Now that that the smoke has cleared to reveal more smoke, here's what happened on the Democratic side in New Hampshire's presidential primary:
The candidate who's Ready for Change, meaning her chief rival isn't, but who used to be the candidate with the experience to do the job from Day One, has edged out the candidate who's for Change You Can Believe In, meaning his rivals aren't to be believed. He used to be the candidate of Hope, or maybe Audacity, but that was long ago whole days or even weeks. Which might as well be years at the pace this race for the presidential nomination is going. (Things are moving at avalanche speed this election year, leaving behind similar disorder.)
John Edwards is still in the Democratic mix, just barely, but Joe Biden isn't, but you can bet that somewhere he's talking and talking, talking, talking … while among the GOP also-rans, Ron Paul keeps illustrating the persistence of Coin Harvey's wacky economic theories in American history and populism. (Or do I repeat myself?) Not that Mike Huckabee, with his not so Fair Tax, is any sounder when it comes to tax policy. No wonder so many Americans believe in divine Providence; it's pretty clear from our leading politicians that we can't save ourselves.
What was the significance, if any, of this whole New Hampshire blur? I have no idea, and I'm not sure it matters. Because the more things change, the more confusingly the same they remain. To quote the delightful, insightful, playful, sorrowful Mark Steyn, the Democrats, for all their leaders' endless talk about change, "are the party of stasis: On affirmative action, there can be no change; on abortion absolutism, there can be no change; even on a less cobwebbed shibboleth such as the Iraq War, there can be no change they've booked the band and caterers for the Big Defeat Parade and no matter what happens on the ground in Baghdad and Anbar they're not going to change their plans."
On to South Carolina! Or maybe Michigan or Nevada, and does it matter? It's going to be a long, long campaign jammed into the few short, short weeks before Super (Duper) Tuesday on February 5. Here's hoping this is the last front-loaded, backfiring, over-before-February-is, just plain awful nominating system the country will tolerate. It pretty well cuts out the whole deliberative process, what there was of it when it came to nominating a president.
One oh-so-deep analysis of Tuesday's results held that Hillary Clinton's tearing up at one point (and who wouldn't cry at what's happened to American politics?) changed the tide in her favor by "humanizing her image." Oh, Lord. What is this a presidential election or daytime television? And is there a difference any more?
Oh, the injustice of it: Ed Muskie cries in New Hampshire years back and is marked a loser; Hillary Clinton blinks a bit and she's a winner. Talk about sexism, the double standard, and the plain unfairness of it all to the unfair sex. . . . Where's the Equal Rights Amendment when you need it?
This much is clear and satisfying after the vote in New Hampshire if nothing else is: Good ol', fusty ol', tough ol', unsinkable ol' John McCain, pulling an electoral surge of his own, won. The pollsters, at least those who foresaw Barack Obama's fictive landslide, lost. Big.
Mike Huckabee, world champion at the game of Arkansas Bluff, was proclaiming victory with about 11 percent of the vote as he prepared to hold the biggest, bestest tent revival of all time in sweet South Carolina, the next stop on his Bible bus.
Then there's Mitt Romney, who's still got the biggest checkbook but keeps showing up a few votes short. He looks every inch the president, the way Warren G. Harding did, but maybe that's the problem. People have learned to beware the smooth. Can that be what in the end will do Barack Obama in? And is Chris Dodd still in the race? I forget.
Another question: How could the polls have called Iowa so precisely only a week before but got the results in New Hampshire, at least in the Democratic column, so wrong? Are open, friendly Midwesterners easier to read than dour New Englanders? Are Republicans more predictable than Democrats? Do Democrats lie to pollsters more readily (a temptation one can understand) or do pollsters just find them harder to read? Or are the voters in New Hampshire just more independent and Independent? Questions abound; answers, or at least sound ones, are rare. They may even be non-existent.
I give up. If this doesn't teach me to stop speculating about the presidential election until all the results are in, the chads counted, the victory speeches given by all the losers (oh, what I wouldn't give for an honest, old-fashioned, self-respecting concession speech!), and the winner safely inaugurated next January, then nothing will keep me from speculating about the result of the next primary.
Alas, nothing will. It's a terrible addiction, following political contests, even worse than keeping up with football and sitcoms. The other morning I caught myself listeningactually listening to David Gergen say nothing or other. This is the pitiable condition I've been reduced to. Who next, David Broder?
I'm already figuring the odds in the next primary. And the next. But I have this haunting feeling that the real news, and real life, is happening elsewhere.