Smooth Operator: Why President Obama is Likely to be Re-elected

Many thanks to Ted Rall for the opportunity to guest post here.  I am so pleased to participate on the blog of someone whose work I admire and appreciate.

Last week Ted Rall predicted that, despite assumptions to the contrary in the “corporate pundit class,” Mitt Romney will be elected president.  Rall observes that Obama is currently leading Romney in the polls by only 4-5 points – not enough to carry him through a long campaign season of pro-Romney attack ads – an aspect of campaigning at which Republicans excel.  Further, Rall asserts that the narrative this time around favors Romney rather than Obama.  People know the economy is getting worse, not better, and historically have been susceptible to the argument that we should run the country like a business.  Finally, Rall points out that Republicans have a huge fundraising advantage and that they are a “loyal bunch.”  For these reasons, his money is on Romney.

It’s risky to disagree with Rall, given his track record of being wrong only once in 17 years.  But what the heck; here goes!  First of all, I suspect the old narratives are not working as well as in the past.  They’re worn and frayed and more and more people, including conservatives, are suspicious of a businessman who inherited much of his wealth and made the rest by buying up companies, breaking them up, and laying off workers.  As for Republican loyalty, the Christian evangelicals, a crucial voting bloc for Republicans, will not be voting in large numbers for a Mormon.  I suspect that many progressives and young people who have soured on Obama, and Christians who can’t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon, will be sitting this one out and confounding the pollsters.

Finally, President Obama proved himself a champion fundraiser last time around and as of February 2012, had accumulated a war chest more than twice as big as Mitt Romney’s (though, as Rall says, once Romney is the nominee his fundraising will kick into high gear.)  And, Obama is the only presidential candidate ever to have won Advertising Age’s Marketer of the Year award for his campaign.  His ability to win an election should not be under-estimated.

However, those are not the primary reasons I believe Obama will be re-elected.  The main difference between my analysis and Rall’s is that Rall is focusing primarily on voter behavior, while my primary focus is on the goals of the oligarchy, the financial elite, if you will, that really run this country.  For that class, Obama is the best candidate to implement the austerity agenda that is going to be foisted on us after the election by whoever wins.  (Here I agree with Rall that “the D vs. R horserace is a parlor game with minor ramifications for our daily lives” and that whichever “corporate party” wins, we will continue to get widening economic inequality.)

Economist Michael Hudson pointed out last July, during the phony debt ceiling “crisis”, that just as it took a Republican president, Richard Nixon, to go to communist China, it will take a Democratic president to dismantle the social safety net and impose an austerity agenda.  Hudson wrote:

Wall Street knows that to get sufficient Congressional votes to roll back the New Deal, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, a Democratic president needs to be in office. A Democratic Congress would block any Republican president trying to make the kind of cuts that Mr. Obama is sponsoring. But Congressional Democratic opposition is paralyzed when President Obama himself – the liberal president par excellence, America’s Tony Blair – acts as cheerleader for cutting back entitlements and other social spending.

It’s the same in many western countries, Hudson observed, from France where the Socialist government supported the “privatization program dictated by European Central Bank,” to  Greece, where the Socialist party led “the fight for privatization and bank bailouts,” to Britain where involvement of the Labour party proved crucial in quelling popular opposition to privatization of the railways.

Hudson accurately anticipated last July that the playing field would be tilted by a clown car of Republican candidates, and that their extremism would allow Obama to fake left and move right.  He wrote:

The Republicans help by refraining from putting forth a credible alternative presidential candidate. The effect is to give Mr. Obama room to move far to the right wing of the political spectrum.

In addition to being the leader of the most effective political party for imposing an austerity agenda, Obama’s personal style is far superior to Romney’s for the task at hand.  Obama can be charming, gives the appearance of sincerity (unlike Romney, who is so obviously phony), and sounds like the reasonable guy in the room.  He is the perfect executive for the oligarchy, adept at pushing through their agenda while pretending to be one of us, even occasionally appropriating some of the language of the Occupy movement when it suits his purpose.  In sum, he is one smooth operator, highly skilled at “cooling out the mark” (that’s you and me).

Sociologist Erving Goffman used the analogy of a confidence game, and the role of “cooling out the mark,” to illustrate how individuals are persuaded to adjust to loss in various social situations. In a confidence game, potential marks are targeted and then convinced that they have a chance to win the game (actually rigged in favor of the confidence men).  Once relieved of their cash, marks are expected to depart, sadder, but wiser.  Some marks, however, are not prepared to accept their losses.  In these cases, an associate of those running the confidence game has the job of “cooling out the mark,” or getting him to accept his loss.

Goffman explains:

After the blowoff has occurred, one of the operators stays with the mark and makes an effort to keep the anger of the mark within manageable and sensible proportions. The operator stays behind his team-mates in the capacity of what might be called a cooler and exercises upon the mark the art of consolation. An attempt is made to define the situation for the mark in a way that makes it easy for him to accept the inevitable and quietly go home.

A classic example of a social situation where “cooling out the mark” – or persuading an individual to accept a loss of money and/or status – is required, occurs when someone is fired from a job.   In the film Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a character, Ryan Bingham, whose job it is to fly around the country firing employees whose companies are downsizing.  Clooney’s character functions as a “cooler,” by attempting to defuse the anger and hurt of individuals losing their jobs, and reframing the loss as a great opportunity.   Bingham begins every firing by telling the former employee:

Anybody who ever built an empire or changed the world, sat where you are now.  And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it.

Whoever wins the presidential election will function as the Ryan Bingham for the 99%, charged with giving us the bad news that the money we have paid in all our working lives for Social Security has been borrowed by the Federal government and they’re not going to pay it back, that Medicare will be privatized, and that programs for low-income people such as Medicaid and food stamps will be eliminated because, sadly, “we’re broke.”  (Of course, we’re not  broke – see this film – but that’s a subject for another post.)

Who do you imagine will be better at “cooling out the mark,” President Obama or Mitt Romney?   Who do you think the oligarchy will favor for the job?

Katherine M Acosta is freelance writer currently based in Madison, Wisconsin.  Contact her at kacosta at undisciplinedphd dot com.  Her blog is UndisciplinedPhD.

One thought on “Smooth Operator: Why President Obama is Likely to be Re-elected

  1. Who do you imagine will be better at “cooling out the mark,” President Obama or Mitt Romney? Who do you think the oligarchy will favor for the job?

    My vote for cooler supremo is Obama.

    His voters accept every line of crap he issues as the inevitable and objective truth.

    Why would the 1% want to change horses in mid stream. Obama is great at being the more effective evil while posing as the lesser evil.

    Anybody who still thinks Obama is a progressive needs more evidence than the last three years to change their mind. These people are too slow on the uptake to be believed.