Man Without Qualities

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The New Conventional Wisdom

Is it just me, or is the new Conventional Wisdom that John Kerry was Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose, as expressed in this rather belated rant by feckless Marty Peretz:

For what the electorate did on Nov. 2 was essentially (or maybe just merely) turn down John Kerry, a candidate who until very late in the Democratic primaries was almost no one's choice as the nominee, the party's last option because it could rally around no one else. What a pathetic vessel in which to have placed liberalism's hopes! A senator for two decades who had stood for nothing, really nothing.

If Mr. Peretz is ever able to bring his blood pressure under control, perhaps he will want to ponder these questions in a quiet, softly lit room - preferably one with a calming water feature:

1. Why is Senator Kerry a worthy object of such scorn when he outperformed by several percentage points the share of the popular vote he was predicted to take by virtually every serious economic model - including the Fair model Presidential Vote Equation - which predicted that Mr. Bush would take 57.48% of the popular vote.

2. Why isn't the more appropriate object of his scorn those involved in this election cycle's Democratic Congressional effort? Models such as the Fair model Presidential Vote Equation are based on the historic observation that incumbent Presidents are very rarely unseated when the economy is in the state it has been, but it is also true that no such incumbent has been reelected with an increase in his party's representation in both houses of Congress since 1936. Senator Kerry - who outperformed his expectations - can't be held accountable for Democratic Congressional losses on such a historic scale. Further, as RealClearPolitics cogently points out, it is hard to find a Republican mandate in Mr. Bush's 3% lead - but it's not too hard to find a Republican mandate in that historic two-house Republican Congressional surge. Shouldn't Mr. Peretz reserve a bigger portion of his venom for Tom Daschle and, especially, Nancy Pelosi - especially since something could, in principle, be done about Ms. Pelosi, who still "leads" House Democrats?

3. Why there weren't better Democratic contenders? The natural sources of presidential contenders are state governorships and, much less reliably, Congress. But most Democratic contenders this time were drawn from the Senate - with Senator Clinton poised to repeat this mistake next time out. Why? Senators have a terrible track record of achieving the Presidency. Kerry. Mondale. Dole. Humphrey. Goldwater. Kennedy was only nominally a Senator - and he too probably would have lost without the graveyard vote. Johnson? Please - he ran against Goldwater, a Senator, only one of them could lose (Johnson redeemed the curse of the Senator-Candidate in his own way with a disastrous presidency).

Why are Democratic governors such a shallow pool these days? For example, by all historical rights Gray Davis should have enjoyed all of Ronald Reagan's advantages as the re-elected governor of the largest state. After his recall, the only thing keeping his Republican replacement from being a serious presidential contender is the "native born citizen" clause of the Constitution - and lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante, the Republican's only Democratic challenger in the recall, was and is a clown. Does Mr. Peretz care to venture an opinion as to why the California Democratic party is such a mess at the governorship level - apparently along with every other Democrat-led state?

4. Why didn't Mr. Peretz vent himself more in this fashion during the primaries when it might have actually had some effect? Mr. Peretz points out accurately that John Kerry's Senate and post-Vietnam record made it clear long before the primary season that he could not be elected President. So when it became apparent to all that the Howard Dean was a disaster, why did Mr. Peretz not find another better Democrat and launch a movement to draft him or her? Were there none? Why did no other influential Democrat do that?

5. What happened at the DNC? Doesn't Mr. McAuliffe and the people who put him in office deserve a share of Mr. Peretz's venom?

6. How long will it be before the Democrats decide that the real problem was in the primary schedule, convention date and rules, and other minor procedural matters - as they have after every disaster since 1968 - and again start spending way too much time and energy running down those dead ends?

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