Now that we’ve entered the home stretch of this presidential campaign, we’re starting to see what happens to high-information political partisans after they’ve spent many months staring at this neon god we’ve constructed and named “The 2012 Horse Race”: Everyone starts to slowly, but readily, tip into derangement.
A few weeks ago, when President Barack Obama was enjoying a modest bounce in the polls, activists on the right developed a whole new space algebra and started “unskewing” the polls and insisting that Mitt Romney was actually the one enjoying the modest bounce. Last week, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs report came out, reporting a modest downtick in misery, the same crew led a lycanthropic rage-parade against the agency, accusing it of “cooking the books.”
That sh*t was, as the kids say these days, “cray,” but at the same time, there was almost something admirable about the way the conservative tribe manifested a will to power so pure and so intense that it was briefly able to slip the surly bonds of objective reality. This was communitarian discomposure at its finest, warlike in its dubiety. In the face of slightly bad news, the right didn’t so much suspend their disbelief as much as they waterboarded it into submission.
Since then, however, there has been a presidential debate, in which Romney prevailed as the more confident debater, and this has tipped the president’s most ardent supporters into their own sense of disarray. It is not a little bit weird. People talk about the “expectations game” going into these presidential debates, but I am forced to conclude that the president’s biggest fans fully expected Obama — the same guy who spent a few months being pretty sure he could win Sen. Chuck Grassley’s support for health care reform with the right mix of politesse and compromise — to go to the debate and serve Mitt Romney his own balls on a plate with fingerling potatoes and a squash puree.
That obviously didn’t happen. Romney prevailed against a performance from Obama that’s been universally rated somewhere between “too polite” and “outright lifeless,” and has in recent days experienced a resurgence of his own in the polls. This all culminated Monday when Pew Research released its round of post-debate numbersand found that Romney had taken a four-point lead nationally among likely voters. And so it was the left’s turn to give into derangement and — as anyone who has watched politics for more than a week knows is typical of them — they passed on the chance to manifest the same reality-altering will to power for their preferred reaction, pure animal panic.
In the immediate aftermath of the debate, the seeds necessary to grow organic, free-range woe were quickly sown by people such as Kevin Baker of Harper’s, who saw Obama’s performance as a de facto admission that the president just wanted to tank the election and bail.