David Leonhardt, whom I sometimes think is the worst of the horrible stable of New York Times op-ed writers until Michelle Goldberg launches into another fact-free rant or Charles M. Blow authors the latest escalation in his campaign to convince readers that President Trump is the spawn of Satan, wrote an op-ed last week attacking the parties’ nominating processes and asserting that “We have an unnecessarily weak presidential field, especially the incumbent.” Read the article. There is no logic to it, nor consistency; it is yet another “I wonder how gullible and ignorant my readers are?” experiment. Essentially the piece is anti-democratic, as a majority of progressives seem to have soured on democracy once it “failed” by not electing Hillary Clinton President. (I regard the election of Donald Trump over Clinton as one of the most important and exhilarating expressions of democracy in our history, though it was substantially due to moral luck.) Leonhardt’s argument is also historical nonsense, as he claims that the parties were better at picking qualified and electable candidates in the past. They most certainly were not: overage generals like Winfield Scott*, W.H. Harrison and Zachary Taylor, the latter two who, though elected, promptly died, thus elevating to the White House VPs that nobody ever wanted or envisioned as Presidents…popular generals with no governing experience whatsoever, like U.S. Grant and John C. Fremont…wildly popular outgoing Presidents’ handpicked successors who would never have been nominated otherwise, like Van Buren, Taft, and Bush? Packaged puppets like Warren G. Harding and William McKinley? Doomed losers like Horace Greeley, James Cox, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Mike Dukakis and (yechh) John Kerry? Already once or twice beaten past candidates like Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Dewey and Adlai Stevenson? Brilliant!
Leonhardt even offers Abraham Lincoln as an example of the effectiveness of past party nominating systems, ignoring, or, based on his established level of acuity, unaware of the fact that Abe won despite getting only 38% of the vote, or about the same proportion Barry Goldwater and George McGovern received while losing in landslides. That he turned out to be a great President was more moral luck: Lincoln had no executive governing experience at all before being thrust into the most difficult challenge a President had faced since Washington, hadn’t even been a general, and was known mostly for his wit and oratory. With the nation teetering on destruction, the candidates selected by the Democratic and Republican parties in 1860 consisted of Lincoln, John Breckinridge, Buchanan’s inert Vice-President, who had also no executive governing experience, and Stephen Douglas, who also had never run anything and had been a full-time legislator for two decades. In his favor, he had a lot more relevant experience than Lincoln. On the deficit side, he would die in 1861, meaning that if Douglas had been elected the new President would have been the immortal Herschel Vespasian Johnson.
Leonhardt explains why the current field of Democrats is so weak, as if that wasn’t already depressingly obvious, but he never points to a single current non-candidate who would be any more promising, because there aren’t any. He muses about Democratic governors who might be more promising: Like who, exactly…the ridiculous Andrew Cuomo? How many Democratic governors have distinguished themselves enough to have any national name recognition at all, other than Cuomo and Virginia’s Ralph Northam, of blackface fame?
It’s not the process, obviously, it’s the people. Then Leonhardt ends with “Of course, the biggest sign that the process is broken isn’t any of those seven. It is the man in the Oval Office.” Got it. The op-ed is just more anti-Trump teeth gnashing.
Whatever Donald Trump may be, the fact that he beat a supposed Democratic star overwhelmingly expected to win proves that he was not a weak candidate by definition, and as an incumbent President, he is stronger now. Incumbent Presidents are usually strong candidates because no matter who they are, if the economy is thriving, their foreign policy weaknesses haven’t crippled them, and there’s no prominent third party candidate to siphon votes away, they win, like Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Ike, Truman and FDR (and going back further yet to the beginning of the 20th Century, , Wilson, Teddy, and McKinley).
But I digress. The shocking deficiencies of the current Democratic hopefuls were on full display as the awful awful, awful December debate wound down.
Pete Buttigieg began the worst pander-fest of the evening: Continue reading