25 October 2010

If the President doesn't toe the party line, why should you?

The Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island is pissed at the President of the United States. Readers may recall that Barack Obama is a Democrat himself, but he has decided not to endorse the Democrat, nor any other candidate, in the Rhode Island race, a four-way campaign. The aggrieved Democrat believes that the President has denied him the endorsement he considers his partisan due in order to pay a political debt to Lincoln Chafee, a renegade Republican who endorsed Obama for President in 2008 and is running as an independent for governor this year. It's a small debt if it didn't oblige Obama to actually endorse Chafee, but all involved probably realize that it would be a step too far in the current political environment for a partisan President to declare in favor of an independent over a fellow Democrat. Nevertheless, Obama's refusal to endorse the Democrat may be seen as a passive endorsement of Chafee, if not a statement of principled indifference to the outcome in Rhode Island. However, die-hard partisans might well ask whether the symbolic leader of the Democrats himself suffers from the dreaded "enthusiasm gap" plaguing the party's traditional constituencies this year. Throughout the country this week, Democratic spokespersons are asking voters to hold their noses, literally or not, and vote the ruling party, if only to prevent the fate worse than death, Republican rule in Congress. Die-hard Democrats might well expect the President to set an example of closed-nose voting for the straight ticket. Instead, he has taught a lesson whether he meant to or not. Without putting it in so many words, he has told Rhode Islanders that the future of their state, at least, doesn't depend upon the election of a Democratic governor. It makes you wonder why that shouldn't be true elsewhere.

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