If we can believe most pollsters, President Obama has the election sewn up and in the bag. He is leading in most of the crucial swing states, and, insiders are saying, Governor Romney's only chance is a knock-out blow in one of the debates. Given Romney's rhetorical clumsiness, this is unlikely. Obama is not much of a debater, true, and he cannot speak impromptu without tripping over his jumbled syntax, but he is Cicero and Burke, compared with the uninspiring Romney, whose wooden grin and rah-rah manner are what you get when you cross a college boy with a stage villain.
The pollsters' predictions are based, to a certain extent, on certain demographic assumptions that are widely quoted in such infallible sources as National Public Radio. If black voters, 95% of whom voted for Obama last time around, repeat their record turn-out and Mexican voters support Obama to the extent they did in 2008, the President only needs 38% of the white vote to win. Scott Rasmussen, among the most reliable pollsters, has drawn the obvious conclusion: He observed recently that the Romney campaign is the last stand for the GOP establishment.
The Republicans are on the horns of a dilemma that they have helped to create. To solidify their base, they have to call for restrictions on immigration--restrictions they have no intention of enacting or enforcing--but their tough rhetoric has alienated the one group on whom their future depends: Mexican-American voters.
Conservatives (I was one of them) were warning them of this danger as long ago as the 1980's, but the Republicans' response is that agribusiness and other industries depend on the cheap labor of underpaid illegal immigrants. As the novelist Edward Abbey pointed out at the time, the Republicans want their cheap labor, while the Liberals have their cheap cause. Between them, they pried the doors off our southern border and flung them into the Rio Grande. Whether they win or lose this presidential race, the Republicans will have to run openly, next time around, on a program of open borders, amnesty for illegals, and stepped up Affirmative Action privileges for Latinos. If the strategy does not work, they have only themselves to blame.
But, are the polls correct? Is the race Obama's to lose? Possibly, probably. I have one nagging doubt. As they used to say in the Westerns, it's too quiet out there. Four years ago, at this point, there were yard signs all over my neighborhood. This time, there is hardly anything. The people I meet in business or at church are all promising to vote for Romney, but it is not because they like the governor. In fact, they do not. They do, however, fear that an Obama victory will finish off the American economy, wipe out their pensions, and eliminate Social Security. That is enough for them, and it may be enough for me.
There is, I think, another reason for the lack of public support for Romney: fear. People are afraid of reprisals. It is not so much that they fear attacks from the New Black Panthers or other militant groups, but in displaying a Romney sign they may think they are inviting accusations of bigotry. I have, in fact, heard such talk.
But, then, why are there so few Obama signs? My black neighbors, in 2008, covered their yards with signs and banners. This year, nothing. Some black Americans tell reporters that they are disappointed in the President's failure to deliver on his promises; others seem so confident of victory that they are not doing anything for the campaign.
The Obama campaign and its allies are clearly worried about the apathy. The Jewish Committee on Education and Research (a well-heeled PAC) has prepared a tasteless and poorly written commercial, starring former Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson. The refrain of the commercial, "Wake the F-word up!" is shouted by Jackson (a former militant) at the members of a liberal white family that have become apathetic. In the end, the phrase is shouted by the heroine of hte commercial, a girl roughly ten years old. There was a time, not so long ago, when the makers of such a commercial and the parents of the child would face some consequences for putting profanity into the mouth of a little girl. We have made such progress in recent years that no one seems to be disturbed.
Apathy is Romney's only hope. The Republicans will probably turn out their base. I haven't voted Republican in a Presidential election since 1980, but I am strongly considering it now. My only motives are greed and fear. I can see my dreams of retiring to Italy going up in smoke (though certainly not factory smoke), if this inept administration is reelected. This is a wide-spread feeling in the American middle class. If Romney does better than expected with Mexican Americans and if the black voters persist in their apathy, we may be spared the dreaded four more years.
In the long run--and in America, long runs are shorter than the election cycle--it does not matter who wins. Within a few years, tax-consumers will so outnumber tax-payers that there will be no point in working or saving. I have seen the future--in places like Mexico--and it doesn't work.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.