Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 2003/ 22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
The Pundit Primary has a winner
This may be the shortest
presidential nominating season we've
ever seen. Howard Dean will soon be
starting his second term, if you believe
what you read and hear, and we're still
two months short of the first Iowa
caucuses. The ground in New
Hampshire isn't even white.
But of course no one believes
everything he reads, not even the man
who writes it, and we're still in
November, two weeks short of
Thanksgiving. The only sure thing is
that the Democrats still don't have the
prospect of a genuine threat to George
The pundits and political
correspondents are always obsessed
with beauty contests and horse races,
who's got the best legs and the most
impressive lungs. Handicapping the
candidates, dishing the campaign
gossip and peddling predictions, is
always great fun. What makes this year
different is that this time we're
attempting to anoint not the favorite,
but the winner. The former governor of
Vermont is making a strong and
unexpected showing, but so far a
showing is all it is. The Pundit Primary
does not a nominee make.
We've been here before. Winners of
the Pundit Primary in past years include
the likes of Edmund Muskie, Nelson
Rockefeller and Gary Hart, to name only
three. Henry Cabot Lodge came home
from Saigon in 1968, where he had
been the U.S. ambassador, and lapped
the field in the Pundit Primary only to
run dead last behind an obscure
senator named Hiram Fong when the
clerk called the roll at the Republican
National Convention. John Connally, a
former Democratic governor of Texas,
switched parties and became a
prohibitive Republican favorite in the
Pundit Primary and wound up spending
$10 million, when that was a lot of
money, to win only a single delegate.
Winning the Pundit Primary can be fatal.
The hysteria in the punditocracy for Howard Dean not
John Dean, as certain cable-TV commentators occasionally call
him is not duplicated in the ranks of the managers,
pollsters, consultants and the barnacles that attach
themselves to the campaigns. "We got to where we were
because most of the field underestimated us," Joe Trippi, his
manager, tells Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post.
In fact, the people who are so sure that the governor
should start picking his Cabinet are the very people who were
only yesterday telling us that he was merely a trifle in the
window of the boutique they call Vermont. He has plenty of
time, with ample room to make the fatal misstep, to prove
Barely more than a fortnight ago the leader, by fully a
length and a half, in the Pundit Primary was Wesley Clark, the
mad bomber of Bosnia, who would dispose of the dwarfs and
single-handedly dismantle George W. Bush. He was
introduced as the reincarnation of Stonewall Jackson, or at
least Pat Cleburne, the warrior hero from the South preaching
the gospel of war no more. Instead he has shown himself to
be the reincarnation of George B. McClellan, the prettiest of
Abraham Lincoln's generals, who tried and failed miserably to
make the antiwar message work against old Abe in 1864. So
much for the antiwar warrior.
What the Democrats really wanted was not Wesley Clark,
argues a yellow-dog Democratic columnist in the general's
hometown of Little Rock, but the idea of Wesley Clark.
"Clark's instant appeal was as an idea," writes John
Brummett for the several Stephens newspapers of Arkansas.
"Now, about six weeks into his candidacy, all Clark offers is
that with which he started, meaning an idea. ... His actual
human campaign performance has been a dud, beset by
misstep and diminishment."
Now Wesley Clark is fading, in the way that Bill moved
Hillary off center stage, but the idea is not. There's still the
yearning among the sane and the sober for an authentic
alternative to take on George W. Bush. The Iowa caucuses
follow the Pundit Primary, and then comes New Hampshire.
After that the going gets really tough for Mr. Gloom and his
alter ego Dr. Doom. The campaign moves to the likes of
South Carolina and Oklahoma, where the Democrats are a
receding force but enough of what's left of them is still
capable of popping a McGovernite balloon.
That's not even the worst of what's ahead of the
Democratic nominee, whoever he is. After the convention
comes the real campaign, where a combination of
Republicans, reality, the Gaffe Patrol and blond ambition,
armed with sabotage, subterfuge and subversion to protect
her chances in '08, lie in wait.
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