Friday, May 30, 2008

My email to David Broder

This Thursday David Broder's column addressed the divisions in the Democratic Party and how they might make governing difficult for Senator Obama if he is elected President.  Using an old interview from the recently deceased Hamilton Jordan, he draws an analogy between Senator Obama and Jimmy Carter, who also rose out of obscurity to win the nomination of a divided party.  He concludes:

Because Carter ran against the Washington establishment, he had no claim on their loyalty -- and they easily spurned him, Jordan told his interviewers. Because he sought to appease them by giving the vice presidency to one of their own, Walter Mondale, they scorned him. And because he tried to flatter them by giving key places in his administration to some of them, he faced continual rebellions within his own White House and Cabinet.

This is the cautionary tale Obama and his brain trust could find in Jordan's interview. Obama, too, has profited from fragmentation in the Democratic Party that has allowed a long shot, once again, to capture its greatest prize. But if he is elected, he will have to solve the problems of fragmentation that doomed Jimmy Carter.

While Broder makes some good comparisons, especially about Carter's and Obama's outsider status, there are major differences between Carter's situation and Obama's.  Broder says:  "In the two previous elections, the Democratic Party was riven by strife over the Vietnam War, social policy and civil rights."  I don't see such deep disagreement over policy in the party today.  Also, the parties have become used to outsider candidates as both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ran as outsiders, even though Bush had insider support due to his father.  I addressed my thoughts to Broder in this email:

Mr. Broder,

I've just read your column, "The Enemy Within." While you make some good arguments, and think it is appropriate that we remember the important contributions of Hamilton Jordan, I'm not sure that I agree with your conclusions.

The division between Senators Clinton and Obama seems to be more of style over substance. The only domestic policy differences to surface during the campaign are the minor variations in their health care plans and Senator Clinton's gas tax relief proposal. The two Senators have some substantive differences on how to handle foreign policy, specifically Iran, but that debate won't feature much Congressional involvement. This unity is not exclusive to just Senators Clinton and Obama, the only Democratic contenders to seriously disagree with the party line were Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel.

As the campaign has moved forward the personality divisions have deepened. Clinton supporters are resentful that the first serious female candidate has been robbed of her chance. Obama supporters decry the methods Senator Clinton has used to stave off her inevitable defeat. This leads me to believe that the main difficulty for Obama will be unifying the party to get elected, not governing. I just don't think Congressional Democrats are going to implode debating whether we should have a health care mandate or not.

The wildcard, as you mention, are the new Democrats that will get elected to Congress during this cycle. Integrating so many new members into the Democratic caucus would be a difficult challenge for any President, but it will have to be faced no matter who is the nominee. The political debate so far has shown that this is a year of uncommon political unity within the party. Senator Obama, with his new voters and new money, should be able to seize the governing initiative and accomplish some of his goals.

Matt C.
Sadly, Broder hasn't replied to my message.  Hopefully I'll have better luck next time.

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