Thursday, April 3, 2008


Some Democrat strategists pine for 1932. They see their candidate being swept to victory with a mandate for “change,” transforming the polluted partisan atmosphere to fresh air, and then dispatching the job that he or she was elected to do.

Sorry, folks, but 2008 is not 1932 redux. Here are just a few reasons why not:

• The incumbent is not on the ballot. In 1932, the country rejected Herbert Hoover as much as it chose FDR. The choice this time will not be so stark, unless John McCain is so foolish as to insist on it.
• The issues are infinitely more complex. We are in the midst of a growing worldwide financial and economic disruption – a genuine paradigm shift in the making – despite the array of institutional and policy changes that most of us were taught would preclude another Great Depression. So, the task is not just to set new directions, it is also to dismantle things that don’t work for the country but may have powerful vested interests behind them.
• When FDR rode into town in 1933, he did not face an army of K Street lobbyists ready to derail anything he tried to do and armed with ample cash – the mother’s milk of American politics -- to back up their policy positions.
• FDR could attract the best and the brightest of his generation to Washington without today’s protracted security checks and financial vetting. The next president will be stuck with vacancies reaching high up in many key agencies for many months. Given the conventional wisdom that the window for real reform is limited to the first year or 18 months of a new president’s term, our new leader may have to do a lot of the policy formulation singlehandedly. That’s a job for Superman or Superwoman, not the mere mortals in this race.

If the next president wants a mandate to make big changes in public policy, that mandate must be fashioned in the campaign, not after it. But how to get 300 million Americans away from their 21st Century bread and circuses – American Idol, Survivor, the NCAA Big Dance, fantasy football, and so much more? Why not take up one of Newt Gingrich’s ideas? He has proposed that the two major candidates agree to a fall campaign limited to nine weekly televised conversations. Just the two of them in easy chairs with no moderators or questioners. They would talk together, testing, challenging, explaining. As Gingrich said, after 13 and a half hours of such discussions, every viewer would know whom to vote for. Then, as a nation, we could vote the loser off the island.

If the next president wants a mandate in “change you can believe in,” then he or she will have to do some heavy lifting in explaining in plain language, not just sound bites and slogans, what they propose to do to rebuild America.

Charles Blum


  1. I disagree that Democrats pine for 1932. The Democratic Party does not want Americans to suffer just so that their electoral prospects brighten. I agree that the debate format we have endured to date has been a disgrace. Asking candidates to raise their hands or answer questions from YouTube posters is both juvenile and uninformative. While I am having a hard time stomaching it, I agree with Gingrich that the best format would be for the two candidates to engage in a lengthy and indepth debate on the pressing matters of our day. I would like polysyllabic answers lasting more than 30 seconds to accommodate American's increasingly-shorter attention spans.

  2. I think that Barak Obama has simply expressed what many in his generation feel but can't really articulate. The children of the baby boomers know that something is wrong; adrift but can't quite pin it down. Public life seems adrift, completely lacking direction. I suppose this is much like during Hoover's time when he bravely confronted crisis by doing nothing. Nothing, then as now, is the strategy. It's no wonder that Obama is so popular. He is the candidate of 'change.' Americans don't know what the change is but they know that the current course is adrift. Obama is no fool and undoubtedly has a rich intellectual pool of resources at his disposal. However, it remains an unfortunate fact of political life that the more articulated the plan, the more opportunity there is to nit pick it to death. It might be better of Obama stick to mantras that resonate well with the public.

  3. Let me react to a couple of points. First, many Democrats do dream of a sweep like 1932's, followed by period of policy innovation like FDRs. I've heard that from the horse's mouth.

    My major point, similar to Anonymous #2, is that ill-defined "change you can believe in" does not consitute a mandate, will not translate into fundamnetal policy change (for my second, third and fourth reaons), and thus will contribute to another failed presidency. I say "failed" because when 81 percent of the country says the country is going in the wrong direction, failure to produce fundamental change IS a failure.

    The only way I see to avoid that is to make explicit your overarching national goal and to do so in the corse of teh campaign.

    For example, Obama or Clinton could say, in a way reminiscent of Kennedy's New Frontier aim of putting a man on the moon, that the next administration will achieve energy security by maximizing energy production at home. With the right tax policies, upgrades to our infrastructure, and a streamlining of the regulatory approval process, we can produce more and cleaner energy at home. As we do, we can cut back on oil and gas imports -- now one-third of or overall trade deficit -- and borrow less from abroad. Better federal government support for R&D would help sustain the proces of innvoation and invetsment to keep us compeittive over time.

    The results would be pretty spectaculer: more investment, more production, more jobs, more revenue for government at all levels, less foreign borrowing, and a reduced need to get embroiled with the unsavory regimes that sit atop most of the world's oil and gas.

    Moreover, energy is an issue felt by all Americans. That's a lot more tangible and closer to the household's pocketbook than JFK's aim for space dominance. (JFK was aked: "Why go to the moon? "Because it's there" was his answer.) Energy security would not just make us feel better now, we could live better, too, both now and far into the future.

    When it comes to mandates, that's what I'm talking about.

    Charles Blum