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Outside editorial: Reasonable voices drowned out by extremists

Posted: December 1, 2011 - 1:00am

Perhaps tired of Republican presidential politics getting all the laughs, a pair of Democratic pollsters last week repeated a suggestion that President Barack Obama should drop his bid for re-election in favor of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Pollsters Patrick Caddell, who worked for President Jimmy Carter, and Doug Schoen, who worked for the centrist version of President Bill Clinton who emerged in 1996, argued that the only way for Mr. Obama to win in 2012 would be for him to wage a campaign so negative that it “would make it almost impossible for him to govern, not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term.”

Instead, they argued Monday on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, Democrats should turn to Mrs. Clinton, “the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.”

Right. Hillary Clinton. Not a divisive figure at all.

By the time next year’s Thanksgiving turkey is carved, America will know its next president. Barring tragedy, it won’t be Clinton. Alas, Caddell and Schoen, both now far removed from the limelight, will have to stay there.

That they should feel compelled to reprise an argument they made a year ago in The Washington Post speaks to the sad Democratic tradition of forming its firing squads in a circle. This is a party that seems congenitally unable to be content.

Yes, Mr. Obama’s poll numbers are down. But his Republican challenger has yet to emerge, much less go through the crucible of an election campaign. And whoever emerges will have to persuade the American people that they should rehire the contracting firm that four years ago burned their house to the ground.

It used to be the Republicans who forever looked backward. Now it is the Democrats who idealize their past presidents (or first ladies) and present incumbents with unrealistic expectations.

The progressive journalist Jonathan Chait, formerly of The New Republic, makes that point in the Nov. 20 edition of New York Magazine in the article “When did liberals become so unreasonable?”

“For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage,” Chait writes. “When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace.”

Conservatives, he suggests, “are at least as absolutist as liberals in the ideological demands they make upon their leaders,” but “are far less likely to turn against their president altogether. They assail the compromise but continue to praise the man.”

Chait’s article is paired with a similar cri-de-coeur by David Frum, a former speechwriter (“axis of evil”) for President George W. Bush. Frum’s complaint is that there’s no place for moderation in his party.

“Rather than workable solutions, my party is offering low taxes for the currently rich and high spending for the currently old, to be followed by who-knows-what and who-the-hell-cares,” Frum laments. “This isn’t conservatism; it’s a going-out-of-business sale for the baby-boom generation.”

Unless reasonable voices on the right and left are heard, this is going to be a very long year.

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