Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Senatorial Longevity and Presidential Entitlement

I cannot draw myself away from the notion, long held, that the American Presidency is not some kind of Life-Time Achievement award that is always dished out at each year's Academy Awards.

I don't know who wrote this rule about long-term Senators not making good 1st-time presidential candidates, but it's been broken - and blatantly so - only once during my political lifetime. John F. Kennedy was elected into the White House directly after having served eight years in the Senate. Lyndon Baines Johnson was a long-term senator, but he was running in 1964 for re-election, having ascended into the White House via his vice-presidency.

Look at the colossal failures: John F. Kerry (2004) 19 years in the Senate, Bob Dole (1996) after 28 years in the Senate. Very successful senatorial careers for both of them, but they were total losers as presidential aspirants. These two were the epitome of 'entitlement' candidates.

The fact of the matter is that long-term careers in the Senate bring to the presidential hustlings heavy luggage. Nice guys and careerists, like Senators Dodd (27 years) and Biden (35 years), inevitably make mistakes and enemies. Republican Maverick McCain has logged 21 years in the Senate. Senatorial trespasses are forgiven as normal and ordinary risks and hazards of political and legislative practice; but when a senator aspires to the presidency which is extra ordinary. Unless you are AWOL during those years of role call votes, day in and day out, your track record is there. And your grudge-holding enemies are bound to have better memories and recall than you.

This doesn't auger well for either John McCain or Hillary Clinton. In her case, you can add in some - not all - of her '35 years of experience'. Yes, I'm speaking of those eight years as First Lady. If John Kerry was swift-boated to death, she can anticipate being white-watered even more than she was while she was spouse in the White House. The ham-handedness of ex-President Bill after the South Carolina primary shook Hillary's campaign to its foundations. Many began to think of her candidacy as the Clintonian 'restoration' or Bill's 'third term'. As Maureen Dowd says in the NYT (13-Feb):
As a possible first Madame President, Hillary is a flawed science experiment because you can’t take Bill out of the equation. Her story is wrapped up in her marriage, and her marriage is wrapped up in a series of unappetizing compromises, arrangements and dependencies.
You could say that about McCain, too, as he embraces Bush's tax cuts and 100-year war, that he represents Bush's third term, too.

So, the bottom line question for Progressives is, as E. J. Dionne Jr. asks,
It's come down to this: Who can best beat John McCain?