It's often said that the eskimos have over 100 words for snow. After this election season, I feel that pragmatic liberals such as myself probably have 100 words for "cautiously optimistic." I think I may have used that phrase at least as much as "please" & "thank you" & definitely more than second-stringers like "happy birthday," "let's watch TV," or "dude, this makes James A. Garfield look like Calvin Coolidge."
Suffice to say that after the defeat of John Kerry's so-called "loss" in 2004, I never again would take up any of that "when we WILL win" junk that made Bob Dole sound like the scrappy old white guy that he was in the '96 election. (& no one need be reminded that Bob Dole lost too.)
But now that the dust has settled & the race has been decided by everyone except Karl Rove's superego (pun intended), it is safe for me to finally unveil what I was REALLY thinking (very loudly) every time I spoke those two hollow words: cautiously optimistic.
Thus, I bullishly call my reasoning:
Why I Thought Barack Obama Was Going to Get Re-Elected All Along.
1. Party stalwarts almost always beat compromised choices. Whenever it comes down to somebody that one party is genuinely behind — think Reagan in 1984 or Bush in 2004 or Obama in 2008 — vs. a compromised choice — think Mondale in 1984 or Kerry in 2004 or McCain in 2008 — it usually comes down on the side of party favorite. This only makes sense. Pundits can sit around & rationalize all day about why their candidate could/would/should/will win (& Fox News certainly did that with Mitt Romney), but the fact is that at the end of the day, someone who's a true party consensus leader will turn out the base. It always feels better to vote FOR somebody than AGAINST somebody else, which in this case worked to Obama's advantage.
2. Barack Obama is the greatest campaigner of his generation, if not of all-time. Love him or hate him, Barack Obama ran what may have been the finest political campaign in 2008. & I study this stuff. I imagine the only people who could give him a run for his money would be JFK in '60, Reagan in '80, & Clinton in '92, but that's about it. So the Republicans weren't just going up against a decent candidate — like, say, an LBJ or a Harry Truman. They were going up against THE BEST. I think a lot of people really underestimated this fact. & indeed, outside of one major folly — that lackluster, if not utterly bizarre first debate performance — Obama ran a campaign that was nearly has smooth as the one from four years earlier. Meanwhile, Romney's campaign was a ramshackle mess, with gaffes & miscalculations running ramped, outside of that week or so following that first debate. Romney would've ran the lesser campaign against any decent competitor, but going up against Obama made him look downright amateur.
3. The media built the election up into a horserace that it never truly was. Again, I first learned my lesson in 2004. After Kerry won the first debate, it was then decided that Bush won the second debate, & that the third was — surprise, surprise — a "draw." I later read an interview with John Kerry in which he said he thought he had won all three debates. I had to agree. But biases are biases. At any rate, after the first debate, the usually unflappable David Gergen on CNN said, "Now we have a horserace," as though he had been waiting for the exact right moment to use that phrase. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign sent out emails proclaiming that victory was in sight. After the first debate, Romney was propped up as the neck-in-neck contender, even though his first debate "surge" was clearly dissipating after about a week or so. As one pollster I read commented, if this was truly neck-in-neck, Romney would be coming out on top just as often as Obama, yet Obama almost always maintained a (however slight) upper-hand. Even more to the point, Romney was never really up in Ohio, without which there was practically no way in which he could win the electoral map. & as Obama proved last night when he won Colorado, he had enough wiggle room to win the electoral map WITHOUT Ohio, Florida, OR Virginia. Which itself is rather staggering. The short version is, nobody stays glued to a campaign when it looks like a definite landslide. & first & foremost, our media is driven by ratings & print sales.
4. Polls can be manipulated, but ethnic demographics cannot. One of my favorite jokes of this election was the SNL Weekend Update in which Seth Meyers was reporting Romney's stubborn supposed lead in the Gallup poll. "That's right," Meyers said, "Out of all of the people who still have landlines & answer the phone when it's an unrecognized number, Romney is winning." It was a telling observation. So much was written about polls & how they are manipulated (or fabricated) by one side or the other, but often the "mainstream" polls were getting it wrong by under-sampling the African-American & Latino vote. Obama won the former at his taken-for-granted-but-still-rather-amazing ~90% or so, but just as important was the fact he won the Latino vote at 70%. The 2012 election marks the first time that Latinos broke into the demographic double-digits, comprising a full 10% of the electorate. (& everyone knows it's only gonna go up from here.) By championing programs like the Dream Act — & not having to pander to his base about immigration law that is about as up-to-date as a spaghetti western — Obama held the distinct advantage over Romney. That sound you hear is all Republicans scratching their heads trying to figure out how to better embrace the Latino voter while still not betraying their party base, or as I like to call it, 1952.
5. History is on Barack Obama's side. It's conventional wisdom among American History junkies that all of the great presidents were reelected for a second term: Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, & Reagan. Heck, even "near-greats" like McKinley, Truman, Eisenhower, & Clinton were as well. Excluding 3 of the biggest failed presidents — Grant, Nixon, & George W. Bush — there is a pretty direct correlation between greatness & getting reelected. The only real outliers are James K. Polk, who could've been reelected but held to his campaign promise of not seeking a second term (find me a candidate today who's willing to do THAT!), & JFK, who almost certainly would've won a second term (especially if he had run against Goldwater), but did not live to do so.
Thus, if Obama was & is going to be as great as some people want him to be (myself biasedly included), he was going to need a second term. Part of this is just conventional wisdom — in the world of the political arena, eight years is a lifetime longer than four — & it takes a lot of time to get stuff done. & with the type of vision Obama has always maintained, he was going to need all the time he could get. (He shrewdly gave himself an "incomplete" when asked how he thought his presidency would be ranked so far.)
Well now, I am pleased to announce, he has gotten it. & no small feat at that: He lost only 2 states from his landmark 2008 victory (the traditionally-Republican Indiana & North Carolina — although the latter of which he just barely lost) & held on to the 3 major battleground states of Ohio, Florida, & Virginia (not to mention keeping lesser-but-still-significant battleground states like Romney's native Michigan & Paul Ryan's native Wisconsin...oh yeah, Nevada & Colorado too). In the popular vote, Obama is the first president since Reagan to receive over 50% of the total vote tally for each of his two terms. & he is the first Democrat to do so since FDR.
So despite all the nitpicking, etc., about the "closeness" of this election, Barack Obama won, & did so decisively. The catch is that the first term is always the glory term & the second is the hard one — thus, Lincoln's assassination, Wilson's 14 Points, Nixon's Watergate scandal, Reagan's Iran contra scandal, & Clinton's impeachment hearings all happened in the latter half of each respective president's administration. However, Obama has the experience & wisdom to weather through his second term better, beginning, hopefully, with a Congress that is not solely out to defeat him (& America) by making him a one-term president & willing to use some compromise on their part to get there.
For Barack Obama is now a two-term president, & God knows he's earned it.