Friday, January 04, 2008

The accidental candidate

It’s amusing to follow some of the post mortems on the Iowa primary. On the Republican side, many conservative pundits are horrified by Huckabee’s rout of Romney. I keep reading about how his victory has “set the party back.”

I’m told that he’s too religious. I find this funny since I’m well to the right of Huckabee on the theological spectrum. So it’s unintentionally entertaining to be told that I should vote for a candidate who’s to the left of Huckabee when I’m already to the right of Huckabee in this respect.

Mind you, this intramural snipping is to be expected. The GOP, like any political party, represents a coalition of special interest groups. In a coalition, no one faction expects to get everything it wants, but as long as the party delivers on enough of what each faction cares about, one faction will put up with things it doesn’t like about another faction in exchange for support on the things it does care about.

At the same time, this can be misleading, for the factions often overlap. It’s not as if the various factions have nothing in common.

In the GOP, there tends to be an asymmetry between the factions. You don’t have to be a social conservative to be a hawk or a fiscal conservative, but most social conservatives are also hawkish and fiscally conservative.

I’d hasten to add, though, that “fiscal conservative” is a rather equivocal designation. It generally has reference to tax cuts, budget cuts, and free trade. But it can be extended to laissez-faire capitalism.

There have always be country club Republicans in the GOP. These used to be the Rockefeller Republicans.

The GOP wasn’t always the party of social conservatives. That develop took place in reaction to such things as the Sixties Counterculture and Warren Court activism. This had a polarizing effect on the two parties. The GOP moved further to the right while the Democrats moved further to the left.

The current election cycle has exposed certain rifts in the GOP. County club Republicans generally support amnesty because they like all that cheap, sweat shop labor.

Due to the cultural divide within the GOP, some Republicans are blindsided by a candidate like Huckabee. Giuliani reflects the cultural values of the Upper East Side. Likewise, many “Neocons” are hawkish social liberals.

Ironically, they are now treating Huckabee’s natural constituency with the same disdain as urban and coastal elites in Hollywood and the NYT. They, too, look down on his constituency as flyover country.

What’s ironic about this is that by treating Huckabee as a country bumpkin, they play into his hands. As I recently said to a friend, Huckabee is Reynard the Fox—the fabulous folk hero who is constantly outsmarting the establishment. Every time the establishment underestimates Reynard, he outfoxes them. And the reason Reynard can outwit the establishment is that he must live by his wits. Patricians don’t need mother wit to survive, for they are coasting on their hereditary wealth and power. But this also makes them unsuspecting and slow-witted. The match-up between Romney and Huckabee is a real-life replay of an ancient literary tradition.

There is one sure-fire way for the GOP to lose in November. And that is to treat Huckabee as a threat. Someone to halt at any cost. Rally behind some compromise candidate like McCain to crush Huckabee before he’s unstoppable.

Although it’s risky to extrapolate from one primary, the turnout among the Democrats should send a message. The only way the GOP can match that turnout in the general election is to run a candidate who inspires an equally enthusiastic following. A compromise candidate or establishment candidate won’t inspire the base. If the conservative establishment succeeds in shutting Huckabee out of the race, many grass-roots Republicans will sit out the election, in which event the Democrat nominee will win by default.

The reaction to Obama has been equally amusing. Obama is the accidental candidate—twice over. It was only a fluke that he got elected to the Senate in the first place. The GOP chose to run a “moderate” Republican over a conservative candidate because the moderate was more “electable.” That was before Jack Ryan’s campaign imploded in a sex scandal. The GOP didn’t have time to recover, so Obama sailed to victory.

Likewise, I interpret Obama’s win in Iowa as simply an anti-war vote. Many Democrats have been seething over the war since even before we went to war. When Democrats won the control of Congress, the party faithful expected a Democrat Congress to end the war. The failure of the Democrat Congress to make good on its campaign promises has left many Democrats apoplectic. They’ve been spoiling for an opportunity to strike out, and they seized the moment in Iowa.

Hillary is identified with the war. She voted to authorize the war, and she has never recanted her vote. At least rhetorically speaking. Obama is the anti-war candidate.

So this has nothing to do with his talents as an orator. And, in fact, he’s not a great orator. Most white liberals don’t attend black churches because most white liberals don’t attend church, period. As a result, they’re easily swept away by the Jesse Jacksons of the world.. And Obama is obviously more eloquent than Hillary. But there are countless rural and storefront churches where you can hear more impressive oratory.

It’s also funny to here white Democrats pat themselves on the back because they voted for a black candidate. There’s a word for that: tokenism.

To begin with, it’s a typical bit of politically correct racism to classify Obama as black. In identity politics, if one parent is white while the other parent is black, that makes you black.

In addition, I keep hearing about change, but Obama is not an agent of change. There are a number of black leaders—like Thomas Sowell, Stephen Carter, Shelby Steele, and Bill Cosby—who would be genuine agents of change.

But Obama is a black man with white ideas. He’s a graduate of Harvard Law School, and he’s delivering a script which was written by white radiclibs in academia.

It reminds me of a movie review I read of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by the late James Baldwin. Stanley Kramer was a bleeding-heart liberal attempting to atone for his white guilt by making “consciousness-raising” flicks like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

He and other blue ribbon liberals like Spencer Tracy and Kate Hepburn prided themselves on these patronizing exercises in self-flattery. They saw the Sidney Poitier character through their blue-eyed paternalism.

Obama is just the stray puppy-of-the-month in the liberal quest for the next social mascot. It doesn’t do anyone any good, but it makes them feel good about themselves.



    Your pro-life pro-constitution answer.

  2. Obama is a better candidate than Clinton in some ways. He comes across as more sincere, he doesn't have the negative associations with Bill Clinton, he's a better speaker, etc. But both are significantly liberal and inexperienced. McCain has some problems, but the contrast between McCain and Obama or Clinton would be stark, especially on issues of foreign policy. Huckabee is the best communicator among all of the candidates in both parties, and he comes across as sincere, but he wouldn't be as strong as McCain on issues like national defense and foreign policy. Either one would be better than Romney or Giuliani.

    Obama hasn't been scrutinized much yet. Any of the five leading Republicans would be able to effectively criticize Obama as a liberal, which his Democratic opponents haven't been doing. Some of the Republicans, especially McCain, would also be able to effectively criticize Obama as inexperienced. Clinton and Edwards haven't been able to effectively criticize him much on issues of experience, since they don't have much experience themselves. The contrast between Obama and McCain on military and foreign policy issues would be devastating. I think that Obama currently has a lot of shallow appeal, the sort that you see at an Oprah rally and that wouldn't hold up well in next fall's debates and ad campaigns that mention mushroom clouds and Osama bin Laden. Think of the recent television ads run by McCain and Giuliani, and imagine them including references to Obama's inexperience and missteps.

    Obama is a stronger candidate than Clinton. But going up against a Republican after the Republicans have united around a candidate is much different from going up against Clinton and Edwards. It would be more difficult for Obama to speak in vague terms and give speeches like the ones he's been giving lately if he's continually being criticized and asked questions about his liberalism and inexperience. Obama isn't as weak as Clinton, but he has some significant problems that would become much more visible in the future than they are now.

    A lot of emphasis has been placed on voter disgust with the Republicans. Given the fact that the Republicans have already been punished in the 2006 election, the fact that there's so much disgust with the Democratic Congress, the fact that the Republican candidate won't be part of the Bush administration, and the fact that an individual Republican can so easily be distinguished from the party as a whole or some negative element of it, I doubt that voter disgust with the Republicans will be as much of a factor as many people are suggesting. I still think that the Republicans have the advantage as far as the presidency is concerned.