Tuesday, November 04, 2008

RE: Why McCain lost

Well, I'm not quite nailing my colours to this mast: though I do think it vastly more likely that McCain will lose today, the possibility that he might scrape a win should not be wholly ruled out.  But if he loses it's worth pointing out, in order of significance, a few reasons why.

1.  The economic crisis
McCain was picked, ultimately, as a National Security candidate.  Iraq, Afghanistan, the War on Terror generally: these were supposed to be what this election was about.  McCain had the experience, gravitas and reputation to be a favourite on this topic.  But the financial crisis that enveloped the world this autumn turned the election into an economic election.  And McCain avowedly knows next to nothing about economics.  It's also the case that traditional small-state economics is harder to sell to the electorate in the bad times than promises of jacked-up spending and bail-outs.

2.  George W Bush
There's not that much more to say really.  The incumbent has been a millstone round McCain's neck.  Obama's most effective (and least accurate) line has been that McCain represents four more years of Bush.  It's nonsense, McCain has made his name by opposing his own party, but that it has been such an effective attack speaks volumes for the standing of the President.

3.  Sarah Palin
Now, I'm slightly conflicted on this one.  I don't believe she is as much of a disaster as she is portrayed.  Certainly the most egregious gaffes have been made not by her but by Joe Biden (the whole 'in 1929 FDR went on television to explain what happened" thing).  But that's almost irrelevant.  Her magnificently effective lampooning by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, triggered by her deeply unimpressive interviews with Katie Couric have made her a figure of fun - never a good thing for a politician.  However, those with the most extreme reactions to her (and my, have they been extreme) have been the ultra partisans of the other side.

4.  The tide of history
Slightly nebulous here I admit, but for all the pseudo-philosophical rubbish, there is a sense that Obama's time is now.  To an extent this is just an exaggerated form of political gravity - the Republicans have been in power since 1994, either in Congress or the White House, and it would be stretching the system beyond credibility if they were to remain in power much longer.  It's also a way of saying that, for all that Obama should be eminently beatable, with almost no experience and a reliably liberal voting record, he hasn't proved to be anything like.  He's run a formidable campaign, aided by tons and tons of money (some of it slightly shady, but there we are) and…

5.  A hostile media
Not too much should be made of this: the American media are always more hostile to Republicans than Democrats, and given the Obama factor described above it's no surprise that the press came out for him early and hard.  Andrew Sullivan has, in the words of Christopher Hitchens been "wanting to have Obama's fucking children" for months, and he's hardly alone in that.  Scandals have been interpreted and reported on these lines: Sarah Palin has expensive clothes? Acres of coverage.  Barack Obama's online funding system wide open to fraud (including a donation from Adolf Hitler, 1, the Reichstag)? What scandal?  This has been doubly hard for McCain given that he was used to media adulation - "my base" and all that.

There are of course a lot of other factors, including the supreme efficiency of the Obama camp in matters fundraising and campaigning and the generally lacklustre nature of the McCain campaign.  But the overall impression is just that the narrative is wrong for McCain and right for Obama.  There is however one small, tentative prediction I would make: this is going to be a bit closer than people are suggesting.  I have no real basis for thinking this - and indeed there are good grounds for predicting a absolute trousering - but something just slightly niggles…

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