Political Animal


November 01, 2012 5:12 PM The Problematic “Magic Vote”

By Ed Kilgore

Just read two very interesting pieces—Jonathan Chait’s “case for Obama” column, and John Dickerson’s Slate piece on last-minute undecided voters—and reached a somewhat depressing conclusion: the election may hinge on voters who are disappointed with Obama because he didn’t perform the magic trick of overcoming partisanship in Washington, and/or who are hopeful Mitt Romney can perform the magic trick of overcoming partisanship in Washington. For all I know, these are the same people, but they are really missing just about everything important that’s happened in politics and government over the last four years.

Like Chait, I think Obama’s done a remarkable job of achieving what he campaigned on in 2008 with the exception of the challenges he could not have possibly anticipated, and also the “transcending partisanship” pledge, which was never an achievement that was under his control (and which was never the centerpiece of his campaign that it has been made out to be in retrospect). And like Chait, I understand the vote for Romney from those who never shared his policies to begin with and still don’t, but would argue a Romney vote from those who are “disappointed” flows from disappointment with the economic conditions and political system Obama inherited (exacerbated in both cases by the decision of the GOP to oppose every breath he took).

And you know what? None of that has changed. The next president, whoever he is, will deal with a troubled economy he didn’t create and with a Republican Party determined to reject compromise. Some of Dickerson’s undecided voters seem eager to believe Romney will stab his party in the back and yet somehow drag it into the very compromises Republicans hate, achieving the bipartisan magic that eluded Obama, based on little more than anachronistic perceptions of him when he was running for office in a liberal state and then just a few weeks of rhetorically asserting an interest in bipartisanship.

What’s most striking about voters who are disappointed in Obama but hopeful about Romney is that they are ignoring the same fixed point in a turning world: the Republican Party as it exists today, not as they want it to exist or as it might have existed in an increasingly distant past. They can’t wish it away, and they sure as hell can’t vote it away by supporting the Republican candidate for president. You’d think this would be pretty obvious, but I suppose there’s a small child and an undecided voter in each of you that wants to believe in magic.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • gregor on November 01, 2012 5:25 PM:

    If such low information voters number only about 5-10% as seems to be the case, you cannot fault them, for - at the risk of being condescending - simple statistical considerations dictate that at least 15 to 20% of the human brains must be impervious to logic and facts.

  • thersites on November 01, 2012 5:30 PM:

    Did you ever have to make up your mind?

  • LAC on November 01, 2012 5:32 PM:

    Jaysus, are you going to be as depressing as going to WAPO? I go to other sites and get all sorts of polling, internal, state to state indicating a positive movement for Obama. But I go to WAPO engaging in its "black is white and white is red" political coverage that flies in the face of reality, or come here and have to endure yet another round of over-elevating a sub-set of a sub-set of an ameoba's bottom of voters whose pouty faces decide elections.

    I hope when this is done and the President has won reelection solidly, as much time will be taken by pundits and bloggers to figure out where they went wrong and.... BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA... no, I guess not!!

  • cwolf on November 01, 2012 5:34 PM:

    Obama necessarily will lose the Magic Underwear vote.
    I think however, that may exhaust the Magic vote reserve.

  • T2 on November 01, 2012 5:43 PM:

    we political bloggers frequently forget that the vast majority of citizens aren't quite as interested in things political as we are. For those, the headlines that read "CONGRESS Rejects Jobs Bill" are as far as they get. They don't have time or interest, or patience, to read the story to find out that it was Republicans that ALL voted no, and Dems that voted yes but not enough to pass a GOP Filibuster.

  • SYSPROG on November 01, 2012 5:44 PM:

    I'm with you Ed! And I'm not nearly as 'nice'. These people disgust me. 'He PROMISED bipartisanship!!!' For Pete's sake...who do you think is COMPLICIT in that not happening...Last night on 30 Rock they did a great play on this...Hang in there. We're gonna WIN and then let the TRUE games begin. I can't believe the 'people' are going to allow the GOP to block for 4 MORE years...that would be 16 total and we REALLY can't afford that.

  • Joy on November 01, 2012 5:49 PM:

    I don't believe there are really that many undecided voters. The differences between the two candidates cannot be more obvious. Either someone is completely unmoored from reality and can't decided what pair of socks to wear today (the black ones or the black ones?)or they are blowing smoke up pollsters' butts for the hell of it.

  • c u n d gulag on November 01, 2012 5:53 PM:

    Undecided Voter POV:

    Yes, the treasonous Republicans in Congress didn't work with Obama AT ALL!

    So, let's reward the treasonous traitors by voting for a Republican President, so he can capitulate to those treasonous traitors!

    And the Democrats will play nice, like they did with W.


  • PTate in MN on November 01, 2012 5:55 PM:

    I have just learned that a woman I work with is planning to vote for Romney because "there's something about Obama I just don't like." When pressed, she explains that Obama lies.

    Yeah, you heard that correctly. She doesn't like Obama because Obama lies. !!!!!

    She is prototype of the white working class, someone whose quality of life depends on government support for education, health, child care, infrastructure and so on. There is definitely magical thinking going on in her head. The disconnect between the reality of her life and the policies she is voting for is astonishing. I imagine she will be stunned when Romney/Ryan, God help us, start dismantling the part of government that she relies on.

  • Rugosa on November 01, 2012 5:55 PM:

    Romney, if elected, won't have to drag Republicans into compromise. Democrats will be willing to compromise - as they usually are - in order to achieve anything at all. With the Rs refusing any honest measures to get the economy going, the Ds will settle for much less than half a loaf, because a couple of slices will be better than nothing.

  • FlipYrWhig on November 01, 2012 6:07 PM:

    As we've experienced repeatedly from left/liberal critics of Obama as well, there's a prevalent sentiment in the American public that there is always a category of action a president can take: Find A Way.

    The thinking seems to go like this: "Don't tell me Republicans all oppose and obstruct everything. Find A Way." "Don't tell me some center-right Democrats don't want to do what the president prefers. Find A Way."

    So it's not surprising that people who don't follow these things closely start to feel like when the president doesn't do something, it's not because other powerful entities actively thwarted him (for instance, by filibustering, or by just refusing to cooperate despite carrots and/or sticks), it must be because he hasn't Found A Way. What way? I dunno, but something, and he should try harder to do it. Frustrating.

  • FlipYrWhig on November 01, 2012 6:12 PM:

    @ PTate -- I really don't think her real reason is that "Obama lies." I think it's because she thinks he wants to give too much free stuff to undeserving people who just sit on their butts all day, and she works hard and never asks for anything. And even it she is helped by the government, well, that's fine because she just needs a helping hand, not like she's making a habit of getting handouts, like Some People. That's what makes people vote for Republicans, pretty much across the board. It's the lore of their tribe.

  • sjw on November 01, 2012 6:20 PM:

    I've long ago given up on John Dickerson. My recommendation is, don't put much money on what he says about anything. He probably talked to two so-called undecideds and drew his big generalizations based on them.

    That Obama failed in attempting bipartisanship is a meme you'll even find in Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama. One has to ask, what planet did these people live on these last four years? One of my minor disappointments in Obama in that he tried too hard for bipartisanship and compromised his agenda in doing it.

    That Romney would get things done with the radical Republicans -- moderate things --is another meme advanced by all sorts of people you'd think were sane. There is zero evidence for this; it's no more than a hope. I'd say it's a pipe dream.

  • Tim Lovett on November 01, 2012 6:38 PM:

    Game theory, and specifically, the prisoners dilemma game, tells us that the best strategy is "tit for tat'. If your opponent cooperates, you cooperate, if your opponent defaults, you default. So, if Romney wins, we filibuster everything in the Senate. If we don't, we send the message that they can effectively hold the country hostage to their agenda.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on November 01, 2012 7:22 PM:

    The only silver lining is, if these LIVs really do get Romney elected because they're so upset about our partisan president, they're going to be really eager to vote Democratic in 2016. That plus demographic destiny is going to make it really hard for future Republicans, unless Romney wins and the economy just keeps getting better despite Round 2 of GWB policies.

  • Davis X. Machina on November 01, 2012 7:32 PM:

    What did Chris Rock say about this sort of voter? "Obama didn't cure cancer. I'm voting for cancer."

  • David on November 01, 2012 8:15 PM:

    Romney's election strategy through the primaries and the general election has been to create as much as possible a negative narrative that keeps marginal voters away from the pols. It worked in the primaries where he had massive structural advantages over his competition. It was always an iffy proposition as a general election strategy.

    People tend to forget just how muted turnout was during Republican primaries. Romney has always counted on an anti-Obama fervor to bring out his base, disillusionment to drag down Democratic numbers, and disgust to keep the casual voter at home. And if not for what I call the Akin Effect (the repeated, whack-a-mole appearance of right-wing wackos), it might have worked.

    The basic Republican argument right now is that the Dems can't possibly turn out enough voters. They're wrong.

  • Enon on November 01, 2012 9:16 PM:

    ". . . Obama’s done a remarkable job of achieving what he campaigned on in 2008 . . ."

    Yes, on domestic issues such as healthcare reform.

    No, on civil liberties and the imperial presidency.

    Mr. Obama drove a truck through the War Powers Act, in direct contradiction to his previously expressed views. Ten months elapsed between Congress overriding Nixon's veto of the act and Nixon's resignation. Can you imagine the outcry if during those ten months Nixon had announced that we were bombing some country but that kinetic action did not rise to the level of combat for the act to apply? It would have lead to another article of impeachment. Such is the tribalism of party faction.

    In ninety years there had been only three prosecutions under the Espionage Act. Under Obama there have been six more.

    The Obama administration has repeatedly used the state secrets privilege to seek to throw entire cases out of court, not just exclude certain evidence as his predecessors had done.

    No prosecution of torturers, but a war on those who expose torturers, on whistleblowers.

    The conceit that a secret process in the executive branch using a 'disposition matrix' to target American citizens for assassination is 'due process'.

    I knew that 'hope and change' was a marketing slogan. What I did not expect is that on certain issues of civil liberties and the rule of law, Obama would be worse than Bush, even worse than Nixon.

    I understand the stakes. Considering our first-past-the-post, two-party system, I know the only practical thing to do is to vote for Obama. To do otherwise would be to cede power to a Republican party that is no longer conservative but radical, Randian and reactionary. But I will be voting for Obama only with the greatest reluctance.

  • Nick on November 01, 2012 10:00 PM:

    Come on, Ed! These jackasses aren't going to decide anything! Why do you so often give us this 'oooh it's a coin-flip' routine???

    To quote Captcha: you are a 'modePro' so quit making 'Antisense'!

  • FlipYrWhig on November 02, 2012 1:33 AM:

    @Enon : How about this? Vote for Obama as the best option to head the executive branch. Then ALSO vote for people to fulfill the legislative branch's responsibility to check and balance the powers of that executive. The only way to stop the accretion of power by the executive is to agitate the legislative into taking it back.

  • Anonymous on November 02, 2012 6:25 AM:

    It's been 4 days and Bloomberg hasn't restored New York to it's pre-Sandy condition! Can NY afford to have him continue as Mayor? He coulda, shoulda done more!


    It's been 4 years and Obama hasn't restored employment to it's pre-recession condition! Can the US afford to have him continue as President? He coulda, shoulda done more!


    It takes time to recover from big, bad stuff.

  • Enon on November 02, 2012 8:54 AM:

    @FlipYrWhig - great name!

    Yes. Absolutely. Not just voting but working to recruit, support and get good people on the ballot. Work for change in whatever venues you can.

    There is a lot to admire in Obama's low-key, professorial approach to being chief executive. Reining in the imperial presidency is an ongoing battle that precedes the current administration by many decades.

  • David on November 02, 2012 1:35 PM:

    " Some of Dickersonís undecided voters seem eager to believe Romney will stab his party in the back and yet somehow drag it into the very compromises Republicans hate, achieving the bipartisan magic that eluded Obama"

    The flaw in the analysis is that for Obama to get bipartisanship, he needed to bring some republicans on board. They made sure that wouldn't happen. For Romney to get bipartisanship on board, he needs to get some Democrats on board. I bet that that is much more likely. Romney doesn't need to stab his party in the back: he needs his party to stand united behind right wing policies and convince some Democrats to support them. Then you get an end to gridlock and bipartisanship, and these so-called centrists are happy. And the product: right wing policies legitimized as centrist because enough democrats voted for them to pass them.