In 1972, The New Yorker's movie critic, Pauline Kael, won herself a place in political lore by expressing astonishment at the Republicans' 49-state landslide victory. "How could that be?" she demanded. "I don't know a single person who voted for Nixon."
I don't live in such a rarified world, but most of my friends are voting for John Kerry. And I imagine that a good many will be shocked when President Bush wins in November.
It is possible that no Democrat could beat Bush this year. The President has Ralph Nader on his side, and demography. Since the 2000 election, shifts in population have added seven electoral votes to the Red Bush states and subtracted seven from Goreland.
This alone might be enough to put Bush over the top in a tight race. But despite the polls, I don't think this election will be close, and this time the Democratic establishment won't be able to blame the Supreme Court. If they're fair, they'll blame themselves. Since this is politics, they'll blame the candidate.
John Kerry is not a bad man. He probably wouldn't make a bad President. But he is a bad candidate in a terrible situation. He represents the wing of the Democratic Party that is imbued with a sense of its own moral, intellectual, cultural and social superiority. In short, he is the standard bearer for the unbearable.
These people don't comprise a majority of the electorate or even Democratic voters (how could they and remain an elite?), but they have convinced themselves that they and their candidate - if packaged properly - will prove irresistibly attractive to lesser Americans.
Boston, with its flag-waving and saluting and balloon-blowing was supposed to be a commercial for this new and superior brand of politics. But Americans are expert TV watchers. A lot of them voted with their remotes. Those who did watch weren't impressed. The Democrats' much anticipated post-convention bump turned into a thud. George McGovern got one of those in 1972.
Kerry now has 90 days to convince voters that a Bush victory in November would be, as his wife put it in Milwaukee on Monday, "four more years of hell."
The problem is, most Americans don't regard their lives as "hell" or Bush as Satan. The economy, after all, is not really in a Great Depression. In fact, it's doing pretty well. Iraq isn't Vietnam, and won't be unless there's a draft. The Islamic jihad against America isn't Bush's fault, either. A candidate who insists otherwise is bound to strike voters as detached from reality.
Kerry ought to know this, and he may. But his party is dominated, as it was in 1972, by people who talk only to one another and who are convinced that everybody despises Bush. They will judge Kerry by how hard he goes after the Crawford Beelzebub.
Right now the polls look even. But that's an optical illusion. The President has a Republican convention coming up and the power of incumbency to shape events between now and November. In other words, he's way ahead.
Kerry is a weak campaigner. Barring some kind of national disaster, his best shot is the debates. Democratic true believers think he'll kill Bush, one on one. That's what they thought about Al Gore, too.
Calling a presidential race in August is risky, especially a race that's supposedly close. But no guts, no glory. Bush will beat Kerry in a walk. If I'm right, you read it here first. If not, well, even Pauline Kael got it wrong once in a while.