Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Republicans should not despair just yet

A couple of interesting posts today highlight for me a story that people seem to have been missing when talking about the US Presidential elections. The first, which I have touched on before, is the inherently empty nature of the Democratic primaries. Despite the bitter fighting over who said what when, and whether Obama looks good in a turban and all that sort of thing, the policy differences have been muted to the point of irrelevance. What is instead being celebrated is the personality of the two contenders. This is, of course, why Clinton's inevitability parade has been so comprehensively rained on. Put bluntly, Hillary Clinton is not going to win a Miss Congeniality contest. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is.
But charm, and an undoubted command of oratory, are not by themselves enough. Mario Cuomo famously said that you campaign in poetry and you govern in prose, but Obama hasn't even been poetically describing his plans for the future - instead he's been focusing purely on the lyricism of words, rather than any substance behind them. Dominic Lawson points to this, and the intensely religious nature of his language here. One example is:
My job is be so persuasive that if there's anybody left out there who is still not sure whether they will vote, or is still not clear who they will vote for, that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down on you, you will experience an epiphany ... and you will suddenly realise that you must go to the polls and vote for Obama.
I'm aware that US politicians use far more religious language than British politicians would ever dream of doing, but I was also under the impression that the Democrats frowned on that sort of thing. Evidently, religious presidents are only a problem when they're Republican.
The other received wisdom that looks less than certain is that the Democrats unarguably higher turnout in the primaries is a necessarily ominous sign for the Republicans. 16.2 million people have voted in the Democrat primaries so far, against only 7.9 million for the Republicans. But, as the graph on this page demonstrates, in only tow primaries since 1972 have the Republicans outvoted the Democrats. In 1984, when Mondale failed to win more than a single state, the Democrats outvoted the Republicans by a factor of three. In 1980, when a sitting Democrat president faced reelection, the Democrats outvoted the Republicans by six million votes.
It looks like gearing up to be an election between a fresh-faced idealist against a gnarled old insider - or as the Republicans would say, a naive ultra-liberal against an experienced conservative centrist. Try not to allow yourself to be dazzled by Obama's glitz just yet.

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