January 27, 2008

Obama Breaks Through, Again

After the American Century

Today Barack Obama won a stunning victory in South Carolina, crushing the Clintons with more than double the vote that Bill and Hillary could scrape together. With 55% of the vote, this was the first time any candidate from either party won an absolute majority. Clinton, with only 27%, lost by far more than Obama did in Nevada or New Hampshire, where he trailed by only a few percentage points. As Obama pointed out to a delirious crowd in his victory speech, taking all four primaries together, he has won the most votes and the most delegates. Poor John Edwards was unable even to come in second in the state of his birth, and one might assume he will give up now. But his concession speech said nothing of the kind. He will go on campaigning at least through February 5.

Interestingly, the only group that Edwards won over were white men. If they had been the only ones allowed to vote, then he would have won. But since 1920 women have been voting, of course. And if only white women had been voting, then Hillary would have won. Logically, then it might seem that Obama won because of the Black vote. He did - more than 80%. But one cannot get 56% of the vote with only African-American support. Many Whites had to vote for him too, and this is in South Carolina, where they still fly the Confederate Flag.

Obama gave a powerful victory speech that showed far more than his great rhetorical skills. He presented his victory and his campaign as the expression of the desire for change, and not as a triumph of any single group or faction. He only referred obliquely to the way the Clinton's had campaigned, no doubt content that yesterday the New York Times already criticized them in an editorial. However, the same editorial contained that newspaper's endorsement of Hillary, on the grounds that she has the most experience.

So they have fallen for this rather bogus argument. Bogus because the President does not sit there by himself but with a team of advisors. The question is not "Which candidate locked in solitary confinement could the best decisions?" It is rather, "Which candidate is likely to put together a fine team, and have the values and the character needed to listen to and adjudicate and do what is best for the country?" I am not going to listen to the New York Times. It is my view that Obama is the best leader and that he would make the best president. Clinton has much the same policies, but she does not have the intensity and the vision that Obama has. He has charisma, she does not. Ultimately, I fear she does not have a unifying impulse, but a divisive one. I doubt that she can transcend the bitter partisanship of the past that marked the eight Clinton years. Even if she wants to have a unifying administration, many Republicans hate her, and to elect her is to begin with partisanship and doubt that it can be overcome. With her and Bill Clinton in the White House again, the United States could easily sink back into the divisions and gridlock that have made legislation difficult. I think Obama has a better chance to bring new ideas into practice.

Carolyn Kennedy, daughter of President Jack Kennedy, has written an article that will appear in the New York Times tomorrow. She is endorsing Obama, saying that he is the first politician who inspires her the way her father inspired Americans in 1960. Think about what that endorsement suggests.