Main Street in revolt
The homemade sign for Mitt Romney in the yard of a well-manicured but modest home in Leadville, Colo., forlornly signals the fracture of another onetime supporter of Barack Obama.
If Romney wins the presidency on Tuesday, the national media, the Washington establishment and the bulk of academia will have missed something huge that happened in “flyover” America under their watch.
It is a story that few have told.
It reminds one of the famous quip by New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael following Richard Nixon's landslide 1972 victory: “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon.”
Two years after suffering a historic shellacking in the 2010 midterm election, Democrats astonishingly have ignored Main Street Americans' unhappiness.
That 2010 ejection from the U.S. House, and from state legislatures and governors' offices across the country, didn't happen inside the Washington Beltway world.
It didn't reflect the Democrats' or the media's conventional wisdom or voter-turnout models. So it just wasn't part of their reality.
In Democrats' minds, it was never a question of “How did we lose Main Street?” Instead, it was the fault of the “tea party” or of crazy right-wing Republicans.
Yet in interview after interview — in Colorado, along Nebraska's plains, in small Iowa towns or Wisconsin shops, outside closed Ohio steel plants and elsewhere — many Democrats have told me they are furious with the president. Not in a frothing-at-the-mouth or racist way, as many elites suggest. They just have legitimate concerns affecting their lives.
These Main Street Democrats in seven battleground states supported Obama in 2008. Now they are disappointed by his broken pledges: Where is the promised bipartisanship? How could health-care reform become such a mess? What direction is the country going in?
Their overriding sentiment is uncertainty over where the president is taking the country. They have no idea but get the feeling it isn't the direction that traditional Democrats want.
They certainly haven't gotten guidance from the president's re-election slogans: class warfare, a hyphenated America, spreading the wealth around.
Over and over, these folks expressed unhappiness that fixing the economy doesn't seem to be Obama's focus; they have noticed that those in charge have high opinions of themselves but aren't taking responsibility for the lack of progress.
It took Romney just 90 minutes, in a debate hall just a three-hour drive from that Leadville home's sign, to convince many Americans (including many Democrats) that he passed their threshold test.
He came across as a qualified alternative to Obama who believes in their vision of an exceptional America and convinced them he can win.
And, just like that, “flyover” America was ready to vote its conscience.
What a shame that those from Kael's “special world” don't grasp the vicious cycle of their growing disdain for those alienated by their own actions.
They create dangerous narratives through Twitter and on TV that polarize and promote the rigidity of their ideology rather than introspection.
Never once have Main Street Americans heard Washington elites ponder, “What did we Democrats do to lose the confidence of so many voters?”
Plenty of traditional Democrats have voiced such concerns but are not being heard.
Conversely, Romney seems largely to have figured out what he did wrong in 2008 and what George W. Bush did wrong previously.
Obama's progressivism no longer seems universal, upbeat and forward-looking; instead, it appears divisive, shrill and based on the worst kind of shortsighted power calculations.
Yesterday's “special world” liberals, such as Kael, could be gently chided for their heart-in-the-right-place, head-in-the-clouds idealism.
Yet it is something else altogether to have today's arbiters of political correctness order you to march “Forward” to a future with less promise, fewer choices, more intrusive government — and to justify it by telling you to accept that the new normal of high employment, low growth and diminished world influence is good for you.
Is it any wonder that Main Street America is in revolt, since no one is telling its story?
Perhaps election night will tell it, at long last.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).