Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Perils of Playing It Safe

As has been noted in the media and all over the blogosophere, whether we like it or not, this country is still solidly center-right in political orientation. The United States is a far more conservative country than many of us would wish. The conventional wisdom politically, throughout recent history has been to run Democratic candidates for elective office that are dull, dry, and lacking much in the way of a substantive personality. The theory behind it is that that lest any potential Democratic leader smack the least bit of that horrific label, liberal, his or her true leanings ought to be obscured underneath a multitude of weakly presented policy statements and lukewarm personal opinions that almost beg the audience not to take offense to them.

This is why, as Hillary Clinton noted in her speech yesterday, out of the last ten Presidential candidates, only three have been Democrats. It's a commentary upon the political makeup of this country and the erroneous strategy of the Democratic party in elections prior to this one.

In times such as these, pundits, historians, intellectuals, and amateur politicos alike look back into the past to attempt to latch onto some prior example that might best guide our understanding. Having surveyed forty-three prior Presidencies, I cannot easily make a comparison to politicians prior when I take Barack Obama into account. Nor can anyone, really. He is a totally new animal and despite having written two books, one of which a revealing personal memoir, Obama remains largely mysterious.

It is obvious he wants to point us all, by means of comparison, towards Abraham Lincoln, a candidate who mostly closely resembles his tall, gangly physique and his admittedly limited experience on a large scale in national politics. The comparison is apt at least superficially, but what one must take into account is that Lincoln benefited greatly in his first election in 1860 from a regional split in the Democratic party. Obama does not have this advantage, but what is true enough is that he will face a weakened opposition party in danger of losing its shirt to a degree it has not in forty-four years.

What I find most interesting is how this election cycle has dictated the political landscape for both parties. Not wishing to lose the Executive branch along with the legislative, the GOP has nominated perhaps its most liberal candidate, save Ron Paul. However, McCain is, in many ways, one of its weakest candidates in an overwhelmingly weak slate of contenders the Republican party leaders trot out for this election cycle. This in and of itself is quite telling.

If Obama is to be elected, there is a certain amount of pandering to the center he must do. This may not please many of us unabashed progressives, but in order to win there is always a certain amount of pandering necessary. It's just part of the game. What we Democrats almost always object to is the degree by which our candidates have totally forsaken our interests in the process of seeming appealing to the most voters possible. This stance is not a particularly inspiring one, and it relegates our candidates to seem as though they have nothing resembling so much as a spine.

Periodically, the base of either party will capture the nomination. Our latest Executive branch disaster ran as a moderate centrist Republican, but ended up governing as a borderline reactionary. The roles have seemingly reversed. With the political climate and polarities seemingly due to switch again, the nomination of Obama does not surprise me as deeply as it does so many. One hopes it will translate to his election in November.

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