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Conservative Obamaphilia And The Kerry Fallacy

Via Andrew Sullivan, it seems that Jeffrey Hart, the iconic conservative of Dartmouth Review and National Review fame, is endorsing Obama. (Thus continuing the parade of strange bedfellows inspired by Obama--who would have believed that Hart, Ben Nelson, MoveOn, and The Nation would wind up supporting the same candidate in a primary election?) Hart's endorsement isn't entirely unexpected: like Sullivan himself, Hart backed Kerry in 2004.

But it bears remembering that in 2004, a lot of people in the media expected Kerry to beat Bush as a result of the following logic: "Well gee, I know a bunch of people who supported Bush in 2000 and are supporting Kerry this time, and I don't know of any Gore voters who are for Bush this time around, so Kerry's gotta win!" And it was true, among elite, well-educated types, Bush almost certainly lost more votes than he gained. But on November 2, it became clear that that trend didn't hold for the population at large. Because, for better or for worse, there are comparatively few people out there who hold political views resembling those of Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Hart.

So it's worth pondering whether the conventional wisdom that Obama holds far greater crossover appeal than Hillary is based, at least in part, on the realization that hey, David Brooks and George Will have really nice things to say about him. This isn't that far removed from the logic that inspired the Kerry 2004 fallacy, so there's at least the possibility that it would play out the same way. The evidence is mixed, and I don't want to rehash the whole Obama electability debate (for the record, I'm of the opinion that once you're dealing with mainstream candidates, figuring out which one is more electable is a nearly hopeless task). But recent history still demands that before we make too much of endorsements like Jeffrey Hart's, we ask ourselves: is Obamamania just a bunch of bitter old Tories again, or is it something more this time?

--Josh Patashnik