Dave Roberts writes:
Over the course of Monday and Tuesday, Hillary Clinton is going to introduce her new energy plan -- "Powering America's Future: New Energy, New Jobs" -- with a few speeches and briefings.
Lacking any special insight, I assume she's going to put out a good plan. She has access to policy people who are, from a technocratic standpoint, as smart as any others out there and the dynamic of the race with two challengers running to her left mean that it would be a huge unforced error to release a plan that doesn't make the relevant groups happy. She has the incentive to produce a good plan, she has the people to write a good plan, and she's had the time to make a good plan, so I'm pretty sure a good plan will be the result. This is one respect in which the painfully long primary season has been a boon -- John Edwards' bold strokes have tended to set the tone, leading the other contenders to eventually put forward bolder, better ideas than they otherwise might. The result is all-but-guaranteed to be a general election nominee running on a solid platform of health care reform and carbon emissions curbs.
I worry, though, about the reverse dynamic kicking in on Iraq.
Ezra Klein recently reminded me of Fafblog's classic "Fafblog Interviews the Democratic Party" post which, in turn, was a reminder of how lame 2005-vintage Democratic thinking about Iraq was. Over time, though, that thinking improved, which is a good thing. Nevertheless, Iraq is a constantly changing situation and when in early 2007 Bush rejected the verdict of the American people and the Baker-Hamilton Commission, much of the previous wave of proposals became irrelevant to the future debate.
But unlike on other issues, neither Hillary Clinton nor any of her rivals could afford to wait before talking about their plans for Iraq. As a result, the frontrunner has a stated position on Iraq today that's really based on the year-old Baker-Hamilton proposals. Worse, because nobody wants to be seen as "flip-flopping" and because everyone knows you tack left during the primaries and then right during the general election, she's all-but-guaranteed to have a platform in October 2008 that was really designed for the circumstances of December 2006 and doesn't reflect either the evolving situation on the ground or the evolving thinking of policy people, including some of her own advisors. And, indeed, though Edwards and Obama have both staked out positions I like somewhat better than Clinton's, the same basic dynamic of stasis will, I think, apply with nobody wanting to recalibrate their statements on Iraq (lest such a recalibration spawn a thousand process stories) even though this is precisely the sort of issue where people need to be constantly re-evaluating their ideas to see if they still make sense in light of changes in the objective situation.
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David R. Quillen