Last week, trudging through the last dull, dog-eared days of this dying summer, I dreamt of fall and what political drama might be waiting for us.
I offered up a handful of possible pitfalls that might be lying in wait for the Mitt Romney campaign. Who knew his vice-presidential pick might emerge that quickly? (But more on that next week: Bye-bye, Florida.)
This time around, as promised, we take a look at the Obama-Biden ticket. But first, a couple of caveats.
For starters, I’d like to reiterate my argument that I think the Supreme Court ruling that backed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did the president more harm than good as far as November is concerned. This ruling galvanized the GOP base – and the majority of Americans who remain opposed to this legislation – and if the Republicans can keep this story on the front pages, then they have a real shot on Election Day.
Second, I must confess I don’t expect much in the way of October Surprises on the Democratic side of things. And, over the course of the past week, I’m more and more convinced we might not get anything at all this year on either side. But in the interest of fairness, I must press on.
5 – His background. There are a lot of people who will tell you the press gave the president (then-candidate) a pass four years ago. And that his background remains largely uninvestigated – certainly compared to the ongoing examination Romney continues to endure. Whether it's Kenya, Hawaii or Chicago, the argument remains that something’s there, but the media’s simply been too enamored with Obama to pursue this any further than to run some old black-and-white photos and a few stories about smoking pot. Hell, I think I've got a few of those myself somewhere around here...
4 – The debates (veep’s included). This gets talked about every election year, and these things rarely turn into game changers, but this year has more potential than most. For one thing, over the course of a dozen or so debates in a brutal primary battle, we saw Romney grow exponentially as a candidate. He went from a struggling, sometime front runner to someone who could outmaneuver Newt Gingrich – the student became the teacher. So seeing Romney tussle with someone as wily as the president onstage should make for great television – if only so much weren’t at stake.
And I know on the vice-presidential side, we’ve got kooky Joe “Back on the chain gang” Biden slated for one round with Paul Ryan, but don’t underestimate the crazy old uncle. He might lapse into forehead-smashing gaffes, but he’d managed to keep it together for a while there. Keep an eye on the lower halves of these tickets. I think there’s some potential there.
3 – His administration. We’ve got Solyndra. We’ve got the fast and the furious (which wasn’t even a good movie – why would you name a federal operation after it?). Who knows what else is there we simply don’t know about – yet. Another scandal could just be waiting to break. Trust me, past elections have turned on less.
2 – The Middle East (or even the Far East). This one’s tricky, for both the president and the GOP. The Republicans have been the “get tough” party for decades, so to hear them argue against Afghanistan or Syria is a little surreal. And, on the flip side, to hear a Democrat who once swore to get us out of Afghanistan drag his feet there while rattling his saber in the Middle East is equally off-putting. It’s like some kind of political, unfunny, Freaky Friday remake.
I know, Afghanistan is just a matter of time. But I think Syria remains a potential flashpoint. And our naval buildup in the South China Sea (while certainly understandable) has international incident written all over it.
1 – The economy. But at the end of the day – or month (October) – I think this remains the fulcrum on which the entire election rests. As I’ve argued before, this election will come down to two numbers: the jobless rate and the price of gas. And while gas prices are more erratic than Lindsay Lohan, the number of unemployed has remained somewhat static. That’s simply not good enough. And the Associated Press just reported this is the weakest economic recovery since World War II.
But what concerns me most is that the American public’s gotten used to these abysmal economic indicators. That, in some Orwellian twist, lingering, chronic economic recession is the new norm, and that, to paraphrase an old literature teacher of mine, “The rich get rich and the poor get drunk.” And they don’t vote.