Friday, January 04, 2008

Post-Iowa thoughts

Cheers for Obama! Edwards would have been my personal first choice, but I’m heartened by Obama’s victory in Iowa, and by the enthusiastic turnout he inspired. And yet…and yet…a few caveats:

1. I was unmoved by Obama’s victory speech. Delivery: excellent. Substance: Meh. There wasn’t any. All platitudes and generalities, albeit nice-sounding ones. That’s what I’ve felt all along about his campaign. It’s selling him, perhaps shrewdly, as a person, not a policymaker. As we all recognize by now, the man is likable. Charismatic. And comes off as sincere, which is more important than almost anything else. Most voters can sniff bullshit from a mile away, and there isn’t any on him. But I want to hear more about policy.

2. By contrast, I found Hillary’s concession speech perfectly good, and don’t understand why the media’s been ripping on it. What else was she supposed to say? Her modulation seems to have improved greatly over the past year, though she’ll never have the natural gifts of oratory that Obama does (or Edwards to a lesser degree: I thought his speech was quite good, too, even if it struck all the predictable notes and wasn’t much stronger on specifics than Obama’s).

3. I also don’t understand why everyone is making such a big deal over the fact that Hillary finished THIRD as opposed to SECOND. For all intents and purposes, it was a statistical tie between her and Edwards. Guess I’m glad Edwards did eke out that tiny lead, or else the media would have pronounced him DOA.

4. It’s WAY too early to make any meaningful predictions about the nomination. Both Hillary and Edwards are fighters, and they’re not going quietly…though only Hillary has the resources and broad-based support to slow Obama’s momentum. It’ll be close in New Hampshire, but I have a good feeling for Obama. Nevada apparently doesn’t matter(?). South Carolina is harder to call at this point and will be one to watch – if Obama picks that up as well as New Hampshire, it will set him up nicely for Super Tuesday. However, I think it’s Hillary who has the most to gain from Super Tuesday. Unless something radical happens, she’ll likely pick up the big states (New York, California), and if she wins all or most of the others…well, we’ll see. Never underestimate the Clinton machine…or the fear of Dems who don’t believe Obama has what it takes to go the distance.

5. To the latter folks: you’re mistaken. Obama does have what it takes, if you’re willing to give him the chance. He may not have much substance in his speeches or much “experience” under his belt, but he’s a smart cookie and tougher than he looks under that affable surface, and he’s got a formidable campaign machine of his own, that’s tapped into a kind of enthusiasm this country hasn’t seen in a long time. As the Democrat candidate, he’d have to clarify his position on a lot of hard-hitting issues and ready himself for all manner of attacks, fair and foul, but he’s already shown he can adapt to survive. As president, he’d have good advisors, and enough brains to figure out whom to listen to. And experience isn’t everything – though I guarantee you that, and not his race, would be the biggest hurdle for him to overcome in the general election. (Except in the South, and no Dem candidate would carry the South anyway.) If anything, I suspect it’s his Muslim-sounding names that will probably cause more knee-jerk regressive voting than the color of his skin.

6. Edwards isn’t going yet, but I fear last night spelled the beginning of the end for him. I am genuinely sorry. I didn’t care much for him in 2004 – there always seemed something a bit too slick about him, and I still feel that way sometimes. But I find his evolution very interesting: he went from being the smiling, positive candidate of 2004 to the fire-breathing populist of 2008 (essentially ceding the conciliatory role to Obama), and yet somehow managed not to come across as overly bitter or strident. At least to me. He has crafted what sounds to me like the sharpest message and clearest vision of the three front-runners, and although I’m not exactly a member of the base to which he’s appealing (let’s face it, I’m not – in fact, as a corporate lawyer I more or less represent the side of the Evil Corporate Empire Edwards has been skewering), it resonates with me. The growing division between the Haves and the Have-Nots in this country that’s been generated by unbridled capitalism is becoming truly atrocious, and something needs to be done about it. Above all, health care.

7. Unfortunately, Edwards still comes across as being too much of an old-school small-d populist Democrat, and the time for that seems to have passed. More than ever, it seems to me that a Democrat can only become President by presenting himself as the true “uniter, not a divider” that GW Bush so miserably failed to be. Ergo, Obama is indicated.

8. I am so tired of hearing people say they’re tired of dynasties – that they don’t want Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. Gadzooks, how can you even compare the two?

9. Finally, a passing word on Mike Huckabee: While I’m a little disturbed by the evangelical turnout in his favor (though I don’t think it’ll be enough to propel him to the Republican nomination) and more than a little disturbed by his positions on most issues, I have to admit I was favorably impressed by his victory speech. He, too, comes across as likable and sincere (whether or not he actually is), and an admirably relaxed, low-key public speaker. He connects. However, methinks his politics are a little too cuckoo to get him the Republican nomination.

10. Mitt Romney has always struck me as the Republicans’ John Kerry: Boring, boring, boring. Only the Iowan Republicans had the sense not to pick him. It’s anyone’s guess what the other states will do. Look for a long, drawn-out fight on the Republican side.

The race is on...but we ain't even at the quarter-mile pole yet. Fasten your seatbelts, folks, it's going to be a bumpy month...


Blogger Michael said...

One of the writers on a site I blog for talked a about Obama's win. Of course he first had to explain was a Caucus was to our readers, lol.

Honestly I hate to play the race card but I'm very surprised to see Obama win in a state like Iowa. Maybe the world isn't as racist as I thought. I'm feeling like if he can win there he can win anywhere.

4:46 PM  

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