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Jewish World Review
March 14, 2008
/ 7 Adar II 5768
The Second-Look Primary
The final victory of John McCain in seizing the Republican nomination is a triumph of the same guts and doggedness that brought him with honor through the tortures of the North Vietnamese. He is a genuine conservative who is also a constructive political leader. The fringe conservatives protesting him should now stop whining, because McCain will run a strong campaign against...whom?
On the Democratic side, the show will go on at least through the Pennsylvania primary and probably through the convention. This is no bad thing. Junior Super Tuesday showed that the Democratic race is roughly tied with two strong candidates one with rousing emotional appeal, especially to a new generation of voters, and one who has impressed Ohio (without which no president in the past 11 elections has been elected) as a gutsy underdog, fighting back with her assertions of superior preparation to be the commander in chief at the other end of a crisis telephone as well as a grasp of the lunch-bucket problems that affect a great many voters. In so doing, Hillary Clinton won back key groups female, white, blue-collar, union-member, and older voters. She also did extremely well among late-deciding voters, indicating that her aggressive attacks on Barack Obama, particularly her ringing-phone ad about experience at a time of crisis, paid off.
Obama has emerged as the overnight Broadway star of the season. He entered the race when America's confidence in its governing institutions was at a low after seven years of President Bush and nonstop partisan bickering in Congress. Obama caught the mood of dismay. His soaring political rhetoric and personal narrative combined with an ability to think on his feet during the debate-heavy campaign won him significant support. He demonstrated a remarkable ability to relate his nonstrident liberal rhetoric to the emotions of his audience whereas too often Clinton demonstrated only her command of policy and lacked a gut connection to the American voter.
The candidate of tomorrow. The change Obama brings is, by definition, a generational one speaking to a younger audience that has come to dominate the new technology of the 21st century. He is the candidate of tomorrow, of the young, and of the previously apathetic, with a theme of change and hope that is resonating.
But if hope is a good breakfast, it is also a poor supper. The continuation of the Democratic race means that Obama's record will get more critical examination, though he may emerge stronger if he deals candidly with the issues now being raised.
He has some explaining to do. Take bipartisanship. Obama decries Washington's paralyzing divisions but has rarely reached across the aisle. He did not join the 14 senators trying to avoid a showdown on judicial filibusters or the 68 senators backing a bipartisan agreement on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Also curious is the recent tangle he has gotten himself in over NAFTA. In Ohio, evidence appeared that while Obama was ripping the trade treaty (a popular stance among voters there), his top economic adviser was telling Canadian officials to ignore the rhetoric. When the story began to come out, his campaign lied about it and Obama himself stalked out of a contentious press conference. This is the old, not the new, politics.
Similarly, on national security and foreign policy, where Clinton has made her most effective attack, Obama's readiness to meet with hostile leaders and his opposition to defining Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group suggest naiveté rather than thoughtfulness. Nobody has talked a country out of nuclear weapons or charmed a terrorist out of the desire to blow up innocent civilians. This, of course, goes to the issue of someone whose experience extends to a few years in the Illinois legislature and even fewer in the U.S. Senate.
How he handles that scrutiny could determine what the superdelegates do. Both candidates are going to need those votes to win the nomination. The pundits and the Obama camp are saying that the superdelegates should not choose the nominee. But the superdelegates who are party stalwarts and often elected officials were created to work out what is best for the Democratic Party and, of course, for the country. The real objection many have to allowing superdelegates to be decisive is that they are believed to be disproportionately likely to support Clinton.
Another late-breaking solution would be to let the voters of Florida and Michigan take a second look at the candidates. The two primaries should be rerun, given that millions of votes were effectively disqualified by the Democratic National Committee after those states defied the party and moved their primaries up to an earlier date.
To be continued. No surprise there.
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