The Campaign Spot

Food For Thought: Do Democrats Not Seek an Experienced Candidate? And Do Their Big Three Have Glass Jaws?

Hillary laments, “some people may be running who tell you we don’t face a real threat from terrorism,” prompting ABC News to ask… well, who?


Sports Illustrated’s Peter King has a feature in his column, “Things I Think I Think This Week.” In that vein – a half-thought out idea that might be worth chewing on – here are two conclusions…


1. Pretend you’re a Democrat for a moment. (If you are a Democrat, then, well, as you were.) The three candidates in the field who you could say, with a great deal of certainty, that are most ready to be president; who could step in with the least amount of learning on-the-job are… Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Al Gore. I’m not saying you or I necessarily agree with these guys. But Richardson’s got the widest variety of experience (two-term governor, United Nations ambassador, cabinet secretary). Biden’s been around Washington forever and chaired some of the most influential committees (Judiciary, Foreign Affairs) and is widely regarded as a lawmaker who takes his issues seriously (even if he sounds nutty when he rants about 7-11s, etc.). Al Gore was a heartbeat away from the presidency for eight years, and a senator for a long time before that. He’s already won the popular vote.


Naturally, the three frontrunners at this moment are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards: a one-term senator and change, a less-than-one-term senator, and a one-term senator.


(Yes, I know I’m not counting Hillary’s years as first lady, and her marriage gave her an insider’s role in her husband’s administration, blah blah blah. And yes, Al Gore has indicated he is not running.)


But for some reason, at this moment of great foreign threat and great domestic change, the Democrats strongly prefer a fresh face to someone who a majority of Americans could readily see stepping into the role of Commander-in-Chief.


2. Right now, the country wants change, and if the mood is the same on Election Day 2008, that appetite seems likely to favor the Democratic candidate. But for any of the big three of the Democrats, it’s plausible that they could blow it.


Hillary? She just about guarantees 100 percent Republican turnout. Maybe my sample is a bit small, but a lot of the older folks I know act as if she’s still the vengeful, power-hungry ultra-feminist radical of, say, 1994. Older women resent the “should have stayed home and baked cookies” line from way back when. As a politician, she’s clumsy, heavy-handed, has a tin ear (banning video games and flag-burning amendment, etc.). She brings the baggage of eight years of partisan warfare and scandal (and there’s no sign her presidency would mitigate the furious passions), her Iraq positioning gives off an overpowering odor of opportunism, and she ensures the era from 1988 to 2012 and perhaps 2016 will be known as the American Dynasties with our presidencies going Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton.


It’s easy to imagine a majority of Americans – say, all the red states – looking at the prospect of President Hillary and saying, “Eh, let’s try that McCain/Giuliani/Romney guy.”


Obama? Nice guy. Really charming. Warm, personable. Nothing like that Kerry fellow.



Boy, he came out of nowhere. Thin record to evaluate – what is this guy like in a crisis? How will he handle a dangerous world? Is he talking about abstract concepts like hope and bipartisanship and empathy because he doesn’t want to spell out what he would do in the Oval Office?


And it’s a shame that the most likeable Democrat to come down the pike in a long time has to – so far, at least – be offering such a standard-issue liberal policy agenda, with a dollop of “audacity of hope” Bela Caroli you-can-do-it-America enthusiasm. Clinton had welfare reform and a rejection of Mondale-Dukakis liberalism. Will Obama be an exciting reformer in any area? Will he take any position that right-of-center voters would find intriguing?


And, of course, he’s black. I think the country’s ready, but I know that many smart people disagree with me.


Add up those doubts, and maybe Americans say, “eh, we’re not ready for that guy.”


John Edwards? I try to see the appeal of candidates who I disagree with, but the upsides of Edwards are lost on me. Right now, I look at him and see a more transparently phony version of Bill Clinton, an unremarkable legislator, didn’t add much to the 2004 ticket, almost self-parodying in the hypocrisy of his Mega-McMansion, hired the lunatic bloggers, changes his tune on Israel depending on who he’s speaking to…


Ezra Klein of the American Prospect described Edwards as a modern man’s William Jennings Bryan in a recent Blogging Heads chat, and I just scratched my head at the thought that “WJB2k8” was what the country was looking for at this moment… but then again, I’ve been out of the country for the past two years or so.


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