Jen, the speed with which the prospective electoral-college tally has moved from a margin of 90 in Obama’s favor to a mere 1 and the so-called generic ballot preference has moved somewhere between 10 and 15 points in the direction of Republicans isn’t just stunning. If this holds for a couple of weeks, it will literally explode every single theory advanced by political and polling experts about the nature of the American electorate in the year 2008.
The presumption has been not merely that Americans have had it with George Bush; not merely that they have had it with the Republican party; but that they may have had it with conservatism altogether.
I have been on panels with noted liberal pundits who have asserted blithely that a 40-year swing to the Right ends this year, and that we are entering a new age of activist government of a sort not just desired by the chattering class and Democratic constituent groups but by the American people as a whole.
The fact that, even now, twice as many Americans describe themselves as “conservative” than attach the appellation “liberal” to themselves is immaterial, according to these theorists, because the center of American gravity has shifted to the left. That means people who describe themselves as moderates, who outnumber both poles, are operating with assumptions that are more liberal than conservative.
Until this week, they have been able to marshal actual data to support their theory, rather than just wishful thinking. The generic Democratic advantage over Republicans from the middle of 2006 onward added credence to the idea, as did polls suggesting Americans are more inclined toward Democrats on nearly two dozen issues of importance. In other words, it’s not just disaffection with Bush; the policies and politics of this decade, they claim, has pushed the country leftward and ended the dominance of non-Left or anti-Left viewpoints.
Everything was just fine, said one of these liberal pundits to me last Sunday, until the Republicans began working their evil Republican magic in August. They went negative, as Republicans always do in August, and using their special brand of brain-confounding August ju-ju, stopped the relentless onward march of the Good and the True and the Beautiful in their tracks. In 2004 it was Swift-boating. In 2008 it is…being negative about celebrity or something, I forget what, because whatever it was was silly, given that nobody was talking about lipstick on a pig in August and that Obama gave the most negative and partisan convention speech ever delivered by a presidential candidate…in August.
Or maybe the “generic” number was just incredibly soft, and once Republicans exerted some pressure on it, it moved in their direction. Maybe that’s also because of the turnaround in Iraq, or the reduction in gas prices over the past six weeks. Or maybe it’s evanescent and everything will swing back in the Democratic direction. If it doesn’t, however, the newest theory about the cyclic nature of American politics will go where previous cyclic theories of American politics have always gone — into the garbage can.