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Jun 06 2008

Tuesday night election afterthoughts

The Daily Show provides a wrap up of the events of Tuesday night, comparing the speech of Barack Obama with the non-concession, self-absorbed speech of Clinton and the disaster that was McCain’s presentation (that was supposed to upstage Obama’s night) that was panned even by the Fox News punditocracy.

The Daily Show is one of the very few that actually digs up at the archives of what people said in the past and contrasts it with the present, and shows how the talking heads usually have nothing useful to say. Note how in the clip the media pundits assumed in 2006 and 2007 that the nomination was simply Hillary Clinton’s for the taking and that it was futile for anyone to even challenge her. It was only around March 2008, after she stumbled in Iowa and lost a string of eleven straight primaries to Obama that the media narrative switched and people decided she was unlikely to win.

Contrast the predictions of the TV pundits that of blogger Markos Moulitsas who said way back in December 2006 that if Obama ran, he would win, and carefully explained why.

I want to emphasize that it is not that Moulitsas was right in his prediction and the media pundits wrong that makes me compare them. Long-term predictions in politics are tricky and one can easily be wrong because there are so many contingent factors at play, any one of which can cause fortunes to fluctuate wildly. (I am almost always wrong in my own election predictions.) The reason the media pundits are so useless is because there is no depth to their analysis, no sense that they have taken into account the complexity of the process. They focus on one or two factors (gender, race, demographics) or some trivial issues of style and then draw sweeping conclusions and make flat declarative predictions. And then they move on to the next topic, never acknowledging that they were not only wrong, they did not even know what they were talking about. This kind of hit-and-run punditry is a waste of time.

Moulitsas, by contrast, takes into account the various factors involved and tries to weigh them appropriately. He may have been lucky in his prediction but his approach was correct.

In some ways, this difference in approach to punditry was replicated in the way the Clinton and Obama campaigns were run. Clinton based hers on sweeping but shallow generalizations, while Obama’s looked at the nitty-gritty details carefully. Clinton adopted the standard Democratic Party strategy of focusing on those large states where the Democrats are strong and trying to run up the vote count there and spending little time on the smaller states that are often Republican. But Obama’s people studied the rules and realized that by carefully targeting congressional districts across the country in all the states, and keeping the margins close in the traditional Democratic strongholds, they could win the delegate battle.

There is an important consequence of the Obama strategy. As a result of it, many voters sympathetic to Democrats but living in Republican states suddenly found themselves being wooed after being ignored for so long, which has boosted the chances of Democrats around the country. Obama’s strategy paralleled that of the Democratic National Party chair Howard Dean who after taking that position announced a 50-state strategy where the Democrats would not concede any state to the Republicans. Traditional Democratic insiders ridiculed the fact that he put party organizers in every state as a waste of time and money, but it laid the groundwork on which the Obama candidacy could build.

It is significant that Obama has announced that he wants Dean to continue as chair of the party. It signals that they are going to jointly pursue a strategy of campaigning everywhere, for all positions, forcing McCain and the Republican Party to defend themselves in states which Republicans have taken for granted in the past. As a result, the 2008 election may have a record-breaking turnout.

And Stephen Colbert adds his thoughts on the events of Tuesday night.

POST SCRIPT: Baxter again

Probably wondering why I keep taking pictures of him. . .

baxter3.JPG

2 comments

  1. 1
    Anonymous

    It might be true that Obama’s campaign did a lot of detail work in getting the small states. But I clearly remember Clinton spending long hours in small town hall meetings talking about her detailed policies about health care, the war in Iraq, the economy, etc etc. She was willing to quote specifics and put them out there. That sounds like looking at “nitty-gritty details carefully”. Whereas for a long time, it seemed that Obama was unwilling or not ready to commit to specifics about similar issues.

    I liked what you said in your post, but felt compelled to point out a small part of the balance of it.

  2. 2
    Mano

    You are right about Clinton being more detailed about policy.

    I was referring to the organizational aspects of the campaign, not the policy aspects, putting people in key congressional districts where they could make a difference in the delegate counts.

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