Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is 2008 the Election of a Lifetime? 2012 Could Be Better.

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/17/08

Reagan administrator Ed Rollins writes that this is the election of a lifetime. We’ve been hearing that quite a lot. Maybe so. Maybe not.

There are too many amateurs in this race. Obama was pulled out of nowhere by Oprah and He brightened a dark corner in a chaotic time. But it is a management job and he has no experience in management (and is 99 in seniority in his current position). Nor does McCain. And is it good to have someone as President who can think of little else besides the war he was in over 40 years ago? Could cloud your mind. Most of us have moved on.

Biden has plenty of experience, but not the kind you need to be President. Supreme Court justice maybe or chaired professor at some Eastern university like Georgetown. Governor Palin actually has more relevant experience for the job than any of the others, which says not so much about her as it does about the others.

To some degree all four of these candidates are novelties when you consider that the job at hand is primarily a management task.

There ought to be an institution or think thank of some kind which grades aspiring Presidents in a kind of classification systems like we use for sheep or at dog shows. A First Tier candidate for President might be Governor of a big state – Texas, California, New York or Pennsylvania for example; someone like Ed Rendell, Mark Warner, Deval Patrick or Arnold Schwarzenegger if he were native born. Of course, Bush was Governor of Texas, so there are no guarantees.

Second Tier: Mayor of a really big city like New York or Chicago; Mike Bloomberg or Richard Daley. Or a major military operation like NATO: Wes Clark. Or held a major cabinet post in a previous administration. We don’t usually do that but I’d like to see it: Robert Gates or Condoleezza Rice or Reagan administrators George Schultz and James A. Baker or Jim Webb, who was Secretary of the Navy under Reagan.

Third Tier: Governor of a small or lightly-populated state like Vermont or New Mexico; Bill Richardson, Howard Dean, Sarah Palin or Linda Lingle of Hawaii. A governor could get a star here for being a really good manager of a small state, like John Lynch in New Hampshire or a great governor in a bigger state, like Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.

Fourth Tier: Senators with no other experience – Biden.

Fifth Tier: Dennis Kucinich or a relative of a former President or a stand up comedian or professional wrestler or talk show host or just any celebrity or performer named Darryl or Krystal or someone who writes his name with punctuation marks in the middle of it or with the prefix Lil like Lil Wayne or Lil Kim.

The election of a lifetime is always the one that elects the great man or woman – Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt – to the position. I don’t think it is one of these four. I like them all. I think they are all nice. I just don’t think they are great.

And they are not great because history has not made them great. And history will not make them great in the next four years because the next four years will not be great. The next four years will be a dumping ground and the next President will have the pitiful task of cleaning the stables after Clinton and Bush and presiding over an unraveling. He and possibly shortly thereafter she will first have the task of getting us out of the war with Russia that Al Gore and Bill Clinton started by forcing a missile program on Congress in the mid ‘90s. He will have the task of facing an America without Wall Street and a New York without the Yankees as a winning team or The New York Times as a definitive voice. She will have the experience of watching the dollar flailing like a bird in a wind storm in an economy without walls where extended tribes in the desert have their own exchanges in buildings taller than ours. She will have the job of finding form and direction in a war that has taken on a life of its own as they tend to do when they are badly conceived and mismanaged for four years. He will watch all the hopes and aspirations of the last century and the one before that fall apart and he will hold the broken pieces.

When the pain is deep enough, the people will call up the great man or woman. It isn’t yet and the Bush people will try to hold it off best they can until after November. Then it will really start to unravel.

It will all unravel on the next President and it will unravel for a long time. Who were the Presidents during the last unravelings, in the times just before the Great Man came and we turned the corner? Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover preceded Roosevelt. Before that? Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan preceded Lincoln. What we will see in the 2008 cycle perhaps is the new Coolidge or Buchanan.

It was a sense of panic that brought us here. That and generations which have come to their ends. In 2008 and next year and the year after, we will still be at the end of things; things which began as early as the 1840s some of them and others which began in 1917. But by 2012 we might be starting to get to the new beginnings again.

The party which loses this race might be better off. I think some of the Republicans already intuit that. An Obama victory in November would likely set him up as fall guy for the mess ahead and turn it over in 2012 to Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. In a McCain/Palin Presidency the Democrats would be able to go back to the cave and pull themselves together. In 2012 they could come back with Warner, Sebelius and Rendell, their best, brightest and most capable, any one of whom is able to accept the original challenges of new awakenings in the new millennium.