Thursday, April 7, 2011

Off The Waterfront

Ah, 1980.  It was a time of shag haircuts and shag carpets, of disco on the wane, of unemployment and inflation, of gas lines and national humiliation.  It was also the final year of Jimmy Carter's presidency, a time when much of the country concluded that Jimmy Carter didn't know what the hell he was doing.

If a President is generally viewed as successful, he will probably be able to scare off serious challenges to his nomination for reelection. Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton are good examples of this. Not having a challenger in the primary gives a President more time to prepare for the general election, and to concentrate on that most important of all campaign functions, fundraising.

By the time 1980 rolled around, Jimmy Carter wasn't seen as having had a successful term as President.  He was presiding over an economy that is still the most vivid example of stagflation that the United States has so far experienced.  His foreign policy, after his success bringing Egypt and Israel to peace, had descended into disarray as it seemed aggressive foreign leaders had taken his measure and decided he was no obstacle to their plans.  The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and in Iran the Shah was deposed, after which it was quickly taken over by religious radicals, who eventually seized the U.S. Embassy and held the staff as hostages, and with them President Carter's political fortunes.

With Carter's public approval ratings hovering below 30 percent, it naturally became clear to ambitious Democrats that Carter might not be able to survive a primary fight.  The man who stepped up to the challenge was Sen. Ted Kennedy, a flawed candidate for sure but one who represented the left wing of the party more solidly than Carter did.  Jerry Brown also launched his own campaign, with an ideological stance that reflected the state of the weather as much as any deep-seated convictions.

Carter did win the nomination, after a bitter fight that was only settled on the convention floor, and after the failure of various White House campaign strategies, including the daintily named Rose Garden strategy.  The difficult primary, added to Carter's other troubles, finally led to his loss in the general election to the republican Ronald Reagan, a prospect many Democrats up until a month before found simply laughable.  Since that time, Reagan has inspired in Democrats considerable anger and frustration, but certainly not much laughter.

So now our current President has officially launched his reelection campaign, though of course anyone with eyes to see knows that campaign really started about two heartbeats after Obama said to Chief Justice Roberts "so help me God."  Even with all the angry opposition Obama has generated in the last two years, his how-low-can-it-go approval numbers, gloomy economic prospects, and his bizarre foreign policy, he is regarded as a shoe-in for being renominated by his fellow Democrats, and I haven't even heard a whisper of rumors of any Democrats seriously considering challenging Obama for the nomination.

Still, there is time for Obama's long march of catastrophes to finally taint his prospects enough that he might begin to look unelectable against even a Republican.  If that happens, who would oppose him? Hillary Clinton is clearly tired and seems to have finally satisfied her need for public humiliation.  The pool of Democratic governors, the usual source of presidential candidates, has been depleted since so many statehouses went Republican in last year's elections.  Most of the leading Democratic senators are unpalatable nationally, such as Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer.

The Democratic party has become so left-wing that it seems to me they face a serious problem in the future, that problem being a growing inability to field candidates who will appeal to the larger base of voters who aren't leftists. The sort of closed political culture that the Democratic party has evolved into tends to stunt imaginations and, ironically, to prevent a healthy diversity of opinions.  Given the lockstep performance of Democrats in Congress in the past four years, I wonder if they haven't crossed the line and become a party of lemmings.

So my question of the moment is, has the Democratic party become so monolithic that no one will dare challenge their president, weak and ineffective though he might be?  The last week has shown us that Obama's support is even diminishing among blacks and hispanics, in addition to his perceived loss among "independents" and other voters without strong ideological commitments.  I find myself a bit amazed that so far there doesn't seem to be any fear among Democrats that Obama is driving them off a cliff into a canyon of electoral oblivion.

If our current Democrats had been writing the script, Brando's Terry Malloy would never have found the courage to get up after Johnny Friendly and his gang pounded him into the pavement.  To me, that just doesn't make much sense.


  1. "So now our current President has officially launched his reelection campaign, though of course anyone with eyes to see knows that campaign really started about two heartbeats after Obama said to Chief Justice Rehnquist "so help me God."

    You mean Chief Justice ROBERTS.