More elections, please, in Iraq.

A mostly political Weblog.
Dec. 20 2005 3:15 AM

More Elections, Please!

Four years is a long time in Iraq.

(Continued from Page 8)

Obama '08? Ryan Lizza argues that 2008 "looks like the best opportunity" for Barack Obama to run for president:

He can be certain that 2008 will be a year with a wide open primary on both the Republican and Democratic sides in which neither a sitting president nor vice president will be running, a rare event in presidential politics that lowers the bar of entry for all candidates. He can have a high degree of confidence that if he waits until 2012, he will face the historically impossible task of unseating the incumbent president of his own party, or the historically difficult task of unseating the incumbent president of the opposition party. The 2016 race would probably be his final chance. [Emph added]

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Huh? I understand that those who wait for their opportunity in American politics tend to find they've missed it (see, e.g. Hillary Rodham Clinton). I understand the Senate is a poor place to demonstrate executive skills. But Obama will be 55 years old in 2016!  He'll only be 59 in 2020. He can get out of the Senate. ...

Update--Hello, Argument! Zengerle zings me for not addressing Lizza's argument, which is based on the alleged "law of American politics is that candidates have only 14 years to become president" because, since Theodore Roosevelt no candidate except LBJ has (to quote Jonathan Rauch) "been elected president who took more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president." Obama's 14 years would expire in 2018.  

a) Arguments based on historic patterns (and I've made them myself) are usually unconvincing. They assume history will repeat itself.  Like the "chartist" approach to investing, they're right until they're wrong. But at least the chartists are charting a big data set. With presidential elections, any patterns are based on a very small set of examples. (There are only 16 elected presidents since TR, for example.)

b) Even the 14 year pattern isn't as clear as Lizza and Rauch say it is. Kennedy pushes the boundary--he was elected to Congress in 1946, won the presidency in 1960. Lizza gives FDR's gestation period as four years, but FDR was the Democrats' vice-presidential nominee in 1920, twelve years before he was elected president. Nixon took 21 years to reach the White House after his first election to Congress in 1947. (Yes, Nixon was elected Vice President in 1952. But if the problem is that national politicians grow stale and record-bound, why should their "expiration date" be put on permanent hold just because they're elected to the vice-presidency? Shouldn't national office and national exposure make them staler quicker?)

c) Lizza's chartist panic is at war with the common-sense view that before he runs for President, maybe Obama should have accomplished something, or at least demonstrated the ability to wield executive power effectively. The doomed John Edwards is a cautionary example of what happens to a talented politician whose ambition gets conspicuously ahead of his achievements.

d) Kennedy seems the president closest to Obama in terms of lack of experience. But even he had been effectively reelected to national office four times (reelected twice to Congress, then elected to two terms in the Senate) before he ran for the top job. That's four times more than Obama.

e) Kennedy showed that even a politician with little experience could demonstrate, in the campaign itself, enough competence to get elected. Maybe Obama could do that too. But that hardly means he "must run for president in 2008." [Ital added].

f) Underlying Lizza's claim is a real, disturbing truth, which is that "the kind of political star power Obama has doesn't last." The interesting question is whether the window of opportunity to cash in electorally is now shorter than ever thanks to the Feiler Faster Principle. (The FFP holds that Americans now process political information comfortably at record speed.) I'm not sure. The FFP surely says that Americans will get sick of Obama faster than they would have, say, 30 years ago. But it doesn't say Obama can't cycle back with a second or third Nixon-like Act. The rapid processing of trends might even make comebacks more likely--Faster Politics, Faster Resurrections. Even Jerry Brown is about to stage a Fourth Act, after getting bumped off in Act II (i.e., in his increasingly humiliating presidential losses). ... It's also possible that the window of opportunity is now smaller, that by the time a fresh, young national figure gets enough experience to be a plausible president, the revved-up political culture has had enough of him. That would be a problem for Sen. Obama, and for the nation. But it's not a problem that's going to be solved by an Obama run for president in 2008. (One solution: Candidates who get their executive experience off the national stage, in the private sector or the statehouses, before they burst into the national consciousness as senators or cabinet secretaries. Another, iffier solution: Modify the Constitution's stately four-year fixed-term presidency to bring it more into synch with post-Internet information cycles, allowing talents like Obama, once they get some experience, more than three shots at the top office every 15 years. In a three year presidency, for example, we wouldn't continually face the prospect we are currently facing--what to do with the final two years of the second term of a president who's worn out his welcome or otherwise lost momentum.)

More: See independent assaults on Lizza's chartism by  Zengerle's reader "J.D." and by Kevin Drum, who says the historical record "suggest[s] that 2016, when Obama will have been in the public eye for 12 years, is closer to the sweet spot than it is to the upper end of his shelf life." ... Also: Alert reader C.S. questions Lizza's assumption that it's been all that "historically difficult" to unseat an "incumbent president of the opposition party." Tell it to Carter, G.H.W. Bush and LBJ. ... In fact, it wasn't long ago that Reagan was considered an exceptional figure because he'd actually gotten re-elected and served out his second four years. ...

Bonus Blog Video: I discussed Lizza's "Obama '08" argument today on bloggingheads.tv  with Robert Wright, who has views of his own. ... 3:25 A.M. link

Additional "hateful shotglasse[s] of triangulation" for Hillary are suggested at HuffPo. ... 2:53 A.M.

Pssst: Don't look now--Bush seems to be  reviving among the robots. ... See also: RCP's pollpage, where he's 4 out of 4 above 40%, a less-bad trend noticed by Charlie Cook of National Journal in his e-mailed "Off to the Races" column  and analyzed more fully by Mystery Pollster  (who even commissions a special robot-highlighting graph). ... P.S.: It's "too soon to say with certainty." But not too soon to blog! ... Update:CBS/NYT poll confirms the robo-trend. Moral: The gap here between blog and MSM appears to be approximately 40 hours. If you don't blog it too soon, you won't blog it soon enough! ... Update 12/9: Live by robo, die by robo.  ... But AP/Ipsos takes up the slack, reporting a  small (from 37 to 42) Bush rebound. ... 10:46 P.M.

Murtha vs. Murtha:  Rep. Murtha on the prospects of an Iraqi civil war:

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