Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The sincerest form of flattery?

OK, pop quiz: Which presidential candidate said the following last night?

. . . politics isn't a game. This campaign is about people. It's about making a difference in your lives. It’s about making sure that everyone in this country has the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential. That has been the work of my life.

We are facing a moment of so many big challenges. We know we face challenges here at home, around the world, so many challenges for the people whose lives I've been privileged to be part of. I've met families in this state and all over our country who have lost their homes to foreclosures. Men and women who work day and night but can't pay the bills and hope they don't get sick because they can't afford health insurance. Young people who can't afford to go to college to pursue their dreams.

Too many have been invisible for too long. Well, you are not invisible to me.

The oil companies, the drug companies, the health insurance companies, the predatory student loan companies have had seven years of a president who stands up for them. It's time we had a president who stands up for all of you.

I intend to be that president, to be a president who puts you first - your lives, your families, your children, your future. I believe deeply in America, in our can-do spirit, in our ability to meet any challenge and solve any problem. I believe in what we can do together. In the future, we will build together. There will be no more invisible Americans.

Close your eyes and turn down the pitch, and you could easily imagine this speech coming from John Edwards—but it is none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton, claiming victory in yesterday’s New Hampshire primary.

This is not an isolated event, at least not in the last ten days. As a very small but noticeable bit of buzz about a resurgent Edwards started to come out of Iowa in late December, I noticed that populist or quasi-populist appeals had worked their way into the speeches of Clinton, Barack Obama, and even Mitt Romney. It is a small consolation to an Edwards supporter who might have expected a little more from the first two primary states, but it is a good argument for Edwards’s continued presence in the race—he has clearly moved the debate and the rhetoric to the left. Whether that translates into positions or policies remains to be seen.

What is already evident, however, is that the pressures of running a contested primary race have made Clinton a better candidate. Her rhetoric has changed, as has her tone. And whether you see her near-tear moment to be a mistake, a strategic turn, or a lucky bit of fatigue-induced serendipity, it has altered the establishment narrative.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that her emotional side translated into New Hampshire votes—better than half of Clinton’s support came from those who made up their minds over a week ago—but, going forward, it allows her, as well, to be cast as a fighter for whom this is personal.

That probably doesn’t bode well for an Edwards campaign that already has a hard time getting the attention of a money-conscious establishment media. That media, and its cloistered troubadours, seem incapable of telling more than one simple story at a time—last weekend, it was about how Obama won and Clinton lost; today we will hear of Senator Clinton’s re-energized fight. It’s a new story, even if it isn’t really a news story (Clinton led in the state for over 12 months, and always had the money and support to fight on past New Hampshire, no matter the result—the bigger news might be that the pollsters so botched predicting that result), but at least that new story will have more of John Edwards’s words and ideas, even if it remains nearly devoid of his very influential voice.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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