Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


It's still a bit early to understand yesterday's Wisconsin primary results. But that primary may have been much more damaging to the prospects of Senator Kerry and the Democratic Party than the mainstream media is admitting at the moment. The most interesting aspects of the vote seem to be (1) with respect to Senator Kerry, his heavy dependency in holding his thin lead over John Edwards on voters focusing mostly on Senator Kerry's supposed "electability" (or people focused on finding someone who can beat President Bush in November, as the AP puts it, struggling to avoid the "e" word) and (2) with respect to the Democratic Party, increased prominence of outright anti-free-trade voters in the Democratic Party.

Such Kerry dependency on "e" voters (for "e" for "electability") is unstable, to say the least. How long can Senator Kerry obscure the fact that a Northern Democrat is all but inherently unelectable to the Presidency? How long will primary voters fail to remember this fact? There is a great deal of speculation as to whether there is a need for Senator Edwards to now take off the gloves in criticizing Senator Kerry. But that speculation focuses on substance, policy and personality, which e-voters have de-prioritized. Senator Edwards can degrade his opponent's lead by focusing on electability without attacking Senator Kerry on substance, policy and personality at all. The argument that Senator Kerry is an unelectable Northern Democrat should play nicely in the South - and that's where the big delegate trove remains. Of course, Senator Edwards should also make selective assaults based on his opponent's substance, policy and personality(!) - but disembodied electability is really his strong suit. And a brokered convention is really a strong possibility if he handles this right.

The Wisconsin primary also demonstrates another increasingly obvious weakness in the Kerry position: he has plateaued, he is not getting a majority even as the media has pre-anointed him as the nominee, and Democratic voters do not seem to like him more the more they look at him. In fact, AP notes: Three-quarters of [Wisconsin] Edwards voters said they had decided to back him in the last week, as Edwards picked up two newspaper endorsements and got good reviews for a Sunday debate. More than half the Kerry supporters said they decided to vote for him before the past week. After Wisconsin, the Edwards campaign can legitimately claim that "momentum" is on their side.

There are rumors of an ill-founded decision on Senator Edwards' part not to compete in California. That would be a major mistake in the view of the Man Without Qualities, since strong anecdotal evidence suggests that John Kerry's high handed personality and Brahmin ways play very poorly in this state when their details are brought to the voters' attention - Democratic voters seem especially offended by the man's personality and arrogant bearing (again, on unscientific anecdotal evidence alone). Yes, here in California narcissistic entitlement must be presented to the voting public in a very specific fashion - and Senator Kerry's version is not to local tastes at all. I suspect much of Senator Kerry's support here is among e-voters, and hammering on Senator Edwards' momentum should mean a lot to them.

Moreover, disembodied electability and momentum are arguments that play well with the mainstream media, especially because they are arguments peculiarly within the ability of the media - as distinguished from the campaigns and candidates - to present and advance. And the mainstream media is just dying to resume their irrational infatuation with Senator Edwards. Presenting Senator Edwards' disembodied electability and momentum to the public is a way the media can express their love!

Of course, the rise of Senator Edwards - or someone like him - riding on the back of his anti-free-trade message is an almost inevitable consequence of recent Democratic demagoguing about the "loss" of American jobs to overseas competition. Senator Edwards is proud - PROUD, I tell you - that he is, and always has been, opposed all those free trade treaties that Clinton supported so strongly! If that message claims dominance of this election, it will become a disaster for the Democrats of truly historical proportions. Perhaps someone needs to remind them: a lot more people in this country rely on free trade to buy foreign made goods than have lost their jobs because of it. And while the unemployed are a classic, concentrated special interest group - if it actually looks to the great majority of voters that that minority is about to get their way in some significant manner, the consequences will be that every single senior Democrat will get to learn to spell tsunami in November.

O, and by the way, perhaps the Democrats might also want to remember that the United States is particularly good at providing services - financial services and especially technical, software services (programming services disguised as software products). Such services favor both our comparative advantage and also our supposed home market effect. So an anti-free-trade approach that focuses on the supposed nastiness of foreigners providing "back office" services to American companies probably rates among the most counterproductive approaches one could take in the area of long-term trade. It is much more important to get other countries to open their markets to American service providers more fully. (And as an aside, what is it with the Democrats and India bashing? As if India didn't have enough to contend with. The New York Times reports that only 200,000 people in India out of about 1 Billion Indians work in telephone "help centers" for Americans - and that the number of Indians who can do that work is now tapped out.)

In yet another way, Senator Edwards' momentum is more evidence that the Democratic slogan this time around should be "Forward, Into The Past!!!"

UPDATE: Lots of good thoughts are being thought and shared at Ellisblog.

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