Not only has the 2008 election season begun prematurely, but a series of myths about it has been insinuated into the commentary about it.
We are being told that the blogosphere has changed presidential politics unalterably. Breathlessly we are informed that in 2008 Americans will elect the first “Internet” president. Not only are pundits saying this. Bloggers themselves are promoting the notion that they have now “arrived,” and will likely determine the outcome.
But it is instructive, I think, to note the notorious campaign against Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in 2006. This campaign was largely initiated and fostered by the most well-known lefty netroot blogs who did indeed put forward a candidate against Mr. Lieberman who won the Democratic primary. But Mr. Lieberman reinvented himself as an “Independent Democrat,” and subsequently defeated this Democrat and the Republican in the race by a large margin. Mr. Lieberman now sits in the Senate as an independent who caucuses with his old party, the Democrats, and the margin is one vote — his.
What the blogosphere can do, however, is raise money and produce volunteers. That is because it is read primarily by activists in both parties. While most attention has been given to leftist blogs, some significant conservative blogs have grown and prospered, including Power Line in Minnesota. While Power Line is national in its focus, another partisan political blog in that state, Minnesota Democrats Exposed, has emerged as the most powerful political internet presence there. Its carefully researched campaign against comedian Al Franken’s putative effort to win a Senate seat there in 2008 has devastated Mr. Franken’s public image almost before he began to run for the seat, and has seemingly cemented the idea that the entertainer is an angry, foul-mouthed parvenu instead of a serious-minded candidate. This blog is Mr. Franken’s worst nightmare, and it has provoked many Democratic strategists to try to find another candidate against popular incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.
Sen. Hillary Clinton is no favorite of most liberal blogs, but she remains her party’s frontrunner. Likewise, the conservative blogosphere has not been especially friendly to Sen. John McCain, but after a weak winter season during which former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani replaced him as the Republican frontrunner, Mr. McCain is making a comeback, and may yet win the nomination.
Another myth is that conservatives and evangelicals are demoralized, and that some of them will stay home in 2008 because the Republican nominee may not be as much of a “true believer” as they are. Yet polls show that the three least “pure” conservatives — Messrs. Giuliani, McCain and Romney — have most of the support, including among strong conservatives. Although a few ultra-right leaders are saying they will stay home in 2008, there are signs they will not be heeded by the conservative rank and file.
An almost completely unnoticed phenomenon is the “Salute to Israel” movement organized by Pastor John Hagee, a broadcast evangelist from San Antonio who reaches millions of conservative Christians via television every week. Eschewing the usual social conservative issues, Mr. Hagee has focused on a single issue, U.S. support for Israel and the Jewish community worldwide, and has rallied evangelicals into an unprecedented non-conversionary campaign to rally public and political support against the increasing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tone in Europe and among the left in the United States.
Overcoming initial resistance from most of his fellow television evangelists, beginning in the 1980s, Mr. Hagee has recently organized numerous well-attended events (by evangelicals and religious Jews) in almost every large city in the country. He claims that he now has up to 50 million evangelicals aroused to the issue and on his side. Even if this figure is exaggerated, there is little question that if the populist base of the Democratic Party continues its drift toward a less favorable attitude to Israel and applies this pressure to its eventual presidential nominee, they could cause a powerful reaction at the polls in 2008.
A second reason that conservatives may stay home next year is a myth is the very public awareness in recent weeks that conservatives are one vote short of a solid majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy did side with them on the partial-birth decision, but he has sided with the liberals on other important issues. Pro-life conservatives know that a Democratic president in 2009 will undo their recent gains, and they will not be staying home next year.
The current self-indulgence of the Democratic congressional leadership in calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq has created the newest political myth about 2008, that the Democrats will continue to placate their left populist base and throw away the momentum they gained in 2006.
If they do, and persist in their efforts to raise taxes dramatically, it may be the shortest political realignment in U.S. history. Just as the GOP contest lacks overly conservative presidential aspirants, the Democratic race has so far only one truly left first-tier candidate, former Sen. John Edwards. Mrs. Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama (probably) and Gov. Bill Richardson, on the other hand, are more down-to-earth liberals, and more likely to move, if one of them is nominated, to the political center.
Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.