PARIS -- There's a good chance that American voters will screw up the presidential election.
"How could you say such a thing when in a democracy the people are, by definition, correct?" you ask.
Because there's no such thing as collective intelligence, that's why. Sure, there are individuals within a given society who happen to be informed and intelligent -- but it requires work to overcome the sort of inertia that has so many other people in that society pinned to their recliners watching "Dancing With the Stars" while precariously balancing a mound of salsa atop a tortilla chip. Intelligence is synonymous with information, the absorption of which ideally necessitates an active role.
Don't get me wrong: Passive voters shouldn't be patronized or treated as gullible fools. Many work hard, pay their taxes and only flop down in front of the television because it's their way to decompress after a long day. The problem is that this significant voter demographic is too overstretched to spend a lot of time dissecting the intricacies of electoral politics and the realities of what the media is churning out. They're looking for sound bites, shortcuts and distillation of the whole process so they can get on with their lives. And what they've been mostly hearing is that Mitt Romney wants to put Big Bird out of work and likes the idea of women in binders, in a professional sense.
The re-election of President Barack Obama would be a screw-up -- no question. Something would have had to go horribly wrong for that to occur. And that "something" would have been that Mr. Romney failed against all odds to convince voters that electing him would constitute less of a screw-up than the alternative. Based on current polling results, that's not an easy battle for Mr. Romney -- even though it should be.
Here are six ways that it could all go horribly wrong:
-- If Mr. Obama gives the impression that he cares about the middle class more than Mr. Romney -- and people believe him, if only because he has that "community organizer" vibe rather than a corporate executive one.
-- If Mr. Romney fails to adequately convey to voters that Mr. Obama's perceived competence in foreign affairs is primarily due to the optics provided by arm's-length outsourcing -- to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and private contractors in Libya, to al-Qaeda-linked mercenaries in Syria, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in rare matters involving actual responsibility. At least with George W. Bush, everyone knew how the hot dog was being made and what was going into it.
-- If Mr. Romney can't succeed in compelling voters, particularly in swing states, to remove their behinds from their recliners on Election Day and get to polling stations -- an act requiring far more effort than merely answering a pollster's questions on speakerphone while painting one's nails. It's easier for a campaign to get collectives of people who adhere to identity politics to the polls than it is to do the same with individualists -- and Republican voters tend to fall into the latter category.
-- If Mr. Romney can't educate and reframe all the people who seem to believe that government is the solution rather than the problem, in which case he's lost them to Mr. Obama. For example, a better response to the woman in the audience at the town hall debate who asked how Mr. Romney would reconcile women's pay inequality would have been: "Change the dollar figure on your invoice." That quote would have fared better than the "binders" remark in the subsequent news cycle, and he could have capitalized on it to promote a new entrepreneurial way of thinking and working that emphasizes women's value, financial freedom and independence.
-- If Mr. Romney keeps saying that he and Mr. Obama have profound philosophical differences, yet these differences are essentially reduced to games of Economic Buzzword Bingo every time he elaborates. On economic issues, Mr. Romney may benefit from the halo effect of his business background, but it would be of even greater benefit to him if he could use that implicitly massive brain of his to bring it down to the level of the average Cheetos aficionado.
-- If Mr. Romney can't produce a single professional woman who's appreciative of her experience collaborating with him as a professional equal. In what binder might we find this elusive unicorn?
It's possible that I'm being too hard on Mr. Romney. But now is hardly the time for unearned backside-kissing when that backside is barely clearing the bar.