Twenty days to Election Day and the second presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney is scheduled to occur tonight at Hofstra University in New York.
It's a big event.
National polls are all over the place. The two candidates are within one to three points of each other at the national level according to nearly every poll I've seen. President Obama appears to have a slight advantage in the so-called swing states, but with the numbers this close, nothing seems solid. In fact, there are enough polls out there with so many different assessments that you can build a case to show either candidate to be winning or losing. (I rely exclusively on Nate Silverman and the FiveThirtyEight blog. According to Mr. Silverman, at this moment President Obama has a 66% chance of winning the election.)
I took a gander through my blog entries from four years ago to see how things seemed back then. And at this point in the 2008 election cycle, candidate Obama seemed to be cruising to victory over John McCain. Of course, in 2008, the country was reeling from a financial meltdown; an economic crisis that recalled the Great Depression. We were war-weary and disgusted and frightened. President Junior, in his eight blighted years in office, sustained the largest single terrorist attack on our homeland, oversaw the drowning of a major American city, launched two fruitless wars (including the illegal invasion of a sovereign state), and destroyed our economy. In short, he dealt John McCain a sh*t hand. Obama and the Democrats didn't have to do anything to convince people to vote for them. The need for change was evident everywhere you looked.
It's a different story this time around. The bloom has come off the Obama rose. We're still in Afghanistan, over a year after the President promised we'd be out. The expansion of an authoritarian state --begun by Bush --where persons can be imprisoned, tortured, withheld counsel, and even summarily murdered by executive order has continued full-throttle. Unemployment is high. Gas prices are through the roof. No one in the Bush administration has been made to pay for its crimes.
Despite all the soaring rhetoric of 2008, in many ways, President Obama has not delivered. And, in the first debate, when he was given a prime opportunity to defend his record, reassure voters, and explain how he intends to address their concerns, he delivered a lackluster performance. Michael Tomasky, Robert Reich, and other political observers have speculated that the President seemed to lack enthusiasm for a second term.
So, naturally, folks are looking at their alternatives.
But the alternative is Mitt Romney, who has problems of his own. He's a plutocrat; a silver-spoon elite who has not the faintest idea what it is like to have to scramble to cover bills for basic needs (food, clothing, rent, gas). The world of financial hardship, the world most of us live in every day, is a picture-book story to him. Much like Dicken's Marquis St. Evrémonde, he seems to hold the lower classes in contempt.
He's had to compromise himself to satisfy the rabid GOP base and in doing so has alienated women and Hispanics. His prescription for economic recovery is that old Republican chimera: tax cuts for upper incomes. No public investment. No national effort for the common good. As President Clinton said in Charlotte: "If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket."
There is a lot riding on the debate tonight. Both men, Obama and Romney, are under enormous pressure. The race to the White House seems balanced on the head of a pin.
Let's see what happens...