Pleasing The Base Or Running The General Election Now?
From seeing the accounts of the last Democratic presidential debate, it seems pretty clear to me that Hillary is running the general election campaign now; Edwards’ message is aimed at the base; and Obama is attempting to straddle the two approaches. Hillary, her corporate pollster Mark Penn, and her Libby-loving senior advisor James Carville have deemed it imperative for her to be seen as the Beltway-trusted centrist who can pass the “I’m as tough as they are but smarter” test on national security and foreign policy. The approach domestically appears to be a naked appeal along the lines of “if you liked the 90’s and what Bill did, then elect me.” She gave the answer the Beltway wanted on whether or not we are safer since 9/11, an answer that doesn’t sit well with the Democratic base, yet both Edwards and Obama, who were quick to attack her answer have both said the same thing as she. She nailed an effective Democratic response on Iraq when she said the real differences on Iraq are not among Democrats but rather between Democrats and Republicans.
But when it comes to domestic priorities, of all the top three candidates Hillary has disappeared on health care, and let Edwards and Obama take the lead. Perhaps this was inevitable given the scars she has from the 1990’s, but if your whole approach on health care is to parrot the GOP line on technology and to allow the states to take the lead while the feds do little, then you aren’t showing any real leadership either. She is lowering expectations in Iowa, while aiming to grab many delegates early in the big states with the newly-frontloaded schedule.
Edwards for his part is speaking directly to the base when he says that the war on terror as executed by the Bush Administration is nothing more than a bumper sticker slogan. The argument may not play in purple states or with independent voters, and it allows the Beltway pundits to paint Edwards as someone who cannot be trusted to protect America. While he correctly bashes the administration for its craven approach to the war on terror, he also needs to lay out a strong alternative of what he would do differently. To his credit, he has staked out a health care proposal that includes a mandatory coverage requirement that would be funded by rolling back the upper income tax cuts. He and Obama speak about poverty at a time when more and more of the public agrees with them.
Obama is trying to find a balance between the passion sought by the base, and the pragmatism sought by the independents. He is carefully calibrating his message for both camps, and his success is reflected in some of the national polls that I referenced yesterday. He is playing for the long haul by aiming to overtake Hillary’s lead in some of the early states on the assumption that she is in an ongoing downward slide. A much better debater now, he was ready to push back against Edwards’ aggressive efforts to isolate him and Hillary on Iraq. His healthcare proposal's focus on affordability may not be universal coverage, but is a good step forward. And he is trying to say what the Beltway wants to hear about Iraq and Iran, while reminding people that he would not have made the same mistakes that Hillary and Edwards made in getting us here.
For what it’s worth, I think Hillary would select Obama as her running mate.
Your thoughts on the race so far are welcome.