Wall Street Journal Wrong on Axelrod Method

Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal wrote a column comparing the difficulties faced in governing by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to potential difficulties for Sen. Obama if elected President.

His argument is that “The Axelrod Method,” a campaign based on hope, change, and a candidate’s inspiring personal story, makes it difficult to “turn an autobiographical, pseudo-postideological campaign into a mandate for governing.”

Gov. Patrick’s campaign was orchestrated by David Axelrod and David Plouffe, the same team currently running Obama’s operation. Patrick won his election despite overwhelming odds based on the success of “The Axelrod Method.” However, as Kaminski likes to point out, Patrick was largely unable to deliver that change once in office due to entrenched interests and personalities that did not appreciate his reform message.

That crusading optimism, so critical to his election victory, fast bumped up against established Democratic interests such as the police unions and powerbrokers on Beacon Hill. They didn’t know Mr. Patrick, didn’t appreciate him jumping the queue to the governor’s chair, didn’t buy his reformist outsider message, and frankly liked things as they were. Great speeches or popular support were insufficient for Mr. Patrick to get his way.

Using Patrick as a case study for the entire country, Kaminski claims that “the ‘change’ president could be in for a rough ride with the Democratic warhorses on Capitol Hill.”

Here is the problem with Kaminski’s argument: Beacon Hill is not Capitol Hill.

Using a state such as Massachusetts, a Democratic stronghold where the fiercest political battles are in primaries instead of generals, is a fallacious comparison. We are talking about two completely different ball games. Very partisan states tend to have a very entrenched pecking order and electoral queue within their dominant parties. Since most candidates don’t have very stark policy or ideology differences, the system is about waiting your turn. When someone upsets the established order there is going to be a lot of resistance.

Now look at Sen. Obama and Capitol Hill. Sure, there are people in the Democratic Party that believe that Obama jumped ahead in line when it should have been Hillary Clinton’s, but the need to defeat John McCain and finally elect a Democrat to the White House after eight devastating years brought most of them home. In a state like Massachusetts, the real election tends to be the primary. In a campaign to become President of the United States, the general always matters.

Democratic Congressional leadership is supportive of Barack Obama. Many Democratic leaders credit him with restoring the Democratic brand that has been lacking for the last decade or more. It is hard to imagine a Democratic House and Senate shutting down everything Obama attempts to do in office the way Massachusetts Democratic leaders did to Governor Patrick.

Kaminski’s argument just doesn’t hold any water.