Why Obama Keeps Beating Hillary
Wednesday - February 27, 2008
Wouldn’t you know it? The biggest week in Hawaii politics this year, and Boylan - self-proclaimed talking head, know-itall political analyst and weekly scribbler on things mostly political, sometimes simply silly, is out of town - attending, of all things - a conference on college freshmen.
You heard that right - a conference on college freshmen, while Barack Obama - native son of the Islands - is taking Hillary Clinton apart in the state’s Democratic caucuses.
On every island, in every one of Hawaii’s 51 representative districts, from Manoa to East Maui, from Kailua to Ka’u, Obama won big, garnering 28,347 caucus votes to Clinton’s 8,835 - more than three times as many.
In some districts, including the aforementioned Manoa and East Maui, the margin was a spectacular 8 to 1, with both districts recording spectacular numbers: more than 1,400 votes being cast in the 24th (Manoa) and more than 1,800 in 13th (East Maui, Molokai, and Lanai).
All this despite Clinton endorsements by two of Hawaii’s brightest luminaries, United States Sen. Dan Inouye and State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.
Across half an ocean and half a continent, without the advantage of being the home-state favorite, Obama did almost as well in Wisconsin, where Obama beat Clinton by 17 percent.
Wisconsin and Hawaii marked the tenth and eleventh Obama presidential primary or caucus victory in a row; he’s won everything, literally everything, since the so-called Super Tuesday of Feb. 5, on which date most predicted Clinton would secure the Democratic nomination.
How is Obama doing it?
The answer comes in many lengths, a few inches of which I’ve offered up in several previous columns. But let me stretch it even further.
Following the Democratic Convention of 1960, the late Norman Mailer wrote an essay entitled “Superman Comes to the Supermarket” in which he described the appeal of a senator from Massachusetts named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Like Obama, Kennedy was young, still in his 40s. Like Obama (though decidedly less so), Kennedy was a trailblazer as he attempted to become the first Catholic to attain the presidency.
But the two men were most alike on two respects: combining that ineffable political commodity called charisma and with the most appealing political message for their time - their small, fleeting moments of political time.
Democrats have whispered “charisma” occasionally in the decades since 1960; but in that year they knew it in every dropped “r” in Kennedy’s Boston patois, in every slice of his hand during a speech, in his abundant hair, his Palm Beach suntan, his 100-megawatt smile.
And Obama has it too. He shouts it: in his walk, his lean, athletic profile, his humble applause to greet his adoring multitudes, his JFK smile, and in his raised finger during a speech. Obama uses his index finger like a maestro in speeches, debates, coffee hours, even interviews.
Charisma names that rock star, celebrity, dream-merchant quality possessed by both men. It’s downright romantic. And while candidates such as Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush offered the South’s homey, good old boy embrace of the Southland, none could claim charisma.
Watch Obama’s crowds. Like Kennedy’s of yore, they’re huge and they’re downright manic. Both men had the power to inspire.
Then there’s the matter of message. Kennedy’s was rudimentary: “I want to get this country moving again,” or “We can do bettah!” That was it, the whole story.
Obama’s is even simpler: “Change.” Change Washington. Stop the bickering. Unite around the nation’s problems.
Simple. Maybe too simple. Probably too simple.
But Kennedy’s resonated after the stasis that was Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. America liked Ike as much at the end of his two terms as they did at the beginning, but the hallmark of his presidency was what he didn’t do. He did not, as the more conservative members of his party advised, attempt to rollback the New Deal, and the general-as-president didn’t involve us in military adventurism.
Obama’s “change” resonates as well after the train wreck that is the presidency of George W. Bush. From military adventurism in Iraq to incompetence in the wake of Katrina to attempts to roll back Social Security (and thus the New Deal), Bush leaves the American people hungry for something - anything - that spells change.
Sadly for Hillary Clinton, that desire for change goes back further, to the last four years of her husband’s administration, when political war broke out and dragged on over a President’s White House sex and impeachment trial.
From New York to Wisconsin and Hawaii, the country’s ready for a smart, articulate woman like Hillary Clinton - just not one with her last name. It brings back too many bad memories.
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