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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Monday, August 23, 2010


AT RCP, David Paul Kuhn examines the president's many political missteps and makes a trenchant observation:

The most underestimated aspect of the 2008 campaign was the political environment. Could even a Ronald Reagan have beaten a Democrat two years ago? Unlikely. It is forgotten how clumsily Obama dealt with the rare obstacle. How difficult it was for him to deal with Sarah Palin until she imploded. How difficult it was for him to walk back the bitter remarks. How difficult it was to close the deal on Hillary Clinton. How lucky he was to campaign in a year where the economy trumped cultural issues. When his Hyde Park liberal character would not undercut his bid. Even John McCain's war heroics fell flat. It was, simply, the economy.

That too reminds us of Obama's questionable instincts on the grand scale. This is a candidate who first sustained majority support after the market crashed on September 15. Yet Obama focused his first year on myriad liberal dreams over the economic crisis. Unlike most Americans, his priorities did not change with the crisis. Obama never even offered the great speech to match this Great Recession. And that was supposedly his specialty.

It's not that Obama is bad at the trade. He simply falls far short of the hype. This is not a man "misunderestimated," to borrow a term from his predecessor. And that is partly Obama's own fault.

This is the same man who, on the cusp of his national address at the 2004 Democratic convention, told a reporter "I'm LeBron, baby." This is the president who reportedly told Democratic lawmakers "the big difference here and in '94, was you've got me." "I'm pretty good at politicking," Obama recently told supporters at a fundraiser.

To borrow from Golda Meir, no need to be so humble.

In addition to the economy, President Bush's unpopularity contributed to the outcome. It had crashed long before the Dow did, largely as a result of the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina. Multiple GOP scandals did not help, either. Any plausible Democrat would have won in 2008, and the Abramowitz model -- which took no account of who the nominee were -- accurately predicted the popular vote.

As we explain in Epic Journey, Barack Obama had a superb campaign organization, but he also got some very lucky breaks. Like so many people before him, the president has sometimes mistaken luck for merit.

As Nietzche said, success has always been the greatest liar.