Why Democrats should pray that they win, and Republicans should want to lose

Thomas Ash
2 November 2008

Every four years, Republican and Democratic loyalists work themselves to the bone trying to get their Presidential candidate elected. On the decisive night, they stay up late, waiting for the returns and exit polls, offering religious and secular prayers. Millions in America and Europe, myself included, will be doing just this on November the 4th.

In light of this, it seems almost churlish to suggest that we should not always want our chosen candidate to win. Nonetheless, I would argue that this is so.


Exhibit A is Kerry's loss in 2004. At the time, it devastated many liberals and Democrats. But with hindsight we can see that it allowed the depth of George Bush's failures to sink in with the American public, potentially leading to what Karl suggests will be a generational shift in the US's politics. There was a cost for that, of course - the failures were allowed to continue, in Afghanistan, New Orleans and, at least early on, in Iraq. But after the Republicans botched their reforms of social security and then lost control of congress, they were not able to accomplish much for good or ill. At the risk of going out on a limb, I think that Democrats should be glad of Kerry's loss.

Many commentators have suggested that this is also an election one shouldn't want to win, due to the dire state of the nation's finances and the economic downturn that looms. Fairly or unfairly, parties tend to get blamed when they are in charge during recessions, and, if the experts are to be believed, the one on the horizon will be long and deep. However, I doubt that this will hold if Obama is elected. The Republicans appear to own these troubles in the public's mind. If on the other hand McCain won, a sharp downturn in his first term could damage his party's brand yet further. I hope that affords some comfort to his supporters if he loses on Tuesday.

There is potentially another factor partisans should take into account, though. Parties do not exist simply to maximise their years in office, whatever the aims of some individual politicians may be. Their theoretical purpose is to bring their vision of change to the country. Crippled though the next President may be by a skyrocketing national debt and tough economic times, he will have an almost unparalleled opportunity to alter America's direction. Two long years of campaigning have shown that the voters want change. The original meaning of 'crisis' was a decisive situation or turning point. If America is facing a crisis then Democrats - and those of us rooting for them from abroad - should hope that they are the ones who get the chance to determine its outcome.

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