"If Obama learned one thing from his predecessors, it's that timing means everything," said Dr. James Pung, a professor of political science at Princeton University. "Less than a decade ago, Al Gore made the crucial mistake of suggesting we should care about preserving the environment before it became unavoidably clear that global warming would kill us all, and in 2004, John Kerry cost himself the presidency by criticizing Bush's disastrous Iraq policy before everyone realized our invasion had become a complete and total quagmire."
"Obama had the foresight to run for president at a time when being an African-American was not as important to Americans as, say, the ability to clothe and feed their children," Pung continued. "An election like this only comes once, maybe twice, in a lifetime."
And it was hard, remember him?
Ask him about the difficulties of winning an election during good times. The fear I have right now is that the last two Democrats to win the Presidency have been simply brilliant in terms of charisma and dynamism. Both were elected at least partly due to massive problems gripping the nation. Carter, while not a Clinton or Obama in terms of political presence, had the Watergate wind at his back. We can go back to FDR too, which only reinforces the Onion's point of Democrats winning in times of economic catastrophe.
As leshrac55 notes in quick hits, ideological self ID apparently did not change (though I will await for the GSS 2008 data for confirmation). While Paul and myself have noted numerous times that the GSS data shows that Americans are quite liberal when it comes to their opinions on issues, it would still be better if they were willing to think of themselves as such.
Partly this means Democrats haven't been able to win on having the better ideas and plan, but usually they need the vastly superior candidate too. Most people reading this site would have supported any half-decent Democrat in the General because we know that policy generally matters more than personality, but as a former Edwards supporter, I do shudder to think he could easily have lost this election because of his personal sex-scandal. Meanwhile, Republicans are able to get a convicted felon re-elected to the Senate.
I have been thinking about the New Deal, and how FDR was able to take a liberal plurality and form an overwhelming electoral mandate. However he couldn't tackle race, and when (as Paul Krugman convincingly argues in Conscience of a Liberal) the policies of the New Deal eventually created circumstances which simply compelled the Democrats to deal with race, the resulting policies of the Great Society generated a backlash which put liberalism out of power for 40 years. I detailed the backlash here at Liberals were never a majority.
So we have to get better at winning elections with people who aren't outstanding public speakers with really cool life stories during tough economic times when the Republicans have imploded. We need to be able to win with Adlai Stevenson and Michael Dukakis too. The Republicans have been able to win with some pretty sorry characters like Nixon and both Bushes (and Palin is not unique in being a GOP VP nominee who hurts the ticket on election day), and we have to be ready for the fact that another Obama/Bill Clinton level +106 charisma character might not appear for 2016.
We have to get better at fighting and winning these ideological fights without the benefit of everyone seeing the other side's policy results splattered all over the road. They really suck at governing but memories fade, and new talking points will again make irresponsible tax-cuts, reckless deregulation and heartless social cuts seem appealing again to a content, idle and distracted populace.
Hopefully, this is 1932 again, and Obama can usher in a New New Deal. Just leave some thought to preventing another 1968 or 1994. Our ideas work better, but sometimes that isn't enough.