Friday, February 15, 2008

Leader of the New School

The last two years in American politics have been a kind of revolution only possible in the United States. It's not because this is such a great country that this revolution is unique here, but rather more complexed and nuanced, having much to do with America's history, social structure and open lines of communication that help to curb the tendency to grab an AK-47 and head for the capitol. However, for the moment, forget how this revolution could have happened, and let's look at why and the subsequent impacts.

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, one of the brightest political minds - period - has a compelling article that serves as a microcosm of the dynamic political shifts occurring in this nation. He suggests that Senator Hillary Clinton is having trouble because she's working in an outdated, political prism where conservative ideology dominated, and through which liberals like former President Bill Clinton had to maneuver. This landscape saw the demise of Democrats nationally, and within each state, and saw the likes of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and both Bushes come to prominence. It was the reason why strategies like triangulation were necessary, and worked. And Welfare reform is still a touted success among both Democrats and Republicans. It really shouldn't be seen as a coincidence that the Lewinsky scandal occurred in this period.

The Clintons had to be moderate, appeal to independents who may not have voted for them, and shun many Democrats who probably would've gone against them anyway. Liberalism may still be an ugly word, but ten years? Forget about it.

Now we're in President George W. Bush's America, where congressional spending is greater than at any time during President Clinton's tenure. An America that is embroiled in two wars whose end is hard to imagine, let alone try and place a deadline upon. This is an America that's seen utility prices rise, home foreclosures rise, college tuition rise, and the U.S. brand decline. So it was revolutionary, yet not so much a surprise, when staunchly Republican places like Kansas' second congressional district voted out the GOP incumbent in favor of a Democrat. Or when New England ridded itself of all but one Republican (from CT, no doubt). Yes, this was a major upset, and we would be fools to think it was solely about the parties or just the war on the voters' minds.

It's a revolution that may have taken a lull through much of 2007, but it's being seen again. Senator Barack Obama has won eight straight primaries to date, and is primed to take more. His is a campaign that seems naive and full of pie-in-the-sky rhetoric, but it works. His is a campaign that lacks detail in its policy proposals and substance in its intentions, but it wins. His is a campaign that speaks honestly and passionately about the hopes for this country and casts a wide net to include all kinds of folks to join and help. There's no sense of throat-cutting, triangulation or any other brutal calculation that further entrenches Americans' differences.

Senator Obama's campaign is one that's beating the Clinton dynasty, and, by extension, the politics of the last thirty years. That generation is losing because it did not heed the calls of independents and Republicans, who actually kick-started this revolution. The Old Schoolers have been listening to their own voices and that of political machines. Let's just keep haranguing homosexuals, because there's no way they'll be voting in a Democrat. Or, more recently: Let's just show up, because these Blacks are gonna vote for us anyway. We're the f*cking Clintons, for Christ's sake! Well, someone forgot to give the voters the message to stay watching CNN, to stay not giving a damn, and, most importantly, to stay home. Those machines did nothing for Clinton in Iowa and Virginia, just like Karl Rove's tactics couldn't whitewash President Bush's (and Former Rep. Dennis Hastert's Congress') ineptitude.

This revolution will be televised, and the voices of the past can console those invested in the status quo when they listen to Sen. Obama deliver yet another speech at the Democratic convention this summer. This time, he will be the last man speaking.

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