Hillary Clinton’s breathtaking rebound in New Hampshire, which surprised the senator from New York’s campaign just as it electrified the nation, is, in a very real way, in line with Barack Obama’s Iowa win: it confounded expectations.
Republican voters have so far twice rejected the faker from Massachusetts, former governor Mitt Romney. But whether the candidate is John McCain, Mike Huckabee, or Rudy Giuliani, the GOP remains the party of the status quo. And that’s on its better days. Lurking in the Republican bosom is a sizable cohort of reactionaries who long for the bad old days of the late 19th century, when moneyed interests ruled, women couldn’t vote, and African-Americans were subject to lynch law.
The message from Iowa and New Hampshire is clear: people want change — change from the cynicism, arrogance, and incompetence of the Bush regime.
Although Huckabee and McCain are, at heart, extremely conservative, they are also personable and open candidates, and relatively humane. This is in stark contrast with the controlled and contrived persona of George W. Bush and the gangsterism of his cronies. The votes for Huckabee and McCain, then, are also ballots for change — but a change of personality, a change of style, not a change in direction.
Only the Democrats are offering the nation a new direction and a new vision, albeit with some noteworthy differences.
Clinton went to sleep Wednesday morning having reclaimed her front-runner status. And she owes that reinvigoration to the eloquence and passion of Obama. Obama’s Iowa caucuses win, his victory speech so reminiscent of John F. Kennedy, and the subsequent polling that suggested to both the Obama and Clinton camps (as well as to the press and the voters) that she would suffer another defeat, emboldened Clinton to shake off the shackles of her controlling campaign staff and to be herself. New Hampshire listened.
The face of Clinton’s New Hampshire victory was very different from the complexion of Obama’s win in Iowa. Women — most likely repelled and energized by the frat-boy-like attacks on the first woman with a chance to win the Democratic nomination and the White House — this time favored Clinton over Obama in significantly larger numbers. Although more independents than expected took Republican ballots, her bedrock strength with rank-and-file Democratic voters proved to be a boon. And while Clinton fared better with younger voters this time, it was the older voters’ clear preferences for experience that helped rally her cause. When she accepted her New Hampshire victory, gone from the stage were the platoons of establishment geezers who, up until now, have been her Praetorian Guard. They were replaced by youth. Obama taught Clinton a lesson in Iowa. And Clinton, the walking embodiment of political survival, learned.
Obama, in fact, is teaching all of America a lesson. In manner, he projects the sort of on-to-himself cool that served JFK so well at the dawn of a previous new-media age. He elicits a charismatic from-the-gut inspiration that has not been seen since Robert Kennedy passed from the scene. Obama’s capacity for indignation is his edge; his ability to inspire is his sword. Even in defeat his mantra “Yes, we can . . . ,” so suggestive of Martin Luther King, chilled the spines of all but the most insensitive.