December 19, 2006
John Fund summarizes some of the reasons why Barack Obama might not run in 2008. This is really the biggest political strategy question of the year: should he run?
There are a number of reasons why Obama should run:
1. Seize the moment. Obama could run and win; his popularity is sky-high right now. For presidential candidates, like college athletes who could go at the top of the NFL or NBA draft, the usual rule of thumb is, if you can do it now, do it now. The moment may not come this way again.
2. The short trail. Obama's record in 2 years in the Senate and in the Illinois Legislature is one of unvarnished liberalism. The longer he stays in the Senate the longer that rap sheet will be. Better to run now while he can still create some uncertainty as to what he stands for. Relatedly, Obama will lose some of his "fresh face" appeal the longer he remains in DC.
3. The map. The red states that went for Bush in 2000 gained electoral votes in the 2000 census, placing Bush in a slightly more favorable position in 2004. That will happen again by 2012. That's not to say it's impossible for Democrats to break the GOP's hold in those states (in some of them it looks rather tenuous after 2006), but the most reliable blue states are shrinking and the most reliable red states are growing.
4. The GOP field. To avoid running too closely associated with Bush, two of the stronger GOP candidates (Jeb Bush and Condi Rice, who may match up especially well with Obama) will sit out 2008 (although it's not impossible that Secretary Rice could get a VP nod). That leaves a GOP field that isn't exciting the conservative base, and the likelihood that Republicans could nominate either a candidate some Republicans might stay home for against a non-Hillary opponent (McCain or Giuliani) or a guy with as little experience as Obama (Romney), or that the party could splinter with a third party run, the best hope for Democrats who have won a national majority just twice since FDR died.
5. Bush fatigue. 2008 is the end of Eight tumultuous years of GOP control of the White House. The political stars may not favor the Democrats as much by 2012 or 2016, especially if Hillary wins this one and especially if Obama runs with the baggage of an 8-year Clinton Administration and the associated scandals that comes with that (ask Al Gore).
That said, there are also persuasive reasons to sit out 2008:
1. Obama's color. No, not black - green. This is Fund's main point. We've had an astonishing proliferation recently of candidates who either never ran for public office (Wesley Clark), have yet to finish a term in statewide office (Obama) or served just one term and didn't run for re-election (Romney, Edwards, Mark Warner). (This would be an issue for Rice as well, but Rice has been in the national spotlight as perhaps the President's closest foreign policy adviser for six years of war, so she's more like Eisenhower in 1952). Such candidates are often better served by adding a VP run or a term in the Cabinet or something before trying for the big job. Indeed, the general consensus is that Obama's best bet may be to run as Hillary's running mate.
2. Hillary! John Edwards may have forgotten quite how rough the Clintons play against members of their own party, but as Fund points out, Obama lost his first race for federal office against a candidate endorsed by Bill Clinton. Does Obama really want to be painted as the man who is against strong women in public life, who wants to deny little girls everywhere the role model of the first female president? (Yes, you know Maureen Dowd, Anna Quindlen, Margaret Carlson and Eleanor Clift already have those columns written). Is he ready for how nasty that race will be? Would he rather line up behind the Hillary bandwagon and assure himself a similar coronation by a unified party in later years?
3. The Pelosi Factor. This is more of a wild card, since we don't really know how long the Democrats will be in power, but there are plenty of reasons to think that the Democrats will take all sorts of counterproductive steps the next two years. Obama may be better served waiting for Pelosi to leave the Speaker's chair and the old Class of 1974 Democrats to leave office, and perhaps run against a Republican Congress down the road.
4. Iraq. Yes, Iraq and the War on Terror will still be a significant issue in 2008. Perhaps, in years to come, less so. Obama's conspicuous lack of experience or interest in foreign affairs could be less of a liability in less tranquil times.
If I had to guess, I'd say Obama will ride the groundswell for a while, and bow out of the race on terms that make it hard for the nominee to resist putting him on the ticket. But we shall see.
Candidates who wait for the perfect moment never become President. If Obama actually wants the job, he'll run.
Good piece, Crank. Excellent points about the electoral vote map, and the go-for-it-now factor.
But I can't agree that his legacy is one of unvarnished liberalism. He strikes me, and many of my ilk, as a centrist/DLC Democrat. I know his support for the Bankruptcy Reform Act lost him some support from the left side of center.
And, while I admire your lack of cynicism, I have to think that there are still many Americans who wouldn't vote for a Black man (or woman) for President.
I wish everyone thought as you do, but I fear that they don't.
If Obama's best answer to the "you're a liberal" charge is that he voted for the bankruptcy bill, he's a liberal. I credit him for not using harsh left-wing rhetoric, but you can have a straight-ticket liberal voting record without sounding like Maxine Waters or Howard Dean.
If Obama's best answer to the "you're a liberal" charge is that he voted for the bankruptcy bill, he's a liberal.
LOL. I doubt Barak would argue. He seems willing to position himself as one. Maybe not in 2012 (and maybe not in 2008), but right now America seems as willing as in a long tme to embrace someone who leans left.
For me, I'd rather have a ticket made up from the Edwards/Dean/Clark trio.
You make it sound terrible that the Clintons play to win. IS it OK when Karl Rove does?
It looks like the far right is beginning to disintegrate. Episcopal churches that pair up with someone who wants to make it illegal for gays to sit in a restaurant and eat will fragment the right even more. Sounds like what happened to the left years ago. History repeats itself because people don't change much.
Realistically, Obama does have to contend with a country that has to decide whether to not to vote for a black man. He will face far more than what Ford faced in Tennessee. Hillary is not going to get a huge chunk of the right wing vote no matter what she does; should any democrat court that vote, he/she will lose the rest. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are probably the most viable candidates out there for the Democrats; the Republican candidate will have to decide whether or not to mortgage his soul for the extreme right wing. Frankly, I think the country is swinging toward a centrist mode.
Rosenblatt's comments are dead on. The country is shifting centrist. In our party, Macaca and Sam Brownback are dead in the water, and the Tom Tancredo bandwagon is, well, going nowhere. The main candidates remain Giuliani, McCain, and Mitt Romney.
Romney has made some stupid mistakes by going after the Macaca vote and doing some gay bashing. That's yesterday's news in my party. Democrats get awfully comfortable calling us an extreme rightwing party that will nominate some Elmer Gantry candidate then lose to Hillary. Yet if you look at our polling, consistently since 2005, the big dogs in the polls have always been Rudy, McCain, and Rice-center right Republicans. Macaca had a boomlet, then Jim Webb killed him.
Which, believe me, pleased a lot of people in the GOP. Webb kept a lot of Pioneers from wasting their money on Macaca's football jokes.
What scares a lot of you is that the Rethuglicans could actually nominate Rudy. Rudy will run the table with Hillary, but could have problems with Obambi if the young man has some unexpected substance to him. One of the more humorous things we saw was the spastic fax release that came out of Howard Dean's shop the day that Rudy set up his exploratory committee, bashing Rudy. It was nothing but an expression of pure fear, and led to much joy over at Giuliani's Italian Social Club.
In short, you're banking on Republicans going purist and nominating a member of the Hitlerjugend so Hillary or Obambi can have an easy time of it. We're not that stupid. We have good advisors who can read polling, too. We know what Fred and Martha want, and they don't want to talk about gay marriage and abortion.
If we decide, in the primary process, that we actually want to win the national election, then we'll nominate a winner, like Rudy. He'll pick Condi or Jeb as the VP and that will be the end of it. The X factor is Obambi. We don't really know what he's made of. If he's a cipher, he'll be exposed as such. If he's the second coming of JFK, Hillary will get her ass blown out of the water, because none of you, and I do mean none of you either like her or trust her, and will never, ever go to the well for her.
But you would go to well for Obambi. That's something that Hillary will never, ever have. She's manipulated too many people for too long to earn any trust from any of you folks, anyway.
I see some faulty logic running rampant here. First of all, red states gaining population and electoral votes doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to stay red states. States like New Mexico and Arizona have traditionally been red states, but the population that they are gaining is pushing them closer to the blue column. Once again I really enjoy when conservatives use the word "liberal" to describe "progressive" as you do so eloquently here. Obama has a very progressive voting record in his career, and he has been in the minority party his entire career in both state and national legislatures. I think that the next 12 months will tell us a lot about what his true mind may be, but after reading both his books I have a feeling he's going to be a lot closer to center left than people in the GOP would like to think. I still don't think this would be a good time for him to run, considering the Clinton money-machine he'd be up against, but he's run underfunded campaigns before and done very well so who knows what's going through his mind right now. I get the feeling that maybe he's going to stay in the race long enough to put his stamp on it and then bow out accordingly before the polls and primarys start to beat his name down.
If you define "progressive" as something other than "new name for the policies previously known as liberal," please explain the definition by reference to issues on which progressives differ from liberals.