Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A New Generation's Nixon

There's no way for this to sound worse than I mean it, but Hillary is our Nixon. I mean in a historical sense, leaving aside Whitewater, and I'm not saying she's Nixonian (although she appears to be controlling and possibly paranoid--but that's a different post). I'm pointing to the type of president we can expect to get in a transition election like 2008 will be. I mention this because it may offer some solace to those who have their heart set on a transcendently cool president like the three-letter guys (FDR and JFK). Nixon wasn't the GOP's transcendently cool president either--he was a crossover president that create the conditions for Ronald Reagan.

Let's have a look at the parallels. Nixon's election followed decades of Democratic rule and a liberal revolution. He was elected in the midst of an unpopular war on the promise that he would end it. He was a compromise candidate for the GOP--a liberal who was anathema to the Goldwater wing but who could attract Democrats who had grown alarmed by the ideological experimentation of liberals. In a time when the country was deeply divided, he offered a kind of acceptability to both camps--but he was loved by neither. The situation with incumbency was a little different (LBJ pulled out after New Hampshire, in March 1968--shockingly late by today's standards), but the general situation was quite similar--the incumbent party was in terrible disarray and featured several strong candidates who might have won the nomination. Nixon, on the other hand, was the only serious candidate in the Republican primary, and he won an easy nomination.

Compare that to a 2008 election of Hillary Clinton. A period of long GOP rule and a conservative revolution--check. An unpopular war and the promise to end it--check. A compromise candidate who attracts independents and Republicans--more the party than the candidate, but check. A candidate whom both parties can accept but which neither will love--definitely check. And even the situation is eerily similar--the Republicans have no serious front-runner, and the Dems seem to have had one since about 2005. There was even a Romney in both elections.

The upshot is that democratic revolutions come with the sway of opinion, and absent some major catastrophe like the Depression, this change will happen in increments. From the liberal point of view, the antidote to Bush may be Kucinich, but a candidate like Kucinich is the end-point of the revolution. You have to have your Nixon and Hillary to kick things off.

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