Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Open Letter to Progressives: Let's not let ourselves get "Braziled"

As the Obama-Biden ticket tumbles in the post-convention polls, there is more than a whiff of panic in the air of ProgressiveLand. You can smell it in the blogosphere and in the e-mails, Twitterings and Facebook messages flying around the Internet.

Joan Walsh summed the facts and the feelings up nicely on Salon.com today.
Democrats traumatized by the surreal losses in 2000 and 2004 feel like it's déjà vu all over again, with the sudden surge of John McCain and Sarah Palin in the polls. It's like a bad dream: Even the Obama fundraising juggernaut is stumbling, according to the New York Times, missing its internal targets and having to push harder for cash. Meanwhile, white women have flocked to the ticket with the white female vice president; according to the most recent ABC News poll, Barack Obama had an 8-point lead among white women voters last week; now he's trailing McCain by 12, a 20-point swing in one week.
I'm not writing to say that everything is going to be OK. To do so would be a lie because no one, absolutely no one, knows who is going to win on Nov. 4. Any pollster, any pundit, any beer-drinking buddy from down the street who says that this election is already locked up for John McCain or for Obama is simply a fool.

But I would like to offer some perspective on the psychology of this moment. To understand what may be happening, we have to understand the psychology of competition. Any individual competitor -- or a campaign or political movement -- can defeat itself. Right now, that's what I see as the biggest danger for Obama fans.

To fully explore this idea (and explain my headline), I need to detour into women's soccer. I suspect that Brazil's 1-0 defeat in the gold medal game had more to do with what was going on between the ears of Brazil's players than with what happened on the field.

If you follow the women's game at all, you know that the U.S. once dominated the world (and Brazil), but recently our team has been, at best, a fading power, while the immensely talented Brazil has been ascendant. To make matters worse, our star player, Abby Wambaugh, suffered a broken leg just before the Olympics. Few expected the U.S. to win gold, but we triumphed despite the fact that Brazil played brilliantly for most of the game.

While providing color commentary on the Olympic telecast, former national team star Brandi Chastain offered the best explanation I heard for Brazil's defeat. The U.S. has beaten Brazil so many times in the past that the Brazilians simply couldn't believe that they would win, Chastain said.

Action followed belief.

Reality blossomed out of prophecy.

Today progressives find themselves in the same position as Brazil, except that the stakes are far higher than an Olympic medal.

No one knows what will happen on Nov. 4, but there is one way for progressives to guarantee failure, and that's to remain convinced that we can't win.

For more perspective -- some cheerful and some not -- see these links.

A Democratic pollster puts the latest polls in perspective.

Jonathon Capehart from The Washington Post considers the situation.

CNN does a poll of polls and considers the electoral map.