Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hillary as Hoover

A perceptive observation on the Democratic race from Mark Daniels:

But to understand why Hillary Clinton is likely to lose her race for the Democratic nomination, you need look no further than to her speech in El Paso tonight. Striving to energize her campaign and make an Alamo stand in Texas, the senator from New York spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of true believers.

But even if you agree with Clinton's positions on the many issues on which she touched this evening, at her best, she is what I call a "laundry list" candidate. Her speech was a laundry list of concerns and campaign promises.

Laundry list candidates may have superior knowledge of the issues. They may be right on those issues. They may even have experience on their side. There are some years, when all seems to be going well, that laundry list candidates, some of whom are policy wonks while others are management technocrats and still others are mere panderers, are just what the American people want in a president.

But in times of crisis, laundry list candidates or laundry list presidents won't do.

In 1980, with hostages being held in Iran and the country slogging through an unprecedented economic miasma called stagflation, people took little comfort in having Jimmy Carter in the White House. Carter was a competent and undeniably good man, a master of details who at one time even micromanaged use of the White House tennis courts. That's why Ronald Reagan, a seemingly simple man who knew how to connect with people at a human level, beat Carter.

In 1992, George H.W. Bush sought re-election after having won the Persian Gulf War, at one point enjoying a 90% approval rating. But when the economy went into the doldrums, Bush, the president probably most knowledgeable of the inner workings of the federal government since Dwight Eisenhower, got beaten by a young upstart from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who, like Reagan, connected with people and could, when he avoided his penchant for verbosity, make the English language sing.

Worth thinking about. And sort of jibes with some thing I've been writing recently about the irrationality of this whole voting business.

How odd that liberal democracy, which represents supposedly the practical application of rational enlightenment political principles, is so stuffed with hunch, charm, and knack.

In the old days, when democracy was a limited franchise, self-interest polluted it. You had a narrow class of players who knew where their self-interest lay. That's why, as de Tocqueville noticed, Americans in 1831 were more focused on local elections than national ones. That was cynical, but still rational, on the whole.

In less than a decade, elections were dominated by the witch-hunting anti-Masons and the embarassing "Tip and Ty" nonsense. Since then, everyone has joined the voting game, and federal government has insinuated into everything, I suspect most voters have no clear indication of where their self-interest stands among the candidates. We vote with what's left in our heads. Or we don't vote at all.