Anything I write now might be obsolete by Wednesday morning, but such is opinionating. So here goes …

From today’s Observer:

The New Hampshire Democratic Party’s 100 Club dinner is a staid affair, attracting the main candidates as speakers in an act of shameless fundraising. But on Friday night extraordinary scenes unfolded there that captured the mood of a party suddenly filled with the desire to kick out its old guard.

Barack Obama was so mobbed by supporters that a security announcer begged people surging towards the stage to retake their seats. Many were chanting Obama’s new signature slogan: ‘Fired up! Let’s go!’

In stark contrast, Hillary Clinton had been booed twice. The first time when she seemed to borrow from Obama’s main theme of ‘change’. The second was when she made a veiled reference to her greater experience. ‘Who will be ready to lead from day one?’ she asked the 3,000-strong crowd. But she was forced to pause to let the resulting boos die down. A few weeks ago, such a spectacle would have been unthinkable.

Right now most polls are saying that Clinton and Obama are tied in New Hampshire. And you know that if she wins by even one vote on Tuesday she’ll be re-crowned “Ms. Inevitable.”

But I wonder if that “inevitability” shtick isn’t part of her problem. It sent a subliminal message to rank-and-file Dems that you’ll take what the party gives you, and you will like it. But what the party has been giving us in recent years — well, for a long time, actually — hasn’t been all that wonderful. We put up with it because the other guys are worse. Maybe what happened at the 100 Club dinner is a dawning realization that “Hey, we don’t have to put up with it! We can demand something different!”

It’s called “empowerment,” I believe.

Bob Herbert wrote yesterday:

The Clintons, especially, have seemed baffled by the winds of change. They mounted a peculiar argument against Senator Obama, acknowledging that voters wanted change but insisting that you can’t achieve change by doing things differently.

Ain’t it the truth? If you didn’t see this meltdown moment in last night’s debate, take a look at the transcript:

SEN. CLINTON: Wait a minute now, wait a minute. I’m going to respond to this because obviously — making change is not about what you believe. It’s not about a speech you make. It is about working hard. There are 7,000 kids in New Hampshire who have health care because I helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. There’s 2,700 National Guard and Reserve members who have access to health care, because on a bipartisan basis, I pushed legislation through over the objection of the Pentagon, over the threat of a veto from President Bush.

I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I will continue to make change. I’m not just running on a promise of change, I’m running on 35 years of change. I’m running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies.

So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I’ve already made.

To me, this exemplifies the whole problem with Senator Clinton. She probably has had some impact on some policies, but it hasn’t been good enough. Maybe she did take on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, but seems to me that the drug and health insurance companies won. If she honestly doesn’t see that, then I do not want her in the White House.

I’d be much more comfortable with her if she could admit efforts have fallen short, but if we could get a big Dem majority in Congress and have a Dem in the White House, we could accomplish something significant. But if she defines “significant” by what she’s already done, she doesn’t get it.

Frank Rich’s column today is all about how conventional wisdom fell apart in Iowa.

What was mostly forgotten in these errant narratives were the two largest elephants in the room: Iraq and George W. Bush. The conventional wisdom had it that both a tamped-down war and a lame-duck president were exiting so quickly from center stage that they were receding from the minds of voters. In truth, they were only receding from the minds of those covering those voters…

…It’s safe to assume that these same voters did not forget that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards enabled the Iraq fiasco. Or that Mr. Obama publicly opposed it. When Mrs. Clinton attacked Mr. Obama for his supposedly “irresponsible and frankly naïve” foreign policy ideas — seeking talks with enemies like Iran — she didn’t diminish him so much as remind voters of her own irresponsibility and naïveté about Mr. Bush’s Iraq scam in 2002.

Again, it’s a bit clumsy to run on “experience” if your track record is spotty.

As for Senator Obama, there’s no way to know if he’s for real or just packaging. At the Guardian, Armando Llorens (yeah, that Armando) expresses doubt that a President Obama would actually move the nation in a progressive direction.

But I don’t think that’s the way to look at it. It’s not as if America is sitting on its hands waiting for the next President to lead it somewhere. After having witnessed the colossal failure of “movement conservatism” I think the nation is poised to move in a more progressive direction. The question is, how will the next Congress and the next President respond to this? And I don’t think there is any way to predict that.

Historically, presidents in particular often turn out to be very different products from what was advertised. Often they are disappointing — I certainly think the Clinton Administration promised more than it delivered, except on the economy. Woodrow Wilson ran on a “he kept us out of war” platform, then sent troops to Europe.

On the other hand, in the 1860 campaign, Abraham Lincoln tried to defuse the secession crisis (and possibly pick up southern votes) by promising to support a constitutional amendment that would have protected slavery in the slave states. Many northern abolitionists refused to support Lincoln because he wasn’t tough enough on the slavery question. You might remember how that turned out.

Let’s face it — we’re buying a pig in a poke, no matter who wins.

There are only two things I can say with any certainty. One is that if a politician is tone-deaf to the nation’s mood as a candidate, winning an election is unlikely to improve his or her hearing.

And the other thing is that real, substantive change will be driven by the empowerment of the people, not from leadership in Washington.

20 thoughts on “Changes

  1. Well said, Maha. Edwards is the candidate of my head: great spirit, good policies, etc., etc. But Obama grabs my heart in a way that no politician has in 40 years, and if that response is widespread across the electorate, Clinton is toast. Don’t misunderstand: I respect her (hell, she’s more like me than any other candidate in age and gender) and I think she’s incredibly knowledgeable, smart, and tough. But Obama is speaking to the heart of progressive America and he’s drawing folks from the other side over to his, and, be extension, ours.

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  3. I like Obama because his style of politicking is the kind you see in countries with proportional election systems, where leaders always have to govern by building cross-party coalitions.

  4. Very nice job, Maha! Many thanks. I saw Clinton yesterday on CSpan, speaking in NH about the environment. The substance was very, very good. The manner continues to be so me-centered, so arrogant, that it saddened me. I’m in the Obama camp, hoping very much that Edwards’ energy and dedication don’t get tossed aside but are given a substantive, proud part in a new leadership for this battered country.

  5. How can you say Clinton is tone deaf? She did get some votes. Why is someone tone deaf if they don’t act and talk the way people want them to? Do we want leaders who just mirror whatever is the latest fad or hep saying? Personally, I want leaders who are not rock stars, but who have shown that they are intelligent and hardworking. This Obama adulation and harsh criticism of Clinton by supposedly intelligent people has sure got me puzzled.

  6. Well, we didn’t see Obama running around Iowa with a shotgun under his arm trying to create an image of the all American outdoorsman, or stopping by the local sporting goods store looking to purchase an athletic supporter. I hear Huckabee bagged a pheasant..I just wonder if he ate it?.

    I still resent Hillary’s little bid to coin a catchy phrase and be in vogue by referring to the suicide bombers in Baghdad as “homocide bombers”. She might have been cutesy, but she missed the point of desperation that was created for the Iraqi people to resist Bush’s rape of Iraq. What do you do to resist when you’re faced with overwhelming military power? All options becomes suicide. When it comes to Iraq..Hillary was a go along gal.

  7. The one politician who is NOT tone-deaf to the nation’s mood as a candidate is John Edwards; but, people are not getting his message because the M$M doesn’t want the people to hear the message. Like before, the M$M wants to be the ones who pick the Dems’ candidate.

  8. Let’s face it — we’re buying a pig in a poke, no matter who wins.

    Absolutely. And the uncertainty is even greater when you consider the pig-sty state of the nation, after eight years of horrifically bad governance. Even President Franklin Delano Eugene McCarthy Debs Kennedy Luther King Jr. would have trouble cleaning that mess up.

  9. Somebody who knew something about the subject once said: “Change comes out of the barrel of a gun”…

    As sorry as it makes me to say it, there’s gonna have to be some blood spilt before any kind of meaningful change takes place in this country…

    I just hope and pray that, this time, it’s those Heather Antoinettes in D.C. who do the bleeding…Lord knows they’ve got it coming…

  10. Edwards made the comment this AM that Clinton will not be in a position to fight with the same drug/insurance companies she is taking money from. Clinton is a Dem version of the status quo. And in my opinion, it’s hardly an encouraging defense that she will take money from anyone. The one thing she does so incredibly well, raise money, has turned into a liability.

    Obama is an unknown. His bipartisan approach appeals to voters who would like government to work, but it is just what the corporations would love. K street lobbyists will eat him up.

    Edwards is aching for a war with the economic powers who have this country by the balls. However, I saw Edwards say he and Obama are similar in their platform, and I wonder if Edwards MIGHT settle for the #2 spot if the chips fall that way, and if Obama would tap him for the job.

    Frankly, that MIGHT work well, because they MIGHT be able to play good cop/bad cop with the corporations. Historically, this is unsound, because the VP is usually a small figurehead in the administration, but at times Cheney has worked almost as a copresident, directing policy.

    If initial negotiations & contacts with certain corporate powers had to START with Edwards, Obama would be in the position of considering a compromise position to Edwards trial lawyer persona.

  11. Appreciate the Armando link. I think he’s written something similar on TalkLeft, but I always love seeing his line about how political success is not striving to win over the “middle,” it’s about defining what the “middle” is. I also think he’s correct that Obama is not running on any mandate, making it difficult to judge whether or not his administration would be a success. To be perfectly frank, I’m not certain that Clinton has a mandate either, but I do understand the Edwards mandate: protect the middle class, get out of Iraq immediately, restore the constitution, and provide universal health coverage. Personally, I like to know where someone stands on the issues. We’ll see.

  12. Doug..Interesting scenerio with an Obama/Edwards ticket. It has an appeal the way you describe it.

  13. I find it totally depressing that Obama is getting such adulation, (and notice how Fox ( and the media in general ) misses no opportunity to use his popularity to bash Hillary . ( they are hoping he will be the nominee , its so obvious )
    I think those who adore Obama are buying a pig in a poke. He is not going to ” transcend ” hardball politics of today. Hillary raised her voice against him ( to point out re. his lobbyist manager and some of his flip flops ) and immediately he was on the defensive and stuttering his half hearted replies …..
    its early days yet, but I fear Americans are again going to pick the ” guy I’d like to have a beer with “

  14. ps
    and no one in the media noticed Hillary’s ” smackdown ” even though my husband and I both said ” wow smackdown Obama “at the exact same moment of the debate …..

  15. Lucy –

    I have a problem with Senator Clinton. She’s too good at raising money. I don’t like what it says that she is the campaign queen of big-money donors. Frankly, I think a lot of those donors will expect a return on their investment, and I think she will put out.
    She has before, and she BELIEVES this is how politics should work. This will happen at the expense of the people, and I think she is totally out of touch with them. Yes, it’s true we don’t know what we might get with Obama or Edwards, but I think a Democratic version of W, with different corporate puppetmasters is little improvement.

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  17. the ” mantle of inevitability ” is another right wing narrative designed to bash her. She has been the frontrunner by a slight margin only , Edwards and Obama have always been in the game.
    Its all very well talking about the ” will of the people ” in the abstract but politics is about bare knuckle fights in the House and the Senate. That we would trust the most important job in the world to a one term senator without much probing of his substance and adulation as to his style , is bizzare to me . The right wing smear machine is only keeping its powder dry until Hillary is off the scene , then you will see the full force of attacks.
    Bill was right when he said ” its just a fantasy ” , its a fantasy for the Republicans , get Obama fanatics to knock off Hillary and then the coast is clear and he is easy pickings for example against Mc Cain , he would have no chance .

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