The rifts in the Democratic Party between its extremist base and those sympathetic to the extremism but realistic enough to understand they can't admit it during national campaigns, simply works against its production of ideal presidential contenders. This is why Democrats aren't much closer to having a consensus candidate for 2008. While they have a consensus, in fact, they don't have a working consensus.
They may be more united than ever on most issues, having steadily gravitated toward the left in recent years. But fronting a candidate truly representing their unabashed liberalism would be suicidal, because the nation's majority is more conservative than liberal, by more than a trifle. This is the root of the Democrats' problem, not their failure to package or articulate their message as various party strategists and linguists have suggested.
Not long ago, Democrats were all excited about Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, who told Democrats their problem was a matter of semantic framing: They needed to better present their policy positions, from "values" to the war on terror. Now another such egghead is recommending the same magical semantic bullet.
In his new book, "Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show," linguist Geoffrey Nunberg advises Democrats to recapture control of the language from Republicans -- with words like "fairness" and "decency" -- and prevent Republicans from continuing to brand them in negative ways.
Unless Democrats can find another spinmeister in Bill Clinton's league who can, through a combination of charisma and glibness, convince a plurality or narrow majority that his party stands for something it does not, or unless world events serendipitously work against Republicans, Democrats will still have an uphill battle in 2008.
Whatever attributes Hillary Clinton may bring to the presidential candidates' table, she is no Bill Clinton in the charisma department. Nor is any other Democrat, as far as we know. Which is why, in the end, I suspect we always find Democrats rooting for a negative turn of events during the Republicans' watch. It's their best chance of recapturing control.