After the party’s over and the balloons have been packed away, we can tentatively mark Super-Tuesday as the day the tide turned again for Barack Obama. Yes there’s still a to-the-death contest being fought between the Clinton and Obama camps. But last Tuesday, the Clinton machine stalled and there’s every chance that the Democrats, and even the super-delegates, will pick a winning candidate against a proven political liability.
Hilary Clinton is a formidable woman and you do get two for the price of one if you vote for her. But the question Democrats need to keep banging their head against a wall to answer is will she win a presidential election? What is their gut telling them? Looking at it another way, Hilary has already proven herself to be unpopular in President Clinton’s first term and she had many observers wondering why she stuck around with Bill at all. Of course the answer became obvious when she began her long climb of for the nomination. Let’s ask some questions of Hillary’s constituency again, namely Blue Collar, Professional Older Feminists and Latinos. Do you want another four years of a Republican administration? Do you really think moderates, independents and the undecided are going to go for Hilary over John McCain when deciding who they’d rather have as a boss? Who is the candidate they’d trust or admire for their principles? And who of those two inspires people with their personal story? A man captured and tortured by the Viet Cong or a woman, albeit an extremely intelligent and focused one, who was married to a former President? The response should be clear but Democrats may go for another Dukakis, Mondale wonk just to spite the media. That could be a very costly mistake.
Obama’s advantages are numerous. Like McCain, he embodies aspects of the American Dream, the narrative of triumph over adversity. He also personifies another dream, that of Dr King, who believed that one day colour and race would no longer matter. Despite the reality that it does have an impact on voting perceptions, race is not an issue of Obama’s making. His inspirational message, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, is the message – this is no ordinary politician, but a charismatic ambassador for American democracy. This has been noted abroad where Obama has been praised for projecting American ‘Soft Power’ –democratic ideals, civic virtue, the power of inspirational rhetoric. He is the moderate who can take on McCain and win. The polls show this, commentators believe it and registered Democrats have an opportunity to make this dream come through. Clinton supporters say that Obama is all style and no substance as though their own candidate is a latter day Adlai Stevenson. For Obama, style and substance are as interwoven as the dancer and the dance.
If we look ahead and forecast an Obama nomination, what sort of contest would it be? There are indications that McCain will not try to ‘swift-boat’ or hit below the belt too frequently. Of course he wants to be President but having been slimed by Karl Rove in 2000, he’s should be more reluctant than previous Republican candidates to deploy nefarious electoral tactics. That’s not to say there won’t be dirty tricks from both sides just that the frequency of these events may be a lot less than previous elections. The Clinton team warn us gravely that Barack’s coke use will be the least of his worries if he is the nominee. Really? You mean there aren’t dozens of dumper trucks waiting to off-load their sludge on Hilary if she’s nominated? That she isn’t carrying any baggage?
If Obama is nominated, we can look forward to an articulate contest of about real issues: Iraq, the role of Government, US Foreign Policy, Economic strategy, civil liberties and youth versus experience. If Hilary gets the vote, Bill becomes one of the issues, politics (après les Bushs) gives way to dynastic succession and the Democrats show that they’re in denial once again. The Democrats need to keep their eyes on the prize.
Ireland, the tiny nation with the big ruddy-faced Ted Kennedy welcome, has tuned into the Primary Season as though there’s caucuses being held in Dublin and Cork. The Democratic race in particular has gripped the imagination of the chatterati. And Ireland, like the US, has a media run on conventional wisdom. That wisdom has taken a huge shaking following the Obama bandwagon, John McCain’s resurrection and Hilary’s hubris.
The media was out step with events across the pond by pre-ordaining Mrs C to cakewalk the Democratic nomination. She may well win it. But not without the fight of her political life. And the op-ed writers and commentators are having to react…and fast.
Firstly, just so all Republicans reading know, Ireland is no different to those other awkward peace-loving, welfare supporting, twenty-day- a year-minimum vacationing Europeans. President Bush is widely seen as a manure-kicking, Peter Sellars /Chauncey Gardiner type who only got elected to re-start Michael Moore’s career. In short, we’re all Democrats. We love Big Government, consensus politics, the environment and, eh, Michael Moore. Ireland, in particular, has a soft spot for the old rogue Bill. He pushed the Peace Process in Northern Ireland that led to the present IRA ceasefire; his political capital knows no limits among the Irish-American lobby and he has the cachet of celebrity which he is not afraid to use. Now it’s his wife’s turn…and that’s the logic of much of the media support for Hilary over the last two years. No matter that she’s singularly ruthless in her political tactics (bringing race into the South Carolina primary) or critical of her opponents lack of experience (Hillary, got elected in New York not by calling herself Ms Rodham but by, in that most un-feminist of tropes, piggy backing on the name of her husband); she is, in that hackneyed and irritating expression, a ‘Friend of Ireland’ and this is why she must be supported.
The Liberal press establishment here (essentially all non-tabloid newspapers and broadcasters) have reacted to Barack Obama’s rise with a classic position – the Hedge. They still make Hillary the favourite, talk of the inevitability of the Clinton machine beating the young up-start and avoid looking at the New York Senator’s astonishing political volte-faces over the last twenty years. But among Political junkies over here there is the growing view that Obama is something special. We differ to the Press in that we are Obama not Hillary supporters – we see a genuinely charismatic and idealistic man daring to challenge the Clinton dynasty. And, dare it be said, someone who passes the Bush test of a guy you’d like to have a beer with.
Another problem for the political establishment and professional political commentators has been Bill’s Bad Behaviour. What can they say about a man that was instrumental in bringing peace to this island who has, to put it bluntly, lost the plot? As former Republican journalist Andrew Sullivan stated, if Karl Rove had used the Clintons tactics in South Carolina, he would, rightly, have been condemned for race-baiting. Instead, this aspect of the Clintons is glossed over, seen as a slip, an aberration. Bill interfered in the Irish General Election last year by giving his backing to the current Prime Minister; not just support, but a full endorsement. The ‘First Black President’ got a rebuff from Toni Morrison recently. In Ireland, that Clinton Presidential halo is beginning to slip – the Irish media is reflecting rather than leading this opinion-change. They are getting to grips with Slick Willie side of Mr Clinton as well as the elder statesman aspect of his character.
Meanwhile, the challenge form McCain is another conundrum for the media over here. Is he a moderate? A Foreign policy adventurer? Too old? A man of integrity? All of these labels have been applied. But little attention has been paid to polls giving McCain a victory over either Obama or Clinton. This writer can add that he saw the prison cell where Senator McCain was held captive – he’s entitled to be more than a little bit flinty after his years in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. He will make a formidable candidate if nominated; Obama versus McCain would be a fascinating battle for the Independent and Moderate vote.
So what’s going to happen on Super Tuesday? Well, this author doesn’t know, the media don’t know and Clinton, Obama, McCain and Romney don’t know either; the figures will shift right up to polling time. All we know for sure is that there’ll be another shift in the sands of conventional wisdom with everybody rushing to tell us ‘We Told You So’. And maybe we’ll have grounds for celebrating ‘The Audacity of Hope’…