Thinking about '08: Playing Pundit for Fun, No Profit

When Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean in 2004 right before Dean's campaign imploded, taking $40 million with it, everyone treated Gore as if he had gone even crazier--what with growing a beard, pointing out that Iraq was a mistake and George W. Bush was a liar. My thought was that Gore was positioning himself for 2008. Hillary was already remaking herself as the DLC candidate and Gore was fitting into his role as the candidate. Those were the party's two national power bases, and their strength varies from region to region, but they both produce money and Moveon produces money and volunteers. (I am using these two organizations as a short hand for all of the organizations they represent. Another way to do it would be "Establishment" and "Insurgency.")

If both Gore and Hillary do run for the presidency, I still think that's the way the race will shake out. With these two heavyweights in the race, there will be no "oxygen"--i.e. money and media attention--for anyone to cut-in on this meta-and mega-grudge match.

If Hillary runs and Gore does not--as seems most likely today--then the race is all about being the un-or anti-Hillary. Since she has so much money, organization, her husband, and about a third of the party sown up, if all the other candidates divide up the opposition and the "electable" vote, then it's already over. Mark Warner is the favorite of the professionals right now, but he is new, untested and unknown outside the beltway. He may be terrific but he'd better be really terrific if he wants to have a chance, particularly given his lack of appeal to the netroots beause of his hawkishness on Iraq. Ditto, nearly, Joe Biden. He certainly has impressive support among Sunday talk-show hosts and bookers, but that, as far as I can tell, is it.

If you look at who is best placed to emerge in Un-Hillary role, then right now, it's gotta be John Edwards. Edwards is quietly running a brilliant strategic campaign. He has a message "optimistic populism" that resonates with the middle of the country and appeals to the netroots. He has deepened his connection to labor in a way no other candidate has, which means a ton in terms of GOTV operations, and he is acceptable to both the Moveon--he apologized for his Iraq vote--and DLC wings--he made the vote in the first place--though he is neither's favorite. Yes he was a massive disappointment as the VP nomination, but most Democrats accept the excuse that everything about that election was John Kerry's fault., which, by the way, makes his candidacy hopeless and a little sad, however well-financed. Most important perhaps, the primary calendar was written as if by an Edwards staffer. First comes Iowa, where they loved him in the first place, and where he always seems to be. Next comes Nevada, where Hillary is not going to appeal, and after that, South Carolina.  By the time we get to New Hampshire, he already has the un-Hillary role locked up and then it becomes a battle over "electability." 

Sadly, for Edwards and for common sense, the biggest question is whether he looks old enough. Last time around he looked to be barely 30. People need to be reassured by a candidate's face since for many of them, that's all the information they need to know to chose their favorite. Edwards needs to start dying his hair a little gray and have some plastic surgery to add a few lines to his face. Maybe he should hire Nora Ephron as an aging consultant. Alas, I'm not kidding.

One candidate I've left out of this calculation because I don't know where he fits in is Wes Clark. I dropped by a Clark event out here at the beach over the weekend, and I was mighty impressed. He was articulated and moving and had a strong grasp on the issues as well as the kind of requisite personal charisma one needs to do this kind of thing. He made a few mistakes, however--I can't describe them because the event was not really open to the press; I was there as a friend of someone else; and these are the kind of gaffes that can cause a candidate real trouble. Clark's problem last time--in addition to not being ready as a politician--was lacking the kind of organization that could keep him within the bounds of the mindless media discourse so that saying something a little complex would not rebound against him. I wonder if that's still a problem. I also wonder if he's running. I do think he'd make a fine president and his relationship with his fellow soldiers and veterans who have been so viciously abused by this administration--would go a long way toward healing some of the wounds Bush has opened up in this country.

But again, where's the oxygen? As I see it, he's competing with Edwards. With Gore out of the race, Feingold is going to get the lefty activist support, even though Clark was quite good on the war, and he probably deserves it. So if Feingold gets out early and endorses someone that could make a big difference. So could Gore's endorsement if he doesn't run. Clark could be there as the un-Hillary if Edwards implodes--or as the Hillary if decides not to run--but right now, it's hard to see how it works. (And in the extremely unlikely event that Obama gets in the race, ignore all of the above.)

Now, to Connecticut. It's really too bad that Lamont did not trounce Lieberman and thereby strengthen his Democratic friends' arguments that he not act a spoiler. It was a healthy thing to tell the Establishment that they do not speak for voters, particularly on the war--and a healthy thing to tell Democratic representatives that only so much betrayal can be tolerated, and Lieberman was well over the line. So good triumphed there, for once, but not by enough for comfort. Now that there's going to be a real race in Connecticut, political professionals have to decide where their priorities lie. If Lieberman wins and keeps his word to his Democratic supporters by remaining part of the Democratic caucus then it really doesn't matter so much who the senator from Connecticut is. What matters is who controls the House and the Senate.

And possibly, there is no conflict between those two priorities. But Connecticut is an extremely expensive state. If you think money is infinitely expandable in an election, then fine; the same people who give to the DSCC and DCCC will also give to Lamont and nothing has been lost. Popular Democrats will stop by Connecticut and Moveon will raise some money for advertisements, but not at the expense of the close races elsewhere. The argument for this being the case was the fact that Dean blew $40 million on his campaign but that didn't hurt Kerry's fundraising one bit. George W. Bush is the Democrats' greatest fundraiser ever, and he's still there.  But this may be wishful thinking, and if resources grow scarce, than I think, even Ned's strongest supporters would have to agree that they need to be allocated in a way that does the greatest good for the country.

While we're on the topic of Lieberman/Lamont, this being the Internets, a great deal has already been written about Chuck Roberts amazing assertion that Lamont was the candidate of Al-Qaida. On CNN's "Reliable Sources over the weekend, our girl Arianna got to the proverbial meat of the issue, when she told Mr. Conflict of Interest, "I mean, you had your own headline anchorman, Chuck Roberts, describe Lamont as the al Qaeda candidate. This is an equally deceitful, fraudulent, fabricated statement. There should be zero tolerance for all those deceits, whether in images or words." Kurtz, who is after all, paid by the people whom Arianna is trying to hold accountable, does his best to wimp out of the controversy wihtout angering his bosses:

KURTZ: "Well, what Chuck Roberts said, according to the transcript, was that some are calling Ned Lamont the al Qaeda candidate. But it's certainly not a formulation I would have used." But the woman is indefatigible. She comes back at Mr. Conflict.

HUFFINGTON: "You cannot find a single person who called Lamont the al Qaeda candidate, except Chuck Roberts. And what have been the consequences when it comes to Chuck Roberts? Has he been demoted to be covering Paris Hilton or entertainment news?"

There are two points here, lest they get lost in focusing on the egregious stupidity of Mr. Roberts. The first is that journalists can, and do, say anything they want about someone and refuse to take responsibility for it, by putting in the words "some people" or stating it in the passive voice. If I wrote, "some people say Chuck Roberts is a chicken-molesting axe murderer" it would be just as true as the statement he made on CNN. But because the right-wing controls the airwaves, these slanders are almost always directed at liberals. The second point is that there is little or no accountability in the media, save for the blogosphere--which is one reason the MSM is so invested in calling everyone in the blogosphere ipso facto, lunatic. Here we have a rare example of someone demanding accountability from the network that allowed this slander to take place on that very network, but only because Arianna is the kind of celebrity that appeals to Howie and his producers. And yet even in an example this egregious, Mr. Conflict can not even bring himself to agree. Some media cop. Some media. anyway, Arianna is here and David Brock's letter to CNN is here.

Still in Connecticut, I happened upon perhaps the dumbest sentence of the year: Liberman "lost because Barbra Streisand's highly publicized contribution to Lamont." Hey "Newsweek Rabbi Marc Gellman," maybe you should stick to theology.

Lord help him, it gets worse: "if you asked me to explain why Jews did not vote for Joe the way blacks voted for Barack Obama..." Um, Rabbi dude, the same blacks who voted for Obama deserted the um, black Alan Keyes. There was no white candidate in the race] ..or Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy I would not know what to tell you. [Um, Rabbi dude, one more time, that was 46 years ago. In the last election, Catholics went for the non-Catholic candidate George W. Bush over the Catholic candidate John F. Kerry by a small plurality. Is your editor at the Vineyard or is he perhaps a secret anti-Semite who is enjoying this?]

Most amazing sentence yet: "So he supports the war. So what?" Really what is one to say? "So what?" About this war? This Rabbi is arguing that Jews should put Israel's interests ahead of America's, up to and including getting their fellow citizens killed for no good reason. This is not even "dual loyalty." It is disloyalty and thank God, if you'll excuse me bubbela, that most American Jews have the good sense to ignore you.  And Newsweek, perhaps it's time to find a new rabbi. .

"There are fewer more devoted adherents to that strain of American foreign-policy thinking than Lieberman himself. Call this perspective what you like -- puerile, misguided, even paranoid -- but don't call it strong on defense." Excellent piece by TNR editor Spencer Ackerman here  (I wonder why it's not in the "proudly schizophrenic" TNR, don't you? Maybe I should ask my rabbi...)

Quotes of the Day: "Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work.""

What happens when a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago reads a book by Ann Coulter.