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Rationalizing Obama's Defeat
 

You must know the old joke:
A young man returns home from a job interview at a radio station, dejected. His mother sees his sunken face and understands immediately that something has gone wrong.

“My son! The sport’s announcer’s job—you didn’t get it? Nobody knows more about sports than you! How could they reject you?”

The son: “Mom, it was anti-sss …. anti-ssssssss … anti-sssssssssss … anti-SSSSEMMM-itism.”

Democrats are already preparing their excuses for the possible defeat of Barack Obama in November. That was an important column Bob Shrum just wrote. True, the column offers Barack Obama unfortunately little guidance as to how to win the election. But it does offer an all-purpose excuse if Obama should lose: racism. Some might say that five weeks in advance is a little early to be developing rationalizations for defeat. And others might say that a candidate who has consistently led in almost every poll since early summer has little need for rationalizations. But those who say these things do not know the Democratic Party!

Maybe I am unfair here, but to an outsider it seems that Democrats see these quadrennial presidential contests not as trials between two parties with the voters deciding, but as trials of the voters! Are the voters good enough, decent enough, unprejudiced enough to vote Democratic? Or will they succumb to their lower natures and vote Republican?

At the end of Hunter S. Thompson’s book on the 1972 campaign, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Thompson listens to the news reports declaring Richard Nixon’s re-election and thinks: “Okay, we are a nation of used car salesmen.” Not for him the thought that there might have been anything wrong with George McGovern or the party that nominated him! If I fail … it shows there’s something wrong with you.

That mode of thinking is obviously very condescending. Less obviously, it is very self-defeating. Suppose the voters are just as lunk-headed as Thompson and (depending on the outcome) Bob Shrum believe. What follows? Yes, another couple of decades of massive illegal immigration may well create a very different electorate. Until then, however, these are the voters you have got. The only route to political power is through convincing them; abusing them does not help with that work.

Even more counter-productive, the blame-the-voters mindset relieves candidates of responsibility for developing and articulating acceptable policies. Barack Obama faces other challenges in this campaign than his race.

Obama is running as the more pacifist candidate in a country where the more nationalist candidate has won every presidential election since 1816. He is running as the more economically collectivist candidate in a country where the more economically individualist candidate has won seven of the 10 elections since 1964. He is a more remote and inaccessible personality and he has a radically less impressive resume than his rival. His personal story not only lacks the heroism of John McCain’s, but it is punctuated with odd gaps and unanswered questions. Obama still has not delivered a fully plausible account of his relationships with such figures as Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. Perhaps the most immediately damaging fact about Obama’s candidacy, however, was his decision not to reach out to his principal party rival, even though she won very nearly as many Democratic votes as he did.

Obama may be The One. But he is far from a perfect candidate, regardless. And Democrats do neither him nor themselves any favors when the only flaws they can see are the flaws in this democracy’s ultimate decision-makers: their employers, the voters.

 

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