Today I want to start with the Kennedys. I just found these two interesting bits out there on the Interwebs. First, John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, wrote an Op-ed piece to the New York Times endorsing Senator Obama, and Ted Kennedy is set to endorse him tomorrow.
This is all pretty big news. And more importantly, I think Caroline Kennedy’s argument is something worth considering. She writes:
Most of us would prefer to base our voting decision on policy differences. However, the candidatesâ€™ goals are similar. They have all laid out detailed plans on everything from strengthening our middle class to investing in early childhood education. So qualities of leadership, character and judgment play a larger role than usual.
Like I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the differences between Clinton and Obama and Edwards are pretty slim. It would be great if a truly progressive candidate were still on the ticket (and were actually electable in a general election), but I think we need to face facts and accept that the DNC of today is no longer the progressive, populist party it was thirty or forty years ago. The DNC of today is the party that gave us NAFTA after all. If we want actual honest-to-god progressives in office, we’re going to have to vote for someone not in the DNC.
But we’ve also got to be realistic and accept the fact that not everyone in this country is a progressive and therefore a truly progressive politician can not win a general election. (Of course, there is a part of me that thinks everyone should be a progressive, but believing that everyone should be just like me is the first step toward fascism so I try not let that part of me out too much.) To win a general election, a candidate must be popular with everyone. They’ve got to convince people that they can work with anyone. “Consensus building” is a platitude, a media catch phrase. But it’s also a reality. No one politician can do everything because we do not live under a fascist dictatorship. There has been the illusion of a dictatorship because the RNC controlled all three branches of government. But think about how very little has been accomplished since the Democrats took control of the House a year ago. The lack of progress is because there are a bunch of children running around Washington not wanting to talk to one another.
So the question of who to vote for on February 5th is going to come down to electability. And electability will be determined in part by character and leadership qualities (whatever the hell that means). But for me, I think it’s going to come down to one simple question: who can be John McCain.
I don’t know if John McCain will win the Republican nomination or not. I haven’t been following that race as closely, but it does seem that he and Mit Romney are pulling ahead as the front runners. And I do not believe that Mit Romney can win the general election. (Unless of course he were running against a black lesbian, a Muslim, or Dennis Kucinich.) I think any of the Democratic front runners would be able to beat Romney because Romney’s got a lot of baggage. Being a Mormon is a big deal, but not his only “flaw.” McCain, on the other hand, presents a formidable challenge. He is the underdog (how many times has he run for president? Three? Four?), and people love the underdog. He is not only a war veteran but a Vietnam war veteran who was a prisoner of war who was tortured and therefore is categorically opposed to the U.S. using torture. He’s religious enough and in the right way. And this week he won the endorsement of Sylvester Stallone (which was called “the coolest endorsement yet” by Fox news compared to the lame Huckabee endorsement by Chuck Norris.)
So the real question for Democrats ought to be who can beat McCain if McCain wins the nomination?
And I do not believe that Hillary Clinton can beat him. I believe that there are more people in this country who are luke warm to McCain and not totally in love with Clinton than there are who hate McCain and love Clinton. Notice that I’m not talking about strong feelings here or rational or objective opinions about policy matters. I’m talking about slight degrees of aversion or affinity. The people who shrug their shoulders and think, well, I don’t hate her. But I’m not thrilled with her. And I don’t love him, but I don’t totally hate him either. And their votes become little more than the flip of a coin.
This doesn’t mean that I think Obama is the choice to make. In point of fact, I think Obama and Edwards both stand a good chance of beating McCain if for no other reason than they are articulate and well-liked young men who are unencumbered by thirty or forty years in the public arena.
So none of this is leading up to anything. None of this is a ringing endorsement for any candidate. I’m thinking out loud more than anything. But what I really hope is that what I wrote about Hillary Clinton, or more specifically about whoever becomes our next president, is wrong. That is, I really hope that if our next president is a Democrat, they are not defeated in 2012 because they are blamed for Bush’s mess.