Ezra on Richardson

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Since Matthew Yglesias wrote about Bill Richardson yesterday, Ezra Klein has penned two posts on the subject. From the first:

But those arguments don’t harm Matt’s central point, which is that celebrity has overwhelmed all other considerations. The path to that celebrity can be argued over, but substantive policy achievements and broad, deep experience isn’t it. If Bill Richardson* looked like Matt Santos, maybe he’d be a “serious” candidate. But not until.

*I should probably say that I attended a small policy breakfast with Richardson and found him very underwhelming. He talked of tax cuts and making Democrats “the party of space.” His is a resume without — at least thus far — an inspiring vision or a clear ideology, and it’s worth saying that pure technocrats rarely win national elections. The hunger for celebrity is unfair, but the appetite for inspiration isn’t necessarily off-base.

Not exactly a glowing recommendation. Ezra reversed course just a bit in his second post this morning:

I’m sort of unhappy with how I worded the Bill Richardson post yesterday, so let me try this approach: Richardson has said a lot of things I agree with, but nothing I’m motivated to get behind. He’s offered no health care plan that would radically transform the country for the better, nor a humane Iraq plan that distinguishes his vision from the other contestants. For partisans, presidential primaries offer a field of people you basically agree with — so the question is what they have beyond basic philosophical acceptability. Sometimes, the answer is electability, sometimes, the capacity to inspire, sometimes, a policy platform that rockets past agreeable all the way into achingly desirable. For now (and it’s very early), Richardson hasn’t distinguished himself on any metrics aside from experience.

Is it just me, or is this a chicken-and-egg situation for the Richardson campaign? It’s almost universally accepted that he has the resume to get the job done, but isn’t making any big splash in the media, since the media isn’t paying any attention, because he isn’t making a big splash. All the while, progressives in the party doubt his lefty street cred?

Yesterday, I said it might be hard for New Mexicans to believe Richardson doesn’t have celebrity status — I’ve seen him be funny and get a crowd going — but so far that hasn’t translated across the country yet.

To a certain extent, I agree with Ezra: Richardson hasn’t come out with anything in the way of policy ideas that will lead partisan democrats primary voters to get excited about him (the lack of a health care plan is a glaring ommission). He’s an accomplished diplomat and politician, and he is popular in New Mexico, but that isn’t going to help him in a nationwide primary.

I guess we’ll have to see how well Richardson does in this afternoon’s debate in Nevada (which I’ll be liveblogging, along with Heath Haussamen). It might be an early make-or-break moment for his campaign.

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