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Morris W. O'Kelly Headshot

Democrats on Verge of Repeating Ted Kennedy Mistake of 1979

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Students of political history already know the story of the late Senator Ted Kennedy in 1979. Others like Mo'Kelly are old enough to simply remember it. For everyone else, it goes a little something like this. Democratic party discontent with President Jimmy Carter for all things ranging from the American gas crisis to the Iran hostages; reached its nadir when Senator Ted Kennedy decided to mount a Democratic challenge against the sitting president.

Proponents of the idea argued that the party needed a "stronger" candidate in the general election, regardless of the Republican competition. Opponents argued it would rip the party apart and send moderates and independents into the ballot box to vote Republican.

Ted Kennedy entering the fray splintered the Democratic party pure and simple and presented the public face that the party had lost all faith in its own president. It led to disastrous consequences.

Jimmy Carter held off Kennedy and then was summarily thrashed in the general election, losing to Ronald Reagan in one of the largest landslides in election history. Independents and moderates swung heavily for Reagan and Democratic turnout was comparatively low.

The term "Reagan Democrats" was given to the tangible and palpable disaffected and ultimately defected Democratic voters.

The political lesson supposedly learned on that day was the in-party dissension fractured the base and all-but-ensured a Republican victory.

In 2011, Republicans have been working night and day to make the historical connection between President Obama and President Carter; the cerebral, intelligent yet ineffective Democratic president of the 20th century. And just like the spineless Democrats they tend to be, they have been eating it up with extra helpings, rushing to repeat history and the same mistakes.

Is President Obama in trouble? Absolutely. Does his party have legitimate reason to voice a level of discontent in regards to how we've arrived at this point in history? Surely. But repeating the "Ted Kennedy" mistakes of 1979 only ensures that either Rick Perry or Mitt Romney easily waltzes into the Oval Office in a landslide manner.

What do I mean? Rumors are growing daily that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and others) are preparing to mount a Democratic primary challenge to the president. It would be fiasco 1980 all over again. The primary rejection of Ted Kennedy had largely to do with memories of Chappaquiddick still dancing in voters' heads and a reluctance to continue the Kennedy political monarchy. More importantly, it sent the message to America that the Democrats had lost all faith in the sitting president.

To suggest that there is a Democrat more "electable" than the sitting president of the United States is foolhardy on its best day, irrespective of party. You will always have a better chance of keeping the White House outright through re-election, than trading politicians from the same party.. If the president is not supported by his own party, Americans take notice. If Democrats put forth the idea that they need a new candidate, you can bet America will follow suit. In relation to Hillary Clinton, to surmise that independents and moderates will opt for a cabinet member of the very administration in which they by implication are rejecting is even more silly.

Al Gore lost in his 2000 bid to become president in large part due to a rejection of the idea of a Clinton continuation in the wake of Monica Lewinsky. If you thought it was hard to elect Barack Obama, how hard do you think it would be to elect Hillary Clinton on the heels of Barack Obama?

You can't criticize the foreign policy of the administration regarding Libya and in turn offer up the Secretary of State as a presidential alternative. That's simply silly. Democrats are going to have to ride the Obama train until the wheels fall off. But having the wheels fall off is distinctly different from unscrewing the lug nuts and pulling them off yourself.

Offering up Democratic primary challengers is self-sabotage of the worst order.

If Democrats wish to bite off their nose to spite their face and send a message to President Obama... feel free, knock yourself out. Just know that you will only be validating the comparisons to Jimmy Carter and ensuring that history accordingly follows the Carter narrative, complete with a landslide defeat.

If Democrats are unhappy with President Obama, just wait for "President Perry."

Despite the Republican talking points, 2012 is for the Democrats to lose. Let's not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with an ill-conceived primary strategy and repeat Carter history.

 

Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is a political correspondent for the BBC Radio and Television networks and author of the syndicated column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and welcomes all commentary.

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