Below is the article I wrote for The Andersonstown News group of papers earlier this week. I could have lopped out the top bit and made it more up-to-date, but since I've been wrong (like so many others) so often in my predictions, allow me a quick wallow in self-congratulation. Besides, it's fun to remember that Truman headline provided you don't think about how Truman ordered the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just as it's fun seeing Obama win, providing one doesn't think of his ordering the release of drone bombs responsible for terrible carnage in Afghanistan.
By the time you read this, Barack Hussein Obama will have been re-elected President of the United States. Probably. You never can be sure with these things. In 1948, Thomas Dewey, a man so pompous it was said he could strut while sitting down, fought Harry Truman for the American presidency. The pundits were so convinced Dewey would win at a canter, The Chicago Herald Tribune ran the headline in its early edition: ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’. Oh-oh. In fact Truman won and there’s a great picture of him holding up the daft headline and grinning from ear to ear.
Today there are those so convinced of an Obama win, they’re saying the neck-and neck talk is just journalists trying to make the race exciting. So let’s assume they’re right and ask what has swung Americans behind the incumbent?
Well, Romney for a start. Obama’s challenger kept dropping these resounding clangers. Introducing his vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan he declared “Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States - Paul Ryan!!” When asked what he wears in bed he said “I think the best answer is as little as possible”. And then there was a speech where he really went weird: “ When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no-- and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem.” Say what, Mitt?
But then came that first televised debate and Obama was the one in trouble. He performed like a man who was bored and suddenly the polls showed Romney on his shoulder and gathering momentum. That is, until Sandy came along. The President’s handling of the hurricane aftermath so impressed Americans, Obama surged again and it now looks as though he’s ahead and will stay there.
Of course other things like jobs and foreign wars and Guantanamo Bay mattered as well. But the fact is most Americans have jobs, most Americans haven’t lost a loved one in war, most Americans excuse Guantanamo Bay in the name of Homeland Security. And while the sheen may have gone off Obama after four years, most Americans figure a right-wing, abrasive Romney in the White House would make things worse. ’
But here’s the worrying part. Does it matter if Obama is a good TV debater or not? Not a button. Just like it didn’t matter that JFK looked better on TV than Nixon, or that Reagan had better one-liners on TV than Jimmy Carter. Choosing the president of your country isn’t like choosing a winner on X Factor, or it shouldn’t be, but that’s what will determine the vote of many Americans this week. TV footage of the Sandy aftermath showed Obama walking around with his hands in his pockets, looking suitably glum. But it’s that kind of thing that gets the votes. Bill Clinton used to be good at doing the “I feel your pain” thing too, and the electorate loved him for it.
So it was a bad TV debate performance sent Obama’s ratings sliding and it was a good hurricane-aftermath showing on TV that has sent him back into the lead. Yes siree, the housing market matters (“It’s the economy, stupid”), but deep down those Americans who aren’t hurting too much want a president who talks good and looks sympathetic. For God’s sake - they elected George Bush (twice) because they thought he’d be a nice guy to have a beer with.
Only in America, eh? Or maybe not. Just over a year ago, the Irish people in the in the twenty-six counties missed a historic opportunity because a TV presenter saw fit to ask one candidate if he went to confession. We’re not so smart ourselves, when you think about it.