I think there are a lot of reasons Obama won. It seems strange to ask why McCain lost. After all, I assumed early on that it would be impossible for a Republican candidate to win, given the current president’s performance. But then the Republicans nominated McCain, someone I had always thought of as a pragmatist, to a certain degree. Like many people, my opinion of McCain has changed significantly during this election–he showed a side of himself that apparently had not been a part of his public persona in the past, and no concession speech undoes what ended up as an attempt to pander to base instincts.
When asked what undid the McCain campaign, most responses are “It’s the economy, stupid,” or “It’s Palin–stupid.” Of course, the economic downturn stacked an already stacked deck against McCain, but I think in the end, the problem is that McCain underestimated the American people. He tried to out-joe-sixpack Bush, which was hard to do. He chose a running-mate that was so folksy that she was a caricature of herself–leaving little work for Tina Fey to do. He embraced small-mindedness and intolerance, and then appeared shocked when people at his rallies expressed opinions that were outright idiotic and racist.
I think Michael Shaffer is right. McCain effectively moved the bar for “egghead,” as well as for “socialist,” to include a pretty large segment of educated, cultured, open Americans:
But one thing the results show, I think, is that eight years of Republican rule changed the definition of “egghead.” Obama’s ability to flip states like Indiana and Ohio and North Carolina was based in large part on his improved margins among college-educated professionals in the suburbs outside Columbus or Charlotte or Indianapolis. Not long ago, your average rational, suburbanite PTA-joining middle-manager at Eli Lilly may not have thought himself an egghead. That was before the Bush administration and the braying campaign-trail crowds of Palinite “Real Americans,” with their angry sneers at empiricism and expertise and worldliness moved the line of demarcation between egghead and everyone else. By election day, it seemed like a basic belief in competence and science and planning was enough to brand you an egghead in the world of the angry GOP base. The newly-enshrined eggheads of 2008 got the message, and voted for Obama.