won’t be back. Defeated presidential candidates who cannot return to a Senate seat go, overnight, from Leader of the Party to oblivion. And Mitt, who was never loved by his party and who only ever served one term as an elected official, has nowhere to go except to his vacation homes and his tax shelters. He’ll have a milkshake and count his money, and Ann will ride her dancing horses.

Mitt believed that God wanted him to be president, but on the morning of the election, God sent a sign: a double rainbow over Hokulani Elementary, the school in Honolulu that Obama had attended as a child.


  • 8 November 2012 at 2:09pm
    mototom says:
    How come the punditocracy called it too tight to call, when the bookies had Obama at 5 to 1 on and Romney at 7 to 2? I've neve seen a bookie on a bike.

    • 9 November 2012 at 5:24am
      Bob Beck says: @ mototom
      Odds, as in bookies' odds, are different to probabilities. I'm not positive how exactly it works, but I'm told bookies choose odds in such a way as to divide the bettors, such that if they (the oddsmakers) guess wrong, they don't have to pay out too much.

      Come to think of it, how many bookies actually had Obama at 5 to 1? That price would seem ruinous for the bookies, when the weeks the pundits -- I mean the better-informed, thoughtful ones (a small conclave, I grant you) weren't in fact saying it was "too close to call," but that Obama, by virtue of small but significant leads in various swing states, was the likely winner?

    • 9 November 2012 at 8:39am
      streetsj says: @ Bob Beck
      Bob, no. Bookies odds are probabilities with a margin factored in. Obama was priced at 4-1 on or even 5-1 on - which means you bet £4 (or 5) to win £1.
      Ignoring the bookies' margin, if Obama is 4-1 on that means he has an 80% probability of winning (ie 4 in 5). Romney would have been 4-1 against (ie bet £1 to win £4), meaning he had a 20% chance of winning (ie 1 in 5). Thus if you had £10, you could bet £8 on Obama and £2 on Romney. If Obama won you would get your £8 back plus your £2 winnings (leaving you with your £10 back); or, if Romney won, you would get your £2 stake back plus your £8 winnings.
      Now, introducing the bookies margin: Obama is 5-1 on, Romney is 3-1 against. In total £100 is bet on Obama and £30 is bet on Romney. In the jargon the bookie has a round book. He has taken in £130: if Obama wins he hands back the £100 stake plus the £20 winnings and makes a £10 profit; if Romney wins he hands back the £30 stake and the £90 winnings and, hey presto, he’s made a £10 profit.
      But this is actually the wrong way round. Obama is 1-5 and Romney 3-1 BECAUSE for every £30 on Romney, £100 is being wagered on Obama. The odds reflect the weight of money; the weight of money is the best (ie most unbiased) opinion poll there is. The odds are the probabilities.

    • 9 November 2012 at 12:42pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ streetsj
      Is the weight of money always unbiased? Betting on football, for example, often seems to be guided by wishful thinking.

    • 9 November 2012 at 1:34pm
      streetsj says: @ Harry Stopes
      In a less connected world, yes. There always used to be a UK bias to UK (England) matches but on liquid sites like Betfair that has long gone.

    • 9 November 2012 at 3:05pm
      Bob Beck says: @ streetsj
      Well, I did begin by pleading ignorance, or something near it. Thanks for the primer. I'm not a betting man, and evidently a good thing too. For one thing the on-against distinction had been lost on me.

      Still, as I said, the better-informed pundits, that I'd read, hadn't been saying "too close to call," but "Obama has an 80% chance of winning," and that for a few weeks before the vote.

  • 8 November 2012 at 9:08pm
    semitone says:
    I'm not convinced you can blame it on the trochee. There's a theory doing the rounds that because every Republican president since 1928 was elected with a Nixon or a Bush on the ticket, they should go with Jeb for 2016. You know it makes sense!

    • 8 November 2012 at 9:10pm
      semitone says: @ semitone
      I should just clarify: I said "was elected", but I mis-spoke. To allow for 2000, I should say "won".

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