Friday, January 11, 2008
How It Looks From Here
While much of the media is busily engaged in a round of soul-searching in the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary, the editorial staff here at Headline Junky (consisting of Messrs. Meehe, Mycelfe, and Aiye) is feeling pretty comforted. All of my major predictions regarding the Dems were, as a Brit mason I worked for down in Provence used to say, spot on. (As for the GOP, can anyone really figure that train wreck out?) I resisted the tide of euphoria surrounding Obama's Iowa victory, and maintained that the race was still on when to do so amounted to little more than a stubborn refusal to accept reality. I also called Hillary's winning strategy while most people were busy writing her epitaph.
All of which means that although I went to bed the night of the primary feeling like a rube, I woke up the next morning wondering if I might not actually know what I'm talking about after all. (Dumb luck and bad polling can give you those kinds of ideas.) So while it's admittedly difficult to write and pat myself on the shoulder at the same time, I thought I'd take a shot at spoiling my track record by offering some thoughts about how things look from here.
To begin with, I mentioned the other day that I'd love to see a Democratic unity rally, with the three major candidates appearing together for a moment of non-partisan self-congratulations. I'd even gone so far as to formulate it as, The first candidate to tend the olive branch wins. To which a friend replied that he was glad to see I'd found a satisfactory source of crack rock here in Paris.
In thinking about it some more, I realized that he's right, but I'm righter. With the changed dynamics coming out of New Hampshire, Barack Obama has got to add some edge to his image. Sharpen the elbows a bit, bring his depth and expertise more into focus, and try to move beyond his charismatic and inspirational presence without necessarily abandoning it. He's got to get it back to being a vessel for his message, not a straitjacket for his candidacy. So paradoxically, for an Obama campaign that's made unity and bi-partisanship a catchword, now would be a bad time to actually engage in it.
For Clinton, on the other hand, the olive branch is a winning proposition, especially if it's tended over the walls of an impregnable fortress of competency. The five days of desperation in New Hampshire brought out the best of Clinton, the candidate, and the worst of Clinton, the campaign. She needs to consolidate the first and rid herself of the second, and if she manages to do so, she's got a pretty strong chance of winning the nomination comfortably. To accomplish the first, she needs to at all costs avoid the trap of believing that she can repeat the miracle of her 'emotional moment'. She made her point: the Terminator has feelings.
But in the same way that the Clinton campaign shouldn't "...start thinking up dozens of ways to 'humanize' Hillary over the next couple of weeks..." as Kevin Drum put it, it shouldn't forget the lesson entirely and go back to bare knuckle tactics either. The NH firewall held, but as a result the fire's been extinguished. Which is why an olive branch now reinforces the image of a Clinton campaign operating from a position of strength and confidence.
Which isn't to say Clinton should stop being aggressive. But her aggressiveness should be about promoting her strengths and consolidating an organizing theme for her candidacy, rather than targetting Obama. She can count on Edwards to do that for her.