Monday, June 16, 2008

Party unity?

If all you had to go on was the media coverage of the past few months, you'd think that if any political party had a problem with unity, it'd be the Democrats. After all, they had a vicious primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with much bitterness on either side. There were numerous op/eds and analyses that spoke gravely about the daunting task that Obama now faces to "unite the party".

But is it really true?

The truth is that the Democrats are energized. Anyone can see that based on the record turnout throughout the primaries. George W. Bush is incredibly unpopular, and there is a general consensus forming that his policies have basically wrecked the country's economy, tore up the constitution, and blasted apart America's image worldwide. In this climate, it would be a shock if the Democrat wasn't a heavy favorite.

And sure enough, as the primary fades from memory, Obama is doing better and better in the polls. Many states have yet to be surveyed, but Fivethirtyeight has Obama with 300 electoral votes (well over the 269 needed to win) and a 62.1% win percentage, while Electoral Vote has him with 304 (see the widget over there on the right). As more recent polls are included to reflect Obama's post primary bounce, these numbers may start to look even more favorable.

But most devastating to the "disunity" theory is the fact that among Clinton's most important constituency, women, Obama leads McCain by significant margins, outperforming John Kerry and Al Gore. Frank Rich does a good job of breaking down the numbers in this op/ed:

New polls show Mr. Obama opening up a huge lead among female voters — beating Mr. McCain by 13 percentage points in the Gallup and Rasmussen polls and by 19 points in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey.

How huge is a 13- to 19-percentage-point lead? John Kerry won women by only 3 points, Al Gore by 11.

The real question is how Mr. McCain and his press enablers could seriously assert that he will pick up disaffected female voters in the aftermath of the brutal Obama-Clinton nomination battle. Even among Democrats, Mr. Obama lost only the oldest female voters to Mrs. Clinton.
But as we know from our Groundhog Days of 2008, a fictional campaign narrative, once set in the concrete of Beltway bloviation, must be recited incessantly, especially on cable television, no matter what facts stand in the way. Only an earthquake — the Iowa results, for instance — could shatter such previously immutable story lines as the Clinton campaign’s invincibility and the innate hostility of white voters to a black candidate.

Our new bogus narrative rose from the ashes of Mrs. Clinton’s concession to Mr. Obama, amid the raucous debate over what role misogyny played in her defeat. A few female Clinton supporters — or so they identified themselves — appeared on YouTube and Fox News to say they were so infuriated by sexism that they would vote for Mr. McCain.

Now, there’s no question that men played a big role in Mrs. Clinton’s narrow loss, starting with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Mark Penn. And the evidence of misogyny in the press and elsewhere is irrefutable, even if it was not the determinative factor in the race. But the notion that all female Clinton supporters became “angry white women” once their candidate lost — to the hysterical extreme where even lifelong Democrats would desert their own party en masse — is itself a sexist stereotype. That’s why some of the same talking heads and Republican operatives who gleefully insulted Mrs. Clinton are now peddling this fable on such flimsy anecdotal evidence.

In fact, it's McCain who faces the real challenge of party unity:

The conservative hostility toward McCain heralded by the early attacks of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and James Dobson is proliferating. Bay Buchanan, the party activist who endorsed Mitt Romney, wrote this month that Mr. McCain is “incapable of energizing his party, brings no new people to the polls” and “has a personality that is best kept under wraps.” When Mr. McCain ditched the preachers John Hagee and Rod Parsley after learning that their endorsements antagonized Catholics, Muslims and Jews, he ended up getting a whole new flock of evangelical Christians furious at him too.

The revolt is not limited to the usual cranky right-wing suspects. The antiwar acolytes of Ron Paul are planning a large rally for convention week in Minneapolis. The conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec has endorsed Mr. Obama, as have both the economic adviser to Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” Lawrence Hunter, and the neocon historian Francis Fukuyama. Rupert Murdoch is publicly flirting with the Democrat as well. Even Dick Cheney emerged from his bunker this month to gratuitously dismiss Mr. McCain’s gas-tax holiday proposal as “a false notion” before the National Press Club.

These are not anomalies. Last week The Hill reported that at least 14 Republican members of Congress have refused to endorse or publicly support Mr. McCain. Congressional Quarterly found that of the 62,800 donors who maxed out to Mr. Bush’s campaign in 2004, only about 5,000 (some 8 percent) have contributed to his putative successor.

Moral of the story? The pundits are not to be trusted. It's in their interests to portray the Democrats as divided, because it predicts a close presidential race. A close race is good for ratings.

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