Chris Cillizza has an interesting article in today’s Washington Post, in which he takes on some of the emerging mainstream media myths about the 2008 election. I have some debunking of some of debunking.
First myth debunked: the Republican party suffered a death blow: yes losing the presidency, at least 6 Senate seats and about 25 House seats is a major loss. But, he counters that McCain was only just a band aid for a party with significant problems and by hitting the bottom, it will allow fresh new faces and ideas come to the surface more quickly. And even more encouraging, except for 2002, the party in charge has lost seats in every mid term election since 1934.
Debunking the debunking: I’d like to add another myth: that this was a landslide victory. Not so much. It was more decisive than either of Bush’s victories but this does not compare to Nixon in 1972 or Reagan in 1984 (or 1980). Those were landslides. On the negative side, while losing in the manner we did lose may be good for getting new faces and new ideas, it’s no guarantee. Losing in 2000 did not help the Democrats in 2002 or 2004 with new ideas or new faces. The Republicans can easily learn the wrong lessons from this loss: they could follow Christie Todd Whitman’s advice, for example, and purge the party of its largest voting bloc. Or conversely, they could follow Ted Nugent’s advice and purge the party of people like Whitman. Hopefully, we’ll reject both ideas and instead turn to people who know how to win, like Karl Rove. Obama surely has learned something about what Clinton did wrong in 1993 and 1994 and what Bush did right in 2001 and 2002. His team will be studying those examples and are already working on a game plan to avoid a 1994 style debacle. We can’t just assume that the mid term elections will be good for us. We need fresh new ideas and faces but we need a game plan for how to get there.
Second myth debunked: that a huge wave of new young voters and black voters turned the tide, excited by the new candidate of hope and change. Not so much. There was a small uptick in both blocs of voters, but nowhere near enough to turn the tide from 2004. Overall turnout was not much different from 2004. Obama won Ohio with less votes than Bush did, for example.
Debunking the debunking: the polling data still does not give Republicans much to be excited about. Although Obama didn’t get this huge turnout, he did get 7% more black vote than Kerry, which is to be expected, and 13% more of the 18-29 year old vote. That is significant and is a sign that Republicans have much work ahead of them to stay competitive.
Third myth debunked: Democrats will usher in a new progressive era. Not so fast, says Cillizza, many of these new Democrats are in conservative leaning districts who voted for Bush. They will be pushing the party to a centrist line as a matter of survival.
Debunking the debunking: I’d like to believe that but I have my fears. With Alaska’s Senate seat going to the Democrat and Minnesota’s Senate seat all by stolen, they nearly have the 60 votes needed to block a fillibuster. The media is completely in the tank and will be pushing the economic disaster story in an effort to get people to buy into the “desperate times call for desperate measures” mantra we’re going to hear. While I think Obama and his team are pragmatic enough to run to the center when they believe it is necessary, I’m convinced he will push to the left whenever he thinks he can get away with it. Certainly the Congressional leadership is poised to take him there, even if many bank benchers have more centrist streaks.
Fourth Myth Debunked: A Republican candidate could have won the presidency this year. Cillizza argues that the disapproval of Bush was too strong for any candidate to have pulled it off, not Huckabee, not Romney, not Jindal. He posits that this was preordained, even before the financial meltdown.
Debunking the Debunking: It’s hard to argue with this point. But I still believe McCain could have won. Even with his scattershot campaign, he had pulled ahead just before the meltdown. Although people had written off Bush, they didn’t tie McCain to Bush as much as the Obama team tried to do so. And although people wanted change, there was still a significant concern about whether Obama was up to the job. Hillary had battered him at the end of the primaries – and essentially won the popular vote. McCain could have cemented those doubts last spring and defined Obama as untrustworthy and a radical had he brought out all the Wright and Ayers stuff then, just as Hillary did. Instead he dithered for months and only brought out Ayers at the end in what appeared to be an act of desperation. McCain could have further distanced himself from Bush in other ways – immigration, government spending and primarily on the bailout. I still think he could have won it, although the bail out certainly made it hard. McCain’s reaction to it made Obama appear more up to the challenge than him.
Fifth Myth debunked: McCain made a huge mistake by picking Palin. Cillizza points to statistics showing Palin actually helped McCain by bringing back the base. He argues that McCain’s loss would have been greater had she not been on the ticket.
Debunking the debunking: No arguments here. McCain’s team managed her wrong almost from the start. Had she started with blanketing talk radio and other conservative outlets, the base might have come out stronger. After getting her feet wet, she should have hit the mainstream interviews like Gibson and Couric. They had her so scripted and fearful of botching a “gotcha” question that it was inevitable that she would make a gaffe. I don’t think she’s done yet. She has a wealth of political talent.