NEW YORK CITY -- Today, Election Day, marks the end of the most expensive, least informative, least inspiring presidential election since TV took over politics in the Kennedy-Nixon race of 1960.
Whose fault is that?
I’ll start with Mitt Romney, who ran a race based solely on the “take the curtain” impulse from the old “Let’s Make a Deal” show.
Voters could settle for what they knew and sort of liked but were not crazy about –- President Obama –- or they could take a gamble on what was behind the curtain without having the faintest idea whether it was a trip to the Bahamas or a dog bowl.
What did we end up knowing about Romney? Arguably much less than we knew a few years ago. There is probably something gamey if not illegal in his tax returns of yore -- but nuts to you, the voter, if you wanted to know what that history was.
He just flat out wasn’t going to tell you. Ditto for his records as governor as Massachusetts, most of which he had wiped clean from the hard drives of the computers his staff used in Boston.
Same for any real details of what he would do to create those 12 million jobs in the next four years– which economists predicted the economy would produce given the course it was already on.
The president was hardly more specific about the future, but at least he had a record he was forced to defend, and explain.
All campaigns are about winning -– that’s the point of them -– but this one seemed to have squeezed out virtually everything else.
Obama haters, and they are legion, cared only about getting rid of him -– and that was at the heart of the Romney campaign’s play.
The White House, in answer, focused on process and spin. At times they seemed more proud of the mechanics of their reelection operation than anything else. Indeed, they were far more willing to talk about that than, say, what happened in Benghazi.
We learned all about their pointillist model for winning -– the equivalent of distributed computing -– but less about where we really are headed in the world.
Obama’s approach to reelection ended up being a lot like his approach to winning the 2008 Democratic nomination: by shrewd, careful targeting and the use of the available rules to end-run his foe.
As for the press, this was the Nate Silver Election. He was the symbol and bane. His odds-making in The New York Times –- a kind of racing tip sheet that The Times doesn’t even feature in the sports pages –- is the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of horse race coverage.
Nate’s a brilliant guy. The son of a Michigan State University professor, a graduate of the University of Chicago and a former business consultant, Silver was obsessed with baseball numbers. He became a sabermetrics savant, and then went on to use his secret-sauce formulas to aggregate every poll in creation, current and historical, to grind out pretty reliable predictions.
His rise is the perfect metaphor for a society that seems only to care about winning; it doesn’t matter how or even why, but just that it is.
So soon enough we will know who won. But that wont be The Answer. Given the way this campaign was run, it will only be a question.
For Howard Fineman's full 2012 Countdown, click here.
Language has been amended to clarify that Nate Silver's father did not attend the University of Chicago.