Friday, February 15, 2008

Barack Obama: The Next Reagan, or the Next Dukakis?

Many of my Democratic friends are thrilled at the thought that party revolutionaries may be on the verge of overthrowing the Clinton power structure and enshrining an inspiring young liberal as their party's nominee. I wonder whether they should be so excited about a candidate who may be well-positioned to lead the party to a Walter Mondale-style defeat.

First off, Barack Obama is clearly something new and exciting on the political scene. His rhetoric has inspired comparisons to Ronald Reagan (as well as a music video that's as insipid and cloying as Mmm Bop).

But when you get to the substance, he's more Mike Dukakis than Ronald Reagan. Fausta has a worthwhile compilation of his weaknesses, while Mickey Kaus entertains defenses against the charge that he is an unreconstructed lefty. He is the most liberal member of the Senate (to the left of his friend Ted Kennedy -- who's sure to be featured in attack commercials). He's a product of the Chicago machine, and so is vulnerable on ethic charges. He is out of the mainstream on partial-birth abortion. He is a high-tax candidate, whose plans are likely to scare Wall Street and the investor class more generally. He has a resume that's paper-thin. He opposes terrorist surveillance, and he's been inconsistent on Iraq, and now pushes for a speedy withdrawal -- despite improvements on the ground.

Barack Obama may be able to overcome his weaknesses as a candidate and win a stunning victory, but all the elements are there for a historic defeat. If Obama wins the nomination, he will face a real Republican opponent for the first time. While Hillary Clinton is forced to pull her punches to avoid upsetting the base, Obama will have to answer all of these charges.

Is he more likely to win a historic victory, or to join McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis as liberals from northern states who suffered landslide defeats?