All politics is local, said the late House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill.
Tip was wrong. All politics is tribal—as we just rediscovered in the New Hampshire primary.
With Obama surging and Hillary reeling after a third-place finish in Iowa, it seemed all the dreams of a Clinton restoration would come crashing down on the eighth of January.
All the pollsters predicted it. All the pundits agreed. And all the anti-Clintonites, sensing this was the kill, came streaming out of their closets to mock Hillary and hail Barack, as they once hailed Bill.
“The Hun is always at your feet or at your throat,” said Winston Churchill.
Anticipating a blowout, the chattering class found confirmation Monday morning in an emotional moment when Hillary choked up and began to tear up. All day, all night, all the next day, they rebroadcast the breaking of Hillary. The gloating and glee were pandemic.
Others, however, saw it, too. Undecided Democratic voters and independents, especially women, saw the bullies taunting the girl in the schoolyard, pulling her pigtails, making her cry. The maternal instinct kicked in, hard. Women poured out to pick Hillary up, dust her off, and put her back on her feet, back into the race and back into the lead.
Hillary’s victory became a stunning upset because no one had predicted it and no one had expected it after Iowa and all those polls showing Obama pulling away.
What happened in New Hampshire was a backlash against press, pollsters, pundits and piling on. When Bill Clinton suggested the press was in the tank for Barack, he understated his case. In the first days after Iowa, you would have thought Obama had been born in Bethlehem.
He is the greatest orator since Dr. King, we were told. He has the passion of Bobby Kennedy and the cerebral cool of JFK. He will lead us out of the desert of division into the sunny uplands of racial harmony. The caucuses of Iowa were the Lexington and Concord of a new American Revolution. Providence has sent us this great gift.
Then New Hampshire rejected him. Worse, New Hampshire left the pollsters and pundits with egg all over their faces. Instantly, there arose the need to explain why everyone had been wrong. And instantly came the answer: It was racism.
“The Bradley Effect” defeated Barack, the pundits suggested.
The Bradley Effect is named for Tom Bradley, the popular black Los Angeles mayor who was running well ahead of his GOP opponent for governor in the polls, only to see his lead vanish on Election Day. The Bradley Effect—voters lying to pollsters about how they intend to vote for a black candidate, then going into the booth to pull the lever for the white opponent—this closet racism defeated Obama.
Why was there no Bradley Effect in Iowa? Because in Iowa they have to vote in public, while in New Hampshire they have the privacy, the secrecy, of the voting booth.
But this explanation has about it an aura of spin and sour grapes. How can the Bradley Effect explain why John Edwards, the hedge fund populist, collapsed? How does the Bradley Effect explain why women surged to Hillary, 57 percent of them, while men stayed with Barack?
The real divide in the Democratic Party is the clash between the McGovern wing—the highly educated and the college young—against the Humphrey-Mondale wing. And while African-Americans are moving to Obama because he is one of them, women, a majority in the party, are moving to Hillary because she is one of them. Blacks and women are dividing in the Democratic Party over the issue of: Do we want the first black president or the first woman president? And in the first major battle of the Brothers & Sisters War, the sisters won.
This could get ugly. As Hillary’s victory in New Hampshire is being attributed to the Bradley Effect—i.e, white racism—any Barack victory in South Carolina will now be attributed to the black vote, what in the Old South they used to call “the bloc vote.”
Obama could cease to be a crossover candidate and rapidly be relegated to the Jesse Jackson role—the African-American perennial runner-up who is ceded the black and liberal vote—and bought off with a prime-time speech at the convention and a campaign plane in the fall.
Racism was not responsible for Obama’s defeat in the Granite State. Indeed, race is the reason for his rise from nowhere. Race is the reason the liberals are kneeling in adoration. And gender is not Hillary’s problem. Gender is Hillary’s biggest asset in a party mired since the 1960s in ethnic, gender and race politics.
In the last New Hampshire debate, Hillary was asked about her likability, why so many folks seemed to like Obama more. She gave the sweet answer of the schoolgirl: “Well, that hurts my feelings. … He’s very likable. I agree with that,” referring to Obama. “I don’t think I’m that bad.”
“You’re likable enough, Hillary,” Obama sneered.
In that moment, the “fairy tale” may have just gone poof.
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