Magazine article The American Conservative

Richardson Fails Up

Magazine article The American Conservative

Richardson Fails Up

Article excerpt

His appearance on "Meet the Press" was widely mocked as the worst on the Sunday talk-show circuit in living memory. His debate performances have been unimpressive, except when they have been embarrassing. His policy knowledge is superficial, and his positions are clearly opportunistic. Bill Richardson has never had it so good.

Despite his many mistakes and his coming from a state with few electoral votes and fewer big donors, he has managed to turn in a respectable second quarter, raising $7 million. And he comes close to tying John Edwards in third place in the Democratic presidential field. Clearly, obscurity has its advantages.

On paper, Richardson looks like the sort of well-traveled, experienced candidate that political parties seek. It would appear, as one of his comical campaign commercials suggested, that he has almost too much experience for the job. He hails from a Mountain West state that has been closely divided in recent presidential elections, potentially offering Democrats the chance to put a red-state governor on their ticket. As the only Hispanic candidate running, he theoretically has an advantage with a growing Hispanic voting bloc. He was even briefly considered for the second place on the Democratic ticket in 2004.

The story behind his "consideration" is a good example of Richardson's success in promoting an image of himself as an experienced statesman without having the qualifications to back it up. After making his desire known to the Kerry campaign, he withdrew from the process soon after.

There is a good reason Richardson would not be interested in extensive attention to his career. Easily elected to Congress in 1980 in a redrawn, heavily Democratic district in northern New Mexico, Richardson did not distinguish himself until the Clinton years when he became what the president jokingly referred to as "undersecretary for thugs" because of his penchant for negotiating with disreputable regimes for the release of prisoners. As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson mostly just kept the seat warm between Madeleine Albright's departure and the start of Richard Holbrooke's tenure.

As secretary of energy, Richardson received his biggest public humiliation. "You've squandered your treasure," Sen. Robert Byrd memorably told him during an oversight hearing looking into the security breaches at Los Alamos National Labs. While Richardson was only one in a line of incompetent administrators at DOE, the failures on his watch were all the more egregious since they concerned the loss or mishandling of sensitive nuclear weapons data. …

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