Lessons learned?

Talking Politics
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  December 4, 2012

Last Thursday, four top strategists of the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaigns were lured to Cambridge to enlighten us about lessons we should take away from their experience.

But a mysterious and perfectly timed power outage forced the host, the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, to cancel the event, which was to include Team Obama's David Axelrod and Jim Messina, and the Romney posse's Eric Fehrnstrom and Stuart Stevens.

I take the blackout as a sign that the universe wants these smart and savvy yet secluded and out-of-touch campaign elites to hold their tongues — and learn some lessons from what ordinary people have been trying, collectively, to tell them: that voters know more about the country's mood than the campaign strategists do.

In the run-up to the November elections, the campaigns lunged at every bit of data the instant it appeared, in vain attempts to convince the voting public that the economy was either great or horrible.

None of it mattered — not to voters, anyway.

Surveys showed, and voting confirmed, that people were feeling the recovery gathering steam as the 2012 election approached. And we now learn, through new revised data, that the economy was in fact doing much better than these experts believed.

Similarly, ex-post-facto data confirmed that the economy tanked far worse than experts believed prior to the 2008 election; and people knew, long before pols and pollsters — and the above-named panelists — caught on, that Obama's 2010 "summer of recovery" was a sham.

Nonsense multiplied is just annoying nonsense.

The billions of dollars spent by the campaigns — and their loosely connected allies — went overwhelmingly into bigger and bigger placements of television ads in limited media markets. More than one million TV ads had aired by late October, according to Wesleyan University's Media Project, the vast majority in 15 markets, targeting nine swing states. Average residents of those states were seeing some individual ads 20 times a week.

Most of them were attacks, often unfair ones. And they did very little good — just look at the Romney efforts. Team Romney's attempts to convince Ohio voters that Obama tried to kill the auto industry only seemed to backfire. And attempts to sell Romney to Hispanic voters in Florida, Colorado, and elsewhere, with radio ads not touting actual policies but instead demonstrating that one of his sons speaks Spanish, resulted in an even worse election-day drubbing than expected.

In fact, much of the Romney campaign seemed to be about writing off unsupportive people, as seen in his secretly recorded "47 percent" speech, and in GOP Voter-ID laws. All of which simply galvanized those targeted poor and minority voters to go to the polls in unexpectedly high numbers.

One of the few things that actually did seem to have some effect was the enormous Obama operation that organized massive numbers of volunteers to go out knocking on doors, asking their neighbors to vote for the president's re-election.

But come Election Day, the only mandate people gave is to stop being jackasses.

Americans are united in their disapproval of the past two years of their elected officials pointing fingers while Rome burns. But voters didn't choose to end that — instead, they returned the very same divided government. And polls suggest that's exactly the result they wanted.

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