We have seen this kind of thing before. The last such inrush of millions of ordinary citizens into political activity was the peace movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. On balance, it strengthened the Democratic Party in congressional elections.
But it also advanced presidential candidates who proved to be less than ideal nominees in November -- the diffident Eugene McCarthy, who did not win the 1968 nomination but might have if the present system of primaries had been in place, and the earnest George McGovern, nominated because of his opposition to the Vietnam War rather than his record in office, who lost 49 states in 1972.
Strong peaceniks and strong tea partiers alike tend to be attracted to candidates who promise to do impossible things -- cut off funding for a war, default on the national debt. Facing such constituencies, competing candidates will try not to leave any room between them and the Democratic left or the Republican right.
This may be accentuated because this cycle's crop of Republican candidates has no one with the high-level experience in foreign or fiscal matters that some contenders in the Democratic fields of 1968 and 1972 had.
Its current members of Congress have been backbenchers. Most of its governors have had no federal or foreign policy experience. The exception -- Huntsman, former ambassador to Singapore and China -- tends to prove the rule.
Some time between now and the first caucuses and primaries, some of these candidates may present a more serious fiscal and economic platform than any of them has so far. In the meantime, it's tempting to seek quick votes by promising the impossible and pledging to do things no president ever would.
The problem is that once you get in office this way, you may end up "leading from behind." Just ask Barack Obama.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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