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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

All right Democrats brace yourselves!

You are at a crossroads, as reported by the good folks over at the
American Prospect, when you can sink or swim. The House may be yours for the taking and who knows what else? However, its not important to kid yourselves. This is about much more than the House in 2006. This is about how what happens in 2006 will predict what happens in 2008. Accordingly, its time for the eye on the presidency to start viewing things more circumspectly.
The right-of-center paper of record is now
reporting with some certainty who will face-off in the showdown to become the 2008 Democratic Party standard bearer. As the article notes:
In recent weeks, he has been on the covers of
Vanity Fair, Wired (its headline: "The Resurrection of Al Gore") and American
Prospect, a liberal Democratic magazine. Defeated politically, he nonetheless
makes Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people; Mr. Gore is
featured under the headings "Heroes and Pioneers" and "America Takes a Fresh
Look at 'Ozone Man'" -- the derisive nickname coined by the first President Bush
in 1992 after Mr. Gore's previous environmental book, "Earth in the Balance,"
came out.
So the geniuses of the American political commentariat are looking at Gore as the leading Anti-Hillary candidate in the race, just as the establishment begins to question whether all of what used to attract them to the junior Senator from New York
is being destroyed by her advisors. Notes Washington Post columnist and renowned blogger Markos Moulitsas: "the New York senator is part of a failed Democratic Party establishment led by her husband that enabled the George W. Bush presidency and the Republican majorities, and all the havoc they have wreaked at home and abroad."

Back to Gore, the WSJ article recognizes the clear advantage Gore holds over other potential Anti-Hillary types:

Mr. Gore, who turns 60 in 2008, could remain
noncommittal and enter the presidential fray late, given his fame and
fund-raising potential -- unlike lesser-known Democrats already stumping in the
early-nominating states to be the Clinton alternative, such as former Sen. John
Edwards of North Carolina, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Iowa Gov. Tom
Vilsack, and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh. If Mr. Gore ran -- or were drafted, as Ms.
David suggests -- the longtime Washingtonian would run as an outsider, Democrats
expect, helped along by his relationship with Internet-savvy
Al Gore's story doesnt raise my interest purely because of its impact on 2008. Rather, its starting to infect my imagination because I realize that Ive heard this story before or rather, I'm listening to it play out each day as I commute to work. However, the name I continue to hear in the role of the protagonist is not Al Gore, but
Richard Milhous Nixon.

Nixon in 1968 = Gore in 2000.

The similarities begin to add up and suggest something interesting is in the making.
Wikipedia notes, "Nixon reinvented the office of Vice President. Although he had no formal power, he had the attention of the media and the Republican party. He demonstrated for the first time that the office could be a springboard to the White House; most Vice Presidents since have followed his lead and sought the presidency."

Similarly, Wikipedia notes that Gore was "one of the most active and influential Vice Presidents in U.S. history," and used this role to wrap-up the 2000 Democratic Presidential nomination early.

And the similarities keep coming. Nixon
served in the Navy during World War II, working as a supply officer in the South Pacific in the theater, but not on the front lines. Gore served in Vietnam, working on the front lines but as a military journalist rather than an infantryman. Both leveraged their military service to win election to Congress at any early age. Gore was elected at 28 in 1976, whereas Nixon reached the house at 35 in 1946. Gore served three House terms before winning election to the Senate in 1984, where he served until he joined the Clinton Administration as Vice President in 1993. Nixon served two terms in the House before joining the Eisenhower ticket as Vice President in 1952.

However, the important similarities lie in the way each politician career evolved after first chosen by the party to run for President. Both lost close elections and thereafter watched dramatic policy sea changes rack the country in the wake of their losses

1960, Nixon lost to Kennedy by 303-219 electoral votes but by just over 120,000 popular votes with nearly 69 million voting (two-tenths of one percent). While the debates focused on foreign policy and a referendum of sorts on the Eisenhower administration's view of America's role in global politics, the domestic issues were viewed among academics as a national referendum on the role government should play in improving American society's shortcomings. Nixon lost, and the Kennedy-Johnson New Frontier/Great Society forged Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps, Job Corps, Head Start, and the modern environmental protection code into the American social framework.

2000, Gore lost to Bush by 271-266 electoral votes but received more than 500,000 more popular votes than Bush of the 105.4 million who voted nationwide (1/2 of one percent). The public debate focused on President Clinton's indiscretions and any relationship they might have had with what conservatives viewed as declining national morality and character. However, the real difference between the candidates laid in their perception of the government's role in regulating business, protecting the environment, and providing health care safety nets for the old and the poor.

Gore lost, and Bush
forged three tax cuts, gutted Medicaid appropriations, threatened to re-shape the Social Security retirement program, suffocated public education through unfunded No Child Left Behind mandates, systematically undercut the web of environmental protections (a Healthy Forests Initiative that dramatically increases logging of public forests; a Clear Skies Initiative, that increases the amount of pollution industries can release into the air; a move to open the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling; an end to American participation in the Kyoto Protocol and the global warming discussion; etc.), and otherwise helped water down the New Deal/Great Society legacy by pushing New Federalism and/or Constitution in Exile movement into the American social framework.

Yet, neither ran for president in the following election cycle, instead, to steal the words of Mike Tyson,
fading into Bolivian for the next four years. In the absence of both, their parties underwent self-destructive battles between the extreme wings and the moderate wings.

In the case of the 1964 Republicans, extremist Barry Goldwater defeated the moderate Nelson Rockefeller, leaving many eastern Republicans to support President Johnson on his path toward his near sweep of the electoral college. Nixon nominated and campaigned for Goldwater after the nomination, but never to the detriment of his relationship with the middle. In 2004, Gore was nary to be seen, either. Like Nixon, he sided with the non-centrist candidate in the primaries Howard Dean. Unlike Nixon, his guy lost, so his role in the campaign was marginal at best. He spoke of the importance of counting votes at the Convention, but did little else from there on out.

Between 1964 and 1968, Nixon maintained that he wasn't running for the 1968 nomination until late in the game, instead focusing on the mid-term Congressional elections. He attacked the Johnson administration on Vietnam policy and for failing to attend to the needs of the silent majority the American middle class while catering to the poor and minorities.

So too, between 2004 and the present, Gore has maintained a not running for president stance, while taking center stage as an issue guy, attacking the administration for failures on global warming and environmental policy generally. Bush is vulnerable for pursuing a rudderless Iraq policy, and failing to attend to the needs of the middle class due to its catering to the rich and industry.

Nixon's strength revealed itself after the 1966 mid-term elections due to his media blitz and world tour as the unelected leader of the opposition, yet while publicly maintaining his disinterest in the 1968 nomination until late 1967.

Gore stands to undergo a media blitz in the summer of 2006 and a national tour on the heels of the Hollywood release of
An Inconvenient Truth. This will position him as the unelected leader of the opposition, and permit him the exalted position of being able to attack the President and Congressional Republicans without fear of reprisal. His likely opponents each must reconcile any of their public comments with any business they hope to achieve in their elected roles foremostly, Hillary, Kerry, Bayh, Edwards, and Warner in the Senate.

The May issue of Wired has a
cover story that states in the wake of the 2000 election and his disappearance from the political radar screen:

Gore started traveling the country again, tentatively feeling out campaign
donors and testing his political viability before select audiences, it soon
became clear that his heart was no longer in the hunt. In late September 2001,
Gore was scheduled to address an influential gathering of Democrats in Iowa. He
had planned to signal his interest in the 2004 race. But after the September 11
attacks, he tore up the speech and instead called for national unity.

Over the next few months, Gore turned away from politics, Tipper says, and
shouldered as his "ministry" the campaign against global warming. He went back
to work on the climate-change slide show he had been giving since he was a
junior congressman in the late '70s .
The Wired piece further recognizes that "These days, Gore speaks with a verve and conviction that were often sorely absent during his political days."

I won't say that Nixon spoke without verve or conviction when he ran in 1960, but clearly, he spoke with the handicap of having to defend the prevailing presidential situation as the anointed successor to Eisenhower. In 1968, he had no such ties and bore the freedom to attack, which is universally recognized to be the way in which he most effectively exercised his power.

Gore, it might be worth noting, had to run while
this cover story appeared on newsstands. It foreshadowed difficulties Gore might face in campaigning as the defender rather than the attacker. As James Fallows wrote:

Al Gore is the most lethal debater in politics, a ruthless combatant who will
say whatever it takes to win, and who leaves opponents not just beaten but
brutalized. But Gore is no natural-born killer. He studied hard to become the
man he is today.

Debate has also been the medium in which Al Gore has displayed
the least attractive aspects of his campaigning style: aggressiveness turning
into brutality, a willingness to bend the rules and stretch the truth if
necessary. A generation ago Gore was a divinity student who said he was repelled
by the harsh realities of politics. Now he is the political combatant most
likely to leave his opponents feeling not just defeated but battered.

Of course, Mr. Fallows meant it in a bad way, whereas I cite these points as evidence that Gore, like Nixon, might succeed more fully when the shackles of defending the administration are gone. Who else in the 20th Century but Nixon (or maybe LBJ) would yield such descriptions as these? Nixon won because he lambasted Humphrey as LBJ's stooge, despite Humphrey's inner intention to stop the war as soon as he was inaugurated.

NEWSFLASH: Amidst all of my googling, never did the simplest idea pop into my head: Google Compare Nixon Gore. Sure enough, some other savvy feller seems to have
noted what to me is now so obvious. More interestingly is that this columnist goes back to the same work of Stephen A. Ambrose that got me to thinking about this: Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972. As the columnist notes:

Stephen Ambrose, Nixon's biographer, dismissed the false modesty: "He had
never thought of himself as finished. ... Neither Lincoln nor Machiavelli could
have plotted a campaign for him more successful than the one he directed

Moreover, Ambrose described how, in 1962, reporters made an important
misjudgment, one brought on by their own sense of self-importance, when they
took Nixon at his word. So it may be with Gore, a man who says he's not a
candidate, a man who, in the past, could out-stiff Nixon, but who, in private,
remains friendlier and funnier and possibly just as resilient as Nixon.

And speaking of Richard Lerner, Tufts University guy who is pushing a Gore candidacy, the columnist notes:

One more point in his favor. As Lerner writes, Other candidates, more well known
perhaps, may be simply unelectable because of their divisive or polarizing
position within the current political landscape. Presumably, that's code for
Hillary Clinton. Other than Hillary, Gore is the only potential candidate who
can claim direct lineage to the better angels of Bill Clinton's presidency.

And that, perhaps, is what were talking about more than anything. If we accept the thesis of Stephen Skowronek that eras of American constitutional identity are cyclical, we may already be reaching the end of the Reagan New Federalism trip. The ideas of Bill Clinton provided an insight into the coming reconstruction and repudiation of New Federalism, and any such repudiation will include some of those ideas in its recipe.

Without belaboring the
Skowronek point too much, the idea is that each Constitutional era (The Founding, Jacksonian Democracy, Reconstruction/the Lochner era, the New Deal/Great Society, and New Federalism) came to be through the revolutionary leadership of a single president (Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan), was articulated by one or more ensuing presidents (e.g. Adams, Polk, T. Roosevelt, L BJ, and GW Bush), suffered a collapse on the watch on some unsuspecting technocrat (J.Q. Adams, Pierce, Hoover, Carter, and ???), and might have been derailed by the efforts of a preemptive hold-over/precursor from the countervailing set of Constitutional ideals (Wilson, Nixon, and Clinton).

Skowronek recently confirmed Bush II's identity not only as an articulator of the Reagan view, but the articulator in his article, "The Orthodox Innovator." He explained this view in a discussion with NPR
here. The longer article about which he speaks is here.

Oddly enough, as Bush's articulation goes too far, he begins to fall apart in much the same way LBJ's program fell apart in 1967-68. Both were haunted by external forces (Iraq and Katrina = Vietnam and Civil Unrest) and suffered breakdowns within their ranks questioning how their parties should identify themselves.

More interestingly, the LBJ comparison to Bush raises the next question who will come out as the GOP guy in 2008? Will it be the anointed successor of Bush (as Humphrey was to LBJ) and therefore, suffer from the ties to the administrations policies? Or, will it be the maverick anti-party guy? And if the latter, from which direction?

Humphrey had to fend off McCarthy as the anti-war guy on the left AND Wallace as the ant-civil rights guy on the right. Will Bush's chosen one suffer from McCain-type sniping from the center as well as attacks from the right? This and much, much more in the coming year and a half. Presidential politics: Its


Blogger B said...

As I said before, you lost me at "all right democrats"

9:37 PM


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