By Chez Pazienza: We may as well just go ahead and get this out of the way right off the bat: Make all the excuses you want, Barack Obama got beat pretty handily last night. I’m not talking in terms of actual content, given that Romney took the somewhat predictable tack of lying out his ass almost across the board while Obama stayed mostly on the straight-and-narrow. No, I’m talking solely in terms of optics. When it comes to optics — to that somewhat intangible feeling of who took the offensive, commanded the audience’s attention and dominated the conversation — Romney came out on top. The big question now is what effect if any it’ll have on the overall race.
I’ve been saying for a while now that premature gloating on the part of Democrats probably isn’t wise since, despite the growing lead Obama’s opened up recently and the momentum his campaign has enjoyed, there’s still enough time before election day for everything to change. Yes, it’s unlikely, as we’re constantly reminded by those who study the polls carefully, understand conventional wisdom inherently and know election year history like some people know NFL stats. But here’s the thing: This race isn’t like any we’ve seen before. Why? Because our national political climate isn’t like any that’s come before.
I realize I tend to view things through the prism of media, since I’ve been immersed in that world in one form or another for almost a quarter-century, but it doesn’t take a savante to grasp that the rapid-fire nature of the way we’re inundated with information these days has turned our entire culture into a 10-year-old boy with ADD. Our media, whether traditional or social — the latter fueled by the white noise chatter of each and every one of us — have become like a school of fish that can turn on a dime and head in an entirely new direction simultaneously and seemingly in defiance of physics. It’s the media that drive the conversation these days and that give the conversation an outlet that in turn drives the media, creating one big Mobius strip. Stories come and go in an instant. News cycles barely last a day. Celebrities are spawned, become massive successes and fall from grace in the span of a week or two.
And that’s why what Romney accomplished last night matters — because all he really needed to do was seize and change the national narrative, and he did that. All he needed to do was get some good press and get people talking about that good press and our media superconductivity would do the rest. Sure he shook the hell out of that Etch-a-Sketch, but people for the most part don’t care about how things are, they care about how things look. And to a conflict-addicted mainstream press corps, nothing looks better than a good race and an underdog storyline.
On the podcast last week I made a comment about the way I view politics, particularly elections, these days. If a race is close to neck and neck, what it’ll come down to is, almost literally, a game of musical chairs: Whoever happens to be in the right place at the right time when the music stops wins, and it can be anybody depending on the prevailing media coverage. Because of the nature of the way we communicate with each other now, and how we’re communicated with — the spastic, hyperdriven and endlessly scattered shotgun blasts of information delivered 140-characters at a time and yet often inexplicably in tandem depending on the mood of the nation at any given moment — things can change in a second. People can go from hero to villain overnight, winner to loser, or even failure to success. All it takes is the corresponding narrative.
There’s no doubt about it — Romney helped to change the view of himself last night, seemingly in an instant.
The down-side of that, though: It can all change back just as quickly.
It’s only on November 6th that we’ll know who’s left stuck without a chair.