Between Hillary and a Hard Place
Many Americans have concluded that Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter. The parallels simply flood the mind: economic malaise, pervasive unemployment, a languid stock market, the revival of the "misery index," saber-rattling by Iran met with tepid American response, a president with a "lovely smile" and a superior attitude. What's not to dislike?
But we still lack one thing to complete the Jimmy Carter déjà vu. We lack a Democratic primary challenger who is a relative of a philandering former Democratic president. We lack a very viable Hillary Clinton challenge to Barack Obama, and we are very unlikely to get one no matter what circumstances unfold in the year before the Charlotte Democratic Convention. As you may remember, Camelot's last shot at entitlement was Senator Ted Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980. Kennedy took it all the way to the convention where he lost 2 to 1. Just as the power of incumbency was reasserted in Ronald Reagan's challenge to Gerald Ford in 1976, the Democrats turned away even a Kennedy to embrace their sitting president. Though wounded, Carter led Reagan by 20+ points in June of 1980 and was running neck-and-neck with Reagan much of the fall until the electorate broke late for Reagan after the only debate between the two.
So why are we unlikely to get a Hillary challenge to President Obama, even though in some polls she is preferred over the president among Democrats right now? The first reason has to do with the Democratic Party's partisan use of race. Democrats believe that all blacks and women belong only in their party, voting only for their candidates. The standard joke about Democrats is that when anything bad happens in the world, their spin with the media's help is always "women and minorities hardest hit." Democrats have been able to foist this anti-historical racial entitlement on the American people, despite their own party's abysmal record on Jim Crow, lynching laws, segregation, and voting rights, and they are not about to give it up. Undermining the "first black president" would erode this unmerited but favorable position, so neither Democrats nor Hillary Clinton will even attempt it, even in the face of a failing presidency.
The second reason why Hillary will not challenge the president is that such an affront would dispel the fairy dust surrounding the president and force Obama voters to admit their votes cast for him in 2008 were uninformed at best and narcissistic at worst. Obama voters were uninformed because they refused to look at the actual man. The media wing of the Democratic Party didn't help. Obama's record, his experience, and his life-long connections went largely unexamined and unreported by the fourth estate. To paraphrase Socrates, "the unexamined candidate is not worth electing" and there has never been a more unexamined presidential candidate that Barack Obama.
But voter narcissism played an even greater role. Many voted for Obama not simply because he was not George Bush or because he was left-leaning or sounded smart. They voted for Obama because of what it said about them. Obama voters saw themselves as "enlightened," beholding in the Obama Rorschach-test things no one else could see. Who knows -- they might even live to tell their grandchildren that they cast an "historic" vote for the first black president. Historic voters going down in history. What could be more flattering?
But can an entire political party admit that they were blinded by the light emanating from Barack Obama, especially if there is political hell to pay now? Not likely.
But the third reason that Hillary will not run is decisive. A primary challenge to Barack Obama would split the party for a generation, drive African-American voters away, and doom Democrats to minority status for years to come. The party that lives by the pseudo-racial sword would die by it as well. Democrats, having willfully blinded themselves to Obama-the-man in favor of "the first black president," cannot now suddenly appraise him in the cool light of performance and electability. They are stuck. Their president has been shown to be a failure, but they cannot do anything about it. Democrats must play out the last fifteen months knowing that the wrong candidate will be their standard-bearer in 2012. The candidate they think should have won in 2008 will be nowhere to be found in 2012.
Jay Haug is an unemployed, gig-seeking freelance writer living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.