Much has been written about how the continuing attacks of the two Democrat candidates are only serving to weaken the eventual winner (Obama...cough....cough) for the general election. As a result, the longer a certain candidate remains in the race, the more she is hurting her party.
There is, however, another sense in which the overly long race will hurt Obama's chances in the general election. That sense is the manner in which the drawn-out race has forced each of the two candidates to focus more and more on economic populism. Prior to Super Tuesday, free trade was at most a minor issue in the campaign. As the campaign drew on longer despite the rapidly decreasing odds of Sen. Clinton coming back, the two candidates were drawn into more and more states where economic populism is the order of the day for local Democrats.
In order to win votes in these areas, Obama and Clinton have both drifted increasingly far away from free trade, to the point that it seems as if Obama must be ignoring his otherwise excellent economic policy advisor Austan Goolsbee. To be sure, some of that has had to do with the need to distance himself from Goolsbee after the Canadian embassy silliness. But we would do well to remember that what caused that silliness in the first place was Obama's increasingly populist rhetoric on trade. While Sen. Clinton has likewise drifted further into economic populism, this has been less problematic since she has long had the ability to talk out of both sides of her mouth.
This continuing drift to the left will hurt Obama in the general election, as it gives McCain all sorts of sound bites to use against Obama to pigeon hole him as a far left radical. For me, at least, Obama's anti-trade rhetoric has already caused me to re-evaluate my tentative support of him. To be sure, I still think he's the least bad of the three from a libertarian point of view, but it is now exceedingly unlikely that I will vote for him in the general election. I suspect many of Obama's Republican defectors have had similar thoughts in the last few weeks and months. With McCain's well-established reputation as a moderate, Obama's best chance at winning was to fight McCain for the middle, hold on to the left, and maybe steal a few votes from the right as well. Now, however, he probably won't be able to steal many votes from the right, and his appeal to the middle will have to largely come out of his opposition to the war. His legendary unity rhetoric has lost a lot of its appeal in Obama's populism, which is an ideology that is rarely associated with unity.
Worse, from my perspective, is that the continuing push to the left will make it increasingly difficult for a President Obama to return to more of a centrist position on trade.
All of which is to say that I think the never-ending campaign that is the Democrat nomination process is hurting not only Obama's chances at winning, but is also hurting the country by limiting the policy options a President Obama could pursue (not only that, but from a libertarian perspective, the remaining policy options would be a huge step backwards).
This is not to say that I think Obama will lose the general election, necessarily - the fundamentals right now are just too heavily in favor of the Democrats. But it is to say that the likelihood of him beating McCain is dropping by the day.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Posted by Mark at 11:46 PM