A number of bloggers and pundits have compared Barack Obama’s rise this year to that of Jimmy Carter in 1976 Hugh Hewitt did so today, Glenn did so yesterday, I mentioned it last month building on Rich Lowry’s National Review cover story in December.
The rise of an obscure, inexperienced politician pushing change, hope and a new brand of politics is not the only similarity this year’s presidential campaign has with that of 1976. Back then, one party saw its contest for the presidential nomination continue through its convention, with the popular vote nearly evenly divided between the two candidates.
With a similarly close vote this time and Hillary’s recent threat to carry this all this way to the Democratic convention in Denver, it’s no wonder at least a number of bloggers, pundits and journalists are comparing the Democratic race in 2008 to the Republican contest in 1976.
After losing the battle for the GOP nomination in 1976 to then-President Ford, Ronald Reagan, once he had won the Republican primary in New Hampshire four years later, advanced pretty effortlessly to GOP nomination, then defeated in a landslide Jimmy Carter, the man who had narrowly bested his erstwhile Republican rival. Should John McCain defeat Obama this fall, would Hillary be able to come back in 2012, arguing in part that she could have prevented four additional years of Republican rule had she been the Democratic nominee?
While she certainly does have a solid base of support in her party as he did in his, she is, in many ways, the opposite of Ronald Reagan. Where he excelled at speaking to large crowds, she is at her worst there, seeming wooden and forced. She has become better in one-on-one exchanges (see e.g., her recent O’Reilly interview), a format where he was relatively weak. Where he was a man of vision and ideas, she is a master of policy and details.
Where Reagan came late in life to politics, politics has consumed hers. It was a commitment to a certain set of ideas, a principled vision which spurred his activism. She seems more driven by the power of political office, adapting her views to the prevailing political mood. The only constant in her political ideology seems the opposite of the essence of his political philosophy. Whereas she sees increased federal involvement as the solution to almost every problem (save abortion), he was always skeptical of the power of the state.
This post notwithstanding, I am beginning to think Hillary may have a serious shot at the 2012 Democratic nomination should (as expected) Obama win her party’s nomination and (as possible but not certain) John McCain win in the fall. In that case, she, like Reagan in 1980, will in 2012 enter the presidential contest as her party’s frontrunner. But, will her political opportunism hinder her or help her?
She may well win her party’s nod in 2012 and Reagan won his in 1980, but as entirely different sort of politician than that great American.