Convincing Friends to Vote for Obama

I don’t think anybody knows precisely how many voters make up their minds in the last week of a campaign, or how influenced they are by friends or relatives who steer them right. My guess is that the number is considerable. You might only influence one or two of them, but if a million people like you each influence one or two, that turns a close election into a landslide.

It’s worth trying, in other words.

These persuadable voters might be co-workers or classmates who are bored by politics, but feel vaguely guilty about not participating in democracy. Maybe they’re grandparents who have mostly lost interest in the larger world, or who only know what Bill O’Reilly chooses to tell them. Or they’re your grown children, who haven’t yet caught on to the idea that voting is part of their duty as an adult. Maybe they are friends who generally share your ideals, but aren’t in the habit of voting.

My two most important pieces of advice are:

  • Don’t waste your time arguing with committed Romney voters unless you enjoy it or you’re really performing for silent onlookers. Life is too short. If they pick an argument, you can put them off with a flip remark like “I’m not rich enough to vote for Romney.”
  • Don’t be a jerk. People who admire jerks are already voting for Romney, because Rush Limbaugh told them to. Liberalism is attractive because it is both serious and compassionate. Try to embody that; Obama does.

Some people don’t vote for really simple reasons that are easily dealt with.

  • I don’t know where to vote. The League of Women Voters knows. Go to their Vote411 web site and enter your address. It will locate your polling place and also tell you whether it’s still possible to register to vote in time for the election. (That’s worth checking. Some states allow at-the-polling-place registration.) The Obama campaign site is a good resource for early-voting info and for listing what you need to bring with you.
  • I can’t get to the polls. The best answer is “I’ll take you”, but that may not be practical if you’re talking to someone who retired to Florida. One of the things people can do at is identify themselves as Obama voters. If you do that, I guarantee someone will call you on election day to see if you need help getting to the polls. (I’ve been hanging out at the house of my recently deceased father, who was a 90-year-old registered Democrat. I’ve already gotten a call from the Obama campaign asking if he needed a ride.)

Closing arguments against Romney. The thing that makes you more effective than a TV commercial is that you know who you’re talking to and they know you. So some people will want to see why Romney’s budget numbers don’t add up and others will frost over immediately if you start making them do math. Some will be impressed by the depth of Romney’s duplicity, and others will shrug and say that all politicians lie. Still, seeing is believing.

One of the problems the Obama campaign uncovered early in its focus groups was that moderate voters simply refused to believe that Romney had taken the radical positions he ran on in the primaries, or that he lied as boldly as he did. But it’s true: He said he would cut taxes on “the top 1%” and later denied it. He said he would ban all abortions, without exceptions for rape or incest, and later denied it, at one point championing an exception for the “health of the mother” before denying that too. He said his health plan would cover pre-existing conditions, and later denied it. He says he loves teachers, but also wants to muzzle their unions and slash their retirement programs, and he opposes Obama’s plan to hire more of them in math and science.

Other than simple lying, Romney has taken advantage of vagueness. So he promises to balance the budget, but the only plans he has specified cut taxes and raise spending. (In Virginia, his ads cast him as the candidate who will create jobs by increasing spending, precisely what he denounces everywhere else in the country.) He says he can balance that out (plus the deficit we have now) with by cutting other spending and closing tax loopholes, but since he won’t specify those parts of his program, he can deny anything specific. So, is he planning to slash spending on education? On roads and bridges? On healthcare for the poor or food stamps for the hungry? Is he going to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction or deductions for contributions to charity? He has no plan to do that, he says. But he has to cut or tax somewhere to make his numbers work, and he won’t tell us where.

If the people you’re trying to convince say they’re leaning towards Romney or think he looked good at the debate or find him attractive in some other way, the right question to ask is: “Which Romney do you like?” Romney has literally had every position on every issue. But if he’s elected, which Mitt do you expect to take office in January? In order to support Romney, you need to believe that he was honest in what he promised you, but lying to all those other people.

If someone likes the “severely conservative” Romney of the primaries, there’s not much you can say. Whatever he does is likely to be more conservative than what Obama would do. But if they liked the “moderate Mitt” of the debates, probably they should be voting for Obama, who is the real moderate in the race. Jonathan Alter says it best:

Romney as president would be a man with a strange crick in the neck, constantly looking over his right shoulder to see which pickup truck full of movement conservatives was about to run him over.

Beyond the policy issues, there are character issues. Young Mitt was a bully, and his sons’ attempts to tell heart-warming stories about him only emphasize that he is still a bully. Women who came to him in his role as a Mormon bishop telling horrifying stories of his insensitivity. And of course there’s always the dog-on-the-roof story.

If you read between the lines in the stories of Romney’s friends, you see the larger pattern: He’s a great guy as long as he’s in control and you’re doing what he wants. James Lipton has him nailed:

He is that boss who tells lame jokes and waits for everyone else to laugh (or else), and keeps us forever off balance, uncertain and anxious.

Closing arguments for Obama. Two false charge against Obama are that he isn’t running on his record (or can’t because his record is terrible) or that his campaign is entirely negative. I’ve already devoted an article to Obama’s positive case, but it’s time to boil that down to a few paragraphs.

Here’s the best way to frame Obama’s economic record: Thanks to Obama (and his unfairly maligned stimulus), the next president won’t have to deal with anything like the multiple crises that Obama faced on Inauguration Day. The month Obama took office, the economy lost more than 800,000 jobs. Now it’s gaining at least 100,000 jobs a month. That’s not robust growth, but we are muddling ever upward. Those bad jobs numbers the Romney people throw around always include the massive job losses in the first few months of 2009, before Obama’s policies had taken effect.

When Obama became president, our banks were insolvent and the auto industry was about to collapse. We were fighting two expensive wars. Serious people were speculating about a Second Great Depression. It’s easy to brush that off now, but the fact that it didn’t happen is a major accomplishment.

Crises that deep take time to overcome. (In the First Great Depression, unemployment was still over 10% at the end of FDR’s second term.) Romney likes to compare the current recovery to the Reagan recovery of the early 80s, but that followed an ordinary interest-rate recession, not the popping of a bubble. Bubble recoveries are slower, because the previous peak wasn’t real.

There are a number of reasons to believe that the economy is about to accelerate. Consumer confidence is up. The jobless rate is finally below 8%. And people are starting to build houses again.

On foreign policy, Obama has been the steady hand we needed. He ended the Iraq War, wound down the Afghan War, attacked the people who really attacked us on 9-11 (including Bin Laden), and — best of all — didn’t get our troops involved in any new wars, despite numerous opportunities.

Myths. Many people — especially low-information voters — think they are against Obama because they’ve bought some crazy story about him: He’s Muslim, he’s Kenyan, he quadrupled the deficit, whatever. It’s impossible to list them all, but is your best place to start debunking.

Greens are a special case. Some of the undecided are actually very well-informed liberal voters, but they can’t decide whether to vote idealistically for Green candidate Jill Stein or pragmatically for President Obama. If they live in a foregone-conclusion state like Texas or Vermont their Green vote isn’t going to affect the outcome anyway, so don’t bother trying to convince them. But in swing states people need to remember Bush/Gore in 2000. If the Nader voters in Florida or New Hampshire had voted for Gore, we wouldn’t have had an Iraq War.

I’ve made a longer pitch to Greens here, and Leftcandid has done it here.

In short. Across the board, Obama has done a good job in a bad situation. And on issue after issue, Romney has either offered no alternative or has offered every alternative, (when he wasn’t agreeing with what Obama has done). No matter what you think the country’s most important problem is — the economy, the deficit, women’s rights, war, terrorism, inequality, the environment, whatever — Obama is the best bet for progress.

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  • pawnyourhalo  On October 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    The people I know who are against Obama are the lefties (like me) who struggle with his drone strikes that kill innocents, Gitmo, the continued war, his promise to increase military spending, his corporatism…it’s hard. All I can do is remind them how well voting for Nader turned out. But the reservations themselves I can’t answer.

    • Kim Cooper  On November 3, 2012 at 4:02 am

      The liberal version of racism is to hold the black man to a higher standard. the truth is, in the American system, the President doesn’t have a lot of real power to do anything. He influences, leads: but he can’t pass laws, only veto them.
      His rationale for drone strikes, if I understand it, is that they get fewer Americans killed. Gitmo: he tried to shut it down, quite early on in his presidency, but no one would let him move the prisoners to their state — he was stopped at every turn. You can only blame that one on Obama if you believe the presidency is a dictatorship. The war: he didn’t start them, he never promised to end them swiftly, and he is doing what he thinks is a responsible job of ending them. They were and are a quagmire that we should never have entered, and he had nothing to do with getting them started. Yes, I would have preferred he end them more swiftly, but I suspect he has information that I don’t have that he is using in his decision-making. Military spending: he said he’d increase it? I must have missed that. I thought we were in for across-the-board cuts, including the military. Ahhh, his corporatism…. Can anyone who is not a corporatist ever get very high in American politics these days? Then why do you expect him to do the impossible? Have you noticed how much money it costs to run for office these days? How could someone raise that much money if they didn’t support corporations at least some? How could someone represent all of the people if he didn’t believe that corporations were basically a good thing? A very large percent of Americans either work for a corporation or buy the goods or services a corporation provides. However, if you look at Obama’s attitude toward corporations and compare it to Romney’s, honestly, you will see huge differences. Yes, they both think corporations are positive things, but Obama also thinks humans are positive things, and Romney just thinks they’re things….

  • jon schumacher  On October 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    and two very important words: Supreme Court


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