Man Without Qualities


Friday, December 23, 2005


Cocoon With A View

Although one knows it is truly dark and thick, the dimensions and effectiveness of the liberal cocoon still have the power to astonish. Consider this passage from "The Trouble With Hillary" by Kurt Andersen in New York magazine:
Lacking her husband's uncanny knack for finessing left and right, however -- the famous triangulation strategy - [Hillary Clinton] plays the game awkwardly, like a very earnest Vulcan who has closely studied Earth politics . . . . Still, the Democratic nomination is hers to lose, just as the general election will be the Republicans’ to lose, which they might manage by failing to nominate McCain or Giuliani. If the race is John McCain versus Hillary Clinton—by far the most likely possibility—and the electorate craves competence and integrity and common sense after eight rotten years of Bush, both candidates will look like equally reasonable choices. But alas, like every modern Democratic nominee except her husband, Hillary Clinton comes across as wooden, priggish, cold, too much superego, and too little id. I bet she and McCain will engage in an unusually civilized campaign. And whoever the nominees are, I bet the more likable, lusty, obviously human candidate will win.
Mr. Andersen's critique of Senator Clinton's limitations has some merit, but his assertion that a 2008 presidential race of John McCain versus Hillary Clinton is "by far the most likely possibility" is nothing short of bizarre - for the simple reason that the chances of John McCain winning the Republican nomination are all but microscopic. Just for starters, one might begin with the basic observation that senators make terrible presidential candidates, and almost never win. (Kerry? Dole? Humphrey? Etc., etc.) In addition, Mr. Andersen and his deeply-cocooned ilk seem to forget that in Senator McCain's prior presidential run, he received very few Republican votes. His only primary "successes" depended heavily on crossover votes by non-Republicans. Since then, John McCain has done little to burnish his reputation with "his" party's base. His "anti-torture" harping is deeply offensive to most of the Republican Party, as have been his assaults on defense spending, his resistance to efforts to block "gay marriage", his opposition to the "nuclear option," and his nearly constant efforts to undermine the president in many ways. That may all play well with the likes of Mr. Andersen, but Mr. Bush, who will have significant influence on the Republican 2008 choice, is highly unlikely to favor Senator McCain - which again seriously reduces the senator's prospects to obtain the nomination. And his stunts such as those that led to the entirely justifiable headline "McCain to Star in Boob Raunch Fest" cast serious doubt on McCain's judgment - as Susan Estrich(!) correctly noted. McCain's alienation from the Republican base remains perfectly fresh despite some rather silly efforts to portrait the senator as mending fences on the right (it's probably no accident that not a single "movement conservative" suggesting that McCain is better than once thought is actually named in this linked article).

Nor has John McCain been playing well recently with his supposed core supporters nationally. If there is any place in the country where a McCain candidacy might resonate (outside of favorite-son-excepted Arizona, although even here it's worth noting that earlier this year the conservative Arizona Republican Assembly voted unanimously during its annual state convention to censure Senator McCain) with "moderate" Republicans, it would be New York. But McCain's support has shrunk to insignificance there in large part because the senator is too old, as noted by Robert Novak:
Sen. John McCain, a potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate, has gotten a tepid response to a New York City fund-raiser Monday for his "Straight Talk America" political action committee. ... Many New York contributors to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign were reluctant to attend this year's event. The fact McCain will be 72 years old for the 2008 presidential campaign was cited to explain lack of enthusiasm, as was the senator's support for the Iraq war.
In the highly unlikely event of a McCain Republican nomination, a substantial independent candidate would almost certainly run in the general election somewhere in the vast reaches to McCain's right. So, contrary to Mr. Andersen's assertion, even in that case the race would not be McCain v. Clinton, but McCain v. Clinton v. _________, with McCain and Clinton splitting the center-left and faux center-left vote. Are Republicans supposed to ignore that fairly obvious likelihood and nominate Senator McCain anyway?

Let's look at the list:
Has spent career in United States Senate, widely seen as a terrible launching pad for presidency. (check)

Alienated from Republican base. (check)

Too old in the eyes of most likely financial backers. (check)

Has alienated the president and others running the national Republican party. (check)

Faces possible rebellion by core Republican voters in home state. (check)

Nomination would probably lead to third-party conservative candidate, and split center-left constituency sought by Hillary Clinton. (check)
And yet, despite all of these fairly obvious points, to Kurt Andersen, a 2008 presidential race of John McCain versus Hillary Clinton is "by far the most likely possibility."

Needless to say, the likelihood of a Republican nomination of Mr. Giuliani - who should be spending his time working to be elected governor of New York if he has not tired of elective office - is yet another order of magnitude smaller than Senator McCain's chances.

Of course, the above comments are not intended to address every ludicrous idea in Mr. Andersen's screed - there are just too many of them. But his suggestion that the election may turn on "the electorate crav[ing] competence and integrity and common sense after eight rotten years of Bush" is worth a moment of consideration. Would those "eight rotten years" not include the four rotten years leading up to Mr. Bush's reelection, with increased Republican margins in both houses of Congress? Perhaps that aspect of recent political history is not so visible from Mr. Andersen's cocoon with a view.

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