Friday, January 4, 2008
The Accidental Coronation
After a week of flirting with the idea that Iowa wouldn't decide anything, the consensus in the press and among bloggers is that Obama's and Huckabee's victory have somehow decided something. I chalk that off to euphoria in Obama's case and surprise (pleasant or unpleasant depending on if you're a Dem or GOP) in Huckabee's. In about twenty-four hours, the emotion will wear off and it will become clear that the only thing that was decided in Iowa was Iowa. Both men's victories, in different ways, were the necessary opening acts if the scenario of a confused and lengthy primary campaign in both parties is to play out.
Meanwhile, while the almost universal reaction to Obama's speech last night was that he nailed it, my first impression on watching it was that the tone was off. I felt like I was watching a coronation instead of a primary victory speech. There's a whole lot of campaign left to start talking about history being made.
It also occured to me for the first time that when Obama talks about Republicans (you could almost hear the shudder run through the room), Democrats and Independents coming together, he's not really talking about bi-partisanship. He's talking about a one-party system, which is very different altogether.
Finally, as I wrote after the first time I saw a video of one of his speeches, there's a fundamental disconnect between the historic moments Obama references and the challenges we face today. I'm also not sure of how well he characterizes where we are today. Is America really disillusioned with government? Or with President Bush's government? In any case, not only do I take issue with comparing the contemporary political landscape with the American Revolution or the Civil Rights movement, I would argue that they aren't the sort of comparisons that reflect well on Obama's candidacy. Those were historic moments of stark and bitterly divisive choices, where unity and consensus were invoked to defend the forces of the status quo or even worse, reaction.
To be clear, by the way, I write all of this as someone leaning towards voting for Obama. Maybe that's why I'm fighting so hard against the sentimental and euphoric and, yes, manipulative appeals that both his campaign and his supporters tend to base a large part of their argument for his candidacy on. But after watching the video of his speech, I couldn't help but think back to the old Wendy's commercial that Walter Mondale so masterfully appropriated in 1984: Where's the beef?