I must say that I like pundits who are willing to make a bold prediction. So I begin here with some praise for blogger Kevin McCullough, as he makes his case for the run by Barack Obama for the White House in 2008. However, I have evaluated the conditions and must disagree with Kevin. Senator Barack Obama will not be elected President of the United States in 2008.
Kevin bases his prediction on what he considers five essential bases for Obama, what McCullough calls “Raging Liberals”, “Disgusted Conservatives’, “Exhausted Moderates”, “Energized Blacks”, and “Gullible Evangelicals”. McCullough seems to be claiming that Obama will flim-flam his way to the Oval Office, and I must admit History warns us that politicians are quite able in that trait, and I agree that Obama possesses the sort of moral inadequacy to choose the way of the snake to get what he wants. However, I cannot agree with McCullough’s opinion that Conservatives and Evangelicals would find Obama a suitable choice; the weakness in those groups comes when they stay home out of petulance, but they do not vote for a candidate who is clearly Liberal in his politics or for a Democrat. Those groups will be in play when the Republican candidate either excites or disappoints them, but Obama will not get their vote and cannot sway them except to drive them to his opponent if he reveals himself to be extreme. As to the Liberals, no Democrat in twenty years has lacked their support, so Obama gains nothing in the General Election from them, especially as fewer people than ever consider themselves Liberals. Liberals are angrier than ever, but that does not give them extra votes, except in places like Chicago and St. Louis.
But the real problem for Obama lies in the structure of the Democratic Primaries, and the history of Presidential Elections. The first hurdles for Obama will not come from Republicans, but from other Democrats; Senator Hillary, Governor Vilsack, and all the other ‘me-make-good-President’ wanna-be’s (plus some moldy oldies, possibly including the stale but obsequious Al Gore, John Kerry, or even Joe Biden). A lot of money, planning, and energy will be spent by differing factions trying to take down the others, especially since with control of Congress in Democrat hands, a Democrat President will hold tremendous power to direct the nation as he/she/it sees fit, a tantalizing prize that will pull all the stops out. The 2004 Democratic Primaries were a knife-fight; 2008 will be fought with the heavy artillery. Barack can expect to be attacked by Democrats on everything from his short record to his middle name. Nothing is out of bounds, and below-the-belt is the preferred tactic. In years past, Democrats limited their attacks in the primaries because the presumed Republican opponent appeared strong and the Democrats needed the appearance of amity and teamwork to hope for victory, but with no dominant Republican on the horizon, the Democrats’ confidence in their advantage will blow that façade off the stage. Barack Obama has made his way through politics to this point by winning support from key constituencies and charming the media. In this respect Obama may be fairly compared to Governor Howard Dean, whose 2004 run started with a lot of media hype and early excitement, but who could not withstand the vicissitudes of the road, nor the challenges by opponents and uncertain voters demanding substance from him. The notion of Barack Obama making a presidential run is not unlike the notion of taking a Ferrari off-road through the mountains; Obama could make a good run at the Governor’s mansion, but he does not have the fortitude to try for the White House.
It would also be useful, I think, to note the general character of those men who have won the White House. Lots of people thought they had the right stuff to be President, but precious few win election to the office. First, we must consider the obvious resume credentials of prior Presidents elected to the office:
George W. Bush – Governor of Texas
Bill Clinton – Governor of Arkansas
G.H.W. Bush – Vice-President under Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan – Governor of California
Jimmy Carter – Governor of Georgia
Richard Nixon – Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower
Lyndon Johnson – Vice-President under John F. Kennedy
I think I see a trend, how about you? Now it is true that as we move further back, we see Kennedy served as a Senator but really, comparing Obama to Kennedy is more than a bit of a stretch, not the least because many of JFK’s policies would never be embraced by the modern leadership of the Democratic Party, like tax cuts and a strong defense policy. Eisenhower never held elected office before his campaign, but his work as Supreme Commander Allied Forces in World War Two was a clearly executive position with tremendous accountability and responsibility. You get the idea, I think; the public demands something more of a candidate than a claim that he can do the job, he must show some evidence that he has met such challenges before.
Next up is the matter of how weak candidates like Obama could win. Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon were able to sneak off with the White House by winning only 43% of the Popular Vote, but in both cases they faced opposing parties whose vote was split – it is fair to say that Wallace cost Humphrey the 1968 election, and Perot cost Bush his 1992 re-election. There is no evidence that the GOP vote in 2008 will be split. There simply is no historical precedent for a paper-thin candidate like Obama to build the kind of support to win the party nomination against such better-funded and deeper candidates, much less to then hope to carry a majority in the General Election – he only holds support from 17 percent of Democrats now, and while he could build that up, it would be as thin and fragile as everything else in his portfolio, with poor odds it could withstand a full season of challenge and contest.
Finally, I would remind the audience that early runs do not fare well these days, unless the candidate is a clear national favorite who is closing off potential runs by rivals. Barack Obama simply does not fit that model, not with Hillary Clinton already occupying the Donk’s pole position. If Obama is thinking about running, as we all know he is, he really needs to pull back and wait until the primaries draw much, much closer. As he stands now, all he is doing is putting a big target on himself. The problem there, of course, is that there will not be a big national push to draft Barack Obama to run, much less elect him. Obama simply has no concrete solutions to the problems most Americans think about, and his stated views and track record show him well outside the mainstream opinion on critical issues. Therefore, Obama will decide on his own to run, and probably to run fairly early, which invites disaster and a long run through the gauntlet, but all the signals from him are there. And that reminds me that I would remind the audience of one last point about political candidates: Those who listen to their own desires instead of noting the signals from the people, must inevitably fail at any great cause or purpose.