Will 'Known Unknowns' Put Romney into the White House?
In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made what has become one of his most famous remarks:
[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
Though mocked by some, Rumsfeld's comments actually revealed a shrewd and concise understanding of a decision-maker's attempt to logically predict the future based upon incomplete information.
It might be useful for us to apply Rumsfeld's analytical method to the election of 2012. There are certain things about the election that "we know we know," and there are certain things that we know we do not know.
We know that the Republican Party will nominate a weak candidate. Barring any unforeseen tragedy such as a plane crash or heart attack -- "an unknown unknown" -- the GOP candidate will be Mitt Romney.
We know that Romney will not energize the conservative base. We know that Romney will appear stilted and artificial. We know that Romney will needlessly put his foot in his mouth, as he has already done more than once ("I'll bet $10,000" and "I'm not concerned about the very poor"). We know that the media will pounce on Romney's every gaffe. We know that Romney's venture-capitalist background will be grist for the Obama/Occupy Wall Street propaganda mill.
However, we also know that Obama is a very beatable candidate on several levels. Obama is arrogant and obnoxious, and he has a questionable background. We know that his management of the economy has been dismal. His incessant class-warfare demagoguery and agitation of resentment against "the rich" and the "fat cats" (despite the fact that he is a multimillionaire himself) have become grating. His party lost control of the House in a landslide referendum against his health care legislation, his cap-and-trade legislation, and out-of-control federal spending.
We also know that Obama is the incumbent, and that incumbency is an immense advantage in a campaign. We also know that, as Newt Gingrich put it, the media will "protect" Obama.
Comparing only the "known knowns," the smart-money bet is on Obama's re-election.
But there are several "known unknowns" that could swing the election to Romney -- even if he runs a poor campaign and continues to be an uninspiring candidate. These "known unknowns" will almost certainly decide the outcome.
"Known Unknown" No.1: The True Intent of White Voters
Obama took 96% of the black vote in 2008 and will easily get over 90% again in 2012. There will be little or no black crossover vote for Romney.
Obama won in 2008 based on his performance with upscale white voters. Upscale white voters pay a great deal of lip service to "diversity." They work in corporations and universities with active "diversity" and "sensitivity training" programs. To be viewed as racist is the kiss of death. However, the actual behavior of white upscale voters does not often mirror their racial pieties. If they wanted "diversity," they could move to Detroit or Compton and have plenty of it. Instead, they congregate in lily-white enclaves like Vermont. They send their kids to private schools with just enough handpicked affirmative-action minorities to make them feel morally just; they never send their kids to inner-city public schools that are 90% black. Will this contradiction manifest itself in the 2012 vote?
The "known unknown" is this: how many upscale whites who voted for Obama in 2008 now dislike him, but won't admit it to pollsters, journalists, and coworkers for fear of appearing racist? How many will vote for Romney in the privacy of the voting booth, potentially causing a last-minute upset in November?
"Known Unknown" No. 2: Iran
Obama ran in 2008 promising to negotiate unconditionally with Iran. One of his first acts as president was to deliver an apologetic speech to the Muslim world. The Iranians responded with a stiff middle finger. They continued the enrichment of uranium, expanded their ballistic missile program, threatened U.S. warships, and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. If Iran provokes another Middle East war this year, it is anybody's guess as to how the election will be affected.
If Iranian actions spike oil prices and cripple the economy, Obama could look weak, and Iran could doom him to defeat like it did with Jimmy Carter in 1980. On the other hand, Obama -- the Nobel Peace prize-winner -- has become quite comfortable taking credit for using military force against Osama bin Laden, Somali pirates, and Moammar Gaddafi. A war with Iran might cause a rallying effect and allow Obama to play up his role as commander-in-chief before the election.
"Known Unknown" No. 3: The "Super-PACs"
The "known unknown" with the greatest potential for swinging the election will be the role of political action committees, unaffiliated with either campaign, using independent expenditures to buy advertising. These "Super-PACs" were enabled by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which correctly upheld the First Amendment and allowed unfettered free speech during election campaigns. Obama publicly rebuked the Supreme Court for its decision, and for good reason: because unfettered public advertising that reveals the truth about Obama is the greatest threat to his re-election.
Super-PACs can inundate the airwaves to remind the public that the president of the United States mocked the retarded on national TV by saying that his bowling skills were like the "Special Olympics." They can remind voters about the "Fast and Furious" program, in which the federal government sent weapons to Mexico as a pretext for more gun control in the U.S. They can remind voters that the national debt is headed toward $16 trillion. They can remind voters that the Obama himself actually has two blood relatives in the U.S. who are illegal aliens -- and that he seeks amnesty for 12 million more. They can remind voters paying nearly $4 for gas that Obama nixed the Keystone XL pipeline but used tax dollars to subsidize the pathetic Chevy Volt and the now-bankrupt Solyndra Corporation.
They can replay Obama's statements that "we are not, and never will be, at war with Islam," that "one of the prettiest sounds on Earth" is the Muslim call to prayer, and that he is "uncomfortable" with "victory" in Afghanistan. They can remind voters that Obama instructed the head of NASA that his primary mission was outreach to Muslim nations.
Super-PACs can blast television viewers with excerpts from Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons, including his "God damn America" and "we nuked Hiroshima" hysterics, then remind voters that Obama wanted to apologize to Japan. Super-PACs can remind voters of Obama's association with Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. They can quote Obama's own autobiography to remind voters of his marijuana and cocaine use, the fact that he almost mainlined heroin with a needle, and that he actively sought out radical black, feminist, and Marxist professors in college. They can remind voters that Obama wrote that his one-year stint in the private sector was like being "behind enemy lines." They can replay Obama's calm, cool statement that his energy plan would "bankrupt" coal companies.
Of course, pro-Obama Super-PACs will lambaste Romney in return -- for his career at Bain Capital and his numerous flip-flops on the issues, particularly health care. But the ammunition that can be used against Obama is far more damaging -- so damaging, in fact, that the pro-Obama media could refuse to air it (and lose massive advertising revenue) if anti-Obama Super-PACs really go for the jugular.
One "known known" is that Romney, the milquetoast Republican moderate, will not attack Obama on these issues, just as his predecessor John McCain failed to do.
The biggest "known unknown" is whether or not Super-PACs will do the job for -- nay, despite -- Romney, and propel an undeserving and uninspiring candidate to victory.