Saturday, August 03, 2019


On the first night of this week's presidential debates, John Delaney said,
Folks, we have a choice. We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren want to take us with bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything and impossible promises that’ll turn off independent voters and get Trump reelected. That’s what happened with McGovern. That’s what happened with Mondale. That’s what happened with Dukakis.
I don't want to relitigate the McGovern and Mondale campaigns, but Dukakis? "Free everything and impossible promises" weren't what defeated him. He ran on a capitalist revival (the so-called Massachusetts Miracle, a tech-driven rejuvenation of his state's economy). Until nearly the end of his campaign, he refused to call himself a liberal (a term right-wingers used at the time as a curseword; the present-day equivalent is "socialist"). The issue on which he was most strenuously attacked wasn't economic -- it was crime, particularly his opposition to the death penalty. (No Democratic nominee since Dukakis has categorically rejected capital punishment.)

But what really killed Dukakis was his Spock-like coolness of affect. Like a lot of wonks, he was incapable of being a gregarious Big Man on Campus, which is what most Americans seem to want in a president. In a debate, he gave a rehearsed answer to a question on the death penalty from CNN's Bernard Shaw -- somehow not processing the outrageous nature of the question, which asked him to imagine the aftermath of his own wife's rape and murder.

Amy Klobuchar doesn't seem like a wonk. It's unlikely that she'd give a Dukakis-like answer to a question about a horrible crime involving a close family member.

But in a couple of ways, she's very much like Dukakis. In his convention acceptance speech, Dukakis said, "This election is not about ideology. It's about competence." In the first presidential debate in June, Klobuchar said, "I have a track record of passing over 100 bills where I'm the lead Democrat. And that is because I listened and I acted. And I think that's important in a president. Everything else just melts away." From reports of her dealings with staff members, we know she can get angry, but she's selling herself as a perpetually even-tempered, purely pragmatic alternative to the volatile Donald Trump.

American politics is much more fevered now than it was in 1988. Everyone, across the political spectrum, is angry, or at least disgruntled. Do we want cool and competent?

I think we want that even less than we did in 1988, which is why I question Ed Kilgore's contention that Klobuchar could conceivably have a breakout moment if things go right for her:
A less crowded debate stage would definitely give Klobuchar a better opportunity to contrast her very practical executive-order-heavy agenda of things she’d do in her first 100 days in office with all those big, bold progressive proposals from others that would require (as Bernie Sanders admits) a “political revolution” to get anywhere.

... if she gets a lot of breaks and takes full advantage of them, Klobuchar might get a look as a potential nominee who is strong but not shout-y, smart but relatable. [She could] stand out as unbreakable and electable in the hothouse atmosphere of the 2020 race....
I don't see it. Most of America would love to be rid of our all-id, perpetual-rage president, but I think voters want a candidate who'll shout at least once in a while, in the appropriate circumstances. It's not a good moment for Klobuchar.

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