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Back to the future: Obama in ’52

- February 1, 2009


bq. dynamic leader + catchy slogans + impressionable populace + herd mentality + bad economy + war = Obama as president.

That’s from one of the comments (by a commenter with the nom de blogue Piffle_dragon) on this post, which relayed Jennifer Hochschild’s question about what there is, if anything, in the massive literature on racial/ethnic relations that would have led one to anticipate a victory by an African-American candidate in a presidential election.

Piffle_dragon’s contention that Obama’s victory was the product of a perfect storm of factors — economy, war, catchy slogans, dyanmic leader, etc.– sounds about right to me. But let me take it a step farther, which, interestingly I think, will lead us right back to where we started.

Piffle_dragon’s formula — take another look at it, please –puts me in mind of a presidential election from my youth, and more specifically the 1952 presidential campaign. Check it out:

Dynamic leader — Eisenhower. Catchy slogan — I like Ike. Impressionable populace — check. Herd mentality — check. Bad economy — check. War — check. (To which I’ll add: unpopular incumbent — check.)

So: Two different elections, separated by 56 years, but remarkably similar in key respects. Piffle_dragon’s formula works not just once, but twice — once for Obama, once for Eisenhower.

Now chew on this. Perform a “Back to the Future” thought experiment in which you strap Barack Obama into a Delorean and transport him back to 1952. Leave the perfect storm — war, economy, all that stuff — in place. Now ask yourself whether Obama, pinch-hitting for Ike, wins the election. Well, of course he doesn’t.

So: same perfect storm, different result. Which leads us right back to Jennifer’s question, doesn’t it? The more things stay the same, the more they must have changed.