Obama’s rise and Hillary’s comeback a win for democracy

By Zach Han

Call it the Comeback Kid II’s story, the status quo’s return, or even maybe the simple confirmation that New Hampshire never follows Iowa’s lead. What is certain, though, is that the New Hampshire Democratic primary results asked more questions than they answered – especially of the press.

In the days preceding the primary, polls predicted another emphatic Barack Obama victory. Riding on the crest of what he calls the “wave” generated by his Iowa triumph, Obama’s momentum appeared unstoppable, with the media estimating a double-digit lead over Hillary Clinton. Her campaign, accordingly, was all but over should she suffer a second successive loss – and it looked to be heading that way.

Yet in a stunning reversal, Hillary won. Despite an admittedly narrow 2 percent victory margin, the polls were wrong. Many explanations are probable. The Independents, perhaps sensing that Obama’s commanding poll lead was a guarantor of triumph, could have voted for another favorite, Sen. John McCain, in the Republican primary. Perhaps, as some speculated, New Hampshire residents didn’t decide until the last minute. Anything, simply said, was possible.

Critically, however, were two crucial actions – or rather, their effect – that commentators misinterpreted. The first was Hillary’s moment of “anger” during the New Hampshire debate. Many journalists, for instance, seized upon her reaction, with the Huffington Post reporting that she “fumed,” while Time magazine graded Obama’s performance as an “A-” and Hillary’s as a “B.” In that debate, Obama, according to much of the media, seemed presidential, responding intelligently.

What they failed to anticipate was that Hillary’s passion was resonant. From the lofty viewpoint of journalism, some viewed her “anger” as unpresidential. Yet, for the average voter, that moment was probably emphatic. Seated oppositely against two candidates proclaiming “change,” Hillary seemed cornered. But she didn’t yield. In a passionate defense, Hillary resisted, displaying a willingness to not shy away from a challenge.

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Andrew Sullivan – a prominent conservative commentator – summed it up succinctly when he speculated that women voters “backlash(ed) … against the media’s coronation of Obama.” Another moment was Hillary’s “tears.” The media hollered, some comparing it to Howard Dean’s infamous 2004 “scream.” Others even questioned whether it was a calculated political move. But what was fully evident was her wanting the job and fighting for it. Whether it was sincere – and it appeared genuine – wasn’t the main issue.

Voters saw her passion, and in a manner many rank-and-file voters could have only connected with, Hillary’s role seemed reversed to that of an underdog battling against a media establishment favorite. Ironically, in a perverse way, the media’s own reports wrote the narrative.

What matters, ultimately, is the tone and effect these two results have set.

Obama’s decisive Iowa victory, in a way, opened three important narratives. The first narrative resolves doubts of a black candidate’s “electability,” as his triumph against two famous front-runners in a state that is predominantly white illustrates.

The second narrative symbolizes what could possibly be a unique type of political coalition that actually works: a coalition that transcends the generational and ideological debate. Generational because its principles seek to undermine the Boomer and post-Boomer division; ideological because it also seeks to encompass the wider electorate rather than encumber with bitter partisanship. In winning the caucus with a coalition that doesn’t discriminate partisan stripes or ideological forms, it is uniquely based on inclusion rather than preclusion. It is, in Obama’s words, “addition,” not “division.”

Perhaps most importantly, the final narrative reflects an electorate triumph: increasing voter consciousness. In Iowa, voters turned out in unprecedented numbers, literally almost doubling the previous election’s figure. This is not a validation of chance, but a confirmation of a national consciousness.

What these two results tell us is that democracy is speaking.