Supermoon over Obama


US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at the Value City Arena - Schottenstein Center on May 5, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Obama traveled to Ohio and Virginia where he held rallies to officially begin his reelection bid for the 2012 presidential election.


Brendan Smialowski

ONSET, Massachusetts — Two major events took place Saturday — the official start of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, and the Supermoon. Both of them were a bit of a disappointment, at least in this small resort community on the Cape Cod canal.

For sheer excitement, the lunar orb had it over the president hands down. While Obama courted polite crowds in the battleground states of Ohio and Virginia, people the world over were feverishly readying their cameras and scouting out observation posts to capture what promised to be a spectacular show. Lady Moon was making her closest approach to Earth for 2012.

I led a group of friends away from a Cinco de Mayo party to the local beach to check things out. But the cloud cover was so thick that we could not see a thing — unless it was the margaritas that were obscuring our view.

My attempts to turn the conversation to politics, however, met with pretty stern resistance.

“No one really cares about the elections,” said Jim, a financial advisor from New York. “People are just sick of the whole topic.”

Jim is right — the campaign has been raging for months already. The collective hysteria of the Republican primary season had already tried the patience and exhausted the attention span of the electorate. With six months to go before the November poll, voter fatigue is already palpable.

Obama himself signaled the real start of his campaign a few days earlier, when he traveled to Afghanistan to remind the American people that he had made the difficult and ultimately justified decision to go after Osama bin Laden. In Kabul, Obama delivered what was meant to be an inspirational speech on "finishing the job,” shoring up his image as Commander in Chief while launching not-so-subtle jabs at his likely opponent.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, for his part, was quiet on Saturday, choosing not to try and steal with the president’s thunder — or perhaps he, too, was afraid of being eclipsed by the moon.

But he has been scathing in his criticism of Obama’s new campaign slogan: “Forward!”

“’Forward’ — what, over the cliff?” he said to a bunch of high-roller donors in Arlington, Virginia, last week.

The main outlines of the campaign are set — Obama will attack Romney as being an out-of-touch elitist who wants to protect the rich at the expense of the poor. 

Romney, for his part, will seek to park all of the country’s economic woes at the president’s door, promising to bring wealth, prosperity and greatness back to a struggling, bewildered America.

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Judging by the crowd I was with last night, the rhetoric is not going to sway too many voters. People’s minds seem to be made up already.

“I don’t understand how people can be persuaded to vote against their own interests,” said Jim, the financial advisor. “Romney’s policies clearly benefit the rich and hurt the poor. I guess everyone thinks they are going to get rich, and they want Romney to make it possible for them to hold onto it.”

Karen, a public policy expert from New Jersey, was a bit more emotional.

“I love Obama, and cannot understand why people are not as excited about him as I am,” she said. But when pressed for specifics, she had to confess that the president’s performance on the economy, the wars, the energy sector, left her cold.

“I think he’s a really good man,” she insisted. “But maybe not such a great president.”

That might be enough to carry him through, however. While many appreciate Romney’s business skills and may hope that his Midas touch will rub off on them, few are actually enthusiastic about him.

Polls show that “likeability” is one of Romney’s major stumbling blocks — that and the fact that women see him, and the Republican Party in general, as having declared war on them.

But that gap is closing. In order to gain another term, Obama will have to win over skeptical voters like Phyllis, a lawyer from Maine with a strong background in international affairs. Phyllis has lived all over the world, reads widely, and is not at all convinced that she wants to see Obama in the White House for four more years.

Of course, she wants to see Romney in there even less.

“I do not like Mr. Obama at all. I will not help him in this campaign,” she said firmly. “But I dislike Mr. Romney more. I am not going to contribute to either campaign, but I will work on voter registration. I think that that is the most important thing.”

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It might even be the key to the election, if the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is right.

According to a report released last October, new restrictions on voting have been imposed by Congress that may impact up to 5 million people — mainly the poor, the young, African-Americans, and other groups that tend to vote for the Democrats.

As the report points out, the effect could determine the outcome, since the number of those affected is “larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.”

Phyllis is determined to counter the efforts of the Republican lawmakers.

“I just want to make sure that, whoever wins, he represents the true choice of the electorate,” she said.

But back to Saturday night. Obama campaigned, the world watched the skies, and in Massachusetts we celebrated some obscure Mexican battle with fajitas, guacamole and a lot of tequila.

The beaches were almost entirely washed out by the perigean spring tide that accompanied the Supermoon. Having assured ourselves that Onset Bay was not about to flow into our living room, we returned to a rather desultory discussion of politics.

“I’m not voting for either candidate,” said David, a law school graduate who is studying for the bar. “I’ll go third party, most likely.”

David has been a contrarian since birth, and I tackled him on it.

“So you’ll throw your vote away?” I asked.

“This is Massachusetts,” he said. “Do you really think there is any possibility Obama will NOT win here? I just want to register a protest.”

Good point. But not such good news for an incumbent hoping for a comfortable victory.

With six months still to go, the campaign is looking like an unfortunate variation of Hobbes: nasty, brutish, and very, very long.

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