Some thoughts about the election

Business Times - 11 Oct 2007
Towards the Clinton restoration?
It's no longer a question of if Hillary will become president but who will make up her cabinet


THE first US presidential primaries will take place in three months and the American voters will cast their votes for their next president on Nov 8 next year.

But when it comes to Washington's political movers and shakers - the lawmakers, the bureaucrats, the lobbyists, the pollsters, the campaign managers, the reporters, the pundits - it seems that the choice has already been made.

Indeed, it's very difficult to find anyone in the US capital who would challenge what has become the conventional wisdom of the political class: the next president of the United States will be the Democratic senator from New York and the ex-first lady.

Drop into one of the cocktail parties or diplomatic receptions in this city and you won't be surprised to find out that those who belong to the Inside-the-Beltway crowd are not discussing who will replace George W Bush in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Instead they are arguing over the names of the advisers that 'Hillary' will bring with her to the White House. Who is she going to choose as her vice-presidential running mate? Will she select former ambassador Richard Holbrooke or the chairman of the senate foreign relations committee Joseph Biden as her secretary of state?

Will the neo-liberal free-traders or the left-wing protectionist dominate her economic team? And what role will 'First Laddie' Bill Clinton play in her administration?

On one level, the conventional wisdom in Washington reflects the mood among both Democratic voters - who will have to elect their party's candidate for the presidency next year - and the general electorate.

Most public opinion polls indicate that among registered Democrats (who are permitted to vote in their party's primaries) Hillary Clinton is ahead of her two main contenders, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former senator (and former vice-presidential candidate) John Edwards by 30 to 40 per cent.

At the same time, the opinion polls suggest that if the election would have taken place this week, Mrs Clinton will beat any of the leading Republican presidential candidates, including popular former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

On another level, the 'political professionals' in Washington who have the power to determine the three Ms of the election campaign - Money-Media-Momentum - who help the presidential candidates to raise the money to buy television air-time and to create the political momentum of the race - have the tendency to magnify the success of the leading candidate - the so-called Front-Runner - who 'everyone' seems to expect will emerge the winner.

The result is that this front-runner in the race ends up getting more media coverage which translates to more money - after all, it seems quite natural to want to jump on board the political train carrying the winner - which creates even more momentum and higher numbers in the opinion polls.

This is exactly the position of the 'unstoppable' front-runner Hillary Clinton finds herself these days. But then this was also the position that Republican candidate George HW Bush had found himself on the eve of the Republican presidential primaries in 1979 - and he eventually lost (to Ronald Reagan). Then again, it was also the position that George W Bush had found himself on the eve of the Republican presidential primaries in 2000 - and this Bush eventually did win.

So it's not surprising that while Mrs Clinton continues to win in the polls, the media coverage and fund raising, Mr Obama, the charismatic and young African American candidate, and Mr Edwards, the attractive and populist southern candidate, are not in a mood to concede defeat any time soon.

They are both hoping that the open 'caucus' in Iowa and the primaries in New Hampshire will provide an opportunity for young Democratic Party activists to demonstrate their opposition to their party's establishment by voting against Mrs Clinton, the establishment's favourite daughter.

Many of these activists who are operating behind the back of the party's bosses, including through the use of the Internet, could end-up tipping the balance in Iowa and New Hampshire in favour of Mr Obama or Mr Edwards, depriving Mrs Clinton of her status as a front-runner and shifting votes, money and momentum to her rivals.

And while the opinion polls - as well as the overall sentiment among leaders and activists of the two major political parties - show that it would be close to impossible for the Republicans to win the White House - or for that matter to regain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate - which means that any Democratic presidential candidate, including Mickey Mouse, could win the White House by default - Mr Giuliani and the rest of the Republican presidential wannabes recognise that if, as the cliche goes, 24 hours is a lifetime in politics, then 12 political months amount to an eternity.

There are so many unknowns that could happen until next November - another terrorist attack in the US? War with Iran? Economic recession? Economic boom? - that could change the political environment and the mood of the electorate in unforeseen ways that could end-up benefiting the Republican presidential candidate.

Moreover, Hillary Clinton, if elected by the Democrats as their candidate, faces some potential problems. Many voters, especially Democrats, recall the presidency of her husband with certain nostalgia for good old days of peace and prosperity. But the Clintons also seem to ignite public controversy and are detested by segments of the electorate, especially the white Southerners and Christian right wingers.

And according to opinion polls, Mrs Clinton herself is not trusted by between 40 to 50 per cent of male voters and close to 40 per cent of females.

Nevertheless, the smart political money in Washington continues to be on Hillary Clinton. That in itself is probably a sad commentary on the American political system.

A mighty economic and military power that has led the West in the two global struggles of the 20th century, and a nation that has given the world Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and has produced some of the greatest minds in the sciences, business, and the arts, could end up being ruled for 28 years by four mediocre politicians who belong to two uninspiring political dynasties - the Bushes and the Clintons. Americans seem to deserve better.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


Anonymous said…
Professor - we were going thru some old magazines and by chance we opened up a Journal of Defense and Diplomacy from 1988 and you had an article in there - Writing about Oman, Qutar, UAE, and Kuwait.

It was very interesting and you should revisit it,
Thanks! I'm not sure that I have a copy of that article...
Comment said…
There was also another article in the same issue (Botha on the cover) about Turkey becomming more Islamic in attitude and threatening to break off from the west if Congress annoys them.

Plus Ca Change!

When I get my new scanner - I'll scan it and email it to you.

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