It’s easy to forget, as the incidents along the primary way pile up, that we had no idea what was going to happen in presidential politics this season. I asked people to predict it over the last nine months and heard a lot of things: that our next president would be Giuliani or Hillary Clinton, that Romney would walk away with the nomination, that Edwards would be a major contender.
What no one in my acquaintance said would happen is that Barack Obama would face off against John McCain. No one.
As we move into the next mysterious phase in the process, I remind myself that our expectations and suppositions about what is happening to us politically have been way off. This suggests that things are occurring under the radar, that there are currents in the ocean that cannot be read in the waves tossing about on the surface.
Bill Clinton came out of nowhere in 1992 and became, for better or for worse, what he is today. The pundit class missed that phenomenon completely until it was in their face. Ronald Reagan was a known figure in the 1970s, but few people would have expected him to become president in 1981, much less saint in the 2000s.
So amid all the buzz about the race factor in the West Virginians’ decisive rejection of Obama, I say let’s wait and see what comes next. We have lived through one surprise after another, and there’s no reason to think we won’t have more.
Personally, I’m more intrigued by the drubbing the Republicans took in the Mississippi Delta’s special election for a House seat despite running against Obama’s non-white face and rubbing the local opposition in his—horrors!—liberal record. The analytical colums are calling that three straight losses, including Louisiana and Illinois, but I say it’s four if you add the Watertown, New York, seat, which the Republicans lost for the first time since 1910. Other important forces, not just curmudgeonly White Joe, are weighing in.