In September 2004, my mom (Ann Althouse) posted "How Kerry lost me." She never particularly supported Kerry, and she ended up voting for Bush. She didn't mean "How Kerry lost me" as in "Why I stopped being a supporter" -- she just meant how she went from open-minded about him to turned off from him.
I'm not usually explicit about my political preferences on this blog, so I want to be clear: I've supported Obama since I watched his announcement in early 2007 with excitement, I voted and caucused for him in the Texas primacaucus, and I'm going to vote for him in November.
So in what sense did he "lose me"? As with my mom's "How Kerry lost me," I haven't gone from supporter to non-supporter. What I mean is that I used to hold these beliefs:
- I thought he was clearly, dramatically preferably to Hillary Clinton.
- I thought he was virtually the dream candidate for 2008, with the obvious but overlookable exception of his thin resume.
I now believe that I was wrong. Specifically:
- He's probably better than Hillary would have been, but it's at least really close, and I'm even open to the idea that she would have been better.
- I still support Obama, but not particularly more strongly than I'd be supporting any other mainstream Democratic candidate who was the nominee.
- He's just not a good enough candidate. Democrats are entitled to feel very disappointed about this.
Rather, it's a long list of things that add up to the "He's not good enough" conclusion. Here are the ones that most stand out to me:
[UPDATE: The list is now finished, with part 2 here and part 3 here.
1. "It's not surprising that they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations." (#28 in my list of campaign moments, by the way)
It's not the "bitter" part that bothers me. In hindsight, this was a tactless choice of words, but not worth devoting days of media coverage to.
The "cling" part is what bothers me. There's no context that justifies this; it's simply unacceptable for an American presidential candidate to put on the record any kind of negative comment about people clinging to guns and especially religion. How could he have possibly thought it was a good idea to list "religion" along with "antipathy towards people who aren't like them," as if both of these things were part of some larger problem with middle America? (And if he didn't realize all this was going on the record, in the age of blogs and YouTube, he should have.)
This comment alone has given people grounds to doubt the sincerity of his politically convenient conversion to Christianity as an adult. I don't personally care what his religious views are, but a lot of voters obviously do care and doubt whether he's really a Christian.
2. His answer about "evil" in Rick Warren's Saddleback Forum
I'm sure this kind of analysis -- focusing on moral equivalence and the need for American "humility" -- goes over well at elite liberal cocktail parties, but he's supposed to know to avoid that image. He should have realized that McCain would turn the question into a question about defeating terrorism. There's no benefit to ceding moral clarity to McCain on that issue.
3. Saying he would personally meet with dictators in his first year without preconditions
Everyone knows that Hillary got this right and Obama got it wrong. When he was asked about it after the debate, he should have been humble enough to admit that he wasn't paying enough attention to the details in the question when he gave an unqualified "yes" answer. Instead, he's subjected us to tortured explanations for why he really did have the right answer. He seems to have based a whole foreign-policy plank on standing up to Hillary and McCain's taunts about this gaffe!
4. I think he got a bad rap for supposedly flip-flopping and moving to the center immediately after he clinched the nomination, but his timing and PR could hardly have been worse.
And what did he get out of it? Very little, as far as I can see.
How many voters still remember the nuances of his positions on various Supreme Court decisions? How many voters are truly upset about his utterly innocuous comment about being willing to "refine" his Iraq policy based on talking to military commanders about the changing circumstances? Probably not many anymore, since ... circumstances in Iraq have changed, which would force any rational president to ... refine their Iraq policy!
It's not Obama's fault that the media -- and, let's face it, the voters -- have an unrealistic expectation that a candidate should be able to sum up a clear foreign policy in the form of simple soundbites that don't change for years. Obama is smart enough to know that foreign policy doesn't work like that, and his only gaffe was letting it slip that he understands that things are more complex than the media or the people would like them to be. So I'm basically sympathetic to Obama on this. But he let McCain and the media run away with the narrative instead of taking charge of his own narrative.
5. The Palin pick seemed to catch them utterly by surprise.
My mom was gearing up for the Palin pick well in advance (blog post, Bloggingheads video clip). Lots of other pundits and bloggers were gearing up for the Palin pick. So why wasn't the Obama campaign gearing up for the Palin pick?