The post-mortems on Hillary Clinton are starting to appear in print (ironically, the MSM resuscitates her, and then tramples all over her). The Nation‘s Ari Berman wants to gloat that Senator Clinton’s demise in 2008 resulted from her vote authorizing the Iraq War and the Kyl-Lieberman resolution on Iran. That’s the angle that will help put Senator McCain in the White House. More plausibly and soberly, Time‘s Karen Tumulty doesn’t rely on one explanation, but five. I would add: Clinton couldn’t adapt nimbly enough.
Clinton’s stodginess appears mostly in her inability to recover from the January 29 debacle in Florida and Michigan. After not advocating a strategy to correct for the two states’ Democratic parties’ embarrassing bids to join the early primary season’s scrum, she got what she deserves: a delegate count just lower than the number she should have received and the loss of momentum had both states been in play. She didn’t show leadership then, and now she does not deserve to be the nominee now. Senator Obama did no better, even if he’s trying to tempt Florida back into his statistical column. But, then, he didn’t run as the “experience” candidate!
But, really, as Euler offered, it is time for a third party:
True, Mrs Clinton seems more popular among white working- and middle-class Americans. That puts Mr Obama at something of a disadvantage against John McCain, the Republican nominee. But arguments about Mr Obama’s allure to white voters boil down rather too often to a coded argument about race: would America elect a black man? The United States still has big problems with race (read The Big Remaining Question), but its effect in the general election may be exaggerated.
Mr Obama’s main problem with white voters may have more to do with class than race. To the white working man and woman, he has been seen too often as an aloof elitist, who can’t drink whisky, displays a suspicious familiarity with the price of an arugula salad and memorably bowled a deplorable 37 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Toffishness doomed John Kerry; but with Mr Obama, a child of a single mother who sometimes used food stamps, that picture is surely reversible.
Meanwhile, Mr Obama attracts other voters in a way Mrs Clinton never has. For every white bigot who switches sides because of Mr Obama’s skin colour, there is likely to be a white independent—especially a young one—running to support him. The data show that young people, both black and white, prefer Mr Obama. Against Mrs Clinton, Mr McCain might have swept up all the independents; with Mr Obama he will have to split them. Mr Obama has raised money from close to 1.5m individuals, far more than anybody else ever has. That will stand him and his party in good stead come November. Each of those donors will be working hard to make sure that their investment is not wasted: an army of footsoldiers to fight the Republicans.
The other point of the primary system is to see what somebody is like under pressure, and to measure their presidential character. Mrs Clinton, for instance, has stood out, thus far at least, by her refusal to quit; Mr McCain by his refusal to compromise on either Iraq or free trade. Mr Obama is a less feisty sort, but he has exhibited enormous grace under pressure. In the past few weeks he has had to cope not just with a fresh set of outpourings from his turbulent former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, now mercifully disowned, but also with Mrs Clinton throwing the kitchen sink—and a lot of sharp cutlery—at him. Mr Obama’s refusal to follow her (and Mr McCain) in supporting an idiotic summer suspension of the petrol tax, crude economic populism at its worst, was especially notable.
Race and class are deep-set issues America has not addressed for at least a generation-my parents’ generation. In affluence, the boomers undid many cultural and gender-based problems, but the revolution stopped at the Jordan. To assimilate the next generations’ of African-Americans, Hispanics, and—that convenient term for perhaps a more startling future cultural phenomenon—”Asian”-Americans. The Republicans stand to gain from the flood of new, older, white conservatives. Even if Obama is the next Democratic president, the party in its current milquetoast form is finished.