Last week, when Hillary won the Puerto Rico primary by a huge margin (over 36 points), I couldn't believe she'd make a big deal about it. Doesn't it strike anyone else as odd that Puerto Rico can vote in the Democratic primary but NOT in the general election? So that makes Puerto Rico's vote kind of irrelevant. That's the quirks about their limbo state of being a U.S. territory and not an actual state. But Hillary will take victories wherever she can get 'em.
With Obama finally clinching the magic number of delegates to be the Democratic nominee, I was relieved to see this moment come at last. It's hard to believe that five months earlier (to the day), he shocked the political world by winning the Iowa Caucus. He didn't implode like Howard Dean did four years earlier. In a way, I saw his Iowa victory as Iowa's way of apologizing for backing the lame John Kerry over Howard Dean. In the months since that day in Iowa, including at the rally he spoke to in Portland in May, I heard him use the same language that Dean used in 2003 and 2004. This nomination represents a victory for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The wing represented by Senators Feingold and Boxer; the late, great Senator Wellstone, and DNC Chair Howard Dean. It represents a defeat of the DLC-wing of the party represented by the Clintons and the lobbyists of K Street.
How did we get here?
For some inexplicable reason, Democrats have been deathly afraid of the 49-state landslide victory of Nixon over George McGovern in 1972. Ever since then, Democrats thought the way to win was to be Republican-lite. They thought it was McGovern's liberalism that did him in. The problem was, they let the Republicans frame the 1972 election that way. Instead, the 1972 election should be seen as a short-term defeat of a candidate who was actually vindicated when Nixon resigned in disgrace. The election of 1972 shouldn't be one that Democrats run from, but to embrace as an example of what happens when a cynical president is able to con Americans into voting for the wrong candidate. Democrats should learn from the conservative example. Republicans were routed in 1964 when Goldwater lost to Johnson by a landslide. Instead, they came back and won in 1968 and built on Goldwater's conservativism with the Reagan Revolution in 1980. Now, here we are forty years later and conservative policies have truly led America to the brink of ruin. Americans would be fools to vote for McCain while expecting change. Why trust a party that continually abuses its trust? They should be forced to be in the political wilderness for decades, if not forever. The party that gave us Nixon, Reagan, and Bush should not be awarded another presidential term of office.
Back to Obama. His nomination as the Democratic candidate for president reminds me again why I'm a loyal Democrat. We are the party that values diversity, that seems to have more young and inspiring leaders. Papers around the world have printed glowing reports and editorials about America's amazing ability to reinvent itself. I'm telling you, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency will be such an inspiring act that the world will be ready to embrace us again back into the family of nations (provided that we close Guantanamo Bay, make torture illegal, sign on with the International Criminal Court, agree to the demands of the Kyoto Treaty and a whole host of other problems that haven't been addressed in some time). The ascension of Barack Obama to the Democratic nomination in four years (when no one heard of him until the Democratic Convention) is an inspiring and proud moment for us all. Should he become our next president, it truly will be one of the greatest days in our nation's history. I'd love to see how the world would react to that. It is a person like Obama that amazes the rest of the world over America's unique standing. While Bush is the most hated leader on the world stage these days, Obama will be our Nelson Mandela. America has forgotten what it's like to inspire people. We've been conned into thinking that our military might is powerful enough to go it alone in tackling some major problems in the world, but it hasn't solved the crisis of poverty, climate change, the food prices, the energy crunch and a whole host of other issues.
So, with this nomination, I'm thrilled to see Obama finally sealing the deal. It was what I hoped for, even though I was cautiously optimistic. His nomination is a great vindication for the progressive wing of the party that had to endure the bland campaigns of the past (Kerry and Mondale, anyone?). This is only the beginning. May the phenomenon only continue to grow.
Hillary started her "conversation" with the American people in January 2007. Amazing to see what happened in the time since. Her nomination seemed inevitable, but from what I gather, three things did her in: (1) her vote for the Iraq War resolution in 2002 (she was smart enough to know that the vote was a cynical move by Bush to implicate Democrats in his war or to accuse them of being unpatriotic if they voted against); (2) her use of the race card in a desperate attempt to win the South Carolina primary, which backfired in a big way; and (3) her betting on the Tsunami Tuesday primary that she'd seal the deal. Her campaign didn't plan for a long season and she ran out of money because of an over-reliance on big-time donors who couldn't contribute more than the legal limit. On top of all that was a rather disorganized campaign that changed its message as it saw fit and a serious lack of discipline. She claimed to be ready to lead on Day 1...but how is that possible when her campaign didn't have a clue?
My impression is that Obama followed in the footprints of Howard Dean, but was smart enough to avoid the kind of mistakes Dean made. The biggest difference, though, is that Dean's young supporters did not turn out to vote on Caucus night in Iowa, whereas Obama's did. Obama's victory is one for any Dean supporter to savor. Finally! We did it! Now it's on to victory in November.
I kind of feel bad for Hillary as I know that it was her dream to be the first woman president. But as a Gore supporter who believes that he was robbed of his rightful place as the 43rd president, the pain of such a loss is hard to get over, but eventually you do. Things don't always go as planned. We never count on the fact that there's always someone new on the horizon who could be more inspiring and have more of what people are looking for in a president. Being cautious, waiting one's turn doesn't always work to your advantage. Fate has an interesting way of playing "kingmaker." The honest truth is, this was Obama's year. He tapped into something that has been building since 2000, when African Americans in Florida were harassed or denied a right to vote in some precincts. I also think there's a residual anger over the way our current administration left poor black people to drown in New Orleans after Katrina hit. And of course, there's still a lingering guilt over slavery and segregation. Rightfully or wrongly, Obama is seen as someone who can possibly redeem our nation in the eyes of the world. We've lived in the shame of the Bush era for so long that we needed a new kind of leader to inspire us to our better selves again.
Obama played the hope card, Hillary the cynical card. If she truly was visionary, perhaps she should've ran in 2004 like many supporters wanted her to. Some think she's hoping that Obama will lose to McCain in November and thus she'll be the natural front-runner in 2012. However, as we should learn from Obama, we never know what new politician will rise to the national scene in the next four years. She might have to contend with Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas (who knows what it takes to win a Red State and has executive experience).
Best wishes to you, Hillary. In 2006, you told reporters that you weren't thinking about the 2008 presidential election, that you loved being in the Senate representing the good people of New York. I hope that's true. Chances are, the Senate is where you'll remain for the rest of your career. Is being the Senate Majority Leader under a President Obama such a bad thing? If you still feel bad about not becoming president, commiserate with Al Gore. After all, it was your husband's indiscretion that cost Gore what should've been an easy win. He wanted to be president since he was a kid, but he has the decency to accept the hand fate gave him and rise to even greater heights. That's the mark of a true statesman.