The Curse of the Senators?!?
No, this isn't about the old Washington baseball team that was famous for being "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League", rather its about the most banal argument I've seen against a Feingold candidacy...and a Biden, Hillary Clinton, Edwards, Boxer, McCain, Frist, et al., candidacy.
You see, senators don't win the presidency. Pundits on all forms of media remind whomever listens that JFK was the last person to become President directly from the Senate, and that he and Warren G. Harding are the only two senators to be elected President. And the only non-incumbent Democrats to win the presidency since JFK were both governors.
"Don't you see it?", they say. "Senators don't win! Governors do! If the Democrats nominate a senator they will lose! Don't encourage a senator to run!" That argument does not, as its proponents insist, show that they have some astute knowledge of history or politics. Rather, it shows that they have the ability to look facts up in an almanac and then jump to conclusions based on those facts. If those facts convince you that Senators can't be elected president, then you must have thought that Bush would lose this year because the Redskins lost their last home game before the election. Seriously, it's the same thing.
Imagine the year is 1988. You are a Republican. You must be horrified at the thought that George H.W. Bush is gonna be your party's nominee. Doesn't anybody realize that an incumbent vice president hasn't been elected to the top job in 150 years?! Don't they remember that Nixon lost in 1960?! Now you know how we ended up with the glorious presidency of Michael Dukakis. Incumbent vice presidents just don't win.
What's that? Bush won in '88? But what about the history? Oh, so that was just a really silly argument that had nothing to do with reality? Same with the anti-senator argument.
But there are legitimate arguments for why governors do better than senators, right? Senators always represent the inside the beltway establishment, whereas governors are reformers who challenge the status quo, right? Like when the great reformer, Texas Governor George W. Bush upset the establishment candidate, the ultimate insider Senator John McCain?
But governors connect better with people, right? Yeah, I think Mike Dukakis connected better with people than John or Bobby Kennedy, don't you?
Yes, I know those examples are silly. They are meant to be. But I have a serious point: don't stereotype a politician based on the office they hold.
Yes, it's true that senators can have their records used against them. So can governors. Ask Mike Dukakis.
So, if senators are electable why have all the ones to reach the general election since JFK lost? (I'm not gonna bring primary candidates into this, lots of governors and former governors have lost in the primaries.) Well, perhaps Bob Dole lost because ran against a popular, charismatic incumbent president. Perhaps Barry Goldwater and George McGovern lost because they were associated with ideological extremists. As for John Kerry-well, there are a couple hundred theories on that.
As I said in my first post here I can't guarantee that Senator Feingold will run, will get the nomination, or will win. But I think he is the best choice for progressive reformers in the Democratic Party. He's a good man and would be a good president. I can understand why some Democrats could have doubts about him, and I can appreciate intelligent debate on the subject. But I don't appreciate him and his fellow 99 members of what was once called The World's Greatest Deliberative Body being dismissed with the banal bit of conventional wisdom that "senators don't get elected president!"
I don't believe in conventional wisdom. If I did, I never would have started this blog.