So I wanted to get one more entry in on politics before the Democratic primary race totally collapses this Tuesday when it looks like Kerry will take 5 of the 7 contested states.
One of the things that I previously observed about this race is that it’s all about perception. In particular, I said a month ago about Dean:
Yes, he’s got moderate policies, as Tom Tomorrow points out in his cartoon. But he’s not known for that. He’s known for angrily spewing on television against the war. That’s the extent of most voters’ knowledge of Dean. If elections were decided by a careful analysis of the issues, I would agree that Dean has a very good chance. But they’re not. Elections are decided by personalities, by gut instincts, and by first reactions.
The perceptions are very popular. All people saw on television of Dean was him screaming about Bush (or yelling after the Iowa letdown). And that plays powerfully into what people think. This Online Beat column over at The Nation has an interesting observation that the one area of New Hampshire that got its news from a relatively independent newspaper was the one area that Dean won.
What do I think will happen? It looks like Kerry is heading towards victory right now. He’s got the Big Mo’ (mentum) going right now. Which is a pity, because I don’t think he can beat Bush. For one thing, he’s a New England liberal, which was part of the reason I was originally worried about Dean. Unlike Dean, he is a war veteran, which will help a little bit. But there’s no way he can run believably against the Washington culture when he’s been a senator for twenty years. He’s had to make too many compromises, too many votes of expediency. And, yes, that’s the way things actually get done in Washington. But it’s too easy to pick at those compromises, and you can bet Karl Rove has teams of researchers on that task right now.
What disappoints me about the race is that Edwards and Clark have managed to split the “Southern Democrat outsider” vote in half, basically dooming both of them to irrelevancy. If you combined their tallies, they would be a force to rival Kerry, and one that has a much better chance of beating Bush for the reasons I outlined in that original post. But with neither seeming willing to back down and accept the vice-presidency, it looks like they’ll hand the nomination to Kerry, and the general election to Bush. And that just sucks.
Why do I like Clark? I think he’s electable. That’s it. I understand that most of my friends disdain him because he’s a total cypher. He has no positions of his own. He has taken no stands. He’s a blank slate politically. But that’s why he’s electable. As soon as you take stands, you get judged by those stands. Kerry will get nailed for this now that he’s the front runner, or he may hold it off until the general election. And I don’t think being a cypher necessarily means nothing will get done. If Clark chooses the right advisors, he can get quite a bit done. I think Bush is primarily a figurehead, but he’s got a crack staff, and they have accomplished far more than our worst nightmares when he became President four years ago.
With a little bit of massaging of his message, Clark could go right after the traditional wing of the Republican party. What should he be aiming for? A strong national security as evidenced by his generalship. Fiscal discipline. Balanced budgets. All of these are historically Republican issues. And issues that Bush is vulnerable on; his own party is rebelling against his egregious budget deficits. With the right strategy, I think Clark could hold the line on those issues and mix in enough socially liberal issues to attract Democrats. Yes, it brings the Democrats back to the center, which disappoints my more liberal friends. But the center is way better than wherever Bush is trying to take us.
Totally random observation. I was IM’ing a friend of mine, and he commented that “homeland security is such a sham”. My response: “um, yeah. if they’d just admit that homeland security is a giant jobs-creation program, a la the New Deal TVA, I’d respect them more”. It’s totally a socialist economic stimulation package. If a Democratic president were in office, the Republicans would be screaming bloody murder about it. As it is, they’re barely being held in check. If the Democrats put up a credible centrist candidate, there’s a decent chance they can steal some protest votes from the Republicans which may be all they need; in the New Hampshire Republican primary, according to this Nation column, “One in seven Republican primary voters cast ballots for candidates other than Bush, holding the president to just 85 percent of the 62,927 ballots cast.” But Dean is not that candidate, certainly not with the way he’s been portrayed in the media. And I don’t think Kerry will be able to escape his ties to the special interest groups that helped him continue to get re-elected to the Senate.
Edwards is a great liberal candidate. From what I’ve read, he’s got the best stump speech going. But I don’t feel that his “Two Americas” speech will play well with many Americans. Yes, there’s outrage about the rich getting richer and getting benefits that others don’t. But most Americans don’t believe that redistributing income is a good thing. I think it’s because America has the rags-to-riches story as one of its central myths, so many Americans believe that if they work hard enough, they could be the ones on top. And they don’t want to risk their theoretical gains. Judging one’s own competence is difficult, and we experience the Lake Wobegon Effect where “all the children are above average”. So even though Edwards Southern outsider characteristics lend themselves to the general election, I think he will be too liberal for most (heck, his ads make me a bit nervous). His lack of leadership experience and non-veteran status are also big weaknesses against Bush.
Which brings me back to Clark. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Clark/Kerry ticket. Or a Clark/Edwards ticket for that matter. Both have their advantages – Kerry would bring the knowledge of how things really work in Washington, while Edwards might be enough of a bone to keep the liberal wing of the Democratic Party from defecting to Nader or candidates further to the left. Unfortunately, until Clark gets better advisors and refines his message, this is all just dreaming. Unless something unexpected happens Tuesday (and there’s still time – things shifted radically in the last 48 hours before Iowa and New Hampshire), Kerry will soon be on the express train to the nomination, especially because both Edwards and Dean have drop-dead points (Edwards said he’ll drop out if he doesn’t win South Carolina on Tuesday, and Dean’s campaign would experience a severe blow if he loses in Michigan three days later since he’s concentrating all his efforts there). After that, unless both Edwards and Dean shift their support to Clark, Kerry will be in charge. And Bush and Rove will be on their way to a Dukakis-like romp.