Obama vs. the Feiler Faster Principle
Does the Feiler Faster Principle create a big problem for Obama? It’s April. We’re basically ready to hold the election right now. In two months we’ll be thoroughly sick of the campaign–the dogs, the dog whistles, the gimmicks, the scaremongering surrogates. And then it will still be another two months before the conventions. Oy. It’s enough to make you long for an October surprise–and a September surprise, and a June, July and August surprise.
All this is the completely predictable consequence of the familiar principle that voters comfortably process information more quickly now than a couple of decades ago (and way more quickly than a century ago, when our political calendar was apparently set in stone). What used to take a month now takes a day and a half. A three week campaign seems like the Bataan Death March, and a six month campaign a sentence to everlasting Hell.
It seems to me, though, that this familiar phenomenon doesn’t affect the candidates equally. It hurts Obama. Why? Because he’s ultimately running a “devil you know” campaign. We’re not going to love him (please don’t try to make us!). But he’s by now a familiar package, with all his flaws–and he can argue that Romney is an unknown, a strange, plastic aloof rich twit from a polygamy cult in Mexico! Why take the chance?
The problem is that we’re getting to know Romney pretty quickly. By mid-May he’ll be a familiar presence. By June we’ll be sick of him too. He may retain high “unfavorables,” especially on some issues. But the uncertainty, the fear of the unknown, will have dissipated. He’ll be a devil we know. More likely he’ll be a devil we know and kind of like, in his way. Sure, he’s a plastic aloof rich twit from a polygamy cult but he’s our plastic aloof rich twit from a polygamy cult! What’s more he’s a plastic aloof rich twit who has some serious managerial and budget-balancing chops. That’s ol’ Mitt for ya.
The days when campaigns seemed short, when Lyndon Johnson could paint Barry Goldwater as a strange unstable warmonger and we wouldn’t have time to find out otherwise, are over, no? Does David Axelrod realize this?
**– Familiarity is a particular benefit for artificial, hard-to-penetrate personalities like Romney. We don’t know what’s going on inside that box of a head. But we know what goes in, and what comes out. After a few Feiler Faster eternities we’ll be at least used to him, even if we don’t quite understand him.