Thursday, May 24, 2007So far Barack Obama has not lived up to his potential as a candidate. This doesn't mean I don't like him, or that he's going to be a big disappointment. But I do think he's made a couple of strategic error thus far. His biggest obstacle to the nomination isn't Hillary Clinton, but John Edwards, who is doing well with the change-oriented, liberal, anti-war base of the party. Whoever wants to beat Hillary is going to have to consolidate that constituency.
Barack shouldn't run with an eye to Hillary, but with an eye to Edwards. With his superior media position, Obama can basically steal Edwards' platform. If he had done this at the start, he would have suffocated Edwards' candidacy from the beginning and would now be the only alternative to Clinton. This is particularly the case when considering Iraq, where Barack's anti-war bona fides are much better than Edwards.
The Democratic candidates for President need to understand something about the Iraq War: there is no serious downside to being strongly anti-war. Everyone knows that running against the war helps in the Democratic primaries. What people haven't seem to have grasped is that running against the war is also the best strategy for the general election. If we are still in Iraq in November 2008, then the Presidential campaign will be solely about that issue. The Republicans are going to be trapped being pro-war, and the Democrat will be very much in line with the majority of the population. Heightening the contrast on Iraq would be the key to victory. However, if we are out of Iraq, then the war won't be an issue. An anti-war candidate can say "See, I said we should get out and I was right." And he or she can then talk about other things.
Whether we are in Iraq or out of it, an anti-war position is the smartest play for a Democratic Presidential candidate. The idea that Democrats need to prove they are "tough" by being hawkish on Iraq indicates a profound misunderstanding of the political dynamics. Being a hawk isn't going to be much an asset in the post-Iraq era.
The fact is that it's not the Democrats who have an Iraq problem - it's the Republicans. Their candidates can't separate themselves from Bush because the war is still popular with Republican voters. Nobody who runs against the war can win the nomination. But running as the pro-war candidate will be death in the general election.
None of this is to say that the Democratic Congress don't have an Iraq problem - they do, since they have an immediate influence over the continuance of the war. But even then, the Republicans still have a larger problem. If they keep voting in favor of fighting in Iraq, they are doomed come 2008. They know it, but they can't find an escape because their own voters won't allow them to change positions. They're simply stuck.
So Barack, John, Hillary, whoever - run as a dove in 2008. It's not just the right thing, but the shrewd thing.