Wednesday, January 09, 2008
The Crying Game
George Stephanopolous was “shocked!”
Terry Moran found it “shocking!”
The mainstream and mass media were “stunned” and those who follow their every prediction and pronouncment found themselves in the same state.
And the highway scribe is not going to say he was not influenced by universal predictions that Sen. Barack Obama would sweep Senator Hillary Clinton away and march to a Feb. 5 coronation as the first African-American nominee of a major (or any?) American political party.
After all, in a small way, highwayscribery is part of the media constellation and like all good, non-fiction storytellers, enjoys a good yarn such as Obama’s.
But highwayscribery was aware that the Clintons have a party within the Democratic Party, a very considerable constituency not likely to be so easily swayed from loyalties long cultivated.
Truth be told, even were Obama to be elected, many of the thousands of government slots it would be his job to fill would be done so with experienced hands from the Bill Clinton years; the only Democratic administration in a generation.
But the scribe has a longer memory than Stephanopolous or Moran or any of the professional talkers who spend so much time trying to understand voters in the aggregate when, thank heavens, we are a nation of rather prickly individuals, to say nothing of the eccentric Hampshire-ite.
Those people hate to be interpreted and have a long history of delivering surprises including Gene McCarthy’s remarkable tilt at Lyndon Johnson in 1968, “frontrunner” Ed Muskie’s crash-and-burn in 1972, or Gary Hart’s temporary upstaging of Walter Mondale in 1984.
And what the scribe’s memory produced was a gulp of fear when Hillary’s crying moment materialized before his computer screen the other day. He sensed it would not be the first time Ms. Clinton would morph from witch to sympathetic moll in the drop of tear.
The ladies related to her when Jennifer Flowers tried to sink her husband’s candidacy, because the ladies know what it’s like to be done in by a man they love and stick by him for the sake of that love.
And the scribe remembers when her cheeky opponent for the Senate in 2000 left his debate podium to hover over Clinton with a piece of paper he wanted her to sign swearing off lobbyists. For whatever reason, a hovering man waving a paper at them is disconcerting to women, which is somewhat the point here:
Men often don’t know what the woman they face across the dinner table every night is thinking.
Anyway, that moment galvanized support from both women, and those sympathetic or enlightened to the tough road most women hoe, effectively finishing off that particular foe who went by the name of Rick Lazio.
Here’s a question: Does John Edwards' poor showing have anything to do with his “ganging up” on Clinton in Saturday’s debate?
Primaries are not won a week earlier in a place 1,000 miles away. They are won in the debates, campaign appearances, and spontaneous occurrences in the days leading up to a specific vote. And the crying moment or the gang bang are just such occurrences.
The “New York Times” Maureen Dowd does a similar analysis in a piece entitled, “Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House?” but the question is wrong.
She only needed to cry her way back into contention, and she has. The Clintons take their political season one game at a time, which makes them much smarter than the people with plastic badges that cover and (attempt to) predict their fortunes.
Rebecca Traister admitted in her piece for “Salon” that Hillary was not her first choice but that the (premature) glee of muttonhead/blowhard Chris Matthews over Clinton’s apparent demise was enough to swing her sympathy.
The reaction to which Traister was reacting might have been expected.
As noted, media folk like a good story, even a sexy story. the scribe has a sneaking suspicion that for all her purported glamour and celebrity, the boys on the bus see Hillary Clinton as a waddling middle-aged dame in a doughty pantsuit with policies skewed toward the concerns of (gulp!) mature women.
So is Barack done? Who knows? Now we’re going to start seeing contests in states made up of more than white people and making predictions will be just as dicey for the lords of electronica as it turned out to be yesterday.
Not only was the media burned, but the rest of us in turn.
Going back to 2000, our national passion for McNews, for having the results promptly and conveniently served up to us before we go to bed, has constantly been thwarted by a nation of shifting demographics and attitudes, which those in the think tanks and media citadels are too far removed from to discern. Even in-close, it would be hard to chart the incremental evolution of the American electorate.
In short: This Oldsmobile is not like your father’s.
The usual measuring sticks don’t do well in charting the attitudes of women, of black people, of black people voting for women, and white women voting for black men, and newly minted brown citizens’ feelings about African-Americans that went to Harvard…
The underlying theme to the Obama candidacy is that the old paradigms have gone the way of New Orleans. It takes hindsight to see and understand such a unique historical moment so that, in the meantime, we’re going to have to get used to the game actually being played before knowing who is going to win.
And that’s a good thing.