1) From a distance, it is no surprise that Hillary Clinton apparently got a big boost from women voters. It's more surprising (if this is what the results end up showing) that she didn't have a larger margin among women who made up their minds in the last few days. She really was ganged-up on after Iowa, in a way that should have brought out the chivalry --rather, the decency -- in at least some men and the solidarity in many women. Also, if "the media" largely doing the ganging-up had been one of the candidates on the ballot, I suspect its popularity would have been below Tom Tancredo's.
2) As Andrew Sullivan immediately noted, John Edwards really did give the very same post-vote speech this week that he did last week in Iowa. Weird. Same real-world anecdotes he had delivered in a thousand living rooms in Iowa and New Hampshire and that he used on TV five days ago. Same apparent lack of recognition that this was one of his scarce opportunities to reach tens of millions of people live and unfiltered. Main difference: the (inaccurate) claim that last week he had congratulated Barack Obama on his win and this week he was congratulating Hillary Clinton. He quite notably did not mention Obama last week.
3) Obama’s “signed, sealed, delivered” speech: Boy does it make a difference in the aura-of-magic department when you’ve won. If 10,000 votes had gone the other way, I don’t think he would have sounded as hoarse or looked as tired as even he, the coolest young cat in the race, seemed to tonight.
4) Whatever happens to Hillary Clinton from this point on, the results won’t be the humiliating repudiation that seemed possible even 24 hours ago. Obviously that's good for her, just in human terms. Politics isn’t fair -- see: George H.W. Bush’s being turned into a “wimp” 16 years ago -- but she didn't and doesn't deserve that kind of rebuke. It’s probably good for the party too, in making the contest an actual contest rather than a stampede.
The main drawback is that it allows more time for sniping and bloodletting among the Democrats, which could leave the eventual nominee worse off. This is an asymmetrical risk: Hillary Clinton has already been as sniped-at as she can possibly be -- over, as we know, her 35 years of public service. Indeed, that's part of her argument: the oppo researchers won't come up with anything new. Obama has not yet been scarred or vetted in quite the same way. Maybe it would toughen him to go through a round of true negative campaigning. But maybe it would mainly wound him. And if he ends up as the nominee, he won’t be happy about a lot of footage of a former Democratic President putting him down, which Bill Clinton provided this week. So, again asymmetrically and unfairly, the decision about how fratricidal* this becomes is largely in the Clinton team’s hands. [* Using this term in a gender-neutral way.]
5) With perceived gender-unfairness highlighted in these results and racial questions no doubt to be explored for months to come, I think the most underrated emotional fact penalizing Hillary Clinton is the pernicious dynasty issue -- the potential Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton sequence. In their bones, I think most Americans just don’t like this idea, even if the people involved were Lincolns and Washingtons reborn.
It's different from the many, many family dynasties in the Congress and in state houses, since "anyone can grow up to become President" is a more powerful part of the American myth than "anyone can grow up to hold the [Bush, Gore, Kennedy, Udall, Bayh, Stevenson, Taft] seat in Congress." (What I mean is: a family Congressional seat is now taken for granted; a family-based White House succession is a blow to a more important component of the idea of open opportunity.)
Worse, it’s an issue that neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton can address effectively. Bill Clinton certainly tries, saying (wryly) that he’s not to blame for the Bush part of that sequence and (earnestly) that whether or not she was his wife, he’d support Hillary as the "best qualified non-incumbent" Presidential candidate of his voting lifetime, the most impressive change agent of his generation, etc.
I will stipulate that he is completely sincere in saying so. His judgment could even be correct. But in the nature of things, it's simply impossible for anyone else to believe him. She's more impressive than everyone else in the Senate? Every single governor? Every military or business leader who is thinking of public service? Maybe -- but her own husband's testimony just cannot constitute proof.
This isn't necessarily a stopping issue. But it's another obstacle. And it's another peculiar way in which the circumstances are reversed from the time of the Clintons' emergence as national figures 16 years ago. Then they were the hot, young, not-completely-tested talents who had worked their way up with no family connections to dislodge a steadier and more seasoned figure whose family background gave him a head start. Anything can happen, and I suppose it truly will be a remarkable achievement if the Clinton team can win the presidency once as the symbols of freshness, youth, and change and then again as the stewards of continuity, experience, and authority.
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