- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While not everyone in New Hampshire claims the New England Patriots as their home professional football team, Granite State voters looked like Pro Bowl linemen Tuesday, sacking the pundits for a stunning loss. As one reporter on Fox News said Tuesday night, maybe all the Obama-mania voters had too much fun at the tailgate and forgot to show up to the game. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s primary victory creates two clear but competing narratives for the Democratic nomination contest — scenarios we’ve seen before. Yet history suggests we already know the outcome of this story, and it ends happily for the New York senator — with a couple of caveats and postscripts.

After Iowa, according to the experts, the election was all about change, and Democratic primary voters discarded the audacity of experience for the promise of hope and a fresh face. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked his panel of 12 reporters on Sunday to pick the Democratic nominee. They were unanimous — voting 12-0 — Mr. Obama was their man. And the pundits elevated him beyond mortal political standing. Mr. Obama was more than a candidate; he was a cause. Not just a man, but a movement. But then New Hampshire said we needed a second opinion.

So, listen to Mrs. Clinton. We live in “difficult and challenging times.” We need someone “ready to lead.” Mr. Obama: pleasant fellow, nice family, loved by Oprah — all endearing features, but “not ready for prime time.” The one-term senator from Illinois lacks the credentials and experience to step into the White House. A commander in chief needs more seasoning. All his talk about bipartisanship and bringing America together is fine, but it’s empty rhetoric — like a bottle without the beer. Mrs. Clinton and her husband are battle-tested and prepared to confront the many challenges we face as a country — at home and abroad.

Tuesday night, the empire struck back against the insurgency. And that shouldn’t surprise us, the experts say. She had the money, the manpower and the organization to go wire to wire. And she proved it by thumping her sophomoric opponent.

Both this narrative and the “Obama’s hope transcends inexperience” message are compelling. The media quickly settled on the insurgency and “change” story after Iowa but will now have to step back as it tries to make sense of a topsy-turvy campaign cycle.

This is a familiar read for Democratic primary aficionados. It’s a classic tale of rebel forces taking on the party establishment. Sen. Eugene McCarthy did it in 1968 against President Lyndon Johnson. The insurrection succeeded in forcing LBJ to forego seeking re-election, but the party ultimately nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Sen. Ted Kennedy tried to rally rebel forces against President Jimmy Carter in 1980, but Democrats stuck with the incumbent in the end. Sen. Gary Hart bucked the party establishment in 1984, and regular Democrats rallied around former Vice President Walter Mondale to lead the ticket.

So, here we go again — two candidates, two competing narratives.

One is the insurgent, telling us he is just what the doctor ordered for healing divisions and brokering bipartisanship. The only question is, “How?” Mr. Obama is a message without a method, a candidate that fills a hope-shaped vacuum in the heart of the body politic. But the problem is, we don’t know the substance of the filler yet. How can you “heal” a nation when most don’t understand or want your medicine? How can you broker a new bipartisanship when all of your positions align with left-wing causes?

Establishment Democrats sense this weakness and support the second scenario. They want a candidate with experience — “ready to lead.” It was these “traditional” Democrats (e.g. union voters, Catholics and senior citizens) who provided Mrs. Clinton’s New Hampshire margin of victory. As Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics.comnoted, Mrs. Clinton won “by putting together the voting coalition that has held Democratic frontrunners in good stead for 75 years.”

The wild card in all this, as Mr. Cost also notes, is black American voters — one of the most reliable blocs in the Democratic coalition. New Hampshire gave us few hints about which narrative they support. They could write the final chapter of this story. And Mrs. Clinton wins the nomination if she does well with this critical Democratic constituency.

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