January 19, 2004

Some Very Strong and Fast Horses

The Decembrist has a very nice piece talking about how good the Democratic field of presidential candidates is (with the exception of Kerry, whom the Decembrist does not think has sufficient loyalty downwards). I concur. I think all of those near the front of the pack are of the quality to be a very good president--comparing them to the judgment, compassion, and initiative of George W. Bush, one can only gibber about comparisions between Seabiscuit and War Admiral on the one hand to Elmo the banana slug on the other.

He also wonders--as do I--why our press corps is so lousy. One possible answer is that they cover the wrong thing: they cover the candidates, and so have to pretend that whatever the candidates are doing that day matters a great deal. But it doesn't the real story is how the voters--primary voters, general election voters, and then Supreme Court "voters"--decide who they are going to vote for. And that's not a story the press corps covers.

The Decembrist: New Year/New Election: "It's amazing how sure political pundits seem of their predictions, and then how much they think it's news when their predictions -- which are almost always a straight line from the present -- turn out not to be true. "Crystal Ball Gets Cloudy" is the headline on today's Times story -- but doesn't that just mean that the crystal ball was cloudy all along? That's like saying, "I used to know exactly what was going to happen in 2004, but now I don't." In fact, you never did.

I think Jeff Jarvis's analysis, which is basically that the voters coming into the game now are not as motivated by hatred of Bush, but want a more substantive message, is basically right. (Which is not to say they don't hate Bush or that the Democrat should hold back on criticizing Bush -- it's just that their feelings about Bush are not strong enough by themselves to motivate them out of their La-z-boys the year before the election.)... The most salutary thing about the recent polls is the rise, at last, of John Edwards. It was always a mystery why Edwards didn't seem to be catching on. He's an appealing person, good biography, he speaks English, his economic policy and his way of talking about taxes has been the smartest and most creative in the race, and he has certainly stood up to Bush. Edwards is well-organized. For example, in New York, only he and Dean have pulled off the difficult task of fielding full delegate slates in all jurisdictions, which is probably also a tribute to his state co-chair, Bill DeBlasio.... What I particularly admire now about Edwards is how he didn't flinch in the face of the Dean bubble and his own struggle. He just kept at it, and stuck to his message, which is really about economic opportunity for those left behind....

Clark's run a superb campaign, especially for having never done anything like it before.... Like Edwards, he'll make a great general election candidate and a fine president. Kerry's reemergence I don't really get at all. I don't think he has a message, he's never seemed to have any driving passion, and I think he's showed sides of his character -- such as gratuitously insulting fired former staffers who had been devoting 18-hour days to his ambition -- that are enormously unappealing. But others obviously see him in other ways.

I think we're heading into a period where it will become apparent that there are a number of strong and appealing Democratic candidates in the race -- it's a far stronger field than in 1988 or even 1992 -- and their competition will, up to a point, be to the benefit of the eventual nominee.

Posted by DeLong at January 19, 2004 09:23 AM | TrackBack

Comments

"how good the Democratic field of presidential candidates is ... I concur."

Really? Even with Richard Gephardt, sworn enemy of NAFTA? Even with Howard Dean, who now spends his time bashing what was perhaps the greatest achievement of the administration in which you served?

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on January 19, 2004 11:36 AM

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I'd agree with Abiola to the extent that we should leave Gephardt out of it. But Dean, Clark, Kerry, and Edwards are all good candidates. Now if they would just not criticize each other too much, then Democrats might really have a decent chance in November.

Posted by: Andrew Boucher on January 19, 2004 12:22 PM

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No, let them bash each other ... hard.

The winner won't come out bloodied, but battle-hardened. Whatever the Dems dish out will be creampuffs compared to the mud Rove & Co. will slilng. Ideally, every weak point should be hashed out NOW so that the voting public has tired of that issue by the fall.

Posted by: Oreo on January 19, 2004 12:32 PM

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Ezra Klein has some relevant observations about the press over at Pandagon.

http://www.pandagon.net/mtarchives/000656.html

Posted by: Tom DC/VA on January 19, 2004 01:38 PM

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Well, here's a picture of your top nag having a little problem with a "supporter":

http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=6031

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on January 19, 2004 02:44 PM

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I know Sammy the Banana Slug (from UCSC), but who's Elmo?

Posted by: Kimon on January 19, 2004 05:53 PM

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I don't quite understand why he does not like Kerry. The winner has to govern, not just get elected. Of the group Kerry and Gephardt have the most legislative experience. It looks like Kerry and Edwards coming out of Iowa. Bad news for Gephardt and Dean.

Posted by: bakho on January 19, 2004 06:59 PM

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So Abiola, tell us what miracles NAFTA hath wrought that we should stake Dick Gephardt out on the border and let the semis roll over him.

Posted by: Eli Rabett on January 19, 2004 08:07 PM

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I think Decembrist misses the point. It wasn't the predictions of the press corps that mattered (I write now after the Iowa results are in), but the coverage. Dean's wife was an issue, thanks the New York Times; his "personality" was an issue, thanks the W. Post, the Times, and others; and his policies were not, outside his "angry" denunciations of the War in Iraq. These were the themes that dominated the media chatter when folks did come round to making choices.

Posted by: R wells on January 19, 2004 08:08 PM

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The Decembrist: "Clark's run a superb campaign, especially for having never done anything like it before.... Like Edwards, he'll make a great general election candidate and a fine president."

As a non-liberal who wouldn't mind a Dem winning in 2004 (I like gridlock, thought that Bush's tax cuts were ridiculous, and think that many subtle but good things will come from a Dem having to now be responsible for foreign policy), I thought TD made pretty good points, except for this one. If the Dems are going to use (even passively) the issue of the war, Clark has not only been inconsistent in his position, but he is rather an obvious symbol of Dem hypocrisy - that so many of the arguments being used against Bush in Iraq apply equally well, but were never made, about Kosovo. Clark, not Dean, has gotta be Rove's true dream candidate.... (Just my lame opinion, I admit).

R.Wells: "Dean's wife was an issue, thanks the New York Times; his "personality" was an issue, thanks the W. Post, the Times, and others; and his policies were not, outside his "angry" denunciations of the War in Iraq. These were the themes that dominated the media chatter when folks did come round to making choices."

Well, the perception I've had, not being a Dem partisan, is that Dean's anger has been key to his appeal. And that he hasn't been hiding it. If this perception is not wrong, you can hardly blame the media for writing it into the story.... If you start blaming the NYT and the WaPo for how the Dems voted in Iowa today, I think you're really just insulting those voters....

Joe Mealyus

Posted by: Joe Mealyus on January 20, 2004 12:12 AM

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The "horse race" model of political reporting is easy for reporters on the scene, because the activity at the scene is largely about polling, speechifying, who is slanging who. Imaging a kind of election reporting which takes policy positions, examines the likely impact on various groups, weighs their costs against similar policies, puts them in a budget context that let's us know what we might otherwise have for our tax payments. Well, these things don't take place in a high school gym in Iowa. If you aren't in the gym, you're missing the horse race and you just might be an elitist. (I'm thinking of starting new comedy genre - "You could be an elitist if...you think figuring out the impact of policy matters more than a great sound bite.)

Posted by: K Harris on January 20, 2004 10:38 AM

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