You’ve gotta hand it to the Democrats — they sure know how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And, conversely, you’ve gotta hand it to the Republicans — they’ve managed to nominate the one candidate who can reach out to independents and Democrats, and win in November.
For months to come, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will be locked in a real-time celebrity death match, a fight that will grow in passion and nastiness every week, until a winner finally emerges.
But will the prize be worth the battle? Probably not, especially if Clinton prevails.
Consider the cold facts. Hillary, despite her many virtues, is not simply opposed, but despised by 40 percent of all voters. Her candidacy will bring out the Republican base in force, despite conservative objections to McCain.
The millions of young voters energized by Obama’s candidacy will be angry, dispirited and unavailable.
November’s election, which should have been a “gimme” for the Dems given the abysmal performance of the Bush administration, might instead give the GOP a wholly unexpected opportunity to regroup and reassemble a lasting coalition.
As president, McCain wouldn’t be obligated to any particular segment of the party and could govern from the center, as every successful president has done. Like Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower, he’d staff his administration with competent, non-ideological men and women, and ignore the noisy ideologues whose policies so crippled the last administration.
But if Obama is the Democratic nominee, this might be an historic election — and not entirely because of his race. By nominating Obama, even if he fails to defeat McCain, the Democrats will recreate themselves as the party of the future.
By embracing both generational and ethnic change in America, they’ll eventually prevail.
Companies whose markets consist principally of over-50 consumers inexorably lose market share as their customers die (think daily newspapers), and the same may be true of political parties.
During 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt swept into office in the depths of the Great Depression, propelled by a coalition of voters that would remain intact for almost 40 years. That coalition included labor, blacks, Hispanics, southern whites, traditional liberals, farmers and white collar workers.
It endured until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fractured the always-strained alliance between urban liberals, blacks and southern whites, opening the door to the GOP’s so-called southern strategy. In a decade, Southern states shifted to the Republican column, and the GOP began a long period of ascendancy.
Republican success might have initially been aided by covert racism, but it was sustained by ideas that were more congenial to a majority of Americans than the ossified liberalism of the Democrats. Lower taxes, less regulation, and an assertive foreign policy appealed to Americans in the final decades of the 20th century.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the success of economic liberalization in countries as disparate as England, China and India, Reaganism seemed permanently ascendant. Bill Clinton, the only Democratic president to serve more than one term since Roosevelt, succeeded by co-opting Republican initiatives about welfare reform and trade. His sole attempt at a New Deal-style program, Hillary’s health care reform initiative, failed disastrously.
It’s tempting to dismiss Obamania as an aberration, a social phenomenon like the first U.S. tour of the Beatles, no more substantial than a series of rock concerts. As Richard Lamm, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention said “You kinda have to feel sorry for Hillary — she’s trying to conduct a job interview, and Obama’s on a date.”
But this date might yet end up as an enduring marriage. If Obama wins, it will give him an opportunity to reforge the New Deal coalition and make Democrats the ruling party for decades.
Roosevelt and Reagan both built long-lived coalitions not by exploiting divisions, but by making government work for the people who elected them. FDR brought thousands of smart, dedicated, mostly young people to Washington, and encouraged them to radically reshape the federal government. He transformed a passive, laissez-faire bureaucracy that seemed indifferent to the country’s devastating economic crisis into a creative force dedicated to improving people’s lives.
Reagan’s actions mirrored Roosevelt’s — but instead of adding layers of bureaucracy, he dismantled them. Instead of soaking the rich, he empowered entrepreneurs by implementing business-friendly policies that helped propel the Dow from a low of 581 during 1981 to more than 10,000 20 years later.
Like FDR, Obama needs to bring idealistic young people into government and replace incompetent hacks with capable public servants. And like Reagan, he needs to tailor domestic and foreign policies to the temper of the times. .
Post-Iraq, it will mean a government more actively engaged in the mundane domestic issues that affect lives and pocketbooks; water in the West, the credit/mortgage crises, declining fisheries and decaying infrastructure.
Can he do it?
We’ll see — but first he’d have to beat John McCain, and that won’t be easy. Just ask Rudy, or Mitt, or Fred, or Ron Paul, or…what was the name of the guy who ate squirrels?
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.