3 comments November 27th, 2007at 07:15am Posted by Eli
It’s funny, if this were coming from MoDo I’d be pissed off, but since it’s Bob Herbert, I’m just nodding in agreement…
A friend of mine, talking about the Democratic presidential candidates, tossed out a wonderful mixed metaphor: “This is awfully weak tea to have to hang your hat on.”
The notion that Bush & Co. had fouled things up so badly for Republicans that just about any Democrat could romp to victory in 2008 was never realistic. What’s interesting now, with the first contests just weeks away, is the extent to which Democratic voters are worried about the possibility that none of their candidates have the stuff to take the White House.
This election, the most important in decades, cries out for strong leadership. The electorate is upset, anxious and hungry for change. But “weak tea” is as good a term as any to describe what the Democrats are offering.
Hillary Clinton is the cautious, rigidly programmed candidate who, in the view of most voters, will say whatever the moment demands. Spontaneous she ain’t. You can just picture her cross-examining advisers and prowling through polling data to determine whether she’s for or against driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Barack Obama has the incandescent smile, and the personality to go with it. Oprah loves him, and a lot of campuses are wild for him. But you still wonder if there’s any there there.
His is the make-nice candidacy, no sharp edges. But it’s one thing to offer yourself as the agent of change, and quite another to answer the obvious question, “Change to what?”
John Edwards has been the most forceful of the so-called top-tier candidates. But his plan from the beginning was to move to the left of Senator Clinton, never expecting to find Senator Obama happily patrolling that progressive, antiwar region.
Mr. Obama had barely stenciled his name on his Senate office door before grabbing his hat and announcing he was running for president. That was faster than even Mr. Edwards’s first, lightning-quick decision to seek the highest office in the land.
The problem for voters is that very little leadership has emerged from the many months of frenetic Democratic fund-raising and politicking.
Bush-bashing is not enough. Unless one of the Democratic candidates finds the courage to step up and offer a vision of an American future so compelling that voters head to the polls with a sense of excitement and great expectation, the Republican Party could once again capture the White House (despite its awful performance over the past eight years) with its patented mixture of snake oil and demagoguery.
The need to offer an honest vision that is almost electric in its intensity is especially important for Senators Clinton and Obama. Both have to rally enough voters to overcome deep wells of prejudice in this society. That can’t be done by referencing a résumé, or in a nine-second response to a question from Wolf Blitzer.
The American public, tired of war and economically insecure, longs for a leader who will tell the truth and offer a way out of the current morass.
A Democrat can win with a realistic plan for exiting Iraq and, more important, a full-blown economic strategy that addresses the growing anxiety over the fading American dream.
A Democrat who makes a believable case that these problems can be dealt with effectively — and who asks the public to roll up its sleeves and join in such an effort — can win.
But that’s not what we’re getting. Not so far. And maybe it’s not necessary. Maybe the economy will be so bad next year that a Democrat will win in any event. But that’s not the kind of tea you want to hang your hat on.
If anything, I think Herbert lets the three frontrunners off easy. In addition to the lack of leadership, they all share a lack of experience, unless you consider being First Lady to be experience, which I really don’t.
There is leadership and experience in the Democratic field, but it’s coming from the middle and back of the pack, mostly from candidates that most people either haven’t heard of or don’t take seriously. Chris Dodd is a veteran senator taking a stand and vowing to put a hold on any FISA bill that gives telecoms retroactive immunity; Dennis Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney; Bill Richardson has promised to withdraw every troop from Iraq, and has a resume as long as your arm.
I don’t really know what we can do about this. The media (including Herbert) has decided that this is a three-person race on the Democratic side, and that no-one outside Hillary/Obama/Edwards matters at all. I’m afraid that this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, which would be a damn shame.