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Robert Reich

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The Politics of Fear and the Party of Non-Voters

Posted: 10/09/2012 6:00 pm

The latest Pew Research Center poll shows Mitt Romney ahead of President Barack Obama among likely voters, 49 percent to 45 percent. But the latest Gallup poll shows the President Obama leading Romney among likely voters, 50 percent to 45 percent.

What gives? The Pew poll covered the days immediately following last Wednesday's presidential debate. It didn't include last weekend. The Gallup poll, by contrast, included the weekend -- after September's jobs report showed unemployment down to 7.8 percent for the first time in more than three years.

So it's fair to conclude the bump the president received from the jobs report bump made up for the bump Romney got from the debate. No surprise that voters care more about jobs than they do about debate performance.

But don't be misled. The race has tightened up.

Moreover, polls of "likely voters" are notoriously imprecise because they reflect everyone who says they're likely to vote -- including those who hope to but won't, as well as those who won't but don't want to admit it.

Remember: The biggest party in America is neither Democrats nor Republicans. It's the party of non-voters -- a group that outnumbers the other two.

So the real question is which set of potential supporters is more motivated on Election Day (or via absentee ballot) to bother to vote.

The biggest motivator in this election isn't enthusiasm about either of the candidates. The Republican base has never particularly liked Romney, and many Democrats have been disappointed in Obama.

The biggest motivator is fear of the other guy.

There's clear reason for Democrats and Independents to fear Romney and Ryan -- their reverse Robin-Hood budgets that take from the poor and middle class and reward the rich; their determination to do away with Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Dodd-Frank constraints on Wall Street, and ObamaCare; their opposition to abortion even after rape or incest, and rejection of equal marriage rights; their support for "profiling" immigrants; and their disdain of the "47 percent," to name a few.

And the thought of the next Supreme Court Justices being picked by someone who thinks corporations are people should strike horror in the mind of any thinking American.

Yet Romney is such a chameleon that in last Wednesday's debate he appeared to disavow everything he's stood for, hide many of his former positions, and even sound somewhat moderate.

Meanwhile, for four years the GOP and its auxiliaries in Fox News and yell radio have told terrible lies about our president -- charging he wasn't born in America, he's a socialist, he doesn't share American values. They've disdained and disrespected President Obama in ways no modern president has had to endure.

They've drummed up fear in a public battered by an economic crisis Republicans largely created, while hiding George W. Bush so we won't be reminded. And they've channeled that fear toward President Obama and even to the central institutions of our democracy, casting his administration and our government as the enemy.

They've apparently convinced almost half of America of their lies -- including many who would suffer most under Romney and Ryan.

Republicans are well-practiced in the politics of fear and the logistics of the big lie. The challenge for Obama and Biden and for the rest of us over the next four weeks is to counter their fearsome lies with the truth.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage," now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

 

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