Chariots of Fire

In the film “Chariots of Fire” a rich man of Jewish origins sets out with a goal in mind and proceeds to dedicate all of his considerable resources, both material and from within, to its achievement.

Any resemblance to the current Mayor of the City of New York are unintentional, for my point is a different one.

In an effort to achieve his goal of Olympic Gold, Harold Abrams hires the world’s best track coach. The coach makes clear that his services are worth the considerable sum which Abrams is willing to pay, but also acknowledges it may not be enough.

Sam Mussabini tells Abrams he can improve his game, but “I can’t put in what God’s left out.”

The classless chattering of conventional wisdom among much of the political chattering class is conventionally unwise. Tuesdays’ election may have been many things, but a repudiation of Barack Obama was not amongst them.

I made
this argument on Wednesday morning, and Room 8’s filter thereafter stopped about 40 pieces of spam from attaching to my column, while pundits across the nation almost unanimously ridiculed those who made arguments similar to my own.

I would be foolish in not acknowledging that the idea that there was a repudiation is a widely held perception. But, as Michael Kinsley once pointed out, the job of pundits is to bring perceptions in line with reality, not the other way around.

And the reality is that Barack Obama, not on the ballot, in elections where national issues were not really in play, could not, for Creigh Deeds and Jon Corzine, put in what God had left out, though he surely improved their games--especially Corzine’s.

Corzine desperately tried to nationalize the election; Obama tried to help him. They tried to make the case that a defeat of Corzine would have the effect of hurting the President’s efforts to pass health care.

It was an illogical argument to make in a Governor’s race, even though it was an accurate one.

Before the election, the Republican Party did its level best to send a message to New Jersey that the Governor’s race was not about Barack Obama; now that the election is over, they are trying to send the exact opposite message to the nation.

But if the election were about Obama, Corzine would have won.

I will not deny that the perception about the perception will impact upon public policy, even though the perception is false. And I will not deny that the election shows that President’s power to bestow his magic upon others is limited.

In the right circumstances, endorsements can be the decisive factor if other factors are in place.

In 2001, in the aftermath of his post-9/11 deification, Rudy Giuliani was able to make the difference for Mike Bloomberg in a close election where Bloomberg had spent a large fortune and Mark Green had turned a sure thing into a pig’s breakfast.

This year, the President’s lack of enthusiasm certainly served as an emblem for Bill Thompson’s perceived weakness. A real endorsement probably would not have turned the tide, but it may have stopped the bleeding.

The President’s inability to deliver his “Change We Can Believe In” votes to uncharismatic local politicians fighting local trends and embroiled in local controversies is perhaps a warning signal to members of congress that the President’s best assets cannot be delivered when he is not on the ballot, and this perception is not without some cogence, but even if we concede this point, and say this is what Tuesday was about, than we must also recognize that Tuesday was not about a voter repudiation of the President and his policies.

More importantly, while control of Congress in any year is about 568 or 569 state and local races, they are races fought locally on national issues, and in 2010 the President’s popularity or lack thereof will be a far more important factor than it was on Tuesday.

I would be remiss if I did not note that while the media has largely missed Tuesday’s point, while the right has distorted it, some voices on the left are just as clueless. The idea that Tuesday could have been avoided if Democrats had been more aggressively “progressive” is arrant and dangerous nonsense.

On Tuesday, the Republican Party won local races, even on blue turf, by running its candidates, even those who were rabid conservatives, as moderates focused on local concerns. Where they did so, and the conditions were right, they were victorious. Where they failed to do so, even on favorable turf, they lost.

It is the race in New York-23 which will have the greatest long term consequences. Movement Conservatives see it as a victory and a vindication. Though I am a liberal, I wish them Godspeed in achieving more such victories. They are destroying their vilage in order to save it in their efforts to create fewer and better Republicans.

The Democrats won New York-23 because they ran a bland moderate in line with the District’s moderate bias. When voters looked to find the candidate most in sync with the sort of moderate Republicans they traditionally had favored, they found the one who most resembled their past choices was the Democrat.

As a result, Barack Obama has one more vote for health care.

A waiter at a steakhouse once told when me I complained about my fish that I shouldn’t buy shoes at a haberdashery.

Those like Markos of the Daily Kos and Liza Sabater of the Daily Gotham, who’ve counseled that Democrats should try to sell leftists on moderate turf because blue dogs dilute our purity, are peddling pork in Borough Park. I, for one, prefer to let the Republicans be the party which self destructs.