Jan 31, 2008

January 4, 2008: Time Has Come Today, Joined at the Hip, Burned Up by the Sun

“Time has come today
Young hearts can go their way
Can’t put it off another day
I don’t care what others say
They say we don’t listen anyway
Time has come today”--- The Chambers Brothers

He was told to wait, to take his place at the back of the line, to bide his time and observe the opportunity. He said that this is his time, that in another four or eight years his time will have passed, and that his window of opportunity is now. Last night Barach Obama stunned the political world by winning the Iowa Presidential Caucus with 38% of the vote to 30% for John Edwards and 29% for Hillary Clinton.

The Iowa Caucus is a rather interesting and arcane exercise in retail politics. An almost guaranteed low turnout compared to a primary or general election, it has the one-on-one feel of New Hampshire but with some interesting wrinkles. First people don’t vote at the polls but rather gather in a large room, much as they did in places like colonial Virginia and publicly vote in an open meeting. Not only does one have to arrive at a meeting place at an appointed time and make one’s vote known but each candidate must reach a level of support equal to 15% of those attending in order to be “Viable”. Not only is this process open to independents and Republicans but if one’s candidate does not reach viability, then one can switch one’s vote to one of the front runners. Candidates leading the pack, therefore, can pick up additional support from not only independents and Republicans who join the fracas but from lower tier candidates who do not reach the threshold. By all accounts Obama garnered the largest share of all of the above.

There had been a stampede, by historical standards, to the Democrats anyway. The turnout state wide was nearly double 2004 with independents and disgruntled Republicans participating. This makes Obama’s victory even more compelling given that the Hawkeye State is 94% white for it demonstrates two salient facts: first Obama is establishing himself as a transformational political figure by reaching across that age-old racial divide. Second, he also demonstrated that if he is not the first choice among democratic faithful, he is clearly the second choice. This has important consequences.

I remember a great Mac Nelly cartoon in 1976 showing two vehicles at a red light. On the left was a Mercedes or Volvo with a professorial type smoking a pipe and a poodle sitting in the passenger seat and a tag reading LIB-76. On the rear bumper was a Mo Udall sticker over which had been plastered “Carter”. Next to this car was a pickup truck with a hound dog in the back and a gun rack in the rear window and a tag reading RED-109. On the rear bumper was a Wallace sticker over which had been plastered “Carter”. The caucus in Iowa is an early indication that Barach is capable of picking up support from those behind other candidacies and can forge the coalition needed to prevail in the general election.

One gropes for an historical precedent. Ali’s victory over Liston that “shook up the world” or, more appropriately, John Kennedy’s victory over Hubert Humphrey in heavily protestant West Virginia demonstrating that a Catholic could win Protestant support and represent all Americans.

It is early but already he is clearly dictating the terms of the debate. He has stolen the thunder of John Edwards. Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, emerged on the national political stage in 2004 with a tone of conciliation and compassion. He spoke of “Two Americas” one rich and one poor, of the growing polarization of America and the need to bridge the breach. Today he has less the voice of Robert Kennedy than the tone of Lou Dobbs. As he quite rightly points to the class war that is being waged by the rich against the rest of us, his campaign has taken on an ominous and rancorous quality that appears, at least on television, almost threatening. In sum, although they speak the same language, Obama has taken the rhetorical high road.

Hillary, on the other hand, has lost the aura of inevitability that has justified her campaign. Many party regulars will be in the awkward position of having to re-evaluate their support if she does not improve her standing. Her campaign is largely based on experience and the salad days of her husband’s presidency. Many on the left in the party question that legacy given that Bill was so eager to compromise with the Republican congress even to the point of savaging the last safeguards of the old New Deal. Besides running a budget surplus and upgrading the performance of FEMA to natural disasters, one is hard pressed to point to any other major achievements. But Clinton looks like the reincarnation of FDR himself compared to the moron who presently warms the presidential seat, and so those pining for a “restoration” have claimed Hillary as their standard-bearer.

The rules have changed today (hey)
I have no place to stay (hey)
I’m thinking about the subway (hey)
My love has flown away (hey)
My tears have come and gone (hey)
Oh my lord, I have to roam (hey)
I have no home (hey)
I have no home (hey)

The problem, as Al Gore could have told her, is that the paucity of the state of our national politics has given Bill such stature that it is difficult to get out from under his shadow. A generation of American politicians could find shelter in the legacy of Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan. But Clinton, who won office by ever larger minorities, presents succeeding democratic politicians with the necessity of running as far from Bill has possible, running naked in the merciless noon sun.

For Hillary no such option exists. Joined at the hip she cannot shed herself from Bill and every time he appears on stage or joins in the fray he appears to be rescuing her. Her demonstrably inferior campaign performance has left her diminished by comparison. And then there are the reminders of the Clinton propensity to lie down with swine.

And so as the campaign season progressed here was Hillary defending lobbying as part of the “democratic process”, and garnering endorsements from party pols eager to restore the old order, raising money from the pharmaceutical and medical industry, and getting support from the likes of Rupert Murdock and Fox Noise.

We have seen such campaigns before. Republican William Howard Taft in 1952, Ed Muskie, famously inevitably the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination in 1972, had endorsements from every major Democratic politician right down to the county chairmen. Gone by the New Hampshire primary in a flood of tears outside the office of the Manchester Union Leader. Then there was Howard Dean in 2004, another coronation that didn’t happen.

Edwards is now in the position that having raised only a fraction of the money that Obama and Clinton have raised, and poised to finish behind one or both in New Hampshire he must now try to raise his profile without becoming more strident in his message and the attendant risk of being further marginalized. Hillary must now resuscitate her campaign which will require nothing less than a new justification for it given that her message of experience and ready on day one is not salient; nor does she have any longer the aura of the president-in-waiting that motivated many of the party regulars and much of her base to support her. In short her support was a continent wide but an inch deep much like the thinning ice sheet on the Arctic Ocean. And in the Hawkeye State, the ice began to crack.

It’s high noon in America and as Hillary’s support melts and cracks, Barack has risen from the ashes of Democratic Party politics to soar like a modern phoenix.

Now the time has come (time)
There’s no place to run (time)
I might get burned up by the sun (time)
But I had my fun (time)
I’ve been loved and put aside (time)
I’ve been crushed by the tumbling tide (time)
And my soul has been psychedelicized (time)

Now the time has come
There are things to realize
Time has come today
Time has come today


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