Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Victory's Thousand Fathers

 John F. Kennedy, 1961:
Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan.

An old high school classmate of mine who happens to be a Democratic campaign staffer called me late on election night.  Among other things he said, he wanted to congratulate me on the Republican victories - with the caveat that they'd be winning a lot of those back in two years.

I appreciated the call, and had a good conversation with my friend, but I was a little discombobulated by the congratulations -- as if I had anything to do with the victories.  President Kennedy may have been lamenting the Bay of Pigs fiasco in the quote above, but this time Republicans are dealing with the more positive side of the coin.  Everybody seems to have contributed to the GOP victory.

In this election, I was mostly a spectator, akin to a sports fan whose team just won a big game.  In common parlance, "we" won, but in reality, "the guys we root for" won.

But elections are different from athletic contests.  Exogenous events have a meaningful impact on electoral outcomes.  Political campaigns necessarily rely on interplay with their fans/audience for their success, whereas a sports team needs to perform well in its narrow skill set, and should ignore the audience during game play.

Yet we act as though campaigns are sports teams, and a lot of folks are cashing their victory bonus checks and trying on their metaphorical championship rings.  Did the exact same Republican consultants who were supposedly blameless for the 2006 and 2008 catastrophes suddenly become geniuses? Nah.

Frankly, I was a little underwhelmed by Republican performances.  By some Cook-PVI inspired logic, all we really did was get back to the equilibrium political position in the country.  The fact that we didn't do better than we did speaks poorly of our party infrastructure and campaign capabilities.

Was there every any real doubt that Republicans would take the House?  It should have been obvious before the first poll was taken (and certainly well before the media caught on) that this would be a big swing year.  What do we have to show for it? Well, we managed not to trip over our own feet too much and picked up the House.  The swing was huge, but we were starting from the nadir of the 06-08 losses.


To extend the broken sports metaphor, it goes all the way back to "pre-season".  How many seats did we leave on the table due to poor candidate recruitment and poor candidate quality?  How many losses (or narrow wins) were the result of ignoring fundamentals?  How many seats did we lose because of petty intraparty squabbles and tribalistic behavior?

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