IF YOU LIKED WILLIE HORTON AND THE SWIFT BOAT GUYS, YOU'LL LOVE 2008
There's a page-one story in The Washington Post about the two big forthcoming books on Hillary Clinton, one by Carl Bernstein, the other by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta of The New York Times. Both books, we're told, rehash unpleasant stories from the Clintons' past and sprinkle on a bit more fresh dirt.
This is about one '08 candidate -- but it hints at a bigger issue for next year. People often say that the Iraq War will absolutely be the #1 issue in the '08 presidential election -- but they're dead wrong. The Iraq War should be the #1 issue. The voters will want it to be the #1 issue. But it won't be.
It can't be -- because if it is, the Democrat will win handily, and the Beltway Establishment doesn't want that to happen. So when the Republicans try to change the subject -- try to make the election about John Edwards's money and alleged vanity, or about Barack Obama's foreign roots or his pastor's political beliefs, or about all the things in the Gerth/Van Natta and Bernstein books -- the Beltway press will do everything in its power to aid and abet them. That's because the press wants Rudy or John or Fred or Mitt to win. The press has some fondness for Obama, but it can be talked out of that. And the press hates Hillary Clinton and enjoys picking on John Edwards. (And forget Gore -- the press doesn't like him, either.)
So nothing you or I would consider an issue will dominate the discussion in '08. That seems insane, given the war (which will absolutely still be going strong all through next year), and given other pressing concerns (such as health care), but that's the way it's going to be. The election will be a referendum on one of the items the GOP floats as the '08 version of Willie Horton or Kerry's time on the Swift Boat. It's going to be about trivia. It's going to be as if we're in 1860 and we're not talking about slavery because we're too busy discussing whether Abe Lincoln had some sinister motive for growing that beard.