The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Primary notes

January 6, 2008

Some random thoughts on the Presidential race, filtered through the lens of multiple pain killers and a muscle relaxant:

1. Huckabee’s “horizontal” versus “vertical” politics line appears to be a very good example of multivocal signaling. It sounds, to many Americans, like another version of Obama’s rhetoric about elevating politics above partisan bickering. But it also appears to be code for a politics centered around man’s relationship to god, rather than human relationships.

2. I’ve recently come around to the view that Democrats should root for Romney. Not because he’d be easiest to defeat in the general election, but because he’s the most pragmatic and least ideological Republican contender for President. Those are the same characteristics, however, that, in McCain’s words, make him “the candidate of change.”

3. Paul’s opposition to the war and the current assault on a wide range of civil liberties should not, under any circumstances, blind otherwise sane Democrats, Republicans, and independents to the fact that he believes that placing monetary policy in the hands of congress will reduce inflation, that a return to the gold standard will solve high oil prices and rising medical costs, and any number of other assorted lunacies of the right-libertarian fringe.

4. An Obama/Clinton ticket (or, for that matter, a Clinton/Obama ticket), contra John Holbo, brings no clear benefits to the Democratic party. The lesson of Kerry’s disastrous choice of Edwards as his running mate, in my view, is that nominees should choose running mates who either (a) balance some important weakness in the Presidential nominee or (b) put a state/region in play. Politicians like Richardson, Bob Graham, Salazar, Bill Ritter and Janet Napolitano fit this bill. Richardson and Salazar are both particularly good choices given considerations involving the Hispanic vote. Mark Warner would have been perfect, but we need him running for Senate in Virginia.

For that matter, Edwards would be a terrible choice for Vice President for either Obama or Clinton. Kerry was right when he initially dismissed him as a choice because, to paraphrase, Edwards couldn’t even win reelection in North Carolina.

5. Edwards’ direct, and Obama’s more nuanced, attack on Hilary Clinton as a candidate of the “status quo” is tactically smart but strategically stupid. The Democrats should not go into 2008 suggesting that their own party represents current failures. Not only will this hurt downticket races, but it will help the Republican nominee make the case that he is also an “agent of change.” The mantra needs to be that “the status quo” = “Bush and the Republican Party.”

6. I like all of the major Democratic contenders, and would be happy with any of them as the party’s nominee. But I do find myself marginally more sympathetic to Clinton than to Obama right now, in part, I suspect, because I find myself recoiling at the implicit sexism associated with many of Obama’s supporters’ attacks on her. These are people who would, under other circumstances, be flogging anyone who accused a woman of being “shrill” or “bitchy” if she displayed passion (see, also, Kevin Drum), yet they will happily throw gender-charged epithets at Clinton. Many of Obama’s supporters also seem completely ignorant of Clinton’s early record with the Children’s Defense Fund and with the Watergate inquiry.

I also find some of the change rhetoric coming out of the opposing camp tiresome. “Special interests” are bad, but unions, abortion-rights groups, and other liberal, er, special interests are good. Lobbyists are bad, unless they support me. And so on and so forth. I also worry that all of Obama’s uplifting rhetoric isn’t going to matter for squat when the Republican attack machine comes after him. If he wins the nomination, I sure as heck hope he’s ready. On the other hand, the poor performance of the Clinton campaign in adjusting to the Iowa second-place tie doesn’t exactly reassure me about them. So, at the end of the day, I’m glad I won’t have to vote until the race is (most likely) decided or until (less likely) there’s a lot more information on the table.

That being said, I’m leaning away from Edwards. And I voted for him in the 2004 Maryland primary. I guess I liked Edwards 1.0 better than 2.0. Still, I wouldn’t shed tears if he’s the nominee.

As the intra-Democratic vitriol increases, we should remember that we have an embarrassment of riches this year. And, as my wife reminds me, I shouted up to her during the 2004 Democratic convention that she’d better “come watch, because we may be looking at the first black president of the United States.” Then I stood up, and discovered that our floating wood floor was literally floating on our basement floor. Sigh.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.