State of the Race

There’s a lot going on right now. The vice-presidential debate went live last week, polls have tightened significantly since Romney’s strong performance in Denver, the second Presidential debate is tomorrow night, and the election is in just over three weeks. Say that ten times fast.

In keeping with the multiple campaign narratives, here are my thoughts are a few different topics.

Smiling Joe

For better or worse Joe Biden stole the show last Thursday. Liberals loved his energetic, aggressive, in your face performance, while Conservatives criticized him for his condescending, rude, “unhinged” demeanor. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to guess I side with the liberal opinion. It’s my job. But here’s why:

Everyone seems to love “civility” these days. With Democrats and Republicans in Washington looking like the North and South Pole these days (get it polarized?), Independents, media personalities, and even the culprits of the situation bemoan the lack of bipartisanship. Joe turned a lot of those people off on Thursday. He was smiling and laughing and belittling Ryan. He wasn’t “civil”.

But Joe was right. Politics is about figuring out who’s going to get what, and how (says my textbook at least). That definition is abstract, but really, it’s about who is going to get tax breaks, how many people are going to get food stamps, which immigrants are going to stay in this country, where an orphaned child is going to grow up. The stakes of Washington’s decisions are tremendous. Their laws affect millions of people: children, teenagers, adults, the elderly, the handicapped, war vets… you get the gist.

If you don’t get a little riled up, a little bit upset, a little bit condescending about decisions of that magnitude, well, then I don’t think you deserve to be in politics.

There must be a line, obviously. There are honest differences between the parties, and the answers are not black and white. But Joe Biden’s style was more honest. There is real contempt in Washington right now, and if it’s ever going to get better, then both sides have to lay it out on the table. If Republicans and Democrats continue to harbor resentment, only letting it out at rallies in quick one-liners, nothing will ever happen.

The way to fix things is to do what Joe did. Sit down with the other guy, let it all out, all the anger, the condescension, everything, and then start fresh. And the guy’s got one heck of a smile.

Debate Preview

Tomorrow is a big day. I know I like to say this a lot, but tomorrow is the most important moment in the campaign thus far (but really). If Obama wins, then the race is over. If Romney wins, then the polls will probably get even tighter, and maybe even swing toward the governor. And if it’s a draw? Well, then things probably won’t change much.

Obama goes in as the underdog, but also with great expectations. Romney won’t be pulling a surprise upset like I predicted two weeks ago (had to throw that in there), because people know him now, but Obama does need to perform better. While his debating skills have been called into question, the necessity for him to perform well, regardless of what Americans think about his capability, is extraordinarily high.

Polls look to have stabilized after a week-long slide for the President, but a bad performance tomorrow night could turn some people who weren’t quite ready to ditch the guy after round one, into the undecided or even Romney’s column.

So who goes in with the advantage? While it’s a close call, Obama. Democrats may have lofty expectations for him, stemming from more of a need to see him perform than a realistic assessment, but rationally, voters are not going to be expecting nearly as much from Obama.

But there is one thing you can’t forget. The guy’s a competitor. Barack Obama did not become President of the United States after less than one term in the Senate out of sheer luck. That was part of it. But it took drive. The man will do what it takes to win. Sometimes that means playing dirty and running rough ads.

Sometimes it will mean picking himself up after getting knocked down. And swinging hard. If Obama was dreaming about Michelle last time, expect him to be locked like a laser on Romney tomorrow, and it might be Romney who’s having the nightmares.