There's a real danger here for the left who, so long out of power, are ready to jump on whichever train looks likeliest to pull into the White House on time. That may (or may not) be a good strategy for returning to power. But throwing your lot in with the smoothest talker and hoping for the best once he achieves power is a terrible method for building a movement, or popularizing ideas. The left needs to set up incentives so presidential contenders to pledge fealty to their priorities -- their support should be contingent on ideological agreement, and should never precede it. As other have remarked, when David Brooks and Joe Klein both throw their weight behind a putatively "liberal' cause or candidate, smart leftists will look for the catch.
The statement I've put in bold is right on the money, if the objective is to build a movement that sustains itself over a number of national elections. And it seems like it's a bit too early for any contender to make such pledges.
I'm less impressed with the remarks about David Brooks and Joe Klein--you win elections by building coalitions. Why push them away? The same sentiment is evident in Bob Herbert's column today:
The giddiness surrounding the Obama phenomenon seems to be an old-fashioned mixture of fun, excitement and a great deal of hope. His smile is electric, and when he laughs people tend to laugh with him. He’s the kind of politician who makes people feel good.
But the giddiness is crying out for a reality check. There’s a reason why so many Republicans are saying nice things about Mr. Obama, and urging him to run. They would like nothing more than for the Democrats to nominate a candidate in 2008 who has a very slender résumé, very little experience in national politics, hardly any in foreign policy — and who also happens to be black.
The Republicans may be in deep trouble, but they believe they could pretty easily put together a ticket that would chew up Barack Obama in 2008.
My feeling is that Senator Obama may well be the real deal. If I were advising him, I would tell him not to move too fast. With a few more years in the Senate, possibly with a powerful committee chairmanship if the Democrats take control, he could build a formidable record and develop the kind of toughness and savvy that are essential in the ugly and brutal combat of a presidential campaign.
There's something good here, and something silly. The good point is the part about a limited track record at the national level being susceptible to challenge. That's actually what the political process is supposed to challenge. The silly part is the notion that sticking around in the Senate is the way to fix that. Outsourced to Senator Durbin (via Frank Rich's column):
There’s no reason to rush that decision now, but it’s a no-brainer. Of course he should run, assuming his family is on the same page. He’s 45, not 30, and his slender résumé in public office (which also includes seven years as a state senator) should be no more of an impediment to him than it was to the White House’s current occupant. As his Illinois colleague Dick Durbin told The Chicago Tribune last week, “I said to him, ‘Do you really think sticking around the Senate for four more years and casting a thousand more votes will make you more qualified for president?’ ” Instead, such added experience is more likely to transform an unusually eloquent writer, speaker and public servant into another windbag like Joe Biden.
Exactly. There has been no one since JFK to move from the Senate to the Presidency. Every President since has either been a current or former Vice President or a governor. In this era, there needs to be some record of achievement (of whatever quality) in the executive branch of a government in order to campaign successfully for President. Look at John Kerry's bid for President in 2004--three terms in the Senate and essentially nothing to show for it during the campaign.
So my advice to Obama would be to make a spirited campaign in 2008, talking about big issues and running it squeaky clean. If it works in the primaries, keep it up. If it doesn't, settle for VP nominee in 2008 if that's offered (hard to imagine it wouldn't be). If that doesn't work out, he can get back in the game in 2012 or 2016, but it's not clear he would be in any better shape, just a longer serving Senator. The lesson from history would be to challenge for the governorship of Illinois in 2010 rather than another term in the Senate.