Comparing 2008 to 1968
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- I like George Will. Well, at least I respect him, even if I disagree with his market-based approach to humanity. He is consistent and intelligent and he often provides interesting statistical or historical crumbs of admittedly tinted insight or information along the way. One such was on last week’s This Week With Someone Not Named David Brinkley. He gave me what the briefly legendary Arsenio Hall would call “something that makes you go ‘hmmm.’”
Barack Obama, he argued, reminded one of Eugene McCarthy in 1968 --the non-traditional, erudite challenger to the party’s established candidate Hubert Humphrey, whom he then likened to Hillary Clinton. He then finished the triangular simile by comparing John Edwards to Bobby Kennedy. The hair, I guess. “And as we all know,” Will concluded, “Humphrey won.”
I like history, too. I studied it once, and it offers a lot. But on this occasion—and by that I mean not only Will’s particular reference, but also the broader lessons of history relative to this year’s primaries—there is no proper comparison. For one thing, Kennedy was assassinated. It was in all the papers, so I’m surprised George missed that historical nuance. Nobody knows for sure, but fairly conventional wisdom is that Kennedy might well have been the nominee, having eclipsed McCarthy as the alternative candidate to Humphrey. And not to belabor 1968, but Humphrey’s party owned the war issue. And the Presidential loyalty trap now ensnaring the Republicans (save for Ron Paul) flummoxed the Democratic establishment. A vote against Humphrey was a vote against the Democratic administration. Tough to do, when your party had been the one in power. Oh, and McCarthy didn’t have Obama’s funding; Kennedy got a late start, where Edwards began his candidacy in the Pleistocene Era and Humphrey, unlike Hillary, was a great orator. And he wasn’t a woman. And McCarthy wasn’t African-American.
Which brings me to the bigger point when it comes to lessons for this year’s Democratic primaries: History is useless.
The rules have changed. While the Republicans still have winner-take-all-primaries, the Dems choose delegated proportionately, though only if you get at least 15 per cent of the vote. (We’ll discuss the ramifications of those elements in a separate post.) The amount and flow of money is completely different. The Democrats are the ones with WAY more money than the Republicans (OK, I’ll wait while you go back and read that again a few times) and it’s coming in from a place called the Internet that wasn’t even realized until the 2004 elections. And way back then, YouTube wasn’t around. The Difference-Making Voter in 2004 may have been the evangelical Christian motivated by the strained fear of homosexual nuptials. In 2008, it may be the hormonal teenager motivated by the strained shirt of Obama Girl.
Generals too often fight the last war and politicians too often contest the last election. Over the next 364 days we will see a race with a former first lady, a Mormon, a TV star, a Barack Obama, a socially-moderate Republican frontrunner ,and an evangelical rock musician among others continue to mix it up in an election that features no Presidential or Vice-Presidential incumbent from either party. And that’s not counting what might happen when the billionaire independent, the Green Party candidate, the Focus on the Family candidate or the Nobel Peace Prize winner jumps in.
Buckle your seat belts. We’re in for a new and bumpy ride.