Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Barack Obama and the American Dream"

Sydney Morning Herald (AU) blog:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through Iowa house
Not a candidate was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Caucus supporters soon would be there

(with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are engaged in the most dramatic and exciting race for the Democratic presidential nomination since 1968 - when Bobby Kennedy took on the party establishment to take back the heart and soul of America's progressives, angered and disheartened by the Vietnam War.

If history is a guide, you would have to say Obama will not make it.

As a general rule, in the Democratic primaries, the insurgent candidate is crushed by the Establishment. And so it was for Gary Hart (1984), Jesse Jackson (1988), Paul Tsongas (1992), and Bill Bradley (2000). Exceptions are rare: George McGovern routed the Establishment and became the Democratic nominee, on an anti-war crusade, in 1972 - only to get crushed by Richard Nixon. So the track record of insurgents is not pretty.

Obama seeks a different fate.

He is fully competitive: he has as much money as Hillary Clinton, as many smart advisers, as much web savvy, and almost as much incandescence from surrogates (Oprah - second only in drawing power to former President Clinton himself).

There is a fire burning in the belly of the Democratic Party for fundamental change. Iowa - conservative, overwhelmingly white, and both rural and urban - will determine how intense the fire is raging.

The irony for Hillary is that if Obama was not in the race, she would be the candidate of fundamental change: the first seriously contestable woman presidential candidate; against the war; for health care; progressive; dynamic.

If Obama can win Iowa next week, it is likely he can ride the wave to victory in New Hampshire five days later - and then conquer South Carolina (where half of the Democratic voters will be African American) on January 26. This is the decapitation strategy - and if executed it would put him on the cusp of capturing the nomination.

But to return to RFK: what made that campaign so compelling was that Kennedy found his voice and connected, across race and class, on the issue of change and the future of America. Obama drifted for much of this year, but beginning in November, at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Iowa, he found his voice - and has surged ever since. See the speech and read this account.

Many in the party are afraid of this race because of its explosive implications. But know this: whoever wins it will be a stronger candidate overall - and better placed to win in November.

The candidate sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard the man exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Caucus victory to me, and to all others: good-night!"

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