The Law of 14

Somebody’s got to say it, so here is my latest political commentary.  I have also posted it here on The Xenophile Historian.

Who will run for president in 2016? I have tried to ignore the question, because as I write this, the election is three years away, for crying out loud! Still, I’m astonished at how many folks think Hillary Clinton is a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Not so fast, reporters, your bias is showing again. At best, Hillary will have to fight somebody to get it, the way she fought Barack Obama in 2008. She has some serious personal flaws, and not too many people are talking about them. I’m not talking about the emotional and political baggage from being in the news headlines for two decades – we all know about that. I’m talking chronology; she’s too old to run for president anymore. By the time 2016 rolls around, she will be 69 years old, the same age Ronald Reagan was when he got elected. Does anybody remember when Democrats thought Reagan was too old to run?

A related problem is that by 2016, Hillary will have expired. Politicians may last longer than the food you buy in the supermarket, but they have expiration dates, too. According to columnist Jonathan Rauch, once a politician wins a major office – meaning he is a governor, member of Congress, or mayor of a big city – he has fourteen years to get elected president or vice president, before the voters get tired of him and start looking for fresher faces.

So you don’t think I came up with this, I recommend you read Rauch’s column on the subject: Who Can Win in 2004? He wrote it back in 2003, but it’s still relevant. There he gives all the details, all the numbers, involved with the 14-year theory, and they haven’t changed since then. In a nutshell, almost every president, from Theodore Roosevelt onward, became president or vice president within fourteen years of when he first achieved one of the major offices mentioned above. Rauch started counting with Teddy because it was at the beginning of the twentieth century when presidential primaries were invented. Before that time, it was mainly party leaders choosing who would get the nomination; the rank and file voters had little or no input on the process. Since then, the only exception to the “Law of 14" has been Lyndon Johnson, because John F. Kennedy picked him for his running mate after he had been in Congress for twenty-three years. Even so, because of the law, we can say that if LBJ had been nominated as the Democratic candidate in 1960, instead of JFK, he would not have beaten Richard Nixon.

The vice presidency is a special case. For some reason the clock stops ticking once somebody becomes vice president, and his years in the number two spot are not added toward the fourteen years he has to become president. Maybe it’s because we don’t pay attention to vice presidents most of the time. But once he leaves the vice presidency, the clock resumes. Probably the best example of how this works came from Nixon, who was elected president twenty-two years after he first ran for Congress, but because he had been vice president for eight years under the Eisenhower administration, only fourteen of those years count, meaning he won exactly on the expiration date.

Now how has the rule held up since 2003? Well, it correctly predicted the winners in both 2004 and 2008. John Kerry had been a senator for twenty years, and John McCain had been one for twenty-six, so both of them were too stale to win. It also gave me an idea of how things would go in 2012. By the time the primaries started, four Republicans were left, and among them, only Mitt Romney was still fresh, having won his first major office ten years earlier. The shelf life had already run out on Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. That would not have kept Santorum, Gingrich or Paul from getting the nomination, but if they had, I would have known right there that the Republicans weren’t going to win. Of course Romney didn’t win either, but you probably remember how the election was too close to call for a long time; only Romney had a fighting chance against Obama.

With Hillary, whether you count from when she became first lady (1992) or when she became a senator (2000), she has been in the national spotlight too long to be considered fresh. Sorry Ms. Clinton, by the time the Obama administration is done, you will probably be done, too. Hope you enjoy retirement.

"Politicians are like diapers, both need to be changed often, for the same reason."–Anonymous

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