PRUDEN: A little fakery makes the medicine go down

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Enthusiasm is fine, but eventually it’s time to take a campaign out and shoot it. We’re getting close to that time. Outrage, irritation, polls, rallies and speeches finally grow old. Fortunately, it’s almost time to vote.

Public-opinion polls can go only so far, but with modern polling methods that’s far enough. If the Democrats pull a respectable result out of this campaign it will be the most stunning surprise since the old Literary Digest — which polled only its readers — predicted that Alf Landon would defeat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

Republicans took comfort in that poll, such as it was in an era before scientific surveys. FDR turned out to be an uncooked goose. But midterm congressional elections are different because the man at the top is not on the ballot. President Obama, who has defined himself as a remarkable speaker with the ability to charm rats, lemmings and the intellectually credulous, is a not-so-remarkable politician. He insists that this election, like everything else, is all about him. “My name may not be on the ballot,” he tells radio host (and sometime Rev.) Al Sharpton, “but our agenda for moving forward is on the ballot, and I need everybody to turn out.”

This is certainly true enough, but you would expect a president reading the tea leaves would assign saying that to someone else, leaving himself a little room for an alibi on the morning after. It’s exactly his agenda that has dispatched his once-stratospheric ratings to the basement. He no doubt figures that anything he can do to fire up the only reliable base he has left — black voters — is worth the risk. Playing the race card, always a desperation tactic, is a no-no for everybody else. No white politician would dare aim a racial appeal to the white majority that opposes the president’s policies. The president aimed similar narrow appeals this week to Hispanic and young voters in an attempt to resurrect the hysteria of his ‘08 presidential campaign. “Essentially, in 2008 we won the ability to start making change,” the president says, “and that’s what we’ve done over the past two years.” Just so. That’s exactly why everyone expects Democrats to wake up with a monumental hangover next Wednesday. The changes he wrought, particularly on health care and the economy, are exactly what tastes so sour and toxic on everybody’s tongue.

A Harris Interactive Poll of 3,084 adults, conducted over seven days in mid-October, suggests in detail exactly why. Ninety percent of Republicans and conservatives say the president is doing all the wrong things; no surprise there. But more than a third of the Democrats and other liberals say that, too. So do 70 percent of voters identifying themselves as independents. Nearly that many (60 percent) “moderates” agree. The only people who rank lower in the affections of Americans, as Harris (who made his reputation as a pollster with Democratic clients) finds them, are congressmen. This is taking small comfort in tiny things, much like convicted ax murderers consoling themselves in the prison exercise yard with the knowledge that child killers, after all, are universally regarded as more heinous than a felon who merely cut off his wife’s head.

The final exercise in desperation politics will be the “rally to restore sanity” on the Mall on Saturday, with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, the famous purveyors of “fake news” on Comedy Central, attempting to stir up fake enthusiasm to counter Democratic apathy, which is definitely not fake, among the young and impressionable. Mr. Stewart tried to distance himself from authentic failure with fake assurance that his rally is not about the elections. “It is in fact not a political rally in any way, shape or form,” he tells “Larry King Live.” Messrs. Stewart and Colbert are faves of the young and restless, and the politicians can’t resist the urge to trade attempted yuks with the hosts. John Edwards, in fact, announced on Mr. Stewart’s show his 2008 presidential candidacy, which turned out to be an embarrassing fake, though not necessarily planned that way.

Mr. Obama, a frequent guest in the past, was back with Mr. Stewart again this week to yuk it up for the rally for fake sanity. Robert Gibbs, the president’s actual press spokesman, says the president is campaigning this week on the fake newscasts because that’s where uninformed young voters are. The Stewart show, he says, “reaches an audience that isn’t watching cable television every day, or the nightly newscasts.” The president expects them to participate in this election, if only for laughs.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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