Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Obama, McCain and Landslide

David Brooks is someone that I usually agree with, but his recent article in the NYT is one that I must take issue with it. He is raising the same point that so many people have been raising recently: Why isn't Obama winning by more?

The line of thinking seems to be rooted in the idea that since the Dems are consistently polling with substantial leads, that Obama should be trouncing McCain in the polls. The problem with this is that it doesn't account for the individual candidates. People don't see them as direct reflections of their party, but as the icon that each party might follow.

A presidential election is about the individual running, not the party. Sure, a dominating party will have more registered party members like the Dems are seeing this cycle and the GOP saw last cycle, but that does not necessarily equate to a lock or a shoe-in candidate. This is about the individual and this campaign has produced two very different candidates who appeal to very different types of desires in voters.

Brooks claims that it is Obama's lack of being "of" any establishment that he was involved "in" which leads to derision among voters. This is such an over-analysis and almost a compliment to the average American voter. Especially the low info voters.

Brooks writes,

"He was a popular and charismatic professor, but he rarely took part in faculty conversations or discussions about the future of the institution. He had a supple grasp of legal ideas, but he never committed those ideas to paper by publishing a piece of scholarship.

He was in the law school, but not of it.

This has been a consistent pattern throughout his odyssey. His childhood was a peripatetic journey through Kansas, Indonesia, Hawaii and beyond. He absorbed things from those diverse places but was not fully of them.

His college years were spent on both coasts. He was a community organizer for three years but left before he could be truly effective. He became a state legislator, but he was in the Legislature, not of it. He had some accomplishments, but as Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker wrote, he was famously bored by the institution and used it as a stepping stone to higher things.

He was in Trinity United Church of Christ, but not of it, not sharing the liberation theology that energized Jeremiah Wright Jr. He is in the United States Senate, but not of it. He has not had the time nor the inclination to throw himself into Senate mores, or really get to know more than a handful of his colleagues. His Democratic supporters there speak of him fondly, but vaguely.

And so it goes. He is a liberal, but not fully liberal. He has sometimes opposed the Chicago political establishment, but is also part of it. He spoke at a rally against the Iraq war, while distancing himself from many antiwar activists.

This ability to stand apart accounts for his fantastic powers of observation, and his skills as a writer and thinker. It means that people on almost all sides of any issue can see parts of themselves reflected in Obama’s eyes. But it does make him hard to place."

Let's examine what the average voter actually knows about Obama.

1) Obama went to law school

2) Obama was a community organizer

3) He was in the Illinois State legislator

4) He went to a very black church with an "anti-American" pastor

5) He is liberal

6) He wants to end the war

7) He is black

8) His name is different and maybe a little suspect

9) His father was black and his mother was white

10)He is an excellent speaker

This is what the voters see. They don't get deep into their personal connection with his roots and make their decision from how connected he was to things that he was involved with. Like Brooks often does, he applies the knowledge of his loyal readership to the entire electorate and this misses the point.

This election will not be a landslide because there will never be another landslide election. It will almost always end with only a few points separating the winner and loser. We learned in 2000 that elections are not about the numbers or polls, but about the map. And after looking at the map, only then can you imagine a trouncing. Getting close doesn't amount to shit on the map. McCain might be close in a few states, but that gets him nothing.

I don't buy it Brooks.