As we head into Election Day, conventional wisdom says both campaigns need to energize their bases to boost turnout. But that's because the fight for the middle is over, something very few are reporting.
Back in 2004, then-senator Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, a moment in time that won over many in the middle: "Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." With politics in Washington getting uglier by the day, he was saying exactly what people wanted to hear.
The night he won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, candidate Obama spoke in soaring rhetoric to thunderous applause from the people of Des Moines: "You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington. To end the political strategy that's been all about division, and instead make it about addition. To build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states. …Because we are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America. And in this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again."
Back then, people were ready to believe again, and a majority of independents helped propel Obama to victory. Independent voters trusted him to do what he said he'd do: bring both sides together to get the country moving again. But as time went on, the joke was on us. The administration's healthcare reform legislation was passed without anyone knowing what the language contained, without the televised hearings the president promised, without a single Republican vote. The administration put forth budgets that went down in unanimous votes in all four years. The wrong track numbers stayed stubbornly high as negotiations with Republicans over the debt ceiling failed and Obama refused to endorse the recommendations of his own Simpson-Bowles debt commission.
Voters in the middle silently watched. Then, in the 2010 midterm elections, they started to move. In 2008, House Democratic candidates had won the women's vote by 14 points. In 2010, for the first time since 1982 when exit polls began measuring support for congressional candidates, Republicans won a majority of women. Independents, Catholics, and older voters also went Republican in margins not seen since 1982. Men, white voters, conservatives, white Protestants, evangelicals, frequent churchgoers, those with higher incomes, and Southerners abandoned Obama and the Democrats, too.
But President Obama didn't get the message, didn't tack to the center as President Clinton had done after the 1994 midterms. As his administration fed class resentment and gender politics, the broad swath of voters in the middle continued to lose faith in Obama. When Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner testified on the looming crisis in entitlement spending before the House Budget Committee early in 2012, he said it all: "We're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is that we don't like yours." Hope and change were gone.
That was during the Republican primary season. By the time the Democratic convention took place, independents watched as Obama became the one who was all about division instead of addition. In the "politics of anything goes," his campaign and its supporters accused Romney of committing a felony, not paying his taxes, and causing the death of the wife of a laid-off worker.
They saw that Obama had become one of the "negative ad peddlers" he had so despised four years ago.
And when Benghazi happened, they saw that he'd also become a "spin master," too. The White House line continues to shift about the murder of our ambassador by terrorists on 9/11, the role of that obscure video, and the continuing "investigation." There's a real feeling that the White House is spinning the story constantly, and the major news outlets (other than Fox News) are actively ignoring the truth. The numbers had already been moving on which candidate voters trust with the economy; since Benghazi, Romney's winning the national security vote as well.