Monday, February 25, 2008

Election '08: No One Has a Clue

Noemie Emery makes a good case that we're politically clueless on what will happen this year, in "Six Things We Don't Know" about election '08.

Here's what she says about McCain:

John McCain: Does his appeal to independents, centrists, and Lieberman Democrats outweigh the ennui, nausea, and revulsion he evokes among those on the right of the right? In a sense, this is a row between conservatives who are politicians, and concerned with assembling a center-right coalition they can use to wield power, and movement conservatives who are theoreticians and see the coalition as a vessel to contain their ideas. The first camp are mainly in Congress, the second on the radio and online. When the latter realized after the Florida primary that McCain might become head of the party, it set off a week of ferocious assaults; some struck a pose like that of Rebecca in Ivanhoe, and threatened to throw themselves over the parapet rather than submit to the stranger's embrace. Damage control was commenced by McCain allies such as Tom Coburn, Sam Brownback, Jack Kemp, and George Allen, who have strong ties to movement conservatives.

The results of Super Tuesday, which McCain won in the face of an all-out assault from the right, suggested that while movement leaders may be in touch with their base, the base itself is only part of a large coalition. Yet in a country this size, even a niche movement can account for millions of voters, and in close elections every vote counts. If some people don't vote, the states in which they don't vote could be important: A poll done by SurveyUSA in 2007 showed both McCain and Giuliani falling below the Bush totals in some red states (though not by enough to lose), but doing better than Bush in blue states and swing states, the latter of which they might win. Low blows from the left, like the New York Times's muckraking last week, not to mention Democratic attempts to define McCain as a right winger, may be just the thing he needs. Nothing arouses the right like the enmity of the left. Will it be enough to compensate for McCain's enthusiasm gap with conservatives? This is one thing we don't know.
Here's what she says about Obama:

Barack Obama: What goes up must come down, but the Obama balloon has so far defied gravity. Will it still be going up in November? If it falls, will there be a swift collapse, a slow deflation, or just a soft, gentle hissing? So far, his rise is beyond precedent: The two charismatic presidents of the postwar era, Reagan and Kennedy, were canonized in retrospect. Nobody seemed to pass out at their rallies, and they each had a great deal more substance behind them: Reagan, the two-term governor of one of the largest states in the union, and an established conservative spokesman; Kennedy, a 13-year member of the House and the Senate, with a long-standing interest in foreign affairs. The strongest Obama parallels come up in other primary campaigns, and then always with people who lost--with Clean Gene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, who ran against each other in 1968 (until Bobby was murdered); with Gary Hart in 1984, who lost to the ├╝ber-prosaic Walter F. Mondale; and with Howard Dean in the 2004 cycle, who lost to the very pedestrian John Kerry after the misfortune of being endorsed by Al Gore.

On the plus side for Obama is the fact that his ascent has gone on longer than all of the others; that his low-key appeal is in the style of Reagan and Kennedy, and more durable than the louder variety of charm; that his base is broader than that of most Democratic insurgents, as he links upscale whites to minority voters; and that he is feeding off of a seemingly bottomless urge for civility, after decades of partisan wars. On the minus side is the fact that he shows little substance--there isn't much mention of what he would change to--and that his call for bipartisanship in governing is at odds with his orthodox liberal record, giving no sign of what--if anything--he and the opposite party could compromise on. One sign of trouble is that he has never been seriously challenged by anyone to his right (Alan Keyes does not count). Another is the gap between his soaring and infinite promise and his less than original program.

In the end, Reagan and Kennedy were about winning the Cold War, which is how they defined themselves; and their most famous speeches concerned the advancement and value of liberty. Obama defines himself by his personality. "The message is becoming dangerously self-referential," writes Joe Klein, who notes that the Obama campaign is all too often about how terrific the Obama campaign has been. "Obama's people are so taken with their Messiah that they'll soon be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings," writes David Brooks--who admires him. With Chris Matthews noting that he gets a "thrill up my leg" listening to Obama give one of his speeches, the whole thing verges on parody that may not go over well with Middle America. Middle America has been also ticked off by Michelle Obama, whose comment that she is "proud of her country" for the first time in her adult life because her husband "has done well" shows a trace of the insularity that lost 49 states for McGovern and Mondale, as well as a very tin ear. This is the sort of thing that results in small tears in the fabric, through which small currents of air may shortly be hissing. Thus could happen tomorrow, it could happen in August, it could happen in the first week of November, or it just might not happen. This is still one more thing we don't know.
Emerie - who's always a pleasure to read - also indicates what we don't know about Hillary Clinton, Iraq, the economy, and the unforseen things that erupt - beyond normal expected unexpected situations - to throw years of campaign planning out the window.

The article's an excellent rebuttal to
the argument that John McCain's actually not as well positioned to win on the Iraq issue as most observers have assumed.