The Making of the President 2008 So Far

Previewing their forthcoming Spring issue, our friends at the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here) have posted “What a long, strange race it’s been” by University of Virginia professor of politics and Hoover Institution visiting fellow James Ceaser. The heading alludes to a Grateful Dead song, a first for the Review, although the essay maintains the Review’s traditional standards. It helps us understand what we have just seen, and what we are seeing. Here, for example, is part of Ceaser’s explanation for the rise of Obama:

Hillary Clinton, unable to shake her high negatives, reached a level of support above which she could not climb, which gave hope to others. Democrats who professed admiration for Bill Clinton, especially when he was under conservative attack, were also beneath the surface partly ashamed of him. Obama’s rhetoric of change, although overtly directed against George Bush, was in fact deftly targeted at Bill Clinton and the Clinton Administration. This election within the election was a necessary first step to securing the upper hand in the race: Obama was offering the Democrats a chance to have all they wanted while “moving on” from the Clinton era. The repressed animosity against the former president burst to the surface following the South Carolina primary, when liberal commentators joined conservative radio talk show hosts in assailing the Clintons’ tactics.

One theme of the essay is the role of fortune in politics. Here Ceaser applies it to Hillary Clinton:

It is difficult not to view Hillary Clinton’s fall from front-runner status with sympathy; she seems to have been the victim of an extreme malignity of fortune. As the first woman to be competing seriously for the Democratic nomination, she happened on a year in which the first African-American was running seriously as well. All the advantages that were supposed to accrue to her for being a great historical “first” were suddenly put in jeopardy. More important, African-American voters, whose backing she had cultivated assiduously for so many years, were no longer automatically hers. The spectacle of Hillary Clinton trying to rally her new voter base among older people, lower income voters, and women (more working class than professional)

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