The Obama campaign’s current standing has implications beyond this election cycle that reach into the future to affect Democratic campaign strategy in 2010 and 2012.
Right now, Barack Obama still has the edge over John McCain and looks likely to win the presidency, although the chance remains that he could certainly still lose. Sarah Palin’s negatives are rising; the Obama campaign seems to be learning, slowly, how to attack; and Obama’s low point is probably passing.
Obama has run a typical DLC campaign with an additional helping of good organizing. His m.o. has been: run to the left in the primary, run to the center to betray the base during the the general, huddle in a defensive heap for most of the campaign, and hope the press does its job.
Because McCain and Palin are so offensive this year, and because Obama finally started using the word ‘dishonorable’ last week , the press has finally stepped up to do its job. But these unprecedented acts of journalism are mostly not Obama’s doing. The credit for the media’s newfound zeal goes largely to John McCain: he thought the magical immunity from close scrutiny conferred by his POW status would last forever, but he squandered it by lying, too openly and too often
Nonetheless, the Democratic candidate, no matter who he or she was going to be, would always have had the edge this year. It’s a Democratic year. The fact that the presidential race is even close should be a huge warning sign to serious observers.
While it is possible to argue about just what’s going wrong, I find it amazing that people are arguing absolutely nothing is wrong and all’s well with the world. The Obama campaign’s massive underperformance compared to the generic Democratic brand needs to be explained.
Reasons for Obama’s Poor Campaign Performance:
- Obama’s self-defeating communication strategy, which boils down to saying: "John McCain is a wonderful wonderful man but you should vote for me".
- The fact that Obama is black.
- The fact that Obama is not running as a liberal or progressive on some critical issues. For example, his vote to grant telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for warrantless spying on American citizens.
- The fact that Obama is positioning himself as Republican-lite but voters consistently prefer a real Republican over a fake.
- All of the above or some mixture.
- None of the above and something else.
I especially fear that if Obama wins by a narrow margin, everyone will decide he’s a bloody genius despite the fact that he massively underperformed. In other words, the Democrats will confuse correlation with causation, just like they always do. The conventional wisdom will be reinforced that the way to win elections is by not seriously attacking your opponent, and that running to the middle gets more traction.
Don’t think it can’t happen: the conventional wisdom out of the 2006 election was that to win you needed massive compromise to pre-empt Republicans attack ads; and that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rahm Emmanuel was a genius for recruiting and running conservative, blue dog Democrats–who have universally gone on to vote with Bush and against the Democratic party and national interests.
The ideas are that correlation does prove causation, that running conservative candidates with Republican-lite policy positions and minimal response to swiftboating attacks. In the reality-based community those are incorrect assumptions.
However they are still the working assumptions of a large number of DC Democrats; a large part of the reason why the House has been completely worthless since 2006, is that they think that everyone in any district that isn’t solidly Democratic should be allowed to "vote their district"—meaning vote against the party and with the president. The end result is that Congress is under 20% approval ratings and Democratic voters hate Congress even more than Republicans do, even though Congress is theoretically controlled by Democrats.
The fiasco of Bush’s presidency has destroyed the Republican brand. There is no excuse for any Democrat to “just barely win” on a the battlefield where anyone running as a Republican should be wiped out. A narrow win is an unforgivable under performance.
Unfortunately, at this point hoping for an underperformance instead of a disaster, is where we are with the Obama campaign..