Friday, October 03, 2008

I'm Not Sure Josh Is Right

Josh Marshall says Charles Krauthammer is conceding the race to Obama. I have to admit, the following, from the end of his column today, also quoted by Marshall, is surprising, especially considering the source:
Like Palin, [Obama]'s a rookie, but in his 19 months on the national stage he has achieved fluency in areas in which he has no experience. In the foreign policy debate with McCain, as in his July news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama held his own -- fluid, familiar and therefore plausibly presidential.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt that he had a "second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament." Obama has shown that he is a man of limited experience, questionable convictions, deeply troubling associations (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko) and an alarming lack of self-definition -- do you really know who he is and what he believes? Nonetheless, he's got both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament. That will likely be enough to make him president.

Yet, if you read the entire column carefully, you come away with a far more equivocal feeling. It seems the columnist who once compared George W. Bush's speech-making to that of Winston Churchill believes that, like Ronald Reagan, beneath the near-Presidential demeanor lies something more. In the case of Reagan, it was the gang of nuts on the right whose foul progeny have ridden the country in to the ground nearly a generation later. In Obama's case, at least in Krauthammer's view (at least, I think it's his point of view), it might just be Democrats as a kind of generic label for liberal people. I really can't get a feel for his fundamental objection, especially considering the utterly prosaic nature of Obama's policy statements on those matters dearest to Krauthammer's heart, the Middle East (Israel in particular), and our current struggle in Iraq.

Of course, I could try and be funny and say something like, "Obama is doomed because Charles Krauthammer thinks he can win!" And, in a way, I'd be correct, because Krauthammer's columns over the eight years of the Bush Presidency have been consistent in only one thing - their horrible wrongness. Indeed, he is so wrong his nickname from critics is Kraphammer, which is both clever and accurate.

Yet, I hesitate to do so because I think Krauthammer is actually right in his analysis overall, right on the specifics of McCain's "Hail Mary" strategy and its dismal failure, right on Obama being disciplined enough to stick to his campaign strategy in the face of the brief McCain poll surge after the Republican convention (our memories are so short; Bob Dole achieved much the same result in 1996, and some folks were wondering if he might actually beat Clinton; only in retrospect was Clinton's re-election a foregone conclusion).

Oh, he shows he earned his nickname - Kraphammer - by continuing to lie about the 1980 election. Ronald Reagan did not win in a "landslide". Ronald Reagan did indeed take the vast majority of the states in the Electoral College. In the popular vote, however, he won . . . 50.1% of the vote. Pres. Carter suffered from the presence of former Rep. John Anderson, a Republican-turned-Independent, as a spoiler. Anderson was the first liberal, Rockefeller-style Republican (from right here in my current state of residence, IL) to leave because the yahoos were taking over. In many way far more liberal than Carter, and a progressive voice on many issues, even prophetic in some ways, he managed to take votes away, not from Reagan but Carter. To call Reagan's win "a landslide" is to seriously misrepresent what happened in 1980.

Anyway, I'm not sure Marshall gets it right. I think Krauthammer is simply looking at the math, the ways of each candidate and his respective campaigns, and coming to the conclusion that Obama will win. Or at least has the potential to be Presidential, which our current President certainly lacks.

One more thing. I think the Holmes quote is often seen as a backhanded compliment. In fact, I think it is a pretty apt description of what it takes to be a good politician. Intellect is not nearly as important as temperament. One needs to be able to deal with people, most especially people one loathes, as if these people are the most important people in the world. A few Presidents had that quality, and Roosevelt was one (although he could also be offended at effrontery, whether it came from his predecessor, his Army Chief of Staff, or whomever). Reagan, I think, was another, as was Bill Clinton (a quality which always baffled his supporters who wished he would simply have flipped Newt the bird; what they didn't understand, and he did, was that you can kill with kindness just as easily as with malice). In that regard, John McCain fails utterly, being not even a second-class intellect, and certainly not a first-class temperament.

Virtual Tin Cup

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