Commentary Magazine


Reality Check

Susan Estrich often seems to be the only grown up in the Democratic Party. It doesn’t make her popular, but it makes her worth reading and listening to. She offers three bits of wise insight.

First, evoking William Goldman, she warns, “No one knows anything.” One of the reasons that Democrats are reeling from some bad poll numbers is that they enjoyed a false sense of security. They knew how to win the election. They had this in the bag. They had finally unlocked the demographic puzzle of producing a victory with an ultra-liberal candidate. But when real voters, real issues, and brewing wars intervene, things don’t seem so certain. The Democratic base, their nominee, and the media cheerleaders (both in the blogosphere and the MSM) made the cardinal error of politics: they thought they knew exactly what was going on. Call it arrogance or inexperience, but no one puts away the election in June.

Then Estrich delicately points out that the Democrats stumbled on a candidate who has proved to be much, much weaker than just about anyone:

The generic Democrat beats the generic Republican by as much as 15 points in generic match-ups for Congressional seats. But generic candidates don’t run: real ones do, and Barack Obama is running behind the generic Democrat and John McCain is running ahead of the generic Republican, at least if you believe the current polls. I’m happy to bet the mortgage that Democrats will do very well in both the Senate and House races this fall, but I don’t think I’ll find any takers. But I’m not making any bets, at least not yet, as to who will be moving in to 1600 Pennsylvania.

And then the kicker: Estrich raises the possibilty that things might really be worse than they appear, that the polls could be overestimating Obama’s strength. What if there aren’t record turnouts of young, undependable voters and African- Americans? What if the Hillary Clinton voters never come over? And what if the Bradley effect (voters lying to pollsters about their intention to vote for an African-American candidate) exists, even to a small degree, in some key states?

None of this is welcome news for Obama supporters. They insist their candidate is brilliant, McCain is a doddering old man, and that the voters can’t help but take their disappointments over the Bush presidency out on McCain. But if they have been wrong about so much else (the wonder of the Berlin speech, the canny Obama flip-flops that would go undetected, and the brilliance of the smears on McCain’s record) maybe they are wrong about all of this too. Estrich reminds us they just might be.