Patrick Healy's lead story in Sunday's Week in Review, "An Exclusive Club Gets Included," posed the question: Why, after a long spell of senators trying and failing to win high office, are two senators now in line for the presidency? Healy's short answer: It's all Bush's fault, for his "go-it-alone strategy in Iraq" and his "with-us-or-against-us presidency."
John McCain or Barack Obama would be only the third president in history to go directly from the Senate to the White House. And, perhaps not coincidentally, both men face an electorate that seems more open to Senate-style compromise and negotiation, defying conventional wisdom in modern politics.
Maybe what John Kerry - one in a long line of failed senators-cum-nominees - called the "stubbornness" and "rigidity" of the Bush administration has changed all that. The alienation of allies; the go-it-alone strategy in Iraq; and the lack of immigration reform and a new energy policy; the rise in gas prices and health care costs have left many Americans in a dyspeptic mood. And with all the problems in the world, polls show there is a desire for a candidate with more foreign policy experience than a typical governor has.
Given the costs of a with-us-or-against-us presidency that achieved relatively little on Capitol Hill, maybe voters think a split-the-difference senator isn't such a bad idea. In a New York Times/CBS poll in February, 72 percent of Republican primary voters said they wanted a Republican president to compromise with Democrats to "get more things done," while 14 percent wanted a president to stick to the party's positions. Democratic primary voters lined up in a similar way behind a Democratic president.
Beyond the nominees' skill sets, their reputations for flexible thinking and their abilities to adjust to new conditions and changing facts may come as a relief after the ideological rigidity of the current Bush administration, not to mention decades of partisan Washington bickering under Democratic and Republican presidents.