Legacy, despite what Bush says, isn't everything, but it is something. Since he hasn't even been sworn in yet, his President Obama's legacy is obviously a long way from being set. However Presidential Candidate Obama's legacy should be clear... and yet I fear it is becoming anything but.
The idea behind this diary began about a month ago, and actually became a nagging worry, something I felt absolutely needed to be done. I thought the best time to publish it would be right before the election, but worried about being seen as presumptuous. Plus, I was busy volunteering for the campaign, and despite my intense feelings on the matter, couldn't seem to find the time to write it as I felt it deserved to be written. I planned citations, footnotes, pull-quotes, links galore... I wanted to leave no stone unturned in making such an important point.
Well, for once, procrastination paid off, because someone else made the point yesterday, and more efficiently and eloquently than I likely could have!
Follow me after the jump for The Truth About the Election.
That is the title of an extremely well-written article by Elizabeth Drew from the upcoming Dec. 18 issue of the New York Review of Books and published online yesterday. Ms. Drew makes several interesting points throughout, and has some fascinating "behind the scenes" tidbits as well, so it's more than worth reading in its lengthy entirety.
But Ms. Drew rocked my world on the next-to-last-page by articulating, and then efficiently debunking, the exact election fallacy disguised as conventional wisdom that I have worried would take hold in the national (or perhaps just trad med) consciousness, which is this:
That the key dispositive factor in determining the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election was the epic fail of our financial system, beginning on Sept. 15th with the Lehman Brothers collapse.
I wanted to try to write an entire diary without profanity (I know, why?), but I'm sorry, . And in her profanity-free way, Ms. Drew agrees with me.
"... even if one accepts the argument that public opinion was strongly affected not just by the financial crisis itself but by the sharply contrasting ways that McCain and Obama handled it, it is by no means evident that McCain could have won had it not been for the crisis. On September 15, McCain, still benefiting from the effect that the choice of Palin had had on the Republican base—his convention "bounce"—was behind in the electoral college count. According to NBC's electoral college map, the one most professionals relied upon, even then Obama continued to maintain a slight edge. And according to NBC's Chuck Todd, Obama had many more routes to the needed 270 votes than McCain did. (added emphasis mine)
Exactly! This is the point I kept screaming at my TV every time Pat Buchannan would go on and on about how Palin had proved to be a smart pick because until Sept. 15th, McCain was leading! Yes, he was- it's called a convention bounce, for chrissakes!
She goes on:
In fact, the NBC electoral college map, far more relevant than the daily polls, never had Obama behind McCain in electoral votes from the time it began measuring the electoral vote count in May. But Todd does believe that the continuing economic crisis widened Obama's margin of victory. (added emphasis mine)
Thank you, Chuckie Todd! I have been making this point to anyone who would listen: did the financial crisis have an effect? Sure it did! It's what allowed Obama to crush McCain, instead of just beating him handily.
Ms. Drew brings it home:
...the fundamentals of the race favored Obama all along. The objective facts were that he had a far superior campaign organization, with more people on the ground and more money to spend on campaign workers and ads: McCain was saddled with the most unpopular outgoing president, of his own party, since Lyndon Johnson didn't run again in 1968 because of his unpopularity over Vietnam. Even before the economic meltdown, by one poll 81 percent of Americans believed that the country was on the "wrong track." (Later numbers were even worse.)
Beyond those facts, Obama simply ran the better campaign. Well before the election contest, McCain had demonstrated the erratic and impulsive characteristics that ended up causing him so much trouble, and his embrace of the right (arguably a mistaken calculation) and fealty to some of the worst Bush policies suggested that he wasn't the highly popular McCain of 2000, and perhaps not even a man of principle... the economy was in bad shape before the crisis, and was already a campaign issue—and McCain had confessed his weakness on that subject.... So the idea that September 15 was a "turning point" is a myth. (added emphasis mine)
And yet, despite all of the clear and compelling evidence to the contrary:
It is now settling in as accepted fact that the economic crisis gave Barack Obama his victory. The wisdom has it, and it may go down as "history," that Obama and McCain were running fairly even in the polls, with McCain slightly ahead in some, when the financial crisis struck on September 15. (This was when Lehman Brothers went under, other financial institutions were in deep trouble, and the market fell 504 points—the first of numerous heart-stopping drops.) The story line continues that the economic collapse did McCain in, and he never recovered.
. This erroneous view of what transpired not only gives McCain credit he clearly is not due, but far more importantly deprives Team Obama of the enormous credit they deserve for running, quite frankly, the best political campaign anyone has ever seen. When you look at the groundwork David Plouffe laid, the structure David Axelrod provided, and calm, sure-footed confidence of a transformational, once-in-a-lifetime candidate like Barack Obama, not to mention the efforts of a millions-strong grassroots army of volunteers.... well, to try to attribute their historic victory to events outside of their control, is to retroactively belittle the efforts of a campaign that exerted more control over their fate than any other in history. I was part of that army, and I'm not having it.
So please, push back against this revisionist view of history whenever you hear it:
Don't you forget it!