The horse race that stops a nation: “Black Caviar wins by a nose!”
In Australia, the 51st state of the USA, betting folk have been following the race with extreme anxiety. In the home stretch, on a dark and stormy course, the donkey is cantering home with the elephant barely a snout behind. Whether or not the pollsters’ favourite* stumbles first across the tape on Cup Day, two life lessons can be drawn from this crucial election. (Which, as a New Yorker cartoon puts it, into the squeaky mouths of two tots walking to kinder: “It’s the most important election of our lifetime!”)
Lesson 1: The Horrible Lesson of Obama
As reported in the Daily Mail: “When President Barack Obama stepped off the stage in Denver last week the 60 million Americans watching the [first] debate against Mitt Romney already knew it had been a disaster for him. But what nobody knew, until now, was that Obama believed he had actually won.
“President Obama made it clear he wanted to be doing anything else — anything — but debate prep,’ the Democrat said. ‘He kept breaking off whenever he got the opportunity and never really focused on the event.'”
As the great Andre Agassi, who came from two sets down to win the 1999 French Open, once remarked, “If you don’t practice you don’t deserve to win.” As the world knows, Obama was 6 hubristic points ahead (see chart) before the first debate, a stunning advantage which had taken all year and advertising-millions to build — it would have utterly depressed the Republican turnout — an advantage almost entirely wiped out after. Lesson: On the final straight, pride comes before a shit sandwich.
Lesson 2: The Terrible Lesson of Mitt Romney
What President Obama and his advisers could not have guessed about that first debate was that his opponent, Mitt Romney, would pivot 180 and repudiate all his previously held positions (a long list; and his many lies). Slate’s John Dickerson has filed an illuminating and frustrating report on the notorious Undecided Voters:
Romney’s past flip-flopping doesn’t bother many of these people. For a sizable group, it gives them hope that a vote for his economic policies won’t lead to an extreme conservative agenda. “I’m working under the assumption that the Senate stays [Democrat], and that Mitt Romney has shown a willingness to pursue pragmatic rather than idealistic ends,” writes Peter Bryan, an Obama 2008 Pennsylvania voter who is leaning toward Romney. He notes approvingly that Romney will be pragmatic because he “is the Etch-A-Sketch candidate, as we’ve learned so far.”
Slate bonus: Read Tom Scocca’s puncturing piece on that out-of-step minority voting bloc: White Middle-Aged Males for Mitt.
(One is tempted to respond briefly to these people: Hey, what about upcoming Supreme Court replacements; and Roe v Wade?)
Lesson: You can fool some of the people all of the time. — A. Lincoln
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*Pollsters’ favourite: Really, that means people’s favourite as they are the pollees. Nate Silver of 538/NYT makes the clearest case, contradicting all those MSM repeated assertions that the race is a “toss-up” — it’s possible for Romney to win, but highly improbable. His argument is “exceedingly simple”: “Obama’s ahead in Ohio.” (An excellent report on the politics of the essential state, Ohio, in the New Republic.)
Silver: “Finally are the polls since that first debate in Denver. It’s been roughly 30 days since then. If Mr. Romney has the momentum in the polls, then this should imply that his polls are continuing to get better: that they were a little better this week than last week, and a bit better last week than the week before … If you evaluate the polls in this way, there is not much evidence of ‘momentum’ toward Mr. Romney. Instead, the case that the polls have moved slightly toward Mr. Obama is stronger.” Ie, since shooting himself in the foot and falling down a deep trough, the momentum has been with Obama as he crawled up from the trench.
But it was an amazing act of self-destructive arrogance. As Andrew Sullivan, one of Obama’s biggest cheerleaders, live blogged during the first debate: “How is Obama’s closing statement so fucking sad, confused and lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight.”