As state Democrats prepare to hold their Saturday caucuses, cynical Republicans might well encourage them to choose Sen. Hillary Clinton, figuring her high "negatives" — the unusual number of Americans who tell pollsters they’d never vote for her under any circumstances — would virtually guarantee a GOP victory in the fall.
That’s why it’s a good thing for Democrats that freshman Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has managed to challenge the perception of Sen. Clinton’s "inevitability."
The Clinton campaign cites Sen. Clinton’s "experience." In fact, she’s a one-term-plus-a-year senator whose lackluster legislative record rivals Sen. Obama’s. Other than that, the "experience" in question must surely refer to her presence as a witness and enabler during her husband’s presidential terms.
Suffice it to say there are dozens of issues that Americans happily dismissed as "water under the bridge" as the Clinton era came to a close, but which would quickly ensnare Sen. Clinton and her party in a presidential race that would soon look like a struggle to escape the La Brea tar pits.
For starters, imagine Sen. Clinton and "co-president" Bill Clinton invited onto a "This is Your Life" talk show where they’re joined by Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky.
And that’s before we even get around to a HillaryCare plan that could have sent you to jail for offering to pay your doctor in cash to "get to the head of the line."
Meanwhile, John Edwards’ anti-capitalist populism is not in this country’s long-term best interests.
Is Barack Obama, then, the ideal Democratic candidate for president? Hardly. His policy recommendations — when he can be convinced to get any more specific than "I represent change" — are the opposite of "change." They’re old-line, welfare-state solutions that haven’t spent enough time in the microwave to appear even superficially appetizing.
Sen. Obama is a relatively young man with relatively little of the kind of real-world experience that prepares a candidate to stand firm against urgent advice to, say, bomb some remote population of defenseless civilians to "send a message," or plunge the economy into a dark night of unforeseen consequences by crippling the free market in the name of "fighting greed."
But Barack Obama is, at least, likeable. He is a good enough orator that there is no need to cringe when he dares to speak off the cuff. He is a good politician, in the non-insulting sense that he knows how to speak to individual Americans and give them the feeling he cares about their concerns.
As Nevada Democrats head to their caucuses Saturday, they might ask themselves whether they really want to spend two months later this year watching a re-run of the horror movie "It Came From Little Rock," with the sound turned up much too loud — or if they’d rather make it a real contest this fall.
If they prefer the latter, they’re better off backing Barack Obama on Saturday.