Moving on, we get to Condoleeza Rice—because, of course, former Secretaries of State represent such a sharp break from “the conventional governing class.” The case for Rice seems to be that she has held both Republican and Democratic associations, she is generally seen as moderate and temperate, and she balanced the budget while serving as Stanford provost. As for whether she has, you know, anything to say about our current political and economic challenges, VandeHei and Allen acknowledge that, “Rice would need to find a sharper, more populist voice.” But don’t worry about that, they assure us—“she can play at this level.”
Rounding out the line-up is Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff (so unconventional!) who served as co-chair of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission. I can’t decide whether Bowles is the least depressing or most depressing of the candidates here. On the one hand, he’s closely identified with a specific agenda that is responsive to a real, long-term national challenge. On the other hand, it’s the wrong challenge to be obsessing about right now. VandeHei and Allen open the Bowles blurb thusly:
The most depressing reality of modern governance is this: The current system seems incapable of dealing with our debt addiction before it becomes a crippling crisis.
No, no, no. The most depressing reality of modern governance is that the current system seems incapable of dealing with the fact that 25 million Americans can’t find full-time work. Meanwhile, though the long-run budget problems are real, rates on Treasury bonds are dropping so low that, as Karl Smith notes, the real cost of financing the federal government over ten years is “quickly approaching zero.” That VandeHei and Allen don’t get this is a perfect example of how the unemployed become invisible, and the deficit becomes paramount, in the eyes of the Beltway press.
The whole Politico Primary feature is especially maddening because Politico can be so much better than this. Its horse-race coverage is often stellar. Though not an investigative powerhouse, it does solid work on campaign finance and influence peddling. And its coverage of federal agencies, while sometimes scant on policy specifics, does a good job tracking which side is prevailing in important arguments.
But when Politico decides to be splashy, it still often comes across as witless; the savvy present in its day-to-day work simply vanishes. And even if this is just a fun reader engagement gimmick, readers deserve better than that.
Update, 10/10: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reader nominations (selected by VandeHei and Allen from submissions via Twitter) are as uninspired as Politico’s picks. One ex-general apparently wasn’t enough, so now we’ve got Colin Powell alongside David Petraeus. And one professional deficit hawk apparently wasn’t enough, so now we’ve got David Walker—former head of the Government Accountability Office, and now CEO of the Peterson Foundation—alongside Erskine Bowles. Then there’s a moderate Democrat, Virginia Senator Mark Warner; a moderate Republican, former Utah Governor (and, of course, current actual presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman; and a billionaire independent, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
None of these folks is going to be the next president, but they might all share the stage at a No Labels conference one day. If nothing else, the exercise shows that even in an era of unprecedented partisan polarization, what used to be called the “Beltway consensus” still has a deep bench.
My favorite nugget from the new batch of candidate blurbs is the line at the end of Walker’s entry that notes he was nominated by Mark McKinnon, a “former strategist for President George W. Bush” who is quoted endlessly in the Beltway media. Because, again, this feature is motivated by the failure of “the conventional governing class.”