Friday, January 4, 2008

The Revolution is Being Televised


David Brooks once again distinguishes himself in the New York Times with a brilliant assessment of both the Republican and Democratic presidential races, making note of how rare it is for an "earthquake" to hit both parties at once as expressed by the Iowa victories of Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama.
I’ve been through election nights that brought a political earthquake to the country. I’ve never been through an election night that brought two.
Both victors are the youngest in their respective fields (Barack, 46; Mike, 52). Both are the most outsiderly of the viable candidates (with apologies to Kucinich, Paul and Gravel). It is a clear repudiation of the establishment, period. It may not be the final word, only a warning shot to be heeded by the wisely humbled -- witness Hillary's team-player, I-get-it concession speech -- but for now it is a shot heard round the world.

Brooks makes great sense in handicapping both races. Huckabee, he says, is likely not the GOP standard bearer of '08 but the agent of "Republican Reformation." It is in his assessment of Obama, however, that this conservative says what needs to be said (emphasis added):
He’s made Hillary Clinton, with her wonkish, pragmatic approach to politics, seem uninspired. He’s made John Edwards, with his angry cries that “corporate greed is killing your children’s future,” seem old-fashioned.
It will be painful to watch Hillary -- who, under virtually every other imaginable circumstance could have been this year's breath of fresh air -- portray 35 years of political accomplishments as 35 years of "change." Reformers become machine politicians all the time, but seldom does the process begin the other way, or reverse itself. Her candidacy required impermeability, and her weakness has been exposed in the very first test. She might not get it at all, or may have gotten it too late, or she may be seen as having the sincerity of a deathbed convert.

Still, as a Slate blogger Christopher Beam points out, a butterfly effect could have dramatically changed at least the Iowa sub-headline on the Democratic side. Speaking anecdotally of only the caucus he attended, Beam argues:
One more campaign stop → 30 more caucus-goers → six more delegates → tie for second in the Iowa caucuses. And this was just one caucus. Similar stories could have played out in any of the state’s 1,784 precincts.
On the Republican side much will depend on the stomach rank-and-filers have for the insipid slickness of the deep-pocketed Romney -- reminiscent of the worst of Bill Clinton and President Bush -- and the staying power of Thompson, who still acts like he really, really wants to be liked and does hold the cards movement conservatives value most.

Thompson's closeness with McCain is an intriguing aspect of the race; Thompson endorsed McCain in 2000 and neither would be expected to be particularly strident against one another on the stump. Contrast that with Romney, who never saw a sloppily-landed low blow he didn't like. In a three-way race, Slick Mitt will not look good against the genuine drawl and gunslinger's stare of Thompson and the worldly-wise incredulous look of McCain. For a good time, watch Fred & John tag-team their party's perfectly-coiffed elitist on the debate stage while Mike shrugs and still delivers the best punchline.

Where does Giuliani start to win, and who will finally challenge his record not as a security expert (quite the contrary, having putting an emergency command center in a high-profile building at what became Ground Zero) but as a decent grief counselor? Talk tough he may but in the end there won't be enough votes for a social-worker-in-chief.

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