Feb 13, 2008

February 12, 2008: Return of the Jedi, Of Mice and Men, Forging a New Coalition

With last night’s victory in the Maine Caucus, Barack Obama has completed a clean sweep of the week’s primaries and caucuses, trouncing Hillary in Nebraska and Washington by 2 to 1 majorities and winning easily in Louisiana and now Maine. This has set the Empire back on its heels with Hillary shaking up her campaign organization. Yesterday it was announced that the Clinton campaign would have a new manager and, hopefully, new focus. In the short term, however, things look a bit grim. With the weekend results moving Barack ahead of Hillary in the overall delegate count and with contests in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia looming, it appears that the Obama campaign is poised to take control of the contest. Recent polls show Obama with a large lead in Maryland, overwhelming support in the District, and even—by some accounts—a lead in Virginia. With the next round shaping up to be another good night for the Senator from Illinois, it is beginning to look like the train is leaving the station.

Many held, when this campaign began, that Hillary Clinton was a lead-pipe cinch to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. She had the name recognition, the money, the organization and some say the experience and the political savvy to waltz to the nomination. But all does not follow the plans of mice and men.

There are serious problems with her candidacy that transcend gender. Problems alluded to earlier concerning her high negatives. Hillary likes to chide the party about how Obama is an unknown quantity and that she has already been vetted; already been through trial by fire. But, in large measure, that’s the problem. Yes most of her warts have been exposed but the process has produced the highest negative readings of any presidential candidate since such tracking numbers came in use. As noted earlier, her negatives are so high as to make Hillary a ‘hot-button’ wedge issue unto herself.

Perhaps the most significant vote taken so far has been the Michigan primary. There Hillary ran unopposed. She ran in an open primary with no other names on the ballot. Large numbers chose to vote and 45% voted uncommitted. This revealed that nearly half the party wants anyone but Hillary…a percentage not too terribly different than the country itself. This vote in Michigan—because it was uncontested and preferences were expressed undiluted by campaigning—put in stark relief the central problem of the Clinton campaign: all that is needed is a reason; all that is needed is someone to step forward and fill the void and at least half the party will follow.

John Edwards, although a great spokesman for those left behind, did not fill the bill. It was not lost on the political activists who dominate these undertakings that Edwards did not—in the end—bring much to the table on election night in 2004. While his message is compelling he has not yet demonstrated an ability to roll with the rough and tumble that is the political arena; for politics is a contact sport, all elbows and knees, and one has to be tough to give life to hope. Or, as a friend of mine so eloquently puts it: “if you want to kill the rats you got to get down in the sewer”. Edwards’ failure to grab Cheney by the collar and push his nose into the shit he and ‘Ol Two-Cows’ created is the principle reason that his campaign has not resonated with an electorate in search of a champion.

Enter Barack Obama. As the field narrowed down to two, the Clinton campaign began to use the race card to marginalize the Jedi. The Empire chose the South Carolina contest in which to make its play: it is a Southern state where race is known to be a factor—in fact the Clintons used a form of reverse logic saying that Obama’s victory was really only about race since over half of the Democratic voters in the South Carolina primary are black and, therefore, such a victory is expected of the BLACK candidate. And, of course, the timing leading up to Florida and Super Tuesday was right, giving Barack little time to react to being so labeled. And with Barack crushing Edwards it would eliminate another competitor leaving the field with only the pre-ordained nominee and the ‘Black’ candidate. We would simply go back to the 1984 and 1988 campaigns where the contest would boil down to the obvious nominee against the spokesman of ‘Black’ America. Barack would be expected take his place next to the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have his brief moment in the sun and then go back home to Illinois and campaign for the team.

But it didn’t happen that way. Many lions of the old party—especially but certainly not exclusively on the left—rallied to the standard of the Jedi. Kerry, Hart, Kennedy, several governors and senators, many who will be super delegates to the convention moved to defend the emerging Barack telling the faithful as Oprah had told her audience that yes, he is indeed presidential timber and yes, he is indeed the real deal. Suddenly the numbers began to surge once again across all socio-economic and racial categories, closing the gap on Super Tuesday and fighting the Empire to a draw. What is remarkable in the last week is that the surge continues. Barack is winning in areas of the country heretofore unimaginable for a candidate so confronting the racial divide: Alaska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Washington, Idaho, and Nebraska….eating away at the remaining pillars supporting the old order. In the process he is re-emerging as a ‘transcendent’ political figure forging a new coalition capable of governing America.

Obama’s campaign slogan is “Change we can believe in”. Can we believe? Dare we believe? It is too early to say…but on this balmy February eve the future looks brighter than it has since the morning after Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek another term as our president. I remember it well, the great orange ball rising in the clear blue sky. It was a time of hope, joy and celebration. It was April Fools Day, 1968.

No comments: