August 3, 2008

Map-changing elections

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubikcan @ 10:28 am

This election cycle has brought a lot of discussion about “map-changing” elections. That is, those elections which produce results that radically realign the political landscape (aka “wave” elections such as the 2006 Midterms in which the GOP completely lost control of Congress).

This talk of map-changing is obviously of interest to ubikcan, especially when it is accompanied by actual maps:

This is a recent map from Pollster.com showing the current state of the polls giving Obama an easy victory in November (284 Electoral College votes, plus however many of the undecideds; 270 required to win). (Interesting that McCain is only 5.5 points ahead in Georgia, Bush beat Kerry 58-41 just four years ago–although not in my county where it was 71-26 for Kerry–one reason I live here!)

Anyway, this idea of map-changing is interesting, even if it is meant metaphorically like “wave” election. But Paul Rosenberg analyzes the maps of all the 2oth century elections and makes this claim:

The term “map-changing” has become one of those buzzwords this election cycle. It was, like most buzzwords, high on sizzle, low on steak. Why? Because candidates don’t change maps-map-changing conditions change candidates-at least, successful ones

In other words, cometh the hour, cometh the man. The candidate (Obama) does not change or force through a new politics, rather he is “produced” as it were by the condition or nature of the times.

But while I have sympathy for this point of view–avoiding as it does the great man of history explanation of events–we still need to be careful about what it does and doesn’t mean.

First it doesn’t mean that it was inevitable that Obama would win the nomination, nor does it mean he will win the election. Cometh the hour cometh the man or woman, yes, but there are many hours and many men and women. Think back to 2000 and what must surely be judged by history as a stolen election (I don’t blame Bush for this so much as an amazing act of cowardice and politics by the Supreme Court; well I blame Bush to the extent he put those hugger-muggers into office). Gore by any rational accounting won the election that day but did not take office. So there are many discourses in contention to produce the candidate, and consequently many candidates (this country is not governed by a single person but by an often bewildering array of political offices, corporate pressure and the media). There are national, state, county and city politics, not to mention politics varying across or within a state or region (as evidenced by the election results in my county vs. Georgia as a whole).

The second thing is that even if Obama does win the election as it seems, his policies are not deterministically produced. For one thing, there’s little evidence that Obama is truly progressive, and even if he were, he is not free to implement his policies without opposition, dilution or trouble.

So I think it is better to see not so much a binary flip from one situation to another as the fluctuations of competing discourses–the clash of discourses as it were–and of continuous changes (across scales, across geographies) moving sinuously and flexibly across artificial tipping points such as that instantiated by the electoral college. In other words, gradual change is going on all the time (in multiple directions) but we sometimes perceive it as sudden or catastrophic change occurring all at once.


1 Comment »

  1. […] a map-changing election Filed under: Uncategorized — ubikcan @ 9:08 am Back in August I noted that this is a “map-changing election,” that is, elections that radically […]

    Pingback by Still a map-changing election « ubikcan — October 5, 2008 @ 9:08 am

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