If there was one single moment this past historic Tuesday night that was most fraught with the potential embodied in the political juncture, it transpired exactly at 6:01 p.m. on the West Coast. The polls had just closed in South Dakota as an oddly lit and physically laboring John McCain was stiffly plodding through a televised “major address” aimed at diverting media attention away from the breathtaking conclusion of the Democratic race.
Instead of graciously acknowledging that something quite profound had just transpired in American history — that a strangely named black man, a freshman senator born a year before Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, had just clinched a presidential nomination — McCain flubbed off Barack Obama’s victory as having been decided only by “the party elders and the pundits.”
Just moments after that rather insulting downgrading of a first-in-history landmark and quite literally in the middle of McCain’s preposterous claim to representing the authentic option of change, someone behind the curtains at MSNBC threw a switch and — whoosh! — the GOP candidate was off the air. Off the air and pre-empted by a formal network breaking news proclamation that Obama was now, officially, the presumptive Democratic nominee. And not because Chris Matthews so decreed it but because he won it after 35 million Americans voted in 54 hard-fought primaries and caucuses.
Who said the revolution would not be televised? Here was the Old and the Tired being literally swept off the tube mid-sentence by the New and the Fresh.
It has been a quite remarkable victory by Obama who came, literally from nowhere, not only to directly challenge, confront and conquer his own party’s establishment but also to beat and ultimately break what had been the most formidable brand in contemporary American politics — the Clintons.
The rumbling foreshocks of this upset first registered four years ago when the obscure Howard Dean briefly blazed. Dean couldn’t provide the leadership that his insurgent movement demanded, and failing to convert the surge for change into the effective political currency his supporters warranted, the Good Doctor wound up prematurely buried in the fields of Iowa.
This time around it was a different story. Barack Obama and his steely-nerved campaign architect, David Axelrod, resuscitated that insurgent spirit, animated and amplified it, and now the candidate stands poised to initiative a transformative chapter in national politics. We now a savor a victory that was inconceivable at any previous moment until that network news bulletin flashed Tuesday eve.
No need, I think, to once again finely parse through the littered remains of the Hillary Clinton campaign. After all the drama of the past year, in fact, very little really changed. She came into the race as the second most unpopular politician in America, right behind George Bush. And so she exits.
Her humiliating fate was sealed neither in Iowa nor Mississippi this past winter, nor in Kansas this past spring, but rather right on the Senate floor more than five years ago when she rose in support of the authorization of the war in Iraq. Though the fate of that catastrophe faded during the Democratic primaries as the explicit lead issue, Clinton’s original support for the war remained a thundering reminder to millions of Democrats that she was — at her core — an unprincipled and unreliable opportunist.
The doubts that still lingered over her inauthenticty solidly gelled in direct proportion to the visibility and prominence of her husband on the campaign trail. All American presidents swell in stature in their post-White House lives. Upon his recent death, even the bumbling Gerald Ford, a mediocre golfer and an even more mediocre chief of state, was remembered as a second Lincoln.
The lofty luster accumulated by Bill Clinton over the past eight years were political assets that Hillary had safely banked away as she began her campaign. But they were quickly and recklessly depleted and eventually overdrawn as the real Bill materialized in his all his ruddy and uncontrollable anger — and pettiness — in front of batteries of hungry TV cameras. From his despicable performance last year on Charlie Rose when he compared supporting Obama to rolling the dice with America’s security, right up to this past Monday when he reminded us that the words “Clinton, dishonest, slimy and scumbag” all fit quite nicely into the same sentence — even if in a different syntax than he intended.
And here we were on Tuesday night, after Obama had formally locked it all up, exposed to one more garish display of Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Clearly angling for some way to broker her 17 million votes to her personal advantage, and in an eye-popping display of rampant narcissism, Hillary refused to surrender. She found time to praise the “90 year olds” among her supporters who were born before the enactment of women’s suffrage but she couldn’t summon the grace to explicitly acknowledge that her rival, actually born into Jim Crow, had just become America’s first black presidential nominee. Clinton had lost her bid for the White House, but she sure sounded like she was more than ready to run the fictional Republic of San Marcos as depicted in Woody Allen’s classic, Bananas. She repeated her dubious claim that she had won the popular vote along with her previously noted delusion that she had bagged the “necessary 270 electoral votes” — which don’t exist. I switched her off before she could decree that all underwear must now be worn outside your pants.
Some will continue to argue that Democrats would have a much better chance to win in November if Hillary had won. Or, alternately if she’s given second place on the ticket. Frankly, I don’t believe it. Nor do I care. I wouldn’t be much interested in any administration that would require a Hillary Clinton to guarantee its success.
Obama’s victory is a wonderful moment that I intend to savor to the max. It’s now up to him, and ultimately up to us, to see if we can mold this celebration into some sort of transformation. Can we do it?