Dead Man Prognosticating: Carter, Obama and exactly why I voted for Clinton

From a Washington Post op-ed today by David Broder, the set-up:

A year after Jimmy Carter lost his reelection race to Ronald Reagan, Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s former White House chief of staff, sat down for a lengthy interview with scholars at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

Last week, after hearing the news of Jordan’s death, friends at the center sent me a transcript of that 27-year-old interview. As they predicted, it holds intense interest for current politics, particularly regarding the challenge facing Barack Obama.

The main theme of Jordan’s interview was this intriguing observation: “Only because of the fragmentation that had taken place” in the Democratic Party and its allied groups was Carter able to be nominated and elected in 1976. But that same fragmentation made the challenge of governing so difficult that he was almost doomed to fail.

Yeah, so?

What has Carter’s case to do with Obama’s? The individuals and the times seem very different. A white Southern governor vs. a mixed-race Hawaii-born senator. A Navy veteran and peanut farmer vs. a lawyer-intellectual activist.

But the two have more in common than meets the eye. Both were largely unknown to the nation’s Democrats at the start of their election years. Both faced more-credentialed rivals. Both ran as outsiders, vowing to reform Washington. Both relied on generalized promises to raise politics to a higher standard than that practiced by an outgoing Republican administration. Both benefited from early plurality victories over large and divided fields. Obama gained his first and most important win in Iowa with 37.6 percent of the votes, while Hillary Clinton and John Edwards split almost 60 percent evenly. Both Carter and Obama lost several late primaries but held on to the delegate lead they had staked out earlier.

Still not getting it, I’m sure, unless you were thinking like I was back in February and on March 4:

Because Carter ran against the Washington establishment, he had no claim on their loyalty — and they easily spurned him, Jordan told his interviewers. Because he sought to appease them by giving the vice presidency to one of their own, Walter Mondale, they scorned him. And because he tried to flatter them by giving key places in his administration to some of them, he faced continual rebellions within his own White House and Cabinet. [my emphasis]

The risk of being too entrenched versus the risk of not being entrenched enough.

My judgement when I voted was that the first risk was less risky to achieving Democratic party interests than the second risk.  It’s an assessment, it’s the assessment I made on March 4.  As a director of risk management, I knew we always were just doing out best to assess, but we wouldn’t always be right.

If Barack Obama is the candidate and the winner in November, I really hope my assessment was wrong.

12 thoughts on “Dead Man Prognosticating: Carter, Obama and exactly why I voted for Clinton

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  2. I was living in Texas when Carter ran and I just liked his common sense. I remember the debate with Reagan, I was in Austin and my husband and I thought that he had done a great job but the media just loved Reagan who looked old and rehearsed. I think that our nation was still all hung up about being macho and Carter is a nuclear engineer and nerds were not yet appreciated. Too bad because the man is admirable.

  3. Shalom Jill,

    I’ve never been ashamed of my votes. But I’ve never been behind a candidate the way I was Carter (he remains a personal hero for me).

    I think Obama has an advantage that Carter lacked: he’s a sitting senator. Even with only one uncompleted term to his name, he understands more about how Washington works than Carter did.

    B’shalom,

    Jeff

  4. What happened to voting your beliefs and conscious? John Kerry was the low risk candidate in ’04 and look what that got you. And I agree with Joseph. Bill Clinton, not Hillary beat the republicans. Let’s be frank, using the word “polarizing” is a nice way of saying she is not likable.

  5. “Us Republicans havent done very well when faced against a Clinton.”

    Considering Hillary’s negative numbers I’d say you did a pretty good job, too bad you didn’t just stop with facts instead of creating the immaculate victim.

    In order to actually govern, as opposed to stalemate, you need pretty broad support in Congress and more importantly with the public. I’m not sure you can make an argument you get there with Clinton. That is the real danger of McAullif’s 50% + 1 vote strategy. If you think that’s pie in the sky thinking I suggest you look at Bush post 9/11.

    Really, either candidate ought to be able to beat McCain, depending on how blasted apart the Democratic Party is.

  6. I disagree with Joseph…..the risk is in Obama not Clinton as far as the nomination goes. Clinton is almost a surefire winner. Us Republicans havent done very well when faced against a Clinton.

  7. I was just pointing out that Jimmy Carter won the election in ’76 – and winning the election should be the primary “Democratic party interest” right now.

    But your point about managing risk isn’t lost on me- and I can understand why would think a Clinton nomination might result in more party unity than that of an ‘outsider’ like Obama.

    And actually, you are probably right.

    However I had a different risk in mind when I voted for Obama: that by picking Clinton as our nominee we would be contributing to GOP party unity and, in turn, to a general election loss for the Dems.

    The Clintons are a polorizing political force- and her nomination would most certainly energize the anti-Clinton voters out there. Voter who might otherwise stay home if Obama was the nominee.

    The way I see it, I’d rather risk a little internal strife on the way to the White House than a party united for failure.

  8. Joseph – I’m not sure I know what you mean by your first sentence. Yes, he ran and won. Jordan’s comments were made a year after losing to Reagan. So they were said in hindsight – is that what you saying?

    I’m not sure why that’s a difference worth the distinction – why do you think it is?

    I absolutely agree – Obama first term over any terms of Bush. No debate.

  9. Jeff – my first presidential vote ever was cast for Jimmy Carter in 1980. I don’t recall feeling ashamed of any of my votes, per se – I knew what I was doing at the time I did it. What I regret is not doing more, earlier in my life, to the extent that I could and now can, to make an impact on the kinds of candidates we get to choose from and the system that supports or deters those kinds of candidates.

    Of course – I’m writing as though there could be agreement about the best candidates and clearly, no one has a monopoly on that idea.

  10. But the thing you are missing here is that Carter actually WON four years earlier.

    I’ll take a single term of Obama over a third term for Bush any day.

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  12. Shalom Jill,

    I cast my first presidential vote in for Jimmy Carter (although I campaigned for McGovern in ’72). It remains the only presidential vote that I’m truly proud of.

    I hope I have the opportunity to repeat that experience in November.

    B’shalom,

    Jeff

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