A new talent must wrestle with an old hand at political survival
During the past several national elections, whenever a Democratic presidential candidate has changed his or her mind on an issue, or trimmed his or her sails in the face of hostile public opinion, the mainstream media have been quick to tag that candidate a flip-flopper. When John McCain changes his mind, he is being a maverick, a tell-it-like-it-is hombre. For all the fawning press Barack Obama has received, the grace and favor with which he has been treated is nothing compared with the free ride McCain has enjoyed, at least from the predominantly old white guys who dominate convention coverage.
The benefits of the doubt Obama has been granted — and he is granted fewer every day — are probably attributable to his freshness as a tasty new morsel for a television-dominated process. TV demands lean meat it can fatten so it has someone to devour. The fact that Republican McCain as well as Democrats Bill and Hillary Clinton have survived repeated cycles of this cannibalism gives them a special status: survivors.
Survival, in fact, is perhaps the most exalted state to which a politician can ascend in the ultimate reality show known as presidential politics.
Survivors have proven their very seriousness by having escaped scandal or defeat, or having weathered a particularly turbulent political storm. And because they have survived, they reap the benefit of extra consideration. Past skill warrants a suspension of judgment rarely extended to most politicians.
Senator Ted Kennedy is a case in point. His survival of a cheating incident at Harvard and the drowning of a female companion at Chappaquiddick (tempered as they were by the murder of Kennedy’s two brothers, as well as by other family tragedies) gives his career as a national icon an unspoken but palpable poignancy that is further enhanced by his ongoing cancer battle. Kennedy’s unexpected and moving speech at the Democratic National Convention was another triumph over adversity. As such, it was an apt metaphor for a nation that has had to endure eight years of President George W. Bush.
The Clintons may be on a path to achieving similar gravitas. Hillary’s speech certainly laid the foundation for such a reputation. She was breathtaking in the sweep of her Tuesday night convention speech, fortifying in her message that the Democrats must unite behind Obama to spare the nation four more years of Bush policies, this time with McCain’s name on them. It only remains for Bill to equal, or exceed, her performance for the Democrats to put behind them the memories of the Clintons’ attempt to blackmail Hillary’s way onto the ticket by holding her voters hostage. After Tuesday night, it is hard to imagine that stain having any relevance.
(The Phoenix goes to press before Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama speak. Readers can follow their performances and find analysis and video of the entire convention at thePhoenix.com/election2008.)
: The Editorial Page
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