I have been feeling a certain dread about Barack Obama's political prospects since David Brook's column in the New York Times last week, "Where's the Landslide?", which sought to explain why Obama is not up 20 or so points in the national polls. The dread was compounded by the recent article in the Times quoting Democrats, including Ohio Gov. Strickland, saying that Obama needed to do much more to put a fine point on his message about change. I have felt queasy as I've watched Obama's lead evaporating. I have sworn to myself that I would only check the poll updates on Realclearpolitics once every two or so weeks, so as not to be swept up in the daily August polling madness, which everyone I trust tells me doesn't matter one iota anyway.
I was feeling pretty good about Obama yesterday, though, in part because I had just read the Atlantic Monthly's Election issue coverage -- which was so clear-eyed, and so non-hysterical, it made me momentarily believe one could be both passionate about politics and at the same time, clear-eyed and non-hysterical (more on this coverage, later). Also, I had the good fortune of reading Frank Rich's column in the Sunday Times, on a morning flight from Newark to Cleveland.
Rich seemed to be taking Brooks on directly when he wrote: "It seems almost churlish to look at some actual facts. No presidential candidate was breaking the 50 percent mark in mid-August polls in 2004 or 2000. Obama’s average lead of three to four points is marginally larger than both John Kerry’s and Al Gore’s leads then (each was winning by one point in Gallup surveys). Obama is also ahead of Ronald Reagan in mid-August 1980 (40 percent to Jimmy Carter’s 46). At Pollster.com, which aggregates polls and gauges the electoral count, Obama as of Friday stood at 284 electoral votes, McCain at 169. That means McCain could win all 85 electoral votes in current toss-up states and still lose the election."
For a moment, at 30,000 feet, I felt that I could actually breathe again. All was not quite lost for the Democrats in mid-August. Here was a reputable source, albeit a liberal one, implying that Barack Obama may yet have a chance to win the presidency on August 17!
"So why isn’t Obama romping? The obvious answer — and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it — is that the public doesn’t know who on earth John McCain is. ... McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn’t start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after 'Mission Accomplished.' By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn’t get to New Orleans for another six months and didn’t sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.
McCain long ago embraced the right’s agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet."
All was not lost! The press would soon start to cover "The Real McCain." He would be unmasked.
Things started to turn for me, though, shortly after I got home, when first my mother-in-law, and then my rabbi, started worrying me with reports about how Obama had been received at Saddleback Church. Not well, by the press, they told me. But, as my rabbi put it, he thought Obama was so good -- so thoughtful and considerate -- and McCain was so snappy and ideological -- that my rabbi was, for the first time, going to go downtown and join the Obama campaign, if behind the scenes.
By evening, I was flush with a new corona of worry, as TalkingPointsMemo reported, in a one line post, that McCain had drawn even with Obama in the polls, in Ohio. This sent me reeling. Reeling. Could it really be true? A quick search of Realclearpolitics.com confirmed my worst fears. Obama had fallen behind McCain in all the swing states that matter.
Things only got worse when I awoke this morning and read Paul Krugman's column, "It's the Economy Stupor," arguing that Obama was failing at achieving his landslide because he has failed to get traction on economic issues. Krugman was astonished at Obama's flatness when he gave his big economic speech in St. Petersburg. Krugman noted that Obama goes out of his way to avoid "scoring political points" on the economy. "Obama surrogates have shown a similar inclination to go for the capillaries rather than the jugular," he wrote, later adding: "All this makes a stark contrast with the campaign of the last Democrat to make it to the White House." Which of couse was Clinton, with "It's the Economy, Stupid." Krugman got me thinking (which, lately, is saying something in and of itself) -- it's true that Obama hasn't really grabbed the mantle of economic reform; he's tried, but he certainly hasn't succeded. And that should be a no-brainer. How could he even cede one inch of territory on the economy to McCain, who has said he knows little about the subject?
By mid-day today, I'd received an email from a friend that included this line: "As you know, amazingly, incredibly, logic-defyingly, depressingly, the race has tightened to a dead heat. Just typing that makes me want to scream. I have plenty of issues with Obama but I sure as hell don't want to see a McCain administration, it's unthinkable, it's the end."
I turned on CNN tonight in time to see Larry King interviewing two people I'd never seen before, and couldn't pick out of a lineup, opining on the Saddleback Church appearances. The pro-Obama person was struggling to put a positive gloss on things, admitting, thoughtfully (like the candidate himself), that it hadn't been Obama's best day; the pro-McCain person was relentlessly putting his foe on the defensive. The pro-McCain person derided as siliness the notion that McCain hadn't been in a cone of silence. (Obama was questioned first; McCain was supposed to be in a soundproof Green room; turns out he was in his limo, on his way over, as Obama was being questioned.) And then Rick Warren, the pastor, came on, and said, essentially, he didn't know McCain was in the limo, instead of in the "cone of silence," but that basically, McCain couldn't have heard the questions Obama was being asked, because the Secret Service would have reported it. (Since when is it likely that the Secret Service would step up and volunteer information to an obsequious press corps that would make the person they are guarding look like a liar and a cheat?) And then Warren argued that McCain himself SAID he didn't hear anything, and he had to take him at his word. Really? Why?
After saying he could never vote for an atheist (because atheists arrogantly assume we can make it in this world without a little help) for president, Warren then went on to talk about the precious moments during the interview when John McCain actually teared up. Three times! So much for a neutral interviewer. Apparently, he looked into John McCain's eyes, and saw his soul.
I vowed, at that moment, that I would never, ever again watch CNN. Never. I'm over it. I'm done. They can spew their maddening punditry into the electosphere without me.
And I vowed I would do something with my anguish and constantly in-flux election dread.
This blog is, in part, my response.
It's August 19th. 78 days until the election.
The end is not in fact "near." It's not even close. It's eons away. John McCain is gaining in the polls at warp speed. Election Day is coming in slow motion.
There are 1,872 hours until the election.
I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to make it.