Monday, November 21, 2011

Dumb Idea of the Day


In today's Wall Street Journal, Democratic pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen call on US President Barack Obama to forgo a re-election campaign and step aside in favor of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Their arguments for the proposition are preposterous. Let's have a look.

When Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson accepted the reality that they could not effectively govern the nation if they sought re-election to the White House, both men took the moral high ground and decided against running for a new term as president. President Obama is facing a similar reality—and he must reach the same conclusion.

Neither Truman nor Johnson stepped down because they anticipated an inability to "effectively govern" if re-elected. Both withdrew their re-election bids only after it became clear that they had a tough row to hoe to get re-elected, and possibly even to get re-nominated.

Truman withdrew after Estes Kefauver beat him in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, and after Dwight D. Eisenhower won the Republican primary in that same state as a write-in candidate. At that point, re-nomination seemed difficult and general election victory impossible. So he got out.

Johnson withdrew after Eugene McCarthy polled 42% to Johnson's 49% in New Hampshire, and moreover, due to better organization in that state, captured 20 of the its 24 convention delegates, and after Robert F. Kennedy entered the ring. Running weak as an incumbent versus an insurgent in the Granite State, LBJ knew damn well that the popular brother of a popular, recently assassinated president would clean his clock in the nomination campaign. So he got out.

As much as I like to think that Darcy Richardson -- who, as it happens, was Eugene McCarthy's 1988 campaign manager (and for whom I hope to do a little volunteer campaign work) -- can give Obama a New Hampshire surprise, it's premature to suggest that Obama is anything short of unstoppable for re-nomination absent several things that haven't happened yet.

Truman and LBJ bowed out after opponents of stature made the first move. Caddell and Schoen are asking Obama to get on his knees for Hillary Clinton without requiring her to first kick him in the nuts.

Caddell and Schoen:

President Obama is now neck and neck with a generic Republican challenger in the latest Real Clear Politics 2012 General Election Average (43.8%-43.%).

An interesting number, except for one thing: "Generic Republican Challenger" isn't on any GOP primary ballot. In polls, voters tend to put the face of their preferred candidate on "Generic Republican Challenger," and are therefore more prone to support him or her. But the actual candidate will be a real person, and there's a very good chance that that real person will not look anything like most voters' imaginary "Generic Republican Challenger." The real candidate will alienate, or at least fail to energize/mobilize, a number of people who indicated an intent to vote generic Republican.

At this point in time, it doesn't look like the GOP is set to nominate anyone who might seriously contest the 2012 presidential election.

Truman especially, but also LBJ, bowed out in the face of likely general election defeat if re-nominated. Caddell and Schoen are asking Obama to forgo likely victory, not likely defeat.

Caddell and Schoen:

He should step aside for the one candidate who would become, by acclamation, the nominee of the Democratic Party: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

I don't know what planet Caddell and Schoen live on, but the idea that Clinton -- who lost the 2008 Democratic primaries to, um, Barack Obama -- could become the Democratic nominee "by acclamation" or anything close on this planet is just plain silly.

The same party fragmentations that hurt Obama -- the chasm between the Democratic Party's "left" and "right" wings -- are multiplied with respect to Clinton, who has a much longer and more distinquished record as a foreign policy hawk, a waffling "centrist," and a backroom dirty-dealer. She was unable to defeat the junior US Senator from Illinois in 2008, but now she'd be nominated by acclamation to replace that same guy, now the sitting President of the United States? Put down the crack pipe.

Obama standing aside for Clinton may not be dumbest political idea I've ever heard, but it certainly makes the short list.

Read more about this dumb idea at memeorandum.

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