Sunday, October 31, 2010

Article 300: My Life As I See "Saw"

For those who subscribe to the notion that movies like Saw constitute "torture porn", I offer you two rebuttals:,1,5805726.story

As I rode the train to see "Saw 3D", the seventh installment in the long-stand "Saw" horror franchise, I began to reflect on the different experiences I have had seeing each of the films for the very first time. Soon, it occurred to me that a mini-biography of the past half-decade of my life could be woven through the unique lens of each of those experiences. That realization was the genesis of the article written below.

Saw II & Saw

My introduction to this horror franchise actually came about with the second film rather than the first, when my college friend Brad introduced myself and my then-girlfriend Regina to "Saw II". The location was his immaculate dormitory room; the calendar date can be approximated as sometime in early 2006 (between February, when the DVD was released, and May, when I graduated from Bard College with a BA in History); and the mood can be described, with great understatement, as one of shock and revulsion.

Prior to "Saw II", I had spent most of my life harboring an aversion to cinematic blood and guts. While this trepidation had diminished somewhat by the time I found myself reclining on Brad's bed and watching a panicked half-naked police informant press a razor blade against his eye, seeing "Saw II" acted as a form of intense immersion therapy for me. By the time that movie was completed, I had become so sated with exposure to physical agony and gruesome mutilations that I would subsequently find it impossible to become too squeamish at future gorefests. If nothing else, I can comfortably say that once you've seen "Saw II", you can handle anything.

Yet the movie's impact on me went beyond simply callousing my previously sensitive visceral nerve endings. The philosophical premise articulated by that motion picture's antagonist, the eponymous Jigsaw Killer, had piqued my interest in the entire franchise. How often do you find a horror film that bases its premise not on some supernatural conceit or macabre "What if?", but rather on a sophisticated philosophical argument?

As I explained in a blog article reviewing "Saw VI":

According to the movies' antagonist, "The Jigsaw Killer" (whose identity is only revealed at the end of the first movie, which is why I won't betray his identity, motives, or backstory here), modern mankind has gradually lost touch with a key element in its identity - the survival instinct. Hence the serial killer targets individuals who he believes have shown a lack of appreciation for the lives they have been given. His goal is to teach them to truly be alive. And how does he propose to do that? Why, by putting them through Rube Goldbergesque contraptions that force them to brutally torture themselves and/or other people in all sorts of creative ways before the proverbial clocks runs out and they are killed. According to the Jigsaw thesis, emerging intact (relatively speaking) from such life-threatening trials will help his subjects to gain, I don't know, some perspective on things, with the resulting epiphany causing them to stop wasting their lives.

What Jigsaw's approach lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in ingenuity. The subjects he chooses for his tests (or "games", as he prefers to call them) are guilty of all sorts of infractions that have led him to believe they are unappreciative of their own lives. Rapists, crooked cops, hit-and-run drivers, drug dealers, philandering doctors, neglectful fathers, faux suicidal yuppies, and corrupt city planners are just a few of those he believes, for reasons he explains with sinister eloquence, have failed to make good use of the fleshy real estate they currently occupy. Some of his subjects pass their "tests" and get to live; most of them are bloody failures (pun intended) and shuffle off this mortal coil. It's all very entertaining to watch, assuming you have a stomach for the grungy aesthetic, overflowing profanity, and copious quantities of blood and guts that accompany each installment.

This is not to say that the movies aren't a bit too prone to glaring logical errors, be they in the mechanics of the traps, the rationale behind the selection of its victims, or the often agonizingly convoluted plot developments (each installment contains its own unique narrative labyrinth, which in turn builds on and connects to the equally complicated stories from each of its predecessors). Yet they also offer a surprisingly insightful look at how Nietzschean ideas of the "superman" would work if applied to contemporary American archetypes. We often talk about the workaholic, the unfeeling doctor, the repeat penal offender, and the junkie as being "wastes of space" - but if that really were true, in its most hyperliteral sense, would Jigsaw's logical extrapolation of what should be done to "fix" them be that far off the mark?

My fascination in the films, which was whet by "Saw II", was finally confirmed by the first "Saw", which I rented from a video store several months after seeing its successor. The quality of the craftsmanship that had gone into developing the story and creating an appropriately foreboding movie atmosphere was undeniable in my eyes (although many movie critics, no doubt turned off by the goriness and susceptible to the elitist derision toward a genre inaccurately referred to as "torture porn", denied it in spades).

That said, I had yet to watch a "Saw" movie in theaters. Later in 2006, however, that fact would change. Indeed, unbeknowst to me, an annual tradition - one that would be followed for five successive autumns - was about to begin. What's more, each "Saw"-based outing would carry with it experiences that epitomized the different phase of my life at which I found myself as I went to see "Saw".

Saw III:

Prior to seeing "Saw III", I had read in various movie reviews that the opening scenes would continue the story of a character whose fate had been left uncertain at the end of the previous film. Naturally this increased my curiosity about the new movie, which I went to see in an upstate New York theater with Brad.

At the time, I was a graduate student in a Master's/Doctoral program at American University for history. I was also abjectly miserable, knowing full well that - while being a history professor was certainly one possible career route for me - there were plenty of others (including being a playwright or working in politics) that also had great appeal, and yet which I felt were being implicitly ruled out. This feeling of dormant but ever-rising despair defined my emotional life in the autumn of 2006 and, consequently, saw me undergoing the closest thing I have ever had to a genuine midlife (or in my case, quarterlife) crisis.

Those concerns were swept away as soon as I entered the theater - and they were, for an hour-and-a-half, replaced by sympathy for a man poignantly depicted as drowning in grief and rage at the untimely death of his young son, horror at the particularly brutal death of a character who had been with the franchise since its inception (one that gave new meaning to the expression "Spill your guts"), and frustration that the fate of the character left behind from the second film remained maddeningly ambiguous by the time the end credits began to roll on this one. As Brad and I drove away from the multiplex, he remarked to me that anyone who could be interested in the "Saw" movies was absolutely sick (a comment fraught with irony given his own enthusiasm when he introduced me to the films). While I could have tried to rebut his comment, I decided it would be wiser to keep my thoughts to myself. Instead I began to wonder if, in the fourth "Saw" movie (assuming they made one), the narrative thread involving that one compelling character would actually be tied up.

Saw IV:

This movie has two main distinctions for me:

- It is the first movie I ever saw in theaters on my own (something that would be the case for all of the future "Saw" films).

- It is one of the few movies I have ever seen in theaters more than once, although this last fact was not by design.

Autumn 2007 saw me in a very different state than the one in which I had found myself one year earlier. I had since then dropped out of graduate school and seized aggressive control over my own destiny. That was the good news; the bad news was that, at this particular time, that destiny had left me in the clutches of a miserable job at the Department of Veterans Affairs, a lonely and cramped apartment in Montclair, NJ, and a social life that consisted mainly of treks to upstate New York - where my then-girlfriend and half of my friends resided - and all-too-rare forays to Easton, PA, where the other half of my friends could be found.

Thus "Saw IV" offered another welcome respite from the banality of my day-to-day existence. Once again, my first introduction to the film occurred in a multiplex in upstate New York, where my then-girlfriend, myself, and several other friends had decided to go to the movies. While I don't remember the motion picture they had decided to see, I do recall that it was one in which I was very distinctly uninterested. Since I had been eagerly awaiting the sequel to "Saw III" ever since I had heard that it would, at last, bring resolution to the story of the character left over from the denouement of "Saw II", I decided to buy a ticket to that show instead.

This proved to be a mistake for three reasons:

- I had already agreed to see "Saw IV" with a co-worker of mine who shared an interest in the franchise, and since I didn't know at that time if I would enjoy the movie, it was a serious lapse in financial judgment to commit myself to spending money on tickets for it twice.

- While I did wind up feeling that "Saw IV" had much to its credit (an interesting and engaging plot, genuinely inventive and frightening horror set-ups, competent directing and acting), I was deeply disappointed by the manner in which the character-of-interest's storyline was brought to its close... and, thanks to my circumstances, had no one to whom I could vent my anger!

- As it turns out, it wasn't a good idea to have my first solo theatrical experience be one with a movie whose highlights included a scene in which a young woman was slowly scalped alive while strapped to a metal chair. I still feel guilty over the mess of popcorn and half-eaten Twizzlers I left for the hapless custodian.

Of course, it would have been rude of me to welsh on seeing "Saw IV" again with my co-worker, who was determined to see it. Yet even though my silly pride prohibited me from showing him how deeply some of "Saw IV"'s more graphic scenes had rattled me, the second viewing experience at least allowed me to have a partner with whom I could share my thoughts about the story.

Saw V:

Whereas my anticipation for "Saw III" and "Saw IV" had been very high, I had lost much of my enthusiasm by the time "Saw V" opened wide. Exacerbating this sense of disinterest was the fact that, by the autumn of 2008, I was not only passionately engaged in the outcome of the Obama-McCain election, but personally overwhelmed by my responsibilities as a field organizer for the State Senate campaign of Kristen McElroy.

The year separating "Saw IV" from "Saw V" had brought a lot of major personal changes for me. My job at the Department of Veterans Affairs was a thing of the past; a five month period of unemployment immediately followed, followed by three weeks as a temp-to-perm typist at TransPerfect Translations, a linguistic company centered in downtown Manhattan; and then, after the economy went south following the Wall Street meltdown of September 2008, I had been laid off from TransPerfect, only to rebound a few days later by being offered the political job for the Democratic longshot in this historically Republican Long Island state legislative district.

My work with McElroy for State Senate proved to be among the richest and most rewarding of my life - and, just as noteworthy, the most taxing. The relatively relaxing forty hour work weeks to which I had grown accustomed became a thing of the past; in their stead I found myself pushing my capacities and resources to their limit, working full throttle seven days a week for fourteen hours a day, with an hour-and-a-half long commute to and from my apartment bookending this daily ordeal. This lasted for nearly five weeks, during which time my only relief came from phone chats with my then-girlfriend Regina and my longtime close friend Brian.

Valuable though those regular chats may have been, I soon found that they weren't enough. The toll of having kept my foot pressed firmly down on my personal pedal was beginning to become obvious; sleepless nights followed hard-to-suppress lunches and strange periods of numbness in my upper arms and wrists. The stress over worrying about the fate of my local candidate (who eventually lost) and of the national candidate for whom I had worked even when he was an underdog in the presidential primaries (and who, of course, ultimately won) only made these burdens that much harder to bear.

In short, when "Saw V" was released in theaters on October 24, 2008, I knew that I needed to use seeing it as an excuse to take a break from the strenuous labor to which I had committed myself. Thus I found myself making a cold, solitary midnight foray to a Manhattan movie theater and buying a lone ticket to "Saw V" less than two hours after I had been dropped off in the city by the McElroy campaign manager.

Whether my thorough enjoyment of that film was derived from my need to unwind or my craving for a cathartic release for my anger at Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, and Kemp Hannon (Kristen McElroy's opponent), I can't say. All I know is the movie itself was well-written, well-acted, well-shot, and thus entirely deserving of credit for the great time that I had while watching it.

Saw VI:

Despite having deeply enjoyed "Saw V", I was still initially unsure as to whether I would be up for "Saw VI". With the exception of the fate of a character who had seemingly survived the end of the first "Saw" movie but then been dropped altogether from the movies (in part due to contractual disputes with the actor who depicted him), all of the major plot threads had been resolved by the end of the fifth film. What could possibly exist in a sixth entry that could fan my interest?

Then I saw an online trailer revealing that "Saw VI" would dedicate much of its plot to social commentary on the issue of health care reform, the hot button political topic of 2009 and one about which I had deeply cared ever since the days when I played John Edwards in a mock Democratic presidential debate five years earlier.

Most of my thoughts on "Saw VI" can found here -

Apart from those musings, all that I need to add is that, after leaving the theater at which I viewed it, I found myself approached by a man in a maroon vest who asked me to take a poll regarding my thoughts on the film. Apparently he was an employee for CinemaScore, a major research firm that conducts political style exit polls in order to gauge audience reactions toward widely released films. After giving "Saw VI" an 'A' in every category, I walked out of the theater happy that I had actually found myself on the receiving end of a survey, since prior to then I had spent most of my life reading them and wondering who the hell those people were who actually took them. To this day, "Saw VI" is the only movie for which I ever participated (or was even asked to participate) in a major poll.

Oh, and where was my personal life at the time I saw "Saw VI"? I was unemployed (and had been for nearly a year, a situation caused by the defeat of my political candidate), excitedly awaiting the professional roundtabling of one of my plays ("The Anthill"), just as eagerly in the process of developing a second piece ("The Lawmaker"), and less than three months away from a long-awaited trip to Israel. While I couldn't say that things in my life were going well, I could at least take comfort in knowing that I was far removed from my personal nadir.

Saw 3D:

By the time I saw this movie in theaters, I had lost my relationships with the two individuals who had been with me when I was first exposed to the "Saw" universe: Brad had long since turned me off with his erratic and emotionally volatile behavior; my then-girlfriend Regina had abruptly terminated our relationship and, despite initially professing an interest in a friendship, had so shocked and repulsed me with a streak of inexplicable anger and hostility that I had decided her irrationality rendered her unworthy of further friendly gestures.

On the upshot, I was no longer unemployed. After realizing that what mattered most to me was having a sense of personal control over my life, I decided that I truly did want to go to graduate school and study to become a history professor, since doing so would not (as I had once feared) require me to jettison the playwriting and political ambitions that were so important to me. As such, October 2010 found me living on the campus of Rutgers-Newark and putting in strong performances in all of my major classes, with a span of just over a year separating me from my Master's Degree in History and admission (hopefully) to a doctoral program.

Just as important was the fact that I was still passionately engaged in politics, as evidenced by my contributions to the campus newspaper (I had written political op-eds for college publications since my freshman year at Bard College), my countless conversations on political subjects, my own unending personal studies, and my oft-updated blog. I continued to work on my playwriting goals, as I was planning on completing my black notebook and green folder of dozens of story ideas, beginning work on a third play, and continuing to submit "The Anthill" to new venues. Finally, I had emerged from the pains and setbacks that I had endured over the previous four years not only intact, but stronger and wiser than I had been before.

Of course, I was still depressed that my Halloween this year was bound to be a lonely experience. Even as I saw my friends heading off to jubilant and raucous parties (or, as is the case with my Pennsylvania comrades, basking in the afterglow of their expedition to our nation's capital for Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity"), I knew that I would be spending October 31st alone and without any activities with which I could celebrate this great holiday.

Fortunately, my mother - upon hearing about my plight - took pity on me and offered to front me the money so that I could see the seventh and final "Saw" movie in theaters. I say "final" because, by all reliable reports, the poor financial performance of the previous "Saw" film (the first in the franchise to be a failure at the box office) had made it necessary for this installment to be the last in the "Saw" cinematic canon. Adding a bright spot to this otherwise gloomy news was the fact that the fate of the character whose story had been left without closure at the end of the first "Saw" film was at last going to be revealed - and, while the storyteller in me refuses to spoil the contents of that revelation to those who may wish to see these movies, suffice to say that I was very pleased with how they ended his story, as well as that of the "Saw" franchise overall. In stark contrast to my sentiments while exiting the theater after "Saw IV", I walked away from "Saw 3D" feeling happy that a story which I had followed for nearly five years had ended itself with a finale that could leave me feeling satisfied instead of let down.

"Saw 3D" also marked another first in my moviegoing life - i.e., the first time that I won a T-shirt for seeing a movie. For reasons that remain unclear to me, the theater on 34th Street in Manhattan gave away "Saw 3D" shirts to those who attended the 3:45 showing. Yet while it would be appropriate to end this article with a humorous comment about that development - something to the effect of, "I sat through all seven 'Saw' movies and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" - that wouldn't really be true. Not only has my fandom of the "Saw" films provided me with more than ten hours of great (albeit cringingly bloodsoaked) entertainment, but they also rewarded me with excellent stories regarding when I saw each movie for the first time. All of those tales will be forever etched into my memory, reminding me not only of the experiences I have had, but of who I was and what my life was like when I had them.

Surveying the sweep of my personal narrative, even through the prism of the "Saw" films, may not be the most pleasant experience for me, but at least it helps me cherish my life - something that, ironically, is entirely consistent with the Jigsaw Killer's message.

Musings on the Rally to Restore Sanity

In the past decade, there have only been two moments in history where a single speech has been able to inspire American progressives.

The first moment was at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when a little-known State Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama was catapulted to national prominence through the sheer force of his eloquence.

The second moment was at the Rally to Restore Sanity yesterday, when a wisecracking comedian named Jon Stewart decided to become serious for thirteen minutes so that a quarter-million people could hear what he thought mattered most about today's political life.

I have read the transcripts of and listened to both speeches, and what strikes me most about them is that - despite the disparate backgrounds of their orators and the contexts in which they were delivered - their central theme was identical.

Here is what Obama said in 2004:

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of "anything goes." Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.
The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an "awesome God" in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
Here is what Stewart said in 2010:

The image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun-house mirror — and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin and one eyeball. So why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin-assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable: Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution and racists and homophones who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day.

The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals, or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do, often something they do not want to do. But they do it, impossible things every day that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make. Look, look on the screen. This is where we are, this is who we are. These cars. That’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high, he’s going to work. There’s another car, a woman with two small kids can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging — I don’t even know if you can see it — the lady’s in the NRA and loves Oprah. There’s another car, an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear, often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers. And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath the mighty river, carved by people, who I’m sure, by the way, had their differences. And they do it, concession by concession. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Uh, well, that’s OK. You go and then I’ll go. And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.

There were plenty of differences between the two speeches, as evidenced even by these excerpts: Obama was more concise and more articulate, Stewart was funnier and more extemporaneous Yet both of them said the same thing:

E pluribus unum.

Out of many... one.

In short, while Glenn Beck may have felt that he was putting himself in the shoes of Martin Luther King by putting his speech on the same day as that of the great civil rights leader, Barack Obama and Jon Stewart understood how to actually put themselves in the steps of that American hero - by repeating, at a time when our nation most needs it, his basic message.
When this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Now you can understand why I am proud to be able to say that I attended Barack Obama's inauguration.

What's more, you can understand why I say, to all of my friends who attended Jon Stewart's rally - Brian Davis, Sean Davis, Adam Hollingsworth, Tommy Hollingsworth, Jennifer Hay, Christina Cruz, and Ryan Neel - that I hope you are savoring, in your own minds, the fact that you will always be able to tell your children and grandchildren... I WAS THERE!

You didn't just participate in history; you participated in one of the noblest exercises which can occur in a nation's history.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Obama Will Be Reelected

The midterm elections are over. The Democrats will incur serious losses, just as predicted. The Republicans will gain control of the House of Representatives while making significant inroads into the Senate.

Things look bleak for the Democratic Party and, by extension, for President Barack Obama. If one listens to the expounding of so-called experts, it’s hard to not walk away with the opinion that he is destined to lose his reelection campaign in 2012.

This assumption, like so much else that can be found under the category of “conventional wisdom”, is much more conventional than it is wise. As I see it, Obama has a very strong chance of being reelected, for a reason so simple that it can be explained in twelve easy steps.

The first five consist of basic facts about the economy:

1. Republicans did well in the midterm elections because Obama was blamed for the poor economy – and not, as they’d like to believe, because their party or their right-wing beliefs have become popular. Evidence of this can be found everywhere: approval ratings for both major political parties are in the dumps, Americans are still found to hold liberal views on a wide range of issues, and, most significantly, polls found that an overwhelming majority of voters considered the economy to be the most important issue. As James Carville once so memorably put it, what matters in times of recession is not ideology or partisan zeal, but “the economy, stupid.”

Right now, unemployment is hovering between 9% and 10%. In order for the economy to be considered in a state of recovery, unemployment needs to consistently drop by at least 0.3% per month for several consecutive months. For it to be actually healthy, it needs to remain between 3% and 5%.

The way to reduce unemployment is through stimulus spending that pumps into the economy whatever amount of money is needed to compensate for the lack of GDP growth. In this recession, the amount necessary to achieve this result is roughly $2 trillion.

The economic legislation that Barack Obama passed in February 2009 contained only $500 billion of stimulus (as well as $287 billion in tax cuts), since he was afraid that asking for more would prompt conservatives to accuse him of socialism (which, of course, they did anyway). That said, while the stimulus was too small to cause a decline in unemployment, it was large enough to prevent it from rising any further. Prior to its taking effect, unemployment had shot up from 6.2% (where it was the financial meltdown occurred in September 2008) to 9.4% (where it was when the stimulus began to have an impact in May 2009). Had it continued at that rate, unemployment would have reached between 16% and 17% today. Because of Obama’s stimulus, however, it has steadied out, hovering between 9% and 10% for the last year-and-a-half.

The stimulus is going to wear off in 2011, and when it does, unemployment will again start to grow.

The next four steps involve what will happen due to the Republican control of Congress:

6. As unemployment rises, Obama will have to ask Congress for more stimulus and other job creating/saving measures.

Because Congress will be dominated by Republicans, and because Republicans are lockstep in their opposition to stimulus spending and all other liberal economic initiatives, there is little doubt that they use their power to stop every aspect of Obama’s agenda.

In addition to this, Congressional Republicans are determined to enact spending cuts in a wide range of other areas, many of which will force government agencies to lay off workers and compel private entities which depend on state subsidies to let employees go. These actions will also cause unemployment to rise.

Finally, Congressional Republicans have made it clear that they will refuse to work with President Obama on any significant issue, much as they were intractably hostile to President Clinton back in the 1990s. With Clinton, this implacable hostility led to a government shutdown and a trumped up impeachment hearing; while we can’t know what their end result will be with Obama (a government shutdown seems very possible, an impeachment proceeding less so), it is safe to assume that it will be similarly explosive in scope.

The final three steps explain how the first nine will lead to an Obama reelection:

Because the economy will have significantly worsened as a direct result of Republican actions, blame for our recession will shift to the Republican Congress, with President Obama’s performance looking more favorable by contrast.

The sheer hatefulness of the vitriol directed against the president by Congressional Republicans will galvanize Democratic voters, who will instinctively jump to their party leader’s defense. At the same time, it will disgust many of the independents who serve as the swing votes that decide these elections, since quite a few of them tend to sympathize with their president when they feel he is under an unfair assault.

Consequently, Obama will win his reelection by basing his campaign on opposition to the Republican Congress and by saddling the Republican presidential candidate (Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, or Sarah Palin) with their unpopularity.

While this hypothesis may seem far-fetched, situations virtually identical to it have already happened. One can look as far back as 1948, when Harry Truman was reelected after claiming (correctly) that America’s economic troubles were caused by a Republican “Do Nothing” Congress that obstructed all of his constructive policy proposals, from consumer protection measures to checks against inflation. A more recent instance can be found in 1996, when Bill Clinton gave his reelection campaign an enormous boost by capitalizing on public anger toward a Republican Congress that, as controlled by Newt Gingrich, had caused the entire federal government to shutdown in the winter of 1995 and 1996.

In short, based on the patterns of history and the tendencies of the modern Republican Party, I am willing to predict that Barack Obama will be reelected to the presidency in 2012.