‘I think Obama is not tall on experience,” Robert Redford told the Irish Times last month, “but I believe he’s a really good person. I hope he’ll win. I think he will. If he doesn’t, you can kiss the Democratic party goodbye.”
The second part of the dual prediction is, of course, overstated; the Democratic party will remain intact should Sen. Barack Obama taste defeat in November. But it’s more right than it may seem at first. The 2008 presidential election represents the Republican party’s best opportunity to advance its agenda in recent presidential history.
You read that right.
If history teaches us anything, it is that national political parties rise and fall by the psychological political warfare each wages upon the other. With Democrats’ electoral expectations at an all-time high this presidential cycle, the fallout from a 2008 presidential defeat would widen the already-expanding fissures in the Democratic party’s base.
Consider the fallout that might ensue for the party’s voting coalition if McCain wins.
Democratic women would come away disillusioned at the prospects of having missed the chance to run the first female presidential candidate, and never knowing what might have been. Black voters — nine out of ten vote Democrat — would be deeply disenchanted that the first black candidate for president lost amid the single-best political climate for Democrats since Watergate. The liberal elite that dominates America’s university campuses, some of Obama’s fiercest and most devoted supporters, would have to confront the realization that the Democratic party would likely never again nominate a candidate of Obama’s leftist bona fides. And as for what remains of Union households, 2008 has already marked the personal implosion of one of their most vocal champions, Sen. John Edwards.
Indeed, if public opinion is any indication, Democrats’ cause for concern may be worse than expected. In 1988, liberal Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis was heavily favored to beat then-vice president George H. W. Bush. Following the Democratic Party Convention that year, Dukakis expanded his lead to a jaw-dropping 17 points, a figure hard to imagine Obama besting three weeks after his party’s Clinton-heavy convention line-up. Similarly, in the two subsequent presidential elections where Democrats lost, Sens. Al Gore and John Kerry were ahead of the Republican candidate following their party’s conventions.
By contrast, the current RealClearPolitics average of polls has Obama ahead by just 3.2 percent, a figure within the statistical margin of error.
Add to that the fact that the nation appears to be growing increasingly optimistic. Last week Gallup reported a huge surge in consumer optimism over gas prices — since July, the percentage of Americans who believed gas prices in their local area would increase by the end of the year has fallen from 87 to 40. Similarly, consumer confidence appears to be making a bit of a comeback, with numbers not this positive since February.
Americans are hardly ready to break out the champagne bottles. And indeed, Olympic fever and Michael Phelps’s historic gold-medal performances might have just as much to do with greater optimism as anything else. But clearly American sentiments have begun to shift, and not in a direction favorable for Democrats.
Much can and will change in the weeks ahead, but the conventional wisdom that 2008 represents a golden opportunity for Democrats is exactly backward.
— Wynton C. Hall is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author, most recently, of The Right Words: Great Republican Speeches that Shaped History.