Sunday, March 4, 2007

2008 Predictions: The Democrats

Why make predictions? I don't purport to be clairvoyant, and I've actually made some pretty bad political predictions in recent years. (For example, I didn't think the Republican House would actually impeach Bill Clinton. That would be crazy, right?) Still, I pretty much nailed the House seat change last fall.

Nonetheless, publicly predicting an event and explaining why it will happen seems like a reasonable way to test one's understanding of a process, so I'm giving it a shot here.

Barack Obama
Obama sure seems like a great guy. It's a delight to hear him speak - he's eloquent and uplifting and manages to not sound like a politician. That's a rare gift. He also seems to have that Kennedyesque gift of being "inspirational" in a broad, if vague, sense. That is, if you ask pretty much Democrat in politics today over the age of 45 why they first got involved in politics, they'll say they were inspired by John Kennedy. Why? The Peace Corps? The space program? Nailing Marilyn Monroe? It's non-specific. He was just inspirational.

It's the same with Obama. My wife is clearly smitten with him, as are several of my brighter students. What do they like about him? It's hard to say. What does he stand for? No one knows.

So, is that enough for him to win the nomination? I don't think so. I may be wrong here, but I'm not convinced he can actually beat a Republican. I feel he's untested, not because he hasn't been in the Senate long enough, but because he's never faced a serious Republican in a general election. (Alan Keyes doesn't count.) Maybe he can do it. Could he win states in the South? Harold Ford's experiences suggest no. After all, Ford was about as conservative a black Democrat as you'll find, and all the Republicans had to do was run a little race-baiting, Birth-of-a-Nation-esque ad and Tennessee's white voters abandoned him in droves.

So whether an African American (and I think that label is appropriate for Obama, given he had an American mother and an African father) can actually win outside the northeast is an interesting question. But I don't think a presidential race is the place to gather data for that question. And I think most Democratic insiders agree with that and will ultimately not nominate him.

Hillary Clinton
I used to work for Bill Clinton and thus feel some kind of loyalty to Hillary. I think she's bright and passionate, and I think her heart and her head are absolutely in the right place. She's been a good senator and could spend a lot of years there doing wonderful things for this country.

I do not think she'd make a particularly good presidential candidate. Unless it's a ridiculously bad year for Republicans, I don't see her winning states outside the northeast and California. Too much of the country has its mind made up about her, and her unfavorables have been stuck in the 40s pretty much since early 1990s. (See here for nice graphs and analysis.)

On top of that, and I say this with all due reverence, I do not find her particularly inspiring. I'm not sure how much that matters in elections (Nixon won two, possibly three times without ever being the more inspiring candidate). Still, I've heard her speak on numerous occasions, and never have I felt an ounce of emotion during or after.

Regardless of my feelings, I don't see her as the nominee. Yes, she has the loyalty of many in the party, but certainly not all, and there are other options. Being out of the White House for two particularly destructive terms has made the Democrats extremely hungry to get back in. And a lot of them sense that she is just too broadly despised and that a general election contest with her at the head of the ticket has little chance of success and absolutely no margin for error.

Bill Richardson
Great resume! I keep hearing rumors about him having had affairs years ago. Are such things really still problems for American politicians, even in the post-Monica world? Maybe. At any rate, if the top tier of candidates falters, he's not a bad guy to nominate. Popular governor for a Western swing state, moderate Latino, good on the stump, etc. But a lot of things have to go wrong for a lot of people for Richardson to become the nominee.

Joe Biden
How has this man not learned that words matter? This campaign was over before it began.

Chris Dodd
That's nice.

John Edwards
I really do see him as the go-to guy. Full disclosure: I am an Edwards supporter. I am betting a small amount of money on him at Intrade.

Yes, there may be some taint on him due to his 2004 association with John Kerry. Nonetheless, Edwards seemed to campaign well in 2004 in every place that Kerry faltered. The Democrats knew that Mary Cheney's sexual preference was a liability for the Republican side. Kerry blew the line in the debates, making himself seen like a craven opportunist. Edwards got it just right, making it sound like a compliment but really irking the far right. Also, as exit polls in open primaries showed, Edwards generally did better among independents than Kerry did.

Besides that, Edwards has actually proven that he can win in southern states. I'm guessing he can win a chunk of western states, too. In short, he's electable, and that's the main reason Democrats will come to support him.

Granted, he won't be nominated solely because he's electable. Joe Lieberman is electable, too, but loyal Democrats can't stand him. Edwards could get elected while pushing for a relatively populist and progressive agenda. His "two Americas" schtick is even more suited to the post-Katrina world than it was in 2004. He's got plans on top of plans for what he'll do when elected. He admits his vote on the Iraq War was wrong and he wants to bring the troops home. And on top of that, he's got the best enemy a Democrat could ask for.

So I'm guessing Edwards gets the nomination. If I'm wrong, hey, I've been there before.


Okay, I probably should have mentioned Al Gore. I just don't see him as a candidate this time around. There are enough heavy hitters in there that the field just isn't begging for him. And if he really wanted to run, he'd be better doing it in a year in which many of his loyal White House aides weren't already committed to Hillary. Besides, there was enough doubt about his 2000 performance to keep him from being a candidate in 2004, and I don't see that those doubts have been erased.

He has been absolutely wonderful in his recent reincarnation as a public intellectual. Both in "An Inconvenient Truth" and in the media blitz surrounding it, he has struck just the right tone, educating without being patronizing, provoking without being defensive, etc. I doubt, however, that he'd maintain such composure when thrown back into the political ring.

And fine, I should probably mention Wesley Clark. He made some rookie mistakes in 2004 but is, on the whole, a pretty effective candidate. Southerner, military, great under media questioning, doesn't back down in front of Republicans, etc. I like him but really don't see him making a serious run out of this. He could, however, be an excellent vice presidential candidate.


lidzville said...

Run, Al, run!

Kyle said...

Pretty much agree with all that.

Except the part about really liking Edwards. He still seems to politiciany to me, and not the brightest star in the sky by anyone's reckoning. And his "two Americas" schtick is stretched by the realization that he is incredibly wealthy himself, demonstrated by his building an absolute mansion in his home state. Repubs will have a field day with that.

Kyle said...


Jesus, can't a fella edit his own post?

Enik said...

But who better to speak about the Two Americas than a guy who builds a giant mansion in a poor state?