Why ’08 Is Making Dems Nervous
Wednesday - August 08, 2007
So I’m in the Maui airport recently and I run into an old friend active in the Hawaii Democratic Party. We exchange pleasantries, and then he asks me what I think of the Democrats’ presidential contest.
I hem. Then I haw. “I like all the Democrats,” says I. “But with either of their two front-runners, Hillary or Obama, the Dems would be asking the voters to do something they’ve never done before: Elect a woman or an African American to the presidency. I’m not sure they’ll do it. The Democrats may lose despite all that Bush has done to wound the Republicans.”
Says my friend, a touch of impatience in his voice: “You sound just like Dan Inouye.”
Now I haven’t lived many days of my life when I minded sounding like Dan Inouye. Still my airport friend has an argument: that the country needs a new politics led by younger men and women who could see the idiocy of Iraq before we invaded, who believe we should talk to Venezuelan presidents no matter how great our differences with them, and who seek a politics of reap-proachment between red and blue America.
He’s given his campaign contributions to Punahou grad Obama and is chairing a campaign fund-raiser for the Illinois senator in September.
So a couple days after my airport conversation, I’m walking down Waimano Home Road in Pearl City. I’m about to cross the entrance to Pearl City Shopping Center parking lot when a huge, gas-guzzling, polar-ice-cap-melting SUV cuts me off.
It’s a former student of mine, a history major. He’s a military dependent, a veteran himself, and an African American who recently completed a long research paper on the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King.
“Who do you like among the Democrats?” he asks.
I, of course, hem. Then haw. “I’m for John Edwards,” says my African American former student. “You know and I know that white America will not elect Obama,” he says. “And male America will not elect Hillary. Edwards reminds me of Lyndon Johnson. He’s a smart trial lawyer. He should go after rich business executives in this country who are doing us all in. He’s proven in his private life he knows how to do it.”
So I’m at a dinner party and a woman lawyer there says, definitively, “Neither Clinton nor Obama can win.”
I, once again, hem and haw. Maybe they can’t. But then again ... (He hems. He haws.) A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has Hillary Clinton beating the Republican front-runner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 47 to 41. Obama also beats him, 45-40. And Clinton beats Giuliani and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg 42-34-11.
So what are the Democrats worried about? And why do I continue to hem and haw? Why are Democrats as jittery about their front-runners as a man on a 72-hour, caffeine-only diet?
Call it the Karl Rove factor. Or the Democrats’ own long record of muffing slam dunks.
Let’s start with the Democrats themselves. In both 2000 and 2004, the Democrats ran candidates who were both more experienced and more knowledgeable than Bush. But both Al Gore and John Kerry were duller than newsprint on which you’re reading this - men who were, because of their own personality deficits, difficult to love.
Hillary, it seems to me, has the same problem. She’s just not warm and fuzzy. Hillary has husband Bill’s same powerful intellect, but she possesses none of his engaging personality.
Obama, on the other hand, overflows with it; but he is also an African American in a country that remains overwhelmingly white. Sadly, race still counts for far too much in this country; and, despite Obama’s haole mother from Kansas, too many Americans look at him and see only his African father.
Then there’s the Rove factor. Rove is a combination of a sanitized Rush Limbaugh and muffled Ann Coulter, but he builds the same variety of political improvised explosive devices, using anything at hand to destroy an opponent’s campaign. He’ll “Swift boat” you or out a CIA agent, if need be. And the Dems still haven’t figured out how to respond to him.
So Democrats, no matter the comforting poll numbers, will continue to quake - and I to hem and haw.
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