Sunday, September 28, 2008


Since Jack and Dick faced off in 1960 presidential debates have allegedly become more and more important to the point that expectations for the events are far far too elevated. In those halcyon days before the 24/7 news cycle and the current tsunami of web and broadcast punditry most people were much more unfamiliar with the personalities of the major party candidates. Consequently the debates were often the first opportunity many had to observe the pols in real-time, gauge their reactions to questions, and in general see how they handled themselves. By the time the debates roll around now the gen-pub is practically sick to death of the whole insanely protracted ultra-covered enterprise. The idea that the debates are somehow crucial to swing or "undecided" voters doesn't seem to me to have much basis in reality. Those still undecided at this point in this campaign season must be a spectacularly gormless lot. If you haven't decided at this late date then maybe you should stay home.

If those supposed undecided voters were of a clearly centrist relatively non-ideoligical bent then McCain would have this thing in the bag. That he doesn't seems to imply that the country has already split along left/right fault lines both in terms of general ideology and candidate appeal. I suspect that the level of "base" support for candidates is far more solid than what the inumerable polls supposedly illustrate and that it may be over 45% in each respective case. That leaves very few voters to decide the election and the idea that some magic set of words or concepts uttered during a debate will cause some number of those undecideds to slap their foreheads and exclaim, "Well of course!", and promptly vow to vote for A instead of B.

The Palin gambit has energized the Republican's conservative base, to put it mildly, but it's likely to have zero effect on progressive partisans and is likely to be a wash for the undecided. That's why McCain's veep choice was such a master-stroke. The most salient danger for McCain's aspirations was the extremely lukewarm, might as well sit this one out, attitude of conservative base voters. Seen strictly as a get-out-the-vote strategy it should be highly productive in courting voters who considered, and still do, McCain to be only a political hair's breadth away from Hillary.

From a strategic standpoint deciding to stay home may have given some emotional satisfaction to the disgruntled conservative but the fact is that McCain is not running against Hillary but against someone significantly to the left of her. Consequently the gulf between the candidates has widened from a bare glimmer in a McCain/Clinton matchup into a yawning chasm in the case of McCain/Obama. That some conservatives were still willing to sit the election out is puzzling but the fact of it was real. And it is no more so now we have a real horse race but how many undecided voters have been decided by Palin is unclear. What all this does portend is that there is a very good chance of the popular vote winner and the electoral vote winner being different people. It could even easily be an electoral tie which would truly toss a hand grenade in the political frog-pond. It would be an unholy mess which might result in a months-long screaming purple-faced logjam in the national leges. Well a guy can hope can't he?


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