Expectations of Reform

The bathos of New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s fall from grace is not the sort of subject I generally have much interest in commenting on but I do want to mention one thing in reference to reform candidates, generally. The problem with running as a reform candidate is that the voters actually expect you to reform. It’s a cruel world.

Americans have been voting for reform candidates for the presidency for the last 20 years and some day they’ll get one as H. L. Mencken put it “good and hard”. Republican John McCain isn’t running as a reformer although his credentials for doing so are pretty good. He’s treading a difficult, chancy line between repudiating the Bush Administration and embracing it.

Hillary Clinton, too, is presenting a mixed message. While her stump speeches are full of the expected attacks on the Republicans, emphasizing her experience and the Clinton White House suggests a sort of “Back to the Future” campaign of nostalgia for the Clinton presidency rather than a clear-cut call for reform. I’m not sure the general electorate completely shares her view.

If Barack Obama is, indeed, that reformist president, the voters will expect him to reform while career politicians hope he doesn’t. I doubt the public will be kind to him when he inevitably proves to be a politician. That’s what I think the significance of the Austan Goolsbee and Samantha Power loose cannoneering is. Clouding Sen. Obama’s positions, while not only prudent but probably more accurately reflecting what an Obama presidency would actually do, hastens the day when the electorate realizes that Sen. Obama is just another politician. I also think that the situations reflect a lack of management and we’ll see a lot more of them over the coming months if Sen. Obama is the Democratic nominee.

The inimitable “Mr. Dooley” had his own view of reform candidates:

Ye see, that’s what them rayform lads wint up again. If I liked rayformers, Hinnissy, an’ wanted f’r to see thim win out wanst in their lifetime, I’d buy thim each a suit iv chilled steel, ar-rm thim with raypeatin’ rifles, an take thim east iv State Street an’ south iv Jackson Bullyvard. At prisint th’ opinion iv th’ gloryous ar-rmy iv ray-form is that there ain’t anny-thing worth seein’ in this lar-rge an’ commodyous desert but th’ pest-house [Ed.: hospital for people with infectious diseases] an’ the bridewell [Ed.: jail].

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