If you are like me at all (and you probably are if you are reading this
blog) then you look forward to January 20th 2009 with a mixture of
great anticipation and a certain nagging dread. Anticipation that the
long dark night of two misbegotten and utterly tragic Bush terms will
be over, and dread as to who will be taking the oath on that day.
I’d like to offer you some hope: I don’t think it will be another
Republican (but then I never do, so my objectivity is questionable as
to this point). In conjunction with the Republican Congress, Bush has,
for now, exhausted the credibility of the conservative movement with
the American people. I think I have some plausible ideas about which
Democrats may be taking the oath, and it may not be anyone you expect.
Many progressive Democrats have angst about current polling that shows
the most likely Democratic candidate to be taking the noontime oath
from Justice Roberts is Hillary Rodham Clinton. Let me reassure you,
it’s not going to happen that way.
There are several reasons why it won’t be Hillary: she’s a Senator with no significant administrative achievements, her negatives are far too high, she’s out of step on Iraq, she’s been soft on Bush, she’s perceived as too liberal, she’s perceived as too conservative (quite a feat, really), she’s perceived as over-weaningly ambitious to be President, and the elephant (or should that be donkey?) in the room – she’s a woman.
Americans are not going to elect any woman President – yet. It is progress that there is speculation about it and that Hillary polls so well now, but it is not enough for Americans to take that plunge.
Women need to make greater in-roads in the highest reaches of American national life before it can happen. Most importantly, women need to achieve a greater role in national defense policy and administration. Maddy Albright and Condi Rice have both done wonders for acceptance of women in national security affairs by taking strong leadership roles in the last two Administrations (though Condi’s general incompetence may offset her effect on gender roles somewhat). But there is still a glass ceiling in politics, specifically under the national defense establishment, that will have to be pierced.
A female Secretary of Defense, chairman of the House or Senate Armed Services committees, a head of a service branch, or chairwoman of the joint chiefs, or Vice President would advance the campaign for a female President. Some or all of the above will be needed before Americans become comfortable with a female Commander in Chief. Hillary may have the political savvy and influence to grab the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination, but despite a ‘strong’ national security record in the Senate, Americans just won’t accept her as Commander in Chief. And she knows it.
If there’s one thing the Clinton’s are not, it’s stupid. Hillary and Bill know that it just isn’t possible for a woman to make it into the Presidency in one grand leap. If Hillary has any chance of being the first woman President, she has to be Vice President first. Hillary Clinton’s 30-40% of the Democratic electorate will be used to be the king-maker, not the queen.
There is little doubt in my mind that Hillary (and Bill) will be decisive in who will be the Democratic nominee. Their control isn’t certain or absolute, by any means, but their influence will be substantial and the most public payment for their favor will be the Vice Presidency for Hillary.
So who will be their choice? To some degree that depends on the reception that the candidates receive from the electorate. The pre-primary season – the money race, the media’s reactions, the debates – will have substantial influence. The Clintons can’t transform a frog into a prince, as Clarke demonstrated in 2004. The early primary contests, broadened in ’08 to include two more caucuses between Iowa and New Hampshire, may be very influential. South Carolina, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama and Mississippi are among the states under consideration for the new early caucuses. Should either New Mexico or Arkansas be chosen, it could give a substantial leg up to either of two Clinton associates with Presidential designs: New Mexico’s Bill Richardson, or Arkansas’ Wesley Clarke. Either of them has the stuff for the top of the ticket.
However, I think that there will be a clear leader of the pack long before the primaries, and it will be someone else. He’s got universal name recognition. He’s got a ton of sympathy and respect among Democrats. He’s about to become a major media property, and he’s long been astride a newly prominent issue that is standing on the moral high-ground and has broad and profound policy implications.
His name is Al Gore, and was the next President of the United States. Gore will be the presumptive nominee in the minds of Democrats even before the primaries begin. He’ll be very coy for some time yet, but ultimately he will be drafted and will serve when called.
The Clintons can’t refuse to endorse him if he has momentum. The Chairman of the DNC owes him a political debt. He has both impeccable centrist credentials as a Senator and as Vice-President, and impeccable progressive credentials from his time in the wilderness being a savage critic of the Bush Administration’s most egregious errors and usurpations. He has a geographically-based advantage over most other candidates of his stature (the exception being Mark Warner of VA). He can tap a major source of grassroots funding and man-power through his association with MoveOn and other netroots organizations. He has had solid practical experience running for President or Vice President in every campaign since 1984 (except for 2004). He polls as high as Kerry, and he’s not even expressed interest in 2008 yet. Plus, a Gore-Clinton ticket has enough irony and nostalgia to make any Democrat a little vaporous. I’m not the only one thinking this way, of course. What is now a tentative exploration of possibilities will eventually become the Conventional Wisdom, and Gore will rapidly transform into the man to beat in 2008.
Most intriguing is that Gore is set to make the environment a truly central theme of a Presidential contest and the public is finally ready to respond to it in a major way. The utter debacle of losing New Orleans, the politicization of climate science by Bush, and the pocketbook impact of global energy prices have set the stage for this issue to mature into a bi-partisan issue of concern. Gore’s theme of Global Warming (and the underlying issues of carbon emissions, energy efficiency and alternative energy) touches upon every other aspect of American politics and policy, both domestic and international. I suspect that within a decade Global Warming policy will be as bi-partisan as foreign policy was during the Cold War – only a few wacky and marginal figures on the fringe will continue to deny the issues’ importance or the validity of the science, the only political conflict will be a competition to address it most effectively.
Gore’s new movie is the next logical step in Presidential campaigning: the campaign movie. Kerry’s “Going Upriver” was too relentlessly biographical and came far too late. The brilliance of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is that it isn’t really about Gore; it’s about the animating theme of the future Gore Presidency. People will see it even despite Gore’s association with the project. People can even buy into the theme and not support Gore.
Gore is using the most powerful media form on the planet today to frame the ultimate moral and security issue for the electorate: the continued existence of our civilization and the future of humanity. Beside that, gay marriages just seem a little trivial, don’t they? Just as national security is the ultimate topper in today’s politics, environmental security will be tomorrow’s. The DVD release, then the television broadcasting rights will propel Gore’s central theme right through 2008, and prepare a fertile ground for Gore’s dominance of the pre-primary season.
Few rivals for the nod in 2008 will be able to generate the sort of free media that Gore’s movie will. But Gore is not a one trick pony. As the recent Wired lead article relates, his activities as an entrepreneur in media and green investing are also a potential mine of campaign issues and free media attention. Gore will be able to address authoritatively issues of media consolidation and democratic access, intellectual property, the capitalist case for long-term and sustainable investment policies, and of course, Internet policy. These are all vital issues for American economic growth and global competitiveness. Except perhaps for Mark Warner, I don’t think there is another contender who can stay in the ring with Gore on these issues.
Finally, there is a certain poetic justice to a Gore Presidency in 2008. Even the most partisan Republican must admit that, at best, Bush and Gore split the difference in 2000: Bush seizing the electoral vote, and Gore winning the popular. The Supreme Court’s decision to halt the recount and give the Presidency to Bush marked the departure point for a potential alternative history. We will have had the 8 years of Bush that lurked down one fork of the road. And what an utter FUBAR it was, even in conservative movement terms. It seems only just that now America take a trip down the road not taken, and see what a Gore Administration holds in store.
For these many reasons it will be Al Gore taking the oath at noon on January 20th 2008. Hillary Clinton will have already been sworn in as the first female Vice President of these United States.
Of course, my prediction is only conjecture based on instict and the available data. I would love to hear other reasoned scenarios of who will take the oath.