Regardless of what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tell you, it looks like the race for the White House is turning out to be quite the familiar affair. Of course, the fact that the Democratic nominee will either be a woman or an African American is ‘history-making,’ as is the possibility of a seventy-one year old Arizonan becoming President of the United States. While the demographic make-up of the candidate field is certainly a welcome change, I can’t help but notice that the political rules and tactics of the campaign are, to borrow a phrase from the political lexicon, ‘more of the same.’
In a campaign dominated by the politics of change and hope, it is almost tragically sobering to see that what is being promised by the Democratic candidates is less than visionary. To their credit, both Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton have begun to talk about the notion of economic justice–that the incoming President must not only address an economy in recession but also growing inequality between sectors of American society. With the absence of former Sen. John Edwards from the race, however, there seems to be little more than lip service going on. Say what you will about the four hundred dollar haircuts, but Mr. Edwards’ consistent appeal to a new American populism ensured that issues of social justice and economic equality took center stage on the campaign trail. With him gone, the remaining candidates find themselves in a mad dash to gather up Edwards’ delegates, promising middle-class tax cuts as a way of addressing Mr. Edwards’ concern over what he called the ‘two Americas’—that of the haves, and the other of the have-nots.
I imagine that there is an economic explanation for why middle-class tax cuts could lead to a decrease in inequality, and it is probably a pretty good one. What bothers me, however, is that, while they may in actuality be a good policy option, they can’t possibly be the only one out there. In an election year in which at least one candidate is promising revolutionary change in the political tone of Washington, shouldn’t one expect a similar call for revolutionary change in policy? It’s of little wonder, then, why some political observers are beginning to question the logic of a political strategy that emphasizes change while failing to engage in a serious debate about the ways in which such change will be made politically manifest.
Over the past few weeks, the now-fledgling campaign of Ms. Clinton has made this the cornerstone of its offensive strategy. Over the weekend, the former First Lady worked on turning Mr. Obama’s strengths against him, arguing that being able to speak well about change in America does not necessarily mean that you are the best agent of change. Luckily for Mr. Obama, though, Ms. Clinton’s strategy seems to be gaining little traction among the electorate. The greatest challenge for Mr. Obama at this point is developing a persuasive argument to secure the nearly eighty hundred and fifty uncommitted ‘superdelegates’—Democratic Party insiders and elected officials who may end up playing the role of king-maker.
With a state of delegate-detente setting over the Democratic race, one has to look no further than the Republican side of the aisle for a something a bit more interesting. Following his poor performance on Super Tuesday, former Governor Mitt Romney decided to withdraw from the race. From a strategic perspective, this is perhaps the best move available to Romney. As a generally likeable and relatively young man, he certainly has the option of returning to the national political scene in the near future. And a long, drawn-out battle for the nomination would have done little to position Romney in the good graces of Republican Party insiders who are anxious to settle upon a nominee.
With Romney’s withdrawal, John McCain has become the presumptive nominee. All that stands in the way of McCain and the nomination at this point is the continuing specter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
Who is Mike Huckabee? Well, Rolling Stone has resorted to expletives in describing this former minister, and even the New York Times Magazine (a usually even-headed publication) could only come up with, ‘Mike Huckabee: Really?’ Needless to say, Huckabee’s own personality is difficult for me to relate to. He is largely anti-gay, anti-poor and well, anti-Jacob Candelaria. I’ve even heard rumor that he is pro-The Daily Princetonian and anti-Nass. What interests me more about Mr. Huckabee (and believe me, it is a perverse interest at best) is the fact that he has chosen to remain in this race.
Best estimates by leading news organizations and the McCain campaign indicate that it is a virtually mathematic impossibility. Even if Mr. Huckabee were to win the Texas and Ohio primaries, he would be capable of doing little more than forcing a delegate fight at the Republican convention for McCain. For McCain, Mr. Huchabee’s continued candidacy can be little more than an annoyance. While Mr. Huckabee no longer poses a threat to McCain’s eventual nomination, he is nevertheless preventing McCain from acting like the presumptive nominee. What this means is that every dollar the McCain campaign has to spend in running a competitive campaign in Republican primaries is one less dollar the campaign can use against the Democratic nominee. This problem is made all the more relevant for McCain given that his campaign is strapped for cash, while the Democrats are experiencing a record year in terms of campaign donations. Huckabee’s continued presence in this race is also preventing McCain from moving into the role of peacemaker among social conservatives who continue to prefer Huckabee over McCain.
So why is Huckabee still in the race? Well, it could be a matter of pride. Or rather that he feels he is representing the beliefs of social conservatives who have yet to find a place in the McCain camp. While these normative considerations certainly hold weight with any politician, they perhaps provide insufficient explanation given the grueling nature of continuing a Presidential campaign. What seems more likely is that Huckabee is staying in this race to ensure his spot on the ticket as a Vice Presidential candidate. With a strong showing in Texas and Ohio, Huckabee will be better able to exert pressure on McCain to give him the VP nod. Securing Huckabee delegates will allow McCain to come out of the convention with what he needs most: the semblance of a Republican party that is united behind its nominee.
With the prospect of a McCain-Huckabee ticket, I am increasingly certain of two things: 1) that a coalition of defense-minded voters and social conservatives may provide the Republicans with a viable ticket in November and 2) that I will most certainly be voting Democratic.