Playing the Indian Card

Monday, October 26, 2015


JFK with his first cabinet.
It’s not just that the Republicans have more candidates running for president. Democratic presidential candidates seem to have thinner resumes. Bernie Sanders is a senator from a small blue state—the second smallest in the nation. Nor is Rhode Island all that big. Lincoln Chafee seemed to base his entire campaign on having once voted against the Iraq War. Then there’s Martin O’Malley, former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland. Baltimore is now a very public basket case. Maryland is about the most reliably Democratic state in the nation. Even so, O’Malley’s two terms were so impressive locally that the state’s electors followed him with only their second Republican governor since the 1960s.

Baltimore on Homecoming Weekend.

Then there’s Mrs. Clinton. Hillary Clinton’s only obvious life accomplishment is to have married well. Thanks to name recognition and her husband’s connections, in the noble tradition of Lurleen Wallace and Isabel Peron, she has served her time in suitable office chairs behind big desks, in the Senate and at State. But while there, did she actually score any worthwhile accomplishments? It looks more like a record of failure. Given the brief to push through universal health coverage, she failed. In the senate, no important initiative or legislation bore her name. The most memorable thing she did was to vote for the Iraq War. At State, the reset with Russia, leading from behind in Libya, the Iraq pullout, the Mubarak sellout, the pivot to Asia, the red line in Syria, and whatever happened in Benghazi, all policy failures. It is hard to say how much was her boss’s fault, but there is nothing to inspire confidence. If it weren’t for the good work of Clare Danes, things would probably be far worse. 

Damascus on Homecoming Weekend.
The one guy in the race on the Democratic side who had any claim to distinction was Jim Webb. At least he was a war hero. And they mocked him for it.

On the Republican side, for comparison, let’s not use this year’s crop of candidates. Let’s assume the field this time is unusually good. Instead, let’s look at 2012, when the Republican field was, everyone said, weak. Even so, a weak Republican field included Rick Santorum, a two-term senator from a large, important, blue state, who had managed during his two terms to rise to number three in the Republican hierarchy. It included Rick Perry, the first man ever to have won three tenures as governor of Texas, the second-largest state, and who had a staggering record of job creation. It included Newt Gingrich, the acknowledged mastermind of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, for the first time in forty years. We had Jon Huntsman, who had served in five different presidential administrations, negotiated the Doha round, left the governorship of Utah with an 80% approval rating, and spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese. And, of course, we had Mitt Romney. Two Harvard graduate degrees, incredibly wealthy as a corporate turnaround expert, savior of the Salt Lake City Olympics, and someone who managed to win the governorship of the bluest state in the union. Where he eliminated the deficit while introducing universal health care. 

Romney at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Seriously, guys, the Democrats are in trouble. Nobody seems to be noticing—I keep hearing that demographics are moving entirely in their favour—but in reality, it looks as though they are living on fumes.

Partly, there are a lot more Republican politicians to choose from. Back in the sixties and seventies, when I was young, it was a given that, while Republicans might win now and then at the Presidential level, the Democrats were the majority party. They held the state legislatures. They held both houses of Congress. They held the solid South. They used to call them "yellow dog Democrats": they would vote for a yellow dog, so long as it ran as the Democrat. It all seemed baked in, inevitable.

The old Democratic solid South.

Since then, there has been a steady trend in the opposite direction. The Republicans now control the state houses. The control both houses of Congress. They hold the South. It may not look solid or inevitable, but that is the clear trend. Demographics be damned.

But there is, I think, a second factor: a comparison of the crop of candidates suggests that Democrats right up to the very top level are now, on the whole, unimaginative, intellectually unimpressive, and lacking in initiative. There are no more Daniel Patrick Moynihans or John Kenneth Galbraiths among them; the best and the brightest all gravitate to the other side of the aisle.

This is not the mark of a party of the future. These are the characteristics one expects for a conservative party whose raison d’etre was the defense of a dying privileged class. The last petty panjandrums of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the last Soviet commissars; the lace-throated tax farmers of the ancien regime.

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