Heading into the last two weeks of this presidential campaign, which began shortly after the cooling of the earth, my Gentle Readers’ time and patience have already been more than overtaxed. What follows are some time-saving tips to spare you having to read every political word written between now and Nov. 4.
Campaign spokespeople for Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee who trails in virtually every poll of sentient beings, can be counted upon to disparage all discouraging information with variations of the following.
» The hardy perennial: “The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.”
» Criticize the source of the discouraging information: “Were you ever polled? Was anyone in your family polled? Why should anyone believe these bogus numbers?”
» All the polls and bad stories are so much “inside baseball”: “Real Americans don’t pay attention to campaigns and politics until after baseball’s World Series … They are too busy raising their families, volunteering at the PTA, taking care of a sick parent to follow every campaign twist and turn.”
» The Real story of these polls is the Undecided Voters: “Let’s be candid. If the front-runner — with all his money and all his fawning press coverage — hasn’t been able to sew up the undecided voters by now, that means they have already decided that the front-runner is not their cup of tea. The undecideds will break our way and truly decide the election in our favor.”
» The Front-Runner Cannot Close the Sale: “Our guy — who is trailing in the polls — has always been a ‘Great Closer.’ That’s been the pattern in his career. He’s a ‘voting-booth candidate.’ When voters close that curtain behind them — in that moment of truth — they overwhelmingly pick our guy. The front-runner fades. He has a tradition of not being able to seal the deal.”
» Don’t Let the Press Steal This Election: “The elitist press has already determined who the next president will be — their favored candidate! Independent-minded American voters are not sheep who are going to rubber-stamp the choice of the press gallery. We cannot let the Liberal Media steal this election from the people.”
President Harry Truman is the patron saint of underdog candidates who are trailing in the closing days. It is true that in 1948, long before the advent of modern polling techniques, Republican presidential nominee Gov. Thomas E. Dewey was the prohibitive favorite to defeat Democrat Truman, who had replaced the irreplaceable Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had died five months after being elected to an historic fourth White House term. Harry Truman pulled the upset of the century and ever since his words and achievements have been cited by long-shots.
Between now and Election Day, at least one politician will quote these lines from Truman: “I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt? What would Jesus Christ have preached if he’d taken a poll in Israel?” Variations on this theme include such old reliables as “It’s a good thing Christopher Columbus didn’t take a poll before he sailed to discover the New World” or “Aren’t we Americans lucky that Gen. George Washington didn’t take a poll at Valley Forge or we’d still be British subjects today?”
Now you are free to ignore all the pre-excuses that will be heard in the next two weeks. If you just want to know who is going to win on Nov. 4, just remember this: No winning candidate — on the weekend before Election Day — has ever said: “The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.”
Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.