Friday, April 25, 2008

Dems Long Nomination Blows Opportunity, Reveals Weak Candidates

I often close my posts noting how this year presents the best electoral environment for the Democrats in decades.

President Bush has been battered in public opinion by a polarizing war, government by both parties has been ineffective (for example, in the Katrina response), an advantage that should accrue to the party out of power in Washington, the economy, a little uncertain last year, is now in a full-blown housing slump and likely recession, and legitimate public goods demands, like infrastructure improvements, are building up.

Even without the normal demands for change in the electorate after eight years of GOP rule, the Democrats should be seeing a slam-dunk electoral environment in '08.

But they're not. The party's been dragged deeper into the mud with its nomination battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and even
top party officials are calling for an end to the bloodletting.

Gerard Baker adds some perspective to what I've got here,
over at the Times of London:

Hillary Clinton's solid victory in the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday has condemned the party to many more weeks of strife and sinking public esteem. There's a popular view among Democrats and the media establishment that the reason for the party's current disarray is that it just happens to have two most extraordinary candidates: talented, attractive, and in their gender and race, excitingly new. But there's an alternative explanation, which I suspect the voters have grasped rather better than their necromancers in the media. Both are losers.

The longer the Democratic race goes on, the more obvious it appears that each is deeply, perhaps ineradicably flawed.

Until about a month ago Barack Obama had done a brilliant job of presenting himself as a transcendent figure, the mixed-race candidate with bipartisan appeal who promised to heal the historic and modern rifts in American life.

But the mask has slipped. Under pressure in a Democratic primary, Mr Obama has sounded just like any other tax-raising, government-loving Democratic politician. Worse, he has revealed himself to be a member of that special subset of the party's liberal elite - a well-educated man with a serious superiority complex.

His worst moment of the campaign was when he was caught telling liberal sophisticates about his anthropological observations on the campaign trail. In the misery of their daily lives, he said, the hicks out there in the sticks cling to religion and guns and the other irrational necessities of the unenlightened life. His wife had earlier told voters that they should be grateful that someone of his protean talents had deigned to come among them and be their president.

The events of the last month have also revealed another side of Mr Obama that threatens to undermine his whole message. He is a cynic. He tells the mavens of San Francisco one thing and the great unwashed of Pennsylvania another. In defending his long relationship with the Rev Jeremiah Wright, he shopped his own grandmother, comparing the reverend's views (God Damn America! The US deliberately spread Aids among the black population) to his grandmother's occasionally expressed fears about the potential of being the victim of crime at the hands of an African-American.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has been busy shedding the final vestiges of shame and honesty in her desperate attempt to save her candidacy. She has abandoned any pretence of a message, and simply seized on every opening presented to her by her opponent.

Mr Obama's missteps with the working class of Pennsylvania have thus transformed Mrs Clinton from the bluestocking Wellesley graduate into the good old girl, hanging out there with the straw-chewing rednecks, embracing their values, their worldview and even their lifestyle.

Obliterate Iran! Here comes Osama bin Laden! I love duck hunting! I can do shots and beer at the same time! It's hard to know what's worse - expressing condescending views about the working class or pretending to be one of them. The Democratic campaign is simply disappearing in the enveloping vapidity of the candidates' making.
Actually, one could attack Hillary for abandoning a campaign of ideas to shift over to a theme of Democratic working-class populism.

But that's Hillary. We know that she'll do whatever she can to win. In my view, she's abandoned her pandering to the left's interest-group oblivion, especially on the war, and has started to sound more like how a real president would govern.

No matter.

Let the Dems continue to thrash each other. The economy presents opportunities for John McCain to sell a socially responsible pro-market agenda, one based on competence not social policy largesse.

The war in Iraq, of course, continues to have support in public opinion (specifically, there are
no demands for an immediate withdrawal), which works against the Demcratic Party's incessant demands for an unconditional surrender.

There's no slam dunk for the Democrats, and the Hill-Obama conflict's making it even more true than ever.