Convention

Yesterday, in a comment to this post by Mike Tedesco, I touched upon a topic that I think merits a little more attention; the dictates of conventional wisdom in the current race for President of the United States.

The quick hit by Mike had an unmistakable air to it.  Obama was ridiculed, largely by Hillary Clinton as well as the burgeoning growth of support by the right for her whenever she goes head to head with the freshman senator from Illinois.  This time the reason was for the irresponsibility of his claims of going into Pakistan on the precepts of “actionable intelligence” to go after top al Qaeda officials.

For some this was considered a grave infringement upon Pakistani sovreignty, while others, like myself, agreed with Obama that this was “common sense”.  Following September 11th, 2001, we knew that bin Laden was in Afghanistan, protected by the Taliban government, and while we invaded the country and unseated the terrorist harboring establishment, our efforts there were incomplete, and in the case of Osama, much of the leg work was outsourced to local warlords who somehow managed to not get the job done somehow.

Then the war on terror took us to Iraq, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The truth of the matter is this.  Our lack of focus and competence in going after al Qaeda has resulted in more than simply our persistant not catching of the terrorist mastermind.  It has also gone great lengths to destroy our credibility, particularly in the Middle East.  It doesn’t take a great deal of understanding to see this, the trip on the logic train isn’t that long.

When a nation is attacked, other nations could hardly begrudge that victimized state its right to go after its attackers.  To this degree I believe that had we kept a surgical and focused operational movement aimed solely upon Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, we would have met with very little resistance, and in fact could have received aid from other Muslims nations in the region.  Even now as we see some progress in Anbar province with Sunni’s turning on AQI, I think it’s reasonable to assume that al Qaeda does not in fact carry all the hearts and minds of that area.

Probably less so prior to Iraq.

Moderate Muslims and Arabs, like any other nation, could hardly deny us our right to capture those responsible for attacking us and bringing them to justice.  So long as we carried this action out responsibly, and left peacefully once the task was finished, it is reasonable to assume that there would be a net increase in our credibility within a region that often is found to be at odds with us.

“Oh, okay, they’re just here to get the guys that hit them.  That’s fine.  We would do the same.”

But we got sidetracked, and Iraq’d, and the result was that our credibility within the region, particularly in Iraq, has essentially hit rock bottom.  I think the only thing that could possibly make it worse is if Bush physically flew down there and went from street to street personally flipping off every single Iraqi he saw.

The point is this.  While it is possible to debate the merits of what Obama said about Pakistan, the general heart underlying his words deserved more than the ridicule it deserved.  But in this campaign, such things are not new.  No, as I’ve pointed out once before, Barack Obama is the new Al Gore.  Only this time, he’s in all likelihood not even going to make it to the general election.

Applying conventional wisdom, Hillary will win the nomination, while either Fred Thompson or Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican title of standard bearer.  What will ensue is a tough election despite the embarassingly horrid performance of the current president and the adherence of these candidates to Bush Like policies, the most notable of which their support for continued military action in Iraq.

Why these folks?  John Edwards is trying to revive the old Labor Democrats, something my friend Cernig has been kind of hoping for for a long time.  But there are pitfalls to this idea.  Labor is necessarily constructed primarily from middle America, a bloc that also happens to be particularly susceptible to two of the GOP’s more effective political mobilizations and machinations as of recent; employing TMT (Terror Management Theory) techniques to woo the “security mom” vote, and the Religious Right.

Both tools cut huge swaths particularly in the South and the Midwest of what should be considered Democrat territory in previous election cycles, and while it is admirable that Edwards is trying to finally win them back, it seems a risk that is not coming off particularly well.

You can couple this with the old “get off the couch” maxim of politics.  It’s often times not enough to get someone to agree with you.  You got to get someone inspired and emotional enough about your politics to get off the couch, head to the voting booth, and cast that vote for you.  Economy is a big issue, but it lacks the emotional punch that God does, or death does, or any other number of issues facing Americans today. 

So while Edwards is valiantly trying to make headway in old Democratic territory long since ceded to the Goppers, and Obama is getting Gored every time he opens his mouth, Hillary comes in as the most “electable”.  There is a little merit to this.  She does have the temerity to pull it off, and if Republican attack politics were going to have any kind of effect, she would have buckled ages ago.  Instead, she’s tough, and actually not afraid to call them out on the carpet for the things they do.

Couple this with the fact that she has the most capable political machine (with the exception of raw fundraising) of either party, and you have a natural born nominee.

On the other side of the aisle, what we see with both Giuliani and Thompson are fractures of the Bush administration.  They in their own way appear to be keeping parts of the Bush persona that are beneficial, while eschewing those things that are considerably undesirable.

For Rudy, this is a matter of keeping the tough talk stance of his would be predecessor, while softening that with a more socially liberal perspective.  As for Fred, he’s got the socially conservative creds as well as the tough talk, but he pares Bushes cronyism with his “outsider” image.

And in the case of both candidates, they are hoping to dodge Bush’s label of incompetence.

In a particularly fascinating read on Giuliani yesterday, I find the last most paragraph particularly chilling:

The question is whether voters have changed. Borrowing rhetoric from one of the least popular Presidents in history may backfire, even for America’s mayor. In a recent CBS poll, 46% of respondents said the war in Iraq is actually creating more terrorists. For many, though, the same words sound different when Giuliani says them. Sherie Silverman, 62, went to hear Giuliani in Rockville and left convinced that he “gets it” on terrorism. “He said what I wanted to hear,” she said. “I’m looking for a more competent version of Bush.” The crowd gave Giuliani a standing ovation.

“I’m looking for a more competent version of Bush.”  There’s not much polling data on this, nor is it likely there ever will be, but it’s an important question to ask.  With his approval ratings not merely in the toilet, but actually flushed away and into the sewer, one would think that Americans are simply fed up with everything about Bush.

It’s more than possible this isn’t true.  It misses logic.  To fully comprehend the incompetence of Bush’s legacy, one must understand that said incompetence creeps into everything he’s ever attempted.  But while the polling numbers are low, that does not necessarily mean that the public has come to the same conclusion that we who have been against this presidency from the moment it started doing really stupid things have come to.

On the contrary, the quote above, and the political stylings of both Giuliani and Thompson point to the very real possibility that a lot of those who are displeased with Bush think that the overall plans and agenda items are okay, it’s just his execution of them.  For those who pay attention, the incompetency reaches not just to the execution, but the planning as well.

But never forget my first rule of politics; being right doesn’t mean anything.

The final result is simply this.  With Hillary taking the Democratic nomination, and Giuliani or Thompson taking the Republican nomination, even though there should be no chance in hell that Republicans should even be considering a White House run, it will be close.  I think the odds favor Hillary slightly, but to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t put money on it.

And why?  Because we are going to be nominating Hillary, who only falls second to Mitt Romney as far as having the largest net negatives in the race.

I find it amazing that the DLC, the DCCC, the DNC and any other organization with a D in it seems to be all about being behind the Hillary machine.  This Democratic party organization, after all, is geared towards winning.  This is why Kerry was backed over Dean in 2004, right?  Dean was too liberal, too passionate, too scream-y.

Yeah, Dean was fiercely against Bush, and we wanted that, but he was just too much.  On the other hand, Kerry was just simply the opposite of Bush.  Where Bush was brash, Kerry was reserved.  Where Bush was simple, Kerry was intricate.  Bush barely dodged the label of “draft dodger”, Kerry served heroically.

Kerry lost.

Now, it looks like we’re on the cusp of repeating our tactical mistakes.  Despite having a significant lead over Obama in Democratic primary polling, Hillary fails to even come close to Obama’s performance in theoretical general election match ups.

What gives?  Is it because Obama is really naive?  That can’t be it, over the past couple of months Hillary and Obama have beens sparring back and forth, particularly over foreign policy issues, and time and again the only ones that seem to be coming to Hillary’s defense are… conservatives.

Maybe it’s because Hillary’s tough, and can take on Republicans, has the experience to do that.  Only Clinton can stand toe to toe with the fabled rightwing smear machine, right?  If you think that, then you haven’t been watching the debates, at least not the ones that I watch.  While now Obama has gotten in the rhythm of the national debate format, even in the early debates where he was obviously off-balance and clumsy, he still managed to outshine his opponents when faced with a direct attack.  This has only gotten better.

In fact, this is turning out to be one of Obama’s strongest assets as a candidate right now.  During the debates, he has shown an ability to quickly go into war mode, and handily defeat, regarding intellectual debate, his opponents, and his ability to come out the better in the sparring that has gone back and forth between him and Clinton lately, has only redoubled this aspect of the candidate.  He knows how to stand.

So again I ask; what gives?

It’s pretty simple.  There could be a number of answers.  As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, Hillary simply is a gifted politician, and that is reinforced by the fact that she has at her disposal one of the most efficient campaign structures today.  It could be that she IS establishment Democrat.

Whatever the case, I’m a Democrat.  Should she win the nomination, I’ll vote for her, but through it all, I can’t help but question the wisdom of the Democratic Party.  There is a wake up call in the making for the party.  It suffered in the late nineties, understandable since Republicans had the benefit of Clinton induced prosperity, and Limbaugh et al induced hate.  They suffered in the earlier part of this decade, which is understandable given the events surrounding September 11th, 2001, and the national confusion that gripped this country for the years following.  But now, at this point of time, there can be no excuse.

If Hillary loses the White House, there are going to be a lot of pissed off party faithfuls, and you bet your ass I’ll be one of them.

UPDATE: Watch the Barack Obama appearance on the Daily Show here where they actually address the challenges Obama has to deal with in the face of conventional wisdom.

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