Tuesday, November 04, 2008

New American Renaissance

The last week has been relatively mild in terms of election news. Obama's campaign, exuding measured confidence, has stayed as consistent and strong as they have for weeks now. The McCain campaign settled on taxes as their final theme as the Senator scrambled through Bush states he should have had in his back pocket, but he has had a smile on. Having worked too hard and come too far to get complacent at the end, the Obama camp has really turned up the burners on their already-superior ground game. Armed with many more volunteers, field offices, and cash, their get out the vote effort is likely to go down as the largest in the history of the world. On Wednesday we will see if it was the most successful. Some of the numbers are absolutely mind boggling. Ben Smith writes that Obama's Ohio communications director, Issac Baker, reported that the campaign knocked on one million doors in that state alone. Yesterday. One has to imagine that similar things are going on in other key states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and maybe Virginia.

In most of the recent presidential elections in this country, the polls tighten in the last couple weeks. Nate Silver's statistical models that are used on his site, fivethirtyeight.com, account for this phenomenon. The funny thing is, this year they haven't really tightened. Where there has been some tightening, it has been largely insignificant. In Pennsylvania, pretty much a must-win for McCain, Obama's lead has fallen out of the low double digits he had a couple weeks ago, but has remained stable in the high single digits. If polls are to be believed, and all other things being equal, this is impossible for McCain to make up for on his own. But it's the only chance he has. With few hours left, there is almost no room for an external event to influence anything. There was no "October surprise," no Osama video, and nothing to distract voters from the economic meltdown that coincided with Obama's rise in the polls. Everything looks strong for my guy, with many paths to victory plausible. I have never been so excited.

In my view, things are probably better than polls indicate. There are a few reasons why I think the polls under represent Obama's support. First of all, nobody I know my age or even up to 5 years older has a landline. I know that pollsters are calling cell phones too, but there is no way they are covering that demographic properly. Young people are abandoning landlines, and young people are more excited about Obama than they have been for a candidate for decades, maybe more. Maybe ever. Secondly, most every pollster has some proprietary method of determining who is a likely voter. This usually involves peripheral questions about past voting habits, enthusiasm about the election, etc. The problem this time around is that every indicator points to 2008 obliterating turnout records all over the country. Basing the definition of a likely voter on past voting, to any degree, will probably under represent the number of voters this year. Given that this explosion of enthusiasm can only really be traced to Obama, it is safe to say that many more first-time voters of any age will for him than McCain. Add to this the power of the minority vote, the nearly flawless organization of the campaign, and the bank account that would make many countries look silly in comparison, and it looks like a landslide is in the making.

Keith Olbermann did an excellent campaign comment on his show yesterday. He asked the audience to consider if the tables had been turned and Obama had done some of the gaffes and missteps that have plagued McCain this election. What if Obama had sung a song about bombing Iran? Spent the last three weeks talking about Joe the Plumber? Picked a totally unqualified person to be his VP? Said that the fundamentals of the economy were strong on one of the worst days in American financial history? Said "my fellow prisoners" at a rally? Etc etc etc. He would have been toast. Obama had to run a nearly flawless campaign and then some to have a fighting chance, and that's exactly what he did. There were gaffes along the way, and there were mistakes. The most notable was probably his comment about people clinging to guns and religion. But for the most part it was picture perfect. It will be studied for a long time to come. David Axelrod deserves a nice long vacation, somewhere with white sandy beaches and drinks with little umbrellas in them.

I freely admit that had it not been for the financial crisis, this would be a much closer race. If and when McCain loses tonight, many on the right wing will scream about this fact on TV. I don't personally see it as a negative though. Obama wasn't lucky that the public trusted him more on the economy. He worked for it. He was lucky in that McCain had little opportunity to set the conversation to play to his strengths, like national security, amid such a gargantuan financial meltdown. That being said, nobody forced McCain to repeatedly call the economy fundamentally strong, a move that I think was the major tipping point for the campaign. I still don't know what he was trying to accomplish with that. Perhaps he was hoping that it actually was strong and he could make look Obama look like the boy who cried wolf, hammering home the naiveté argument. Cunning, but risky.

Write it off as hyperbole, but I think Obama's election will be the start of a completely new era for America. Here in Europe, people I have met are excited by the prospect of new American leadership. Bush has badly damaged our reputation abroad, but I think most people recognize that he does not represent our country very well. News of his plummeting approval ratings is well known here. I have no explanations for people who want to know why he was voted in twice, except that fear is a very powerful force. We still lead the free world, and having someone with strong intellectual curiosity and a steady hand at the helm will do everyone a lot of good. Obama has a lot to clean up, and he has a massive weight on his shoulders, but I have supreme confidence in the man. Things are going to get uglier before they get prettier, but I am incredibly optimistic about the future. Under Obama, we will get out of this economic mess, get out of Iraq, and get serious about universal healthcare and the environment. He has the chance to set the tone for the rest of the century, something Bush totally squandered.

No comments: