Why Obama Is in Trouble

Unless something happens, John McCain will win.

Of course, “unless something happens” is the biggest qualifier in the world, more than adequate to CYA me should Obama prevail. It’s politics. There are almost three months. Odds are something will happen.

Still, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Obama’s electoral handicaps–his racial identification and short resume–should have easily been eclipsed by Bush’s–er, McCain’s well-stocked aviary of albatrosses. McCain was and remains short of money. His campaign organization is a mess. Republican bosses are unenthusiastic, both about his prospects and about the direction he would take his party should he win. He has aligned himself with the most unpopular aspect of the wildly unpopular outgoing administration, the Iraq War. At a time when economically insecure voters are staring down the barrel of a recession-cum-depression, McCain promises more of the same–no help is on the way. And he’s old. Sooo painfully I-don’t-use-the-Internet old.

What is it that has the politerati betting on a McCain Administration? Historical precedent. During most presidential election years, Republicans tend to surge in the last few months of the campaign. For a Democrat to win in November, he must have a comfortable lead in the polls at this stage in the game.

The classic example is 1976, Jimmy Carter led incumbent Gerald Ford by 33 percentage points. Ford was hobbled by Watergate, a recession, and his pardon of Nixon, as well as his dismal performance in the debates, where he claimed that the Soviet Union wasn’t dominating eastern Europe. Nevertheless, Ford closed the lead, losing to Carter by just two points. This follows the pattern, albeit by a wider margin than in most elections.

In recent years, the countervailing example is the 1992 contest between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, the incumbent. After the Democratic National Convention in August, Clinton was only ahead of Bush by a few points. Clinton won, but only because independent Ross Perot, a businessman with libertarian leanings, attracted so many votes from registered Republicans.

Perot ran again in 1996, but was less of a factor. So the old pattern reasserted itself. Clinton led Bob Dole by roughly 20 percent in mid-August, but won by eight. Republicans always close the gap.

It happened again in 2000. In mid-August, Al Gore had an eight-point lead ahead of George W. Bush. Gore won the popular vote by 0.6 percent.

If you’re a Democrat, being ahead isn’t enough. In 2004 John Kerry was ahead in mid-August–but by just two points. Bush was an incumbent with potentially grave weaknesses–he hadn’t found Osama or Iraq’s supposed WMDs, and he was already losing the war–yet the pattern reasserted itself. Bush gained four points, prevailing in the popular vote by 2.4 percent. (I won’t comment on the electoral vote, aside from mentioning that it was stolen in the key state of Ohio.)

If Barack Obama ends up beating John McCain, he will have done so with the smallest August lead for a Democrat in memory–three points, within the statistical margin of error for tracking polls. A columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times argues that’s good news: “Out of the gate,” writes Carol Marin, “the thoroughbred who leads too early and by too great a margin is more often than not the vulnerable one, the one in danger of losing it all to the horse who strategically holds back, waits, and then thunders in the final furlongs to finish first.” Nice metaphor, but presidential campaigns aren’t horse races. They’re boxing matches. The last man standing wins.

If the election were held today, Obama would win. But it won’t be, so he might not. Republicans fight harder than Democrats, so Republicans land more punches. Democrats, at least Democrats of the wimpy post-LBJ variety–need to start ahead in order to eek out a victory.

Unless Obama starts swinging soon, he’s done for. Insiders are tut-tutting over Ohio, an important swing state this year. Given the decade-long recession and voter anger there–not to mention a significant African-American population–Obama ought to be kicking McCain six ways to Sunday. But the two candidates are neck and neck in fundraising. “For McCain to even be competitive is surprising to me,” says Chris Duncan, chairman of the political science department at the University of Dayton. “I don’t think it’s that he’s doing better than expected. I think it’s that Obama is doing worse than he would expect.”

Vincent Hutchings of the University of Michigan wonders if the Obama campaign is counting too much on young voters. “Is he generating enough enthusiasm to excite people who lack a formal education and are disproportionately young, and not likely to vote?” he asks.

As I argued in my 2004 polemic “Wake Up! You’re Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right,” American voters feel besieged. At home, they see prices rising while their salaries get gnawed away by inflation. From a foreign affairs standpoint, they see a world full of terrorists and hostile rivals–Iran, North Korea, Russia, China–out to get them. As a psychologist would say, the fact that there isn’t much truth to this perception doesn’t make it less real.

Americans want their presidents to be a National Daddy–an ornery cuss willing to err on the side of kicking some innocent schlub’s ass to protect them.

Last time around, in 2004, John Kerry repeatedly turned the other jowl as Bush and his proxies pounded him with the now-notorious Swift Boat ads. Of course, whether Kerry’s Vietnam service rose to the level of heroism was debatable. What wasn’t was that Bush weaseled out of going at all. But Kerry never responded. If the guy won’t fight for himself, voters asked themselves, how will he fight for me?

Obama has already traveled too far down the Path of the Kerry, repeatedly voting for funding a war his entire candidacy is predicated upon opposing, not to mention government spying on U.S. citizens and, most recently, the embarrassingly cheesy spectacle of endorsing offshore oil drilling. I mean, really: Do any right-wing conservatives believe he really means any of this stuff?

If he is to make history by salvaging his campaign from its current neck-and-neck status with McCain, Obama will have to rally the Democrats’ liberal base by throwing them some red meat: immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, socialized medicine and a sweeping credit crisis bailout plan (all interest rates legally reset to prime) would be a start. He’ll also need to beat up McCain (fairly) for agreeing with Bush about just about everything–and pledge to hold the Bushies responsible for their crimes.



22 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Right on Ted. Huckabee!Huckabee!Huckabee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Alyzarin Says:

    I love your work so I hate to be a nitpicker, but I think you mean “eke out” in paragraph 11. (That is, as long as the victory doesn’t involve the unexpected arrival of a mouse.)

  3. Sean Says:

    “whether Kerry’s Vietnam service rose to the level of heroism was debatable”

    Ted, how ’bout you deal with a pattern of effective ambushes against your guys, by deliberately cruising through the ambush zone until you are ambushed, then charging into it guns a-blazing. In an age where pretty much everyone is a “hero” for not dying today, Kerry desrved his purple heart and then some.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Obama’s got feet of clay. He’s wishy-washy on all his principles, and will be labeled a flip-flopper. He’s got no real record to run on, and as David Brooks pointed out, we can’t really identify him as being “of” or “from” anywhere or anything. He’s an amalgamation. Even if you labeled Bush a “Legacy Kid”, you knew what to expect from him. How to you quantify Obama to anyone?

    He’s talking about Hope and Change, but his policy ideas aren’t that well known. When he states one, he’ll hedge and say “oh, but maybe Off-shore drilling is OK, too, under some circumstances” instead of sticking to his guns.

    McCain will beat him because people know what and who McCain is – he’s instantly quantifiable. He’s not a shifting shadow, trying to win by selling people on what they want to hear one minute ot the next.

    From what we see in the media, Obama is an empty suit and smile. Sure, he’s a good speaker (in prepared speeches), he’s young and hip, but what’s his real background? But he sure made a good speech a few years ago….

    He’s not exactly Colin Powell or even Jesse Jackson or Hillary Clinton or even your local neighborhood snake oil salesman….

  5. SDS Says:

    Ted, you just introduced the hammer to the head.

    The wiretapping thing is the underline on Obama’s failing summer strategy. Who is that appeasing? Who are the mythical voters who could like a Democrat but need wiretapping? Centrism DOES work sometimes (more than Ted admits) but this is clearly just the lamest form of pandering.

  6. Sean C. Ledig Says:

    Hallelujah! Testify Brother Ted!!!

    I am so sick of this overconfidence on the part of the Democrats. Wake up Dems! Overconfidence leads to complacency!

    I love your use of fight terms like: “Republicans fight harder than Democrats, so Republicans land more punches.”

    I also love how you contrasted that to how “John Kerry repeatedly turned the other jowl.”

    This is so fuckin’ right on! The Democrats and most liberals need to know how to fight! The Dems go into elections like a civilized debate while the Rethugs act like everything is the UFC.

    As Cenk Uygur of “The Young Turks” once said, (my paraphrase) “Of course no one believes the Democrats will protect them from al Quaida. The Democrats won’t protect us from the Republicans.”

    As I’ve said many times before, if I go into a shitty neighborhood after dark, I would rather take a right-winger than 99.999 percent of my fellow liberals or Democrats. I need someone who’s willing to throw down – not someone who’s trying to have a debate with the some thugs who’re trying to jack us.

  7. djelimon Says:

    “Republicans fight harder than Democrats, so Republicans land more punches.”

    Republicans have been able to unify under an ideology, flawed and mad though it can be. This has enabled them to get past the need to see immediate action on pet issues and agree on priorities – like taking over the government.

    Democrats on the other hand seem to be more of an alliance of interests, not really that interested in what the other allies have on the agenda, and not really having a consensus as to what unifies them as Democrats. The lack of a common vision and shared sense of purpose is why, with the primaries settled, you have splinter factions of Dems tearing the candidate down. Since the party has no ideology, loyalty is to candidates (ie personalities) rather than party.

    Thus we see legions of Republicans, some paid and some not, swarming every political forum and sub-forum in cyber-space, sowing the seeds of agitation. Sometimes they impersonate disgruntled Democrats. And they can pull it off, because it’s believable.

    Because there’s also hordes of Dems spamming up the emails with drivel, and trying to tear down the candidate at every turn.

    The Republicans, I notice, may despise their candidate (and I find him infinitely more despicable than Obama personally), and you can tell by little things like not showing up to conventions, but you never hear about it much. And that is helpful to McCain, or at least less unhelpful, than them voicing their disgust.

    “the embarrassingly cheesy spectacle of endorsing offshore oil drilling”

    When you consider the amount of caveats he actually attached to that, I would say definitely more compromise than capitulation. But he didn’t do it in a sound byte, so caveats don’t count. That’s what lies behind the insidious effectiveness of the flip-flopper meme. A shame it’s now mainstream discourse.

    That said, I think O needs to start a fact-based offensive, AFTER the primary, when whatever drama those other loyal-sorta factions in the Dem party will unfold (another thing McCain doesn’t have to put up with).

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I’m sure that everything will go well when Obama announces that his campaign staff in Georgia has successfully repelled the Russian invasion and that the Bulldogs’ season will go on as planned.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    After the PUMAs and company finish torpedoing the DNC campaign and the rest of the world wonders why the US elected yet again a doddering lunatic, and decides that the nation is just plain perverse, it will mark the US as a bad investment, tanking the dollar an draising the price of gas. McCain will then sell an invasion of some oil-bearing company based on a straight-up pillaging proposition and shuffle off all of the unemployed, probably targetting Dem-leaning demogaphics for the front lines in the hopes they’ll be killed before they come to their senses (ha) in the next election cycle.

  10. T-_Bone Says:

    Ted – I agree 100%. Democrats should be true liberals and have leftist policies and Rupublicans should be conservatives and have their right-wing polices. Then the people could finally decide once and for all which direction the country should go. As it is right now, we are doing nothing. I am so tired of this centrist crap.

    I wish these creeps would take a statnd for once.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    McCain will beat him because people know what and who McCain is – he’s instantly quantifiable. He’s not a shifting shadow, trying to win by selling people on what they want to hear one minute ot the next.

    Actually, if you look at his career, McCain turns out to be a flip-flopper too. His recent support of torture is a good example…


  12. peejay3 Says:

    “Americans want their presidents to be a National Daddy–an ornery cuss willing to err on the side of kicking some innocent schlub’s ass to protect them.”

    not me. so the line should read; “Americans, except peejay3, want their presidents to be a National Daddy–an ornery cuss willing to err on the side of kicking some innocent schlub’s ass to protect them.”

  13. Rory Says:

    Hey Ted, I have a question for you: do you think that had Senator Clinton been the nominee instead of Obama, that Democrats would be polling higher against McCain then they currently are (Rasmussen released a poll a few weeks ago showing this)? Why or why not?

  14. Angelo Says:

    My academic training leads me to believe that McCain will be the quickest path to the kinds of reforms we all need.

    Elected officials only do what it takes to stay in office. Until Joe Sixpack gets the SUV, house, TV, cable and sixpack ripped away, we will see NO REFORM.

    Then, we will be fighting all of those simpletons in the Red states not to turn completely red, but we will have no chance.

    We need to rip on Obama, and push McCain to the right. That is the best course.

    Tell me I’m wrong, and tell me why you think I’m wrong. (and don’t feed me that line about the courts, because congress can strip any power the court has.)

    Don’t think about the next 10 years, think about the next 30.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Both Obama and McCain are beholden
    to big business/Money and will
    impliment the policies dictated
    by big Business/Money which are being followed by Bush and is supported by McCain. So, Obama has not much room to maneuver and he can only oppose minor details and imploy different rehtoric and dance around the bushes without any real substance. So, in IMHO he is frustrating a lot of believers and most likely that he will loose.
    Any way it will make no difference
    who will win for the reason I mentioned above.

  16. Sam Holloway Says:

    Until Joe Sixpack gets the SUV, house, TV, cable and sixpack ripped away, we will see NO REFORM.

    If only such dire straits would allow for such hope, Angelo. The kicker to right wing dominance of our politics is that they rely heavily on scapegoating. When Joe Sixpack loses his stuff, he isn’t going to turn on the greedy bastards who snatched it from him. He’ll turn on the people who the greedy bastards have been telling him are responsible for all his problems: liberals, colored people, The Foreign Brown Menace, etc. People (even liberals) can smirk all they want about Godwin’s Law, but this stuff isn’t completely original.

    The biggest two problems liberals and progressives have are the one that Ted describes (an unwillingness to identify their enemies and fight them) and an unwillingness to admit that “The American Dream” is a house of cards built over a festering nightmare.

    The sad thing is, it doesn’t matter who wins in November. If McCain wins, it’s the Bush program on speed. If Obama wins, there will be a right-wing uprising the likes of which this country has never seen. There will be blood, and liberals (especially those of color) had best be prepared to fight or die. Either way, we’re all screwed.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    To church secretary,

    You mistakenly think that Obama is
    “progressive”. Obama is another
    war monger who is beholden to big
    Money/Business and there will be no
    difference between his REAL policies and that of McCain and
    both of them will continue Bush
    policies both domestic and foreign.
    Obama received huge campaign contributions from Wall St. that are much larger than what McCain received.!!

  18. djelimon Says:

    Obama received huge campaign contributions from Wall St. that are much larger than what McCain received.!!

    Is this some spam drivel you got in an e-mail, or do you have some kind of source?

  19. Daragh McDowell Says:

    On Ross Perot – Can we please, now, bury the fallacy that its only because Ross Perot split the ticket that Clinton won in 1992? Every single exit poll, statistical analysis, academic study and whathaveyou, shows that:

    A) Perot’s voting block was made up of roughly equal measures of Dems, Reps, and Indies.

    B) Their second preference for candidates was split roughly 50/50 between Bush and Clinton.

    C) Many of them were only voting at all because Perot was in the race and would have stayed home if he had not run.

    The Conclusion (again reached by every serious study of this election.) Clinton would have beat Bush by roughly 6 points in a head to head match up, i.e. the same margin he actually beat him by in the general. Perot was not a decisive factor.

    And really, is this at all surprising given that Perot’s signature issue was opposition to NAFTA? A Republican designed, initiated and negotiated treaty? Were people who were driven to vote by his warnings of the disastrous consequences of Republican trade policy for the domestic economy then going to go and vote for its biggest advocate?

  20. Fouad Says:

    You know Ted I thought about it, I mean i REALLY thought about it. This Nov. people like you and me CAN’T LOSE! Think about it, White House or not the Dems will still sweep in the House and Senate. It’s very likely that they’ll win such a large majority that it may even be veto-proof(but I doubt it). Now Ted I’m a socialist and VERY proud of that fact – that being the case I have completely lost faith in BOTH parties. However, A weak Republican President to me is just as good as a Democrat. With a vastly Democratically controlled House and Senate that’s all the Left really needs. No matter how powerful the Commander in Chief get its ultimately up to the Congress whether or not he goes to Jail – think about that.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    djelimon wrote: “Is this some spam
    drivel you got in an e-mail ….”.

    I read it in my regular city paper in an article about the reported campaign contributions to the election commession as requied by law from each candidate. The figures are public records.
    But putting these figures aside, it
    was obvious after the primaries, that Obam
    was a phony and pretender and he is just another
    war monger and corporate whore.
    He kept changing his position on
    Iraq, he switched his position on
    FAISA and voted for it. He NOW supports off-shore drilling. He
    expressed his willingness and readiness to attack Iran and Pakistan. He wants to expand the war in Afghanistan. He wants to
    expand the army by 65,000 troops.
    He NOW supports faith based initiatives. He is not for single payer health-care. He did not say
    a word about the current banking
    crisis etc etc …..

  22. Alex Says:


    I’m coming more and more to believe that Obama is gonna lose.

    And, brace for it, he deserves to.


    The Democratic Party has had HOW LONG to fix the voting irregularities issue? Years. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts this election is going to turn out to be another statistical oddity.

    Also, some of the major organs for whipping up Dems are pointless. DailyKos seems to exist as a Kool-Aid dispensary. To disagree with the Standard Line is to invite a public crucifixion. A large number of the posters introduce, well, idiotic comments that are either grounded in “gosh, I feel this way, so it’s valid” or “don’t you dare be negative.”

    RawStory, on the other hand, can’t quite shake loose its near-fetish for wildly inaccurate headlines and scare-tactic-9/11-was-it-or-wasn’t-it-as-told “reports.”

    Why isn’t Obama and his support staff using their huge level of adoration to GET THE PARTY ORGANIZED?

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