Help Wanted: Democratic Candidate to Run for President that People Don’t Hate

It is said that while the right looks for converts, the left looks for heretics.  The consequences of that tendency are demonstrated in this perceptive story from the LA Times:

It is a paradox of the 2008 presidential race. By a wide margin, several polls show, voters want a Democrat to win — yet when offered head-to-head contests of leading announced candidates, many switch allegiance to the Republican.

In a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll conducted this month, this dynamic was most clearly evident with Clinton.

When registered voters were asked which party they would like to win the White House, they preferred a Democrat over a Republican by 8 percentage points. But in a race pitting Clinton against former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Republican was favored by 10 percentage points.

Clinton’s showing against Giuliani was the starkest example of how the general Democratic edge sometimes narrows or vanishes when voters are given specific candidates to choose between.

The poll also showed Clinton trailing when matched against two other Republicans, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The deficits, however, were within the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

These results, as well as follow-up interviews of poll respondents, reflect the array of difficulties that Clinton could face as the Democratic nominee.

Plenty of time remains for Clinton to temper resistance to her candidacy. But for now, her failure to match her party’s generic advantage underscores the primacy of personal appeal in a presidential race, regardless of political context.

“Personal appeal” is part of the problem, but I don’t think it really captures it.  Hillary, Edwards and Obama are anything but repellent personalities.  In their own ways, they can be charismatic.  The problem is the toll that being a Democratic leader takes against a candidate’s image for strength and having a core of beliefs.

The one-issue caucuses within the party, especially labor, put so much pressure on candidates to carry their water regardless of how the general public feels, regardless of what common sense and experience shows that one of two things happens.  The Democratic leader becomes unviable because the special interests exert their veto power; or they become a flip-flopping ball of confusion, totally reliant on careful parsing of words and PR spin to make their positions seem coherent and principled.

To some degree, the netroots phenomenon was supposed to overcome this.  Kos is a “just win baby” Democrat who wants the party to unite around broad principles.  But despite the good intentions, the netroots have somehow evolved into yet another single-issue constituency — the “get out of Iraq now” caucus.   Both Clinton and Obama joined a small minority of Democrats in opposing the troop funding bill, because they believed they would otherwise be crucified.  But that position is likely to come back to haunt them later.

15 thoughts on “Help Wanted: Democratic Candidate to Run for President that People Don’t Hate

  1. If it were up to many of us who have left one or (in my case) both of the parties, they would both be disbanded. But you hit something thing I continue to find common when discussing the Iraq War among non-Democrats. The majority of the population wants out of Iraq, but the (non-Democrat) ones I talk to, do not want another Vietnam-like exodus, which is how the frontrunners of the Democrat candidates are projecting. That is not the only hump they face with some of us, but it is a big one. I have to admit there is not a single Democrat candidate that intrigues me since Hillary went instant Iraq exit. I come from Illinois and Obama’s kissing up to Chicago’s his holiness Richard Daly and Wheres Waldo Governor Roddy Blago leaves me to believe he has already laid down in their flea infested politics. I had previously leaned towards Hillary because she was tough on Iraq and was tinkering with an national insurance plan back when she was running the country for billy plus the Republicans were and still are pushing Giuliani which left/leaves me ice-cold. It is too bad that there is not a real third party in this country.

  2. How about Al Gore?

    He does tend to be right.

    Before most of us had even heard of the Internet, Gore was active in its legislation.

    Gore was one of 2 Democrats who supported Desert Storm which was a winner.

    Gore applauded the Afganistan invasion which was appropriate..

    Gore clearly opposed the Iraq invasion in numerous major speeches starting in Sept 2002.

    Gore probably got it right about global warming.

    Anyone who has seen Gore on Leno, Letterman and other shows knows that he is smart, witty and cool. On those same shows GW Bush looked like Mortimer Snerd.

  3. I agree, Gore could make a good president. But he’s not a good candidate. His 2000 failure is forgotten in the controversy over Florida, but it never should have been that close. He lost his own state! He lost, despite a strong economy. He lost, despite campaigning against a weak candidate like Bush. He came off as shifty half the time, patronizing the other half. He never mentioned the issue he’s been most passionate about since the 80s, the environment. He sold out, based only on what he was told by pollsters.

    The Gore we’re seeing now, the much more appealing and forthright Gore, is the vision of a man liberated from politics. He views the political process as compromise, say what you need to say to get elected. He sees conviction and honesty as a luxury only available to people who have left politics behind.

  4. There is something wrong with a system where someone like Gore who would make a good President but is a lousy candidate.

    And someone who is pretty good at jumping through the hoops required in a Presidential campaign and marketable but makes a disastrous President nonetheless is the one who gets elected.

  5. Gore is probably sorely tempted and may well get into the race, but does he really want to give up what is probably a rather nice lifestyle, near religious iconic status, and a degree of martyrdom due to 2000? Sort of a classic tale….reminds me of a Greek tragedy I can’t remember the name of.

    Most of Gore’s speeches since 2000 strike me as calculated and false, ripping into Bush in his usual patronizing way. But, I guess that doesn’t disqualify him as a decent president, possibly. But he might get under a lot of people’s skin after 4 or 8 years.

    He could have success because I haven’t met a single person who is very hopeful about any of the candidates thus far. The Repub candidates might beat each other up too much by the time people really vote. Hillary could rise in value as time goes by, although….Clintons for another 4-8 years?
    Aren’t there any other choices out there?

  6. Obama is qualified and could do the job .Richardson is unquestionably qualified.
    Both of them could change our foreign relations.

    Other than managing a political campaign, GW Bush is unqualified for any responsible position whatsoever without a staff of “advisors” to do ALL of his thinking for him and Karl Rove to hold his hand. And he became president and some people think that he is the greatest ever. You figure.

  7. Hillary is too polarizing for the Democrats and still easily demonized by the Republicans. She may do well in the primaries/caucuses, but she will fail miserably in the general election.

    This early election cycle sucks. Everyone rushing in so they can raise money. Too early to do anything but talk to an audience that isn’t paying attention until someone makes a gaff.

    I like Gore, however, I still curse him for giving Liberman a spotlight. I wouldn’t mind if Al got in the race. John makes some excellent points about the race he ran in 2000. He made many mistakes including not running on his record. He was too afraid of Bill’s stained coat tails when he should have been touting their successes especially with a booming economy. Not having to be on the defensive could benefit him this time around.

    Personally I hope Wesley Clark gets in the race. I wouldn’t mind an Edwards/Clark ticket. Obama is smart and charismatic. I like him, but I think many people, including me, think he is too inexperienced for the top job. Might make a good VP option for someone, but hopefully not Hillary.

    Back to my cave. Too early in the morning and the election to make any sense of anything.

  8. Edward’s experience consists of being a successful ambulance chaser and running for president.

    Edward’s 6 years in the Senate is notable for his gung-ho support of the Iraq war despite being on the intellegence committee whose chairman Bob Graham was strongly opposed to.

    Obama has 8 effective years in Illinois Senate and will have 4 years in US Senate. He is very smart ,articulate and makes sense to me.

    Obama was one of the very few who opposed the Iraq war. That shows excellent judgement not seen in the others. I like Clark who also was against the war as was Gore and Graham.

  9. Well, maybe Obama and Hillary have it pegged right: that the litmus test for 08 is simply, were you for or against the war?

    Didn’t Lincoln run to some degree on his having been against the Mexican-American war? Just thinking of a precedent. That war was also divisive and “morally” unpopular with many.

  10. gasdocpol,

    I think you’re letting Hillary off too easily on her Iraq vote. She didn’t “support and trust” Bush. She did what she thought was politically wise at the time. It was a candidacy-viability-maintenance vote.

    Also, let’s not forget, Bill Clinton made war on Hussein; four days of air attacks, and preparations for an invasion. Clinton’s premises were the same as Bush’s. It was not just a Republican talking point that Hussein has WMDs, or that Hussein was violating the cease-fire agreement he signed. It was the consensus of foreign policy experts in both parties, the intelligence communities in the US and among all our allies.

    Her vote at the time might have been completely sincere. You never know.

  11. It was one thing to be concerned about Saddam and quite another to cherrypick intelligence, make statements which at a minimum were misleading (ex. “I will never forget the lessons of 9/11” in the same breath every time he spoke of Iraq or Saddam) and cite evidence that was just not true all in a studied effort to sell the Iraq war.

    If we add to that very solid credible evidence that the plan to invade Iraq came off the shelf the day Bush became president it is clear that Bush was far more responsible for the war than the Democrats.

    I am not very impressed by the Democrats who were duped and manipulated into supporting Bush.

    For that people who opposed the war like Gore, Obama, Dean, Graham, Wesley Clark they all stand head and shoulders above Hillary, Edwards, Kerry…

    OK Kucinich opposed it too but I just cannot see him as president

  12. Absolutely, you’re right, Bush was “the decider.”

    What crosses my mind, however, is that Hillary and the other Dems who voted for the war had their own experiences with the Iraq issue preceding Bush’s presidency. Bush’s entreaties, however much he might have exaggerated, were surely not the only input the Democrats in Congress used to make their decisions. It’s convenient for them (and the pro-war Dem pundits at the time) to say “Bush tricked me” now that the war has gone so poorly, but it doesn’t pass the smell test historically.

  13. Hillary’s vote for the war represents my biggest reservation about her judgement. Other than that I have relatively little problem with her.

    I have a lot of problems with Edwards who has meaningful experience in 2 things: suing doctors and running for president.

    Overall, I still prefer Gore followed by Obama and Richardson

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