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Peter Funt: The ‘real’ force is you, the voter

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Conservatives can be forgiven for seeking to rationalize Mitt Romney’s loss — “media were against him,” “the primaries dragged on too long,” “Paul Ryan was a poor choice,” “Seamus ate his master’s homework,” whatever. But progressives should bite their tongues.

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Late on election night, Chris Matthews of MSNBC blurted out that he was “glad we had that storm last week,” implying that Hurricane Sandy was partly responsible for President Obama’s win. He apologized profusely the next day. Meanwhile, his network and its competitors are spending much of their post-election time focusing on the science of campaigning, as if Tuesday’s vote occurred in some exotic computer lab.

Liberal pundits are gushing over the “Chicago team” that crunched numbers, targeted voters in the right places, and engineered a carefully calculated win. On Fox, Bill O’Reilly stated flatly that if Obama’s guru David Axelrod had been running Romney’s campaign, the Republican would have won.

Both sides make the election sound like a game in which the American people are chess pieces — mostly pawns.

The science of campaigning is growing exponentially, there’s no doubt about that. Howard Dean is often cited as the first major candidate to harness the Internet for his 2004 presidential bid, building what came to be known as a Netroots campaign and using the Internet to spread messages, raise money, and track voters. Obama’s 2008 campaign took it further and, for the 2012 race — with more time, money and tools — the president’s staff ran the most sophisticated campaign in history.

Of course, it was also the most expensive, with over $2 billion spent by the two parties and their backers. In Iowa, for example, it’s estimated that the final price of each Electoral vote was $12.3 million.

But money couldn’t buy this election any more than computer science was able to engineer it. Karl Rove’s super PAC spent over $100 million on television ads, and came away with what the Sunlight Foundation computes was about a 1 percent return on investment.

Despite the spending and demographic targeting, this election may have been one of the most democratic ever. It was, from the start, about issues. It was about the clear philosophical differences regarding how government should work, and a majority of voters indicated they share the president’s views.

But even in conceding that much, some conservatives point out how this philosophy divides demographically, and all of a sudden we’re back on the chessboard. The suggestion is that demographic groups — blacks, Latinos, young women — who voted heavily for the president, simply weren’t “targeted” properly. That if they had somehow gotten the message, things would have turned out differently.

They got the message. And no amount of advertising, spinning or even intimidating could change it.

There’s an even more sinister angle at work here, grabbing space on conservative blogs and being whispered about on cable-TV. It seems to hint that the coalition of minorities that backed Obama is somehow less American, less deserving of an equal say. “The moochers re-elected Obama,” is how one blogger put it.

Rush Limbaugh, bombastic mouthpiece for the far right, acknowledged the situation. “If we’re not getting the female vote,” he asked his radio listeners, “do we become pro-choice? Do we start passing out birth control pills? Is that what we have to do?”

The best thing that can be said about Limbaugh and his followers is that they are not willing to compromise their beliefs. Voters recognized that in rejecting not only the top of the GOP ticket but also many extremists down below.

Thus, with due respect to Karl Rove’s checkbook and David Axelrod’s computer, it seems Americans can be manipulated only so far. If the puppeteers on either side hope that voters will pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, they overlook the fact that the real force behind the voting booth curtain is you.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

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