I think what we are watching in the Democratic primary is historic. First, there has not been a candidate nominated for President more liberal than Barack Obama since George McGovern — not Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, or Kerry. This is unapologetic liberalism in the classic European-socialist sense, and for the first time in many years we will see its envisioned agendas without Clintonian trimming or apologetics — the flip side of the purist Goldwater in 1964. Obama will put the best face on this ultra-liberalism and the voters can freely decide. A real cut-and-dry choice.
Second, I don’t think there has been this much acrimony for so long in a Democratic primary since the Humphrey campaign of 1968, much more venom than Kennedy-Carter in 1980 or Hart-Mondale in 1984. But more importantly, the fault-line this time is not ideological so much as personal, with ugly undertones that will be hard to heal, given there can’t be horse-trading over policies. In the end, the Clintons are livid that the upstart Obama cut in front of the line and destroyed what was otherwise a near-decade long carefully planned and scripted return to power until 2016.
Third, the Clinton-Obama struggle is almost Sophoclean in its irony –
(a) African-Americans took Democrats at their word that race/gender identity politics and bloc voting in the 90 percentiles were essential, but may well have turned it on what would have been otherwise the first female presidential nominee and wife of the former “black” President;
(b) liberals are suddenly furious at the two-decade Clinton philosophy of justifying all actions as the necessary means to achieve an liberal end, and now will rethink the 1992-1998 notion of “Politics of Personal Destruction” in quite different terms;
(c) the nearly daily defections of delegates, legislators, and politicos from Hillary to Obama, in crass fashion of wanting to be on the side of the perceived winner, is cynical to the core but turned against the cynics par excellence of American politics;
(d) the old Clinton alliance of elites and minorities has been out-minoritied, out-hoped and out-elited by a completely fresh and unexpected candidate whose presence, carriage, and speaking ability even overshadow the now old-hat crooner Bill himself.
Everytime Bill talks about how Hillary gave up the fast line to do anti-poverty work, Michelle trumps him and points out the Harvard Law School Review editor gave up even more to go back to the south side of Chicago. Every time we see the full house on the table of the first woman candidate, the Obamas counter with a royal flush of the first black candidate. Everytime Hillary tries to talk black or Hispanic or give a belly laugh, Barack does it better in sort of Bing Crosby style. And Obama’s hope has far more megatonnage than the old “the man from Hope” 1990s Clinton refrain.
And all the swooning and fainting at Obama rallies remind me of the 1944 Looney-Tunes Cartoon “Swooner-Crooner,” about the chickens being wooed into stupor at first by the frenetic Frank Sinatra chicken — until out of nowhere a softer, more relaxed, and more laid-back, Bing Crosby type rooster appears, steals the audience, and out-sings the now has-been.