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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

ZEITGEIST ELECTION

"...He said what? We're doomed!!!!"

Every time there's a presidential election, everything is analyzed, scrutinized, commented on, studied, and polled down to the last micron of the event. Its two years now of nearly continual bombardment of information and excruciating detail of every single event.

But it seems to me, looking back over the elections in my lifetime - Johnson to Obama - that what drives presidential elections is less gaffes, speeches, and slogans than just the mood and culture of America. It wasn't John McCain's lack of likeability or his choice of VP that cost him the election, it wasn't Bush's "compassionate conservatism" that won him his in 2000. Clinton didn't win because he was a breath of fresh air, Reagan didn't win because people were convinced by his greatness.

Presidents seem to win based on how the mood of the country goes, its almost predetermined. That's why economy and war features so incredibly high in elections. It doesn't really matter what the president does if the economy is doing well. It doesn't really matter how the opponent campaigns if the nation is at war. What matters is the general mood of the voters, that gut feeling of "I've had enough of this" or "we need to keep him."

And the mood when Obama ran in 2008 was "I cannot stand Republicans any longer." The mood of voters in 1968 was "the country is going crazy and I want someone stable and traditional." The mood of voters in 1980 was "everything is awful and we need someone new." What's the mood now? We'll see in November but I get the sense that its "we gave this guy a chance and he's awful."

Brilliant baseball manager Whitey Herzog wrote that once a team is a tight group and has their skills polished up - say, the post season - a manager only has to concentrate on not making any mistakes. And I think that's what the winner in a presidential election has to focus on. Its mostly just not making mistakes. Once your name and profile is out there, once people know who you are, I think that's the bulk of the campaign. Be there, campaign, and don't make mistakes.

There are always things outside your control but they are irrelevant - no matter what theory you're working under, they're still outside your control. Just don't mess up, and you'll win if that's the mood of the country. The United States doesn't elect someone surprising or shocking, it elects what the people generally want and the mood of the nation at large reflects.

The USA didn't get President Obama because he fooled anyone, we got the guy the population at large wanted - not in terms of policy and ideas, but at a more viseral, basic level. A new guy, especially a black guy, that represented a major shift away from the Bush years. And now that we got him, well people seem to be seeking competence and ability instead of change and freshness.

We'll see, I suppose. But all those tooth gnashing over polls is just people wanting to predict the future and have some sense of comfort or at least end the stress. Fixating on some statement or other appearance, an image or a slogan or a gaffe is just missing the big picture. All this stress over some event or another that in a week or so will be all but forgotten is just eating away at your stomach for no good reason.

Relax. Its not in your hands. All the worry and furious commenting and lying awake at night won't change a thing.

You can make a difference locally, by teaching your kids well, speaking with friends and neighbors, working in the local political machine, even running for office yourself. But by the time it gets to a presidential election, that's decades of culture in the making.

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