Why No Love For Bill?
Matthew Yglesias ponders why Bill Richardson’s Presidential Campaign isn’t garnering more media attention.
This is the sign of a presidential campaign that’s not getting much attention. And that, in turn, is a sign of exactly how weird our presidential nominating process has become.
We’ll leave aside, momentarily, the fact that Richardson is clearly more qualified for the White House than anyone else in the race, since everyone knows that doesn’t matter. Just consider the bare fact that he’s the popular, second-term governor of a swing state — you know, the sort of person who back in the day used to win presidential elections. And it’s not as if Richardson isn’t getting attention because the field is crowded with popular second-term governors of swing states. No. We’re too excited about the first-term senator from Illinois whose only competitive election in the past was against Bobby Rush — and who lost. Or that vice presidential nominee from a losing ticket.
I have to agree with Yglesias on this score–of all the Democrats running, Richardson is far and away the best candidate. Moreover, as Yglesias later points out, the reason why Richardson isn’t getting the media love is, simply put, he’s not famous enough.
Mayors of New York City are always famous, because the people who run the media live in New York. Hence, Rudy Giuliani is a serious candidate (and even Michael Bloomberg is considered a more serious possibility than he should be). John McCain spent all of 1999, 2000, and 2001 chasing positive press and became famous in the process — so he’s a serious candidate. Barack Obama has an extremely interesting personal story and was one of the only Democratic successes in 2004, so he became famous and now he’s a serious candidate. John Edwards got famous running on a national ticket, so he’s a serious candidate. Hillary Clinton’s husband used to be president (you may have heard), so she’s famous and she’s a serious candidate. Most absurdly, Mitt Romney happened to preside over the Massachusetts gay marriage controversy, thus becoming famous and, therefore, a serious candidate.
I don’t think anyone would argue the point here, either. That said, though, I’m not entirely certain that fame as a prerequisite for the Presidency is exactly a new thing. After all, Andrew Jackson became a Presidential candidate for his fame through the Battle of New Orleans and his conquest of Florida, rather than his short and unremarkable stints in Congress. Indeed, W.H. Harrison, Grant, and Eisenhower all three were military men, and all were elected to the Presidency on the basis of those skills, rather than any political experience or talents. JFK became a Presidential contender despite a brief political career, on the basis of his family name and the fact that he wrote a couple of bestselling books.
The fact of the matter is that because of the sheer geographic size of the United States, and the fact that the President is elected at-large, fame for whatever reason is always going to be one of the primary prerequisites for the Presidency. The key for someone qualified like Richardson is to basically hire people with the media savvy to make him famous. Once he’s achieved a certain level of fame, he can then start fighting Clinton, Obama, Edwards, etc. on his terms, and his resume will, I suspect, come much more into prominence. Indeed, I would argue that in the information age we live in now, it will become easier, rather than harder, for Richardson to gain the level of recognition he needs.