Saturday, November 24, 2007



Until very recently, I was convinced that there was no way the Democrats could lose this election; given the hash President Bush has made of the country, I might have gone so far that we were on the precipice of a new Democrat era, akin to the Roosevelt/Truman years.

However, for a number of reasons, I am starting to think that there is a possibility that the Democrats, famous for fumbling favorable situations, could wind up losing this one.

First, despite some recent minor stumbles, it still looks like Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. As I have said before, given the compression of the primary calendar, the premium placed on money and organization is even greater, perhaps far greater, in 2008 than it has been in past elections. Even an early stumble in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or any combination thereof (still far from a certain, even likely, outcome) will probably not result in Clinton’s losing the nomination. The big primaries on February 5 come too quickly for the early states to give their winners much of a boost, especially in fundraising; the money for the big fights will be in the bank long before the outcomes of the early states are known.

The problem for the Democrats is that if Clinton wins the nomination, the Dems will have forfeited their biggest advantage in this election: a clear alternative to George Bush on foreign policy, and especially in Iraq. Clinton, apparently assuming that the nomination is sewn up, has been sprinting to the center, which normally would be good politics in a country with a largely centrist electorate. However, she has been running hardest to the center in the one policy in which she should be staying as far “left” as possible: Iraq. Despite what the Democrats are trying to convince themselves of, they did not win big in 2006, and are not ahead in the polls in 2008, because people are clamoring for a 21st century version of the New Deal. The Democrats won in 2006 and are ahead in 2008 because people are repulsed by the Iraq war and the ruinous Bush foreign policy. Simply put, they want someone to get us out of Iraq. That someone is not Hillary Clinton. She has consistently hemmed and hawed on this issue, as she has on any number of others, in an attempt to bravely go in the direction of least political resistance.

Anybody who wins the Republican nomination, and it is starting to look like Giuliani, will win by pledging to the GOP primary electorate undying fealty to the foreign policy, Iraq, Iran, the whole shebang, of the Bush administration. None of the potential GOP nominees has the political skill, or the chutzpah, to do anything like a 180 on this issue once he wins the nomination. The best the Republicans can do is to point out, and correctly so, that they may be in favor of continuing the carnage in Iraq, but so are the Democrats. This will be remarkably easy if (when) Clinton is the nominee. After all, if one excludes Lieberman from consideration, it would be hard to find a Democratic senator who was more enthusiastic about the Iraq invasion than was Clinton. Furthermore, Clinton cannot constantly tell us how experienced and wise in the ways of Washington she is while at the same time arguing that she didn’t realize that the Iran resolution, which she recently voted for, was little more than a green light for George Bush to have his way in the former Persia.

Without a clear differentiation on the issue that will really count in 2008, the election will come down to personalities. With Clinton as their nominee, the Democrats will have a big problem in this department. Those who call Hillary Clinton polarizing are being charitable. If a person is polarizing, by definition she has large numbers of people who love her and large numbers of people who hate her. In the case of Hillary Clinton, she surely has large numbers of people who hate her and, curiously, fear her (See my earlier entry “An Inordinate Fear of Hillaryism.”), but the number of people who love her is dwindling as she deserts her base on the left in an attempt to seize the center from the Republicans. She is going to unite the disparate Republican constituencies behind the GOP nominee like no other Democratic nominee. Meanwhile, many of the true believers in the Democratic Party will be resentful of her apparent desertion of them on any number of issues, but especially on Iraq, and the great political center, with no clear choice on Iraq, will be put off by her, well, “Hillariness.”

A Democratic loss is by no means a foregone conclusion; a careful gambler who is not given odds would surely bet that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and the presidency. And if the economy goes into the tank between now and election day (Regular readers of the Insightful Pontificator are well aware that I think this is a very distinct possibility.), Mike Gravel could be elected president as long as he kept the “D” after his name. But the legendary, and much clich├ęd, Democratic tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory might just be rearing its head once again.

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