The punditocracy’s Seven Biggest Blunders of the 2008 election

Guess what? The Conventional Wisdom has blown it again in handicapping Obama vs. McCain in the homestretch.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Economy, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Immigration, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

The punditocracy's Seven Biggest Blunders of the 2008 election

This has been a campaign season when the conventional wisdom has fared about as well as Bob Barr’s prospects for moving into the Oval Office.

During the primaries, the political prediction business — all those glib quasi-certainties spouted by TV talking heads and embedded in the opening paragraphs of newspaper and magazine articles — gave us such fantasies as Rudy Giuliani masquerading as a serious presidential candidate and mistakenly consigned John McCain to the GOP dust heap. Remember when Hillary Clinton was prematurely anointed as the nominee or the dire warnings that a protracted Clinton-Obama primary fight would, in a typical burst of Democratic self-destructiveness, cost the party the White House?

Of course, that was all long ago and everyone involved in these bum calls has been sent to their rooms without supper. But what about the errors of the last two months — the equally fallacious theories about the fall campaign that have been the stuff of Sunday morning round tables and newspaper Op-Ed pages? Granted, we at Salon have sometimes stumbled on the road to omniscience. But that shared sense of humility does not dampen our glee in pointing out the punditocracy’s Seven Biggest Blunders, homestretch edition.

1) The Cult of Sarah Palin

McCain’s choice of a running mate on the eve of the Republican National Convention set off a wave of emotions that quickly veered from “Sarah Who?” to “Sarah Wow!” Even amid the initial gooey-eyed gush, there were dangerous signs that the McCain team had done a sloppy job in researching her background. But the boffo convention speech, the giddy poll numbers and Palin’s rock-star crowds gave rise to half-baked theories about the veep pick’s ability to transform the presidential race and even snare a chunk of the feminist vote. After the disastrous Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric interviews, however, the Palin pick seemed less a moose-hunter’s delight and more like stale (Dan) Quayle. A Pew Research Center national poll released this week found that 49 percent of voters now hold negative opinions about Palin, compared to 32 percent voting thumbs down in mid-September. The Pew survey discovered that a stunning 60 percent of all women under the age of 50 currently have negative feelings about Palin.



2) Steve Schmidt Is a Genius

When McCain took the lead after the GOP convention in many national polls, the immediate reaction was to lionize top strategist Steve Schmidt for imposing order and discipline on the unruly campaign. But, in truth, Schmidt’s ascension probably only intensified a problem that has dogged McCain from the outset — a focus on day-to-day tactics over long-term strategy and a coherent rationale for the campaign. McCain often dominated the daily news cycle, but failed to dominate the hearts and minds of voters. Many in the Obama campaign believe that the turning point in the race came when McCain dramatically suspended his campaign on the eve of the first debate in order to fly to Washington to join in the ineffectual dithering over the economic crisis. Schmidt’s war-room mentality (he ran the rapid-response team for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004) may have been ill-suited for a political year when McCain needed a Big Idea to compete with Obama.

3) The Price at the Pump Will Fuel the Mood of the Voters

The headline on the Aug. 20 Quinnipiac University national poll is enough to prompt instant nostalgia: “Gas Prices Gaining As Americans’ Biggest Worry.” Brooding about a $100 fill-up seems so overwrought two months later with a financial system in tatters. Who would have ever guessed back then that oil prices would drop below $70 a barrel before Election Day. The moral, of course, is that voters choose a candidate based on what is bugging them in November, not August. The danger in political soothsaying is to blithely assume that external events will not reshape the political landscape before Election Day. Things always happen, though rarely as dramatically as September’s Wall Street whirlpool.

4) Obama Should Have Taken the Money … and Run

Obama could have received a check from the federal government for $84 million as soon as he officially accepted the nomination. That is what McCain did in accepting public financing — a decision that ruled out directly raising private money for his own campaign. Obama, by contrast, gambled that he could do better on his own by becoming the first presidential candidate in modern history to spurn public financing for the fall campaign. But right after the conventions, the Obama campaign appeared to radiate a whiff of desperation on the fundraising front. Meanwhile, Republicans were gloating. Not for long, though. Obama, of course, raised a staggering $150 million in September (or about $208,000 every hour), and McCain is being badly outspent in almost every major media market. An important symbolic moment in the campaign came when word seeped out that Obama was buying ads in video games — an epic illustration of too much money chasing too few undecided voters.

5) Obama Was Guilty of Hubris in Trying to Expand the Map

In late June in Washington, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe narrated a PowerPoint presentation for the press in which he boldly sketched out all the ruby red Republican states that the Obama campaign intended to contest. Plouffe faced a host of skeptical questions about Obama making heavy investments in Virginia and Indiana, states that the Democrats had not carried in 40 years. Over the summer, both Democrats and Republicans alike were puzzled that Obama continued to contest North Carolina, even though McCain had a hefty lead in the polls. Sure, there were a few wrong calls (Plouffe saw Alaska as “competitive” in the pre-Palin era). But Obama is now forcing McCain to devote the bulk of his dwindling resources to defending once-safe GOP states like Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina, while Virginia has moved into the leaning Obama category.

6) Down-ballot Democrats Will Flee From Obama

This was a constant trope during the primaries, and continued into the summer: Democrats, particularly in red states, would cut and run from the party’s ticket faster than you could say “Barack Obama and his liberal allies.” Oklahoma Rep. Dan Boren made headlines in June when he vowed not to endorse Obama; other House members from conservative districts were expected to do the same. One economic collapse later, and instead, it’s Republicans — in such Democratic strongholds as, ahem, Nebraska — who are fleeing McCain. Incumbent GOP Rep. Lee Terry, whose Omaha district is being targeted by both presidential candidates as a possible source of one electoral vote, ran newspaper ads this month featuring a hypothetical “Obama-Terry voter.” It turns out that to most Democrats, the pluses of an unprecedented turnout organization, wild enthusiasm among supporters and a gazillion dollars in campaign ads outweigh the minuses of a weird name and a liberal voting record.

7) The Hillary Holdouts Will Never Come Back

During July and August, just about the easiest way to get on television was to announce that you were an angry Hillary voter who would never, ever support Obama. Of course, political science studies dating back three decades show that party loyalty invariably trumps hurt feelings by the time November rolls around. Guess what? For all the PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) nonsense that filled the airwaves over the summer, the Pew Research Center poll this week shows that Obama is beating McCain by a 91-to-5-percent margin among self-identified Democrats. So while independent-minded blue-collar voters who may have opted for Clinton in the primary are still being wooed by the Obama campaign in states like Pennsylvania, virtually all the dyed-in-the-wool Democrats have (surprise!) returned to the fold.

But that’s Conventional Wisdom for you. Often wrong, but never in doubt.

Walter Shapiro is Salon's Washington bureau chief. A complete listing of his articles is here.

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>