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As for the Democrats . . .

I’ve been blogging for about six months now (at Public Intelligence), but with nothing like Michael’s readership.  I get so few comments that I have almost always responded to every one.  Plus twenty-five years of teaching have programmed me to praise and reply to everything anyone ever says in reaction to something I’ve said.

So I’ll confess to being a bit overwhelmed.  All of the comments have been so interesting—and it always fun to play these speculation games about future campaigns.  For the nonce, I’ve decided to plunge ahead.  But my opinions are changing in relation to your comments—and that will be reflected in future posts.

The last commentator, Dirty Donkey, has called my bluff correctly.  The claim that I would identify the Democratic nominee with the same (only partly feigned) chutzpah with which I anointed Jeb was bluster.  I thought the pressure of a deadline (it’s worked miracles for me in the past) might prove my salvation yet again.  But . . .

The Democrats face a familiar problem—the same one they faced in 1960, 1972, 1976, 1992, and 2004 (just to stay within my lifetime).  They are on the outs—and one of the consequences of being on the outside is that you’ve got, as one commentator put it, a very thin bench.  Very few of your people have a track record—or a national profile.  (The Republicans, of course, were in that spot in 2000—but they could turn to a family name and run the callow W.)

1972 doesn’t really count because the Dems were expiating the sins of ‘68 more than they were looking to win the national election.  McGovern’s nomination was all about keeping the party from disintegrating altogether.  So if we go by the other four elections, twice the nomination went to Senators from Massachusetts and twice to Southern governors.  (And it’s nice to recall that the Dems won three of those four elections.)

I agree with the various people who have pointed out that governors fare better than Senators.  And I think it is safe to say that neither Senator from Massachusetts will be the nominee next time.  No Adlai Stevenson moment here.  Kerry can start growing the beard and have his agent working on a SNL guest host spot now.  I just pray Kerry won’t run, so we will be spared the unedifying spectacle of erstwhile mates Kerry and Edwards going at it in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Democrats are harder to predict because the party is so much less centrally controlled than the GOP and because it needs to find its identity as well as its candidate.  Of course, the perfect candidate will prove his or her perfection by being the face of an identity the party can both embrace and present in a coherent, forceful way to the nation as a whole.

I actually think Edwards could be that candidate. Undoubtedly, I will live to regret venturing such a positive statement about any politician—especially in a forum as public as this one.  I will resist the immediate temptation to list all his faults, so as to prove that I am not naïve.  I’ll just leave it that he is certainly a front-runner at this point and that his understanding of the economic realities (i.e. hardships) faced by the vast majority of Americans on a daily basis is everything I would hope for in a Democrat.

I think the Democrats will be too terrified of Hilary Clinton’s negatives to nominate her.  Even though the “electability” strategy didn’t work in 2004, I think plenty of Democratic primary voters will still pursue some version of that approach. 

So the field is wide open for dark horses—especially for governors like New Mexico’s Richardson or Virginia’s Mark Warner.  I don’t think any of the senators—from Biden to Feingold to Rockefeller —has much of a chance, but that hardly means it couldn’t happen.  And there’s always the savior from way outside, a fantasy particularly appealing to a party on the outs that also lacks any obvious standard-bearer.  The Democrats may well look for their version of the Governator.  Bill Cosby gets mentioned. We may even hear Colin Powell fantasies again.

Can the Democrats win?  I’ve already discussed the Electoral Map problems, which are really another way of saying that the South, as it has through much of American history, holds the balance in national elections.  That’s why a Southern candidate is always so attractive, although it is worth noting that Edwards didn’t help Kerry one bit in the South or anywhere else last time, and that, even at the top of the ticket, he would face an uphill battle just winning North Carolina no less any other Southern state.

Even more daunting is Kevin Drum’s recent report that only 18% of the electorate characterizes itself as liberal, as contrasted to the 30% who call themselves conservative.  The more surprising fact is that those numbers have not changed much in thirty years.  So the Democrats have won in the face of those numbers before—and they will again (even if not necessarily in 2008).

The Democrats need to run a hard-hitting and very well-focused campaign; they have to bring home to the public how the Republicans have overreached; and they have to articulate their vision of an America that doesn’t screw the middle and lower middle classes.

More on this last topic when I return at the beginning of next week.

Posted by on 05/18 at 08:22 PM
  1. I do think that it’s far, far soon to start talking about likely Democratic candidates. But it’s still fun (quick confession: I’m a recovering Democrat.  Was quite active in the Democratic Party in the ‘80s.  Been a Green since the late 1990s).

    I thought Edwards was the strongest candidate (i.e. most likely to win in November) the Dems could have nominated last time around.  Instead they went for Kerry, whose primary victory suggests the continuing strength of party leadership in deciding on a presidential candidate.  The Dems may have a messier process than the GOP, but Kerry won quickly, and he won to a large extent because the inside-the-beltway crowd saw him as the “sensible” choice...and pushed him hard as such.

    I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t mention Wesley Clark. I’m sure he’ll run again, and he certainly has a vocal cadre of supporters. Perhaps this time, however, the Democrats won’t be so prone to run a charisma-challenged former military man in the hope that he’ll inoculate them against charges that they’re soft on defense.

    Other names I’ve seen being bandied about include Tom Vilsack (for all the reasons this won’t happen, see the many discussions about him leading up to last year’s VP choice) and Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

    And although I haven’t heard either one mentioned yet as presidential material, I predict that both NY Atty Gen.(and by then possibly Gov.) Eliot Spitzer and newly elected LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will get mentioned as darkhorses somewhere along the way.

    Posted by  on  05/18  at  09:55 PM
  2. Sitzer is running for governor. A liberal Latino mayor from California with no national cred? Please. Schweitzer is flaky. He got elected only because his predecessor got her hand caught in the till and didn’t run for reelection. Vilsack? Never heard of the bum. Edwards of from the South but not of the South. The South knows this. Wesley Clark is barking mad. I could go on but won’t. Give it up, folks. You’re the permanent minority party.

    Posted by  on  05/18  at  11:02 PM
  3. I don’t know why the above commenters characterize Clark as “charisma challenged” or “barking mad”; he struck me as a strong candidate in 2004 (though I was a Deaniac), and someone I could see myself supporting in 2008 as well.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  12:25 AM
  4. Yeah, we’ve lost two elections by 0-2%, so obviously we’re fucked forever.

    If any party was ever doomed, it was the GOP in 1965, when they were down to 1/3 of the House and Senate and unable to win more than 6 states in the electoral college. Or it was the Democrats in 1929 - again, totally blown away in the presidential race, deep minority in the Senate, outnumbered 270-164 in the House.

    No one who pronounces one of our parties in the “permanent minority” has an opinion worth a damn. Our voters are just too fickle to let that happen, our leaders just too stupid.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  12:27 AM
  5. BTW, the Democrats were also on the outs in 1984 and 1988.  So add to your list a Minnesota senator and one-term VP, and a Massachusetts governor…

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  12:29 AM
  6. Last Sunday’s “Simpsons” had a great presidential-themed quote from Homer. I’ll dedicate it to Jerry (#2).

    Scene - Bart has just been expelled, and he’s getting one last chance in another school. Homer admonishes him:

    “And if you get kicked out of that one you’re going straight in the army, where you’ll be sent to America’s latest military quagmire. Where will it be? North Korea? Iran? Anything’s possible with Commander Cuckoo Bananas in charge!”

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  12:36 AM
  7. I think Jerry would agree that what the democrats really need is more testicular virility. Us leftists need to have the balls to make blanket assertions ("Edwards is not of the south") and act as though we were unaware of the silliness of said blanket assertions.

    Speaking of which, I’ve heard from people who claim to know what’s going on in Springfield that Blagojevich wants to run for pres. His approval ratings aren’t so good right now, so that dream may be shattered, but it’s still three years away.  Seems unlikely now, but if he can actually recover in a political minefield like Illinois, I imagine he’d get some attention.

    Posted by Lee  on  05/19  at  12:58 AM
  8. Who doesn’t want to run for Pres these days? I’ve heard so many names tossed about, it’s starting to sound like graduation. No one surprisingly has mentioned Obama. Has his shine wore off? Not that he’s ready for Pres just yet (maybe VP) but neither is Spitzer, Schweitzer, and whoever the guy is who just got elected mayor.

    I like Feingold myself, but I hear he’s getting another divorce. Too bad. In an ideal world, he’d be our next President.

    Posted by KathyF  on  05/19  at  01:59 AM
  9. In an ideal world, Paul Wellstone would be President. Sigh.

    Posted by handdrummer  on  05/19  at  03:49 AM
  10. Must.....not.....respond...to....Jerry’s....idiotic...posts.....aaagh..

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  06:49 AM
  11. "Permanent minority” . . . looks like someone needs to brush up on their Proverbs, specifically 16:18 (and then revise their stereotypes about liberal theophobia).

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  09:00 AM
  12. 2008:
    Dems: Mark Warner
    Reps: George Allen

    Two former Virginia governors with high aspirations and cash.

    Posted by DK  on  05/19  at  09:05 AM
  13. **meaning “former” by the time the pres. election roles around.  Didn’t mean to oust Mark before his term is up.

    Posted by DK  on  05/19  at  09:05 AM
  14. I predict Hillary will get loads of attention, and in the end opt out or be told to opt out; it’ll be between Edwards and Clark in the early going; and someone unexpected will try to play the Howard Dean role, only to get shot down/backstabbed in the primaries. Kerry? Already eliminated. So they’ll end up with Edwards/Clark (and/or Mystery Candidate).

    I predict the Repubs will get some combination of McCain/Jeb working for them. Frist will go down in flames in the next 12-18 mos.

    Posted by Jeff  on  05/19  at  09:40 AM
  15. Though I’m not an intellectual and I’ve never even played one on TV, I agree with John’s inaugural post here that intellectuals bear a responsibility to be “optimistic"--if only broadly defined as intentional engagement characterized by rigorous examination and productive debate. Thinking about the Dems in 2008, in those nonproductive peevish moments as a lay thinker I’m inclined to hope only that the GOP will put McCain forward to stop the literal and figurative bloodletting in this country. As an optimist who is probably better suited to productive action than thought, however, I have two comments. First, I think it essential for 2008 that Dems create some common effort to reclaim and reframe important terms and values that the GOP has so effectively and devastatingly appropriated and then run roughshod over the citizenry with. Second, the slim victory for the GOP last year had much to do, I believe, with the previous 3-4 *years* of voter-registration drives among formerly nonpolitical religious conservatives. Note to self, shared with others: don’t wait until the June before November elections to start volunteering for political work.

    Okay, blithely optimistic thought for the day (more properly referenced as fun memory of the day from about this blog-time last year): Obama/Bérubé in 2008. McGowan as, hmm, Sec’y of State? Press Sec’y? Minister of Porsche Driving Lessons? You choose, JM, and thanks for your posts this week--looking forward to more!

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  10:25 AM
  16. John,

    Please post a link to your blog, Public Intelligence.  Okay, I just found it in the blogroll, but it’s still a good practice.

    If Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, I won’t be voting Democrat, and neither will anyone who chooses to vote for him.  That bankruptcy bill action was beyond the pale.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  10:25 AM
  17. John,

    You may find yourself added to so many blogrolls as a result of your guest appearance here that your comment numbers will increase.

    Anyway, while I love the name tossing game we all play after our party has lost another round, it seems to me that among the criteria we should think about when boosting one candidate or another is (1) what is the essential problem (or opportunity for the more optimistic among us) facing the country and how has the candidate responded to that problem so far and (2) what is the model of leadership we think the candidate should have?

    I think dwelling too much or too soon on the electoral college implications of any particular candidate is probably premature, and goes a long way in explaining why Democrats have had such a hard time “defining themselves” and convincing voters they stand for something. Identify the crucial issue facing the country, and pick a candidate that is prepared to handle that.

    That being said, I believe the crucial problem facing the country is the rise of the religious dominionists (I won’t call them Christian since I think their ideology is only barely tangential to anything from the Gospel).

    Which candidate is best able to meet that challenge?

    Posted by Bulworth  on  05/19  at  11:16 AM
  18. Great post on Jeb Bush and the overwhelming likelihood of his succession to the Chickenhawk Throne. Below is a piece that ran last Friday in The Moscow Times on this same theme, detailing one of Jeb’s early 2008 campaign forays into the “Moral Values” meat market—along with some of the many, many instances of his hypocrisy and shady past, which bid fair to surpass even Dubya’s. (There was a follow-up to the Jeb story a few days later, which I posted on my blog.)

    First, from May 12:
    Miami Vice: The Mobbed-Up, Money-Grubbing Moralist From Florida.
    http://empireburlesquenow.blogspot.com/2005/05/miami-vice-mobbed-up-money-grubbing.html

    And a follow-up, May 18:
    Justice in Jebworld: Florida Jury Issues Stern Rebuke to Bush Family Values.
    http://empireburlesquenow.blogspot.com/2005/05/justice-in-jebworld-florida-jury.html

    Posted by Chris Floyd  on  05/19  at  11:26 AM
  19. Spitzer has too many ethics problems to run.  He is new and actually has ethics. Edwards in 08?  He barely showed up in 04! 

    Frist won’t take a year to cool off.  That guy frosted himself the moment he got in front of the cameras yesterday.

    Jeb Bush has drub problems. His daughter Noelle. Cheney?  On the ticket if his ticker still tocks and ticks?  Hmm. McCain raising Cain?

    We will all see, if we are still around.

    Posted by The Heretik  on  05/19  at  01:10 PM
  20. Hey folks, you don’t have to treat trolls seriously, especially when they are as transparent and silly as Jerry.

    One intriguing name not mentioned above, and one who is better suited to meeting the Democrats’ demographic challenge in a more creative and promising way than yet another Southern Governor, is Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona and former state AG.

    Would be the first Italian-American major party nominee, a group Dems have had trouble getting solidly for several decades now.  From the southwest, the Dems’ promising political frontier (unlike the South) already trending Democratic (also including Colorado, NM and Nevada).  Why continue to fight a losing battle in a fundamentally (pun intended) hostile region when you can go to a battleground where your opponent is increasingly vulnerable, and is a region increasingly hostile to your opponents’ area of biggest investment (i.e., it’s much more genuninely libertarian than the South, and much less receptive to the extreme fundies)?  A governor, which since 1976 makes a genuinely more electable nominee for either party, a former AG, which helps her on crime and security issues (makes her at least plausible to start with, and stronger than Hillary on any female nominee’s area of greatest vulnerability), and, of course, a woman, which really puts the gender gap in play (especially as Kerry was most weakened compared to Gore among women).

    Any views about her performance in office?  I’m not backing her per se, just interested based on the promising demographics.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  04:31 PM
  21. The main reason not to run Hillary is that she’s well on her way to becoming a power in the Senate.  Edwards or whoever will need her on the Hill, big-time.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  04:35 PM
  22. Who is this guy, Jerry. He obviously drank more than 1 glass of the Kool-Aid.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  04:53 PM
  23. I loved Napolitano in Concrete Blonde. I also loved the blonde in the Rat Pack movie her band was named after.

    This is a cultural studies thread, isn’t it?

    Posted by John Emerson  on  05/19  at  05:13 PM
  24. In spite of the fact that my moniker has been besmirched with no good cause I am checking back in to say that Edwards is the right choice. 

    Any more of that name calling though and I will have to ask PZ and the boys at Pharygula to stop by and frighten you with tales of squid sex.

    As a rare committed liberal democrat (and Democrat, read Donkey) from the dry inland northwest (read Desert). That name has meaning that runs deeper than my family name, which is shared with millions of scandinavian descent, among others).

    Didnt I just hear that PA voted to legalize fairy tales and superstition in science class?  Dont throw rocks when you live in glass houses.

    As always, my regards to the host whose delivery of satire is finer than mine.

    ... and really, how much Kool Aid has Jerry had?

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  06:10 PM
  25. Out here in the West, Schweitzer is being viewed with a healthy dose of skeptical optimism, by conservatives and liberals alike.  We certainly would not want him to leave, at least not for seven more years or so.  His ability to create substantive common ground bringing, for example, the staunchest membership of the NRA together with their natural most bitter enemy, the tree hugging hippie environmentalists, to create healthy sustainable environmental practices is amazing.  He is doing the same for energy resource extraction industries and local communities, the education system, the alarming lack of affordable housing in the more urban cities, etc. 

    And although DD(above) lives in the same general region and shares much of the same politics, we are not one and the same person, or related either.  While thinking of who can run in ‘08 might be a pretty optimistic thing to do, we need to get through the next election cycle first.  Who runs for Senate and Congress is becoming equally as critical as that other office.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  07:08 PM
  26. I have a naieve question.

    Has anybody in the blogosphere or print taken a stab at a unified/unifying message that those to the left of the present administration might invest in?  It’s what I’m hoping for in 2008.

    Posted by Jean  on  05/19  at  07:18 PM
  27. Jean, that question has been bandied about for months.  Somebody was running a blog series (I can’t remember who right now) just recently looking for suggestions.  Try a Google search for “liberal values” or some alternative like it.

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  05/19  at  08:55 PM
  28. Barbara Boxer’s got my vote.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  09:05 PM
  29. Been a lazy reader for some time, but the key for the democrats is the West.  Yes, I’m from Los Angeles but I was raised in Massachusetts, and the moderate progressive who can talk tough (when need be) and can run a disciplined campaign outfit can shift the map from Southern electoral dominance - if not extreme influence.

    True conservatism wins ... not in the GOP definition of the word, but in the ideas and themes of real conservation both in terms of environment and a progressive economic message with real teeth.

    If somebody from the West, whoever that may be, can put together a strong coalition with a heavy reach into the hispanic base (that is wildly shifting the demographics out West and into the Southwest - and did you notice how Kerry made a cross country stump speech for Villaraigosa? - so I say he’s running again and he still has that warchest left over) ... that’s the winner.  No doubt about it.

    Does that mean a Richardson/Kerry ticket?  Or a Richardson/Clark ticket (in any order) ... time will tell but if we start hearing about New Mexico and Oklahoma success stories by 2007 we’ll know who and what is being put into play.  But my main concern now is the Senate - and whether the Democrats can peel back some seats starting in the Southwest and West.  The Old South is a generation removed from thinking “Democrat” again.

    Posted by syntallic  on  05/19  at  09:55 PM
  30. You know the wingers are petrified of Clark when they react like Jerry.

    The Reps will nominate McCain.  He has an interview in some “outdoor lifestyle” magazine right now where he basically admits he’s running.

    This time we’ll be the ones going against the genuine war hero.  And unlike Kerry, McCain doesn’t strangle every position to out his piehole.  I also doubt if any Dems will fund a craven political assassination squad like the Swift Boat Libellers.

    We’ll have a huge problem with conservative “Truman” Democrats (that’s what we call them here in MO) crossing over unless we nominate someone who can defuse McCain’s bio.  Kerry’s heroism under fire was negated totally in most conservatard’s feeb minds by his medal-throwing.  Sad, but true.

    While Kerry grew a hipster mop and became a lawyer after Vietnam, Clark stayed in the military during it’s dark days in the 70s and helped rebuild it into the unbreakable-until-W-Bush force it is today.

    Also unlike Kerry, if Clark gets riled, he will get right in someone’s face immediately.  The ass-kicking he gave that Fox News anchor-hole last year was amazing.  One thing you learn by the time you got a “Supreme” hanging off your rank is how to correct people very succintly and firmly.  Wes also did good on Bill Maher’s HBO show a few weeks ago.

    He’s one of the few politicians I’ve ever heard admit to being liberal on TV during a campaign (on the Maher show last year).

    Nobody’s perfect, so maybe Wes’ll do.  We have to be careful and not apply the conclusions from the last election too closely to next one.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  10:29 PM
  31. So to sum up, John, 2008 is Edwards versus Bush v3?

    I get it, you’re actually a front for the Canadian immigration department.  We’re wise to your tricky ways.

    (God.  Jeb versus J-ed.  There isn’t enough alcohol in the world...)

    Posted by Doctor Memory  on  05/19  at  11:04 PM
  32. A man tries to widen the discussion and what thanks does he get? Just to deal with Wesley Clark, who the British thought had gone starkers when he ordered them to rush to an airport to stop Russians at the airport in Serbia during that unpleasantness. Rightly seeing this might trigger WWIII, they refused. During his brief campaign for the Demo nomination, Clark said abortion was perfectly OK with him right up, oh, 30 seconds before birth. A woman won’t be nominated in 2008, not even Candi, so forget about it. Knocking off the vicious baiting of religious people would be a pretty good step for reincorporating the left back into the political matrix. But I think it’s too much fun for them to give up.

    Posted by  on  05/19  at  11:54 PM
  33. Jerry, if you dislike Clark that much, he must be DAMN good!

    I suppose that Clark will lose the Right-to-Life vote for the Dems. Damn, that was one of our best constituencies!  And the anti-war Brit vote too.

    Jeez, all is lost. I want to go die.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  05/20  at  12:26 AM
  34. Having been raised in the south and lived in the southwest, I can attest it is much more winnable than Dixie.

    But don’t go with Big Bill, as he’s known in NM. The progressives can’t stand him, and he’s controlling the legislature with an iron fist. He has some positives, but more negatives.

    I’ve met Janet N., and she’s pretty impressive. AZ is more conservative than NM, too. And Janet is an Albuquerque native, so you’d get two states for the price of one. She’d make a good VP, imo, plus you have the Concrete Blonde fans.

    Posted by KathyF  on  05/20  at  01:42 AM
  35. Jerry’s version of widening the discussion. “GOP good, Right-wing GOP better, Dems bad, Liberals evil.”

    Forget McCain or Guiliani, or any other Republican who doesn’t pledge their troth to the Christian Right. They’ll never get the nomination.
    However, if they did, a good Dem could beat them, because many of the GOP base would sit on their hands or vote for some 3rd Party candidate.

    Posted by  on  05/20  at  08:36 AM
  36. Completely OT:
    http://mobile.theonion.com/oped2.html

    Posted by  on  05/20  at  09:36 AM
  37. Silly me: being used to a slightly more elevated than average bloggy discourse ‘round here, that crack about intellectuals in France sailed right over my head.  Didn’t even recognize that it was meant as a snide putdown!  Talk about touché-ing the void…

    Posted by  on  05/20  at  02:44 PM
  38. What no Obama?  I have high hopes for that guy.

    Posted by  on  05/21  at  11:13 AM
  39. Lefty, McCain will be it.

    By ‘08 the lousy polling will finally convince the GOP to quit letting the religious fascists run their party.

    Even here in the deep midwest, people are getting sick and tired of being dictated to by those who say “Since I get my marching orders from God, and God can never be wrong, ipso facto I can never be wrong”.

    The media is helping accelerate the trend with all its relentless whoring with lame-o “Left Behind” rip-off miniseries, religion on the cover of Time and Newsweak every other week, and mewling pundit syncophants breathlessly intoning about how the fascistic “values” of tiny sliver of American christians now hold sway over us all.

    Posted by  on  05/21  at  12:32 PM
  40. If the Democrats are to win, they must be bold, articulate, and decisive.  The reason the flip-flopping charge won is precisely because it was true.

    Right now it might seem that Americans want conservative candidates.

    Nope.  They want decisive candidates.  A full on Leftist would have a MUCH better chance than a wavering accomodating Third Way candidate.

    I’m not saying Bush IS decisive.  But Karl Rove knows well that for Bush to win, that’s how he’s going to play it up, faux ranch and all.

    But when, oh when, are Democrats going to smarten up to this?

    Posted by RIPope  on  05/21  at  09:37 PM

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