In early September, John McCain was riding high in the polls on the strength of his post-convention bounce and shiny new running mate, and Obama supporters were down in the dumps. There was much consternation and wringing of hands, people wondering why Obama was losing, lots of finger-pointing and armchair quarterbacking going on, and people calling for dramatic and sometimes outright silly changes in the campaign. The over-reaction was so extreme that it even prompted me to write an essay calling on folks to stop panicking, because I knew that what we were seeing was temporary.
Now, just two weeks later, the pendulum has swung back again. The market meltdown of this past week has put the economy back on the front burner, the conventions are fading into the distance, and more Americans are finding out every day that Sarah Palin is clueless, corrupt and dishonest. Obama has dramatically taken the lead again in national polls, and all is right once more in Obamaville.
Or is it?
The problem I see now is that the pendulum seems to have swung back too far. Where two weeks ago many Obama supporters were despondent, now they seem almost exultant. I keep hearing comments like “the election is over” and “we’ve won” and “Obama landslide”. The same folks who, just a few days ago, were calling for David Plouffe’s head on a pike, now are ready to put the champagne on ice for him.
Well, you can boil down all of the arguments I made in my “Don’t Panic” article into two simple points: first, trends don’t continue forever; and second, it’s still early. I said back then that McCain wouldn’t continue to get a big bump from his convention and from Palin forever—but the same applies to Obama’s boost due to other factors like the markets. And I said back then not to panic because it was only September—well guess what, it’s still only September.
Absent some truly dramatic faux pas on the part of McCain, I don’t see Obama running away with this election. While Obama is a strong candidate in many ways, he also has some very important weaknesses. Tomorrow I will try to write up some of my concerns about the challenges I see still remaining ahead of Obama, and possible places where he could run into problems. But trust me, the Republicans are hardly packing this one in.
In closing, it’s obviously true that Obama is in a better position now; naturally, those who support him would rather see him a few points ahead than a few points behind. And, of course, it’s much better to be happy than depressed. But don’t set yourself up for disappointment, or that unhappy feeling could return in a hurry. Remember that there’s still a long way to go, including all of the debates—so while there’s certainly reason to be optimistic, try to keep it a cautious optimism.