Jonathan Chait says No to Hillary, Screaming Howard and Lurch in 2008

November 26, 2004

Democrats, obviously, are thinking ahead to 2008. Other than their sense of anger, alienation and displacement, it’s the only thing that will get them through — politically speaking. In the Los Angeles Times this morning, Jonathan Chait argues against the nomination of the big three as of right now: Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean and John Kerry. His take on Hillary is particularly interesting.

As for Howard Dean, Chait correctly argues that Dean is a mistake because he fires up the Democratic base and only the base, which isn’t enough to win the election, and Dean’s secularism won’t play well in an electorate deeply concerned over “cultural” issues. Chait also contends that Dean’s ability to fire up the base was inconsequential since the base was already fired up.

That may be true, but the spirits of even a fired up base can be diminished by an uninspiring candidate like John Kerry. The base we’re talking about here, folks, is largely the antiwar crowd. Despite Kerry’s many “winks and nods,” the base was probably never really secure in their hope that Kerry would carry their antiwar water when he was promising, essentially, to do just the opposite.

I think Chait’s better point is that the agitated antiwar base isn’t large enough. Circumstances could cause that to change by 2008. On the other hand — though much less likely — the Democratic base could be driven less by antiwar sentiments in 2008 if the War on Terror is in a lull. Like I said, I don’t see that happening for years, though. What he didn’t say, and which I think is more relevant, is that Dean was perceived as unstable — a hothead, a flake. You are simply not going to become president with that reputation. Swing voters, security moms, centrists, moderates — whatever you want to call them — will be afraid to vote for the occasional maniac.

Chait is also correct that Kerry would be a disaster in 2008. Who knows, by that time Kerry might even be forced, by the continuous rise of the New Media, to sign form 180 to release his military records. That would end his dreams. Beyond that, Kerry was always a default candidate running on an ever-uncertain, shifting platform whose only common denominator was his narcissistic desire to become president — not for what he could do for the country, but for what he could do for John Kerry.

But it is Chait’s assessment of Hillary I find most interesting. She’s their great white hope at this point. But, as Chait points out, she isn’t charismatic, and her single accomplishment is to have won a senate race in an extremely liberal state, “where she ran six percentage points behind Al Gore.” Chait, in responding to the claim that Hillary’s not as liberal as people think, says:

That’s exactly the problem. I can see the logic behind nominating a liberal whom voters see as moderate. Nominating a moderate whom voters see as liberal is kind of backward, isn’t it?

I don’t see it that way. To me, her problem is that she is every bit as liberal as people believe/fear she is and is only pretending not to be to position herself. So she represents the worst of all worlds: an extreme liberal — a quasi-socialist actually — and a fraud. Like John Kerry, she simply won’t be candid about who she is. Will she be wearing a Yankees Cap in 2008 or one with a U.S. Flag?

But Chait is correct that Hillary’s no Bible-thumper, despite her pronouncements of late. Her bragging about being an evangelic Christian reminds me of John Kerry’s boasting about his “heroic” Vietnam War record. Neither seemed appropriate and neither rang true — in large part because they both obviously felt the need to broadcast their credentials.

If not Hillary, who will the Dems nominate? They sure are swooning over Barrack Obama. But it’s way too early to tell. Following the 2000 election who would have ever thought John Kerry would be their nominee?