The Washington Post has a long piece in Sunday’s paper about how many inside the DNP are pushing for Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to make a run for President in 2008. Some selected quotes and my thoughts:
At age 44, the former Harvard Law School standout has little baggage. But Obama also has a scant legislative record in the Senate, where some members privately say they view him as drawn to news conferences and speeches more than to the hard details of lawmaking.
He has yet to carve out a distinctive profile on the policy and ideological debates that are central to how Democrats will position themselves in a post-Bush era.
In his stump speech, he offers a standard Democratic criticism of President Bush’s tax cuts as favoring the rich, and promotes energy independence with only modest detail about how to achieve it. Nor does he dwell on the Iraq war, assailing the administration’s handling of the conflict but not addressing such questions as a timetable for troop withdrawal.
Instead, it is almost entirely Obama’s biography, along with his gift for engaging people in large audiences and one-on-one encounters, that is driving interest.
George W. Bush’s Democratic detractors before the 2000 election often remarked that Bush didn’t have much of a political record, considering his lack of service to be a liability. Instead, it ended up proving to be an asset: Bush didn’t have much of a record to assail. We’ve seen this again and again in recent American politics: Al Gore and John Kerry both crashed and burned because their long political careers made their records easy to cherry-pick; John McCain has struggled similarly because of apparent inconsistencies in his record as well. John Roberts breezed through his SCOTUS process because he didn’t have a long judicial career to assail; Sam Alito took longer because he did have such a record [and, yes, because he was seen by most pundits as more conservative than the Justice he was replacing].
Of course, being a cipher isn’t always a salve, as the Harriet Miers debacle certainly showed. In fact, the Miers lesson may be that you have to have something of a record for people on your side to take you serious and to think that you have that ever-elusive gravitas; too much of a record gives the other side a wide array of targets of opportunity.
With that in mind, let’s also just review the facts. Below is a list of Presidents of the United States since the turn of the 20th Century. Following the name is the office held by the President at the time of his ascendancy. After that are the name and office of the major opposition candidate(s) that opposed the President in each election he won. All links are to Wikipedia so that my data can be verified.
- Theodore Roosevelt; Vice-President of the United States [VPOTUS], succeeded William McKinley upon his assassination. In 1904, Roosevelt won a second term, defeating Alton B. Parker (chief judge of New York Court of Appeals).
- William Howard Taft (Secretary of War). Defeated William Jennings Bryan (perennial Presidential election loser) in 1908.
- Woodrow Wilson (Governor, New Jersey) defeated the two previous POTUSes in 1912, a quite interesting electoral cycle. In 1916, Wilson won re-election, defeating Charles Evans Hughes (Associate Justice, SCOTUS).
- Warren G. Harding (Senator, Ohio) defeated James M. Cox (newspaper publisher) in 1920.
- Calvin Coolidge (VPOTUS) succeeded Harding after his death. In 1924, Coolidge was re-elected, defeating John W. Davis, who had served in the House (W.Va.) and as Ambassador to the UK in the years leading up to his nomination.
- Herbert Hoover (Commerce Secretary) defeated Alfred E. Smith (Governor, New York) in 1928.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (Governor, New York; he succeeded Smith as both Governor and Democratic party candidate) defeated the incumbent Hoover in 1932. Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon (Governor, Kansas) in 1936, Wendell Willkie (never held political office) in 1940, and defeated Thomas E. Dewey (Governor, New York) in 1944.
- Harry S. Truman (VPOTUS) became President after FDR died in office, then famously defeated Dewey (still Governor) in 1948, thanks to the second-most famous rush-to-print in Presidential election history (supplanted by the Bush-Gore Florida debacle) courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.
- 1952 saw Dwight D. Eisenhower (President, Columbia University; okay, so he was best known as a war hero) defeated Adlai Stevenson (Governor of Illinois). The pair squared off again in 1956, with Eisenhower winning again.
- John F. Kennedy (Senator, Massachusetts) defeated Richard M. Nixon (VPOTUS) in 1960.
- Lyndon B. Johnson (VPOTUS) succeeded JFK after his assassination [if you’ve read this far, you know that! ;)]. In 1964, LBJ famously defeated Barry Goldwater (Senator, Arizona).
- Nixon (then a lawyer in NYC after losing both to JFK in 1960 and a gubernatorial race in 1962) defeated Hubert H. Humphrey (VPOTUS) and George C. Wallace (husband of puppet Governor Lurleen Wallace; gotta love Alabama politics!) in 1968. 1972 saw Nixon win re-election over George McGovern (Senator, South Dakota).
- Gerald R. Ford (VPOTUS) succeeded Nixon after his resignation.
- Ford lost re-election in 1976 to Jimmy Carter (Governor, Georgia).
- Carter lost to Ronald Reagan (famous for being Governor of California, although his term had ended five years previous; I can’t find what his active job was at time of election) in 1980. In 1984, Reagan demolished Walter Mondale (practicing lawyer at time of election; previously a Senator from Minnesota and Carter’s VPOTUS).
- George H.W. Bush (VPOTUS) defeated Michael Dukakis (Governor, Massachusetts) in 1988.
- In 1992, Bill Clinton (Governor, Arkansas) defeated the incumbent Bush and H. Ross Perot (businessman, unintentional comedian, and all around crazy ma’afala). In 1996, Clinton won re-election over Bob Dole (Senator, Kansas).
- 2000 saw Gore (VPOTUS) lose to W (Governor). And yes, we all know that Bush defeated Kerry (Senator) in 2004.
The point of all that exercise is to hammer this point home: Senators fare extremely poorly in Presidential elections since the turn of the 20th Century. Harding and JFK are the only winners; both were Senators only briefly. Far more often in the list above do you see Senators losing a bid for POTUS.
Obama said he wishes reporters and others would pay more attention to his work that helped Illinois veterans receive larger disability benefits, and his legislation encouraging alternative fuels. But he said he understands that “there’s a certain story line that attaches to each celebrity. . . . My story line is: ‘Rising star comes to D.C. and how quickly will D.C. corrupt him?’ ”
He praised Clinton’s approach to Congress and prominence. “One of the things that both Hillary and I recognize is that we are conferred a huge advantage by virtue of our notoriety,” he said. “We don’t really have to chase the cameras.”
Both Obama and Clinton seem to have taken a tack of chasing targets of political opportunity, addressing pressing political concerns in a fairly mainstream manner.
What (Sen. Edward) Kennedy (D-Mass.) viewed as a coup, however, was seen as showy overreaching by some Republicans. They complained that in private negotiations Obama seemed more interested in his pet amendments than in the need for an overarching, filibuster-proof compromise.
Such reproaches are bound to increase with Obama’s visibility, and the potential danger of moving too far, too fast “is certainly something that I think he thinks about,” Kennedy said. “On the other hand, there is enormous thirst within the Democratic Party, within the country, to have new directions, new solutions, new ideas.” Kennedy said he doesn’t know Obama well enough to counsel him on whether to run in 2008.
But some grass-roots Democrats are ready. “I think he’s spectacular,” said ophthalmologist David Victor after hearing Obama speak at a Boston rally. “Barack Obama represents the heart and soul of the party, the real future of the party.”
And here’s the free advice: Obama has sizzle. He has charisma, name recognition, and star power. He’s still young (just 44). If the Democrats want Obama to become POTUS, they need to have him swap jobs with Rod Blagojevich. Obviously, Blagojevich is seeking re-election; even if he wins, it would make sense for him to become Senator in 2010, when Obama’s first term will be up. The pair can swap jobs, campaign together, etc. The rising tide would seem to life both boats: Blagojevich seems to be the activist type of Governor who can make the successful jump to being a Senator, and Obama is the kind of politician with the appeal to successfully campaign for Governor without any executive experience.
Now, why have I spent over an hour writing all this down? Am I not the same person who’s voted for Bush both times? Yes. In both cases, I never felt like I knew what the Democrat stood for: Gore seemed to want to be Clinton when he wasn’t, and Kerry was only running as the anti-Bush. I learned after 1996 that voting for an anti-candidate wasn’t something I’d want to do. [Because it’s now Monday as I finish typing this, I can safely say that I’d re-do that vote if I could and would vote for another four years of Clinton. I’d never write that on Father’s Day, though. ;)] But just as I want two good candidates for Governor here in Alabama, I want two good candidates for President. I think time as Governor would be good for Obama: he’d learn to govern from the middle and would experience first-hand the pain of being a legislative leader with no vote. Obama in 2012 or 2016 is something I’d really be interested in seeing.
Similarly, my advice to the DNP is to have a Governor run in 2008 [Tim Kaine would be a good choice to appeal to your base; I don’t really like the guy, but I might vote for him] rather than the quite obvious Sen. Clinton. Again, Senators make great Vice-Presidents-who-become-President and lousy Presidential candidates. Hillary has an amazing amount of political baggage, stuff that would make George C. Wallace look like a blank sheet of paper. [At least Hillary isn’t a racist sonofabitch like Wallace was before he found God.] Candidate Clinton seems like an idea doomed to fail from the start: tons of baggage, a long-enough political record to assail [yes, she would have served the same amount of time in the Senate as JFK had, but … come on, folks], and … well, she’s a woman, and there’s just a lot of folks who presumably aren’t real sure about a woman as President.
Anyhow, some political thoughts from me. I’ve probably pissed off most everyone who reads IJSM with this, so … time to don the asbestos flamesuit!