I see that President Obama has filed as a candidate for re-election in 2012. I had suggested that he get to work early on his presidential library and forgo the race, but he is insistent. Well, I tried.
Though some in the media are covering for him, his announcement is the earliest of any modern president. It continues a trend that began in 1972. That was when Sen. George McGovern captured the Democratic presidential nomination, though he lost in the autumn of that year in a squeaker. Richard Nixon stole the election 47,167,319 to 29,168,509. Tricky Dick got 60.7 percent of the vote, the largest in history except for Lyndon Johnson’s 61.1 percent. Watergate changed history.
Using what came to be called the McGovern reforms in the 1972 Democratic Convention, the very same Mr. McGovern captured the nomination. Thus began the trend, the era of the chronic campaigner. Since 1972, the Democratic Party has nominated a chronic campaigner every time.
Mr. McGovern had been running since 1968 when he declared his candidacy three weeks before the convention and ran as a stand-in for the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. No one from the Democratic establishment noticed anything afoot. They granted the New Politics, whose members had created such a mad pothering at the 1968 convention, something called the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection for the 1972 Convention. When Mr. McGovern was made chairman of the Reform Commission, as it came to be called, the establishment still did not take heed. Mr. McGovern had obviously been running since 1968, but as Teddy White noted in 1973, “no one considered McGovern a serious presidential contender, but he was everyone’s personal favorite. … Robert Kennedy had called him ‘the most decent man in the Senate.’ “
Well, the Democratic Party has been stuck with the chronic campaigner since 1972. The McGovern reforms remain for the most part in place. So if you have the time, you too can become a chronic campaigner. Jimmy Carter ran the theretofore most grueling campaign in history and was lucky to have Gerald R. Ford as an opponent, and Watergate. There was not a village too small for him to visit. If two people gathered on a street corner, the chances are Jimmy was there with his hand out and his idiot smile. The next chronic campaigner to win the presidency was Bill Clinton, and he is still campaigning for something. Most recently MSNBC named him “President of the World: The Clinton Phenomenon.”
Mr. Obama has been running for president since his first day in the Senate. All through his presidency he has been running for re-election. His filing the other day was a mere formality. The problem with the chronic campaigner is that, though he is a swell candidate, he is a lousy chief executive. He cannot sit still, as in an office. My guess is that Mr. Obama has spent less time in the White House than his predecessor. Now he will be on the campaign trail full-time.
So maybe Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, will run the country. In unveiling his budget for 2012, he has shown that he is serious about facing the tremendous budget crunch ahead. Some conservatives are dismayed that his budget still adds $8 trillion in debt. It does not balance the budget for 20 years. That just emphasizes how deep a hole we are in. Mr. Ryan’s plan is the most serious effort to reform government since - well, since the chronic campaigner came along.
Spending is now, under Mr. Obama, at 24 percent of gross domestic product and will go higher. Mr. Ryan wants to bring it down to 20 percent, about where it has traditionally been in modern times. If we stick with Mr. Obama’s spending, we shall be at one with Greece. But cuts are not enough. Mr. Ryan knows that to balance the budget, the economy must grow. He will lower the burden on personal and corporate taxes to 25 percent and he uses dynamic scoring rather than static scoring to show growth from his tax cut, rather than loss of revenue. Revenue under Mr. Ryan’s budget will be at 17.9 percent, about where it has been in modern times and during our periods of economic expansion.
So our chronic campaigner filed for re-election and left town for the campaign trail. Mr. Ryan offered a budget for 2012 and a vision. The race is on.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His new book is “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).