Sunday, May 17, 2020

Not Taking That Chance, No, Sir

Any article, book, seminar, or political science course entitled "How to Win a Presidential Primary," must include as its first rule a lesson learned the hard way by Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar and sixteen years earlier by Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean. In the run-up to the Iowa caucus in January of 2004, CNN reported

The campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt on Thursday accused Howard Dean's camp of illegally sending out-of-state supporters to Iowa to caucus in cities and towns across the state -- an accusation Dean's manager called "ridiculous on its face."

The accusation by Gephardt's campaign is one of the most serious leveled at Dean, the front-runner who has become a larger target in the weeks before the January 19 Iowa caucus, the kickoff of the presidential election year.

Dean and Gephardt are running neck-and-neck in Iowa.....In a letter to Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, Gephardt's manager, Steve Murphy, said a Dean staff member "has contacted us to confess that efforts to send non-Iowans to caucus is indeed a critical piece of your 'perfect storm' strategy."

The Dean and Gephardt campaigns savaged each other as John Kerry went on to win that caucus, with Dean finishing third and Gephardt fourth, and the Massachusetts senator went on to win the nomination.

Fast-forward to 2016 because the 2008 Democratic primary process was fought largely by two individuals, the incumbent president cleared the field in 2012, and 2016 came down to two rivals, B. Sanders and H. Clinton.

With a fairly crowded field in 2020, Amy Klobuchar went after Elizabeth Warren, who in turn savaged Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg. Only one of them (Warren) even made it to Super Tuesday, and she just barely. Comparatively speaking, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden  remained above the fray.

Most people have underestimated the importance of that dynamic to the 2020 primary campaign. Among those who have not, some ignore the parallel to the 2004 campaign.

Bill Maher's Real Time has a segment, with an eclectic mix of items, which the host calls "I don't know it for a fact, I just know it's true." And I don't know it for a fact, I just know it's true that former President Barack Obama understands very well that lesson of 2004 and 2020.  Politico notes

Former President Barack Obama on Saturday criticized the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic during a commencement address to college graduates, saying some leaders “aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

"This pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing,” Obama said during a two-hour virtual commencement for graduates of historically black colleges and universities that streamed on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The former president, who did not mention President Donald Trump by name, has generally shied away from weighing in on politics or criticizing his successor since leaving office, but has more recently spoken out against the current administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

He's the last President with class, dignity, or any claim on truth-telling, the last who did not forfeit American leadership of the world, and one who currently receives high grades from the American people.

And he won't mention Donald Trump by name. He generally won't weigh in on politics or criticize President Trump.  In that manner, he does less than most Americans do, many of us every day, and many (not myself) who make a major sacrifice in doing so.

He's that way even though he has the second largest platform in the United States of America.  His speech to the 2020 graduates Saturday evening would be, according to this report, "shown on ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC as well as YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, California Music Channel, CNN, ESPN, The CW, FOX Business Network, FOX News Channel, Twitter, Freeform, MSNBC, Univision and over a dozen other outlets and platforms." (There there was earlier that day a speech for graduates of historically black colleges and universities.)

Former President Obama has a responsibility, and that responsibility goes beyond generalities, platitudes, even inspiring eloquence, Mr. Obama's specialty. He must name names, or at least one name.

He is invariably unwilling to do that, and it is no accident.  If Barack Obama were to criticize President Trump explicitly, Trump would counter-attack. The latter might then appear disingenuous, even foolish. He probably would look bad- but so would his target.

This would suit Donald Trump- who is determined to "flood the zone"- just fine. However, it would not suit Barack Obama, whose interest in undermining Trump is exceeded by his interest in not besmirching his own reputation, lest it chip away at his legacy.

And why should he take that chance? Barack Obama's favorability among Democrats is extremely high, and he didn't get that way by being daring, forthright, or progressive. There is no reason he should start now.

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