The usually astute Paul Krugman seems not to realize that, when it comes to Obama v. Clinton, he's fighting both the old and the wrong wars. Says Krugman:
Obama is still the clear favorite for the nomination. But if he is the nominee, and runs this way in the general election — if it’s about the candidate’s awesomeness, not about why progressive policies make peoples’ lives better — it’s a formula for defeat.
Krugman is commenting on Walter Shaprio's insightful commentary on the Obama-Clinton stalemate, in which Shapiro argues that Obama's appeal boils down to a rather mushy "feeling" (about Obama, about the US, about politics, about everything) rather than to his substantive platform. Krugman (and Shapiro, too, I think) misses two points.
- The old war: U.S. presidential campaigns these days, for a laundry list of tragic reasons--including a corrupt media culture, a popular culture which is hostile to authentic political life, and the bumbling of ineptitude of progressive leadership--aren't really run on "the issues." They're run on the perception of personality (and not character, which is something else altogether). That is, they're run on the extent to which a political figure becomes alive in the collective psyche of the electorate. This explains why the Republicans since Nixon have run ciphers whose principal virtue is that they have no real character of their own. This is a twisted form of political life, but it's the world we're living in, and if we want to pry the levers of power away from the mortifying clutches of Cheney and his ilk, we need to play to win.
- The wrong war: It's worth recalling that the difference between Clinton's platform and Obama's is vanishingly small, especially as compared with McCain's. It seems to me that the Dem contenders have pretty much exhausted "the issues," and now they're arguing mainly about electoral sex appeal. Well, I suppose they feel like they have to keep talking about something, but I frankly haven't heard much substantive from any campaign since Edwards left the race. So let them talk. To the extent that the issues carry real weight in electoral decisions (and I think they do carry some), we shouldn't expect to see much real debate until after the Dems have chosen their champion for 2008. Until then, it's only natural that the Dems will squabble about marginal topics.