Barack Obama is the first political speaker I can think of who actually sounds the way present-day Hollywood has insisted a politician should sound. His speech tonight, which was a stunner, was profoundly reminiscent of those third-act climactic addresses in movies and television shows in which the political protagonist gives an inspiring talk about what is best in all of us, which is to say, he throws off the shackles of cautious convention and talks like an unabashed liberal. The music swells, the rhetoric soars, and the nation swoons. (See Michael Douglas in The American President, Kevin Kline in Dave, Martin Sheen in The West Wing.)
Posts For: January 3, 2008
Barack Obama brilliantly waited a solid 20 minutes after Huckabee spoke before taking the stage. He was the star of the night, and he made the most of it, even if it meant slipping outside East Coast prime time. After a bitter and dreary Hillary concession that was painful to watch, Obama delivered a barnburner. And it was impossible not to hear in his speech a barely disguised attack on everything that is Hillary. “Change.” “Unity over division.” “Tell the lobbyists.” A health care plan that “brings together Democrats and Republicans.” His refrain — “this was the moment” – was a
clarion of something new at the very moment that Hillary is looking stale with that has-been husband at her side. And then, of course, he has stolen the best bits of the ’92 Clintons: hope, middle-class tax cut, courage to change. The network chatter afterward was positively effervescent. Iowa is supposed to create momentum. Tonight, Obama created something even better: Buzz.
Listening to Mike Huckabee, who was a radio announcer before he was a minister, one cannot help but notice the brilliance of his style of performance — he is a very, very cool customer who uses quiet to his advantage, a preacher who forces you to lean forward to catch his words. Barack Obama, also a spellbinding speaker, uses a more intense style of preachment, but maintains his urgency without ever becoming heated. They are delightful to listen to, and surely that has contributed mightily to their mutual triumph tonight.
“I intend to restore America’s leadership and her moral authority in the world,” said Hillary Clinton. She better restore her campaign first.
It was hard not to be impressed listening to John Edwards’s “second-place victory” speech. It was a good rendition of his war on insurers, bankers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and fatcat CEOs, mixed with a lot of stuff about change, a torch passed, a new generation, standing upon the shoulders of those who came before us, etc. While it hasn’t lit the country on fire, his corporate greed message is clearly more powerful than his more analytical “Two Americas” speech of four years ago. He goes to New Hampshire against Obama’s, Hillary’s, and Romney’s $100 million campaigns. That’s not the worst possible place to be.
The “amateurism” of Obama and Huckabee, in contrast to the slick, stage-managed professionalism of Clinton and Romney, is rapidly emerging as the consensus talking point to wrap up Iowa. At this point, it is a very convenient talking point for Democrats, who are desperate to see the GOP embrace Huckabee. Watch liberal nabobs praise the “disillusioned” Republican grassroots in the days ahead.
Alone among pundits, I thought Mitt Romney’s celebrated religion speech was a tactical error in that it highlighted his great difference with the American electorate — his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Given the importance of Huckabee’s standing as an evangelical Christian as a factor in his victory, did Romney shoot himself in the foot in Iowa? Maybe.
How ironic it is that, in the wake of her defeat, Hillary Clinton will retreat to the issues of health care and the need for “universal coverage” as the core message of her comeback strategy in New Hampshire. This ad on the subject is getting heavy play in New Hampshire, and it is fair to say that there is nothing else memorable that Hillary is saying to Democrats. It will be rich to watch Obama play the role once owned by Bob Dole, warning voters against Clinton taxes and mandates…
On MSNBC, Rudy Giuliani is making a very smiley, happy showing of himself. The result in Iowa could not have been better for Giuliani tactically. Romney has been injured. Huckabee won, but did not apparently win by a huge margin, and there won’t be many other states where evangelicals make up fully three-fifths of the primary electorate. And John McCain did not, it seems, come in third with a surprising showing, but fourth with a very modest showing. If McCain beats Romney in New Hampshire, Romney will have a difficult time going on — but McCain clearly hasn’t yet turned the corner and brought conservative Republicans back in his corner. And Fred Thompson’s third-place showing wasn’t impressive enough to kick his campaign back to life. With no one especially strong on the Republican side through the first few states, the Giuliani strategy of betting it all on Florida on January 29 and the big states on February 5 is looking better than it did a week ago.
Watch out for the hyperventilating. Barack Obama is not the first black man to win a Democratic primary (if the projections hold). In 1984, Jesse Jackson won five primaries, including Michigan, which is actually a state in which a significant number of people actually live, as opposed to Iowa, where a cow lives. It is true that Obama’s victory in a very, very white state is interesting. But of course it is not just a white state. It is among the most liberal white states in the union.
Presumably, sometime in the next 48 hours, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd will take a deep drink of reality and drop out. They have not just failed to be competitive in any part of the race. They have failed to bring no influence to the debate within their party. No one felt a need to respond to them or counter their arguments. Despite the buzz on some blogs, these candidates don’t have supporters of any decisive weight. For months Biden, Dodd, and others have sucked up air time on debates in what amount to a massive act of vanity and self-importance. Shouldn’t someone have had the decency to get out of the race last September?
Listen to the music, not the words, and you can hear the commentators indicating that their “entrance polls” show a blowout for Barack Obama. And yet, with 40 percent reporting, there’s a three-way tie between Obama, Edwards and Clinton. So what gives? One possibility has to do with an age bias among the polltakers. In 2004, one of the reasons given for the incredible discrepancy between the exit polls and the results was that the polltakers are overwhelmingly young and are uncomfortable talking to older voters who are, in turn, uncomfortable talking to them. So the polltakers oversampled voters more like themselves, younger and tending to the liberal side of the ledger. Perhaps this is what is happening tonight — since it’s said younger voters prefer Obama, maybe the polltakers are missing many Clinton and Edwards voters.
With NBC News calling Mike Huckabee the Iowa caucus winner, Mitt Romney has suffered a body blow. He has also lost the metaphor war. Romney just told Chris Wallace of Fox News that “this is the first inning of a 50-inning game?” Fifty innings? Is that some sort of cricket reference?
Conspicuous by its absence in this Iowa campaign is the absence of any single, leading “anti-establishment” issue. Sure, there is the usual anti-Washington blather from Fred Thompson and John Edwards. But where is the equivalent of Steve Forbes’ flat tax, Ross Perot’s budget ovehaul, Buchanan’s anti-NAFTA tirades, or even Pete DuPont and his campaign for “change.” The anti-corporate stuff at Democratic debates has become Iowa boilerplate. But no one has introduced a killer single, “damn right” issue, not even Huckabee. Will this be an issue-less campaign?
Chris Matthews on MSNBC just said that if Obama wins the Iowa caucus, it will be “the biggest political story in America in 30 years.” He said, and this is not a joke, that it would be bigger than Ronald Reagan defeating Jimmy Carter. It’s only January 3. Matthews has ten months to go before the election. By October, he will be declaring the latest campaign commercial the “most important political document since the Magna Carta.”
If it turns out that Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney win their respective caucuses tonight, what will all the journalists and professional political handicappers do for the next month? Nothing would be worse for the sheer drama of primary politics then to have the heavyweights of each party chalk up an early win, effectively cementing their leadership before anyone can even hedge their bets. There would be no comeback scenarios, no South Carolina battle, no hand-wringing about the influence of Christian wing, no Big Mo cover stories in Newsweek. It would be a breathtakingly boring primary season.
Now the NBC “interpretation desk” claims its information has Obama with a lead and Clinton and Edwards contending for second. Which suggests the first report of the “interpretation desk” was nonsense. Which makes one wonder what the third interpretation of the “interpretation desk” will be.
Because Iowa is a state where Democrats vote in the open in closed rooms, the networks take entrance polls rather than exit polls. The early indications suggest a close race between Clinton and Obama. This is obviously good news for Hillary at the outset, because there was some speculation she might finish third — so much speculation, in fact, that she might already have outpaced media expectations ten minutes into the balloting!
That, according to Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, is the total amount the Mitt Romney campaign will have spent by the time the New Hampshire primary is over next Tuesday. That’s $100 million.