Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Games have Begun

Among the inevitable byproducts of a move and packing up nearly 40 years of accumulated possessions are the unexpected discoveries, some long forgotten possessions.  In my case, one of these was a note sized envelope addressed to a Mr. Jonathan Prinz of South 11th Street in Newark New Jersey with a return address "Executive Mansion Springfield Illinois".  Inside was a two sentence note thanking Mr. Prinz for "your understanding message" and signed Adlai E. Stevenson.  It proved two things: even a reluctant hoarder like me does keep some stuff and how long I have been a political junkie - the "Mr." Prinz was barely into High School in 1952.

It was no accident that I wrote a letter of post election condolences to the defeated Stevenson.  He was an extraordinary candidate who engendered strong intellectual and emotional support.  His speeches remain among the most memorable of American political history.  He was also seeking to succeed a President of his own party who, due in large measure to a discredited war in Korea, had sunk low in the polls.  In that context, the quality of the man or the poetry of his words was irrelevant.  The country wanted a change and they really did like Ike.  A beleaguered President presiding over an unpopular war is unlikely to be succeeded by the standard bearer of his party no matter who it may be.  That was true in 1952 and in 1968.  It will most probably be true in 2008.  In the first cases it was who the Republicans put forward that counted in those years and today it matters greatly who Democrats chose.  Without discounting electabilty - history is not absolutely destined to repeat itself and candidates can lose elections they are expected to win - the chances are that the nominee will be taking the oath in January  2009.

It's been more than two months since the Congressional election and nearly a month since power shifted on the Hill.  Remarkably, despite paying tepid lip service to bipartisanship and his acknowledgement of some power change at the beginning of his State of the Union - it would have been impossible to overlook the presence of Madam Speaker - George Bush, albeit somewhat subdued on that night, pretty much stayed the course.   Apparently reenergized in introducing David H. Petraeus a few days later, he reminded all who had any doubt that it was he (not Congress) who was "the decision maker".  I guess the "new" course boils down to words in this case his abandonment of the old "I'm the decider", formulation that made for such good talking head and Comedy Central copy.  There is something petulant in this proclamation, even childish protestation that in no way resembles Harry Truman's very grown up "the buck stops here."  It may also portend why Bush may not be treated as kindly by history as has been the man from Missouri.  In the wake of "changes" being undertaken in the Administration that, true to form, Washington wags were beginning to question the relationship between Bush and Cheney who some of the pundits would suggest has finally been marginalized.   Don't believe it.  There was an unmistakable symmetry between Bush's "decision maker" remarks and Dick Cheney's aggressive interview with Wolf Blitzer, also last week.  I'd say they remain on the same, totally out of touch, page and we should not be sanguine about it.

To distract us from the reality of two more years and the enormous power of a President indeed to make both bad and good decisions till his last moment in the oval office, the '08 campaign has moved into full swing.  I guess we should be pleased that there seems to be such a rich bench on the Democratic side.  That said and without questioning their quality as individuals, a large number of the contenders are on a vanity trip as they ask "why not me" and hope we will respond, "indeed why not?"  But we all know that only a few will remain standing and each faces a considerable challenge before uttering those fateful words, "I accept your nomination".

John Edward has been on the road almost nonstop since he and John Kerry lost the election on '06.  He remains a very attractive candidate with a commanding stage presence out on the stump.   Of course, without diminishing his talents that strength was in comparison to the wooden John Kerry.  He won't be as lucky when compared to the charismatic Barack Obama.  Edwards has disowned his early stand on the war and done so without the caveats of others in and out of the race.  That should help him, but the news down here in Orange County may not. Edwards and family, it was reported this week, is completing construction of a new home, a $6 Million place on more than 100 acres.  Now while that's serious money to put into lodgings, it wouldn't get much attention in New York or Los Angeles.  But the new Edwards home will be one of the most, if not the most, expensive houses in North Carolina.  Obviously Edwards not only has the money, he earned it, but one wonders how such extravagance plays for the populist candidate?  My guess is that it's a personal choice that may come back and bite him as he is out there associating himself biographically and otherwise with the less fortunate.  These are unforgiving times.

Hillary Clinton has been forced out of any coyness, or so it is claimed, by the emergence of Obama whose book remains atop the New York Times bestseller list.  Her great strength beyond being the #1 FOB, is that she is the first credible (translate that might actually win) woman candidate.  In that sense a lot of people, even some of us who are not that excited about her, see an opportunity to break another one of those seemingly impenetrable ceilings.  Just as it's thrilling to see Madam Speaker, it will be all the more so to say Madam President.  It is a sentiment that in the end may make a critical difference and push her through the nominating process.  The problem Senator Clinton is facing at this moment however is her long support of the war.  It may well be that some of the Senators who voted in favor of using force in Iraq did so with grave misgivings (and quickly regretted it), but I think she truly bought into the concept of ousting Saddam.  She, as former First Lady, was probably more privy to intelligence gathered during her husband's tenure and had greater conviction about the WMD threat.  While paying some lip service to the usual "if I had known then..." her issue with the war's conduct since has been largely executional not strategic.  She may never have been as hawkish as longtime Clinton friend Joe Lieberman, but she could never have been accused of being a dove.  All of that explains her present uncomfortable dance of back tracking without looking like a flip flopper and, sadly in terms of advancing women's fortunes in high office, she may not be able to pull it off.

Barack Obama, who remains my first choice, faces his own problems.  He has been consistent on the war and while not in the Senate at the time there is contemporaneous evidence to suggest that he would not have voted for it.  He did after all, contrary to advice given him at the time (as described in his book), speak out publicly against the invasion.  He remains an opponent to this day and in that regard carries none of the inconsistency baggage borne by all others except (the vanity candidate) Dennis Kucinich.  Obama's big problem remains a slim resume which allows others to suggest that he could potentially be another Bush albeit with a vastly different ideology.  The argument here is that we desperately need experience not to mention competence and we are in no position to risk a leap of faith in that regard.  Of course, the comparison with Bush is misleading for while the current incumbent in the White House came to office with no foreign policy experience, the Administration's policy was driven, especially in those days, by the most seasoned grey heads on the planet including the compliant Colin Powell.   I for one think the country is hungry for someone new and, while Obama personally may share limited experience with George Bush, he can't be accused of representing a Texas dynasty or for that matter any dynasty at all.  Regardless, this will be hotly contested race and whoever is left standing will at the very least have been tested.

I do have one personal hope this time around.  When relatives are clearing out my things some time in the future, I sure hope they don't come across some thank you letter from the defeated Democratic candidate in 2008.  We can't let that happen.

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