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Political death

BY BEAU ELLIOT | NOVEMBER 10, 2009 7:20 AM

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So I hear that President Obama is dead.

Not physically dead, of course. Politically dead.

Politically dead is an odd little country that the chattering class from time to time consigns politicians to with a flick of disdain. (However, those who have visited the country tell me it’s great this time of year — few tourists, great beaches, killer margaritas.)

One of the problems with politically dead is that so many of the people sent there have this annoying habit of making comebacks. And not exactly as zombies. Napoleon, for instance. No zombie he. The British consigned him to political death on Elba in 1814, but there he was a year later, leading an army and searching for Waterloo. (He found it, I hear, much to the relief of Cedar Falls.)

Or take Grover Cleveland, U.S. president from 1885-89 (as you all remember), then politically dead (such as they celebrated it at the time), then president again from 1893-97, thus making him both the 22nd and 24th president. If nothing else, Cleveland’s terms are famous for screwing with presidential arithmetic. I mean, exactly how many presidents have we had, given that Cleveland had two nonconsecutive terms? Scholars are still arguing. (But then, scholars without an argument are kind of like peanut butter without bread. I’ve tried peanut butter without bread, in the privacy of my own home, away from prying eyes, and discovered it makes you yearn for Kansas wheat fields. Dangerous.)

The two Bushes, for instance, were famously referred to as Bush 41 and Bush 43 by those in the know. But you could argue (There’s that word again — why are we always arguing? Maybe we should just call the whole thing off.) that they were actually Bush 40 and Bush 42, which makes Obama No. 43, not No. 44, and you can begin to smell the arithmetical chaos we’re heading into. (Not that we need any help heading into arithmetical chaos — just take all the people who can’t count to 10 and thus believe the new millennium started in 2000 and that 2010 will start the second decade of the millennium. No amount of demonstrating how one counts to 10 will stop them.)

There are other examples of such comebacks — famously, Richard Nixon, politically dead in 1962, elected president in 1968. The 2004 Boston Red Sox, politically dead when down 3-0 in the ALCS, World Series champions eight games later. And, curiously, Barack Obama, politically dead in 2007, his primary campaign moribund, winner of the Iowa caucuses in January 2008, politically dead after losing the New Hampshire primary shortly thereafter, and, well, we all know how that story turned out.

So, once again, Obama is politically dead, according to the pundits, because the Democrats lost the races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia. I didn’t know he was running for governor of New Jersey and Virginia, you say. I didn’t either, to tell you the truth, but that’s the way it goes in punditocracy.

You see, because the Democrats lost, Obama himself is damaged goods. Never mind that in New Jersey, the Democrat incumbent, Jon Corzine, had managed to become hugely unpopular all by his lone self and was so desperate that he actually ran ads painting his Republican opponent as unfit for office because he was fat. Yeah, I know.

Virginia, the pundits seem to forget, has trended Republican, more or less, for some time — Obama’s victory there in 2008 was the first for a Democratic presidential candidate since LBJ in 1964. And in any case, Virginia has, since the days of the Jimmy Carter White House, elected a member of the opposite party from that holding the presidency one year after that party took the White House.

And then there’s New York’s 23rd Congressional District, in which a Democrat won for the first time since around 1870 after Republicans decided to hold a particularly nasty internecine war.

So who’s politically dead? Obama?

Yeah. Just like Bill Clinton in 1994.


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