Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

^THE ELECTION TOO FAR TO CALL@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGTON _ The ``D'' wins a special congressional election in what had been a long-safe ``R'' congressional district in Upstate New York, after it became a referendum over Tea Party-driven overreach on Medicare reform. The Republican Presidential lineup thus far is a collection of really light hitters and those, like Newt Gingrich, who are prone to strike out the moment they strike out on the campaign trail. Many of those who might be sluggers _ Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee _ have decided to sit this game out. The rest of the field is left to some unflashy players, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and others who have made a name for themselves mainly for having little name recognition. The moment's leader of the pack, Mitt Romney, can come across as a mannequin. So, it's easy to see that the Republicans have Barack Obama exactly where they want him. Yes, it is true that the president will probably have a clear track to nomination, a contrast to the other side's littered pathway. Never forget, however, how easy it is for a commanding lead to get chewed up by infighting and complacency. Let's traipse back a couple decades to the initial term of President George H.W. Bush. He had led a coalition in the popular 1991 Iraq war, the first one. At this point, he was riding high, and the Democrats' usual suspects for running against him were bailing out because it looked like the incumbent would float to re-election. That gave the governor of a small state, Bill Clinton of Arkansas, the chance he needed to take a shot. He was... after all, the ``Man from Hope,'' _ Hope, Ark., that is. So when Bush-1 showed that instead of being out of reach, he was out of touch, Clinton overcame the incumbency advantages. Add to the mix the goofy but effective third party effort by Ross Perot, and William Jefferson Clinton won the White House. More to the point, George Herbert Walker Bush had forfeited.

Squandering a lead is more often the Democrats’ specialty. Bush the Younger should never have been close enough in 2000 to steal the election from Al Gore. But by frittering away the advantages of experience and distancing himself from Bill Clinton while coming across as awkward, he frittered away the advantage.

Choosing John Kerry the next time around was equally self destructive for the Democrats. Both Gore and Kerry carried on the Michael Dukakis tradition of appearing stiff and easy to parody. That’s fatal.

The Democratic ticket leader this time, Mr. Obama, is smooth and has the advantage of the incumbency. And the disadvantage. We’re already seeing big cracks in the wall of support.
Organized labor is the usual bulwark. But. AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka is reflecting union frustration when he complains that when it comes to supporting progressive causes, the Obama administration doesn’t “make the honor roll.” There’s talk of redirecting resources this time around.

Meanwhile, initial reactions in the pro-Israel community to Obama’s “1967 Borders” Mideast policy speech have included some angry promises from wealthy past donors to withhold their money this time.

Both are prime sources of the big bucks that allow Democrats to withstand the massive wealth of the corporations who have made it obvious they’re hell bent on defeating Obama. At the same time, his various compromises have eroded the enthusiasm of his troops while the other side’s rank and file has been whipped into a frenzy.

Obviously, it’s early in the game, so any predictions are futile, except one: If the Republicans can mold an appealing credible candidate and avoid putting a Newt around their necks, or a Palin or Bachmann, they have a good chance of taking back the White House. Even if they don’t, they could still win if Obama and the Democrats continue to defy the odds. The ones that now make President Obama the favorite.
^–@< (Email: bob(at); on the WEB:

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