Let's find the fallacy!

Yesterday The Nation‘s John Nichols wrote a rather scathing piece about President Obama: the piece is entitled “Whiner-in-Chief” and the first line reads, “The Obama administration really needs to get over itself.”

Of course, I tend to agree with perspectives like that. :-)   But near the end of the piece Nichols tries to argue that the country isn’t as divided as the White House thinks, and along the way, he makes a heckuva non sequitur:

Nichols says,

The fact is that the results of the 2008 election did not reveal “a closely-divided country.” Obama arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the most muscular mandate accorded any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide.

So: the country is not closely divided and Obama has a “muscular mandate” why? Because Obama had the best showing of a Democrat presidential candidate in the last forty-four years. So what? Nichols’ argument would bear some weight if Obama had the best showing of any presidential candidate in the last forty-four years, but by focusing on on his side, Nichols renders his argument meaningless. Just to review:

1964: Johnson gets 44 states and 61.1% (+22.6%)
1968: Nixon gets 32 states and 43.4% (+.7%)
1972: Nixon gets 49 states and 60.7% (+23.2%)
1976: Carter gets 23 states and 50.1% (+2.1%)
1980: Reagan gets 44 states and 50.7% (+9.7%)
1984: Reagan gets 49 states and 58.8% (+18.2%)
1988: Bush gets 40 states and 53.4% (+7.8%)
1992: Clinton gets 32 states and 43.0% (+5.6%)
1996: Clinton gets 31 states and 49.2% (+8.5%)
2000: Bush gets 30 states and 47.9% (-.5%)
2004: Bush gets 31 states and 50.7% (+2.4%)
2008: Obama gets 28 states and 52.9% (+7.2%)

Of states won, percentage of popular vote won, and margin of victory in the popular vote, Nichols’ argument bears itself out only in percentage of popular vote: Obama’s 52.9% is the best showing of any (Democrat) candidate since ’64. But again, so what? Nixon ’72, Reagan ’84 and Bush ’88 all bested him in that category. Then look at states won and margin of victory: by those metrics, Clinton’s ’96 win trumps Obama’s among Democrats, let alone all the others (notably, Carter is the only winner to claim fewer states than Obama).

What we seem to have here is a strongly-liberal journalist projecting his desires onto reality. (Not an uncommon practice, of course.) Obama may have won the largest popular vote percentage since Bush ’88, but a “muscular mandate” that does not make, nor does it a liberal/progressive country reveal.

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