- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dispirited

“I had a succession of meals last week with smart conservative friends, and I found them all relatively sanguine about the defeat that’s almost certainly about to be inflicted on the American Right,” Ross Douthat writes in a blog at thenation.com.

“Each of them, in different ways, express a mix of enthusiasm for the ‘whither conservatism’ battles ahead and relief at the prospect of finally closing the books on the Bush years,” Mr. Douthat said.

“This has been an exhausting presidency for conservatives as well as liberals, and for many people on the Right the prospect of being out of power has obvious upsides: No longer will every foul-up and blunder in Washington be treated as an indictment of Conservatism with a capital C; no longer will right-wingers feel obliged to carry water, whether in small or large amounts, for a government that’s widely perceived as a failure; and no longer will the Right have the dead weight of an unpopular president dragging it down and down and down. Defeat will be depressing, of course none of my friends were Obamacons by any stretch — but it could be liberating as well.

“This was how I expected to feel about a McCain defeat, too, and I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t — why I feel instead so grouchy and embittered (clinging to my guns and my religion, and all that), and more dispirited than liberated. …

“I’m not counseling despair here: There were people in 1976 who thought Richard Nixon had irrevocably squandered the chance to build a new right-of-center majority, and look how that turned out. But for now, as America goes to the polls, I find myself stuck thinking about the lost opportunities of the last eight years, and the possibility that they may not come round again.”

Polls’ verdict

“Barring an extraordinary shock, Barack Obama will win more than 270 electoral votes on Tuesday, giving him the White House. Hours before voting starts, John McCain has no clear path to reaching that goal,” Mark Halperin writes at www.time.com.

“In fact, interviews with political strategists in both parties and election analysts and advisers to both presidential campaigns — including a detailed look at public and private polling data — indicate that an Obama victory with well over 300 electoral votes is a more likely outcome than a McCain victory,” Mr. Halperin said.

“Under the Electoral College system, a candidate wins all of a state’s electoral votes as long as he or she achieves a popular-vote victory of any margin. Obama’s commanding position results from the fact that he holds seemingly impregnable popular-vote leads in 24 states, plus the District of Columbia, with 291 electoral votes, more than he needs in order to win. …

“With his superior spending, better organization on the ground, and poll standing, Obama actually seems poised to win the majority of the remaining toss-up states. If there is a pro-Democratic/anti-Bush wave cresting, as some top strategists in both parties believe, Obama could take all of the still contested battlegrounds, which would give him nearly 400 electoral votes and a significant multiregional mandate.”

Not so great

“Was the 2008 presidential campaign the greatest ever?” Fred Barnes asks at www.weeklystandard.com.

“The conventional wisdom in the political community and the media seems to be congealing around that idea. David Broder, the political columnist of The Washington Post, thinks the 2008 race was the best he’s ever covered. Was it really that good? I don’t think so. In important ways, this year’s campaign was one of the worst,” Mr. Barnes said.

“Not that the candidates weren’t top-flight. Barack Obama and John McCain are both excellent candidates, though for different reasons. Obama put together one of the most impressive campaign operations of all time. And for a rookie candidate to make so few mistakes (and no major ones) — that’s quite amazing. For his part, McCain is simply a man of character and courage and a national hero. …

“But the positive parts of the campaign pale compared with the negative ones. Start with the three presidential debates. Broder called them ‘lackluster,’ but that’s putting it mildly.

“They were narrowly focused on a few economic and foreign-policy issues, and boring besides. We learned practically nothing new or interesting about Obama and McCain as a result. …

“Then there was the breathtaking media bias — liberal bias — in favor of Obama and against McCain. The media never tried to answer the most basic question about Obama: Is he who he says he is? Worse still was the charge that McCain’s campaign was mean and negative and occasionally racist in its attacks — and Obama’s wasn’t anything like that. …

“However, I can’t blame the press for the event that intervened in mid-September and may have determined the outcome of the presidential race — the financial meltdown. …

“The point to consider is whether a presidential race so affected, even decided, by an outside event should be considered great. Answer: It shouldn’t.”

‘Spiral of silence?’

“An old newspaper photograph haunts the dreams of every U.S. pollster,” Daniel Finkelstein writes in the London Times.

“A grinning Harry Truman, having won the 1948 presidential election despite every prediction, is holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune. It reads: ‘Dewey defeats Truman.’

“Could it happen again? Every pollster is predicting a victory for Barack Obama. Might a grinning John McCain be pictured on Wednesday triumphantly holding a pile of incorrect polling data?

The British journalist said that “American pollsters have not yet experienced what happened here in 1992 — when the polls pointed to a [Labor] victory, but John Major won. The conventional wisdom is that 1992 was great for the Tories but terrible for the pollsters. In the long run, the opposite turned out to be true. Victory in 1992 turned to ashes for the Conservatives, whereas the pollsters used the debacle to get themselves sorted out.

“Now British polls are properly and carefully weighted, taking account of what is known as the spiral of silence — the tendency of voters for the less fashionable party to keep their intentions to themselves. British pollsters weight their results to allow for these shy voters. U.S. pollsters do not.

“It isn’t unreasonable to believe that there could be a Republican spiral of silence. And that U.S. pollsters are all missing it.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]


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