Friday, 25 April 2008

Democrat doom-mongers

Two very similar articles appeared in the New York Times and The Times of London with a deeply pessimistic outlook for the Democrats' chances in November. Paul Krugman argues:

"Well, now he [Obama] has an overwhelming money advantage and the support of much of the Democratic establishment — yet he still can’t seem to win over large blocs of Democratic voters, especially among the white working class.

As a result, he keeps losing big states. And general election polls suggest that he might well lose to John McCain."

Krugman goes on to argue that the rightful path is for the Democrats to re-connect with the old certainties: the successful Clinton economy, and the great social programmes of the past, Medicare and Social Security. And unfortunately, the desire to create a 'new politics' just doesn't mesh well with that narrative. It has left the Democrats in a 'self-inflicted state of confusion' Anyone guess who Krugman is backing?

And in today's Times, Gerard Baker argues a very similar thing. He dismisses Obama and Clinton as 'two cynical losers' and goes on to say:

What they want is a man - or a woman - of character and record to inspire and lead them. That may be why the Democrats are in trouble.
Now. Let's just steady up here for a while. Contrary to what Krugman and Baker argue (both of whom I respect as commentators) the Democrats are not hurtling towards a defeat just yet. In fact, there has not been a national poll that has McCain ahead of Obama for a number of weeks. See here for the latest Real Clear Politics list of polls:

The average also has Hillary ahead. So actually, the portents at this stage are quite good. Despite a bruising and negative primary battle, the only time that McCain has stepped ahead of Obama is around the time of the Jeremiah Wright affair (which hit Clinton as well.) Actually, while Obama has been wounded in recent battles and that harms his chances against McCain or of being a 'transcendent candidate' he is still in a remarkably strong position. A third of Hillary's voters say they won't vote for him and he's still ahead!

Now let's deal with that 'petulant vote' once again. Remember when people were saying that the conservative right would not vote for McCain during the Republican primary? Well, guess what, nobody's talking about that now. Though I haven't seen any figures on this, my guess is that a lot of those nay-sayers are now returning to the fold. It will be more tricky for Obama to win back white, socially conservative, middle class Democrats, i.e. the Reagan Democrats, but not impossible. He will need an 'I get it' moment but he is more than capable of that.

A final point worth making is that the Democratic Primary is focusing relentlessly on the negatives of Obama and Clinton and not on those of John McCain. Anyone who thinks that a candidate with who is comfortable with the notion of 100 years in Iraq for US troops, confesses that economics is not his strongest suit when the US is in an election, can not tell the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, cosies up to lobbyists, maintains a Bushite foreign policy and has a vicious temper will not face a hard time come the Presidential election proper is in for a major surprise.

So the doom-mongers are too hasty. The only confusion is the notion that what is happening now is a definitive guide to what will happen in the election. We ultimately have no idea what will happen post nomination. But we do know that both potential Democratic nominees start off from a remarkably high base.

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