In the end, the Democrats fell in love.
At least, half of them did - and the party establishment, as represented by the superdelegates, wasn't going to deny them their inamorata.
The Democrats have always yearned for another Kennedy, and here is Barack Obama
promising the stylish cool of a Jack, inspiring the frenzy on the
campaign trail of a Bobby and sporting the endorsement of Ted.
The last fresh new thing in Democratic politics, Bill Clinton,
never truly had the imprimatur of the Kennedys (even if he brandished a
youthful photo of himself shaking Jack's hand at the White House as a
kind of Excalibur moment). Clinton the centrist was always compromised
as a liberal paladin by his compromises.
Obama represents a rejection of triangulating Clintonism. He
had no Sister Souljah moment during the primaries. Indeed, he initially
embraced his Sister Souljah, in the form of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright,
introduced to the public in videotaped anti-American rants. Nor did
Obama make any creative policy departures, like Clinton's advocacy of
welfare reform in 1992.
Obama is the fullest flowering of liberal orthodoxy since George McGovern.
And yet his candidacy might not be electoral suicide.
He has formidable gifts as a politician; he's eloquent, winsome, a
quick study. He confronts a Republican Party that, beset by
intellectual exhaustion, congressional scandal and an unpopular
incumbent president, teeters on the verge of a Watergate-style
So Democrats contemplate the delicious prospect of having their
purity and victory, too. It's as if the Republicans nominated Barry
Goldwater in 1964 - and won.
Everyone remarks on Obama's crowds and his stirring rhetoric, but
the other, no less significant hallmark of his primary campaign was its
organizational prowess. He had a cohesive team, with none of the
destructive back-biting of Hillary Clinton's;
it conceived and executed a strategy of relentless focus on delegates,
even from tiny caucus states, that proved decisive; and it raised the
astonishing sum of nearly $300 million, outspending Hillary three to
one in February, when Obama all but clinched the nomination.
With the flush of good feeling over his historic victory, Obama
will barrel down on the Straight Talk Express like a runaway train. On
Tuesday night, he easily filled the arena in St. Paul, where
Republicans will hold their convention, whipping the crowd of 17,000
into a rapture of hope and change.
John McCain delivered a counter-speech in New Orleans that felt as
if it were held in someone's garage. The Republican reactively riffed
off Obama's signature lines in another sign that - one way or another -
it's The Year of Obama.
The race will be about him. Despite all the hype and crowds, Obama
could kick away what should otherwise be an inevitable Democratic
victory. Half - or maybe a little more - of Democrats voted against
him. Hillary Clinton
dealt him 10-point defeats in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and crushing
30-point losses in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico that
highlighted demographic vulnerabilities that will tell in the fall.
If his newness on the national scene has fueled Obama's rise, it
also makes him an unsettlingly unknown commodity. Who is he really?
His close association with Rev. Wright and assorted other Chicago
left-wingers calls into question his soothing image as the candidate of
transpartisan unity, and he's been dishonest in explaining away his
membership at Wright's radical church.
He arrives at the doorstep of the presidency with no
national-security experience to speak of, except - as Clinton
scathingly put it - one speech in 2002 opposing the Iraq war.
Finally, there's ideology. Has the country really lurched so far
left since 2004 that it will swallow a Democrat who voted against
funding the troops, takes his orders from the unions on trade policy,
has said he'll meet with practically every American-hating tyrant the
world has to offer, operationally favors gay marriage and partial-birth
abortion and, at his worst, gives off a sense of elite cultural
Democrats are ready to find out. They have the man they love - for better or worse.