I received a panicked call from an almost unhealthily politically-obsessed friend that interrupted my viewing of the Sarah Palin Soap Opera (itself interrupted by occasional Republican National Convention coverage). Why isnt Obama doing better? What happened to the enthusiasm gap? Couldnt the American people see that selecting Palin was simple sexist pandering? Couldnt they SEE?!
I moved the phone a few inches away from my ear and launched into my standard come back off the ledge, speech. My friend was a little shaken, and I knew why. Since Palin was announced as McCains VP pick, conservatives have begun to pick up the fundraising pace, and because were in the midst of the RNC, everyone who cares passionately about Republican politics is being heard from. Some analysts seem to think that this fact, combined with Obamas relatively small convention bounce means real trouble for Democrats in the fall. I respectfully disagree.
The old saying is that Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line. This election seems dedicated to proving it. Fundraising efforts are lurching forward for the GOP, and McCain, despite the Palin firestorm, is enjoying an extremely modest uptick in certain polls. This was always going to be the case. Republicans do want to win in November and they are historically much more willing to bite the bullet, donate money and time, and vote for their partys nominee. No matter what. The 1992 exception to this rule probably has more to do with Bill Clintons impeccable political instincts and the fact that the elder Bush looked so consistently lost when placed beside the Man From Hope, than any real desire on the part of Republicans to express dissatisfaction. Ask yourself if a Democrat George W. Bush could have been elected to a second term. Of course not. The loss wouldve been McGovernesque. The question then is why shouldnt the Democrats be getting antsy? Our candidate is clearly superior, has chosen a running mate ready to aide him from day 1 and ready to lead if necessary yet this remains a close race. Why?
Two Big Reasons: First, the American voter is a nervous animal, second many Obama voters are not being counted. Im always amused when friends are perplexed that Obama isnt thumping McCain. Obama is an African-American man whose name rhymes with someone not very well liked outside of Tora Bora. He has also just endured an incredibly bruising primary season that pitted him against Hillary Clinton, a rival almost as adept as he at inspiring passion in her followers. Did we think this man was going to waltz into the White House? Even electing a Catholic was difficult. Now Americans are being asked to put aside some of their most deep seated prejudices and accept the idea of an African-American commander-in-chief. This isnt easy, even for many Democrats. Racial panic does not respect party lines and there really are people who, while intellectually comfortable with the idea that all were created equal, still get jittery when they must put that lofty idea into practice.
The second reason Obama fails to poll stronger against McCain is that many of his supporters do not have landline telephones. I do not use a landline, nor do most of my friends, and I qualify as the older part of Obamas young demographic. The only reason most of my contemporaries arrange for a landline is because a cable company forces them to. This means that pollsters arent talking to some of Obamas most enthusiastic supporters. While this is taken into account in certain models, its effect is probably underestimated.
There are, of course, many other reasons Democrats need not flashback to 2004 every time they see a close poll, but these two are rarely mentioned and should be kept in mind. Dont panic. Work hard and well win. Oh, and maybe donate a couple dollars here and there. My phone can only take so much panicked yelling.
Charles Cullen lives in Atlanta, Ga.
From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2008
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