Younger (under 55) readers may not recall the pivotal role Eugene McCarthy played in the 1968 Democratic Presidential primary and the history which followed. After Robert Kennedy declined to be the anti-VietNam war candidate, McCarthy took on the role and challenged LBJ in the New Hampshire primary. McCarthy’s candidacy was dismissed by the “experts” and the press as quixotic.
But after LBJ won New Hampshire by less than 10%, he appeared on TV to announce that he would not seek re-election. Robert Kennedy then announced he would seek the Democratic nomination. Kennedy was assassinated a few months later after defeating McCarthy in the California primary. Humphrey, LBJ’s Vice President, was nominated at a bitterly contentious convention in Chicago while rioters fought police outside. Nixon went on to win the election and was re-elected before resigning over Watergate.
I believe that Obama will face a “McCarthy” in 2012. The only question is, who will play the role of McCarthy?
Obama has completely squandered whatever political capital and power he may have had following the 2008 election, 40 years after the Chicago riots. His first, and biggest, mistake was to even attempt to reach out to Republicans. They were tactically astute to take a “no, no, and hell no” approach.
Between Presidential powers and Democratic Congressional majorities, the correct approach would have been to use that power to hurt the Republicans. LBJ knew how to use Presidential power to get what he wanted, but Obama naively appeals to intellect.
Politics is about power, not intellect and rationality. Those two are the tactics of the powerless, because in every society “might makes right.” Winners write history; losers are condemned by it. (I am not suggesting “what should be” but only noting “what is.”)
Now that the Republicans have control of the House, they are making demands which Obama is kow towing to. The tax cut extension that he is agreeing to is breeding rebellion among the Democrats. Obama should have gone “all in” and let the Republicans defeat an extension of unemployment benefits. That would have added at least three million voters to the Democrats in 2012.
Just as the Republicans have purged moderates in their party, so too has the election purged moderate Democrats. The “Blue Dog” (moderate) Democrat in the House from my district was defeated by someone I presume is a Tea Party Republican who apparently wants to return to having Senators appointed by the State Legislatures (the original procedure specified in the Constitution). (I didn’t vote either of them and wanted to see the Democrat lose because he supported the financial bailout.)
Consequently, the remaining Democrats are now much more “pure” than before 2008. With both parties dominated by purists, the outlook for gridlock is very high. I have no problem with two years of gridlock because it furthers my own political views; the more government does not work, the more folks will be willing to consider…other options.
By 2012, I believe there will be a liberal Democrat who will play McCarthy and challenge Obama. I was too young to vote in1968, when I naively believed that government might possibly be able to do some good. I’m eager for a chance to tell Obama: “”no, no, and hell no.”
And if a Nixon wins in 2012, that’s fine by me. Because he was the best thing that happened to the Democrats; just look at what happened after that.