Once again, Tuesday night came and went and nothing changed. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each did what they had to do. She won big in Kentucky; he did the same in Oregon. If there was any news in this, it was that Obama demonstrated that he continues to have difficulty attracting the votes of Democrats he sneered at in San Francisco, when he thought no one was looking.
The presumptive Democratic nominee might have used the interim between the last non-definitive rounds of primaries to mend fences. He could have condescended to campaign more in Kentucky. Yet the candidate of “change” opted to play it safe. No town meetings with people who might voice in public and to his face skepticisms they harbor in private and appear all too willing to share with pollsters. So much for the comparisons spinners and pundits like to draw between Obama and Kennedy.
JFK, it will be recalled, after addressing the council of Protestant ministers in Houston, took questions — hostile and otherwise — for more than 40 minutes. His running mate, Lyndon Johnson made certain that organizers of the event put the most mean-looking types in the front rows. Obama prefers to use crowds of admirers as backdrops.
Two external announcements cast a pall over Tuesday’s proceedings. Yet each reminds us of how what the Democrats have wrought upon themselves. The first was the passing of Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s campaign manager and subsequent chief of staff. Jordan was the first strategist to figure out how to exploit ridiculous nominating procedures — which place a premium on proportionality — to catapult a little known and highly unqualified candidate into the nation’s highest office.
The second carried word of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s illness. For decades, Kennedy has been to liberals what Ronald Reagan was to conservatives: their lodestar. In taking positions, Democrats of various persuasions defined themselves in part by where Kennedy stood. (So did more than a few conservatives.) This has not been the case with either of the Democratic contenders for their party’s nomination. In a most volatile of election years, this more than any other factor best explains why John McCain continues to defy the odds by holding his own in a year that was supposed to bode well for the Democrats. Kennedy may have passed the torch, but to a lesser pol.
— Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.