It’s great when the voters turn their backs on conventional wisdom!
We pundits said that almost certainly we’d all know the Republican and Democratic nominees on Feb. 5. Ha!
We said John McCain was political dead meat. Ha!
We said Barack Obama would quickly fall to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s big money, big momentum and big organization. Ha!
A few said Rudolph Giuliani was unstoppable. Ha!
Some thought Mitt Romney would catch fire because of his money, good looks and business acumen, despite his changing views. Ha!
Few predicted Mike Huckabee would become the charmer of the GOP field. Ha!
All of these bad calls won’t stop punditry, of course. It’s the political equivalent of predicting the winner of the Super Bowl, an event that also thumbed its nose at the purveyors of conventional wisdom this year.
Besides, in a thrilling election like this one, everyone is a pundit.
Voters have said they want more time to consider the candidates. They signaled strongly they are sick and tired of abject partisanship. They might vote for a Republican or a Democrat, depending on many factors, not just because of fatigue with President Bush.
We’ve learned that McCain, a prisoner of war for five years, is a formidable campaigner on the road to winning his party’s nomination after Mitt Romney’s withdrawal Thursday. McCain kept going, like the Energizer Bunny, after he ran out of money and aides started quitting on him and establishment Republicans wrote him off because conservatives don’t like him. Grit and determination brought him back into play.
We’ve learned there is hunger in America for politicians who offer a fresh, interesting, hopeful message. Voters yearn for competence. They’re less ideological than they are eager for good character, independence and new ideas. We’ve learned that dirty campaign tricks may not work as well as they once did.
We’ve learned that voters are more sophisticated than many thought and millions are ready to accept a woman or a black as president.
We’ve learned that young voters and independents are able to get excited about politics.
We don’t know how the gender gap will play out. We don’t know how many Democrats and independents McCain will attract or whether the radio-talk-show conservatives really will leave him. We don’t know if young voters will vote or, as they traditionally do, get bored and stay away from the polls. We don’t know, in November, if experience will trump youth and change or vice versa. We don’t know if we’ll see a civil battle or whether all-out hostility and rancor will break out.
We do know that it’s a fascinating year. Whether it’s Obama or Clinton vs. McCain, we’re going to have a long debate over what kind of country we want, what kind of world we want and how much we’re willing to sacrifice for it. We’ll debate how we stay an economic superpower and how long we should stay in Iraq and what we’re going to do about Social Security and Medicare.
We’ll learn that McCain is more conservative than many thought (he has an 83 percent rating from the American Conservative Union). We’ll perceive that Clinton and Obama probably are not as liberal as many thought. We might even see some nuance!
But nobody knows who will be the next president, and that’s exciting. Millions more Americans have been enfranchised during the primaries, and that’s a good thing. November is a long way off, and even that’s a good thing. The voters are not yet ready to decide, and that’s good. We have a lot of issues to weigh, a lot more speeches to hear, a lot more promises to decipher. Maybe we’ll even get some humor along the way.
It’s been an election season of startling surprises. Here’s betting there are more to come.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)