As Barack Obama coasts to his coronation as the Democratic nominee in late August, he’s managed to convince many that he wears the mantle of Camelot. Toward that end, he’s been chasing Kennedy coattails every bit as much as he has delegates.
Some who are clearly less-than-enamored of Mr. Obama have tried to suggest that his candidacy looks more like George McGovern’s in 1972 than that of Jack Kennedy in 1960, or brother Bobby in 1968. But that argument hasn’t developed much traction. A closer look at current personalities and patterns suggests another comparison, one that may actually be the best political parallel between a past campaign and the current phenomenon.
Could the ascendancy and candidacy of Barack Obama be the second coming of Jimmy Carter? Consider these interesting parallels.
First, Jimmy Carter appeared from nowhere – he was an obscure, though fiercely ambitious, southern governor who, eighteen months before his juggernaut reached full and unstoppable speed, had been hardly noticed and was given little chance of success. But his carefully calculated message wrapped in a resonate promise, “I’ll never lie to you,” had a populist impact that was underestimated by party insiders.
The peanut farmer knocked-out seemingly formidable opponents early on in the primaries the way Joe Louis handled pugilistic foes (c.1939-1941) during the days of his “bum of the month club.” And by the time all hopes were placed on Hubert Humphrey, elder party statesman, to “stop Carter” – it was already too late. The Carter nomination was a virtual done-deal.
Of course, Jimmy Carter didn’t have one single formidable opponent to give him the trouble that Hillary gave Barack. But he bested an impressive field of opponents: George Wallace, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Morris Udall, Frank Church, Jerry Brown, and Lloyd Bentsen. And for all practical purposes, he wrapped things up by early May 1976, after winning eight of the first ten primaries that season.
This brings out another similarity between then and now. James Earl Carter Jr. was able to approach the selection of a running mate with the kind of deliberate and drawn out drama we are seeing today, as Mr. Obama conducts his dog and pony show (and, of course John McCain is doing the same thing). Long gone seem to be the days when a nominee had little time to think seriously of such things until the smoke-cleared in the wee hours of a morning during a frenetic 24-hour period of political posturing.