Thursday, June 19, 2008

Political Winners and Losers

In the aftermath of the primary season, I am struck by the rewards that come from backing a winner and the price that is paid for backing a loser. It’s not just a matter of taking sides, but of how emphatically and publicly you do it.

  • MoveOn gained respect by endorsing Obama early, the result of an unexpectedly lopsided vote by group members. Just last fall, reporters and politicians routinely dismissed MoveOn as a fringe group. They will probably not risk repeating that characterization now. A group that picked the nominee before the rest of the country did may be able to make other decisions.
  • The old guard of the women’s movement seems to have been defeated right alongside Clinton. The campaign highlighted the generation gap within the movement as women under 30 felt puzzled, then excluded, by the actions of the over-60 contingent. (There is a gap in between; not many women from the Reagan era, with its “every woman for herself” approach, identify with the women’s movement.) Women’s-group leaders, in turn, were stunned and sometimes openly angry that the younger members of their groups would pass up a chance to vote for a woman in order to vote for their own political interests and ideals. By so emphatically supporting a candidate simply because of her sex, rather than the candidates whose positions on the issues offered a better future for women, and then losing, it is fair to say that the old guard has forfeited the right to lead the women’s movement.
  • Political money does not have the cachet it had before. The big-money candidates, Romney and Clinton, raised eyebrows with the way they soared past all prior fund-raising records, yet failed to break through at the ballot box. Another candidate, Giuliani, proved to be a remarkable fundraiser, but was virtually a no-show on election day, while the winner, McCain, was the one whose campaign went broke. Before this election, it seemed that anyone who could raise enough money could effectively buy an election. You couldn’t follow the money to pick a winner this time.
  • Political polling has made a comeback. After six disastrous years in which they couldn’t seem to get anything right, political polls came close enough in this primary season. Until things change, if the polls say you’re losing, you have reason to worry.
  • It looks like the oil industry can still pull strings. It backed McCain and went on to fight off two proposals for new taxes on oil.
  • Howard Dean looks good as the champion of the 50-state strategy that Obama used. The traditional big-state strategy looks like a loser — Clinton used it and won the big states, but the other states didn’t fall into line.

I’d like to think economists are winners for beating back the Clinton attack. If a candidate makes an attack on economists the centerpiece of her campaign for three days, at the exact time it goes into a tailspin, everyone has to wonder if economists maybe do still have some clout.