The silly season

It isn’t just sportswriters who are indulging in magical thinking (the curse of the Bambino, etc.) these days. The usually sensible political writer Jonathan Rauch also does so when he claims that a “14 year rule” governs who can be elected president. Under this “rule” no one can be elected president who takes “more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president.” Rauch is apparently serious when he asserts, based on his rule, that of the major candidates only Bush, Clark, Dean, and Edwards have a chance at winning in 2004.
Rauch derives his rule from American electoral history since Theodore Roosevlt. However, he acknowledges that there is an exception — Lyndon Johnson, who was elected Vice President 23 years after being elected to Congress. And Al Gore won the popular vote even though he was elected Vice President more than 14 years after being elected to Congress.
Rauch thinks that his rule is rooted in the notion that that candidates who have been in office for more than 14 years are too “stale” to be elected to high office. I agree that voters tend to prefer relatively “fresh” candidates for president. But the perceived freshness of a candidate does not depend on how many years he or she has served, largely unnoticed, in this or that office. John Kennedy (elected president 14 years after being elected to Congress) would have been viewed as fresh even if he had been in the Senate for another two or four years before running for president. Howard Dean would be considered fresh even if he had been an obscure governor longer. Moreover, Richard Nixon was elected president despite being one of the least fresh candidates in American history. Finally, anyone running with the right presidential candidate can be elected vice president regardless of how long that person has been around.
Baseball’s silly season will be over soon. Political punditry’s is just getting started.

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