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.
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.