Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) endorsement of Barack Obama was confirmed by the New York Times this morning. For those of you who don't have time to read the article, Teddy's official entry into the chase for delegates was prompted by his dismay over the Clinton campaign's tactics in South Carolina. Kennedy will also have an influential role in the campaign for Super Delegates, of which there are over 700 if the Michigan and Florida delegations are not seated.
That said, also in today's Times,Paul Krugman points to the need for we academic historians to work faster than we do to get analysis to the public, something some of us are starting to talk about as a methodological category with its own set of challenges: "recent history." Krugman asks those who are comforted by Obama's promise of inclusiveness and a politics freedom from conflict: "Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?" Click here for Krugman's reminder that after Bill Clinton's stunning victory, which had strong populist elements, that the administration was first disabled (on health care and gays in the military) and then pushed strongly to the center on social issues, not by division within the party, but by Republican dirty deeds that kept the administration on its heels fighting ludicrous charges that were repeated by the media as if they constituted legitimate political issues. "No accusation was considered too outlandish," Krugman reminds us: "a group supported by Jerry Falwell put out a film suggesting that the Clintons had arranged for the murder of an associate, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page repeatedly hinted that Bill Clinton might have been in cahoots with a drug smuggler." Does Obama think he is immune from this? Early indications suggest that the lunatic fringe has already begun to circulate such stories. Therefore, we who are preparing to shift gears and support him should the nomination go his way hope that he is aware of what the road to hell is paved with.
Krugman also points out that although some of the tactics from the Clinton campaign have been "boorish,"the Obama campaign has also practiced the art of selective interpretation spreading false information to "demonize" its opposition. But even if this were not the case, the lesson of 1992 is not that Obama's promise of inclusiveness will create change once he gets to the White House but that a new administration needs to be committed to policies and ready to fight for them from day one, perhaps without compromise. "What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues — a focus on issues has been the great contribution of John Edwards to this campaign — and about who is best prepared to push their agenda forward," Krugman concludes. "Otherwise, even if a Democrat wins the general election, it will be 1992 all over again. And that would be a bad thing."
Right on. And it could be any of the three candidates who are able to steer this course, with the right allies. Readers here know that I am most convinced it can be Edwards. But here is a piece of wisdom I would offer the Obama camp in terms of crafting a strong campaign: Barack's heavy emphasis on matters of political style, as if that in and of itself constituted a break from the political past, is simply naive. I am particularly turned off by the notion, which I have heard him speak about three times (once in the South Carolina debate), that he will conduct high-level policy negotiations on C-Span. Personally, I think both Edwards and Clinton have demonstrated a great deal of grace by not telling him in public that promising his supporters this is either dumb or rash, depending on the level of genuine good will behind the idea. If Obama really believes that this will happen, or that a President can just tell the Congress to put committee meetings that are not now open to the public on national television, he knows less about Washington than he should, even after the short time he has spent there. On the other hand, if he is just saying this to persuade us of his desire for transparency it is misleading. It has just as much chance of happening as videotaping a debate over a tenure case and putting it up on YouTube.
As Andrew Sullivan would say…
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