HALF EMPTY

Posted in Election 2008, Rants on November 11th, 2008 by Ed

I am just going to say this without applying a sucrose coating: the left blew some opportunities in this election. The "Dewey Defeats Truman" pessimism that, no matter what, Obama would find a way to lose passed from prudent to quaint to irritating to counterproductive over the final months. I and everyone else who voted for Obama wasted time and energy fretting on a race that was, for all intents and purposes, over six to eight weeks ago. We saw the numbers, refused to believe them, and kept our focus on a blowout race while marginal seats in Congress and ballot measures could have been pushed past the tipping point with our all-out effort.

It seems odd to say that such an overwhelming Democratic win involved missed opportunities, but they were there. And they stem directly from the fact that Obama supporters stubbornly refused to accept reality – that their candidate had a statistically significant lead in nearly every state required for an Electoral College victory. Just like die-hard McCain supporters but for very different reasons, many Obamans were convinced that all that data was simply wrong. It was not the finest hour for logic. After so many years of losing, winning becomes inconceivable. Of course some degree of skepticism is healthy. It would have been irresponsible for Obama supporters to say "Fuck it, we got this one" or simply take a victory as a given. But there are opportunity costs to the singular focus on the presidential race.

For example.

In California, the presidential race was not competitive. Prop 8 certainly was. It would have made sense for left-wing activists to put Obama and McCain out of mind and devote full attention to state and local races of import. So what was the Bay Area Obama campaign doing? Rounding up busloads of volunteers and driving them to Nevada to campaign for Obama. Was that logical? Well, only if you managed to convince yourself that Obama's 8-to-10-point lead in the Nevada polls was more in need of elbow grease than the uphill battle to push Prop 8 below 50%.

Now, I don't want to suggest that every California Obaman behaved identically, that no one thought of this before the election, or that no one gave Prop 8 their all. But this is anecdote is just one example of the consequences of failing to see the line between prudence and irrationality. Nevada simply wasn't that close – certainly not close enough to import volunteers across state lines. There is always a race right where you live that could benefit from your attention. I can't help but wonder, for instance, if the amazingly tight Senate races in Oregon and Minnesota would have benefitted from the attention of Obama voters in those uncompetitive states. Prop 8 – largely a victim of ignorance and a terrible campaign on the "no" side – could have. Perhaps rather than jumping to Americans' favorite political conclusion ("Let's scapegoat the blacks!" Stay classy, Dan Savage!) the "no" supporters should ask themselves if they did all they could and presented their case effectively or if they wasted a lot of time worrying that McCain would employ some manner of sorcery to forestall the obvious.

Let's take a deep breath and get it through our (apparently) thick skulls – the polling was essentially correct and we can in fact win one every once in a while. Obama led where the data suggested he led. If anything, Rassmussen, Zogby, Strategic Vision, and other right-leaning pollsters caused the aggregate polling to understate Obama's lead. The key in future elections will be to strike a careful balance between overconfidence and neurosis. Lapsing into the latter was costly. Success can never be taken for granted, but we must do a better job of asking ourselves if we are putting our scarce time, energy, and money to the best possible use or if we are hurling them at an uncompetitive race out of paranoia. What did that last $50 million raised by Obama do for his campaign? Nothing. What could it have done for Prop 8? We don't know, but now we have to wonder.

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