Note: I posted this column because I feel it gives an interesting analysis to what’s going on with the pundits vs. the electorate. They can’t define us this time around. The sleeping bulldog has woken up and is barking like crazing — in many different breeds. (This is a reference from a college political science class, where my professor referred to the voting public as sleeping dogs that stay asleep until they wake up — and when they wake up, they are usually barking.) Well this time, the barking dogs are mad, loud, and indefinable — which is something this country has needed for a long time. We’re not paying attention to the media, for once. Score 1 for the VOTERS!!
By David Shribman
Thu Feb 7, 6:09 PM ET
EDITORS: This is an update of the column sent to you yesterday, Feb. 6. The changes take into account the suspension of the Romney campaign.
We have a Republican front-runner who is weak in the states the Republicans need to carry in the general election. We have a Democratic insurgent who wins states no Democrat can hope to carry in November. We have a Republican leader who is strong in states that have been resiliently Democratic for a generation. We have a Democratic establishment figure who has struggled with capturing the minority votes that have been the bedrock of the Democratic base for a half century.
We have a mess. We have signs of the emergence of an entirely new kind of American politics. We have the most important election since 1980. We have the most fascinating election since 1960.
We also have a Roosevelt figure (the second member of a titanic American political family, with the potential of re-wiring American politics), a Kennedy figure (an eloquent, intoxicating symbol of a new generation) and a Reagan figure (a Republican who is making party stalwarts fear he is taking them on a dangerous new course).
We have Democrats who are raising hopes that they may be able to cut into Republican voting blocs. We have Republicans who are flirting with voting for a breakthrough black or female Democratic candidate.
We have a Democratic contender who is widely regarded as a liberal feminist and a Democratic candidate who is widely regarded as a soothing moderate, and yet the moderate has been voting more reliably liberal in the Senate than has the liberal. We have a Republican challenger who represents the modern GOP base of religious conservatives and Southern whites, but who still seems peripheral in his own party.
We have a Democratic Party that seems hopelessly divided on whom to nominate but resolutely united on the issues. We have a Republican Party that has nearly settled on its nominee but is deeply unsettled internally.
We have two candidates with ties to Arkansas, two with ties to Illinois — and the first occasion ever for Hawaii to regard itself plausibly as the potential mother of a president. We have two Democrats from the far extremes of the baby boom with vastly different approaches to the political arts.
It doesn’t get more confusing than this. It doesn’t get more illogical than this. It doesn’t get better than this.
Start with the Republican contest, where Sen. John McCain of Arizona has moved into a commanding lead now that former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has suspended his campaign. Mr. McCain has more of the profile of the leader of the Party of Lincoln than of the Party of Reagan — even though McCain had strong emotional ties with Reagan and, as a recently released Vietnam POW, was one of the guests of honor at the 1974 city-upon-a-hill speech that some conservatives regard as one of the most sacred texts of Reaganism.
But the emergence of McCain is causing amazing agony in the Republican Party, where he is regarded as too cozy with the reformers, too contemptuous of the Republican base and too hot-headed in his own Senate caucus. It has not gone unnoticed in Republican circles that many Democrats, including the last nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, thought that the Arizona Republican would have made a splendid Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004. Ask a Boston Red Sox fan how he felt when he first thought of Roger Clemens in a Yankee uniform.
Now Republicans on all sides of its wondrous schisms are calling on McCain to heal the party. He is being urged to call the talk-radio hosts, to reach out to religious conservatives, to keep his focus on the 1776 Declaration of Independence instead of drafting personal declarations of independence on issues from the environment to campaign finance to immigration. He may be constitutionally unable to do so.
The Democratic side of this story is a different tale entirely. Samuel Johnson, the best political journalist ever to write in English, once described a second marriage as the triumph of hope over experience — precisely the formulation Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is trying to work in the primaries and caucuses this winter.
Both he and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York have framed their nomination struggle as a battle of hope (the Obama calling card) against experience (the Clinton calling card). Tuesday’s primary in Georgia, which Obama won decisively, underlined the division on the hope/experience front. In exit interviews, these voters, by a margin of nearly 6-to-1, identified Mr. Obama as the candidate who could bring about change. But the same voters identified Mrs. Clinton by nearly 9-to-1 as the candidate who had the right experience to be president.
What the Republicans seem to want is a candidate with the personal heroism of Mr. McCain, the business acumen of the now-departed Mr. Romney and the spirituality and folksiness of Mike Huckabee. The Democrats want someone who offers the hope of Mr. Obama and the experience of Mrs. Clinton — though Obama’s brand of hope still seems symbolic and Clinton’s record of experience still seems thin.
We don’t know what happens next, but we know what each leading contender must do next. McCain must build support in the South, an important part of the GOP calculus. Obama, accomplished in winning places like North Dakota, Delaware, Alaska, Utah, must claim an important Democratic state outside his home of Illinois; Ohio seems like a good place to start. Mrs. Clinton must stanch the flow of interest and momentum to Mr. Obama; only by doing so can she continue her argument, the foundation of her campaign strategy, that the momentum is going her way, still.
It’s a mess. It’s confusing. It’s fabulous. For years editors held imaginary (and, sometimes, real) debates with readers, telling them that things that were dull were really things that were important. This is important, and there’s nothing dull about it.