Friday, September 24, 2004

Why are conservatives allergic to victory?

I tuned in Sean Hannity's radio program today, and the first thing he did out of the chute was to launch into a near-panic over how John Kerry is saying so many outrageous things this week, and how "people will believe it!" and "it's gonna work!"

Striking me as roughly the equivalent of shoutingly warning all within earshot that the town drunk getting loaded again was going to turn the entire county into full-blown alcoholics, I promptly turned Hannity off.

This followed my normal morning websurfing through the usual circuit of news/op-ed sites. One of my normal stops is, which always has good material available for perusal. Except today.

Right on top of their main page is a pic of a beaming President Bush giving a thumbs-up sign overlaid by the big, quivering capital letters, "OVERCONFIDENT?"

I didn't get very far into the David Hogsberg piece before my blood pressure started going up even higher than usual.

"So, can Bush lose? Sure, and here's how...Overconfidence.

"The Bush Campaign may let up if it thinks the election is locked up, especially on terrorism. That could give Kerry an opening to focus on the Iraq 'quagmire' in the upcoming weeks. Add more bombings and deaths in Iraq - a likely occurrence - and the issue could shift to Kerry's advantage.

"Overconfidence may also cause Bush to be complacent about the debates. If he actually performs down to expectations - an idea the Bush Campaign will try to promote - and comes off as bumbling and unsure, while Kerry looks in command, Bush could suddenly find himself behind in the polls."

Understand that this follows five paragraphs giving chapter and verse on how the Kerry campaign might as well be riding around in a hearse. Distilled, the gist is, "Yeah, the election is in the bag, but if Bush's brain dissolves and dribbles out his ears, or he goes blind at a campaign rally and kisses Dick Cheney instead of Laura, or he forgets to put his pants on before the first debate and wears the boxer shorts with the cowboys and Indians on them, Kerry can still win!" It almost seems as though Hogsberg is trying to talk himself into putting the champagne back on ice by deliberately binging on near-inconceivable pessimistic hypotheticals.

His very next sentence is this: "Right now overconfidence is not a problem." And he knows it is never going to be. George W. Bush runs one of the steadiest, canniest, most tightly disciplined campaign shops in the annals of American politics. I don't think he, or they, are psychologically capable of overconfidence.

The confidence of Republicans in general is a lot less healthy.

For 'Pubbies, the New Deal era didn't really end until Ronald Reagan came to the rescue in 1980 (Two brief bienniums in control of Congress were just burps in the political ether, and Dwight Eisenhower could have gotten elected president on the OWL {Out With Logic - see Washington state political history, circa 1976} party ticket). His ascendancy, growing from the seeds planted by Barry Goldwater sixteen years before, in turn planted the seeds of the Gingrich "revolution" that followed fourteen years later. In 2000 the transition reached its pennultimate phase with the election of George W. Bush.

But to this day, many on the right continue to distrust their own success.

I will never forget how dismayingly many pachyderms were willing to throw in the towel in the Florida 2K uprising, rationalizing that Bush should let Gore steal the election because "everything was going to go wrong in the next four years anyway" and "Gore will make it even worse" and "he'll get the blame for it" and "we can come back in 2004 and clean up." Much the same way as I recall with equal vividity the inferiority complex inflicted upon most GOPers by Bill Clinton's seemingly effortless success at breaking practically ever law on the books, getting away with more and worse scandals than Nixon or Warren Harding ever dreamed of, and reaping skyrocketing approval numbers as his reward.

When the Dems whipped out the DUI story on the last weekend before Election Day, and the mid-single-digits Bush lead started evaporating like a loogie hitting a lava stream, all of the above started flashing before GOP eyes anew. And, having grown too accustomed to defeat, many of us actually seemed to welcome it.

But Bush fought back. Bush didn't let the other side steal his victory. He showed the mettle then that he's displayed since in the war against Islamism. And thank God for it.

So now things are looking good. Bush is up mid-to-high single digits in the polls, his Electoral College total is in the low 300s. His opponent is a pathetic, pedantic bore who's already plunged into emergency/panic mode, a naked admission that he's lost the issue arguments and has nothing serious to say.

And for a lot of us, it's just too good to be true. We just know something's gonna go wrong. It has to, because it always does. Even the best, most confident right-wing pundits out there always include a bet-hedging paragraph. Because, as we're all supposed to imbibe like mother's milk, "the race isn't over."

Well, no bleep, Sherlock. At least mathematically. I would characterize the campaign as an NBA game where the home team, after having come out flat and been tied or a little down throughout the first half, finally goes on a modest run in the third quarter, and is ahead by seven to ten points about mid-way through the fourth quarter. Now, as any basketball fan knows, a modest lead with six minutes left to go is hardly a guarantee of victory. Heck, in the NBA a modest lead with two minutes to go isn't a guarantee. But the odds of winning are unquestionably better for the home team than the visitors, and with each tick of the clock those odds tilt further in the home team's favor.

To carry the hoops analogy a little further, the road team - i.e. Kerry - is not very good offensively, and to win it has to keep the game close. If they fall significantly behind, it's proportionately more likely that they won't be able to come back.

Or leave the gym and just look at the big picture. John Kerry had the campaign table all set for him by the far-left. They battered Dubya for ten solid months without any opposition or response from the Bush White House. After Kerry won Iowa and became the "presumptive" nominee, he should have been up by double-digits. And, failing that, the horrid spring Bush had should have propelled Kerry to that big a lead in turn.

But it didn't. And the reason why it didn't is because he never offered up a reason for people to vote for him as opposed to against Bush besides "I served in Vietnam."

Fast-forward to the last week of August in New York City. The President and his party gave Americans a number of powerful reasons to vote for him as opposed to against the Boston Balker. That is why he got the convention bounce Lurch didn't, and why he's held on to the bulk of it ever since.

This is not to say that GDub is any kind of political savant or tactical genius. In truth, his campaign has been passive, plodding, and pedestrian. He strictly adhered to the obsolete notion that there's a time to campaign, and a time to govern, and the former is to be abbreviated, period. Had he been facing a Bill Clinton, by the time he got to MSG he'd have been so far behind there wouldn't have been much of a point even going through with the convention.

But he's not facing a Bill Clinton. He's facing one of the worst candidates in modern American political history. As the old saying goes, you don't pick your opponents, and most two-termers have benefitted from lackluster opposition. Kerry is the bottom of that barrel, and what Bush is doing - as well as the backdrop of events in which he is doing it - is more than enough to win.

I know all about Kerry's supposed reputation as a "strong closer." But that was in Massachusetts, where a Democrat being a "strong" closer is like being the most powerful hockey team in Haiti. The fact is, Bush's supremacy on national security, including Iraq, was always impregnable, and even if it had ever made sense for Kerry to challenge it, he'd have had to deploy a coherent counter-message and then stick to it. To throw caution to the wind and morph back into the quisling he once was with not even six weeks to go, far from a dramatic masterstroke, is simply a sad confirmation of what most voters suspected all along. Which, of course, is why even Dems dumped Howard Dean in the first place.

Lunging back to domestic issues would be pretty much the same story - if Kerry had started with that, picked two or three issues, and hammered them home, he might have made some headway. But he didn't, and trying to sell Americans on the notion that their country is a morose Dickensian landscape of soup kitchens and rag-clad waifs living in refrigerator cartons in the midst of a thirteen-trillion dollar economy growing at the fastest clip in twenty years would just make him look even sillier than he does already.

What John Kerry has done is, in essence, to go home. Return to his roots. Where it all began - as a turncoat trying to bring down his own country in order to take it over.

All the while, George W. Bush is where he's always been. Strong. Steady. Moderately right of center. I guess it's an easy thing of which to lose sight when tieing one's eyeball-stalks in knots trying to keep up with all the enemies buzzing, flitting, and lunging crazily all around him.

And when you forget who Dubya is, and start expecting him to do the same thing.

It seems he's the only one who is keeping his eyes on the prize.

And that is part & parcel of why he's going to win it - his supporters' underconfidence notwithstanding.