( – promoted by Patrick)
Are the Democrats overestimating the amount of anti-GOP sentiment in the country?
Reading through some of the comments on washingtonpost.com’s political blogs “The Trail” and “The Fix”, I notice that a number of self-identified Democrats seem to believe that their party’s victory in ’08 is a fait accompli. They triumphantly declare that George W. Bush has disfigured the public face of the GOP, branding the party as the home of excess spending and unnecessary war. These Democrats seem to believe that it’s just a matter of waiting until November 4, 2008 for the “party” to begin.
Not so fast.
If either Barack Obama or John Edwards captures the nomination, then such confidence is somewhat justified. I’ve always believed that Edwards could do better in the South and West as a general-election Democrat candidate than some Republicans might think. As for Obama, I think all of us who assumed that Deval Patrick would ultimately be conquered in last November’s gubernatorial election should know better than to underestimate the national electorate’s desire for symbolic change.
However, if Hillary Clinton becomes the Democrat nominee, nothing can be assumed. The election will become a race between the baggage of the 1990s and the baggage of the 2000s.
It can be argued that there is just as much anti-Clinton sentiment in the country as there is anti-Bush sentiment. Even those who despise Bush must know that the folks who couldn’t stand Bill and Hillary years ago still can’t stand them today.
Democrats believe that the voters have had enough of Republican “incompetence” in the White House because of Dubya’s mistakes. However, they may be assuming that everyone thought the Clinton Administration was “competent.” Bill Clinton certainly wasn’t on the ball when it came to fighting terrorism, doing next to nothing to confront those who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers in 1996, and the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Perhaps if Clinton had done to terrorists what he did to Republicans during the 1990s, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole would not have happened, to say nothing of 9/11.
Clinton wasn’t the abject failure Jimmy Carter was, but he arguably accomplished less during his eight years in office than John F. Kennedy accomplished in three. Those who regard the 1990s as a golden age for the country will naturally vote for Hillary Clinton–but how many of those voters really exist?
Not that I want to give Democrats any ideas, but it would be much harder for the GOP to defeat Edwards or Obama than it would be to defeat Clinton. Let’s face it: only hardcore Republicans hate Edwards. Non-partisan Americans would find the guy appealing, his life story compelling, his family interesting; let us not forget that he was one-half of a Democrat ticket that received 59 million votes. I find Edwards’ “Two Americas” rhetoric to be shameless class warfare, but if he received the Democrat nomination, he could in theory receive a majority of the vote.
The same goes for Obama. Does anyone think the average voter really cares about his lack of experience? Heck, they might even see that as an asset, reasoning that his lack of experience means he’s not a hack. How could the GOP run against Obama without being accused of the same things Kerry Healey was accused of in her race against Patrick last year? It would be extremely difficult to run a negative campaign against Obama; in fact, the GOP wouldn’t have the “audacity” to do so. Couple that with his tremendous charisma, and he too could theoretically conquer the GOP.
However, Clinton is at bottom a retread candidate and a symbolic incumbent. The same folks who rejected Gore in 2000 won’t all of a sudden embrace her in ’08. The same voters who loathed John Kerry because he reminded them of the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s will harbor the same contempt for Clinton. It will turn into a hate vs. hate election–and it’s risky for the Democrats to assume that anti-Bush hatred will automatically be larger than anti-Clinton hatred by the time the election rolls around.
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and Democrats seem to enjoy crossing it. No member of the unpopular Bush Administration will be on the ballot next year; Democrats will symbolically try to place Bush and his administration’s actions on the ballot, but that dog might not hunt, so to speak. Assuming that voters want to go back to the ’90s just because they dislike the ’00s is an unwise move–but the Democrats just might make that move anyway.