Hillary Clinton’s close call in Iowa has given her new reason to reflect on the old adage that history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce.
Surely for Clinton it was one thing to lose Iowa, and the Democratic nomination, to the 2008 edition of Barack Obama, a comet of a candidate, trailing charisma and historical possibility. In that race she was a formidable candidate herself: I remember thinking that, apart from Bill Clinton, the only recent Democratic nominee who might have beaten either Hillary Clinton or Obama was the other. Hillary Clinton’s tragedy was that her chance to become the first woman president was eclipsed by Obama’s opportunity to shatter, arguably, an even more profound barrier.
This time, Clinton is sweating against a candidate conspicuously lacking Obama’s natural gifts. Bernie Sanders is a rumpled 74-year-old Democratic socialist who didn’t call himself a Democrat until last year. His power base is a state that is a national force in maple syrup and funky ice cream flavors (via local heroes Ben & Jerry). He honed his political skills on the mean streets of Burlington. With his elegant and icy cool, Obama evoked comparisons to John F. Kennedy; Sanders has been indelibly impersonated by Larry David. As a presidential candidate, Sanders has displayed genuine political talents. But if losing to Obama reached the level of tragedy for Clinton, failing against Sanders would qualify as farce.