January 6, 2008

The Baby Harp Seal

It looks to me like Barack Obama will win in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Wow, interesting happenings with the Democrats! I'd have never guessed it eight weeks ago -- it looked like a smooth path to Hillary Clinton's coronation.

What happened to her invincibility? Did she actually club a baby harp seal to death? No -- what seems to have happened is that in a debate about two months ago, she stumbled on a question about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in New York. Just as she was quick to pounce on a gaffe made by Barack Obama on foreign policy, Edwards and Obama were quick to pounce on her -- and it played to the perception that she is craven and unprincipled -- "Slick Hillary," in other words.

It also suggested that she wants to facilitate illegal immigration. That's a gross mischaracterization of the argument in favor of providing state-level services to such people, of course, but that's the perception. And illegal immigration is every bit as unpopular among Democrats as it is among Republicans; perhaps Democrats are more willing to talk about accomodative reforms, but they still want people who come here to follow the rules. And it turns out, there's some Moatdiggers wearing donkey pins, too.

Since then, Democrats took another look around, and found they liked the fact that they had other choices. I can understand why -- Obama has a lot of charisma and has "new" going for him. That's why a lot of the chattering classes are suggesting he may be a latter-day JFK. Andrew Sullivan, whose panties have been wet for Obama for some time now, says, "no, he's the Democrats' next-generation Ronald Reagan."

That may be overstating things there, Mr. Sullivan. But Sullivan is right to note that Obama, a Democrat with considerable appeal to independents and even some moderate Republicans, is rising to prominence at the same time as Republicans are in their bitterest fight in more than a generation about what direction the party will take in the future. Mike Huckabee's win in Iowa, and his likely strong showing in South Carolina, is a symbol of the rise to prominence in the party of evangelical Christians -- and Sullivan is exactly right when he notes that:
He [Obama] is particularly attractive to those on the US Right who feel betrayed by the Bush administration's version of conservatism, just as many Democrats felt betrayed by Carter's liberalism. [¶] These voters -- non-evangelical, fiscally and militarily prudent, socially tolerant -- do not feel at home in the angry, southern, anti-immigrant Republican Party of the past few years.
Count me among that number. I'm not (yet) saying that I'd split from the party if Huckabee wins the nomination. But I am saying that Huckabee looks at the Bush White House and says, "Yes, yes, more!" and I have long been very dissatisfied with the way George W. Bush has governed the country. To call it "conservatism" is to fundamentally misunderstand what the policy objectives of conservatism are, and that's not the direction I want to see the party or the country go.

The lesson I forgot to apply is, "eight weeks is a long time in an election." That Clinton might have stumbled was hardly surprising. What is surprising is that she seemed to lack the ability to recover from that stumble. That this failure on her part might not only cost her the Presidency but potentially lead to a realignment of the whole political landscape is actually quite interesting and exciting. Far from an unvarnished good thing, to be sure, but exciting all the same.

For me, it's a little bit like the NFL playoffs. My sympathies are with the NFC, not the AFC. But that's mainly because the Packers are in the NFC. The stronger contenders are in the AFC; and everyone has assumed that the Patriots would simply march on with methodical precision to overwhelm all opponents between them and a 19-0 Super Bowl season. Could still happen, but they've looked surprisingly vulnerable along the way. And if they do get defeated, I'd be horror-struck to see the Cowboys do it rather than the Packers.

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