San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 21st, 2008
The Democrats debate

COMMENTARY
By BILL PETERSON

Thursday evening’s debate at the University of Texas between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was not a great, history-making occasion. It’s one presidential debate out of dozens to be conducted this year, it produced no clear moments of memory and it probably didn’t change anyone’s mind about who to support in the March 4 Democratic primary.

But it certainly brought into focus the pathos of Democratic presidential politics, where the establishment is never far from extinction. It also illustrates a dispositional divide between Democrats and Republicans.

In short, it’s more than a coincidence that the Republicans gave George Bush’s son two terms, and the Democrats won’t even give Bill Clinton’s wife one.

Once upon a time, America’s general voting majority was the New Deal coalition consisting of Southern whites, Jews, the intelligentsia, African Americans, urban ethnics and organized labor. The Democrats won seven of nine presidential elections that way, until George Wallace ran as an independent in 1968, carried most of The South and helped Richard Nixon into the White House.

A de-alignment ensued in the 1970s, then the Republicans defined a new majority of business, Christian fundamentalists and Southerners with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. Ever since then, the Republicans have won with the lineage from Reagan to his vice president, Bush, to Bush’s son. The Republicans know exactly what they are – neocons, theocons and radical tax haters – and nothing else is good enough to carry the flag. Much as the Republicans hate to stray, though, the lineage has run out and they’ve got nowhere else to turn, so they’re settling for John McCain.

Perhaps that means the Democrats are about to take their turn, but not unless they can define a majority that wins in the absence of complete voter disgust with Republican excesses. Of course, the Democrats apparently have no interest in defining that majority. Instead, they pray that fortune will save them – either a demographic shift or a complete unknown who they can’t butcher for the flaws in his record.

It was Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1992 and, now, Barack Obama, fresh from nowhere, a candidate immune to criticism because he’s such a fine speaker and no one knows a thing about him. The Democrats won’t hitch their star to Bill Clinton because, whatever his successes, he was a compromiser who has discredited himself in various other ways, including his boorish behavior during the present campaign. Hillary Clinton is guilty by association, among other reasons.

So, the Democrats will turn to the new guy, and he’ll probably win because the Republicans don’t have an old guy. Well, John McCain is old. But he’s no Reagan.

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