Damage Control For Richardson
It took a few days, but now there are signs that Gov. Bill Richardson's hard-won status as a preferred or back-up presidential candidate for leading elements of the left blogosphere and/or netroots has been seriously endangered by his performance in last week's SC debates.
Before wading into this subject, let me emphasize that I like Richardson, and that I have been and intend to remain studiously neutral in the presidential nominating contest, not that it much matters to anybody, other than those who think every blogger has a secret candidate-driven agenda. But the Richardson phenomenon does raise interesting questions about the instability of candidate preferences in the New Media age.
Check out this post by Trapper John at DailyKos--previously a largely pro-Richardson site--for the case against Big Bill, which includes several things Richardson said just yesterday at the California Democratic Convention (more about all that later).
To back up a bit, the netroots' special interest in Richardson is two-fold. First are those facets of his biography that attract people from all over the party: his golden resume which combines international and domestic credentials; his electoral record; his Latino ethnicity; his laid-back personality and communications style; and his lack of identification with any controversial faction in the party (though he was very much a Clintonian for much of his career, and has been quite friendly to the DLC).
Second are things about Richardson that especially attract netroots support. These include his current status, unique in the field, as a governor and thus (despite his long prior federal service) non-Washingtonian; his Western background (attractive to many bloggers for a variety of personal, ideological and empirico-political reasons); his active engagement of the netroots; and recently, at least, his adoption of a fairly hard line on withdrawal from Iraq. One leading blogger--Markos of DailyKos--even likes Richardson's NRA-friendly record on guns as conducive to a "libertarian Democrat" movement that might expand the party base, especially in the West.
And like all political junkies, netroots observers have largely concluded that past rumors about Richardson's behavior towards women must be mostly hot air, since the hordes of oppo researchers and journalists lusting for documentation of such rumors do not appear to have turned up anything of note.
That was all before last Thursday. To begin with, Richardson drew two questions that underlined his affinity with the NRA, and his occasional strong words about the Democratic habit of supporting tax increases (the latter came directly after Edwards was challenged to defend his support of a tax increase, or more accurately a rollback of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, to pay for his health care plan).
And then came Richardson's immediate and startling citation of Byron "Whizzer" White as a model for the kind of person he'd like to name to the Supreme Court. It didn't take more than a few minutes for posts to pop up noting that White was not only one of the dissenters in the original abortion rights case, Roe v. Wade (abortion being the context of the SCOTUS question), but also the author of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 decision upholding the constitutionality of state sodomy laws. In one fell swoop, and for no apparent reason, Richardson managed to offend at least some abortion rights and gay rights activists.
Over the weekend, at the California event, Richardson happened to follow Edwards at the podium, and repeated his I'm-not-a-tax-raising-Democrat line. Trapper John took that as a direct shot at Edwards (who is the number one favorite candidate on sites like Daily Kos), and worse yet, as one of the progressive blogosphere's biggest no-noes: reinforcing Republican attack lines on Democrats generally while attacking another Democrat.
Moreoever, while in California Richardson got asked to clarify his Whizzer White endorsement. There's a quote flying around the blogosphere (here and here, in addition to Trapper John's post), for which I have yet to see a primary source, wherein Big Bill allegedly responded: "White was in the 60s. Wasn't Roe v. Wade in the 80s?" Way wrong, of course, on both counts (White was on the Court until 1993, and Roe was decided in 1973.
In other words, the growing progressive blogospheric grievance with Richardson is growing, not going away.
The irony is that there are reasonably easy ways for him to put the dispute to sleep, if not to rest. Richardson ought to say now what he might have said last week before even addressing the SCOTUS question: "You know, unlike the other candidates, I'm not a lawyer." He could add: "I'll spot them at least one factual error on diplomatic issues to even things up," and then close off the subject by swearing his fealty to a constitutional right to privacy and non-discrimination in all matters involving abortion and gay rights.
The tax issue should be even easier to clear up, assuming that Richardson agrees with virtually all Democrats that Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (the usual cutoff being individual taxpayers with over $200,000 in income) should be repealed. Interestingly enough, there's nothing specific on that topic at the Richardson campaign web page, though a recent New York Times roundup on tax policy listed Richardson as in accord with all the other candidates--including Edwards--as favoring preservation of tax cuts for those earning less than $200,000). Every single Democratic candidate in 2004 favored this sort of rollback, with the only argument being over total repeal of the Bush tax cuts, supported by Dean on general principles and by Gephardt to pay for his health plan. Assuming Richardson isn't staking out a truly unusual position on the subject, his only argument with Edwards might be over what to do with the proceeds of a rollback. He ought to just say so, and then go on to tout his record in New Mexico for cutting taxes there.
I don't know where if anywhere this "story" is going next, but it is a good indicator of how the development of blogs and other new media have made gaffes much easier to make and more essential to correct than in the past. --