Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Beltway Phenomenon

I missed this article yesterday, but OpinionJournal posted a terrific column by Peter Beinart about the Democratic presidential nomination. Beinart has a simple explanation why Dean is ahead of the rest of the pack: he knows how to present himself as an executive because he’s been a governor, and he’s not tied down to all sorts of interest-group compromises because he’s been outside the Beltway for his political career.

This is a very important phenomenon. Ever since the 1970s -- read, ever since the federal government grew massively during the Great Society and the Nixon Administration -- no member of Congress has ever won the Presidency. Walter Mondale and Bob Dole probably got the closest simply by winning the presidential nomination. John Marini likes to cite this fact as proof that the national administrative state is out of whack. To be sure, voters vote reflexively to protect the administrative state when conservatives try to cut it, as the Gingrich Congress found out the hard way. But every 4 years, when primary voters try to nominate a presidential candidate, the nominee who runs against Washington, D.C. has a huge edge over all the others: Carter, Reagan, Dukakis, Clinton, Bush II, and now it’s looking like Dean. (Bush I doesn’t count because he was Reagan III.) The pattern is so strong it makes you wonder why Senators like Kerry and Lieberman could be so obtuse to miss it.

I remember thinking of this phenomenon when the Democratic field settled together. I looked at Dean and said, "Nah, there’s no way it will work this time." Instead, Dean may turn out to be the best confirmation of the Beltway phenomenon yet.

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