Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Desperately Seeking Storyline
So now that Super Tuesday has come and gone, leaving neither Obama nor Clinton with a more legitimate claim to victory than the other, what's the narrative? Did Clinton stop Obama's momentum? Or did Obama, against all odds, make up a stunning amount of ground? Did Obama show the value of his appeal in the Red States? Or did Clinton prove her Democratic bona fides in NY and Cali? It seems as easy to support any of those arguments as to dismantle them.
With regards to Obama's momentum, so much of it seems to run off the fumes of whatever it is he inspires in his most ardent supporters, and even more so in the frenzied rush that has preceded each primary, that by nature it's almost bound to not live up to the expectations it generates. That said, the fact that he's not only still around, but gaining ground really is pretty remarkable. A lot of that has to do with the new voters he's brought into the electoral process, but I wonder if there wasn't a significant pool of voters who were naturally inclined to support him but reluctant to commit until they were certain he was the real deal. And whatever else is still in doubt, I think he's effectively made the case that he's the real deal.
With regards to Clinton, it's hard not to imagine her wondering what the hell she's got to do to shake this guy. After all, she went up against against Joe Biden and managed to convince people that she was the candidate of experience. She went up against the party's VP nominee from four years back and managed to convince them that she was the inevitable candidate. Compared to that, handling Obama ought to have been short work. But here we are on Super Wednesday, and you get the sense that no matter how many primaries Clinton wins, it just won't be enough to put Obama away, and that she's finally beginning to realize that. And you know it had to hurt to hear the news that while she was lending her own campaign $5 million, the rest of America was poneying up $32 mil for Obama.
Still, who would have believed even two weeks ago that the Democratic candidate that won NY, Cali, Massachusetts, and arguably Florida would have anything but a clear path to the nomination? In fact, with all the attention that's been paid to Obama's Red State appeal, I'm not sure I've seen it mentioned that his path to the Democratic nomination, should he end up winning it, will have curiously resembled the strategy that the GOP used to win the last two general elections. There's no doubt that California and NY will fall behind Obama should he win the nomination. But will he be really able to put those Red States in play come November? The answer, of course, to that and all the other questions being asked today is that despite the hopes, convictions and certainty that abound, no one really knows.
Which leads me to suggest that the real narrative of this election has less to do with the candidates than with the voters. It's somewhat tangential to the idea that Kevin Drum's been developing about the candidates functioning as a sort of Rorschach test, whereby everyone who looks at them sees something different. Because whereas Kevin has posited that "something different" as being very personal, I'm beginning to think there's part of a collective reflection involved as well. As if these two candidates somehow manage to incarnate two very distinct poles of our national genius. Notice that I don't say duelling, even though they are each trying to defeat the other, or irreconciliable, even though the spectre of bitter division has been raised.
The reason we're having such difficulty deciding between them is that they are two halves that form a whole. Put them together and you wind up with America.