Samuel Johnson said, "Nothing so focuses a man's mind as the knowledge he is to hang at dawn." For the last six weeks the American voter's mind has been focused by and on the economy. The heavy weight of the economic issue has helped inoculate Obama from the onslaught of divisive, negative attacks that Republicans have depended on for the last several Presidential elections. As I note in my book, State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind (Thomas Dunne, June 2008) people often vote with their unconscious mind making them vulnerable to being controlled by only dimly recognized, primitive psychological states like envy, paranoia, and sexual anxiety.
The economy has stifled McCain and Palin's efforts to activate those primitive states because of the powerful reality-based set of fears created by the economy. Against a backdrop of the very real and imminent threat of losing one's job and not being able to support a family, the William Ayers matter can be more readily seen as the irrelevant contrivance that it is. And by calling attention to Obama's plan to "spread the wealth" and label it "socialism,"McCain is forgetting that for many American's who do not have the same vast wealth that he and his peers have, that does not sound like such a bad idea right now.
But the approaching finish line of an intense election like the current one will make many voters vulnerable to a reemergence of these less rational factors drawn from the deeper layers of their psyche as voters experience the pressure that intensifies at the critical decision time. The voting booth is designed to be an isolation chamber, and it is in such a setting the unconscious mind holds its greatest sway. For all the talk of a certain Obama victory, these less rational factors are very much in play and will intensify at the moment of truth on Tuesday.
Some may call this the "racial" factor, but I think that oversimplifies the question. Like all powerful and irrational human behaviors, racism has several components some of which are more active and others more dormant at any given point in time. Paradoxically, some have very little to do with race at all. Instead, they have to do with an aggregate of the kinds of feelings I describe in State of Confusion.
It starts with paranoid feelings that one's psychological boundaries are going to be violated and controlled by a menacing foreigner (William Ayers, Reverend Wright, terrorism), by envy based on fears that one's own resources needed for basic survival will be stolen by someone else ("spreading the wealth" and "taxes") and by sexual anxiety that one's personal feelings of inadequacy will be exposed leading to feelings of humiliation ("elitism," "gay marriage," the "angry black male", "gun control"). In contemporary America race simply provides a definitional framework that makes the defensive fear-based mechanisms "work." The famous Willie Horton ad, for example, was a trifecta for all three of the primitive states I discuss in State of Confusion.
But fortunately for Obama there is another wild card at play on Tuesday.
Republicans certainly enjoyed themselves at the GOP Convention. Rudy Guiliani in the midst of his extraordinarily mocking address aimed at Barack Obama came across the phrase "community organizer" and brought the house down.."Community organizer? What's that?" he said to guffaws from the GOP Conventioneers. "Obama worked as a community organizer?"
The audience, egged on by Guiliani, managed its ignorance with defiant smugness. They took the same sadistic pleasure in their know-nothing laughter at community organizers as they had a few minutes earlier in their passionately uninformed chant of "Drill, Baby, Drill." Clueless about what they were mocking, they indulged themselves in a group orgy of ignorance elevated to a narcissistic state of splendor sanctioned by group consensus.
On November 4, the GOP are going to get a very painful crash course in understanding what a community organizer is, and they are going to find out that Obama learned a lot as a community organizer back in Chicago. As powerful as Obama's charm and rhetorical skills are, it's his community organizing skill that has defined his success. Obama solved the country's campaign financing problem without legislation by creating a populist-based appeal for funding that worked far more effectively than anyone could have imagined. The advantage that "big moneyed" interests have had in fundraising, as it turns out, has not been money itself, but, instead, ease of harvesting money, a problem for Democrats that was overcome with the internet. Similarly, Obama won the Democratic nomination beating Hillary Clinton largely through the caucus system. He out-organized Senator Clinton so thoroughly that her confident and well-heeled campaign could never catch up or recover.
Tuesday, November 4 is the grand finale, and America will see what a brilliant, well-trained community organizer can do with an idealistic, energized constituency, plenty of money, and new communication technology to tie it all together.
What's a community organizer, Rudy? It's the election-day nightmare of all Republicans, where the "unwashed multitudes" will predominate and sweep over moneyed interests. Many will be people who never participated in elections previously but have over the past year been "organized" by Obama and brought into the political process. Many will be African Americans who have felt permanently disenfranchised by an America that has made political participation seem meaningless.
Which of these wild cards will be more powerful on Tuesday? The constellation of negative fear based forces on one side or the legions of hope based Obama supporters on the other? Obviously, I don't have a good quantitative measure of either wild card. But I don't think Rudy Guiliani will ever mock a community organizer again.
Bryant Welch is a clinical psychologist and an attorney from Hilton Head, SC. He is the author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind (St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books, June, 2008.)