If you get the girl up on her tiptoes, you should kiss her…


By Joe Campbell
January 7th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]Matt Yglesias comments today that:

I think it bears mentioning that it’s always worth trying to not overread the trends. A month ago, it looked like Hillary Clinton would probably win the nomination.

Although I agree with Matt’s fundamental point, I think he misses a few essentials. He made a few assumptions, as did much of the “chattering class”, that were called into question by the Iowa results:

  • that the approximate 50%/50% split between red and blue America was a result of fundamental differences; or at least that this split would not be able to be bridged by a single candidate;
  • that fundamental change was not possible (which makes a lot of sense for someone whose life has included a Bush, then Clinton, then Bush, and perhaps another Clinton in the White House);
  • that Hillary’s and Mark Penn’s spinning had any basis in reality.

While it is true that the inevitability of a Hillary victory was the conventional wisdom among “the chattering class”, and that this meme was passed down to that portion of the country that was paying attention, it was not accepted by several astute political observers. First, I should point out that I have great respect for Matt, having following him from his initial blog to the TPMCafe to The Atlantic; I do not consider him to be a political commentator on the level of “the chattering class”. There are many examples of the chattering class who comment gamely about politics on air, generally discussing slight variations on the so-called conventional wisdom – and these include almost anyone included on television “debate” or “discussion” shows or podcasts, most especially those who are regular commentators. I do not especially fault these men and women – many of them do not even suggest they pay close attention to politics; I only fault a system which gives these dolts’ opinions disproportionate weight. But there are exceptions among them – opinion-spouters who also are opinion-shapers, and more importantly, who see politics through their own eyes. In this case, I would like to especially point out Andrew Sullivan, Frank Rich, David Brooks, and George F. Will. 1

David Brooks first called on Barack Obama to run in October of 2006. Frank Rich also was talking about the potential of an Obama candidacy in 2006, and as much as endorsed him just as Clinton’s inevitability argument started to fall away. George Will called on Obama to run in December 2006 – not because he supported him as a candidate – but because Will saw that Obama needed to reach for his moment. As Will said, “if you get the girl up on her tiptoes, you should kiss her…[Obama] is nearing the point when a decision against running would brand him as a tease who ungallantly toyed with the electorate’s affections.” All of these men continued to see Obama as the logical Democratic candidate even as the rest of their peers fell for Mark Penn’s bull about inevitability.

Finally, and most influentially, Andrew Sullivan has been blogging about Obama for since…I can’t remember when this British conservative’s published his first fawning post about the liberal senator. It was a long time at any rate. Sullivan suggested as early as May 2007 that Obama was “A man…meeting the moment.” He also wrote a cover story for The Atlantic pushing Obama’s candidacy at roughly the same moment Hillary was peaking. Sullivan explained that:

The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama…[T]he most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting. The moment has been a long time coming, and it is the result of a confluence of events, from one traumatizing war in Southeast Asia to another in the most fractious country in the Middle East. The legacy is a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse. Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.

Andrew Sullivan concluded:

The paradox is that Hillary makes far more sense if you believe that times are actually pretty good. If you believe that America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think that pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, if you believe that today’s ideological polarization is not dangerous, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do…But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.

I hate to quote so much from another person – but Sullivan’s arguments have done much to supplement my own support for Obama. More than anyone else who might be considered a card-carrying member of the chattering class, Sullivan has made the case for Obama.

I am sure there are other prescient individuals who cautioned against the accepted consensus of the opining class that Hillary was inevitable. But these four – from their perches in the establishment media saw hype for hype and could see how this moment in history was made for Barack Obama.

At least so far.

Obama concluded his momentum-taking Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech by saying:

I don’t want to spend the next year or the next four years re-fighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s. I don’t want to pit red America against blue America. I want to be the President of the United States of America.

And if those Republicans come at me with the same fear-mongering and swift-boating that they usually do, then I will take them head-on. Because I believe the American people are tired of fear, and tired of distractions…we can make this election not about fear, but about the future, and that will not be just a Democratic victory, that will be an American victory, a victory that America needs right now!

I am not in this race to fulfill some longheld ambitions or because I believe it’s somehow owed to me. I never expected to be here. I always knew this journey was improbable. I am running in this race because of of what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now.” Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us.

Barack Obama was virtually assured the Democratic nomination in the decade.  If he had just waited his turn!  The powers that be saw Obama as “the future”.  But a fundamental understanding of the fickleness of the public mood, an understanding of the immediacy of the crises that face America, a fierce but closely held ambition,  and to cite, Martin Luther King, Jr., “the fierce urgency of now” led Barack to seek the White House ahead of all schedules.

And America now faces a choice.

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  1. I have problems with each of them, and at times, each certainly has fallen victim to tidal waves of opinion. But in this instance each clearly saw something their peers were blind to. []