Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Comparing the 2008 Obama-McCain battle is a futile gesture

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Originally published on on Tue, 07/29/2008 – 1:05pm

The latest comparison of past presidential candidacies centers on 1980. How similar is the 2008 race compared to the 1980 race?

In this scenario, Barack Obama is Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton is George H.W. Bush, John McCain is Jimmy Carter, and perhaps Cynthia McKinney and Bob Barr get to fight over being John Anderson.

(Then again, John McCain should remember 1980, the year he divorced his first wife and married his mistress, er, second wife.)

Seriously, will we be comparing the 2008 race to any other year in years to come? And does any previous year really come close to paralleling the 2008 race?

We’ve heard the 1960 parallels for why Obama should choose Clinton as vice president. The 1968 campaign had some parallels. Bob Dole and John McCain compare in a way that draws in 1996. Then you had the recent comparison notes of 2000 and 2004. Can’t wait for the McCain campaign to use the Gerald Ford comeback analogy in 1976 that fell just short.

Face it – we have an unique race. In some voters’ eyes, they may have seen George W. Bush, Al Gore, and John Kerry as very similar people (scary thought). But you can’t look at Barack Obama and John McCain and think they are similar, and that has nothing to do with skin color.

The age gap between Obama and McCain (25 years) is the largest of any major party candidates in the history of the United States. The only race in the 20th Century that came close was 1944 when Franklin D. Roosevelt ran against Thomas Dewey, a difference of 20 years. Being born in 1936 and being born in 1961 makes a big difference in this country.

We have the first major party candidate who isn’t white. That person narrowly defeated a candidate who became the first significant female candidate for president, in the closest race in the era of primaries.

The other major presidential candidate is a repeat candidate who won numerous states without getting 50% of the vote in the primaries.

And while the economy has been bad in other presidential years (1980, 1992), the extensive economic damage in 2008 has been unmatched for the last 75 years.

In a country where only two Senators went straight from the Senate to the White House, we have two sitting senators representing the major parties. We have two former members of Congress who are running on the ticket of smaller parties.

And let’s not forget the extended period of the campaigns so far, well beyond any previous presidential race, in the first year since 1952 where no incumbent is running for the Oval Office.

Are there some themes we can borrow from previous years? The 1996 Dole-2008 McCain parallel is a little scary. Neither Obama or McCain remind us of Dwight Eisenhower or Adlai Stevenson in 1952. As for the 1980 comparison, Obama has mentioned Reagan as a catalyst for change. But it only works if Obama wins and has the kind of momentum (and quite frankly, the kid gloves Reagan received from the press).


Written by democracysoup

July 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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