As the semester comes to a close, and with the Democratic primary’s end in sight as well, the time has come to take stock of what has happened over the course of one of the most convoluted election seasons in recent history.
A lot has changed over the last year – the Republicans, for example, were sure to nominate McCain, until it was obvious that Giuliani would be the nominee, until Fred Thompson rode in on a white horse to save the day, until it was clear that Romney would get the nomination instead, until Huckabee whooshed in out of nowhere, cracked a couple of jokes, led conservative evangelicals through the Iowa cornfields like the Pied Piper, and eventually put the nomination back where it started: in the hands of McCain. This campaign season has been unpredictable. Here are some thoughts on other figures that barely resemble their pre-2008 selves:
Bill Clinton. Democrats can’t be blamed for no longer recognizing the man who, until recently, was the chief spokesman for their party. The 2008 race, and the necessity of throwing his lot in with one clearly drawn wing of the party – the Clinton wing – has burned through a lot of the residual goodwill this ex-president has built up with Democrats over the years.
Nobody begrudges a loyal spouse, but Bill has gone so far in his advocacy for the Hillary segment of the party that he’s tarnished his own legacy in the process. He’s gone from the “first black president” to the guy playing racial games – saying, in effect, “Sure, Obama won South Carolina, but so did Jesse Jackson.” The controversial line was a clear attempt to define Obama – the man who might actually become the first black president – as “the black fringe candidate” instead.
The Clintons’ support in among blacks, which had previously been stratospheric, is much more subdued now. And white Obama supporters, irked by Clinton’s continued shilling for his wife, are starting to wonder if the Democratic powercouple would rather burn down the Democratic Party than see it succeed without them.
Hillary Clinton. What a difference a campaign makes. At the start of the presidential race, Hillary was two things: inevitable and the right wing’s sworn enemy. Now, she is neither, and the contrasts are unbelievable. How did the cash-flush, sure-bet, pseudo-incumbent campaign of early on morph into the scrappy underdog we’ve seen on our televisions since Super Tuesday?
And since when did Hillary Clinton – whose early health-care debacle, “vast right-wing conspiracy” accusations and refusal to “stay home and bake cookies” made her the Antichrist of deranged Republicans everywhere – become the gun-toting, Bible-thumping candidate of the blue-collar working Joes in steel mills all over the Midwest?
To be sure, Obama’s dominance among blacks and “wine Democrats” has meant that all she had left were the working-class whites in big industrial states, but seeing her campaign on a pickup truck flatbed while the governor of North Carolina says she “makes Rocky look like a pansy” is jarring nonetheless.
Barack Obama. It was inevitable: The bloom had to come off the rose. Obama could never have maintained his sky-high positive ratings from voters after a six-month assault from fearful Republicans and an enraged Clinton campaign. So while the core of Obama’s message of unity and change remains, it is tarnished by the accumulated debris that will follow him into November: incendiary pastor Jeremiah Wright, former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, sleazy slumlord Tony Rezko and, the stupidest of stupid issues, the “missing flag pin” controversy.
None of these issues are game breakers; Obama’s still more likely than not to become the next President of the United States. But he won’t win with that halo he had polished before this race got dirty.
Michael Sherry is a junior majoring in political science. He can be reached at Michael.Sherry@tufts.edu.