Magazine article The Spectator

Obama's Nightmare

Magazine article The Spectator

Obama's Nightmare

Article excerpt

Will he wake up in time to save his presidency

The 2012 US presidential election will long be remembered for the encoun ters between a sleepwalker and a ghost intent on breaking into the White House. Even now, after one vicepresidential debate and two presidential debates, it is by no means clear which will win.

Millions of astonished Americans watched the first televised encounter, which took place in Denver, Colorado on 4 October.

Democratic supporters were apoplectic: their supercool and eloquent President, Barack Obama, was transformed into an unresisting somnambulist by a mysterious intruder. The intruder was identified as Willard Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger. But it was hard to be sure, because he assumed so many moderate shapes and positions which the real Romney on the campaign trail had denounced as heresy.

On that first encounter in Denver, the P resident could not get a grip on the shimmering ectoplasm who was now Moderate Mitt. In the normal course of events, the oscillations of Romney would have invoked derision and scorn from the commentariat, which likes nothing better than mocking inconsistency and gaffe. To win the party's nomination Romney had been forced to abandon the moderate, middle-of-the-road policies he'd espoused as the Governor of Massachusetts. He would not otherwise have survived the long, gruelling primary season dominated by Tea Party insurgents from the right.

The Tea Partiers demand that candidates should exhibit none of the corrupting traits of liberalism, like believing Charles Darwin was on to something, or that global warming might not be a hoax. To do really well in the ridiculous primaries - oh, bring back the smoke-filled rooms when the party bosses did the choosing! - a candidate had also to express a suspicion that Barack Obama was not really an American-born citizen.

Mitt could not resist making a cheap jibe that his own birth certificate was in order, but he'd begun to strike a more moderate note after the Republican convention, leaving the contempt for the President to be executed by Clint Eastwood talking profanities to an empty chair. It was ruined for Mitt (or so it seemed) when he bared his heart and soul to a bunch of wealthy donors. The incident took place in May, but remained ticking away until Mother Jones, a magazine which pulses with the spirit of the eponymous Irish rebels of the 19th century ('the grandmother of all agitators') got hold of a video shot clandestinely of Mitt.

Maybe someone at the dinner said, 'Tell us what you really think, Mitt', since he unleashed a withering contempt for half the population that he'd never dream of uttering before any other than an audience he presumed shared his prejudices. His response is worth repeating in full, as it is being blamed for making Obama suspect the race was as good as over.

'All right, ' said Mitt, 'there are 47 per cent who are with Obama, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven per cent of Americans pay no income tax. My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.'

It was offensive and it was factually wrong. Only 18 per cent pay no taxes at all. To Romney's critics, it was proof: the Tea Party evangelists do believe he spoke truth to privilege conferred by the 'entitlement society', but they felt it was not something to say in front of the children. …

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