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Re: <nettime> Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic
Prem Chandavarkar on Fri, 14 Nov 2008 05:27:27 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic

While it is true that Obama's victory is a symbol of some change (would it
have been possible to have an African-American president some years
earlier?), I find it hard to accept the claim that it is a historical
shift.  We seem to have forgotten so quickly that until three months ago
there was no clear leader in the polls, and in fact some polls had McCain
slightly ahead.  Was America looking for change then?  It was only when the
financial problem became an overwhelming economic crisis that the equation
changed, and Obama became a front-runner and eventual winner.

John Allen Paolos in his book "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper" points
out that it is naive to believe that victory in a democratic election is
representative of majority sentiment.  It is really a case of how the
majority and the minority break down within themselves.  Paolos argues the
situation of gun control in the United States - many polls show that up to
80% of the population favour gun control in some form, yet no politician
will touch it.  This is because of the 20% that oppose it (members of the
NRA, etc.), three quarters of them are so fanatical about it that they will
make their voting decision solely on those grounds.  3/4 of 20% is 15% of
the electorate.  Of the 80% who favour gun control, they support it among a
wide spectrum of other issues, and only 5% (who have been victims of violent
crime, etc.) will make a voting decision solely on this issue.  5% of 80% is
4% of the electorate.  So if we look at the single-cause constituencies on
either side, we have 15% versus 4% - the 11% difference is enough to swing
most elections, and the politicians know it.

I do not make any claim on the truth of Paolos's figures and facts on gun
control, and hope this does not (as it has a couple of times in the past)
veer off into a debate over gun control.  But his arguments show how
(whatever the issue on hand may be) elections tend to get swayed by
fundamentalist single-cause constituencies.  Politicians prefer committed
minorities to diffuse majorities.

The Obama campaign had trouble latching on to such single cause
constituencies.  With its theme of 'change', it could not claim to protect
people's interests.  It was only when the economic crisis created a new
single-cause constituency (a gift on a platter to the Obama ticket) that a
new wave of support started.  McCain, with his 90% voting record of aligning
with Bush, could not authentically claim to offer the new badly needed
direction.  So it may be a twist of fate that handed Obama the election, and
not his message for change and a new dawn of acceptance in America.  The
question now is which single-cause constituencies will he begin to adopt to
cement his political future once the economic crisis fades from prominence
in the news (and it appears he will be protected for a couple of years on
this score).

Having said this, the two significant indicators of change that this
election did bring about are:

(1) The ability to use the internet to mobilise large volumes of funding
from small donors (the path for this being demonstrated by Howard Dean).  It
is significant that he was able to outspend by 2:1 a candidate from a party
that is a protector of interests of the wealthy.  However mobilising funding
for elections is a different ball game from mobilising opinions between

(2) That is is possible to counter growing voter apathy by mobilising new
voters, particularly young voters.

But these factors are only being acknowledged in the background, and the
foregrounded news is the claim of a sweeping historical change.


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