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.