VDH: They coulda had a contendah

Victor Davis Hanson wonders when the Democrats will suffer buyer’s remorse.  He argues effectively that had Hillary Clinton shifted her campaign strategy a little earlier, the Democrats would have had a more seasoned nominee to face off against John McCain in a year that should be a Republican disaster.  Now, however, they have picked the one candidate who could gaffe his way out of the White House, and perhaps bolster Republicans around the country:

Second, many are beginning to notice how a Saint Obama talks down to them. We American yokels can’t speak French or Spanish. We eat too much. Our cars are too big, our houses either overheated or overcooled. And we don’t even put enough air in our car tires. In contrast, a lean, hip Obama promises to still the rising seas and cool down the planet, assuring adoring Germans that he is a citizen of the world.

Third, Obama knows that all doctrinaire liberals must tack rightward in the general election. But due to his inexperience, he’s doing it in far clumsier fashion than any triangulating candidate in memory. Do we know — does Obama even know? — what he really feels about drilling off our coasts, tapping the strategic petroleum reserve, NAFTA, faith-based initiatives, campaign financing, the FISA surveillance laws, town-hall debates with McCain, Iran, the surge, timetables for Iraq pullouts, gun control or capital punishment?

Fourth, Obama is proving as inept an extemporaneous speaker as he is gifted with the Teleprompter. Like most rookie senators, in news conferences and interviews, he stumbles and then makes serial gaffes — from the insignificant, like getting the number of states wrong, to the downright worrisome, such as calling for a shadow civilian aid bureaucracy to be funded like the Pentagon (which would mean $500 billion per annum).

If the polls are right, a public tired of Republicans is beginning to think an increasingly bothersome Obama would be no better — and maybe a lot worse. It is one thing to suggest to voters that they should shed their prejudices, eat less and be more cosmopolitan. But it is quite another when the sermonizer himself too easily evokes race, weekly changes his mind and often sounds like he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

Well, maybe.  After a season of Barack Obama as the nominee and his serial gaffes and contortionist flip-flops, it’s easy to forget that Hillary could have been even worse for the Democrats.  Early on, Republicans salivated at the thought of having Hillary as a fundraiser, tapping into the palpable hatred of the Clintons to fire up the base regardless of who the GOP nominated to run against her.  Thanks to the long track record of the Clintons, they had plenty of ammunition to remind people just how tawdry their first occupancy of the White House turned out to be.

Hanson’s correct about how poor a campaigner Obama turned out to be, though.  In the primaries, he started off surprisingly strong for a man who spent less than two years in national office, but he also didn’t have to endure much scrutiny from the press — because everyone assumed Hillary would win anyway.  Not until he won Super Tuesday and the rest of February did the media finally get around to asking tough questions — and he more or less fell apart.  He barely managed to hold onto the delegate lead as Hillary crushed him in the final four months of the primary campaign.

Now he’s on the stage alone, and he still cannot gain traction, even with the media returning to their fawning.  Obama attracted an all-star media entourage for his World Tour, only to find that he actually lost ground in the polls for his troubles.  He twice smeared McCain as a racist, only to backpedal when some reporters demanded evidence for the charge and found it baseless.  Obama cannot break free of his ties to radical environmentalists on energy policy at a time when Americans have become fed up with obstructionism on increasing domestic supply — a situation in which the Clintons would have long ago triangulated to the center.

Now Hillary says she wants a floor vote at the convention, to soothe the bruised feelings from the primaries and promote party unity.  Obama has to resist this, because some Democrats may already be feeling that buyer’s remorse Hanson suggests.  Rather than a show of unity, a floor vote could easily turn into a no-confidence measure for the man who has not yet wrapped up the nomination.  The only thing keeping it from turning into that is the fact that Hillary might actually be worse.