Politics & Policy

Rumbles in the Offing

Maybe it was what Shakespeare called “the fell incensèd points of mighty opposites.” Maybe it was what a historian of left-wing movements called “tiny ferocious creatures devouring each other in a drop of water.” But the Democrats’ Super Tuesday was one more round in what promises to be a long and bitter struggle.

Hillary Clinton won big states that are foundation stones for any Democratic victory — California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York. But Barack Obama won more states, spread all over the map, including inter-party battlegrounds like Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. Mrs. Clinton won the older, the poorer, white women, and Hispanics. Obama won the younger, the richer, white men, and blacks. The Democrats’ avoidance of winner-take-all rules meant that the two emerged with nearly equal chunks of delegates.

The Democratic race has spiraled into a nightmare for a party of entitlements: a war between the aggrieved. Obama is in the more comfortable position, saying that he appeals to all voters, while his race itself silently appeals to blacks and, even more, to whites who wish to demonstrate their transcendence of racism. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters call on her sex more forthrightly; old-line feminist Erica Jong declared that she was for Hillary because mothers and children are “the most oppressed group in our country.”

Obama offers himself as the candidate of change. On paper, the promise is almost content-free—a string of sonorous platitudes, like a high school student body president’s remarks, or a mainline Protestant sermon. But there is content to Obama-ism after all. Within the Democratic party, he offers a change from the Clintons. The party rallied around them in the Nineties, but it had a lot to put up with: triangulation on policy; the loss of Congress to the GOP; and the long, degrading battle over impeachment. Bill’s graduation into elder statesmanship and Hillary’s sober work as a senator seemed to put all that behind. But in the stress of battle, the Clintons could not avoid being their essential selves, and many Democrats have coughed them up like a hairball.

More important, Obama promises change from President Bush’s eight years, which, thanks to a string of trials and catastrophes — 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina — feel like twenty. He offers the appearance of new policies — he would talk to despots, not overthrow them. What he really offers is a virginal flight from difficulty. In Obama-time, there will be no wars, because we will choose not to fight them. No hurricanes, either.

Against what James Burnham called the politics of wish, Mrs. Clinton can look tough-minded. A recent science fiction book imagined an aircraft carrier in 2021 named the USS Hillary Clinton, after America’s “most uncompromising wartime president.” But her considerable determination extends primarily to personal survival. Intellectually and politically she is wavering, and has risen as far as she has largely on the back of her husband. Ambition is no substitute for strategy.

Conservatives must look up from their own struggles to Obama and Clinton, since one of them will be favored to win in November.

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